News Stories

Commerce Secretary Hit-and-Run

In a bizarre story this morning, U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson was charge with felony hit-and-run. Police say Bryson caused two car accidents within minutes of one another in southern California.

If you have a pulse, you first thought was that he was drunk out of him mind. But the preliminary reports show that alcohol was not involved. Let’s put his together. He causes two accidents. No alcohol. They find him essentially in a third accident because he was found unconscious. My prediction is that the man was either on drugs or, more likely, suffered some sort of seizure.

Let’s wait and see how it plays out. But my prediction is that this is not a bad guy, hit and run case but something very different.

You can find the CNN story here.

Car Accident Class Action Lawsuit

In every state, there is a stretch of the highway or an intersection where car accidents commonly occur. We certainly have them in Maryland.

A group of folks got together (let’s be honest, a creative car accident lawyer got them together) and filed a class action lawsuit against the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The lawsuit claimed that a particular stretch of highway on Interstate 44 was dangerous and the state should have done something to make the road safer.

The trial judge certified a class action finding that there were common questions of fact as to whether the pavement surface lacked proper skid resistance and was otherwise dangerous.

The Southern District Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that there are simply too many crosswinds that vary from accident to accident and, accordingly, each car accident case should be treated separately.
I have to admit, I agree with the appellate court, but I admire the creativity of the plaintiffs’ car accident lawyer in this case.

You can read more about the case here.

Speed Camera in Maryland to Go to Court of Appeals

The Maryland Court of Appeals will jump into the battles of whether it is reasonable to allow speed and red light camera merchants to receive a “commission” every time the camera catches a violator. A group of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick county residents say the payments, made by Montgomery County, Gaithersburg, and Rockville, are illegal.

This is the latest in a long, long battle between libertarians and their brethren and the photo enforcement technology industry, that operates speed cameras and red light cameras for local municipalities. The two most common photo enforcement systems are red light cameras, designed to detect motorists who enter an intersection after the light has turned red, and speed cameras, designed to detect motorists going a certain amount over the posted speed limit. In many cases, these two systems are combined at one intersection.

The big cheese in this industry is ACS State and Local Solutions (“ACS”) which provides 80 percent of the red-light cameras operating in the United States. (Interesting fact: ACS is owned by Zerox.) One thing is for sure: the speed camera business is big bucks. ACS Inc., the big red light speed camera vendor in Maryland, gets $16.25 for every $40 speed camera fine. This is a contingency fee that makes every car accident lawyer jealous. In some jurisdictions in Maryland, like Baltimore County, ACS’s percentage of the take is thought to be even higher.

All of this debate over how red light and speed cameras should be set up is above my pay grade. But I do know that we need to have new means of controlling speeders and people who don’t feel compelled to comply with traffic laws, because enforcement of our traffic laws in Maryland are become increasingly difficult to manage with old school conventional means alone. We have to figure out the fairest way possible to do this, and maybe giving companies a percentage of the take is the wrong play. But, we have to do something because these things save lives.

Some speed/red light camera fact/statistics:

  • Red light running causes about 800 crash deaths per year.
  • From 1992 to 2000, the number of fatal car, truck, motorcycle and pedestrian crashes at intersections with signals jumped 19 percent.
  • A $40 ticket every blue moon that you did not deserve is not a big price to pay to save lives (oops, that is not a fact).
  • In addition, the economic costs of crashes that involved speeding were $ 40.4 billion (this is 2004 data, it is probably a lot higher now).
  • At intersections using photo enforcement technology, overall right-angle crashes decreased 25 percent and injury right angle crashes decreased 16 percent. Front-into-side collisions also were reduced by 32 percent overall, and front-into-side crashes involving injuries were reduced by 68 percent.
  • Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson believes there has been a 50 percent decline in all speed camera citations (note: this assertion has been questioned).

Actually, all of these traffic speed camera statistics have been questioned. I appreciate the debate. I don’t take every statistic I read at face value either. Here is what I know believe: speed cameras definitely do not hurt, and they probably do help save lives. They are worth the trouble.

Not for nothing, this comes from someone who makes a living from helping people who are injured in car accidents. I believe speed and red light cameras cause me to lose business, to lose profits. But, this is a good thing for people who love their families and want to keep them safe.

Lawyers’ Websites

When it comes to bringing in revenue and making headlines, law firms do a hell of job. The biggest ones bring in millions, even billions of dollars. They argue before the Supreme Court. They help shape global economies.

