October 31, 2006

Chicago area trucker killed in tollway chain reaction collision

A chain-reaction collision south of Chicago on the Illinois Tri-State Tollway involving four semi-trailer trucks has caused the death of a truck driver. The collision occurred at 12:40 a.m. in the southbound lanes of Interstate Highway 294, a quarter-mile west of the Lincoln Oasis, near South Holland, Illinois.

According to a Chicago Tribune report by Jeremy Gorner, three semis driving ahead of the dead truck driver were either slowing down or stopped in a construction zone when the last truck in line failed to slow down on time, hitting the one in front.

The dead trucker was a resident of the Chicago area. Two other truck drivers were injured in the crash and were taken to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois.

Pursuant to the Illinois Vehicle Code, 735 ILCS 5/11-710(a), “[t]he driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” This statute establishes the duty of all drivers in Illinois who approach other vehicles from the rear. Violation of the statute, and a rear-end collision which results in injuries, can result in tort liability for the offending driver.

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October 31, 2006

Chicago taxi strikes Frankfort, Illinois woman

A Frankfort, Illinois woman was struck and fatally injured by a Chicago taxi cab last Friday. As reported by Steve Schmadeke of the Daily Southtown, Lyndsey Whittingham was out with a group of college friends and about to step into a stopped cab when a second taxi struck her about 30 minutes past midnight.

The taxi struck Ms. Whittingham near the 2500 block of North Ashland Avenue. Chicago police cited the taxi driver for driving too fast for conditions and failing to exercise due care for a pedestrian in the roadway.

Ms. Whittingham was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on Sunday. She was a graduate of Marian Catholic High School and John Carroll University.

Under the Illinois Vehicle Code, 735 ILCS 5/11-1003.1, “every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle . . . and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary[.]” Violation of the statute can lead to a traffic citation, as occurred above, and can also serve as a basis for civil liability in a suit for negligence.

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October 30, 2006

Naperville, Illinois collision injures police officer

A Naperville, Illinois police officer responding to an emergency collided with another vehicle at 4:45 p.m. Sunday, sending the officer and the other driver, a teen, to the hospital. The collision occurred at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Ambassador Drive, just east of Route 59 in Naperville. According to a Daily Herald report by Kathryn Grondin, the officer was driving east on Jefferson with emergency lights activated, and was attempting to pass the teen’s car on the left when the two vehicles collided. The collision sent both vehicles into the parkway on the north side of the street. Both vehicles sustained significant damage.

No charges had been filed Sunday night, pending completion of the investigation.

A police officer responding to an emergency call is protected by certain immunities under Illinois state law. In this case, the police officer and his employer, the municipality, may be liable only if the officer was engaged in willful and wanton misconduct—a higher standard of proof in a civil lawsuit than negligence—when the collision occurred. However, civilian drivers have a duty to render the right of way to emergency vehicle, and the failure to do so may result in liability for the officer’s injuries.

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October 27, 2006

Kane County collision with truck kills Batavia, Illinois teen

A garbage truck struck a Toyota driven by a Batavia, Illinois, teenaged girl, killing the 17-year-old Wheaton Academy junior Thursday afternoon. As noted in a report by Harry Hitzeman of the Daily Herald, the teen driver was headed north on Banbury Road in unincorporated Kane County at about 2:43 p.m., when the garbage truck, headed northeast on Route 25, struck the teen’s 1989 Toyota Corolla on the driver’s side.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Department said it was unclear whether the teen driver was trying to turn left or right at the intersection. Rescue crews called for a helicopter to transport the injured teen to a trauma center, but crews could not take off because of bad weather. The teen was later pronounced dead at Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, Illinois.

There were no obvious signs that drugs or alcohol played a part in the crash. Officials are still interviewing the truck’s driver. No citations had been issued as of late Thursday, but the Kane County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating the collision. Motorists or witnesses with information about the crash are asked to call the Kane County Sheriff’s Department at (630) 208-2029.

