pedestrian accident, attorney, lawyer, los angelesMany pedestrian accidents occur every year in Los Angeles, and their numbers are increasing. The organization “Los Angeles Walks” studied this issue carefully and developed a map that lists the busiest intersections where many of the collisions between pedestrians and motor vehicles occur. Their purpose is to make walking in this city safer for everyone.

According to the organization, 49 pedestrians were hit and killed by motor vehicles in the popular Hollywood and Highland intersection. However, this was not the worst. A total of 51 such collisions occurred at 7th Street and Spring Street in downtown LA. This means that there were exactly 100 pedestrian deaths in just these two intersections, and Jessica Meaney of the organization mentioned above thinks that this “not acceptable.” She hopes that the city’s leaders will take the map to heart and do something to reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and deaths. This expectation is a tall order because 19,000 pedestrians were hit by motor vehicles between 2003 and 2009, and many of these people lost their lives.

Santa Monica Boulevard and Vermont Avenue is another example of a dangerous intersection where an average 40 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicles each year. Local resident Kelly Smith is well aware of the danger because she spends a lot of her time walking and jogging in the area. She complained that cars come very close to hitting her on a regular basis because motorists often drive carelessly and are not paying as much attention as they could to what is going on around them.

Jacob Gago has learned that he has to “look twice” before he crosses the street at another of the most dangerous intersections. Approximately 41 pedestrians lose their lives in Downtown LA’s Wilshire Boulevard and Flower Street intersection near where Mr. Gago works. He stated that many of these motorists are talking on their cell phones while they are driving.

The Most Dangerous Intersections in Los Angeles for Pedestrians

The most dangerous intersections and average number of fatalities are listed below:

• 7th and Spring with 51
• Hollywood and Highland with 49
• Hollywood and Western with 48
• Broadway and Sunset with 46
• Flower and Wilshire with 41
• Vermont and Santa Monica with 40
• Sunset and Logan with 38
• 8th and Alvarado with 38
• 7th and Vermont with 37
• Kenmore and 3rd with 35
• Vermont and Vernon with 32

Statute 710. Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers

The California Judicial Council considered and addressed this issue previously and enacted 710 of the California Civil Jury Instructions, which is based upon both CA statutes and case law. According to this instruction that is entitled “Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers,” motorists must take every precaution to avoid causing injury to pedestrians. This instruction acknowledges the fact that pedestrians need to be aware that a motor vehicle can cause great harm to them and that they must also conduct themselves cautiously when they are on the roads. However, the motorist must know that he or she can inflict great bodily harm or even death on a person with his or her vehicle. Therefore, the motorist has the responsibility of taking greater care than the pedestrian.

California Vehicle Code 21950

According to California Vehicle Code 21950, pedestrians have the right-of-way. This means that drivers must stop their automobiles for pedestrians who wish to cross the street at a corner or a crosswalk. The crosswalk can be in the middle of the block. It does not have to be painted, and it does not have to have a traffic light. Furthermore, a motorist must exercise great care when approaching pedestrians who are crossing the street within a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Therefore, they are required to reduce their speed or take other precautions to ensure that the pedestrians are safe.

This code also addresses pedestrians and how they must conduct themselves on the roads. For example, pedestrians must not suddenly dart into the street when vehicles are traveling in their direction. Walkers who are proceeding through a marked or unmarked crosswalk are not allowed to delay traffic unnecessarily or stop before they have safely reached the curb. Although the actions of pedestrians were addressed in subdivision (b) of vehicle code 21950, this does not mean that motorists are relieved of their duty to exercise caution around pedestrians at all times.

Were You Injured in a Collision?

Although the state of California has taken this issue very seriously and enacted several laws to decrease the danger to pedestrians, motorists do not always follow these rules. If you were hurt in a pedestrian accident or you lost a loved one, it is within your rights to call a pedestrian accident attorney today to fight for monetary compensation for your injuries. You may also be entitled to file a wrongful death claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Whatever the case may be, your personal injury attorney will make sure that your voice is heard and that the insurance company does not take advantage of you.

