Lawyers in our Personal Injury/Product Liability Section have been very busy handling cases in several states. The cases were filed in both state and federal courts. Our lawyers in the Section will investigate any product liability claim involving catastrophic injury or death. The following are some of the cases lawyers the Section are currently working on:
TAKATA AIR BAGS
U.S. government officials have issued an urgent warning to drivers about the potential dangers posed by air bags made by Takata Corp., which can explode with excessive force and kill or seriously injure the front seat occupants of affected vehicles. The defect is linked to the air bags’ inflator systems, which can shoot metal fragments from the devices into the car like shrapnel. Air bags on both the driver’s and passenger’s side can explode, even as a result of a fender bender or other minor collision. To date, more than 14 million vehicles with Takata-manufactured air bags have been recalled due to defects. Tokyo-based Takata is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers. It manufactures air bags, safety belts, steering wheels and other auto parts for a variety of automakers. Vehicles containing the defective air bags include certain models made by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors. If you have more information on the Takata Litigation, contact Chris Glover at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
GM IGNITION SWITCH LITIGATION
General Motors (GM) has recalled more than 17 million vehicles related to a defective ignition switch problem, which can leave a vehicle without power and the driver unable to control the vehicle in sudden and dangerous situations. Court documents and other evidence reveal that GM knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. GM has established a Victims Compensation Fund to address serious injuries and deaths resulting from the ignition switch defect. The deadline to file a claim with the fund was Jan. 31, 2015. Our firm submitted 55 claims with the Fund, and we are also still filing claims outside the fund. Cases that are determined to be viable after the fund cutoff date will be filed and pursued individually in state court. If you need more information on the GM Litigation, contact Mike Andrews or Ben Baker at 800-898-2034 or by email at Michael.Andrews@beasleyallen.com and Ben.Baker@beaselyallen.com.
HEAVY TRUCKING ACCIDENTS
There are significant differences between handling an interstate trucking case and other car wreck cases. It is imperative to have knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety (FMCS) regulations, technology, business practices, insurance coverages, and to have the ability to discover written and electronic records. Expert testimony is of utmost importance. Accidents involving semi-trucks and passenger vehicles often result in serious injuries and wrongful death. Trucking companies and their insurance companies almost always quickly send accident investigators to the scene of a truck accident to begin working to limit their liability in these situations. Our lawyers, staff and in-house accident investigators immediately begin the important task of documenting and preserving the evidence. We would like to review any case involving catastrophic injury or death.
Roof crush and seatbelt malfunctions are two defects we see in heavy trucking accidents. Greg Allen and Mike Andrews are set to try a case in Mobile involving roof crush and seatbelt defects this month. In that case, our client had taken his 2004 Freightliner M-2 truck in to be serviced because he felt that the truck was bouncing. The mechanic unnecessarily loosened the control rod, which stabilizes the trailer, and did not tighten it back up. The same day our client picked the truck up from being serviced, the loosened control rod caused the truck to become unstable and our client lost control of the truck. The truck rolled over. His seatbelt became unfastened, and the roof crushed down into his survival space. Our client was thrown out of the back window of the truck and now is permanently paralyzed. We are confident that the jury will diligently consider the evidence at trial and will award our client a just and fair award of damages for his injuries.
Quite often, heavy trucking crashes simply involve a driver’s negligent and wanton operation of the truck. Chris Glover recently handled a case involving driver negligence. On Dec. 13, 2013, Marilyn Nipper was driving her 2010 Pontiac G6 on AL Hwy. 14 in Elmore County, Ala. Lothario Swiggett was driving a 2006 Mack truck owned by Gale Creek Logging Company, on AL Hwy. 14 in front of Marilyn Nipper. Swiggett’s vehicle was carrying a load of logs at the time of the accident, and the load was in violation of §32-5-211 of The Code of Alabama in that the load was not properly marked. His vehicle was stopped at the time of the accident. Ms. Nipper’s vehicle ran into the back of Swiggett’s vehicle and a log came through her windshield and impaled her, causing injuries that ultimately led to her death.
The Plaintiff brought claims against Defendants under Alabama’s Wrongful Death Act. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant Swiggett was acting within the line and scope of his employment with Gale Creek when he failed to display, notify or warn other motorists of his log load after dark, including but not limited to having any kind of light at the end of his log load. Plaintiff also brought claims against Defendant Gale Creek which included negligent hiring, training and supervision of Swiggett, as well as agency Defendant claims. Plaintiff recently entered into a confidential settlement with Defendants concerning the amount of the settlement. If you have more information on the trucking litigation, contact Chris Glover at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
Tire failure can result in a serious car crash and even a vehicle rollover accident, causing serious injury or death to vehicle occupants. Air, heat and sunlight can cause the rubber in tires to break down. When a tire is defective, potentially serious problems like detreads and blowouts can occur long before the tire would be expected to wear out. If the tire failure is the result of design or manufacturing defects, and the manufacturer is aware of the problem, they have an obligation to alert consumers to the potential danger.