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October 24, 2006

Chain reaction collision on Illinois tollway; Trucking's dangers highlighted

At 1:40 a.m. on October 24, 2006, as traffic slowed to a crawl in a construction zone on Interstate 90 west of Chicago, a semi-trailer truck collided with the rear of another semi, causing a chain reaction accident involving a total of three trucks. The trucker in the first truck, which allegedly started the chain reaction, was killed.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, the collision occurred in the southbound lanes of the tollway when two trucks in a row were slowing down while trying to merge into one lane because of a lane closure at U.S. Highway 20. The semi driven by the trucker who was killed was traveling behind both of them but failed to slow down, according to an Illinois State Trooper. That semi plowed into the rear of the semi ahead of it, causing the middle truck to slam into the vehicle in front. The accident occurred on the Northwest Tollway in Hampshire, Illinois, closing the tollway for over one hour.

The two other truck drivers suffered injuries from the collision.

Trucking is a dangerous business. As of 2003, the commercial motor vehicle fatality rate was 2.3 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled. That may sound low, but that rate is 40% higher than the Department of Transportation's goal of only 1.6 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled.

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October 23, 2006

Waukegan SUV crash kills one

Waukegan, Illinois police are investigating a fatal two-car collision that occurred this morning at the intersection of Waukegan Road and Norman Drive. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Kery T. Bond, 35, of the 39200 block of Lewis Avenue, Beach Park, died in the crash. Bond's red Jeep Commander apparently slammed into a light pole, crushing the passenger cabin of the vehicle. The driver worked at a car dealership and was on his way to work. The other vehicle involved, a blue Jeep Wrangler, sat nearby with its front end smashed in.

As discussed in a prior post, if an Event Data Recorder (EDR) or "black box" was present in one or both of the vehicles involved in the accident, the data from the black box may very well assist in determining in a civil negligence suit who was at fault for the collision.

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October 23, 2006

Teen killed in Champaign County collision; Graduated licensing rules a factor?

In Illinois, graduated licensing rules are in place for newly licensed drivers under the age of 18. Graduated driver licensing systems have proven effective in reducing the number of traffic accidents and convictions among young people in Illinois. In Illinois teenagers make up only 6 percent of the total driving population, yet account for 16 percent of all automobile deaths.

The basic rules are as follows:

· Curfew is Sunday through Thursday, 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 12:01 a.m. (curfew applies only to 16 year olds; local curfews may differ)
· Must have completed a state-approved driver education course
· All occupants under age 19 must wear safety belts
· For the first six months of licensing, or until the driver is age 18, whichever occurs first, the number of passengers is limited to one person under age 20, unless the additional passenger(s) is a sibling, step-sibling, child or step-child of the driver. After this period, the number of passengers is limited to one in the front seat and the number of safety belts in the back seat
· Parental or guardian consent is required to obtain a license; a parent must verify that a minimum of 50 hours of practice driving, including 10 hours of night driving, has been completed

A key point of the restrictions that limit the number and age of passengers is that it will reduce the likelihood a driver will be distracted by a car full of fellow teens. Limiting the number of passengers to the number of safety belts also helps to ensure that everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained.

Unfortunately, a Tolono, Illinois, teen was killed and three others were injured after a teen driver, in apparent violation of the above rules, collided with a pick-up truck on a rural Champaign County road at 12:35 p.m. last Thursday.

The Champaign News Gazette reported that Matthew T. Essex of Tolono was killed in the crash. Also injured were the teen driver of the car, Tyler S. Sellers, 16, of Sidney, and passengers Michelle L. Fairow, 15, and Jennifer L. Chandler, 15, both of Tolono. Illinois State Police said Sellers was driving west on the county road, but failed to stop at the intersection of the county road and was hit on the passenger side by a southbound pickup truck. The pick-up rolled over and hit a utility pole. Both vehicles came to rest on the southwest side of the intersection in the grass, according to the report.

No tickets were immediately issued but the State Police planned to cite the teen driver for failure to yield at an intersection and for having too many people in his vehicle. The State Police learned that the teen driver had been driving for only six weeks.

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October 23, 2006

Truck kills pedestrian in busy Chicago neighborhood

On Saturday evening, October 23, 2006, at 8:30 p.m., the Chicago Sun-Times reports that a semi-truck struck and killed a 19-year-old woman trying to cross a busy Chicago street. The woman was trying to cross Halsted at Cornelia, which at that time is heavily congested with pedestrians traveling to the many bars, restaurants and shops in the area. The driver of the semi-truck was cited by the Chicago Police Department for failure to yield to a pedestrian.

The trucker's possible violation of a criminal statute, as in this instance, may also serve as the basis of his--and his employer's--civil liability for negligence as well.

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October 21, 2006

Does your car have a "black box?"

