Distraction Causes Crashes, Technology May Help

A jury in Mobile recently assigned guilt to a man behind the wheel of a pickup truck involved in a fatal crash in 2014. The collision killed a 24-year-old Mississippi woman. Defendant, 23, reportedly looked down at his phone for just a few seconds before looking back up to realize the vehicle in front of him had stopped. He swerved to avoid a rear-end collision, but ended up striking another pickup head-on, causing the second truck to roll and ejecting its driver.

Prosecutors say he was “fixated” on his smartphone at the time of the wreck. AL.com reports that in the 1 hour 25 minutes before the crash – the whole time of which he was driving – defendant reportedly checked instant messages, looked at dating site profiles, accessed Facebook and Twitter and updated his own dating site profile. The last time he accessed his phone, records show, was 32 seconds before the 911 call about the wreck.

This kind of situation is not uncommon. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports every single day in this country, 9 people die and another 1,153 are seriously injured in distracted driving crashes. And yet, last year when the Alabama legislature had the chance to expand its anti-texting law to encompass other forms of driving distraction, it declined to do so. The bill would have banned not just texting, but personal grooming, reading, writing, interacting with pets or engaging in any action that prevents a driver from devoting necessary attention to driving.

But, there is some good news, auto manufacturers are taking action. In a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), vehicles equipped with front-end crash prevention are far less likely to rear-end other vehicles. Rear-end collisions in Alabama are among the most common types of distracted driving crashes.

The study found that systems with automatic braking slashed rear-end crashes by, on average, as much as 40 percent. Systems with just forward collision warnings reduced rear-end crashes by 23 percent.

What’s more, even when crashes weren’t prevented, the auto-brake system was associated with injuries that were less severe. That’s likely because drivers who are warned even seconds ahead of time have the advantage of reducing speed. Even dropping 10- or 15-mph can make a huge difference upon impact.

The institute surmised that if all vehicles came standard with this technology, there would be a reduction of some 700,000 police-reported rear-end crashes each year. That means we’d have 13 percent fewer overall police-reported crashes.

Study authors say as this technology becomes more widespread, we can anticipate markedly less crashes on our roads.

This is good news, especially considering crash statistics have spiked recently. The National Safety Council reported there was a 28 percent surge in fatal motor vehicle accidents in 2015 compared to 2014 – the single largest year-over-year increase in 50 years. In total, 38,300 people were killed and another 4.4 million were seriously injured. Experts have attributed this largely to cheap gas prices and higher employment.

At this point, any reduction on fatal motor vehicle accidents is most welcome.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Report: Airbag Maker Faked Safety Tests After Recall

Even after their defective airbags resulted in a series of recalls and several deaths, officials at Japanese manufacturer Takata reportedly falsified testing information to representatives at Honda, the company’s largest buyer.

That’s according to internal documents obtained recently by  The New York Times, via the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Legislators say this points to a pattern of lies by the company – even well after the seriousness of the airbag defect issue was widely known.

Testing at issue involved a newer component design. Although it did not go into production, as it was considered experimental, engineers at the North American branch of the firm said they were under intense pressure from headquarters to move forward with this new design, even as they staunchly believed it was most likely to fail. 

These latest documents are part of a growing collection that have become public, showing employees were conceding the manufacturing processes were inferior and the test data was manipulated. Some seemed to be trying to draw attention to these problems.

These revelations came on the heels of speculation that as many as 90 million additional Takata airbag inflators could face recall in the U.S. Reuters reported that would quadruple the number of inflators recalled, following 10 deaths and hundreds of reported injuries.

An estimated 29 million of these defective airbags have so far been recalled, with some vehicles having multiple defective airbags. The company made between 260 and 285 million airbags with ammonium-nitrate-based inflators and marketed them around the world between 2000 and 2015. Nearly half of those are in U.S. vehicles, and it’s not clear at this point which of those may be defective. That’s why there is speculation that another 90 million cars are going to be recalled.

As our Montgomery product liability lawyers know, the problem is these devices, when deployed, fling shards of metal and other objects at rapid speeds directly into the faces and chests of drivers and front seat passengers. Vehicles in the Southern U.S. in particular are believed to be at risk because exposure to extended periods of high heat is thought to exacerbate the problem.

Honda was the single biggest client of Takata’s, and the company actually owns a minority stake in the airbag maker. Honda has recalled 8 million defective inflators in the U.S.

