February 2009

Story in Newsday.com about crashes involving Crown Victorias used by police agencies.  It appears that the location of the gas tank on the cars is the culprit.  The worst crashes involve stopped police cars that are hit from behind, a disturbing problem, because police vehicles are frequently stopped on the side of interstates, where the possibility of getting hit from behind by a car traveling at a high rate of speed is high. 

The NHTSA investigated 23 fires in Crown Victorias between 2001 and 2003.  The study concluded that the vehicles performed no worse than other vehicles in their class, and thus there was no safety defect.


Critics of the Corwn Victoria say the fuel tank is located in a crush zone, that absorbs the energy of an impact and can cause the fuel tank to rupture.  Since the late 1990’s Ford has implimented shield systems to shield the tank from impact, and has offered a fire suppression system that sprays the area with foam in the event of a collision. 

The website crown victoriasafetyalert.com details cases where Crown Victoria police cars have been involved in fiery, explosive crashes.  Many have been seriously burned and even killed in these vehicles.

According to a story on the Denver Business Journal, a bill aimed at doing away with the tort system for auto accidents was killed in committee last week.  The bill sought to reinstate the “no fault” system in Colorado.  Up until 2003 Colorado had a “no fault” system for dealing with auto accidents, where the consumer purchases insurance to cover damage done to the consumer in an auto accident and damages aren’t paid for by the person who caused the wreck. 

In 2003 the state instituted a tort system to deal with auto accidents, where the at fault party pays for the damage they cause.  The new “no fault” bill was opposed by both trial lawyers and the insurance industry.  A 2007 study showed that car insurance premiums dropped $322 for the average motorist, since the tort system was put in place, a 35% decrease in premiums. 

The people behind this no fault bill were medical providers.  They claim that under the no fault system they were paid for 60% of the care they provided to car accident victims, while under the tort system they are reimbursed for only 36% of the care they provide.  Insurers claim that the no fault system is subject to abuse.

According to NewsOK.com, a committee of the Oklahoma House passed a bill requiring every civil lawsuit for professional negligence must have an affidavit attached to the suit, stating that the filer has obtained the opinion of a qualified expert, who has reviewed the facts of the case.

There are several problems with this law.  One, it places a monetary barrier to suit on the person who was wronged.  If the expert in your field, like one example stated in the story, charges $12,000 for a consultation, you cannot go forward with your suit unless you can afford this fee.  Basically, the doors to the courthouse are barred to anyone who cannot pay for justice.  This is fine for corporations, who can always afford an expert, but not constitutional when it prevents everyday citizens from pursuing justice.

Another problem with this law is that when there is a well respected or powerful person who commits negligence in their field, it may be impossible to find an expert to speak out against the person.  That is even if there is clear cut negligence.  This can deny justice to an injured party, just because there is no one who has the fortitude to speak out for the little guy.  Is that what justice is all about?  Our founding fathers would disagree.

In a lot of cases, the negligence is so clear cut, that it isn’t even necessary to hire an expert to prove your case.  But this law would add an extra, and unnecessary, layer of expense, to an already costly judicial system.  The decision to hire an expert to prove your case is the attorney’s decision, as well as the client’s decision. 

When tort reformers go about passing laws like this, their stated goals are never the real reason for their actions.  The reformers will tell you this bill is intended to keep merit-less lawsuits out of the system.  But there is already a remedy for that, summary judgment.  The goal of this “lawsuit reform” is to prevent the little guy from obtaining justice.  Isn’t that always the case.

The head of the Oklahoma Democratic party, Ivan Holmes put it this way, “”It is going to come down to: Who do you want to protect, big insurance companies or the little guy?”.  I agree.  The party is planning to raise funds to mount an ad campaign to combat tort reform in their state. 

Besides the measure mentioned above, the Legislature is planning to bring other tort reform legislation, including a bill requiring a cap on contingency fees for lawyers in personal injury cases.  This is another access to justice issue.  If regular citizens are required to pay lawyers hourly rates, a lot of citizens will be denied access to the courthouse.  Again, the victim will be the little guy, not the corporation who can afford a lawyer’s hourly rate.

A new drug created by Cuban doctors may give hope to lung cancer victims, according to a story on CNN.com.  The drug, named ClimaVax EGF has been in development for almost 20 years.  Clinical trials have taken place in the UK, Canada and Cuba and over 700 patients have received the vaccine.

The vaccine extended the lives of terminal patients by four months, but some patients have had their lives extended for several years.  The results were compared against those who only received conventional therapies like chemo and radiation.  Younger patients appeared to have greater rates of success. 

The drug encourages production of an antibody that inhibits EGF (epidermal growth factor), a substance in the body which drives lung cancer cell  growth.  It is hoped this treatment can be developed into something that can bring lung cancer under control, in the same way other chronic diseases are controlled by medication.  Promising news.

Several articles in the news recently on adult responsibility for failing to supervise their children, or even worse, providing their children with alcohol.  CNN’s article “Teen Drinking Leads to Crackdown on Cool Parents”tells the story of a mother, Kecia Evangela, who allegedly served alcohol to one of her son’s friends, a 16 year old boy.  The boy subsequently crashed his car and died.  Ms. Evangela was arrested for furnishing alcohol to a minor and reckless conduct.

States have reacted to “social hosting”, the act of parents providing their teenage children’s friends with alcohol, by passing laws requiring fines on parents whose homes are used for drinking parties, whether the parent knows about the party or not.  24 states now have fines of several thousand dollars for each offense of social hosting.  The hope is that the hefty fines will deter this activity. 

The article also cites a 2005 AMA study that found 1/3 of teens said it was easy to obtain alcohol from their parents.  The same survey found that 40% of teens reported that it was easy to obtain alcohol from their friend’s parents.  Clearly a sign that kids know who the “cool” parents are. 

Chicagotribune.com has the storyof a woman whose home-owner’s insurance paid $2.5million to settle a lawsuit claiming that she failed to supervise her children, who held an underage drinking party in her home.  Two of her daughters’ friends drank beer in her daughter’s bedroom.  One of the teens crashed their vehicle while driving home from the drinking party.   The other teenager was paralyzed in the wreck.

The lawsuit did not allege the mother provided the children with alcohol, and it was not alleged she even knew that the children were drinking in her house.  The lawsuit claimed she failed to monitor the teens in her house and should have monitored them, because her children had been caught drinking before in her home. 

Mother Against Drunk Driving is an organization committed to eliminating drunk driving and toughening penalties on those who provide teens with alcohol.  They deserve support for their mission.

The CPSC recently announced a recall for Playland International swing sets.  The recalled swing sets were sold by Playland through dealers nationwide, betweem September 2001 and May 2006 for betweem $800 and $2300.  Around 700 of these units were sold.  The effected units have a 3.5 inch arch swing frame, a 3.5 inch top metal bar, and come in many colors.

The problem with  the swing sets is that the metal around the weld at the top of the swing frame can fail, which results in the top bar falling on anyone underneat the swing set.  One child suffered a head injury after the bar fell on their head.