Articles Posted in Highway safety

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It’s only a matter of time before you or a loved one is injured by one of these nuisances that are so prevalent on Atlanta city and county streets these days.  Or it’s just a matter of time before you damage your car from driving over one of them.  The ubiquitous metal plate. Who thought these were a good idea in the first place?  The metal plates in the photographs above are currently on my street, Oakdale Road in unincorporated DeKalb County. These two metal plates have been there for months.  And notice there is really nothing hold them in place other than the mere weight of the things and gravity.  But a truck that ways 60,000 pounds loaded, or an SUV that weighs 10,000 pounds or even a small car that weighs 6,000 pounds going 35 m.p.h. can easily move these plates when they are not pinned down.  Once moved, they become a potentially fatal hazard to the motoring public. Imagine coming upon this monster (see photograph below) as you mind your own business driving down the road. Once your car ran over it, you and your car wouldn’t stand a chance.  The weight of your car would cause the metal plate to flip and your car would fall into the sinkhole below. It is doubtful you could escape without serious bodily injury.  The photographs below show several metal plates that are clearly not pinned down or held down in any way whatsoever.  Car and truck traffic have obviously shifted them, so that the next unknowing driver, potentially YOU, could be swallowed by the hole they are supposed to be covering.  I am confident this is not an isolated situation;  my guess is that you have seen the frightening scenario below multiple times.

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There are actually requirements for the way these metal road plates are required to be placed on the roadway.  For example, steel plates must be fixed in place to avoid movement.  In addition to being firmly in contact with the pavement, they should be either pinned, recessed into the pavement, or secured with asphalt wedges around the perimeter. Pinning into the pavement involves driving pins into the pavements along the edges of the steel plates to prevent movement. Recessing involves cutting out the area where the steel plate will be placed.  If these are the mandatory requirements for use of these monsters, why are they so seldom pinned down or recessed?  As a member of the motoring public, you are entitled to assume these plates have been put down and affixed to the street properly so that they are safe for you to drive over. The law does not require you to drive around them in an effort to avoid them.

Remember the “Pothole Posse” formed by then City of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin?  It seemed to make progress for awhile, but after the initial excitement about bringing back safe streets, we are right back where we were with our streets littered and cluttered with these metal plates. Recently, in New York, such metal road plates may have played a role in a fatal crash that killed six people.

statefarm         Do you believe that “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there?”  I have previously presented plenty of evidence that the answer to that question of whether State Farm is like a good neighbor  is  a resounding “no.”  If you recall, in my case Eells v. State Farm, State Farm did everything it could possibly do within the bounds of the law (but outside the bounds of moral and ethical decency) to prevent its own policyholder from collecting on an uninsured motorist claim after the policyholder had paid premiums to State Farm for over 40 years. I blogged about that case, which went all the way to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where we prevailed, before it was resolved.  The bottom line is that State Farm will do nearly anything to avoid paying legitimate personal injury claims, including forcing its insureds to endure a trial and potential personal exposure, rather than settle a clear liability suit prior to trial.

My son, a great lover of the sport of basketball, likes to say “The ball don’t lie.”  Well, the two cases I am going to tell you about involving State Farm clearly share the theme of “the ball don’t lie,” meaning the truth ultimately comes out. Two recent trials in Georgia have placed the litigious policies of State Farm in the spotlight.  The first trial was tried last month by James Robson and Robert Glass in Cobb County. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $850,000.00 after just two and a half hours of deliberation.  The at-fault driver, insured by State Farm, had only $100,000.00 in liability coverage. The plaintiff’s attorneys demanded the $100,000.00 to settle the case prior to trial, even though the plaintiff’s medical bills from her injuries were nearly $170,000.00.  This means any verdict for the plaintiff would be very likely to be in excess of $170,000.00.  State Farm had the opportunity (and the contractual duty) to resolve the case prior to trial for the demanded policy limits of $100,000.00.  The plaintiff’s attorneys gave State Farm and extension of time to decide to pay the policy limits and even had the plaintiff’s treating physician speak by telephone to the State Farm adjuster confirming for her the plaintiff required neck surgery from the car wreck.  But did State Farm do the right thing?  No. State offered only $22,500.00 to settle the case, even after admitting their insured was at fault in causing the wreck.  The jury returned what is known as an “excess verdict,”  i.e., over the policy limits, and because State Farm had the clear chance to resolve the case for policy limits, will be on the hook to pay the entire verdict.   You have often heard of “frivolous lawsuits” in the media but you seldom hear of “frivolous defenses.” This case was certainly one of them.