 

Sources:

NBC Los Angeles – Mapping the Worst Hot Spots for Pedestrian Accidents

jury verdict, personal injury, CaliforniaIn what is believed to be a new record high jury verdict for a personal injury claim in Sonoma County, CA, a woman was awarded $13.4 Million related to a crash that happened approximately 4 years ago. (See article here).  The plaintiff alleged that a vehicle driven by her father wrecked and caused her major spinal trauma which required fusion surgery of four vertebrae and permanent placement of a metal rod to stabilize her spinal column.  The plaintiff alleged that she is still in constant pain and cannot sit for longer than 20 minutes at a time without feeling a high level of discomfort.  The jury award consisted of $6.4 Million to pay for past, present and future medical expenses and related out of pocket costs associated with future care and $7 Million to compensate for physical pain and emotional distress caused by the accident and the lingering medical issues.

Things I find interesting about this verdict as a California Personal Injury Attorney:

From the description of a horrific traffic collision and a spine injury causing permanent and lifelong pain, I am glad that the jury was able to see in their hearts to award a high amount.  More rural areas of California like Sonoma County, tend to have more conservative jury pools and this can lead to lower awards for plaintiffs.  I am glad this particular jury was able to understand the effect this event had on the plaintiff and what impact it will have for the rest of her life.  What is more remarkable to me is that the award was made in a  lawsuit by a daughter against her father.  Why is this?  We all know that, under California law, all drivers and registered owners of vehicles must carry automobile liability insurance.  What the jury was not able to know because of the CA rules of evidence is whether or not the father had any such coverage.  In fact, they were instructed on this issue as follows:

“You must not consider whether any of the parties in this case has insurance. The presence or absence of insurance is totally irrelevant. You must decide this case based only on the law and the evidence.”

California Civil Jury Instruction, 5001 – “Insurance”

Therefore, the jury in this case, had to put out of their minds whether or not the father had insurance or who would pay this verdict.  They had to simply assume that the verdict would be entered by a daughter against her father!  The fact that they were able to award a value this high given this restriction on evidence seems remarkable to me.

Not surprisingly, the father was insured by State Farm insurance and their spokesperson stated that the carrier “disagrees with the verdict” and is “considering their options” (i.e. potential for appeal.  Their argument during trial was that the plaintiff was at fault for allowing her father to drive while he was drowsy.  Specifically, they claimed that the plaintiff, “had twice that night asked her father if he was too tired to continue driving and both times he said he was fine. She was asleep in the passenger seat when the crash started.”

It is almost a certainty in my mind that the policy limits were exceeded by this jury verdict.  If the plaintiff (through her attorney) made a demand for the full policy limits prior to trial, it may be possible for her father to have a “bad faith” claim against State Farm.  He could then assign the rights of this claim to his daughter and she could pursue full payment of the judgment above and beyond the policy limits.  My expectation is that State Farm will simply choose to pay all or most of the judgment to avoid the risk of such an action, which could allow for imposition of additional damages to punish State Farm for failing to pay the full limits of coverage (so-called “punitive damages”).

 

 

Bicycle Accident, Bike Accidents Lawyer, Bicycle Crash Attorney, Los Angeles, CaliforniaThe first U.S. state to require bike helmets for adult riders could be California. The bill that Senator Carol Liu introduced would impose a $25 fine on adults who ride their bicycles without helmets.

Statistics on Bike Helmet Laws and Serious Injury to CyclistsCollisions caused many fatalities on U.S. roads, and two percent of these were to bicycle riders. In these instances, head trauma was the most common serious injury. With this being the case, a helmet law may reduce the severity of head injuries that many bicyclists suffer in accidents. In a study, researchers discovered that helmets reduce the risk of head trauma by as much as 85 percent.

The District of Columbia and 21 U.S. states have laws requiring that bicyclists wear helmets. The difference between these laws and the proposed California law is the fact that they only apply to children, and it appears as if they make a difference. Since 1975, bicycle rider fatalities under the age of 20 decreased by 86 percent. In contrast, deaths of bicycle riders 20 years old and above increased by 195 percent during the same period of time.

Research shows that 20 percent of bicyclists who died in a collision with a motor vehicle were at least 20 years old or older. In addition, officials learned that only 17 percent of bicyclists who perished in crashes were wearing helmets at the time of the collision. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2013, crashes between bicycles and motor vehicles resulted in 741 deaths of bicycle riders. This figure is two percent higher than the one for the previous year.

The Opposing View

Although there are local bike helmet ordinances in some states that apply to everyone who rides a bicycle, some people believe that this is insufficient and wish to expand state laws to include adults. This idea does not appeal to bicycle advocacy groups. Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition Dave Snyder stated that people can ensure that cycling is safe by enacting measures that create safer roads. He suggests that officials do this by lowering speed limits or separating cars from bicycles by introducing more bicycle lanes.

