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Uber-Drunk-DriversShould Uber get sued if its driver is drunk and injures or kills someone after ignoring complaints about that driver being DUI? People routinely use Uber and similar ride-share services for transportation throughout Southern California and the state. Ride-share services in California are regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which requires them to conduct background checks of their drivers. Reportedly, Uber is facing a fine of $1.13 million for its alleged failure to investigate complaints of drunk Uber drivers and to suspend them.

Uber’s stated policy and regulatory obligation on drunk driving

The Public Utility Commission requires Uber and other ride-share services to have zero-tolerance policies about drunk driving. Under Uber’s policy, drivers who are found to be driving under the influence while using Uber’s ride-share app are supposed to be permanently deactivated, meaning that they will not be able to use the app or drive for Uber any longer.

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Employer, Drunk Driving, Liability, CaliforniaIn some cases, employers in California may be liable when their employees are intoxicated and cause accidents. Plaintiffs may be able to sue the employers under a legal doctrine called vicarious liability. Employers may also be liable if they negligently retain or hire an employee who then injures others while drinking and driving. In a recent case in Los Angeles, the principles of negligent retention and vicarious liability were demonstrated.

Factual background

In George v. Firstservice Residential California LLC, Los Angeles Superior Court case number BC534796, a man was seriously injured when he was being driven by an employee of Firstservice Residential California LLC. Lance Sandman was a general manager of the company, and he was driving the plaintiff home after the pair had left a pub on March 17, 2013. The plaintiff, Tomislav George, was the vice president of a homeowners’ association board, which was a client of Sandman’s company. Both men had drunk alcohol at the club. On their way to the plaintiff’s home, Sandman crashed into another vehicle, seriously injuring the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s injuries included a near-amputation of his arm that later required more than 30 surgeries.

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Hit-and-run accidents have long been a problem in California and Los Angeles in particular. When people are victims of hit-and-run drivers, they may be left facing severe injuries and have difficulty with holding the responsible parties accountable. Under California law, drivers who are involved in accidents are required to remain at the scene for law enforcement officers. When they instead flee, they may face criminal liability as a result.

Historically, one issue that led to some drivers fleeing the scenes of accidents is that some of them were undocumented immigrants. They fled because of fears of being deported based on driving without licenses and insurance. California passed a law in 2013 that became effective on Jan. 1, 2015 that allows undocumented immigrants to get special driver’s licenses to prevent them from driving without licenses and insurance, and a study has shown that the availability of these driver’s licenses has led to a decrease in the number of hit-and-run accidents in the state.

California AB 60

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In California accident cases, it is common for insurance carriers and defense attorneys to try to dispute liability in an effort to establish the comparative fault of injured plaintiffs. A recent case, Melissa Alvarez and Lorenzo Alvarez, a minor v. Syar Industries, Inc. – Napa County Superior Court Case No. 26-67154, demonstrates how some defense lawyers and insurance companies attempt to place blame on the injured victims as well as how having help from an experienced personal injury attorney might help to defeat the defense arguments.

Factual background of the case

On April 17, 2015, a 33-year-old juvenile hall counselor was driving her 2005 GMC Yukon on Highway 221 in Napa County accompanied by her 3-year-old son. As she was traveling north in the number two righthand lane, a street sweeper that was being driven by an employee of Syar Industries was cleaning up gravel that had been spilled in the merge lane. The Syar Industries employee attempted to complete a U-turn and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

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fire-photo-2-300x193The tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California resulted in the deaths of 36 people. The warehouse had been illegally converted into living and working spaces for artists, and the victims of the fire died during a music concert that was being held in the building. The fire demonstrates the problems that can happen when buildings are used for purposes for which they were not intended. Unfortunately, the high real estate prices and rents in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles has contributed to people using these spaces to work and live even though the buildings are not intended for doing so. Experienced personal injury attorneys may hold the landowners liable by filing lawsuits against them, helping to deter the negligent conduct even when code enforcement may be difficult.

Use of illegally converted buildings

The illegal conversion of buildings into spaces for entertainment, work and living quarters has been a growing problem in Southern California and in the Bay Area. This is because the real estate prices and rents are high enough that some people, including artists, have trouble finding affordable places to live. Some building owners have reacted by allowing people to rent and use the spaces as living quarters despite the fact that the buildings are not zoned for residential purposes. The state legislature is now trying to determine how to handle the growing problem through stepped-up enforcement of codes and zoning laws. Unfortunately, the resources are not available to cities and municipalities to adequately investigate all potential zoning and code violations. The civil justice system may provide an alternative means to deter landlords and leaseholders from committing code and zoning violations by holding them liable for negligence under the state’s tort law.