Another was in a case tried last week in Bartow County by my good friends and fellow trial lawyers Morgan Akin and Lester Tate of Akin & Tate in Cartersville.  In that case, the plaintiff  pulled into a roadway after stopping at a stop sign and was struck directly in the rear by a teenage driver. The investigating Georgia State Trooper measured 229 feet of skid marks left by the teenage driver as he tried to stop before rear-ending the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The State Trooper found teen driver at fault. Mom of teen driver then went to State Trooper’s supervisor with photos maintaining the plaintiff just pulled out in front of him. Ultimately, the State Trooper relented and amended the accident report changing fault to that of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff had shoulder surgery and $90,000.00 in medical bills.  State Farm took up the mom’s torch, denied all liability and hired an expert who simply ignored the skid marks.  The plaintiff’s expert accident reconstructionist, Herman Hill, testified that not only did the teenage driver hit the plaintiff in the rear but was going 75 MPH+ at the time of the collision based on the amount of skid marks left by her car’s tires during braking. State Farm doubled down by asserting a counter claim. The Plaintiff made a settlement demand of  100K policy limits initially and then after extensive litigation made a settlement demand of $275,000.00 prior to trial. State Farm never made an offer.  The jury returned a verdict of $300,000.00.  And because State Farm had the opportunity to resolve this case within the policy limits of $100,000.00 but declined to do so, State Farm will be on the hook for the entire verdict.  Can you imagine being rear-ended by a teenage driver going 75 m.p.h. and then the teenage driver tries to blame you for it?

bicyclewarningsignMy friend and  fellow trial lawyer, Lester Tate, and I are representing a young man in a case against Kawasaki, the manufacturer of the motorcycle he was riding when he was severely injured because it stalled on him. Months later, he received a recall notice that said the voltage regulator on his motorcycle was defective.  The minute he received the notice he thought that sure explained what happened to him the day his world was turned upside with a catastrophic motorcycle wreck.  The case was heard yesterday before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, our appellate court for cases that are filed in Federal Court, here in the Northern District of Georgia.  One of the issues on appeal involves Kawasaki’s duty to warn its customers who have bought or used that particular motorcycle about a known defect with the motorcycle’s voltage regulator.  So, a manufacturer’s duty owed to its consumer is heavily on mind right now.

What exactly is a manufacturer’s duty to want its customers of a potentially defective product?  Under Georgia law , when the manufacturer of a product has actual or constructive knowledge that its product involves danger to users of the product, the manufacturer has a duty to warn users of the danger. Battersby v. Boyer, 526 S.E. 2d 159, 162 (Ga. App. 1999). O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11(b)(1) provides that “[t]he manufacturer of any personal property sold as new property directly or through a dealer or any other person shall be liable in tort, irrespective of privity, to any natural person who may use, consume, or reasonably be affected by the property and who suffers injury to his person or property because the property when sold by the manufacturer was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended, and its condition when sold is the proximate cause of the injury sustained.” The term “not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended” as used in this statute means “defective.” Giordano v. Ford Motor Co., 165 Ga. App. 644, 645(1983). “In a product liability case, the existence of a duty to warn depends upon the foreseeability of the use in question and the type of danger involved, and the foreseeability of the user’s knowledge of the danger.” Dorsey Trailers Southeast v. Brackett, 363 S.E.2d 779, 781 (Ga. App. 1987). A manufacturer may be subject to liability for failing to warn the user adequately of the known or foreseen danger if there is no reason to believe the user will realize the dangerous condition.” Id. at 477; see Ford Motor Co. v. Stubblefield, 319 S.E.2d 470, 477 (Ga. App. 1984). When a duty to warn arises, the duty may be breached in one of two ways: (1) failure to communicate the warning to the ultimate user; or (2) failure to provide an adequate warning of the product’s potential risks. Battersby, 526 S.E.2d at 163; see Wilson Foods Corp. v. Turner, 460 S.E.2d 532, 534 (Ga. App. 1995) (citing Thornton v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours &Co. Inc., 22 F.3d 284, 290 (11th Cir. 1994)). “This duty to warn is a continuing one and may arise “months, years, or even decades after the date of the first sale of the product.” Watkins v. Ford Motor Co., 190 F.3d 1213, 1218 (11th Cir. 1999). “Some products are defective solely due to an inadequate or absent warning.” Chrysler Corp. v. Batten, 264 Ga. 723, 724, 450 S.E.2d 208, 211 (1994).