Many of these defective airbags are still being used because the manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with the demand for replacement.

In the meantime, U.S. regulators fined Takata $70 million for repeatedly delaying recalls despite valid information these parts were not safe for consumers.

A number of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been filed by victims and families of those who were killed, alleging Takata was negligent in making a product that was unreasonably dangerous, failed to warn consumers about the risk and actively concealed the danger from the public.

These newly-uncovered internal documents, indicating the company was well aware of potential safety problems long before recalls were issued and federal regulators were notified, will further bolster those cases, as well as any future lawsuits. The records may also be used in the pursuit of punitive damages, intended to deter or reform defendant and others from engaging in the same or similar conduct.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Alabama Product Liability Costs Drugmaker $40M

An Alabama-based pharmaceutical company is slated to pay almost $40 million to 47 states over allegations that it improperly labeled multivitamin fluoride tablets. The tablets made by the company, Qualitest Pharmaceuticals Inc., reportedly contained less than half of the fluoride claimed.

That’s a problem especially for children, who with a lower dose of the mineral could be at greater risk of developing cavities.

Qualitest is the biggest manufacturer of multivitamin-with-fluoride tablets, and the alleged mislabeling occurred between October 2007 and August 2013. The settlement is the result of a qui tam or “whistleblower” lawsuit filed three years ago by a Florida dentist who discovered the problem.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association have set certain recommended levels of fluoride in drinking water to help prevent tooth decay, especially for children. Both organizations had recommended that in areas where fluoride levels in drinking water were insufficient, parents give their children vitamins that contained fluoride.

As the New Jersey Attorney General stated upon announcement of the settlement, these kinds of mislabeling actions affect us all. It causes unnecessary pain and suffering to children and their families, but it also taxes the health insurance and health care systems.

Qualitest is headquartered in Huntsville, and is owned by larger firm Endo Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Dublin, Ireland.

This is not the first time the Alabama company has come under fire. Late last year, more than 100 women in 28 states filed lawsuits seeking millions in damages after birth control pills made by the company were packaged in the wrong order, reversing the weekly tablet orientation. That mistake meant the women were taking the placebo sugar pills – intended for the week of menstruation – at the incorrect time of the month. In turn, this left them without adequate contraception, and the result was they became pregnant.

The error occurred in September 2011, and the company issued a recall, and downplayed the number of women affected as “very small.” But 113 women have so far said they became pregnant when they did not want to after thinking they were using adequate birth control protection.

These kinds of product liability lawsuits against this firm appear indicative of larger quality control problems. Holding pharmaceutical companies accountable can be challenging, but an experienced attorney can help.

From a broad social perspective, pharmaceutical companies have a duty to supply patients with good drugs at reasonable prices and to provide reliable information on those drugs.

Specifically, drug companies have a duty to appropriately test medications and drugs before releasing them onto the market. They also have a duty to warn of known (or reasonably knowable) side effects of a certain drug. Although there are some situations in which a drug is unavoidably unsafe – no matter how carefully it is made – it may still get the U.S. Food & Drug Administration green light if there are benefits to the user, as long as the drug is adequately labeled.

When a drug manufacturer fails in its duty to properly label medications or warn of the negative effects, they can be held liable for the resulting damage.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Gores v. Miller – Car Accident Settlement Release

The vast majority of car accident lawsuits settle out-of-court. That means before the case goes to trial, both sides collaborate to reach a fair conclusion. The defendant(s) agree to pay a certain amount, and plaintiffs agree to release those defendants from future liability.

Even if you have no intention of taking your case to court, you will need an experienced injury lawyer to help walk you through this process. One of the many reasons is the language of that settlement agreement can contain a few costly pitfalls.

That was the case in the recent medical malpractice lawsuit of Gores v. Miller, which was filed subsequent to a car accident settlement signed on behalf of an injured 15-year-old girl. 

This was a case in South Dakota, but the same basic legal principles are applicable here in Alabama.

Court records in the Gores case reveal it started with a teen driver car accident in a rural area. A 17-year-old boy was behind the wheel and plaintiff’s 15-year-old daughter was in the passenger seat. The vehicle, a van, belonged to the boy’s mother and was insured by her insurance policy.

As a result of the crash, the girl sustained serious injuries, in particular lacerations to her arm. She was rushed to the hospital emergency room, where a doctor recommended skin grafts.

It took the girl months, another skin graft operation and further treatments before she was considered fully recovered.