Others believe that there is a contradiction within bicycle helmet laws. According to Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Eric Bruins, legislators are telling California residents that riding a bicycle is excellent for their health. At the same time, they are suggesting that riding a bike is also extremely dangerous, so they must protect themselves with bicycle helmets. He believes that the latter statement will prevail, and people will decide not to ride.

The opposition to the proposed bike helmet law does not mean that bicycle advocates are opposed to wearing them. Some advocates wear helmets, and they suggest that other people do the same if they believe that helmets will help them feel more secure. Their only objection is the fact that a law will take their choices away from them.

The Limitations of Scientific Research

Although the Department of Transportation and other agencies cite statistics that demonstrate a reduction in fatalities when people wear bike helmets, researchers have not been able to definitively state that the cause of the decrease in fatalities is the bike helmet.

The medical community has even participated in this debate. According to a report that was featured in the medical journal BMJ, researchers couldn’t determine that there was a direct correlation between a reduced fatality rate and the existence of bike helmet laws. They also agree with bicycle advocates who state that bike helmet laws prevent people from riding their bikes.

A Confusing Message in the Medical Community

Everyone in the medical community doesn’t agree with the studies listed in the BMJ report, including those associated with the Journal of Pediatrics. Researchers studied the data over a 10-year period and found that child bicycle fatalities and injuries did decrease by 20 percent. This occurred in states that had bike helmet laws on their books.

A research study performed in Great Britain adds to the confusion. Ian Walker is a psychology researcher from the University of Bath who placed sensors on bicycles that can record the distance between the bikes and other vehicles. He found that motorists made sure to give volunteer cyclists who were not wearing helmets an extra 3.3 inches of space that was not given to subjects who were wearing helmets. His conclusion was that bicyclists who wear helmets have an increased risk of being involved in a bicycle accident.

What is the explanation for the phenomenon described above? The professor believes that it may be because motorists think that a rider who wears a helmet takes his or her riding very seriously and is unlikely to do anything unexpected.

If the California Law Passes…

Legislators from several U.S. states have considered mandatory bike helmet laws for adults, but these laws failed to pass. If the California law does pass, the money collected in fines will be designated toward bicycle-related causes. For example, some of the money will fund a program to help families with limited resources obtain bike helmets for their kids. The final one-fourth will be designated toward the city’s general fund.

Were You Hurt in a Bicycle Accident?

If you have been involved in a bicycle accident, it will be in your best interests to contact a bicycle accident attorney. As a bicyclist, you may have suffered very serious injuries in a collision with a motor vehicle, and you may have large medical bills you need to pay because of it. This becomes difficult or even impossible when you are unable to work. To add insult to injury, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may have denied payment of your claim, or they may have offered an amount that is much lower than you deserve.

If one of the scenarios described above resembles your situation, call a bicycle accident attorney today. You are also within your rights to contact an attorney if you lost a loved one in a bike accident. Your attorney will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive a fair settlement in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

car accident, accident prevention, car accident lawyerVehicle safety has come a long way during the past 50 years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration both conduct several safety tests for new vehicles every year. Their tests determine ratings, and safety ratings are a key role in many families’ buying decisions. However, these features are not enough to provide a 100 percent safety guarantee on the road.

Latest Crash Prevention Technologies

Auto manufacturers add very useful features to modern vehicles. Since the IIHS and NHTSA are continually tightening their safety requirements, newer vehicles must continually improve to keep up with them and earn the highest ratings. These are some of the latest safety features.

Forward Collision Warning

These collision warning systems use either a radar or camera to detect vehicles in front of a moving car. When the front of the car reaches a certain length of space between it and the rear of the vehicle ahead, an alert is initiated. Some vehicles also brake automatically when the gap closes in fast. However, they do not always brake fast enough, and drivers may still fail to manually brake in time to avoid a crash.

Blind Spot Detection

Using a sensor, this safety feature senses vehicles entering or lingering in a blind spot. When there is another vehicle in the blind spot, a warning light appears on the drivers side. It is typically on the door near within sight of the side mirror.

Lane Departure Warning

This safety feature uses a camera and software. When the vehicle comes too close to the lane markings from the camera’s perspective, the software initiates a warning to the driver. Depending on the vehicle or product, it may be a light or a verbal warning. The catch is that they usually only work when a turn signal is not on. If a driver leaves a turn signal on without realizing it and relies on this technology, a crash could still happen.