You may have a “black box” in your car and not even know it. And so far, automakers have had no obligation to tell you if the device is even in you car. However, under a new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers will be required, starting with the 2011 model year, to tell new car buyers if an Event Data Recorder (EDR) has been installed in the vehicle.

Event Data Recorders are electronic devices that capture crash data in the few seconds before, during and after a crash. They are similar to the devices carried on commercial airliners. EDRs do not capture any data unless there is a collision that is severe enough to cause the airbag to deploy. While automakers are not required to install EDRs, approximately 64 percent of the model year 2005 passenger vehicles came equipped with the device. Unfortunately, the new rule will not require automakers to install EDRs if they are not already doing so. The rule will require automakers who have chosen to install EDRs to note in the owner’s manual that the safety monitoring equipment has been installed.

The rule also includes new requirements designed to ensure that the data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety. For example, the rule requires EDRs to be more durable to protect data during a crash. The rule also requires automakers to collect a consistent set of crash data if they chose to install an EDR.

If you are in a collision that is serious enough to cause air bag deployment, always assume that your vehicle or the other vehicles involved are equipped with an EDR or “black box” until proven otherwise. The data recorded by the black box from the various events that would take place at the moment of the collision may include:

--Speed the vehicle was traveling
--Whether the accelerator pedal pressed
--Whether the brake applied
--How many crash events? 1 or 2? E.g., sideswipe followed by a head-on crash
--Time between two crash events (if applicable)
--What steering operations occurred in the 5 seconds preceding the crash?

Thus, the vehicles involved in a collision and any EDR’s or “black boxes” in the vehicles are critical pieces of evidence, and they must be preserved and protected from tampering or destruction in order to prove fault. Insurance companies, tow truck drivers, the police and corporate defendants will often, whether intentionally or unintentionally, destroy or misplace this key evidence.

If you or a family member or friend are involved in a collision involving air-bag deployment and injury, it is crucial that you contact a trial lawyer experienced in handling these cases, so that we can seek an immediate court order to preserve the evidence for scientific analysis by our experts.

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October 21, 2006

Side airbags that protect the head substantially reduce death risk in cars & SUVs

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is reporting that side airbags that protect auto occupant’s heads are reducing driver deaths in cars struck on the near (driver) side by an estimated 37 percent. Airbags that protect only the chest and abdomen but not the head are reducing deaths by 26 percent. The study found that head-protecting side airbags reduce driver fatality risk when cars are struck by SUVs and pickups as well as other cars, which is noteworthy since fatality risk historically has been higher when occupants of cars have been struck by the higher riding vehicles.

“Although federal regulations don't require side airbags in passenger vehicles, more and more manufacturers are installing them. In part this is the result of a voluntary agreement among automakers, forged in 2003, to improve occupant protection in side impacts with SUVs and pickups — an agreement that essentially will result in all cars, SUVs, and pickups being equipped with side airbags with head protection by the 2010 model year.”

About four of every five new car and SUV models already have standard or optional side airbags that include head protection. Unfortunately, pickup truck manufacturers are not focusing on driver safety. The IIHS study reported that only one 2006 model pickup comes equipped with standard side airbags that protect the head. Fewer than half of all pickups have side airbags as an option.

In some instances airbags will fail to deploy in a collision, resulting in serious injuriy, due to a defective design or a defect in the manufacturing process by the automaker, or because a third-party such as a dealership has failed to repair the device after a prior collision. My firm has handled these types of cases, and can discuss them with you.

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October 21, 2006

Trucking companies push profit over safety

Why does it seem like nearly every morning you hear a traffic report describe a serious incident involving a semi truck that took place during the overnight hours? The Dallas Morning News , in an excellent series of articles on tha hazards caused by the over the road trucking industry, gives us an idea:

One of the chief legacies of the federal government's deregulation of shipping rates in the early 1980s, which made it possible for virtually anyone with a truck to go into business, is that trucking has become fiercely competitive. The vast majority of trucking companies operate along the margins of profitability, and about 40,000 go out of business every year, said Jerry Donaldson, senior research director for the nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Corporate America has leveraged this competition to push shipping rates even lower. It has also put more pressure on trucking companies to deliver loads at a specific time, as part of "just-in-time" inventory management that lets companies keep fewer products and spare parts on hand and use trucks as rolling warehouses. Late drivers can lose a load, money, even a customer.

