Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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As the bad news on distracted driving continues to grow, there is some good news in the war against drunk driving. A new study indicates that the popularity of ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber is contributing to a drop in drunk driving collisions.

The study was conducted in New York, and focused on those areas of the city that had been very quick to adopt Uber. Researchers compared accident rates in each of the city’s five boroughs, and found that the rate of alcohol-related car collisions dropped significantly in those boroughs which had quickly adopted Uber. In Staten Island, where Uber took a longer time to gain popularity, the rate remained the same. Earlier reports have also indicated some impact of ridesharing apps on people’s decisions and actions related to driving after consuming alcohol.

However, another study conducted last July yielded vastly different findings. According to data collected from around the country, ridesharing seems to have no effect on the number of people killed in drunk driving accidents on weekends or major holidays. Those researchers point to the fact that there still aren’t enough ridesharing drivers on the road to actually make a dent in the high rates of intoxicated driving on major holidays and weekends.

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Medical conditions, such as cardiac disease, increase the risk of truckers suffering an emergency at the wheel, and raise their risks of being involved in an accident.

That information comes from a new study, which focused on more than 49,000 commercial truck drivers. The researchers found that 34% of truck drivers suffered from at least one chronic medical condition, including diabetes, heart disease, or lower back pain. All of these conditions are typically linked to poor driving performance, and could significantly increase the risk of being involved in an accident.

Researchers found that many truck drivers were likely to suffer from more than one such condition. Truck drivers, who suffered three or more medical conditions, were 2 to 4 times more likely to be involved in a truck accident, compared to healthier truck drivers. The general accident rate in the study was 29 per 100 million miles traveled. Among drivers who suffered from three or more flagged medical problems, the rate was a staggering 93 per million miles traveled.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released new rules for truck driver training that do not call for a minimum number of real-world driving hours. Now, a coalition of highway safety advocates is calling on the agency to require such minimum real-world driving experience.

The coalition, which includes the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and others have petitioned the FMCSA, calling on the it to include a requirement mandating that new truck drivers have a minimum number of hours of driving behind the wheel before they are allowed to drive independently.

FMCSA recently issued final rules governing the hiring of entry-level truck drivers, and says that it did not include real-world driving training in this rule because it did not make financial sense. According to the Agency, it does not have enough evidence to link such real-world driving to greater safety outcomes, and does not believe that the safety benefits of requiring such real-world training are clear enough for it to mandate expensive training.

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For many in Atlanta, this summer began with a toddler’s tragic death and…a question. On June 18th of this year, 22 month old Cooper Harris perished after his father mistakenly left him alone in the family car for seven hours as temperatures at the father’s office park reached their peak. Per the coroner, the Cobb County, Georgia, toddler’s official cause of death was hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke–except that it’s actually turning out to be a bit more complicated than that.

The question on everyone’s minds now is whether this is a case of simple negligence or whether something more sinister may be at play. For one, the father, Ross Harris, breakfasted with his son at a local Chik-fil-A and strapped him into his rear-facing car seat mere minutes before driving less than a mile to his office at Home Depot and leaving his son in the car. With surveillance video ostensibly showing the father returning to the car briefly at lunchtime (yet allegedly not discovering his son’s body until 4 pm) and an investigation into the father’s work computer revealing ominous research into how it long it takes an animal to die in a hot car, concerned citizens are crying foul – as are the police. After being questioned, the mother also purportedly admitted conducting similar searches all because, she claimed, she and her husband both feared making a mistake of epic proportions and wanted to learn what they could do to avoid it. Their proactive plan to educate themselves, however, seems to have backfired in the worst way imaginable.

So what information, exactly, is available on the information superhighway regarding heat stroke deaths? What might The Harris’ searches have revealed?
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A Troup County jury has awarded the 94-year-old father of a disabled woman, Mary Ellen Humphrey, upwards of $3 million dollars after she was fatally ejected from a transport vehicle following a LaGrange, Georgia car accident. Pivotal to the plaintiff’s victory in his wrongful death action, Greg Lands reports in the Daily Report’s December 30 issue, was evidence that “restraining straps that should have been installed on the stretcher were missing.” The single 63-year-old woman, who suffered from paralysis in her legs among a plethora of other health problems, had resided at a nursing home facility for approximately four years and required transport to and from the West Georgia Dialysis Center three times per week.

