Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

A recent study performed by researchers at Florida State University found that receiving cell phone notifications, such as a ringtones, vibrations or alarm bells, while operating an automobile can be just as distracting and dangerous as talking or texting while driving.  This is the first study to examine the relationship between of cell phone notifications and mental performance.

The researcheCelrs, who published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, determined that when your cell phone sends out an alert, your mind starts to wander and lose concentration.  “The level of how much it affected the task at hand was really shocking,” FSU researcher Courtney Yehnert said.  “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance.  Cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.”

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reported in April 2013 that an estimated 660 thousand drivers use cell phones or electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment in spite of the fact that 44 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed texting while driving. Unsurprisingly, the National Safety Council has found that twenty five percent of all traffic accidents are caused by distracted driving, specifically cell phone use while driving.

Dram shop liability is a legal theory that establishes that bars, taverns, liquor stores, and other businesses that sell alcoholic beverages can be held liable for damages caused by their patrons. These laws are aimed to prevent bars, taverns, and retail stores from selling alcohol to minors and to individuals who are visibly intoxicated. The term “dram shop” comes from the shops serving “drams,” which is a term for a small measure of alcohol, usually gin.

Recently in Colorado, the parents of a 16 year old girl filed suit against the Bayou Cajun Restaurant and Bar and one of its bartenders under a theory of dram shop liability. According to the Colorado State Patrol, the girl and two of her friends were served alcohol at the restaurant and subsequently got into an accident with a tractor-trailer that resulted in all three girls losing their lives. At the time of the accident, the driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.241, more than three times the legal limit. Unfortunately, these types of accidents are all too common, and many times could have been prevented if not for the negligence of the “dram shop” involved.

Under Georgia law, bars, restaurants, liquor stores and other establishments that sell alcohol to patrons have a responsibility not to sell alcohol to noticeably intoxicated patrons who they know will soon be driving, as well as minors. If they do so, they may be held liable for causing the personal injuries sustained by innocent motorists at the hands of drunk drivers served at their establishments.

Deaths caused by drunk drivers rose 4.6% last year. A total of 10,322 people were killed in drunken driving automobile crashes. During the holiday season alone, 830 people died as a result of drunken driving collisions. Because the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers increased for the first time after six straight years of declining, the U.S. Transportation Secretary is pushing states to pass laws, requiring first-time offenders of drunk driving to install and use alcohol breath monitors whenever they get behind the wheel. These so-called ignition interlock programs or ignition interlock devices force the driver to blow into a breath analyzer before the driver is able to start the car. If the driver has been drinking, the car will not start.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released guidelines this week for states to use ignition interlock programs. At present, only 20 states require the devices for first-time drunk driving offenses. While almost every state has an ignition interlock program, the programs are unique and are mandated at different stages. DUI laws in Georgia require the courts to order the installation and maintenance of ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders. DUI in Georgia is defined as operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. The offenders are also responsible for the cost associated with installing, leasing, maintaining and removing the ignition interlock devices. In other states, such as Texas, an ignition interlock program is mandated for anyone with two or more intoxication-related convictions, such as DUI, assault while intoxicated, and intoxication manslaughter. There is strong evidence showing that ignition interlock programs and devices are effective tools for reducing drunk driving among first offenders and repeat offenders. Thus, these programs are essential components of highway safety programs.

The attorneys at Suthers & Harper support the implementation of ignition interlock programs for first offenders throughout the United States. Having represented victims and families of victims of drunken driving crashes, we have seen firsthand the damage caused to victims and families who have lost loved ones as a result of collisions caused by drunk drivers. Often, the at-fault drunk drivers are repeat offenders, which makes it more important to implement ignition interlock programs for first offenders.

Drowsy Driving.jpgA new study by the Triple A (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that one in four motorists report having recently had a drowsy episode while driving, meaning they were either too fatigued to drive, or fell asleep. According to AAA, motorists ages 19 to 24 were the most likely to report driving dangerously drowsy at 33 percent, while the oldest drivers (ages 75+) and the youngest (ages 16 to 18) were the least likely to report having done so.

Experts say that drowsy driving can be just as a dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Studies show that an estimated 17 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 7 percent of all crashes requiring a tow involve a drowsy driver. Even more concerning is the fact that while 95 percent of drivers agree that driving while drowsy is dangerous, yet 41 percent decide to do it anyway. According to Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA, “Drowsy driving continues to remain a significant threat to all road users. Many drivers underestimate the risk of driving while extremely tired, and overestimate their ability to deal with it, and no matter how good a driver you are, fatigue and lack of sleep will impair your driving abilities.”

Warnings signs that may signify drowsiness while driving include:

The well-known organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), has been leading the fight to save lives and prevent injuries caused by drunk drivers. In 2006, MADD started what it called the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. The campaign is working, as fatalities caused by drunk drivers have decreased by greater than 25% since the campaign began. 9,878 people were killed and approximately 350,000 were injured by drunk drivers in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This was the first time since NHTSA began collecting data that there were less than 10,000 fatalities. When MADD was first founded, there were more than 22,000 drunk driving fatalities each year.