Lane Departure Prevention

Also called lane assist, this technology is similar to the aforementioned lane departure warning feature. However, it also manipulates the steering wheel to correct the vehicles’ position. However, these systems can have faults when there are improper road markings or the markings on the road are not visible. For example, when the roads are covered in snow or ice, these systems are not very useful.

Autobrake

This system automatically applies the brakes when a vehicle approaches another vehicle or object ahead. It may also brake in a variety of other situations with certain safety features.

Adaptive Headlights

Many crashes happen at night because drivers cannot see properly. Adaptive headlights automatically adjust the brightness based on the surrounding darkness and approaching vehicles. This eliminates the need to flick brights on and off, and some vehicles reposition the lights to enhance visibility. This may not always be enough to prevent collisions with deer, objects in the road or even other vehicles.

Adaptive Cruise Control

This type of cruise control combines crash avoidance technology with the benefit of maintaining a safe speed. In the past, drivers had to brake when approaching the rear end of a vehicle ahead. This technology automatically slows down and speeds up based on the distance of the vehicle ahead, which greatly reduces the chances of a rear-end accident. However, it may not prevent an accident if the driver does not manually brake and the vehicle ahead brakes too fast.

Crash Prevention Technology Statistics

While several vehicles earn Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards from the IIHS, there are still many vehicles that do not. Experts at the IIHS point out that these safety features help, but statistics show they do not always prevent crashes. It is best to think of them as assistance but not rely on them completely. Also, the IIHS recommends understanding limitations and vehicle-specific statistics.

Crash Victims Are Hardest Hit

Keep in mind that practicing safe driving and having safety features does not prevent the irresponsible or negligent actions of other drivers. Car crash victims are always hardest hit, and the effects of being in an auto accident may be forever. Following a car crash, a person may be completely disabled or have permanent injuries. A traffic collision attorney can help. Only a car accident lawyer can recover the most money for damages, because auto insurance companies never offer enough money to victims to cover a lifetime of medical bills after an auto accident. A traffic collision attorney can also recommend doctors, assistance programs and much more for injured victims. When safety features do not make the cut and other drivers are at fault, always contact a car accident lawyer for help.

San Bernardino, Car Crash, Accident LawyerInterested jury verdict reported today regarding a San Bernardino County auto accident .  The claim was brought on behalf of two persons injured driving along a county road in the desert near Barstow in the case of Branson et. al, v. County of San Bernardino and County of San Bernardino v. James Schult (Case No: CIVBS1200331)  My summary and analysis as a San Bernardino traffic collision lawyer is as follows:

Facts of the Case: This case arose out of a single vehicle accident which occurred on a dirt road near Barstow.  The driver, James Schult, was traveling down the towards a bridge over the Mojave river.  Unbeknownst to him, the bridge had been washed out by a flood and there were no warning signs or other indication not to proceed and no berms or barriers that kept cars from traveling towards the washed out bridge.  He crashed his truck in the ravine and both he and his passenger, Loren Branson, suffered serious bodily injury as a result.

Plaintiffs contended that the washed out bridge with no warning constituted a “dangerous condition of public property” for which the County of San Bernardino knew or should have known.  The County contended that the condition was not “dangerous” and/or  that they had taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of travelers on the road.

Injuries Sustained: Plaintiff Schultz suffered several injuries including a fractured sternum and plaintiff Branson sustained orthopedic damage to her lower spine.  They submitted into evidence medical expenses approximating $125,000 to $140,000 each.

Verdict Result: After a seven day jury trial, the plaintiffs were awarded a total of $396,000.  This was comprised of economic damages (medical expenses) for Mr. Schultz at $141,228 and both economic and non-economic damages for both medical costs and pain and suffering for plaintiff Branson in the amount of approximately $240,000.  Apparently, the best offer for settlement from the county prior to trial was $10,000 for Mr. Schultz and $30,000 for Ms. Branson.

