$85,000 Settlement For Nasal Fracture, Neck & Back Injuries

We recently settled a case against AutoZone for $85,000 on behalf of a woman who injured in a wreck with an AutoZone delivery van. Our client Mrs. J broke her nose in the wreck, requiring surgery to repair, and also suffered injuries to her neck and back.  The settlement amount was nearly three times her medical bills, which were over $30,000.

Even though the AutoZone driver rear-ended our client while she was stopped at a red light and the police found the him at fault and gave him a ticket, AutoZone denied that it was responsible for the wreck and even denied that Mrs. J was injured.  On the eve of trial, AutoZone offered the settlement, which our client accepted.

The Wreck

Mrs. J was running errands and was stopped at a red light when an AutoZone delivery van crashed into her from behind.  A picture of the damage to her car is below.  The force of the wreck caused her head to snap forward and strike the steering wheel, breaking her nose.  The police arrived and found the AutoZone driver at fault for the wreck and wrote him a ticket for failure to stop at a stop light.

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The Injuries

Mrs. J was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where doctors diagnosed her with a fracture of her nasal bones and cervical and lumbar strains and sprains.  She saw an ear nose and throat specialist who diagnosed her with a deviated septum and recommended that she have surgery to repair it because it was causing her difficulty breathing.  An illustration of the surgery that we had prepared for the jury is below.  The surgery went well and though Mrs. J had a painful recovery you can’t tell she was ever in an accident.

Mrs. J also saw an orthopedist who prescribed physical therapy for her neck and back and cortisone injections when physical therapy didn’t help.  After several months of treatment she made a good recovery though her neck and back will occasionally flare up.

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Lawsuit & Settlement

Before filing suit we sent AutoZone a settlement demand giving them the opportunity to settle the case without going to court.  When AutoZone denied that it was responsible for the wreck and refused to make a settlement offer, we filed suit and got the case ready for trial.  Once the judge put the case on a trial calendar, AutoZone began making settlement offers and after several rounds of negotiations offered $85,000, which Mrs. J accepted.

 

Proposed Rule To Require Anti-Collision Technology On Tractor-Trailers

What if I told you that we could prevent 70 deaths and over 3,000 injuries from tractor-trailer accidents every year by requiring that tractor-trailers be equipped with anti-collision technology?

It doesn’t exist or we’d already be using it, you might say.  But it does and we’re not and now safety groups are lobbying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require that tractor-trailers and buses be equipped with the anti-collision technology, called “F-CAM.”

Anti-Collision Technology

“F-CAM” stands for forward collision avoidance and mitigation systems.  It works by alerting the driver with an audible, visual or vibrating alarm when they are getting too close to a car in front of it.  If the truck driver does not respond to the alarm, the F-CAM system automatically begins braking the tractor-trailer.  The system can help avoid wrecks altogether or, at a minimum, reduce the truck’s speed at impact, reducing the severity of the accident.

Safety Benefits of Anti-Collision Technology

An NHTSA study of F-CAM technology found that the lives saved and accidents prevented overwhelmingly outweighed the cost of the technology.  The NHTSA estimated that if all tractor-trailers were equipped with current F-CAM technology it would save 70 lives and prevent 3,448 injuries per year.  The NHTSA found that equipping all tractor-trailers with F-CAM technology currently in development would save 128 lives and prevent 6,959 injuries while “future generation” F-CAM technology would save 166 lives and prevent 8,361 injuries.

The Proposed Rule

The rule would apply to all tractor-trailers and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.  While many tractor-trailer manufacturers offer F-CAM technology as an optional safety feature, it is not required and only 3% of the tractor-trailers on the road today carry it.  

Will The Proposal Become Law?

The safety benefits of F-CAM technology are overwhelming and people are needlessly killed and injured every year it’s not required.  The fact that the technology exists but is so little used shows that it’s time for the NHTSA to step in and do something.  Many safety measures that we now take for granted, such as seatbelts, airbags, and anti-rollover technologies, were not required until safety groups lobbied the government to make them mandatory. These devices are now routinely built into vehicles and save thousands of lives every year. Let’s get F-CAM technology onto tractor-trailers and make our roads and highways safer.

DOT To Require Speed-Limitation Devices On Tractor-Trailers

Speed kills, especially when it’s a 80,000 pound tractor-trailer driving over the speed limit.