The issue of failure to warn, including the lack of any warning or the adequacy of any warning, is one that the jury must resolve. See, e.g., Dorsey Trailers Southeast v. Brackett, 363 S.E.2d 779, 782 (Ga. App. 1987); Bryant v. BGHA, Inc., 9 F. Supp. 3d 1374, 1389-90 (M.D. Ga. 2014); Giordano v. Ford Motor Co., 165 Ga. App. 644, 645 (1983)(“Whether a duty to warn exists thus depends upon foreseeability of the use in question, the type of danger involved, and the foreseeability of the user’s knowledge of the danger. See Greenway v. Peabody International Corp., 163 Ga.App. 698, 294 S.E.2d 541 (1982). Such matters generally are not susceptible of summary adjudication and should be resolved by a trial in the ordinary manner. Beam v. Omark Ind., Inc., 143 Ga.App. 142, 145, 237 S.E.2d 607 (1977).”).

policecarPolice chases seem to be extremely prevalent in our everyday goings on lately. Last night I watched the famous “slow speed chase” of O.J. Simpson when he fled the Los Angeles Police Department back in 1994  instead of turning himself in as agreed upon following the murders of his wife Nicole and her friend. The mini-series drama currently being shown on the FX Network about “The Juice” reminded me of the night that slow speed chase happened as my husband and I watched in horror and amazement in 1994 as my husband put together the crib for the child we were expecting in August of that year.  Then I woke up this morning to a text alert from the AJC that there had been another police chase here in Atlanta this morning. This morning’s chase, which was near the Douglas-Cobb county line, near Six Flags Over Georgia,  was of two people suspected of having robbed a convenience store of cash and cigarettes.  This police chase ended with the suspects’ car crashing into a utility trailer. The police caught one suspect and the other suspect got away. Apparently, no one was injured in the police chase this morning.  Thank Goodness, I might add.  In San Francisco, California on Sunday, February 7, three people were killed in a police chase after police chased a car that had been seen “doing circles” in the middle of a city street.

We were not so fortunate, however, with regard to two other police chases that occurred a week ago. In Gwinnett County, a totally innocent older couple was killed in a police chase in which the Johns Creek Police Department started a high speed chase of a vehicle for “equipment violation” because it had multiple antennae.  This chase lasted for 4 miles and reportedly reached speeds of 83 m.p.h.  The couple was driving home after celebrating the 78th birthday of one of them.  The suspect’s car crashed into the innocent couple’s car and killed them. No, the police car didn’t hit the couple’s car, but in the world of proximate cause, “but for” the police car and the police chase this lovely couple would be still be alive.  Tragically, and almost unbelievably, the next day a totally innocent grandmother who was taking her precious two grandchildren to church on Sunday morning,  was killed, along with those precious two grandchildren, in a high speed police chase.  This time it was the College Park Police Department chasing a vehicle driven by a suspect suspected to have stolen a vehicle. The chase lasted a purported 10 miles. Five innocent lives lost in the span of two days due to high speed police chases.