While we rejoice in the fact that the numbers are going down, the battle is long from being over. 9,878 deaths is still too many, and each death impacts not only the victim, but family, friends, classmates and others. The yearly price tag of drunk driving runs into the billions. Proof that there remains more work to be done can be found in the preliminary statistics regarding the first half of 2012. Regrettably, these statistics showed a 7% increase in traffic deaths related to drunk drivers. While the year-end statistics have not yet been released, if fatalities continued to occur at that rate, that means an additional 700 people will have been killed by drunk drivers last year.

Tragically, approximately 1/3 of all drunk driving incidents, ranging from arrests, car crashes, deaths, and injuries, are caused by repeat offenders. We potentially share the highways with approximately 2 million people who have 3 or more drunk driving offenses. That’s one of the primary reasons that states have attempted to crack down on drunk drivers by enacting stiffer penalties for offenders and especially, for repeat offenders. The State of Georgia can take pride in the fact that it has the 3rd lowest percentage of traffic deaths that are DUI related in the USA according to the 2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The State of South Carolina is one of the worst states when it comes to DUI fatalities, ranking 46th among the 50 states. Taking away the driver’s licenses of repeat offenders isn’t always enough, as more than 50% of them will drive anyway. MADD and other organizations are supporting research into various forms of technology that could help eliminate drunk driving. An example of technology being studied includes a system that can read a driver’s blood alcohol concentration and lock the ignition system, which would stop drunk driving offenders before they repeat their crimes.

A Georgia judge struck a trucking company’s defense in a lawsuit after it was discovered that the trucking company had destroyed evidence. In the case captioned Alegria v. Howard and AAA Cooper Transportation, Inc., pending in the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, Judge Courtney L. Johnson ruled that AAA Cooper Transportation had denied the existence of evidence from a so-called black box recording device on one of its tractor trailers that was involved in a wreck, and that the company destroyed the recording device. Among other things, black box recording devices can show whether a truck driver was speeding when a crash occurred and whether the truck had problems with braking.

The legal term for the destruction of evidence is “spoliation.” It constitutes an obstruction of justice. The issue of spoliation comes up often in cases involving collisions with tractor trailers or trains. Typically, experienced trucking accident attorneys will send what is known as a spoliation letter to the company that owns or has control over the tractor trailer or train involved in a collision, instructing them to preserve evidence that is crucial to the case. Such evidence includes data or printouts from on-board recording devices and the recording devices themselves. In the lawsuit in question, Mr. Alegria’s attorneys had sent a spoliation letter to the trucking company’s risk manager thirteen days after the wreck. Judge Johnson ruled that the trucking company destroyed the black box recording device despite having received the spoliation letter.

The lawsuit arose when one of AAA Cooper Transportation’s tractor trailers collided with a pick-up truck that had spun out on a rain soaked road and was sitting in the middle of the highway. The driver of the pick-up alleged that he saw the tractor trailer coming, but could not get his door open in time to exit the pick-up truck. He rolled down his window and waived his arms frantically at the driver of the tractor trailer before the tractor trailer crashed into the driver side of his pick-up truck. As a result of the collision, the driver of the pickup truck, Mr. Alegria, suffered an amputation of his leg and a separated shoulder. Mr. Alegria then sued the trucking company, alleging that its driver was negligent in driving too fast for the existing conditions and in failing to avoid the collision.

sauer.jpgAs reported by the Idaho Press Tribune, eighteen year old Taylor Sauer was killed on January 14, 2012 when she rear ended a slow moving semi-trailer. Just minutes before the collision, she posted on her Facebook page “I can’t discuss this matter now. Driving and facebooking is not safe!” Idaho State Police recovered Taylor’s phone and are trying to determine whether Taylor was distracted by the phone at the time of her accident.

As we discussed in our blog on December 28, 2011, “distracted driving” is a leading cause of automobile accidents, particularly in younger drivers. According to the Idaho Press, Ms. Sauer’s automobile did not leave any skid marks. This would likely indicate she never saw the truck. While it has not been officially determined that Ms. Sauer was distracted by her phone, all indications are this was an accident that could have been avoided.

According to her uncle, Brad Warr, this was not the first time she had been involved with distracted driving. A news story on quotes Mr. Warr as saying “Taylor had done that in the past and we know, as a family, that probably or may have contributed to the accident.”

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Uninsured Motorist coverage is probably the most misunderstood coverage available when it comes to automobile insurance policies. However, it is one of the more important types of coverage that you should carry. Uninsured Motorist (UM) or Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage protects you from financial losses caused by another person who either does not have automobile liability insurance or does not have enough insurance to cover your injuries and losses. UM or UIM coverage can pay for injuries to you and passengers in your automobile caused by an at-fault driver who is considered uninsured or underinsured. A hit-and-run driver is also considered uninsured when that driver causes personal injury to you.