Tractor-trailers are a major source of traffic fatalities and speed figures prominently in many of these accidents.  Tractor-trailers take 20% to 40% longer than passenger cars to stop, and trucks traveling at high speeds take even longer than that, making them more likely to get into accidents.  A new rule by the Department of Transportation (DOT) will cap the top speed at which these trucks can drive.

DOT to Require Speed Limitation Devices

The new rule would require new tractor-trailers to include electronic devices called electronic control modules (ECM) which limit how fast these trucks can drive. The rule would affect most large trucks, applying to all vehicles over 26,000 pounds that travel on roads with speed limits in excess of 55 mph.  All new trucks would be required to be equipped with the devices. Road Safe America, a safety advocacy group, advocates retrofitting all vehicles built since 1990 but it remains to be seen which vehicles, if any, will be required to be retrofitted.

A report by the DOT suggests the rule could go into effect as early as October, though the DOT has not set a clear deadline. It’s possible the rule will be pushed back to a late date or phased in over time. And it will likely undergo several changes between now and when it goes into effect.

Though the DOT hasn’t yet determined to what extent speed will be limited, a current proposal suggests capping speed limits at 68 mph. Safety studies suggest that this speed cap would eliminate 1,115 fatal crashes every year.  In 2010, there were over a million interstate crashes involving large trucks. Many of these crashes could have been prevented if tractor-trailer drivers followed the speed limit. And even when a crash is unavoidable, obeying the speed limit can reduce the severity of the wreck.

How Speed Limiting Devices Work

Speed limiting devices like ECMs work by directly interacting with a car’s computer. The devices use a number of calculations, then provide information to the truck’s computer about its speed. When the truck reaches its maximum speed, the computer then reduces the flow of fuel and air to the truck’s engine, thereby reducing power available to the vehicle and capping its speeds.

New Rule Will Require Anti-Rollover Technology In Tractor-Trailers & Buses

Fifteen years ago, thousands of people were dying in SUV rollover crashes every year.  Now, thanks to technological advances like electronic stability control, SUVs are much safer. According to the National Institute for Highway Safety, these new technologies have greatly reduced the number of fatal SUV crashes.  For instance, in 1990 there were 201 fatal SUV accidents per million SUVs in 1990.  In 2013, there were 23 fatal SUV accidents per million SUVS in 2013, an 88% decrease in the number of fatal SUV accidents.

Electronic stability control has been mandatory for passenger vehicles since 2012.  Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed requiring all new commercial trucks, motor coaches and large buses to be equipped with electronic stability control.

What is Electronic Stability Control?

Electronic stability control is a computerized technology that helps improve a vehicle’s stability.  When the vehicle detects the car is losing control, it automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels to help steer the vehicle where the driver wants it to go.  This technology has been proven to help prevent rollover crashes and drivers losing control of their SUVs.

Will Electronic Stability Control Make Highways Safer?

These devices already come standard on many tractor-trailers and other large commercial vehicles, but the new rule would give manufacturers two to four years to ensure all large vehicles come with the devices. Research into stability-control devices suggests that the new rule would cut the rate of rollover-related crashes in half, save 50 lives each year, end eliminate 2,300 crashes annually.

Will The Rule Go Into Effect?

Right now, this is just a proposed rule and has not become law so it won’t change life on the road just yet. The proposal could cause commercial motor vehicle manufacturers to begin automatically adding these devices to new vehicles in anticipation of the rule change. However, we don’t yet know how trucking advocacy organizations, manufacturers, and large-scale trucking employers will react to the proposal.

The NHTSA has published its notice of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. Though the public comment period has closed, the NHTSA will likely have hearings regarding the rule, and continues to request public input.  To read more about the rule, you can read the NHTSA’s write-up here.

New Car Technology Leads to Less Injuries & Deaths

Whenever a politician, business or insurance company criticizes personal injury attorneys, I say this: put us out of business!

Pass stronger safety regulations and laws and make safer products that prevent injuries and deaths and there will be no need for personal injury attorneys or lawsuits.  So I was glad to see a new study reporting that deaths from car accidents are on the decline and that some newer car models with new safety features have low rates of deaths and injuries.

