Driverless cars raise legal questions

In 2010, Google announced that it had been conducting research on driverless cars. Using data the company initially collected for Google Maps, the Google Car also integrates cameras, wheel sensors, laser range finders and radar to avoid traffic and other obstacles. Sergey Brin, one of the internet company’s founders, expects the technology to be widely available in five years.

Google is not alone in its pursuit of developing autonomous vehicles. Other car manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Volvo, and Cadillac, have begun testing driverless car systems. However, only three states currently have legislation in place for the testing of driverless cars, Nevada, California, and Florida. That will leave bureaucrats around the nation facing a landslide of legislation when these cars become available to consumers.

“Decades of road-safety legislation will have to be overturned before cars can roam the streets without a qualified and sober driver at the controls, and accidents involving driverless cars are bound to attract some lawsuits.” – The Economist

A 2009 study by the RAND Corporation suggested two possible solutions to address lawsuits resulting from increasingly autonomous vehicles: changing the liability laws to require courts to take the benefits of driverless technology into account when punishing car-makers for any failings; and limiting motorists’ ability to sue in state courts when driverless technology mandated by federal laws fails to prevent an accident.

Aside from liability, lawmakers will also have to address regulatory and privacy issues. The Sacramento Bee reports that Google and Chrysler have argued “that they have a business incentive to make sure their products are safe before putting them out to market, and that the state should allow them to determine themselves when the cars are ready for the public.” It is doubtful that safety advocates would adopt this type of self-regulation.

Privacy groups have also voiced concern over the technology. With a car’s information being broadcast in real time, what will happen to all that data? How long will it be stored? Who will have access to it?

With benefits of safety, improved gas mileage, and increased road capacity, driverless cars may be here sooner than you think. Proper regulation, privacy, and liability legislation should be enacted. As with any new product, it is important to have governmental controls in place to protect the consumer.

The product defect lawyers at Elk & Elk have nearly five decades of experience bringing real results to victims of defective product-related injury and their families. “Real results” means payment for medical procedures, follow-up treatments and medication associated with injuries suffered through the use of a defective product. And it means compensation adequate to allow a defective product injury victim to live a high-quality, productive and respectable life following a devastating injury.

Call 1-800-ELK-OHIO to schedule a free consultation with our Ohio product defect attorneys. You can also contact us online to learn more about your legal rights and options.

$58M awarded in fracking related trucking accident

With the increase in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) gas well sites around the country, many are touting the economic boost the industry is forecasted to provide. More well sites mean more jobs. However, it also means an increase in the amount of semis and other large commercial vehicles. The increased traffic has caused concern throughout many communities, and for good reason:  Fracking related trucking accidents are on the rise.

A New Mexico jury has awarded $58.5 million in damages, the largest in state history, to the family of Kevin Udy who was killed three years ago when he was struck by a tanker trailer hauling fracking materials. The truck driver, Monte Lyons, “cut right out in front of [Udy]” according to Bill Robins, lead counsel for the victim’s estate.

At trial, evidence established that driver had been inadequately trained, was likely fatigued, and that the company defendants repeatedly violated federal and state regulations. The jury found the defendants liable for $11.5 million in actual damages and $47 million in punitive damages.

The jury released a statement after rendering the verdict:

“Our hope is that our judgment will clearly communicate that we expect a much higher standard of safety and training in the trucking industry. To the family, we understand that there is no way to put a monetary value on a human life.”

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According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Robins said they jury “sent a clear message to the trucking industry, and the oil and gas industry in particular, that those companies who choose not to follow safety rules, and who place profits over human life, will be held accountable for the harm they cause.”

Similar suits are cropping up across the nation as the number of fracking related accidents soars. In 2011, the Weeling Intelligencer reported 7 fracking related truck accidents in 12 days.

NTSB Recommends Lowering BAC to .05

by Arthur Elk

In a report released earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states should lower the threshold for drunk driving from .08 to .05 blood alcohol content (BAC).  According to the Washington Post, “That’s about one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 pounds, two for a 160-pound man.”

The board said levels as low as .01 were found to affect performance on driving-related skills.  They also cited a 2012 study which found “significant cognitive decrements in speed of information processing, reductions in working memory, and increases in errors of commission at 0.048 BAC.”

The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011, according to the NTSB.  However, they feel the rates have stagnated and feel lowering the BAC rate would save about 500 to 800 lives each year:

Over the past three decades, the number of lives lost per year in alcohol-related traffic crashes has dropped substantially. However, most of this reduction took place during the 1980s and early 1990s; since then, progress in this safety area has been relatively slow. Since 2000, nearly 150,000 people have lost their lives in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers, and these crashes continue to account for over 30 percent of all traffic fatalities. — NTSB, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving

The last move from .10 to .08 BAC levels took 21 years for all states to implement, with the last state adopting the standard in 2004.  That move was prompted in part by an Appropriations Act that included the landmark provision that states must enact .08 BAC laws by 2004 or begin losing federal highway construction funds. Prior to the enactment of this bill, only nineteen states had enacted .08 BAC

Response to the report has been mixed.  So far, safety groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and AAA have declined to endorse the proposed .05 limit The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while not endorsing the board’s recommendation, said in a statement that they “…will work with any state that chooses to implement a .05 BAC law to gather further information on that approach.”