When it comes to designing websites, though, these firms are clueless. These are the folks who often charge upwards of $1000 per hour for their services, and yet their websites look like the work of some cut-rate freelance designers.

Inc. is right. Law firm blogs have awful designs. Wait? What was that? Really? Oh, yes, our law firm’s website also has an awful design. I would say it is a 1950’s design if they were making websites in 1950. But I do think we provide as much real information to lawyers and injury victims as any website in Maryland or even in the country.

New Cell Phone Laws?

Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving although the recommendation is not, as it probably should be, for hands-free phones (or passengers). Maryland already had passed a similar law.

This recommendation underscores that the federal government is growing increasingly concerned by statistics that show cell phones are killing people in massive numbers. What would have been more impressive is asking for a ban on cell phones for drivers. Period. But regardless of the death toll, that is not in the political cards, at least not now.

Can a Jury Award Zero in Noneconomic Damages?

In Carr v. Cinnamon, a California appellate court applied the same rule we have here in Maryland: the finder of fact can award whatever they want for noneconomic damages, including zero even when it seems preposterous that a person could suffer medical bills and have no pain and suffering.

Plaintiff’s premises liability lawsuit alleged that her leg fell through the floor of a patio on defendant’s property. The jury found the defendant partially responsible and awarded a whopping $6,207.08 with no damages for pain and suffering. Improbably, Plaintiff’s attorney appealed, arguing that the damages award was inadequate as a matter of law and the trial court should have awarded damages (additur) or awarded a new trial.

The appellate court disagreed, finding juries can essentially do whatever they want. One thing is for sure: this jury was not a big fan of this plaintiff.

You can find the opinion here.

Coloroda Supreme Court Upholds $10 Million Verdict Against Walmart

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a $10 million verdict awarded to a truck driver who slipped and fell on grease while making a delivery to Walmart, resulting in a back injury requiring multiple spinal surgeries.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s determination that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was entitled to a new trial. The female truck driver incurred approximately $500,000 in medical bills, and was unable to return to work after the fall. As such, her truck, in which she also lived, was repossessed.

The award, originally $15 million, was reduced by $5 million due to the state’s cap on noneconomic damages, making this one of the highest judgments ever in a slip-and-fall case.

Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Boaters

A wrongful death suit has been filed in Utah, stemming from a horrific boating accident.
The facts here are rather unbelievable. The suit contends that the driver of a boat negligently struck the decedent while she was swimming, causing critical injuries, as the propeller “tore” into her torso and lower abdomen. It gets worse from here. According to witnesses, after striking the swimmer, the boat turned around and the boat’s occupants were overheard calling to the woman. They were heard yelling, “Hey lady, are you all right?” The witnesses said that the defendants talked to the decedent, but did not offer aide and left the scene, leaving her in the water bleeding and severely injured.

In addition to five John Does, three men were named in the suit, claiming that the men failed their “duty” to use “reasonable care” to avoid an accident. The suit further claims that the power boat was operated in a negligent and reckless manner. The driver and at least one other occupant had smoked marijuana prior to the accident, and at least three of the occupants had been drinking alcohol.

The lawsuit goes on to state that the Defendants’ acts and omissions “were the result of willful and malicious conduct or conduct that manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and a disregard of the rights of others.” I’m not quite sure if being “under the influence” had anything to do with their choice to leave the scene without rendering assistance, but one could only hope that was not the case. I can’t imagine that an individual, let alone eight, could leave a woman struggling for her life, while they tore off hoping not to have been noticed – something rather difficult to do in a speed boat.

No criminal charges have been filed against the three men yet, as investigators were waiting for the results of forensic testing.

Fact of the Day

According to the National Safety Council, a person’s risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident is 1 in 88. The risk of being killed by lightning is roughly 1 in 84,000. The risk of being killed in a fireworks discharge is about 1 in 386,000.

Attribution Bias

A tow truck driver was struck and killed this morning by a hit-and-run driver on Route 100 in Glen Burnie during rush hour. He got killed near where I work. He lives in the same town I do.

Certainly, there is a desire for all of us to sigh a bit of relief and say, “Okay, I would not be helping a sewage truck on the side of the road. That couldn’t have been me.” But have you ever been pulled over on the side of the road. Of course you have. This could have happened to you, me or any one of us.

The next step is to find creative ways to blame the victim. Why was he so close to the road? Shouldn’t he have seen it coming? We all have this attribution bias, to varying extents. When you peel that away, what you have is a poor guy who was probably trying to feed his family and while doing so died for no good reason.
Just awful.