June 23, 2009

One killed, three injured in Illinois train derailment

The New York Times /AP (6/21, A18) reported, "Rail cars containing thousands of gallons of ethanol exploded when a Canadian National Railway freight train derailed on Friday night, killing one person and resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes." The accident occurred in Rockford, Illinois, a town about 80 miles northwest of Chicago. The Rockford Fire Department determined that 74 of the 114 train cars contained ethanol. Five cars were still burning on Saturday morning and fire fighters were waiting for the “very dangerous inferno to burn out by itself.”

The Winnebago County coroner, "Sue Fiduccia, said on Saturday that the person who was killed was a woman who had been waiting in a car for the train to pass through a crossing." Chief Derek Bergsten of the Rockford Fire Department "said that three people ran from the [same] car when it was bombarded with flying railroad ties and that they were severely burned by flaming ethanol." Currently, the cause of the derailment is undetermined, and a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said the investigation could take a year.

This tragedy illustrates the need for increased railroad safety measures. As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I am an advocate of heightened safety requirements.

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June 23, 2009

43 Vehicle Recalls issued this month

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued 43 vehicle recalls this month for defects that pose safety hazards. Manufacturers are required to correct the defects at no cost to consumers (New York Times, 6/19). Recalls involve brands including but not limited to Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Ducati and Harley.

Some of the recalls are limited to certain regions or geographies. For example, the Kia and Hyundai recalls are limited to regions that have harsh winter climates and heavy road salting during the winter months. Illinois is one of the states included in the regional recall. Kia said, “the rusting front subframe could cause alignment problems and, in the worst case, the subframe could separate, possibly causing a crash.”

The Volvo recalls are due to a “software programming error” that may cause the radiator fan to stop working, which may cause the vehicle to overheat very quickly.

As a personal injury lawyer, I encourage all to pay attention to vehicle recalls and make the necessary appointments to avoid injury.

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June 18, 2009

Mercedes Benz unveils safety research car

Mercedes-Benz is known for pioneering advanced safety technologies (New York Times, 6/18). This week, the automaker introduced a concept car built to illustrate some ideas to protect drivers and pedestrians.

The concept car, the ESF 2009, was unveiled at the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. The car includes 13 safety innovations, some of which are improvements on current features, and others that are new inventions.

For example, “the Belt Bag, a combination seat belt and air bag, is a good example of something we may see in the not-too-distant future. It’s a seat belt with two layers, and when crash sensors detect a serious impact, a generator at the belt armature inflates the seat belt.” The “Child Cam” is another fairly simple technology that allows the driver to monitor passengers in the back seat by placing a small camera on the roof lining between the front and back seats. A series of still frame images then appear on the dashboard.

The company has previously produced 35 Enhanced Safety Feature (ESF) vehicles. Past vehicles have included technologies such as antilock breaks, seat belt tensioners, airbags, and side impact protection, which have eventually appeared on the market. As a Chicago personal injury lawyer, I find new automobile safety features to be exciting news.

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June 18, 2009

Airbags may cause hand injuries

Ken Thompson began to question airbag safety after he suffered a partial amputation of his right thumb after minor impact (New York Times, 6/17). This was the only injury he sustained in the very minor collision as both cars were able to drive away from the accident virtually undamaged. Doctors were able to reattach his thumb and restore much of its functionality. However, Thompson plans to file a personal injury lawsuit against BMW, the manufacturer of the vehicle, alleging that his injury was caused because the horn was placed in the center of the steering wheel, and he was honking the horn at the time of impact.

Horns could be placed on the spokes of the steering wheel, and there does seem to be an inconsistency between automobile manufacturing and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s warning, “air bags deploy very rapidly and very close or direct contact with a deploying air bag can cause serious or even fatal injury.”

One BMW spokesman said, “Our experience has shown that the most effective position of the horn button is in the center of the steering wheel. In a surprise driving situation, the driver has the best chance of activating the horn if a large portion of the center of the steering wheel will activate the horn.” However, in an automobile accident, drivers with their hands on the horn and very close to the airbag are at increased risk for hand and arm injuries.

“No system is perfect, but the combination of seat belts, air bags and crumble zones are remarkably safe,” wrote James M. Williams, an emergency-room doctor from San Antonio. “Given the high-speed accidents that occur, it is amazing to see what people walk away from.” In serious accidents, airbags are clearly essential, but overly sensitive airbags that deploy in very minor collisions, such as the personal injury case at hand, warrant further research as to the safest location for both horns and airbags to save lives while avoiding injuries.

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June 12, 2009

Pilots involved in regional crashes had failed skills tests

USA Today (6/8, Levin) reported, "In nearly every serious regional airline accident during the past 10 years, at least one of the pilots had failed tests of his or her skills multiple times, according to an analysis of federal accident records." As both a Chicago personal injury lawyer and a regular airline passenger, I find this information disconcerting.