Ms. Humphrey had been placed on the stretcher and loaded onto a transport minivan owned by Brilansie Enterprises for a return trip from West Georgia Dialysis shortly before the 2010 auto crash. The resulting wrongful death suit was filed against the defendant driver (who perished later in an unrelated event), the executor of the defendant driver’s estate, the driver of the transport van, Brilansie Enterprises (the transport company) and its insurer, and Southeastrans Inc., an Atlanta-based company that engages subcontractors who in turn provide NET to Medicaid and Medicare patients.

Evidence produced showed that Ms. Humphrey had been restrained by three straps across her torso when the defendant driver struck the vehicle, but the shoulder straps were conspicuously absent once she was extricated from the vehicle. The force of the impact “threw her forward from beneath…[the torso straps] and into the driver’s seat ‘with such force that it bent,’ then continued forward, with her head slamming into the front console and her body wedged beneath the two front seats,” according to the Daily Report’s interpretation of the pre-trial order. Her injuries, which resulted in her death at the scene, included 18 broken ribs, a skull fracture, and a broken femur.
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It was almost three years ago that Kevin Boyer of North Dakota was driving his three children home in the family van when they were suddenly struck by a tractor-trailer with a double-trailer rig. Two of his children perished in the crash, leaving both Boyer and the third child, a three-year-old son, critically injured. One son was ejected from the vehicle and into the snow, while Boyer’s daughter was discovered partially ejected through a rear window. Boyer and his surviving child were taken to the hospital, where they eventually recovered, but the effects were long-lasting and included the demise of Boyer’s marriage. Although Boyer and his wife began divorce proceedings only weeks after the devastating truck accident, they finally came together in 2012 to file a civil lawsuit against the truck driver.

A local publication, The Grand Forks Herald, reports that Plaintiffs allege the driver “violated federal regulations by driving too many hours without rest and using a prescription painkiller that causes drowsiness.” The driver, Steve Nelson, has not disputed those claims and, in fact, served a one year sentence after pleading guilty in 2011 during a related criminal case which encompassed two counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless driving, with all but 60 days of his sentence being suspended. The remaining 60 days were spent on house arrest and an additional 100 hours were spent doing community service.
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A Georgia motorist, Dominic Moceri, was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in a fiery car crash that claimed the life of his female passenger six years ago. The Athens man was found guilty of homicide after his attempts to outrun police following an attempted traffic stop culminated in him crashing into a utility pole. Brenna Garrison, a 26-year-old separated mother of young two children and former University of Georgia accountant, was fatally ejected from the car after the violent impact sheared off the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Prosecutors said she had been wearing her seatbelt at the time.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the pursuing officer’s dashboard camera captured the events as they unfolded – and the tape was subsequently played for the jury at trial. The officer had witnessed Moceri driving erratically only moments before the car accident. While some might claim the video was prejudicial, experienced plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys can see the benefit in allowing the jury to see exactly what happened. Prosecutors theorized that Moceri, who had just recently begun to date the victim, fled from the police because he believed he was legally drunk. At the time of trial, however, Moceri blamed the accident on a defect in his BMW that caused him to accelerate suddenly. It was a defense that did not fly with jurors, especially once they saw the dashboard tape.

Garrison’s husband, who continues to care for the couple’s children, always believed that he and his wife would have reconciled, had she lived. If he and/or other family members so choose, in addition to the criminal proceedings, they may elect to file a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging negligence on Moceri’s part.
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A deadly Georgia airplane crash that occurred earlier this year may have lent itself to multiple lawsuits, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Investigation into the crash continues as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attempts to determine what cause the February 20 incident. An independent federal agency, the NTSB is charged with determining the probable cause of each accident investigated and issuing safety recommendations designed specifically to prevent future accidents.