My Analysis of this Verdict: Dangerous roadway claims against government entities contending that they failed to design or maintain a thoroughfare in a safe condition are very tough cases from a liability standpoint.  Public entities like the County of San Bernardino are afforded a lot of leeway in how they maintain their infrastructure.  However, just like any other entity, they can be found negligent if the condition of public property is dangerous and they had notice in time to fix it or prevent harm.  From the summary, it appears that the county had a “technical” expert regarding the roadway but, the plaintiffs only hired medical experts. This would tend to show that the plaintiffs felt that the fact that a bridge was washed out and no warnings or barriers were placed was an obviously dangerous condition.  The jury clearly sided with this argument.  It should be noted that plaintiff Schultz had not auto insurance coverage at the time of the incident, thereby precluding any claim for “physical pain” or “emotional stress” under California’s “Prop. 213″ (now codified as California Civil Code 3333.3).  No such restriction applies to passengers in the vehicle of an uninsured driver, therefore, plaintiff Branson was entitled to full recovery including pain and suffering.

Elder Abuse, Nursing Home Abuse, California Laws, Los Angeles Nursing Home Abuse AttorneyIn a recent California Court of Appeal decision, Lemaire v. Covenant Care California, LLCthe court struck down a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in a blow to patient’s rights.  My insight in this decision is as follows:

Facts of the Case: 

Patient, Laura Clausen, suffered a stroke and was admitted to a skilled nursing facility in California run by Coventant Care.  While in their care, she later died.  Her daughter brought an action against the nursing home alleging chronic understaffing causing substandard medical care.  She further alleged in the lawsuit that the nursing facility was in violation of California Health and Safety Code 1430(b) in failing to maintain clear and legible notes in the patient history records including notes of “how the patient responds, eats, drinks, looks feels and reacts.”  Plaintiff was awarded $270,000 as statutory damages under 1430(b)) and $841,842 in attorney fees along with $26,327.45 in costs.  Covenant Care California, LLC appealed this award.

Ruling:

The Court of Appeal rejected the award and ruled that statutory claims under CA H&S Code 1430(b) are limited to a “maximum of $500″ and that the court had discretion to redetermine the award of attorney’s fees and costs after the case was remanded back to the trial court.

My Analysis of this Ruling As A California Nursing Home Abuse Claims Attorney:

Thankfully, we live in a state that has many laws on the books that protect the elderly and the infirm.  As I have pointed out in other blogs summarizing the elder abuse laws in California, there are numerous provisions of law that require both skilled nursing facilities and assisted living institutions to provide and comply with a patient’s bill of rights, which includes the right to be provided with adequate health care and be treated with dignity and respect.  Principally, these laws are found in California Welfare and Institutions Code 15600 and following.  One of the requirements of these laws is that a patient be provided with a “bill of rights”.  The statute in play in this particular case was another law on the books in the Golden State that is meant to prevent elder abuse and neglect, namely, CA Health and Safety Code 1430(b), which is meant to provide some “teeth” to the requirement and enforcement of patient’s bills of rights and states, in pertinent part, as follows:

“A current or former resident or patient of a skilled nursing facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 1250, or intermediate care facility, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 1250, may bring a civil action against the licensee of a facility who violates any rights of the resident or patient as set forth in the Patients Bill of Rights in Section 72527 of Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations, or any other right provided for by federal or state law or regulation. The suit shall be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction. The licensee shall be liable for the acts of the licensee’s employees. The licensee shall be liable for up to five hundred dollars ($500), and for costs and attorney fees, and may be enjoined from permitting the violation to continue. An agreement by a resident or patient of a skilled nursing facility or intermediate care facility to waive his or her rights to sue pursuant to this subdivision shall be void as contrary to public policy.”

Fortunately, this provision does provide for a so-called “private right of action” (i.e. if the state entities and Attorney General are not taking action to enforce compliance of elder abuse laws, a private citizen may bring such a lawsuit).  Unfortunately, if such a “private action” is filed in civil court, the “statutory” damages are limited to a mere $500.  This alone would provide little, if any, incentive for a private attorney to take on such a case.  Therefore, the right to attorney’s fees and costs provides an additional incentive for a lawyer to take on this type of case on a “contingency basis”, with the hopes of prevailing and being awarded reasonable attorney’s fees for at a rate based upon the lawyer’s level of experience and amount of hours worked.  The ruling goes to show that even with all of the laws protecting elders in California, there are still limitations on what can be recovered.  This is why it is always best to consult with an attorney that handles nursing home and elder abuse claims to understand the various statutes and how they may be used if you believe that a loved one has been abused or neglected in a California nursing home or other elder-care facility.