At Elk & Elk, we have seen the serious consequences of drunk driving far too many times.  There is no reason we should allow 10,000 people a year to die when we have the ability to pass laws to prevent such senseless deaths.  If anybody has more than one drink, they should not be behind the wheel of an automobile.  

If .05 will save lives, let’s do it now.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a drunk driver, we will fight to help you get the compensation you deserve. Our Ohio auto accident attorneys are available 24/7 to serve you. We offer free consultations and never charge anything unless you recover.

Call 1-800-ELK-OHIO (1-800-355-6446) or contact us online to schedule your free consultation. For your convenience, we maintain offices throughout Ohio.

Lawn mower accidents and injuries to children are preventable

As spring and summer bring warmer weather and the grass begins to grow more quickly, our neighborhoods are filled with the sounds of buzzing lawn mowers. Unfortunately, this common task of mowing the lawn can cause significant injury or death for tens of thousands of people across the nation. It’s especially important for parents to be aware of their child’s safety around lawn mowers.

Already this year, there have been several cases of children seriously injured in mowing accidents:

  • A 2-year-old girl in Florida lost both her feet when her father backed over her with a riding mower.
  • A 4-year-old boy in Tennessee had severe cuts on his arms and legs after a lawn mower ran over him.
  • A 2-year-old Maryland boy was in critical condition after a lawn mower he was riding with his grandfather overturned into a creek.
  • An 18-month-old boy in Washington lost a leg when his grandfather backed over him with a riding mower.

In 2011, 3,780 kids ages 14 or under were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for lawn mower injuries, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. When visits to doctors’ offices and clinics are included, more than 17,000 children and teens are treated for lawn mower injuries each year.

Most children injured by lawnmowers are age 6 or younger. Forty percent of all lawn mower injuries involving children are caused by falling or jumping from a mower. Another 40 percent are caused by sliding under or being backed over a mower. Almost all accidents occur while a parent or relative is riding the lawnmower.

These injuries can be life-changing for children, but in most cases, they are totally preventable.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to protect children from lawn mower injuries:

  • Don’t allow children under 12 to operate a push mower, or those under 16 to drive a riding mower
  • Do not let children ride as passengers on mowers
  • Keep children off the lawn while you are mowing
  • Pick up debris in the yard before mowing. Flying sticks, stones or toys can cause injury
  • Do not pull or ride a mower backward unless absolutely necessary. If you do have to mow backwards, carefully look for children behind you

A lawn mower is a valuable tool for any homeowner, but can also be a dangerous weapon. Always be aware of your surroundings when you are mowing and be especially aware of children.

Do helmets protect football players? Jury awards $11.5 million to family in helmet lawsuit

Football is a dangerous game. Everyone who plays the sport knows that there is a risk of injury. But players probably believe they are pretty well protected from a traumatic brain injury by the helmets they wear. What happens when that isn’t true?

Last week, a Colorado jury awarded $11.5 million in a lawsuit against helmet maker Riddell and several high school administrators and coaches over brain injuries a teenager suffered in 2008.b-helmet-nanotech-17-4_3_rx400_c400x400

Rhett Ridolfi suffered a concussion during an August 2008 football practice and was not taken to the hospital after the injury. He was later diagnosed with severe brain damage and paralysis on his left side. After the diagnosis, Ridolfi’s family sued Riddell along with several Trinidad coaches and administrators.

Ridolfi’s medical expenses were more than $3.2 million, and he now walks with a brace, is limited in body function and has impulse and behavioral problems.

The jury found that Riddell was negligent in failing to warn people wearing its helmets about concussion dangers. The jury assessed 27 percent of the blame for the injuries, making the company responsible for paying $3.1 million of the damages.

At the time of the accident, Riddell did not have its new warning label on the helmet, which explicitly states: “Contact in football may result in CONCUSSION-BRAIN INJURY which no helmet can prevent…Do not return to a game or practice until all symptoms are gone.”

Riddell also faces a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles, and a complaint by thousands of former NFL players against the league and the helmet company.

If you are a coach, player or parent, you need to know the signs of a concussion. Any player who suffers a concussion should be kept out of practices or games until they are evaluated by a medical professional. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some signs to look for.

Concussions are a type of Traumatic Brain Injury. At Elk & Elk, we have nearly five decades of experience helping clients who have suffered TBIs. Brain injuries can change lives forever. Contact the Traumatic Brain Injury lawyers of Elk & Elk today to find out how we can help. Call 1-800-ELK-OHIO or fill out our free, no-obligation online consultation form.