Nearly a year after the crash, the girl’s mother, as the court-appointed conservator for the girl, filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the teen driver and his mother. (Auto insurance companies aren’t named in initial actions, and are only added later if they refuse to pay.)

Ultimately, the case did not go to court. Both sides settled with the driver’s mother’s insurance policy for the policy limit of $25,000. Of course, this wasn’t near enough to cover the full cost of medical bills and other expenses, but luckily, plaintiff had her own underinsured motorist coverage. In total, she was able to collect $100,000.

As part of that settlement, plaintiff signed a broad but unambiguous release. The language of that liability release indicated the plaintiff forever discharged not only the driver, the driver’s mother, and her insurance company, but “all other persons, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed liable” for any lawsuits of any nature whatsoever which resulted or might develop in the future from the crash.

Plaintiff’s mother signed. However, she did not realize – and probably never intended – to release from liability the doctors who treated her daughter after the crash. But that is effectively what she had done.

When plaintiff then sought legal action against the doctor, alleging he had negligently conducted the skin graft and failed to inform her daughter how best to care for the wound, the doctor used that settlement agreement.

But this was a separate action, plaintiff argued, and she never intended to release individuals from wholly separate acts. But the trial court sided with defendant, and so too ultimately did the South Dakota Supreme Court. The settlement was binding, and because the language of the contract was clear, plaintiff’s subjective intent didn’t matter.

This is why we recommend car accident victims be exceedingly cautious with these settlements because failure to do so can have unintended consequences.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Jenkins v. C.R.E.S. Mgmt LLC – Apartment Owner Liability for Criminal Attack

Third-party liability for criminal actions can be difficult to prove, but it can be done.

Generally, third parties have no duty or obligation to prevent criminal actions of other people. There are exceptions, however, for property owners who have actual or constructive notice of a pattern of the same or similar violent crimes. The key is showing that the criminal action that caused injury to the victim was foreseeable and that the property owner had a duty to minimize the risk for those lawfully on site.

One such case was recently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In Jenkins v. C.R.E.S. Mgmt. LLC, plaintiff alleged an apartment complex where he worked and also resided had a duty to shield him from hard that was both unreasonable and foreseeable as a result of criminal acts committed by third parties. 

Plaintiff was employed as a “courtesy officer” at a Houston apartment complex. He was responsible for responding to resident requests for assistance, addressing reports involving criminal activity on site and contacting the police if necessary. The owner of the property compensated him in part by providing a rent-free apartment on the site.

One morning, around 3 a.m., plaintiff was awoken by someone pounding on the door. He assumed it was a resident in need of help, so he decided to open the door. There were two men in the hallway whom plaintiff did not recognize. One of the men raised his hand and pointed a handgun at plaintiff, who put his arms up in self-defense. Without any explanation or warning, the man shot him.

Plaintiff was struck in the elbow. He made the split-second decision to “play dead.” The men took off on foot, never attempting to enter the apartment. Police were called to investigate, but they never identified or found the two assailants.

The worker filed a premises liability lawsuit against the company. (Although he was employed by the company and normally, exclusive remedy provisions would prohibit legal action against an employer for injury, plaintiff was victimized in his capacity as a resident, while he was off-duty.)

Defendant company moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff hadn’t proven the assault against him was foreseeable in light of the criminal history at the apartment complex. In the 12 months before this happened, the complex had logged seven aggravated assaults, 14 residential burglaries, seven motor vehicle burglaries, six thefts, four auto thefts and one sexual assault. There was also a robbery-shooting that occurred 18 months prior to this incident.

The magistrate judge hearing the case placed limits on the foreseeability review to only those prior crimes that were violent, thus excluding all the thefts and burglaries. Based on this narrowed review, the judge granted defense motion for summary judgment, finding the crime wasn’t foreseeable.

It should be noted that while criminal conduct can be difficult to compartmentalize, courts have held that, for example, crimes like vandalism or theft aren’t necessarily enough to make a stabbing death foreseeable. So most reviews will be limited to violent crimes on or near the site during a specific time frame.

On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred in designating burglaries as irrelevant in the foreseeability analysis. Specifically, residential burglaries, he argued, could foreshadow a violent crime. The appeals court agreed, and argued that when considering the 14 residential burglaries in conjunction with the other violent crimes, a material question of fact was raised as to whether the attack was foreseeable. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.