Trucking Accidents in Kern County CAThe Los Angeles Daily Journal this week reported a $1 Million jury verdict out of Kern County CA involving an traffic collision between tractor trailer and a passenger automobile (Cardenas v. Hettinga Transportation, Inc.; Freddy Garcia and California Department of Transportation, Case No. S-1500-CV-279).  My analysis of the verdict, pre-trial settlement discussions, and post trial motions is as follows:

Facts of The Case: The plaintiff was the mother of the decedent, who died instantly when her vehicle broad sided a semi truck.  The plaintiff contended that the truck driver negligently operated his vehicle by running a stop sign.  The truck driver and trucking company Defendant appeared to concede liability but, disputed the amount of claimed damages.  The plaintiff also asserted a claim against CALTRANS for an alleged dangerous condition of public property.  The claim against the State of California was resolved for a nominal sum ($10,000) and the case proceeded to a jury trial against the trucker and his freight carrier employer.

Damages and Settlement Discussions: In California wrongful death civil actions , the plaintiff may claim both out of pocket losses such as lost income the decedent was contributing to the family for financial support, funeral and burial expenses, and other similar losses.  In this case, it would appear (although not stated in the reported verdict) that plaintiff either did not have such damages or waived them off and simply claimed “general damages” in the lawsuit.  So-called “general” or “non-economic” damages in civil claims where someone is killed are awarded based upon California Civil Jury Instruction 3921, which states that a jury must come up with a dollar figure value for the loss of, “love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support.”  The second half of this jury instruction states that, in determining this value, the jury is specifically not to consider the plaintiff’s “grief, sorrow, or mental anguish, the decedent’s pain and suffering, or the poverty or wealth of the plaintiff.”

According to the reported verdict, the plaintiff claimed that her last settlement offer prior to trial was $2.5 Million.  Defense counsel claimed that it was $6 Million.  Ultimately, the jury awarded an even $1 Million and the plaintiff was able to obtain an additional $25,000 in “awardable costs” with a post trial motion.

My Analysis of this Verdict As A California Wrongful Death Lawyer: Damages in a wrongful death claim based upon the state of the law in CA are very difficult to place a dollar figure on and even more difficult to argue to a jury!  This would be my main take on this verdict.  Telling a jury, on the one hand, that they are to award money based upon such general concepts as the  “loss of love, society and companionship” on the one hand but, that they should not consider “grief” or “mental anguish” on the other hand gives a jury a very vague notion of how to calculate such damages.  In my opinion, this leads to a lot of verdicts where: (1) a nice round number is awarded; and (2) the number is based upon underlying jury bias or notions of what is “enough” and what is “too much”.  In this case, the barrier was hit, in my opinion, at seven figures (i.e. one millions dollars).  The plaintiff, through their attorney, clearly argued that a life lost was worth more than this amount but, the defense clearly argued to limit the damages to this barrier amount or less.

Having done a jury trial in Kern County, I know that the jury pool is conservative.  Kern County is a fairly rural county with the economics based heavily on agriculture and oil and gas production.  There are a lot of truck accidents and, unfortunately, people are struck and killed or seriously by tractor trailers hauling produce and other goods many times a year.  I applaud the efforts of plaintiff’s counsel in this case to put on the testimony of the decedent’s mother as to what the loss of her son meant to her and to argue to the jury that this should have significant value.  The ultimate question is very difficult to answer, though:  What is the value of one human life!

 

Additional Resources:

Big Rig Tractor Trailer Accident Claims in California Including Kern County

 

Bike Intersection Crash, California Personal Injury LawAs reported by the various local news stations, a jury in San Francisco California last week awarded the family of a bicyclist killed by a commercial truck a verdict of $4 Million.  While this may seem like a lot to many, I’m sure it is a paltry sum for the loss of a daughter to the two plaintiffs (the cyclists’ mother and father).  The victim was Amelie Le Moullac, a 24 year old woman who was riding as her normal commute to work and was struck and killed when a large truck made an abrupt right hand turn in front of her on a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco.  As a California bicycle rider’s attorney and advocate, I thought I would try to find some lessons out of this terrible tragedy that may be of use for persons like Amelie who use busy city streets in California for cycling.  My thoughts are as follows:

