December 26, 2006

Illinois court allows step-down auto insurance provisions

Declaring that a competitor's insurance policies violate Illinois public policy, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. is crusading against ''step-down'' provisions.
Step-downs contained in auto policies peddled by Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. reduce — to the statutory minimum — the amount of liability insurance for certain ''permissive'' drivers.

Auto policies usually provide the same level of financial protection for named insureds and permissive drivers. So, when an owner has a policy providing $250,000 in liability protection, a friend or neighbor who is driving the vehicle with the owner's permission would also have $250,000 in coverage.

Spotting an opportunity to reduce its financial exposure in a way that most policyholders probably do not notice, Illinois Farmers uses step-down provisions.

When an accident is allegedly caused by a permissive driver who is not a relative of the named insured, or a resident of the name insured's household, Illinois Farmers policies provide only the minimum amount of liability protection required by the Illinois Safety and Family Financial Responsibility Law.

This means that even if an Illinois Farmers policy provides $100,000 in liability protection for a named insured, a friend of the owner would have coverage of only $20,000 per person, $40,000 per occurrence and $15,000 for property damage.

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December 15, 2006

As Trucking Rules Are Eased, a Debate on Safety Intensifies

"As Dorris Edwards slowed for traffic near Kingdom City, Mo., on her way home from a Thanksgiving trip in 2004, an 18-wheeler slammed into her Jeep Cherokee. The truck crushed the sport-utility vehicle and shoved it down an embankment off Interstate 70. Ms. Edwards, 62, was killed. The truck driver accepted blame for the accident, and Ms. Edwards's family filed a lawsuit against the driver and the trucking company. In the course of pursuing its case, the family broached a larger issue: whether the Bush administration's decision to reject tighter industry regulation and instead reduce what officials viewed as cumbersome rules permitted a poorly trained trucker to stay behind the wheel, alone, instead of resting after a long day of driving. After intense lobbying by the politically powerful trucking industry, regulators a year earlier had rejected proposals to tighten drivers' hours and instead did the opposite, relaxing the rules on how long truckers could be on the road. That allowed the driver who hit Ms. Edwards to work in the cab nearly 12 hours, 8 of them driving nonstop, which he later acknowledged had tired him. Government officials had also turned down repeated requests from insurers and safety groups for more rigorous training for new drivers. The driver in the fatal accident was a rookie on his first cross-country trip; his instructor, a 22-year-old with just a year of trucking experience, had been sleeping in a berth behind the cab much of the way."

Stephen Labaton, New York Times, 12/3/06
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/washington/03trucks.html

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December 12, 2006

Champaign County, Illinois accident kills Michigan teen standing on highway

In Champaign County, Illinois, a teenager struck and killed a Michigan teen that was standing in the middle of U.S. Highway 136, two miles east of Rantoul, Illinois. The incident occurred at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Monday evening. Illinois State Police said no tickets were issued. According to the Champaign News-Gazette, the Champaign County Coroner would perform an autopsy on the Michigan teen which would include toxicology tests.

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 exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or other obviously confused, incapacitated, or intoxicated person." 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. Illinois courts require specific evidence that a pedestrian is "obviously confused or incapacitated." See Matelis v. City of Chicago, 112 Ill.App.3d 683 (1st Dist. 1983). Once that evidence is found however, such as through autopsy evidence that the pedestrian is drunk or high on drugs, an extraordinary duty is placed on the vehicle driver to avoid the pedestrian.


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December 10, 2006

Trucker fatigue and highway safety

In a Sunday Chicago Tribune article by Stephen Franklin and Darnell Little, the authors connect truck driver fatigue to the increased risk of serious highway accidents.

1. More than 5,000 people die and 116,000 are injured yearly in truck-related accidents, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

2. Truckers do not escape being victims; 930 were killed in the U.S. while working last year, up 33 percent from 1992. And while they made up only 2 percent of the workforce last year they accounted for more than 16 percent of fatal workplace injuries.

3. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has acted to protect the interests of the trucking industry. In 2003 FMCSA issued a rule that actually expanded truckers' allowable daily driving time to 11 hours from 10, which helps corporate trucking firms cut costs, but leads to more truck driver fatigue.

4. Since 1980, when the federal government deregulated the trucking industry, the rate of union membership among truckers has fallen from 90% to 10%. These non-union, low paid and inexperienced truck drivers must driver longer hours for less pay, leading to increased risk of trucking-related highway collisions.


Thus, the trucking industry, and profit-minded trucking corporations, bear legal responsibility when they push their drivers to take risks and to become fatigued, leading to fatalities on our highways.

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December 4, 2006

Automakers hide auto safety files

The auto industry seems to have an agenda of withholding auto safety information from the public. As noted recently by columnist Cindy Skrzycki in the Washington Post:

"For almost three years, the major automakers have shipped voluminous data to U.S. traffic-safety regulators: Eight million consumer complaints, 138 million warranty claims and 5 million field reports on product malfunctions. It's part of an 'early warning reporting' program Congress set up to prevent a repeat of the Firestone tire-failure scandal. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and some German and Japanese manufacturers have argued that this information should be kept strictly confidential. And officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have agreed, despite protests and court challenges from public safety groups. Late last month, the highway-safety administration proposed the latest in a string of rules over the confidentiality of those millions of documents. It did so on the orders of a federal judge, who accused the agency earlier this year of pulling a 'switcheroo' by deleting from an earlier draft a presumption that the data would be available to the public."

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