Articles Tagged with car wreck

cell phone driving
In Washington last month, Governor Jay Inslee took a step towards improving the safety of his streets by signing a law prohibiting the holding of any electronic device (cell phones, tablets, etc) while driving or waiting at a stop light. The law will go in effect in July due to the Governor’s veto of a section that would have postponed the law’s implementation until 2019. The matter is just too important to wait.

As technology’s prevalence in our everyday lives increases, its capability of distraction from our other daily activities increases as well. This includes our activity within our car. The human’s false sense of ability to multitask often leads to problems behind the wheel. The driver only looks away for one second or only needs to pick up that napkin or only needs to change the radio station or only needs to send that last text. But those single and quick moments that the driver’s attention is diverted are the single and quick moments that can take the driver’s or someone else’s life.

The problem doesn’t only occur with drivers looking away. A driver can be very much so distracted while his or her eyes are fixed on the road. There are many different types of distractions: internal (items inside the car), external (objects outside the car), visual (eyes taken off the road), manual (hands taken off the wheel), and cognitive (distracting thoughts). It just so happens that the use of the cell phone is a combination distraction; it combines the dangerous aspects of the various types of distractions into one grand distraction. In the entire time that you go through the process of picking the phone up, looking down at it to find the contact you want to call, thinking about if the other person can answer your call, and physically dialing the call, your focus has been taken off driving long enough to have an accident.

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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.

iphone   This week in Georgia a Georgia State trial court ruled in favor of the social media application Snapchat in a personal injury case and granted Snapchat judgment as a matter of law based on immunity.  The case is Maynard v. Snapchat and is pending in the Spalding County State Court. The plaintiff, who suffered severe brain damage in a wreck when he was hit by a teen who was using Snapchat at the time of the wreck is ably represented by several of my friends, including Mike Terry and Michael Neff, both wonderful lawyers. The suit asserted that Snapchat’s speed filter—a feature which allows a user to photograph how fast a user is going—”motivated” McGee to “drive at an excessive speed to obtain recognition and to share her experiences through Snapchat.”  Apparently, young drivers who use Snapchat are now often driving recklessly fast so they can snap a photo of the speed of the car they are driving to share it with all of their Snapchat followers, and then I guess the reckless driver gets to brag to all of her friends, “Hey! Look at me!!  Me! Me! Me!  Look how fast I am driving!!  Whoopeeee!”  But the Snapchat app encourages the driver to break the law, drive way too fast, illegally fast, and then requires an action by the speeding driver to capture the not-to-be-missed moment.  Those few seconds of distraction force the young driver to take her eyes off the road and they often lose control of their car or fail to stay in their lane, resulting in a horrible car wreck and causing untold devastation to an innocent person minding his own business driving on the road that night.  In the Spalding County case the evidence showed the teen driver reached speeds of 113 m.p.h. AWFUL!

The defense attorneys argued successfully that Snapchat was entitled to complete immunity under the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, and whose Section 230 states, “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  This provision seems to grant immunity for written communications published on the social media application, not for creating an app that encourages someone to break the law in the first place.  Simply reading the literal words of the immunity provision, they would seem to be inapplicable to the facts of this case.  But I’m not a judge and the only opinion that counts is the trial judge’s and he disagreed with me.  Plaintiff’s counsel, I would assume, are considering an appeal.

This case shows a horrifying trend with the Snapchat “speed filter.”  In November of last year in Tampa, Florida, a teen driver who reached speeds of 115 m.p.h. lost control of her car, crossed a median and hit a minivan carrying a family. The wreck killed five people. Snapchat says it actively discourages “their community” to use the speed filter while driving.  If that is true, what is the point of it?  Can Snapchat claim, with a straight face, argue that the speed filter is not designed to be used while driving when it’s entire purpose is to measure a vehicle’s speed?  There is also currently pending in Texas another lawsuit against Apple with essentially the same facts and allegations as the Maynard case here in Georgia but involving Apple’s application Facetime. In that case, a   “driver rear-ended the Modisettes with his Toyota 4Runner at 65 miles per hour — killing five-year-old Moriah Modisette. The driver, Garret Wilhem, told police he was on FaceTime at the time of the crash, and officers found his phone in the car with FaceTime still engaged.”

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I constantly hear, even from jurors, that we are a “litigious society,”  that everyone sues over everything these days. Assuming this is true, who is to blame?  Critics immediately place the blame at the feet of the injured plaintiffs who must bring the lawsuit for compensation for the injuries they have suffered that were caused by someone’s carelessness. If those darn hurt people who can’t work any longer because of their injuries would just not file a lawsuit we wouldn’t be a litigious society!!  The nerve of these people!  Getting injured through no fault of their own and then expecting compensation for the medical bills, lost wages, pain, inconvenience, inability to work, permanent scarring, loss of their normal quality of life, etc., from the person who caused it all.  The gall! Can you believe these people?

Yes.  Yes, I can. I believe these people because these are the people I represent every single day. These are the people who began their day with their normal routine like every other person but who, unfortunately, came into the path of someone who was careless, someone who wasn’t paying attention to the road, someone who was texting while driving, someone who was reckless and causes an upheaval in the life of someone else due to their negligence and carelessness.

But don’t blame these injured folks. Blame the insurance companies of the careless individuals, because it is the car insurance companies who take the stance “so sue me” and invite litigation that easily could have been avoided had they simply been reasonable in negotiating an insurance claim for personal injury.

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?

goodmanbentlywreck
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.