In eight of the nine serious regional airline accidents during that past ten years, pilots had a history of failing two or more "check rides," which are tests by federal or airline inspectors of pilots' ability to fly and respond to emergencies. In the one case in which pilots didn't have multiple failures since becoming licensed, the co-pilot was fired after the non-fatal crash for falsifying his job application. Bill Voss, president of the independent Flight Safety Foundation, said, "this is a symptom of a larger problem in selection and certification."

Pilot qualifications on regional carriers was at the center of an NTSB hearing last month into the February crash of a turboprop near Buffalo that killed 50 people. The pilot in control of the Buffalo flight at the time when the plane plunged had failed five “check rides”, according to records revealed at the hearing.

The Wall Street Journal (6/10, Carey, Pasztor) reports, "Facing escalating congressional criticism, the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it ordered immediate inspections of pilot-training programs at smaller carriers." As a result, "Randy Babbitt, the FAA administrator, said, his goal 'is to make sure that the entire industry-from large commercial carriers to smaller, regional operators-is meeting our safety standard.'"

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June 12, 2009

AAJ: Transportation Agencies Need to Quickly Enact Safety Standards

As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I see many transportation accident cases. In order to avoid unnecessary injuries and fatalities, transportation safety measures should be reevaluated at regular intervals, especially after material information surfaces suggesting the current measures are not sufficient to ensure public safety.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently concluded driver fatigue and the lack of federal safety standards protecting passengers on buses contributed to the death and severity of the injuries sustained in the 2008 Utah bus rollover which killed nine and injured 43. (AAJ, Washington, DC)

“The transportation industry has been aware of these problems for years, if not decades, and they have done nothing about it. Current federal standards are needed to save lives,” said Tennessee attorney Morgan Adams. “Driver fatigue is a killer and it will continue to kill until the government takes action. There is no question some corporations will overwork employees, and ignore problems, in order to earn another dollar.”

In response, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) is calling on transportation regulators to review pending pre-Obama administration regulations and open new rulemaking proceedings to enhance commercial transportation safety measures for both trucks and buses.

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June 4, 2009

Governor Signs CTA Section 41 Notice Repeal

On Monday, June 1, Governor Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 84 (CTA Section 41 Notice Repeal) into law. SB 84 is now Public Act 96-0012. P.A. 96-0012 was sponsored by Senator Ira Silverstein and Representative Al Riley (ITLA Legislative Bulletin 6/3).

P.A. 96-0012 repeals in its entirety the notice requirement in Section 41. The one-year statute of limitations for filing suit against the CTA still applies. The repeal will only apply to causes of action that accrue on or after the effective date of June 1, 2009.

The primary issue with the previous law is adequately communicated by the Illinois Trial Lawyer Association (ITLA) President Philip Harnett Corboy, Jr. as follows: "This legislation has corrected an outdated, but nevertheless, very dangerous statute. The now-repealed CTA Notice Requirement had become an extra layer of aggravation that oftentimes trapped innocent victims of negligent behavior by the CTA. Under that statute, trial judges had no discretion but to throw out cases where claimants- or their attorneys- made otherwise innocent mistakes on the pre-suit notice. Now we can concentrate our efforts on prosecuting the claims where they should be- before a judge and jury.”

This is an excellent change in the law for victims of CTA accidents in Chicago. Under the old law, lawyers had to file a formal notice with very specific requirements with the CTA to preserve the action. Even the smallest error could result in a case being dismissed on a minor technicality. This change in the law will allow all injured victims of CTA negligence to get a full and fair hearing in court.

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June 4, 2009

Missouri columnist: Nixon should veto motorcycle helmet bill

In a column in the Columbia Daily Tribune (6/2) J. Scott Christianson wrote that the original intent of Senate Bill 202 "was to prevent insurance companies from assigning blame to motorcycle riders involved in an accident simply because they were riding a motorcycle." Yet, "during its travels through the General Assembly, Senator Schaefer's bill was amended so that it would also repeal Missouri's law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet while on public roads; only those under 21 or riding interstate highways would still have to wear a helmet if SB 202 is signed into law." Thus, Christianson concludes that "Governor Nixon should veto SB202."

Many studies have confirmed the positive relationship between helmet use and protection from head injury. One particularly poignant study in Florida showed that motorcycle deaths rose significantly when its mandatory helmet law was repealed. One newspaper, the Florida Today, “found ‘unhelmeted’ deaths in Florida rose from 22 in 1998 and 1999, the years before the helmet law repeal, to 250 in 2004, the most recent year of available data” (CBS, 6/19/06).

This trend is not limited geographically as death rates for motorcyclists have been rising since repeals of helmet laws began in 1995, as reported by USA Today. Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics reflect that “5.6 motorcyclists per 10,000 registered motorcycles were killed in 1996, and the number jumped to 7.3 in 2006. The number of motorcyclists who wear helmets has dropped from 63% in 1994 to 51% in 2006”.

Both common sense and empirical evidence lead to the conclusion that mandatory helmet laws would diminish unnecessary motorcycle injuries and deaths. As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago with experience in motorcycle injuries, I adamantly support mandatory helmet laws.

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