Car Accidents Are Leading Cause of Death In United States

Car accidents are a leading cause of injury and death in the United States.  You are far, far more likely to be injured in a car accident than fall victim to a crime or sudden illness.  Among young people, auto accidents are the leading cause of death. And according to the CDC, every year nearly 200,000 people die due to a car accident. An additional 2.8 million people are hospitalized due to car wrecks each year – a figure that accounts for 10% of all hospitalizations.

Technology Reduces Auto Accident Fatalities

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, injuries from car accidents are on the decline. The study looked at car fatalities involving 2011 model year cars. Many of these vehicles contain built-in safety features, so the study indirectly tracked the ways in which such features could reduce the frequency of accidents. Researchers found an average of 28 auto accident fatalities for every 2011 model-year vehicles through 2012. In the preceding years, the rate hovered around 48 deaths per million. This is almost a 50% reduction in the rate of vehicular accidents in just two years’ time.

 Which Cars Are Safest?

Interestingly, the Institute found that some vehicles – such as those with built-in safety features – had a crash-related death rate of zero. Let me say that again: zero.  Eight years ago, there were no such vehicles, which means there is a strong correlation between the addition of safety features and the reduction of deaths.

So which features helped the most? The study suggests that electronic stability control has dramatically reduced the frequency of SUV-related rollover crashes. A decade ago these cars had a high death rate, but now the rate is around 5 per million registered vehicles. Interestingly, six of the nine cars with the lowest death rates were SUVs with these built-in safety features.

If you’re in the market for a safer car, consider one of these nine models, which the study found had a rate of zero deaths per million:

  • Audi A4 four-wheel drive
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Kia Sorento two-wheel drive
  • Lexus RX 350 four-wheel drive
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class four-wheel drive
  • Subaru Legacy four-wheel drive
  • Toyota Highlander hybrid,
  • Toyota Sequoia
  • Volvo XC90

Unfortunately, the study also found that while some cars got safer, others got more dangerous. According to the study, these vehicles rank among the most dangerous:

  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Versa
  • Hyundai Accent

Time For Stronger Tractor-Trailer Safety Regulations

3,464.

That’s the number of people killed in accidents involving tractor-trailers and large trucks in 2012 alone.  That’s nearly ten people per day, and a 16% increase in the number of tractor-trailer related deaths over the last several years.

Tractor-trailers are a leading cause of traffic-related fatalities and it’s time for state and federal regulators to pass stronger safety standards to protect the public.

Tractor-Trailers: A Leading Cause of Traffic Fatalities

Tractor-trailers make up just two million of the 253 million vehicles on U.S. roads. This makes them less than 1% of all vehicles, yet they are involved in about 10% of fatal traffic accidents. Even worse, trucking-related accidents have steadily risen as federal regulators have dragged their feet on creating new safety standards. Motorists are significantly more likely to be seriously injured or killed in trucking-related accidents than other accidents.

Fatalities From Tractor-Trailer Accidents Increase

According to data released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 30,862 fatal car accidents in 2009, with 2,983 of those involving large trucks and tractor-trailers.  By 2012, the number of fatal car accidents had slightly decreased to 30,800 but the number of those accidents involving tractor-trailers had increased to 3,464, a 16% increase.

Here in Georgia, there were 135 fatal accidents involving tractor-trailers in 2009.  Fatal accidents involving tractor-trailers peaked at 169 in 2011 before decreasing to 149 in 2012.

The data also shows that the larger the truck, the more likely to be involved in a deadly accident.  In 2012, trucks weighing more than 33,000 pounds were involved in 2,831 fatal accidents, which was 74.5% of all fatal tractor-trailer accidents.

Could this all be explained by an increase in the number of vehicles on the road or distracted/texting drivers? That’s not what the data suggests. In fact, overall traffic accidents are declining, even in the wake of the distracted driving epidemic, suggesting that tractor-trailers pose unique dangers.

Stronger Trucking Safety Regulations Needed

This data clearly shows the need for more and tougher tractor-trailer safety regulations.  Stronger safety regulations on driver training, electronic driving logs to help prevent tired and fatigued drivers and guards to prevent underride collisions, among others, will help prevent fatal tractor-trailer accidents.  Until state and federal regulators pass stronger safety regulations or the trucking industry voluntarily adopts them, there will continue to be tragic consequences for drivers on our nation’s roads and highways.