  • Intersection Collisions Between Motor Vehicles and Bikes Are The Most Common Type of Accident Scenario: In urban areas like S.F., Los Angeles, San Diego or other large cities in California or the U.S. as a whole, more bicycle accidents occur in and around busy intersections than just about anywhere else.  This makes is extremely important to be extra cautious and “defensive” as a cyclist approaching or traveling through an intersection of any type but, especially one where there is a high volume of vehicular traffic.  The scenario in this particular case is all too common.  A cyclist is traveling straight along the ride hand edge of the roadway as proscribed and allowed by the California Vehicle Code, a larger vehicle fails to observe the cyclist and makes an abrupt right hand turn and a collision occurs.   At a minimum, this results in a broadside collision and can result in the biker being dragged underneath the vehicle and crushed.  There are several Cal. Vehicle Code (“CVC”) sections that come into play here including the following: (1) CVC 21200 and following, defines a bicycle as a ‘vehicle’ with the rights to use the roadway like any other; (2) CVC 22107, provides a duty on the part of a driver attempting to turn right to make sure that traffic traveling in the same direction of travel is a safe enough distance away to make the turn without coming into contact with any other vehicles.
  • Inability/Unwillingness of Criminal Justice System to Deal With Bicycle Crashes: In this case, like many others, the local District Attorney’s office and police were reluctant to charge the driver with any type of criminal offense including but, not limited to reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter.  They initially stated there was not enough “evidence” against the driver.  The attorney for the victim’s family had to obtain footage from a local surveillance camera to show that the truck never even slowed down and never appeared to look in its side view mirrors prior to turning in front of the cyclist.  This was impactful evidence that was very effective in the civil trial for wrongful death and could have certainly been used in a criminal prosecution of the driver.
  • The Ability of the Civil Justice System to Compensate The Victim and Serve As A Deterrent to Reckless Driving That Kills or Injures Cyclists: Clearly the criminal justice system in California is overburdened and underfunded and without resources to prosecute gross negligence claims like this one.  Except for the zealous representation of a personal injury attorney, evidence such as the surveillance footage referenced above would have never come to light.  While the verdict certainly could have and should have been higher for the loss of a life so young, a multi-million jury award against a commercial trucking company will almost certainly serve as a deterrent for their drivers and the operators of other motor vehicles to look twice and be more cautious in areas with a heavy mix of both motor vehicle and bicycle traffic.

Our deepest condolences go out to the family of the bike crash victim in this case.  We applaud the zealous efforts of her family’s civil justice attorney to conduct such a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident and to take this case to trial and obtain a verdict on their behalf!

Source:

Jury Awards $4 Million to Family of Bicyclist Killed by Turning Truck

Additional Resources:

California Law on Right Hand Turn Accidents Involving Bicycles and Pedestrians

Bicycle Commuter Accident Claims in California

 

California Driving Laws, Uninsured Motorist Accident Claims in CACalifornia has one of the highest populations of illegal immigrants residing in the state of any state in the Union.  In fact, it is estimated that the number of illegal aliens in California is somewhere between 2.5 and 3 Million (Reference: Los Angeles Almanac, 2011).  After decades of debating the issue, the California legislature has decided that it would be better to allow these persons to obtain a driver’s permit and be legally sanctioned to operate a motor vehicle on the roadways of the Golden State than to continue to have unlicensed persons driving cars on our roadways.   (See Los Angeles Times Article: “Historic Day as Immigrants in U.S Illegally Begin Getting Driver’s Licenses”).  The question becomes: Will this increase the number of uninsured motorists on our California freeways and roads?  Like any other driver, illegal immigrants are required to show proof of insurance as a pre-requisite to obtaining a driver’s license.  However, like many other drivers in California, some choose to buy auto insurance prior to applying for a license and then let the policies lapse later.  Whether this measure to allow licenses will increase the number of insured drivers or, by contrast, the number of persons who choose to operate without insurance or the number of people who choose low cost, low limits coverage is debatable.  Presently the minimum liability protection one must purchase to be “legal” in CA is $15,000 per person and $30,000 per occurrence for bodily injury!  This is hardly ever enough to cover the present and future medical expenses much less compensate for physical pain and mental anguish caused by any significant traffic collision.

What is the best way to protect yourself against uninsured motorists in California?