In response, trucking companies push their truckers hard.

The series describes a number of cases my firm has handled in Illinois. I will comment on the series in the next several posts.

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October 21, 2006

Truck/school bus collision injues 6 students

On Friday four Carpentersville, Illinois elementary school students and a school bus driver were injured after their bus collided with a truck in Carpentersville. The driver of the truck, Alfredo Gavina, 54, of Carpentersville, was ticketed after witnesses told sheriff’s officials that his 1995 Ford pickup failed to yield to the school bus at Birchwood Road and Sunset Drive in Carpentersville. As reported in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald http://www.dailyherald.com/story.asp?id=241041, the crash occurred just before 9 a.m. as the bus was carrying about 30 kids to the middle school.

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October 21, 2006

Driver killed in fiery crash with stopped truck

On October 20, 2006, a driver on Interstate 94 north of Chicago was killed in a fiery collision with the rear of a stopped semi trailer truck which had pulled onto the right shoulder of the busy roadway. According to the Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-061021edens-story,1,4787668.story?coll=chi-news-hed, the collision occurred at 8:40 p.m. in the southbound lanes, when many travelers are driving into the city on a Friday evening for weekend festivities. The fiery wreck killed the driver of the automobile, a 1996 Jeep, and stalled traffic for hours. An Illinois State Trooper reported "[f]or an unknown reason the passenger vehicle struck the rear of the truck and burst into flames[.]" The semi-truck driver was not injured.

Trucking companies and their drivers can be liable for collisions even when a truck is stopped along the side of a roadway. For example, in Illinois, a trucker has an affirmative duty to put on flashers AND set out reflective trangles to warn approaching motorists. Failure to do so can establish liability for negligence http://hurley-law.comif a collision ensues.

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October 20, 2006

Safety not a one way street

Unsafe driving by truckers and passenger car drivers contributes to the horrendous collisions we see on a daily basis on Amerca's superhighways.

Common behavior by truckers which frequently contributes to accidents includes:
· Driving Outside of the Designated Truck Lanes
· Failure to Respect Weather Conditions
· Aggressive Driving
· Driving While Impaired by Drugs, Alcohol or Fatigue
· Failure to Yield Right of Way
· Failure to Observe a Safe Following Distance

However, truckers do not bear all of the blame for these collisions. The actions of passenger vehicles can greatly increase the probability of collisions with trucks on the highway under the following circumstances:

· Failure to Respect the Trucker's Blind Spot - Trucks can have an enormous blind spot, and some post warning signs on the rear demonstrating the zone in which they cannot see a passing vehicle. Still, many drivers attempt to pass trucks as they attempt to turn or change lanes.
· Sudden Braking - Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers may require a considerable distance to stop, particularly when they are towing an empty trailer.
· Unsafe Lane Changes - Sudden lane changes in front of a truck, particularly while passing, can create risk of accident.
· Aggressive Driving - In a collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, the passenger vehicle will lose. It is not wise to engage in aggressive driving techniques against a semi driver.
· Tailgating - Drivers who rear-end commercial trucks may find that the front of their vehicle passes below the truck, depriving them of the benefit of the front-end crumple zone and possibly causing the primary point of impact to be with the windshield, only a short distance from the driver's face. The metal bars welded to the back of a truck below the chassis are ostensibly meant to prevent underride, but are commonly called "guillotine guards" due to the number of decapitations they case. Underride accidents with commercial trucks can be deadly.

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October 20, 2006

Trucking Accidents--Is Fatigue a Factor?

There are federal regulations on the number of hours an over-the-road trucker may drive per day. The regulations also dictate the number of hours of sleep a trucker is expected to get each night. Truckers are supposed to continuously log hours and miles on the road, driving start and stop times, and hours of sleep. However, under pressure to drive longer and farther to make money, drivers routinely fake log entries and use stimulants to stay awake and alert.

Over-the road truckers are not supposed to drive more than ten consecutive hours, or more than eleven hours in a day. After eleven hours of driving in a day, the driver is supposed to take a break of not less than ten hours, with a weekly rest period of 34 or more consecutive hours. Truckers are not permitted to accumulate more than 60 hours of driving time in a week, or more than 70 hours over eight consecutive days. Your state regulations may be even more strict.

If you have been injured in a collision caused by trucker negligence related to fatigue, contact Hurley McKenna & Mertz to determine if the above rules have been violated.

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