You might assume that because most states require that drivers carry minimum limits of liability insurance coverage, most drivers have it. Think again. In a recent study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) entitled “Uninsured Motorist, 2011 Edition,” the IRC estimated that roughly 1 out of 7 drivers are uninsured despite laws requiring drivers to maintain liability insurance. The magnitude of uninsured drivers varies from state to state. In 2009, the State of Mississippi had the highest percentage of uninsured drivers, with an estimated 28% of its motorists carrying no liability insurance. The States of Maine and Massachusetts had the lowest percentage of uninsured motorists at 4%. The State of Georgia had an estimated 16% of uninsured motorists in 2009, and the State of South Carolina had an estimated 11%. As experienced Georgia auto accident attorneys, we have personally observed the consequences of motor vehicle accidents involving uninsured or underinsured drivers.

Consider the consequences of being injured in an automobile accident in which the at-fault driver has no insurance. As a result of your injuries, you incur substantial medical bills and you are unable to work for a long period. The at-fault driver has no liability insurance coverage against which you can make a claim. You would still have the option to sue the negligent driver for damages. However, if the at-fault driver does not have insurance, what are the chances of that driver having any money or assets from which you could recover in a lawsuit? It is an unfortunate fact of life that during tough economic times, many drivers do not have insurance or do not have enough insurance. However, if you carry UM and UIM coverage, you can recover money for your injuries and damages even if the at-fault driver cannot pay.

The purpose of UM or UIM coverage is to place the injured insured (you) in the same position as if the uninsured driver had liability insurance coverage. Stated differently, your insurance company “stands in the shoes” of the at-fault, uninsured driver up to the amount of UM or UIM coverage that you carry on your automobile insurance policy. Your UM or UIM coverage could pay your medical bills, lost wages, and compensate you for your pain and suffering. Even if you have health insurance coverage that would pay your medical bills, your health insurance coverage will not pay you for your lost wages or your pain and suffering. Additionally, UM and UIM coverage apply to you and any passengers in your car, and to you and other family members listed on your insurance policy when riding in cars owned by others.

“Underinsured Motorist” or UIM coverage applies when the at-fault driver does have liability insurance coverage but the amount of coverage is inadequate to make you whole. Consider the following example: You are injured in an automobile accident in which the other driver is legally responsible. You sustain multiple injuries for which you are hospitalized and you receive prolonged medical treatment. Because of your injuries, you are held out of work for 4 weeks. Your hospital and doctors’ bills total $50,000 and you lost $10,000 in wages while you were unable to work. Thus, you have $60,000 in out-of-pocket losses, plus pain and suffering and/or permanent impairment. Unfortunately, the at-fault driver had only $25,000 in liability insurance coverage. If you do not have Underinsured Motorist coverage, you are out of luck, as your recovery will most likely be limited to the $25,000 of insurance coverage maintained by the at-fault driver. As noted above, the individual who maintains only minimum liability coverage is not likely to have money or assets from which you could recover.

Now, consider the above example with one, noteworthy change. In addition to the liability coverage that you carry on your automobiles, you also carry $100,000 in Underinsured Motorist coverage. You could recover the sum of $25,000 in coverage from the at-fault driver’s insurance company and you could potentially recover up to $100,000 by making a claim against your own insurance company under your UIM coverage. A word of caution, however. Even if you have UM or UIM coverage, you should consult with an experienced car accident lawyer before you settle with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If you try to settle with the at-fault driver’s insurance company by yourself and in doing so, sign a general release of all claims, you will not be able to file a UIM claim with your insurance company. In Georgia, there is a very specific form, known as a “limited release,” which should be used when settling with an underinsured motorist in order to preserve your right to file a UIM claim against your own insurance company. A properly drafted limited release would enable you to release the insured tort-feasor (the at-fault driver) from all personal liability arising from the accident except to the extent other insurance coverage, such as your UIM coverage, is available.
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The statistics are shocking. A recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a person texting while driving was 23.2 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 448,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. An additional 5,474 people were killed due to distracted driving. One recent study found that driving “impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%”, which just happens to be the legal limit in Georgia.

The continued rise in accidents related to drivers using handheld electronic devices recently prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend a nationwide ban on the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs) while driving. While the NTSB does not have the power to enforce regulations, their recommendation is certainly influential. Currently, nine states ban all handheld mobile phone use. Even in states that ban the handheld use of mobile phones, drivers are allowed to use hands-free technology to make calls. This includes wired headsets, bluetooth headsets and bluetooth speakers.

In Georgia, drivers under 18 cannot use a cell phone for any purpose while operating a vehicle. Moreover, Georgia has banned all drivers from texting while they are behind the wheel. This ban also includes using a portable electronic device to access the internet. All of the laws relating to cells phones in Georgia are primary, which means you can be stopped and ticketed for the violation, even without committing any other violation. Adults can still use both handheld and hands-free mobile phones to make voice calls. Despite the recent legislation by Georgia and many other states, accidents caused by portable electronic devices are on the rise.

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