The answer to this question is simple: Make sure that your own auto insurance policy has uninsured motorist coverage!   As I have blogged about numerous times, California actually requires each and every auto insurance policy sold in the state to contain both uninsured and underinsured motorist protection.  UN-insured motorist (UM) provisions pay for personal injury (including medical expenses and pain and suffering) in the event you are involved in a collision with a driver operating completely without insurance.  UNDER-insured motorist (UIM) coverage applies when you are hit by a driver that has a low limits policy which is less than your own limits of coverage.  (For example: If the at fault driver has the state minimum of $15,000 for bodily harm and $5,000 for property damage and your own carrier has limits of $100,000 for injury and full repair or replacement value, you would be able to exhaust the $15,000 plus $5,000 limits and then seek the excess ($85,000 for personal injury and additional for car damage) from your own insurance carrier).  These coverages are mandatory in the Golden State BUT they can be waived at the time of the sale of the insurance policy.  Such waiver must be in writing and contain very specific language as required by the California Insurance Code.  In my opinion as an attorney that represents auto accident victims in CA, I think you should NEVER waive this coverage!  In fact, you should review your policy or at least the “declarations of coverage” information that is sent to you each year to make sure you have UM and UIM protection.   This was always essential and now that there will be thousands more motorists on the road with the potential to have limited or no coverage, it is even more crucial to have this auto insurance protection!

For more information on how uninsured and underinsured motorist claims are processed and what an experienced California auto collision attorney can do to assist in presenting these claims, click here .

ride share, injury claims, CaliforniaUber Technologies, Inc. has fast become the largest of a new breed of transportation companies commonly known as “ride-sharing” nationwide and especially in large urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Unfortunately, it appears that the growth of the company is outpacing the planning for safety and consumer protection.  One high profile incident in San Francisco involving an Uber driver who struck and killed a 6 year old girl has now spawned both criminal charges against the driver and a wrongful death lawsuit against Uber. (See discussion here: Insurance Journal).

How do ride sharing companies operate in California?

Ride sharing is a good concept in theory.  People “volunteer” to use their own vehicles to pick up and drop off passengers based through an app that is installed on a smart phone.  It tracks where drivers are in relationship to potential passengers and allows people to request a “ride” at a moments notice as an alternative to calling a taxi.  As I have discussed in other posts (see here), the California Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) was one of the first public agencies to attempt to regulate these services and provide some basic requirements for operation.  They enacted provisions which require Uber, Lyft, SideCar and others to conduct background checks on drivers, to train drivers on safety and to provide insurance above and beyond the limits of the auto accident policy for the vehicle or the driver.

Potential legal issues that arise out of a ride share company accident claim in CA:

While I think, again, that this is a great concept, the legal issues that potentially come into play here are starting to show some “flies in the ointment” as follows:

  • When is an Uber Driver considered “On the Clock”: For legal purposes, an employer or “principal” is usually liable for the acts of its “agent” when that “employee” or “agent” is acting in the “course and scope” of their agency or employment relationship.  When it comes to ride share drivers, Uber and other companies call these drivers “partners” or “affiliates” and, at least in the San Francisco case, are trying to disavow liability unless the driver is actually going to an active call request at the time of the accident.  The plaintiffs in the case (parents of the child who was struck and killed) are arguing that if the app is on and the driver is ready to receive a request, it is the same as when a taxi has its light on and the driver is already in the “course and scope” at that time.
  • Insurance Issues: Individual drivers usually have insurance for their vehicle but, many carriers are trying to exclude coverage for people using their cars as ride share vehicles.  If the individual insurance policy refuses to pay and Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or one of the other ride share companies claim they are not liable because the driver wasn’t actively trying to pick someone up at the time, this would leave the injured party or wrongful death victim’s family without a “pocket to collect.”  In the case of the San Francisco wrongful death, this is precisely what appears to be happening.  The driver was clearly not only negligent but, engaged in vehicular manslaughter according to the District Attorney’s office.  In my mind, both he and his “employer” (Uber) should be held liable in a civil court for damages related to this incident.

Importance of seeking out legal advice when injured as a passenger in a ride share vehicle like Uber or Lyft:

The case clearly shows that there are tricky legal issues involved in the ride-share scenario.  It is important for persons suffering bodily injury or the family of someone killed in a traffic collision involving a ride share driver to know that these issues are complicated and subject to current litigation to ferret out what the rule are and what they should be.  Consulting with a lawyer familiar with these types of claims is crucial.  Glotzer & Sweat, LLP has free legal consultations on any ride-share incident in California including Los Angeles and can be reached anywhere in California at our toll free #866-229-0101.

Additional Resources:

Ride Share Injury Claims in California