One serious problem with tires is that they wear down on the inside as they age, but they look brand new on the outside. Labarron Boone is getting ready to try a case involving the failure of a 16-year-old tire. The tire was the original spare tire on a 1995 Ford Explorer. The tire looked brand new. However, while driving down I-85, just two days after a mechanic shop put the spare tire on the 1995 Ford Explorer, the tire de-treaded, causing the Explorer to roll over. This resulted in the deaths of our clients’ sister and son. Labarron has successfully handled cases like this in the past, and will try the case in January 2015.
Despite the dangers of tire aging, NHTSA has still refused to establish a tire aging standard. A tire aging standard would make it easier for consumers to determine the tire’s age. Right now, the only way to determine the age of a tire is to decipher the cryptic code on the tire’s sidewall. Also, a tire aging standard would make it mandatory for tire centers to take tires out of service at a specified date, regardless of what the tire looks like on the outside. Beasley Allen lawyers will continue to pursue claims based on tire aging until such standards are in place. If you have more information on the tire litigation, contact Rick Morrison, a lawyer in the section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
OTHER AUTO DEFECTS
Kendall Dunson is currently handling a case against General Motors (GM) for removing a very important safety feature from its 2008 Chevy Impala—the side curtain airbags. These airbags protect occupants from head and neck injuries. In that case, our client was driving a 2008 Impala when her vehicle was struck on the rear driver side by another vehicle. Because side airbags, which were standard safety equipment on the 2008 Impala, had been removed or “deleted” from the subject Impala, our client suffered enhanced injuries in the collision that she would not otherwise have suffered. Our client was paralyzed as a result of the wreck and subsequently died.
Another prominent auto defect involves airbag failure to deploy. Graham Esdale and Cole Portis recently settled a case involving a 2011 Dodge Avenger. Our client was on his way to work, was driving the speed limit, and was properly belted. Another driver coming in the opposite direction crossed the centerline, and despite our client’s efforts to avoid the collision, they hit head on. Our client’s seatbelt did not restrain him properly and the airbag failed to deploy. The failure of the belt and airbag allowed so much forward excursion that his head was able make contact with the center of the windshield. While striking the windshield did not cause his fatal injuries, the failure of the belt and airbag to slow his forward excursion and provide the needed “ride down”, did cause his death.
The lawyers determined there were some issues with the airbag control module, which failed to deploy the driver’s side airbag. In addition, the seatbelt included a feature referred to as a load limiter. These devices allow for additional belt payout during an accident. The real benefit of these devices is that it allows the auto makers to pass Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards related to frontal crash protection. In real-world crashes, it allows occupants to experience dangerous excessive excursion and increases injury potential instead of reducing it.
In this case, Graham and Cole were able to contrast the performance of the Challenger with a defective system to one that performed as intended in the same crash. The driver of the vehicle that crossed the center line and struck our vehicle head on was alert and walking around the scene after the accident. His airbag deployed and his seatbelt did not allow excessive forward excursion. Airbags failing to properly deploy or failing to deploy altogether are not uncommon. This failure is not limited to the vehicle involved in this crash. In fact, we have seen several GM airbag failures that did not involve the ignition switch turning off.
NURSING HOME LITIGATION
Ben Locklar is currently handling a number of cases against nursing homes for negligence and wanton care of residents. Typically, these cases involve nursing home employees allowing residents to develop bedsores, to choke, or to fall because the employees are not providing adequate medical care. The most prominent issue we have faced in nursing cases involves the arbitration agreements that nursing homes require residents to sign before the resident can be admitted for treatment.
Oftentimes, the resident is not able to sign the arbitration agreement because of physical or mental incapacities. When a resident is incapacitated, the nursing home lets whoever is with the resident sign the agreement, regardless of whether that person is the resident’s chosen legal personal representative. This practice forces the resident to unknowingly waive the resident’s Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury, which is against legal precedent and public policy. We are currently fighting this issue at the Alabama Supreme Court and will continue to fight this issue until nursing homes change their mandatory arbitration agreement practices.
If you need more information on any of the above, contact Sloan Downes, the Section Administrator, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Sloan.Downes@beasleyallen.com. Sloan will put you in touch with the lawyer who will be able to answer your questions on a specific area of concern.
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