December 2011 Archives

Texting While Driving a Problem for Young Motorists: NHTSA Unveils New Distracted Driving Measure and NTSB Issues All-Call for a Ban on Cell Phone Use

December 30, 2011

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Deborah Hersman has called a 2010 car accident a "big red flag for all drivers." A 19-year-old traveling near Missouri at 55 mph rear-ended a tractor trailer in the beginning of what could only be described as a deadly, multi-vehicle, chain collision. Initially, reports a writer for the Associated Press, investigators were perplexed as to what could have caused the motorist to crash, but phone records quickly revealed the truth. He had either sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately preceding the accident. Considering that texting while driving is a distraction on several fronts - visually, cognitively and manually - it's no wonder that similar crashes often result, especially when teenage drivers are involved.

Still, car accident attorneys aren't surprised that the accident has prompted NTSB to urge a nationwide ban on cellphone use while driving - for all age groups. Distracted driving is a prevalent issue. On Tuesday, December 13th, the National Transportation Safety Board became the first federal agency to "call for an outright prohibition on telephone conversations while driving" and a few states have already heeded the call to a certain extent, Georgia among them. The state recently banned texting while driving, although phone calls are still permitted for those 18 and older. Drivers under the age of 18 are banned from both texting and phone calls.

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Death of a New Born Baby Leads Wal-Mart to Pull Baby Formula from Shelves

December 27, 2011

The death of a new born child in Missouri has lead Wal-Mart stores to pull the brand of powdered bay formula that is possibly connected with the infant's death from its shelves. Wal-Mart has pulled the formula from its shelves as a precautionary measure, and likely to avoid exposing itself to any possible products liability or negligence lawsuits.

Avery Cornett, a new born from Lebanon, Missouri, who was less than one month old, died on December 18, 2011, from a rare infection. It is believed that Avery may be developed the infection as a result of ingesting powdered baby formula that his parents purchased from a local Wal-Mart store. According to the Washington Post, the powdered baby formula that Avery ingested was Enfamil Newborn Formula. A week after Avery was born, his parents took him to their pediatrician after he showed signs of stomach pain and lethargy. When the pain persisted the next day, his parents took him to the emergency room. That following Sunday, little Avery died as the hospital after being taken off of life support.

As a result of baby Avery's death, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conducting an investigation in order to determine exactly what caused Avery's death. The Washington Post reports that not only is the FDA investigation the death, but the Centers for Disease Control and the Missouri Department of Health and also investigating. So far, investigators have collected samples from the family and are testing unopened formula purchased at stores. Public health investigators will look at the formula itself, as well as the water used in preparing it and at anything else the baby might have ingested.

Thus far, it has not been definitively determined whether the Enfamil formula lead to Avery's sickness and subsequent death. According to the Washington Post, preliminary hospital tests indicated that Avery died of a rare infection caused by bacteria known as Cronobacter sakazakii. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but it's deemed extremely dangerous to babies less than 1 month old and those born premature. According to Christopher Perille, a spokesman for Enfamil, which is based in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, the bacteria are "pervasive in the environment. There's a whole range of potential sources on how this infection may have got started." Perille is correct in that the bacteria occur naturally in the environment and in plants such as wheat and rice. However, the most worrisome appearances have been in dried milk and powdered formula, which is why manufacturers routinely test for the germs.

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Women's Hockey Team Bus Crash Lawsuit Results in $36 Million Dollar Settlement

December 23, 2011

On January 29, 2005, The Windsor Wildcats, a Canadian women's youth hockey team from Windsor, Ontario, was traveling through New York, on their way to a ski resort for the holidays. As they traveled, it is likely that they never expected that their trip would end in anything but merriment. However, unfortunately for them, their trip ended in tragedy instead. As the team's bus traveled through Western New York, it collided with a tractor-trailer truck, causing an auto accident that ended in the death of 4 individuals, and the injury to 19.

According to The Washington Post, the bus, which was carrying a women's hockey team, comprised of young women ranging from 19 to 21 years of age, swerved on Interstate Highway 390, and slammed into a tractor truck that was parked on the side of the highway on Jan. 29, 2005. The trucking accident occurred about 30 miles outside of Rochester, at dusk.

The Washington Post reports that the police initially suspected that driver fatigue and inexperience led to the crash. The 24 year old bus driver, Ryan Comfort had only driven for the bus company for two months. Although the bus driver escaped criminal charges because a grand jury declined to indict him, witnesses said he was driving erratically before the crash. The bus driver pleaded guilty to a logbook violation and a traffic violation of failing to stay in the proper lane and was fined $300.

Four individuals were killed as a result of this tragic collision. Those individual include: Richard Edwards, the coach of the Windsor Wildcats women's hockey team; his 13-year-old son, Brian; a third passenger, Catherine Roach; and the driver of the tractor trailer truck, Ernest Zeiset Jr. All of the remaining passengers on the bus sustained injuries. Those nineteen individuals suffered injuries which ranged from broken bones to brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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"Self Help" Author Settles Three Wrongful Death Suits

December 14, 2011

When one takes the advice of another who claims to be offering advice, or help, the expected outcome is a positive one, not a tragedy. However, this the outcome was not a positive one for three individuals who participated in one of James Arthur Ray's sweat lodges in 2009. For those three individuals, what was supposed to be a spiritual retreat turned into tragedy, and lead to their deaths.

Self Help author James Arthur Ray has settled lawsuits brought by three families who brought the suits on behalf of the love ones they lost as a result of one of Ray's "Spiritual Warrior" ceremonies. According to USA Today the terms of the settlements were disclosed as exhibits during Ray's criminal trial. Ray was tried and convicted on three counts of negligent homicide as a result of the deaths. The suits brought by the families of the three victims included allegations of negligence, fraud, and wrongful death.

Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman all died while attending one of Ray's Spiritual Warrior retreats in October of 2009. Ray, who is a self help author, held several of these ceremonies, or sweat lodges in the past.The lawsuit filed by the families of Brown, Shore, and Neuman alleged that Ray and his company were liable for wrongful death, fraud, and negligence. Other individuals who sustained personal injuries in the 2009 ceremony also filed suit against Ray and his company.

Ray settled the suits brought by these three families for around 3 million dollars, with each family receiving between 800,000 dollars to 1.3 million dollars each. The settlement funds did not come directly from Ray, but came from Ray's insurers. According to USA Today, Brad Jardine, the attorney who represented Ray in the civil cases, said he could only assume that Ray "felt very deeply that everything possible should be done for those families." Also according to Ray's attorneys, despite Ray's decision to settle these cases, the settlements include no admission of guilt on Ray's part.

There are other cases pending against Ray as well as the retreat center that Ray rented for his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event. Other civil cases pending against Ray include a wrongful-death suit filed by a woman who committed suicide at one of Ray's events. The families of Brown, Shore and Neuman also brought cases against Michael and Amayra Hamilton, the owners of Angel Valley Retreat Center, which is the retreat center where Ray held his ceremonial events. These cases have been settled as well. In the cases against the Hamiltons, the plaintiffs alleged that the conduct of Michael and Amayra Hamilton led to the deaths of Brown, Shore and Neuman, and also led to the injuries of others. The terms of that settlement were confidential, and like the settlement with Ray, it included no admission of liability by the Hamiltons.

School Bus Safety Still an Issue as More Child Pedestrians are Injured

December 12, 2011

School bus stop laws provide directives for what a motorist may and may not do while in the vicinity of a bus stop being operated by a school bus providing school transport. For drivers, not only are the rules of the road fairly simple when it comes to school bus safety, but the primary regulations are almost uniform nation-wide:

•When meeting a stopped school bus with red signal lights flashing and stop arm extended, you MUST STOP.
•You MUST WAIT until the red lights have stopped flashing and the stop arm is withdrawn before moving.
•DO NOT MOVE until all the children have reached a place of safety.

Unfortunately, despite the clarity of rules like these, children are still injured or killed every day during pedestrian accidents involving impatient drivers who disregard the law. This phenomenon leads many car accident attorneys to question the effectiveness of current school bus stop laws.

Take, for instance, an incident that occurred in Douglasville, Georgia, this past week. A woman was arrested and charged with striking and killing a 17-year-old girl who stepped off of a school bus and into the path of her vehicle. Further investigation concluded that at the time of the accident, the school bus was stopped with its red lights activated and stop arm extended, indicating a direct violation of Georgia statutes.

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Mississippi Malpractice Insurer Says More Tort Reform is Unnecessary: Plaintiffs' Attorneys Foresee "Loser-Pays" Will Curb Frivolous Litigation

December 8, 2011

Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry has publicly touted the success of his state's "loser pays" law and it appears that quite a few elected officials are taking heed. In fact, Mississippi's Governor-elect, Phil Bryant, may just have his eye on similar tort reform, and there's a high probability that such legislation would pass, reports Jackson, Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger. This comes as no surprise to Mississippi medical malpractice attorneys, who know tort reform like this will be a hot-button topic in the upcoming election, and it's something that potential plaintiffs want to keep an eye on. It has made its way back to the forefront of discussion as concerns about government spending and health-care costs have incited lawmakers to explore cost-saving measures.

This particular law is intended to be a blow to trial lawyers and curb instances of frivolous lawsuits by requiring the loser of a lawsuit to pay the attorney's fees of the victor. Currently, in the U.S. each party bears the brunt of its own legal costs in court. Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, which provides medical malpractice coverage to half of Mississippi's physicians, says such reform is in itself frivolous since the state, which was once labeled a "poster child for lawsuit abuse," has already seen a marked decline in lawsuit filings, approximately 73 percent in eight years.

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Social Workers may be Liable in the Wrongful Death of a Denver, Colorado Child

December 6, 2011

The death of a child is always a tragedy. However when a child dies under the circumstances of horrific abuse, the tragedy is that much worse. When children are the victims of child abuse, there is no question that those at fault should be held accountable. Normally, those found to be at fault are relatives of the child, or others who have had close contact with the child. But, in the case of the death of a Denver, Colorado child, the people at fault may be two social workers.

According to the Denver Post, just this week, U.S. District Judge William J. Martínez, in a ruling which denied a motion to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed against two Denver social service workers by the child's estate and his biological parents determined that he will allow the wrongful death lawsuit to proceed against the two Denver social service workers for failing to prevent the starvation death of a 7 year old boy in 2007.

This tragic story began in March 2007, when a teacher's aide reported that the 7 year old boy, Chandler Grafner, had a swollen ear and other bruises. Chandler told the aide that Jon Phillips, Chandler's foster father, had put him in a shower and slapped him repeatedly. The aide reported the suspected abuse to a school administrator who called police. The Denver Department of Human Services conducted an investigation based on the allegations, but found the allegation unfounded. Two months later, Chandler was sealed in a closet and left to starve in his own urine and feces by his foster parents, Jon Phillips, 26, and his 22-year-old live-in girlfriend Sarah Berry.

The Denver Post reports that the wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Chandler's mother, Christina Grafner, and his father, Joshua Norris. Christina Grafner lost custody of the Chandler after she was charged with neglect one year before his death. Phillips was Christina Grafner's former boyfriend. Chandler was in Phillips custody because the Jefferson County Department of Human Services had placed Chandler in Phillips' custody.

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