Auto Accident

According to Bloomberg, GM has accepted that liabilities for past products, manufactured by the bankrupt GM will stay with the new company which will be formed in the bankruptcy proceeding.  To quote the story:

GM “amended the sale agreement to clarify that it will take on some tax and workers’ compensation claims, maintain utility service to plants being left behind and accept future product liability and lemon law claims. That should significantly alleviate objectors’ concerns.”

That is good news for consumers: there will be a responsible party to pay for damages caused by the “old” GM’s negligence.  However the changes GM agreed to do not cover thousands of asbestos claims pending against the company.  Those claims would stay with the bankrupt entity, which would mean thse claimants will receive nothing.  In addition the agreement says that only claims arising after a new company is formed will be handled by the new company, meaning pending claims will stay with the bankrupt estate.

The Treasury-funded company, Vehicle Acquisition Holdings LLC, is the only potential buyer for GM.  The government’s goal for the company is to have the sale closed in 90 days.

The Federal Government is mandating new safety standards for automobile roofs, the first such new standards in thirty years, according to the New York Times Wheels Blog.  Automobiles are currently required to have roofs that can withstand pressure equal to one and a half times the vehicle’s curb weight, with that pressure applied to one side of the roof only, up to a six thousand pound maximum.  Vehicles over 6,000 pounds are not currently regulated.

The new standard, to be implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is that the vehicle’s roof must be able to withstand three times the weight of the vehicle, with pressure applied first to one side of the roof and then to the other side of the roof.  Safety experts claim that the two sided test better approximates the conditions a vehicle experiences in a roll over situation.  The new standard also removes the six thousand pound cap on vehicles and brings vehicles in the 6,000 to 10,000 pound range under the regulations.

The NHTSA hopes that the tougher standard will prevent deaths from rollover crashes.  The Administration’s data shows 10,000 deaths annually from rollover crashes, under the current standard.  In the Administration’s press release, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood states, “These new standards go a long way toward reducing deaths, but safety belts are the first, most important step everyone should take to protecting themselves and their families.” 

The phase in for the new requirements begins in September 2012.  The Administration has also mandated electronic stability control systems which will also help to prevent rollovers from occurring.

According to a story on, a jury in Freehold, New Jersey found a truck driver liable for a traffic accident, where the trucker had no physical contact with the other vehicles in the accident.  The truck driver was stopped in traffic and Thurman Baker, the driver of the car involved in the accident, was in a parking lot, trying to enter the roadway.  The truck driver waved Baker’s car across the lanes of traffic, where the car was hit by a motorcycle traveling in the other lane of travel.

The trucker told an officer at the scene he waved for the driver to enter into the highway, the sign that it is clear to go, but then later changed his story.  The jury in the case awarded the victim $1.5million.  His injuries included a concussion, permanent damage to his arm and five cracked teeth.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a jury in Will County, Illinois awarded a $24 million verdict to the families of two people killed, as well as another person who was seriously injured, in a multiple car/eighteen wheeler crash in April 2004.  The verdict was rendered against C.H. Robinson Worldwide Trucking, a Minnesota trucking company, and the truck driver, DeAn Henry. 

A story on Chicagosuburbannews.comsaid that Joseph Sperl was on I-55 the day of the accident, slowing in traffic, when his car was hit by the tractor-trailer.  Mr. Sperl was killed in the accident.  The tractor-trailer also hit a car driven by Thomas Sanders, who lost his life in the accident.  Five other people were injured in the accident that day.

Henry, the driver of the tractor-trailer, subsequently plead guilty to charges of driving on a suspended license and falsifying her log book, in relation to the accident.  The $24 million verdict was the highest verdict in the past fifty years in Will County.

A jury in Buffalo awarded $40 Million to a man who was paralyzed in a car crash 10 years ago, according to a story in the Buffalo News.  Ford and the driver of the vehicle were sued in the case and the jury found both parties equally liable for the accident.  The accident happened on November 20, 1999 when the Ford Explorer, driven by Matthew Smolinski, crashed and rolled over. 

