March 9, 2023
Michael L. Thurmond
CEO, DeKalb County
March 9, 2023
Michael L. Thurmond
CEO, DeKalb County
I noticed this morning with sadness that a young woman was killed on I-285 last night when she got out of her car. Police said the accident happened around 10 p.m. on I-285 NB between South Cobb Drive and Atlanta Road. There is no mention of why she left her car to become a person-on-foot on I-285, which is, by the way, one of the deadliest freeways in the United States. Whatever the reason, your car breaks down, or you have a medical emergency, you have a flat tire, or whatever...do not get out of your car on a highway. Getting out of your car of a highway is also one of the deadliest things you can do, even if you stay in an emergency lane. It doesn’t matter, it is still dangerous. “You are better protected in the car than anywhere else,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for the Northeast division of AAA.
I represent a Good Samaritan right now who saw a car on the side of the way, apparently, having car trouble. He stopped to help because he is a good person. Unfortunately, while he was on foot trying to help the people in the stalled car, a van hits him and catastrophically injures him. He survived, but has not been able to return to work since. I hate to tell people stop helping others, stop being a Good Samaritan, but being a Good Samaritan can get you killed. Do not get out of your car on a highway or interstate. Remain in your car and call 911 or your roadside assistance. Wait in the car until they get there. There is no safe place to be on the outside of your car. Stay in your car!
It is so dangerous out there on our Georgia roads. Stay safe!
Have you received something like this lately from any corporation? It is a “forced arbitration” clause in which a corporation unilaterally revokes your right to a jury trial should it cause you harm or damages in any way. This forced arbitration clause is AT & T’s version. Rather than telling you “Hey, Customer, we have taken away your right to trial without your consent,” they say “We have updated your contract terms.” Further, rather than simply telling you that AT & T is taking away your right to a jury trial regarding any dispute you may have with it, AT & T ridiculously states “We have simplified and updated the contract terms….” Then the unilateral notice says:
“we will resolve any disputes by individual arbitration and not by jury trial or class action.
Your continued use of AT & T service tells us you accept and agree to be bound by the Consumer
I have noticed during this Coronavirus Pandemic that there are more bicyclists and walkers out on our streets than usual. It seems everyone is trying to use the time they, otherwise, might be spending at their office, getting some much-needed exercise. Over the past two months, Over the past two months, bicycle sales saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including children’s’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before,bicycle sales saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including children’s’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before. Sales of commuter and fitness bikes in the same month increased 66 percent, leisure bikes jumped 121 percent, children’s bikes went up 59 percent and electric bikes rose 85 percent. By the end of April, many stores and distributors had sold out of low-end consumer bikes. Now, the United States is facing a severe bicycle shortage as global supply chains, disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, scramble to meet the surge in demand.
Unfortunately, with so many extra pedestrians and bicyclists on the street come more injuries from being hit by a car or truck. This is especially true as walkers often walk in the streets themselves rather than the sidewalk to distance themselves from other walkers on the sidewalks. For bicyclists, many are hopping on bikes for the first time in years and may not be used to the traffic encountered on certain streets and the danger it brings. In New York City, for example, bicyling injuires were up 43% during the Coronvirus crisis. I have not seen similar government-maintained statistics for Georgia, although the Department of Highway Safety does still have online a manual for bicycle riders from 2006. You may find all of Georgia’s rules and ordinances regarding riding a bicycle on the Georgia Deparment of Highway Safety’s website, although it may be a little out of date.
I have represented numerous pedestrians and numerous cyclists in cases when they have been hit by a vehicle. Often, the driver of the vehicle does the right thing and stays with the cyclist and calls 911. But sometimes, the driver of the vehicle does the absolute wrong thing and leaves the scene and leaves the cyclist hurt and alone on the pavement. The vehicle driver who leaves the scene becomes a “John Doe,” identity unknown. Many injured pedestrians or cyclists may think there is nothing they can do to get justice in that situation, that the at-fault driver just gets away with it. But there is a little known method of recovery under the injured person’s uninsured motorist coverage, if the victim owns a car and it is insured with uninsured motorist coverage. That particular type of car insurance actually covers you as a pedestrian or cyclist if you are hit by an unknown vehicle, as long as there is some type of corroboration that it was, in fact, a vehicle that hit the person. Corroboration can be made by an eyewitness, physical evidence left at the scene, e.g., a car bumper torn off, damaged bike or possibly other evidence that you would expect to see in a vehicle v. bike collision. Unless you practice this kind of personal injury law, like I do, you would have no reason even to be aware that your car insurance policy might cover you as a pedestrian or cyclist. It is not clear from reading most policies, and you sure can’t count on your insurance agent informing you of it.