The lawsuits, which were filed in Fulton County Superior Court, come months after the crash, with family members of the deceased filing civil claims on September 9 against the city of Thomson, Georgia McDuffie County, the airport’s operators, Georgia Power and parent company, Southern Company, to name a few. On February 20 the estate was carrying five passengers, all Vein Guys employees, when the plane touched down, aborted its landing and clipped the top of a 60-foot-tall concrete utility pole as it went airborne. The right wing of the plane was severed, causing a fuel leak right before the plane landed in a fiery crash. The passengers perished, while the pilots escaped with injuries.

In aviation, a personal injury claim is typically filed when one or more parties are negligent in the operation and/or maintenance of the subject aircraft. A flight depends on the successful execution of multiple factors and can likewise be derailed by any number things including pilot error and mechanical defects. Because of the altitudes that airplanes hit, as well as their size, airplane accidents are usually fatal or result in debilitating and traumatic injury.
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There are undoubtedly many different types of car accidents. There are collisions between multiple drivers, and then there are those collisions caused by motorists who are under the influence, or distracted. All of these accidents, no matter, the driving force, invoke feelings of sympathy for the victims involved. But of particular tragedy are the accidents that may not be the direct result of any type of human error at all.

Often in these so-called “freak accidents,” injury seems to have been almost inevitable. Even more disconcerting for personal injury attorneys is the fact that, in these cases, it is often extremely difficult to immediately pinpoint or assign “fault” to any one particular source. Take, for instance, an article entitled, “Woman Killed by Flying Tire Had Nowhere to go.” The blaring headline displayed on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s (AJC) Web site regarding one of Atlanta’s most recent morning rush hour traffic accidents serves only to accentuate the aforementioned point.

Last Friday morning, a 47-year-old woman was driving her daughter to school when a truck tire flew over the median that separates I-85 and in the direction of cars driving southbound on the highway near the Clairmont Road exit. The tire struck the van’s roof and windshield, killing Aila Masud on impact. According to a police interview conducted by reporters at the AJC, another driver traveling in the opposite direction, and across the median, was trying to avoid his own collision, when a front tire came off of his truck and careened at least 50 feet into the air, eventually striking Masud’s motor vehicle.
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As you may have read, I recently wrote regarding lawsuits that are currently pending in Mississippi, where the proponents of the suits are seeking to have the stat’s cap on tort damages overturned. However, it seems that Mississippi is not the only state that is currently facing this issue. In Missouri, after winning a recent lawsuit challenging the state’s noneconomic damages cap, Missouri doctors continue to fight another battle threatening to overturn the recovery limit, while Plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to seek to overturn the limit.

According to Amednews.com, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled on April 3rd in Sanders v. Ahmed that the state’s noneconomic damages cap for medical malpractice or medical negligence cases was constitutional. The cap, adopted in 1986, impacts cases in which the alleged negligence happened before 2005. The limit was enacted at $350,000 but is now at more than $600,000 due to inflation. The second suit, which the state high court has yet to decide, centers on Missouri’s latest $350,000 award limit. The cap impacts all medical liability or medical malpractice lawsuits starting in 2005. A decision in the case, Watts v. Cox, is expected by the summer, said attorneys involved in the case.

In Sanders v. Ahmed, a patient’s family said the cap used to reduce their jury award from $9.2 million to $1.2 million violated the Missouri Constitution. The family had filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Paulette Sanders, who died in 2005. Relatives claimed neurologist Iftekhar Ahmed, MD, failed to recognize and treat a fatal side effect resulting from a medication he prescribed to Sanders. Dr. Ahmed denied wrongdoing.

After winning at trial, the family filed a motion fighting the award reduction. A trial court upheld the reduction, and the family appealed. In their opinion, Supreme Court justices said the Legislature has the authority to enact damages caps.

“The remedy available in a statutorily created cause of action is a matter of law, not fact, and not within the purview of the jury,” the court said. “To hold otherwise would be to tell the Legislature it could not legislate; it could neither create nor negate causes of action and in doing so could not prescribe the measure of damages for the same. This court never has so held and declines to do so now.”
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