August 29, 2007

Illinois Jury Finds Motorcycle Tire Was Defective; Awards $15 Million to Brain Injured Woman

A federal jury in Peoria, Illinois has awarded a South Carolina woman $15 million after finding that a tire on the motorcycle she was riding had a defect which resulted in a fall and severe brain damage. As reported by Andy Kravetz in the Peoria Journal-Star, the jury deliberated over two days before deciding that defendant Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd. was liable for the May, 2002, incident on Interstate 55 in Livingston County, Illinois.

The plaintiff, Trish McCloud,

[W]as riding back to her home in Michigan from a bike rally in St. Louis when the tire deflated. The driver of the motorcycle lost control and crashed. The bike flipped and McCloud struck her head on the pavement.

The driver was hurt, but the extent of his injuries was not as severe as McCloud's.

Though she was wearing a helmet, the impact was so great that it caused severe brain damage, according to court records. She was treated at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center for two months, where she was in and out of a coma.

The plaintiff now suffers from paralysis and requires constant care. Her attorneys argued that Goodyear Dunlop made the motorcycle tire with a defect that caused it to fail prematurely. At trial, Goodyear Dunlop claimed the incident was caused by tire underinflation as well as excessive weight on the motorcycle.

Even though the case was tried in federal court, Illinois state product liability law would apply to the the case.

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August 20, 2007

Minnesota State Officials Knew of Bridge Collapse Risk

A startling article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe reveals that Minnesota state officials knew that the I-35 bridge was at risk of collapse:

Internal MnDOT documents reviewed by the Star Tribune reveal that last year bridge officials talked openly about the possibility of the bridge collapsing -- and worried that it might have to be condemned.

The documents provide the first look inside MnDOT's decision-making process as engineers weighed benefits and risks, wrestling with options to prevent what they believed was a remote but real possibility of the eight-lane freeway bridge failing.

Their concerns were not generalized, documents show. The San Francisco-based consultant, URS Inc., identified 52 crucial steel box beams deemed most susceptible to cracking. URS also had a specific recommendation that 24 of the 52 members be reinforced while the remainder would be kept on a special watch. Video of the Aug. 1 collapse being examined by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the bridge first falling on the south end over its shoreline pier -- a section of the superstructure where eight suspect beams were specifically tagged for reinforcing.

State officials failed to take action to reinforce the bridge because of concerns about cost and fears they might find problems severe enought to force condemnation of the bridge. The state should be liable for this gross negligence, which has resulted in such tragedy. Unfortunately, state tort immunities may protect the state officials from any negligence claims.

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August 16, 2007

State Lawsuits Against Railroads Have New Life Under New Homeland Security Legislation

As a lawyer who specializes in negligence suits against wrongdoers who cause serious inuries, I have always believed that federal or state laws that exempt certain industries from a duty to act reasonably for the safety of others were unfair, and dangerous. Thankfully, Congress and the Bush administration have decided to allow suits against a protected industry--the railroads--to go forward:

“Tucked inside the huge homeland security legislation signed into law by President Bush recently is a provision to ensure that the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 does not preclude state lawsuits against railroads by injured persons in general and the residents of a small city in North Dakota in particular. The provision, entitled ‘Railroad Pre-emption Clarification,’ is in the new law implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, but its impetus can be traced to Jan. 18, 2002.”

Reported by Marcia Coyle in the National Law Journal, Law.com, 8/13/07

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August 15, 2007

Drunk driver relies on obesity to avoid DUI conviction in Illinois

A 49-year-old man charged with aggravated DUI and improper lane was acquitted on charges of drunken driving and improper lane usage after arguing to the trial judge that his obesity prevented him from successfully completing field sobriety tests. After Downers Grove, Illinois police pulled the man over for suspected drunken driving, the man, while polite and respectful, was unable to perform the standard field sobriety tests, which included standing on one leg for 30 seconds and a straight line heel-to-toe walk. The driver allegedly apologized to police when he could not complete the tests.

The man, who was 6 feet tall and weighed 260 pounds, argued in the DuPage County Circuit Court that fat to perform the field sobriety tests properly. At the end of the trial, the judge ruled that the trial evidence created reasonable doubt which prevented a conviction.

This story was reported by Jennifer Golz in the The Herald News.

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August 6, 2007

Drunk driver kills three in Chicago collision

On early Saturday morning a drunk driver ran a red light at the intersection of 47th Street and South King Drive on Chicago's South Side and killed three people in their 20's. A Chicago Tribune article by Jason Meisner describes the occurence.

Chicago police charged the drunk driver allegedly responsible for the collision with reckless homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and driving under the influence. Chicago police also ticketed the drunk driver for driving without insurance, disobeying a red light, speeding and failure to yield.

The families of the victims in this case would have causes of action against the allegedly drunk driver responsible for the accident for negligence and willful and wanton conduct. The families may also have claims for damages under the Illinois Dram Shop Act, 235 ILCS 5/6-21 against anyone, including a bar or restaurant, that sold or gave liquor to the alleged intoxicated motorist, causing her intoxication at the time of the occurrence.

Dram Shop Act cases have a strict one year statute of limitations under the Illinois statute. If you have been injured by a drunk driver, you should consult legal counsel immediately.

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August 3, 2007

Minneapolis bridge collapse demonstrates that tort immunity leads to complacency

The I-35W Bridge collapse in Minneapolis shows that tort immunity that shields states and municipalities from liability for negligence leads to complacency, neglect and disaster. Citizens assumed that teams of qualified professionals made sure the bridge was safe for use and would not fail--or that we would be warned if it was dangerous to use the bridge. The bridge was not safe, the state's professionals knew it, yet no warnings came.

The same people who knew of the danger of the bridge, and did nothing, will likely never be held accountable for their complacency, due to state tort immunities which protect state officials from negligence claims. The only ones who will pay for this lack of responsibility are the friends and loved ones of those who died or were injured in the collapse.

Tort immunity, a concept that shields governments from liability in injury cases, may prevent those injured and the families of those killed from ever obtaining justice in this tragedy. After the recovery effort has finished, and the investigations are complete, talented lawyers will try vigorously to hold the responsible governmental and private entities accountable. Hopefully tort immunity will not block their efforts.

Efforts at protecting people, companies and government entities whose actions can kill and injure, commonly called tort reform and tort immunity, serve only to breed complacency and sanction irresponsible behavior. Tort reform and tort immunity are bad for everyone. The lawyers at my firm remain committed to the fight against tort reform.

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