Does anyone else out there hate scooters? For those folks still in denial about the risk/cost benefit analysis in riding scooters, you should know that scooter injuries continue to climb. A new report by the University of California San Francisco revealed Electric scooter-related injuries resulting in hospitalization more than tripled over five years nationwide. The results showed nearly 40,000 injuries in the past five years, increasing from 6 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 19 per 100,000 in 2018. The number of hospital admissions — meaning injuries severe enough to require further medical attention — soared by 365% to nearly 3,300, the study found.
I’m not surprised. Are you?
Scooter injuries and even deaths have been in the news here in Atlanta nearly daily. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms even outlawed use of scooters at night in the city due to four scooter-related deaths. On any given day on my way to my office, which is in Downtown Atlanta, I see 2 or 3 near-catastrophic collisions with scooter-riders and cars or immovable objects. Surely, you have, too. Add a little alcohol consumed by tourists who think “it will be fun” to ride a scooter for the first time after having a few drinks, it is downright mayhem on our city streets. I have seen two or even three people riding one scooter at a time. I have seen a scooter rider texting while scooting. I have seen a scooter rider with a back-pack on, drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. Anything goes. It’s totally lawless! Part of the cause of many scooter-rider injuries must be due to lack of skill and practice riding a scooter. “E-scooters have a narrow platform, can travel up to 15 to 20 miles per hour and require a level of coordination and skill that is often not native to many users,” said Aiza Ashraf, M.D., diagnostic radiology resident at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “Whereas physical effort is required to get a bicycle up to speed, e-scooters are self-powering.”
You may have read recently about a little problem with the school bus stopping laws that the Georgia General Assembly is now trying to fix. Last year the Georgia Legislature amended the school bus stopping laws with a dozen words that are, apparently, having bad, unintended consequences, one of which is car drivers no longer believing they have to stop every time for every school bus. Those words were: ““including, but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane.”” School transportation officials from at least 102 counties caught the problem before it was passed, and even wrote a letter to then Governor Nathan Deal in April of 2018 before it passed on July 1, 2018, to try to put a quash on it. But to no avail. It passed. And with it came new concerns about children’s safety as they exit school buses.
Before this amendment, Georgia law required traffic in both directions to stop for a stopped school bus with it’s “STOP” sign out on any laned highway unless the directions were divided by a raised median. Here is the law on overtaking a stopped school bus:
Transportation is constantly changing. The year 2002 brought us Segway Personal Transporters; 2009 gave us Uber (formerly “Ubercab”); 2010 brought bike-share companies to the U.S.; and 2017? Scooters. Yes, the same toys we used to ride around our neighborhoods as kids have now become electrified and are the newest, hippest mode of transportation in at least 21 states of the U.S. These electric scooter companies — namely Bird, Lime, and Spin — are taking cities by storm in recent months. People from the company drop off dozens of scooters at “nests” located around the city each morning for civilians to pick up. The person can pay through the app the $1 starting fee, ride it around — paying additionally by time or mileage — and then just drop the scooter off wherever he or she would like. At the end of the night, the company collects the scooters around the city to check for maintenance and repair needs and then deposits them around the city streets the next morning. At first blush, this idea seems great! Avoid traffic, get to a close distance quickly, and for cheap! Upon closer observation, however, just as the scooters seem to be taking over, more and more problems are quickly emerging with the newest toy-turned-transportation.