Still No Minimum Training Standards For Tractor-Trailer Drivers

Though tractor-trailers make up just .7% of the 253 million vehicles on U.S. roads, they play a major role in traffic fatalities, accounting for one in 10 highway deaths. That’s 10% of all fatal accidents, suggesting that large trucks pose a much more significant danger than traditional passenger vehicles. Yet the key federal regulators in the trucking industry – the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – have delayed over 20 years in producing minimum safety standards for tractor-trailer drivers, leaving motorists in danger from inexperienced tractor-trailer drivers.

The Slow Drive Toward Better Regulations

Back in 1991, Congress ordered the DOT to establish training standards for entry-level truckers by 1993. Instead, the Department ignored the order, issuing rules only in 2004. Safety advocates took the DOT to court, arguing that the rules issued by the regulator were grossly inadequate. In 2005, a court ruled that the FMCSA had ignored safety data and again demanded that the regulatory agency issue new rules.

By 2007, the DOT issued another proposal. This one called for 120 hours of training to get a commercial driver’s license, including 44 hours of behind-the-wheel supervision and training.  Unfortunately, the rule was never adopted. By 2012, Congress yet again ordered the department to issue a new rule and demanded that the new rule set minimum safety standards in addition to requiring classroom and behind-the-wheel training. In 2013, the department withdrew its proposed rule and promised to develop a new rule, as well as a new rule-making process.

The Latest In a Round of Safety Lawsuits

In September of 2014, a group of safety advocates – including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways – filed a lawsuit asking the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to force Anthony Foxx, the secretary of transportation, to issue final training standards. This could mark the end of a 20-year battle to finally establish unified safety and training standards for one of the riskiest occupations in the country.

So what will happen next? The FMCSA just announced its plan to create a negotitated rule-making committee which would be charged with creating new standards. The committee will include safety experts and representatives from the trucking industry. The committee must then work together to devise new rules – a process that isn’t always clean, as the history of lawsuits surrounding this issue suggests. However, if the rules are devised and finally implemented, the industry will finally get a much-needed update to its safety standards.

Proposal Will Help Prevent Tractor-Trailer Underride Accidents

Tractor-trailer underride collisions are dangerous and horrifying accidents that, with the right safety equipment, are preventable.

Underride collisions occur when a car strikes the rear of a truck and slides underneath.  Often, the outcome is a car that is ripped in half and occupants who are killed or catastrophically injured. Though these types of collisions are relatively rare, they represent a quarter of all truck-related fatalities, showing how deadly these wrecks are. According to the NHTSA, 423 people die due to these collisions every year. A new proposal for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aims to reduce the frequency and severity of underride crashes.

NHTSA Works to Reduce Underride Collisions

Underride guards are steel bars than hang from the rear of a tractor-trailer that help prevent cars from sliding under tractor-trailers in accidents. While these guards are already required on many trucks in the United States, the force they are required to withstand is half that required in Canada.

In response to petitions by safety groups, the NHTSA has agreed to pursue new regulations for underride guards. The first change would require single-unit trucks – large trucks mounted on a single chassis – to use underride guards. The second change is to begin exploring rule changes to make regulations in the U.S. more similar to those in Canada. Specifically, trucks would be required to change the height at which guards are mounted; current regulations have them at 22 inches above the ground, but safety groups say 16 inches is a safer bet.

Are Changes To The Law Coming?

The changes are in their preliminary stages, so don’t expect to see sweeping changes just yet. Instead, the NHTSA has agreed to accept the safety group’s petition, which is a preliminary step toward changing regulations. According to the NHTSA, there’s ample evidence that trucks that are currently exempt from underride guard regulations play a role in a large number of fatalities, so it’s likely that more safety groups will eventually support the potential changes.

The American Trucking Association, which represents almost all major trucking companies in the country, has not raised any objections to the law, stating instead that it supports measures that make trucking safer. The organization, however, says it would prefer for the NHTSA to focus its energy on making passenger vehicles safer, suggesting the ATA might eventually oppose new regulations.

$150,000 Settlement For Post-Concussive Syndrome From Car Accident

We recently settled a case against Allstate Insurance Company for $150,000 on behalf of a young woman who suffered a concussion in a car accident and developed post-concussive syndrome as well as suffering injuries to her neck and back.