Smolinski’s brother Thomas was in the car and suffered severe spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed.  Thomas is confined to a wheelchair and unable to care for himself on a daily basis.  The award will help to pay for his care and treatment. 

This is just one of many verdicts against Ford for rollovers.  Others include a 2004 verdict in California of $368 Million for a woman paralyzed in a Ford Explorer rollover and a 2005 verdict in Texas ($31 Million) for two people killed in a Ford Explorer rollover.

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. 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.

According to a story on, the Bush administration is planning another dose of tort reform via executive order, before it turns over the keys to the White House.  The rule was published in the Federal Register in November and is scheduled to take effect December 26, 2008.  Merry Christmas indeed. 

The Christmas present is from the administration to its friends in the Railroad Industry.  The regulation gives Railroad Companies immunity from state tort lawsuits.  The Bush administration has signed numerous executive orders based on the idea that state tort lawsuits are pre-empted by federal law.  This is yet another one of those orders.

Statistics show that in the United States, a railroad accident occurs almost every two hours, in which a vehicle or pedestrian is struck by a train.  There were over 13,000 such accidents in 2007.  Over 800 deaths were recorded that year and nearly 9,000 non-fatal injuries.

Over the past 12 years, the Railroad Industry has given an average of 73% of their contributions to Republicans (according to  The administration is paying off one of the industries that helped to elect it.  This is politics at its worst.

According to a story in the Witchita Eagle, a jury rendered a $23.5 million verdict against Swift Transportation and their driver, Robyn Getchel, who tested positive for methamphetamine while driving the Swift truck.  The injured victim, Terry Frederick, suffered a severe spinal cord injury and had around $5 million in medical bills, and was also awarded damages for future medicals, lost wages, and pain and suffering.  The judge reduced the actual award to $15.3 million to account for the fault of another driver involved in the accident. 

This verdict was not the largest rendered against Swift.  In 2007 a jury in Arizona awarded the family of a man killed in a collision with a Swift 18 wheeler $36.5 million.

Article in Houston Chronicle entitled “The Good Hands People Make a Fist”, outlines Allstate’s claim strategy.  The information about their claims strategy comes from confidential Allstate documents.  An outside company created a strategy for Allstate that involved denying, evading and delaying the payment of claims.  A quote from the article says it all:

“(The documents) propose a strategy that involves offering low-ball settlements to customers. Those who don’t agree to the initial offer can face protracted legal battles, as Allstate does everything it can to wear down its customers by delaying court cases.”

The Good Hands People indeed.

Princeton Insurance refused to pay policy limits of $1 Million in a suit against a bar.  The suit was based on the acts of the manager of the bar who served himself alcohol, drove drunk, hit the victim who was working directing traffic, and fled the scene.  The acts of the tavern manager made the victim, Joseph Tuski, a quadriplegic.  Mr. Tuski had $1.6 million in past medical expenses, $2 million in lost earnings and the jury found he needed $18 million for future medical expenses.

The jury in the underlying case awarded a $75 million verdict.  The judge in the case reduced the jury’s verdict to $37.5 million.  The owners of the bar assigned the claim against their insurance company, for failing to pay Mr. Tuski’s claim timely, to the plaintiff, Mr. Tuski. 

In a story about the case, Plaintiff’s counsel said Princeton had actual knowledge of the serious injuries the plaintiff suffered from and knew there were no defenses to hide behind.  Princeton ignored the facts and law and refused to make an offer.  The insurance company could have avoided the verdict and the subsequent settlement had they done the right thing and paid the claim timely.  This is not an incident isolated to this insurance company, this is a nationwide trend, affecting consumers everywhere, especially here on the Gulf Coast, where consurmers have been at war with insurance companies over denial of claims since Katrina hit. 

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