I saw in this morning’s AJC an article on the front page about distracted driving. Unfortunately, the article reports that distracted driving has gone up, that roadway deaths on Georgia roads have increased by a third and that distracted driving may very well be to blame for that increase.  Online today I also read of the tragic death of a Roswell High School student from a car wreck with another teenager Saturday night.  We do not yet know what caused this tragic accident.

As the mother of a 20 year old college student and a 17 year old senior in high school, both of whom drive on a regular basis, this is the sort of news that leads to a lot of sleepless nights. I know you parents out there can sympathize. The question is what can we do to reduce the number of such highway deaths? Has distracted driving made a difference?

Most of us may think of “distracted driving” being solely texting while driving (something I labeled “TWD” years ago).  Texting While Driving is now illegal in Georgia (and has been since 2010) and in 45 states total. 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.  That means simply making telephone calls on your mobile phone while driving is illegal, much less texting while driving. But what is the distinction between texting while driving and calling while driving?  Is there one?  Can’t punching in someone’s cell phone number while driving be just as distracting as texting a message while driving? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2012 driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes – with 3,328 people killed – and crashes resulting in an injury – with 421,000 people wounded. 

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I have handled hundreds and hundreds of car wreck cases in Georgia.  Very often I hear this common theme from prospective clients:  “I Could Have Been Killed!”  And it is often very true…they could have been killed, but thankfully, they weren’t.  So do you have a case when you could have been killed but you weren’t?  Or better put, do you have a case when you could have been killed but you weren’t physically harmed at all?

I thought of this because this morning while perusing the headlines I came upon this story about a JetBlue plane that experienced a blown engine and made an emergency landing.  Smoke filled the cabin, oxygen masks magically came down, and flight attendants yelled “Brace!  Brace!  Brace!” as they landed, which fortunately, they did so safely without injury.  Watch the video and you will see that many people on board thought they were about to die.  And, in fact, they had a long time to think that as the plane, which was over water, had to turn around and go back to California to land. They all could have been killed, but they weren’t.

Therein lies the conundrum.

countyline
Let’s say you have been injured in a car wreck because of negligent maintenance of a right of way owned by the County.  Can you sue the County for your injuries?

Of course, I have tried to teach my readers the short answer is always yes, you can sue anybody for anything. The real question then is if you sue the County, will your lawsuit be successful? The answer there, unfortunately, is probably not.

Counties in Georgia enjoy wide immunity from being held accountable through lawsuits. This is called “‘sovereign immunity,” which simply means you can’t sue the King. Were your car wreck to have occurred on a State-owned right-of-way, maintained by the State of Georgia, you would have a viable lawsuit against the State of Georgia under a statute known as “The Georgia Tort Claims Act,”  O.C.G.A. Section 50-21-20 through -37.   The State of Georgia, in passing “The Georgia Tort Claims Act,” recognized the inequity of a situation that would allow a Georgia citizen to be able to sue and recover from a private individual or corporation if they were negligent but not from the State of Georgia if it, acting through its employees, were negligent.  The trade-off agreed in the statute for doing away with sovereign immunity for the State is an individual employee may not be personally sued (so it protects State of Georgia employees from litigation) and recovery is capped (regardless of injury) at $1 Million.  This seems like an inherently reasonable trade-off…good for all citizens of the State of Georgia.

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Do I have a case?  I am asked this countless times…at church, over cocktails, in the gym…anywhere where someone who knows I am a trial lawyer who represents injured individuals finds me and grabs me to ask. Do I have a case?  Four little words, but so very complex.

In the world of personal injury law practice, I am a generalist. I take all variety of personal injury cases. The only limitation for me is whether I think I can prove the case and whether the damages justify my representation. So “Do I have a case” depends on many things, but first is can we prove one?  The plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit has the burden of proof, meaning the plaintiff must prove the case and the defendant really has no burden. The plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, four things:  1)duty; and 2) breach of duty; and 3) causation and 4) damages.  “Preponderance of the evidence”  is a cute little phrase that means nothing more than it is more likely than not.  “Preponderance” is used in law school and should never be used again anywhere else, but especially not in a courtroom to a jury.  The burden of proof simply means that a jury agrees it is more likely than not that this thing happened.  And the plaintiff must prove all four necessary elements;  three out of four is not good enough.

Sometimes determining whether someone owed you a duty not to injure you is simple. Like in a car wreck case in which you have been rear-ended.  Every driver on our Georgia roads owes every other driver on our roads a duty not to follow too closely and not to rear-end the car in front of them. So if you have been rear-ended in a car wreck, you can easily prove #1 and #2, duty and breach. In our car wreck case example, it is #3 and #4 that get a little harder.  Damages means you have an injury to which you attribute to the car wreck. Damages are simple enough usually…if you suffered a broken leg in a car wreck, a leg which was perfectly fine before the car wreck, you have both damages and causation, meaning you can prove the broken leg was caused by the wreck and not from something else, not from some other force. If however, you believe you have injured your back or neck in a rear-end car wreck but no broken bones, the task of proving causation, that the force of the car wreck caused the neck or back injury and nothing else, gets a bit harder. Factors involved here on whether you can prove causation include your past medical history and whether you had ever been treated for neck or back problems before the wreck.  For example, let’s say you were involved in our rear-end car wreck on the way to the hospital for back surgery for a chronic back problem.  It would be pretty difficult to prove the car wreck caused you to have a back injury that now needs surgical treatment.  You were already on your way to get that surgical treatment before the wreck ever occurred!  See how this works? Those are the tougher cases and they often come down to expert testimony from your treating physicians about what they believe caused your back injury.