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millennial-driversAre Milliennials the worst drivers?  Do they pose the biggest safety risk of any demographic behind the wheel? As the use of smartphones and other technology has become pervasive over the 15 years, distracted driving and its dangers have increasingly come into focus. Multiple studies have demonstrated the dangers of distracted driving. Recently, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study with drivers of different age groups and found that millennials who were ages 19 to 24 engaged in the riskiest driving behaviors, and some of those behaviors were directly related to technology use while driving. When people engage in dangerous driving behaviors such as texting and driving, they place both themselves and others at risk of severe injuries in accidents. An experienced Los Angeles personal injury lawyer might help the victims of distracted drivers with recovering damages to compensate them for their losses.

Study results

The researchers surveyed 2,511 licensed drivers who were ages 16 and older, asking them a number of questions about various risky driving behaviors as well as the views that the drivers had about different acts of dangerous driving. Eighty-eight percent of the drivers who were ages 19 to 24 admitted to engaging in one or more risky driving practices within the 30 days prior to the survey. The behaviors included using cellphones while driving, running red lights, speeding and impaired driving. Drivers ages 19 to 24 were 1.6 times more likely to read text messages while driving as compared to drivers in other age groups with 66.1 percent admitting to doing so. The younger millennials also were twice as likely to send text messages while driving with 59.3 percent admitting to doing so at least once in the prior month.

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texting, driving, accidentsA class action lawsuit was recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against smartphone giant Apple. The lawsuit is seeking to hold Apple liable for a number of different automobile collisions that happened when drivers were distracted by texting or using features like apps on their iPhones while driving.

Lawsuit claims

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking that the court issue an injunction against Apple to prevent it from selling any new iPhone 6 phones in the state without the company first installing a safety lock feature. The feature would prevent people from texting while they drive, and Apple has apparently had the technology for the safety feature since 2008. The company was granted a patent for it in 2014 but has not installed it. The lawsuit is also asking that Apple is ordered to update phones that people have already purchased to add the feature to them.

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cell phone, driving, laws, CaliforniaBeginning on Jan. 1, 2017, drivers in California will be prohibited from holding their cell phones while they drive. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1785 in September, and its effective date is on Jan. 1, 2017. The law prohibits holding a cell phone while driving for any purpose, including checking maps, texting, talking or for any other reason.

What the law allows

The new law is codified at California Vehicle Code Sect. 23123.5. It provides that people may only use their cell phones while they are driving if the phones are mounted on their dashes and are set up for voice activation or hands-free use. Systems that are embedded in the vehicle and installed by the manufacturer are exempted. Emergency personnel who are using their cell phones while they are driving emergency vehicles are also exempt from the law. The first offense of the statute is a fine of $20. Successive violations bring increasing fines.

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People who are injured while they are working are allowed to file claims for workers’ compensation benefits through their employers. When a worker is injured while working at a site that his or her employer does not own or control, the worker may also have a claim that he or she may file against the property owner in certain cases. A recent California case in San Luis Obispo County demonstrates how property owners may be liable when a worker is injured while working on their properties.

Factual background of the case

A 54-year-old fire alarm technician was working as a part of a two-man crew to inspect the fire alarms at the Bella Vista Transitional Care Center. While he was conducting the inspection, the care center provided him with an extension ladder to use. He fell off of the ladder 12 feet to the ground, breaking both of his feet and suffering orthopedic injuries. He also suffered a compression fracture in the lumbar area of his spine that could not be corrected with surgery. He filed a premises liability lawsuit against the care center in June 2014, and the case reached a verdict following a trial in May 2016.

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In the largest jury verdict in California involving the death of a minor, a couple of parties who were involved in the Starline tour bus crash that resulted in the death of a 16-year-old Mira Costa High School student were found liable to pay $26 million in damages to the boy’s family. The verdict was handed down in Compton Superior Court after the conclusion of a long trial.

Background of the case

Mason Zisette was invited to attend a friend’s 16th birthday party on a Starline tour bus on July 10, 2014. Before heading to the party, he texted some friends and reportedly stated that he was planning to drink alcohol before he arrived. His friends testified that he drank three beers in 30 minutes before getting on the bus. In addition to the bus driver, there was a tour guide who was present along with the parents of the girl who was having the party. The mother of the girl who was having the party purchased six bottles of Smirnoff vodka, handed them to her daughter and told her to share them with her friends. There were 35 teenagers on the bus for the party. The teens went to the upper deck while the four adults remained on the lower level.

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