Think for just a minute how you would feel if one of your loved ones were killed because of a high speed chase.  How would you feel?  Would you think the high speed police chase had been unnecessary?  Not worth the risk?  Put yourself in the shoes of those grieving family members for a minute.

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My car has a push button starter:  am I at risk? The short answer is yes.  Not only are YOU are risk but anyone who lives in your house if you have an attached garage in which you park your car is at risk, too, for carbon monoxide poisoning and perhaps even death. Does your push button starter look anything like the one above? I was driving a rental car on business in another state recently and it had one of these push button starters. I had never used one before, but I had certainly heard of their inherent dangers. The problem is a design flaw. You may think you have turned off the ignition, after all, you have the keyless fob in your pocket with you.  But often the engine is so quiet while in park you don’t realize it is still running. If you park your car in an attached garage, dangerous carbon monoxide gas can easily enter your home and kill you and anyone in your home while you sleep, without your ever waking up to realize there is a fatal hazard in your home.

This design flaw is well known to car manufacturers. “We have documented at least 19 fatalities that are specifically attributed to keyless ignition vehicles since 2009 and 25 more close calls,” said Janette Fennell, founder and president of the safety group KidsAndCars.org. “As more keyless ignition vehicles are sold, we are going to see these predictable and preventable injuries and deaths increase.”

There is a simple solution:  an automatic shut-off system for the car if it has been running for a certain amount of time without moving, e.g., 30 minutes or so. This would prevent any carbon monoxide build up if you accidentally leave your car running in your garage. Some cars do have this safety feature, others do not. It is difficult at this point even to understand why not all such cars would include the automatic shut-off feature. There is currently a class action lawsuit filed against 10 automobile manufacturers who have not incorporated this simple fix of a deadly design defect. According to the suit, the automakers have long known about the risk keyless ignitions pose. In fact, the suit claims, that at least 27 complaints have been submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2009.  There is evidence that these cars continue to run regardless of how far away the keyless fob is from the running car.

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There has been a lot of press this past week about the near death of NBA basketball player Lamar Odom at the Love Ranch in Las Vegas.  Fortunately, Mr. Odom’s condition has improved dramatically.  As part of the media frenzy about the incident, parts of the 911 calls when Mr. Odom was found unconscious have been played over and over on the radio and on the internet.  I have heard several “journalists” comment that they can’t believe the 911 calls were made public and they should be private.

So, is your 911 call public information?  Yes! Any 911 call is public information subject to the State’s open records act.  Here in Georgia, our Georgia Open Records Act (“ORA”), O.C.G.A. Section 50-18-70 et. seq., defines “public record” as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, data, data fields, or similar material prepared and maintained or received by an agency or by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency or when such documents have been transferred to a private person or entity by an agency for storage or future governmental use.”  A taped 911 call certainly fits within this definition. And citizens shouldn’t want it any other way.  The Open Records Act is sometimes referred to as “The Sunshine Law” because it throws light on what your government is doing.   As our Attorney General Sam Olens has said “Government operates best when it operates openly.” –Attorney General Olens.  Give credit to AG Olens who has made strengthening the Georgia Open Records Act one of his primary goals.

When I represent a client in which there was a 911 call made, such as a car wreck, or an injury on a business premises, or anything of that nature, I routinely immediately request the 911 calls through the Georgia Open Records Act. I do this to obtain them before they might be lost or erased.  911 calls can be a treasure trove of information. Quite often I obtain the names of eyewitnesses to car wrecks who are often never even listed on the police report. Plus they often contain a short statement from the eyewitness about how the wreck happened, stated immediately after they saw it!  That’s pretty hard to beat!!  So, yes, any 911 call is available to the public with a simple request and I will continue to request them in every case of mine.