The Wreck

Ms. M was 21 years old and was on her way to school at a local university.  She was driving through an intersection and had a green light and the right of way when a driver coming the opposite direction tried to turn left in front of her.  Ms. M didn’t even have time to brake and her car crashed into the other car, causing her head to snap forward and strike the airbag.

This was a bad wreck and both cars were totaled and had to be towed from the scene.  The police spoke with two witnesses to the wreck who both said the other driver made a left turn in front of Ms. C so the police found the other driver at fault for the wreck and cited her for failure to yield while turning left.

The Injuries

After the wreck Ms. M got out of her car and felt dazed and groggy.  She tried to call 911 but couldn’t remember the password for her cell phone.  A family member came and picked her up and they immediately went to the emergency room.  Doctors ordered a CT scan, which showed a probable contusion on the front of her brain.  The hospital kept her overnight and she was discharged the next day.

In the weeks following the wreck Ms. M kept feeling groggy and began experiencing problems with her memory such as forgetting the names of people and restaurants and would sometimes stutter or struggle to find the right word to use, a medical condition known as aphasia.  She saw a neurosurgeon and a neurologist, both of whom diagnosed her with post-concussive syndrome with cognitive deficits.  They prescribed medication to help with the symptoms of the concussion and referred her to speech therapy at the Shepherd Center.

When Ms. M’s neck and back didn’t get better a couple of weeks after the wreck, she went to see an orthopedist.  The doctor ordered MRIs of her neck and back that showed mild disc bulges in her cervical and lumbar spine.  The orthopedist referred her to physical therapy and when that didn’t help she underwent a series of facet joint injections.

With therapy and time, Ms. C’s post-concussive syndrome resolved and her neck and back got better.  She graduated from college with good grades and got a good job with a local business where she’s doing well.

Lawsuit & Settlement

When Allstate refused to make a fair settlement offer to Ms. C we filed a lawsuit on her behalf.  The other driver admitted that she was at fault for the wreck so the case was about fair compensation for Ms. C’s injuries and what she went through after the wreck.  After the case was put on a trial calendar Allstate offered to mediate the case and we were able to reach a $150,000 settlement for Ms. C.

 

Electronic Tracking: Coming To A Tractor-Trailer Near You

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that tractor-trailer drivers account for about 15% of car accidents every year. Many of these wrecks are due to truck driver fatigue, with the NHTSA estimating that 30% to 40% of accidents are caused by driver fatigue. A new proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will require tractor-trailer drivers to electronically log the hours they work and drive, reducing the number of tired tractor-trailer drivers and wrecks caused by truck driver fatigue.

The Problem: Tractor-Trailer Driver Fatigue

Though the FMCSA has long worked to combat driver fatigue, trucking companies and truck drivers have both continued to push back. Many trucking companies and drivers are paid by the mile, which creates financial incentives to cover as many miles as possible, even if that means driving more than allowed by trucking safety regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration currently limits truck drivers to 11 hours of active driving each day. Drivers must log their miles to ensure they and their employers are in compliance. But this mileage logging system relies on the “honor system” from both drivers and trucking companies, making it easy to cheat the safety regulations.  In fact, the logs are often called “liar logs” because it’s so easy for truck drivers to “fudge” the hours and miles driven to make it look like they’re complying with the safety regulations.

The Solution: Electronic Tracking

The proposal by the FMCSA would require drivers to use electronic logging devices in their tractor-trailers. These devices use GPS and satellite tracking to automatically log miles and hours driven.  This will save truck drivers and trucking companies time and money, as drivers won’t have to fill out daily logs showing their hours and miles driven and trucking companies won’t have to monitor and audit the drivers’ logs for compliance with the trucking safety regulations.

More importantly, the logging devices will decrease truck driver fatigue and increase safety, as the devices make it virtually impossible for a truck driver to drive more than allowed by the trucking safety regulations without getting caught.  An analysis by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suggests that the measure could prevent 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year. The measure would also safe $394.8 million each year in traffic accident-related costs.

The proposed regulation also includes fines up to $11,000 for any company that harasses a driver for using the devices or encourages a drive to misreport his or her driving hours.