First, safety. There have been numerous accidents reported in the last few months as the scooters have become more readily available to the public. The websites and apps for these scooters suggest the riders should wear a helmet; however, there is no method of enforcement from the businesses, and when a person picks up a Bird to ride around town, a helmet does not come attached to the scooter for a rider to wear, and people walking around downtown are likely not already carrying a helmet with them when they get the urge to pick up a scooter. Bird only provides a helmet when a rider puts in a request for one. Personal injury attorneys across the country are reporting dozens of people seeking representation after getting injured on these scooters, and liability and insurance surrounding this latest mode of transportation is a relatively uncharted territory for these attorneys to try to manage. Liability can be hard to prove, and questions of insurance coverage for injuries can be tricky to answer; health insurance will say that car insurance should cover medical expenses, and car insurance points the finger back saying it won’t cover a crash on a two-wheeled vehicle. Oddly enough, according to one personal injury attorney, it’s possible that homeowners or renters insurance could cover a rider in these situations. Another attorney says that though Bird says that riders use the scooter at their own risk and limit its own liability to $100, the company’s waiver likely will not stop claims of gross negligence.
As if the safety concerns were not enough to label these scooters an official nuisance, the legal concerns may do it. According to the Official Code of Georgia, the operation of motor scooters is only mentioned once under the definition of “motor driven cycle” which also includes motorcycles, bicycles with motors attached, and mopeds. Clearly, these newly innovated technological devices (electric scooters) have yet to be addressed by many state legal codes. Because of the lack of specificity in the Code regarding the definition of electric scooters, cities around the country are interpreting law one way, and the scooter companies are interpreting it the other way. The companies do not want riders using the scooters on sidewalks, and the Cities don’t want the riders using them on streets. Additionally, confusion over whether the scooters need license and registration has been at the center of much debate over the legality of the scooters. One of the main legal concerns and problems the cities and public are having with the electric scooters is the sidewalk litter they cause. Because a rider is able to pick up, ride, and drop off the scooter wherever he or she pleases, the “dockless” nature of these scooters is causing sidewalks to fill up with scooters disposed of by inconsiderate riders, blocking pedestrians’ and wheelchairs’ paths. Though many of the legal concerns are up for debate right now, the issue surrounding the blocking of the sidewalk is not one to be misinterpreted; O.C.G.A. § 16-11-43 says it is illegal to recklessly obstruct any “sidewalk, or other public passage in such a way as to render it impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard” and failure to remove the obstruction — namely, the electric scooter left lying in the middle of the sidewalk — after an official request to do so is a misdemeanor offense.
Taking a stroll down the streets of Atlanta can be a healthy pastime or a means of getting in your social interactions for the week, but the cheapest form of transportation is quickly becoming one of the more dangerous. One unfortunate story in Smyrna, GA last week tells of a pedestrian fatality at the hands of a distracted driver; the driver made a phone call, drove off of the roadway, and struck the pedestrian. Another upsetting story in the AJC last week reported of a woman killed in Atlanta as she attempted to cross I-75 and was struck by multiple cars. Recent reports suggest that she attempted to run across the highway due to a dispute over drugs that resulted in someone chasing her. Unfortunately, this story is just one of many that could be written in Georgia this year, as pedestrian fatalities are on the rise on the national level. From 2007 to 2016, the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 27%, and whether the victim is a harmless pedestrian walking to work or drugs are at play, researchers are not quite certain what is the main cause for the increasing numbers of pedestrian fatalities in the recent years.
Reports over the last few years have found a few potential factors to the increasing fatalities. Obviously, cell phone usage is an issue. Whether a distracted driver is using a phone while operating a vehicle or a distracted pedestrian has his or her face buried in the phone while walking through a crosswalk, cell phones are making us more distracted, less aware of our surroundings, and slower to react when we encounter danger. Cell phone use increased by 236% in the years 2010 to 2016, providing greater opportunity for cell phone related pedestrian accidents.
Many studies and reports suggest the increase in cell phone usage could be a leading cause of pedestrian involved accidents, but a new study provides an interesting possible factor in the rising number of pedestrian fatalities: marijuana. The report does not intend to imply direct correlation of any sort but merely suggests that the possible impairment of judgment and reaction time — for both drivers and pedestrians — due to recreational use of marijuana could lead to higher pedestrian incidents on the roadway. The study found that in DC and the 7 states that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016, there was a collective 16.4% INCREASE in pedestrian fatalities between the first 6 months of 2016 and the first 6 months of 2017. Conversely, in the remaining states, there was a collective 5.8% DECREASE in pedestrian fatalities between those two time spans.