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The Georgia State Patrol and and various National Databanks, including the National Safety Council, have for years kept the morbid statistics of how many people die during any given Holiday weekend. I have blogged about this in the past and try to keep tabs on whether Georgia highways are getting safer. Here are 5 things to know about traffic safety from the 2015 Labor Day:

  1.  In Georgia this past weekend 14 people lost their lives in traffic incidents as reported by the Georgia State Patrol. Just for comparison’s sake, there were only two traffic fatalities in Connecticut. In Kentucky there were nine.
  2. The National Safety Council estimated there would be 395 traffic fatalities in the United States this Labor Day. Final National numbers are not yet in as some polls include any fatalities up to Tuesday morning.

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One of my favorite holidays, the Fourth of July, celebrating our Nation’s Independence, has just passed. It’s the time to celebrate our nation’s formation and relax, wherever you might be, with family and friends over the long weekend. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous weekends of the year due to an array of safety hazards. I hope it was a safe holiday for you and your family. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Driving: Independence Day weekend consistently results in the highest amount of fatal crashes in the U.S. Between 2008 and 2012, there was a calculated average of 127 fatal car accidents each year just on July 4th. Just about everyone is going to be on the road, and will likely be distracted and hurried. Distracted driving, as I’ve written about before, has become a major problem over the last decade due to cell phones. For your own safety and those around you, put them away while driving! Alcohol is also a significant factor in crashes, and accounted for 41% of deaths last year. So needless to say, DON’T drive drunk. The ride app Uber is a great new tool and when in doubt, call a cab. Also, DO remember to buckle up. The CDC reports that it can reduce injuries and deaths in a crash by 50%.

Fireworks: Because of the new laws put in to effect July 1st, it is now legal to set off fireworks in Georgia between certain times on holidays. This is great news for fireworks fanatics, because you won’t have to drive to Alabama anymore for your sparklers; however, it is very important to be cautious while using them. In 2013, there were eight deaths and 11,400 injuries in the US just due to fireworks. If you’re lighting them yourself, DO make sure you’re in a clear outdoor area with no surrounding trees or brush. Keep a safe distance from them as they go off, and always have a water source nearby, just in case. I also recently read about fireworks triggering PTSD for veterans, as the loud explosions can cause distress for those dealing with the disorder. If you know of veterans in your neighborhood and plan to set off fireworks this weekend, it may be courteous to let them know.

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In recent months, a series of serious automotive recalls has hit the headlines. Two major companies, Takata and General Motors, have begun issuing recalls of millions of cars due to defective safety features. For almost ten years, these companies have avoided these potential issues and as a result, many people have died. These companies must now publicly face the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for the deaths caused by these incidents.

In a recent article by Claims Journal, General Motors attorney Kenneth Feinberg stated that GM is now taking responsibility for at least 100 deaths caused by faulty ignition switches in some of their vehicles. This number is a sharp increase from the 13 documented deaths caused by the malfunctioning switches last year. Feinberg stated that each claim found to be legitimately caused by a faulty switch would begin with $1 million in compensation, and increase based on the specifics of the accident.

The exact issue with the switches is that they can sometimes slip from the “on” position to the “off” position, which causes the cars to stall and disables the air bag functioning. Obviously, this poses a huge safety risk in the case of a crash, and is something that General Motors should have thoroughly investigated when the claims began almost a decade ago. They believe the car models most affected by ignition recalls are Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn. In the interest of public safety GM has created a website dedicated to information regarding the recall. To check if your car is on the list, click here.

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Each state keeps the grim statistics of deaths and injuries from car wrecks on major holidays.  Georgia is no exception.  The final statistics for Georgia have not yet been released by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, but this year’s Memorial Day traffic was supposed to be the heaviest ever for this holiday, so you can bet the number of wrecks went up. This news couldn’t come at a worse time for Georgia as it has just recently been reported that Georgia traffic deaths are on the rise.

“With traffic related deaths up 25 percent, Georgia DOT is urging drivers to Drive Alert, Arrive Alive. Their new campaign prompting drivers to wear their seatbelts, stay off the phone and focus on driving.

Georgia isn’t the only state with an increase in roadway deaths. As of May 17, 327 people have died on South Carolina highways, this compared to 282 highway deaths during the same time period in 2014.