Steele Law, P.C. - Injury Law Alert Spring 2008 Issue
- RVS AND AGING TIRES: A DEADLY COMBINATION
- $4 MILLION VERDICT FOR DEFECTIVE TIRE CRASH
- PREMISES LIABILITY CLAIMS
- SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES
- EXPOSURE TO TB
- MAKE SURE TO INSURE
- MOTORCYCLE SAFETY TIPS
- BE ALERT FOR NURSING HOME NEGLECT
- SIGNS OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT
- WHAT IS MY CASE WORTH?
- FAMILY WINS $13 MILLION IN ASBESTOS RECOVERY
- MOTORCYCLE RIDING: KEEP THE THRILLS, AVOID THE SPILLS
RVS AND AGING TIRES: A DEADLY COMBINATION
As the population ages and begins to retire, many retirees are purchasing recreational vehicles, giving them the freedom to travel around the country at their own pace and with their own itinerary. RVs have become more popular, and they also have become larger. Many of them (known as Class A motor homes) are so big that they resemble buses, have their own TVs, kitchens, and full baths, and can comfortably carry the entire family with all of its luggage.
However, along with the rise in Class A RVs has come an unfortunate rise in RV accidents. Although RVs are involved in the occasional fender bender like any other motor vehicle, many of them also crash due to problems with their tires. There are several reasons for this.
Reasons for Tire Problems
First, while RVs are growing in size, RV manufacturers are not taking into account their increased weight when deciding what size of tires to put on them. In 2006, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) issued a report that, in part, faulted manufacturers for adding features to RVs that increase their weight without also increasing their tire size. The NHTSA specifically recommended the installation of larger tires and upgrades to other parts of RVs that carry the added weight in order to improve ride, handling, and safety.
RV manufacturers also spend little effort to engineer their motor homes for safe driving. It is alarming how few safety tests are conducted on these behemoth RVs when compared with other vehicles, such as cars and trucks.
Tires generally suffer from problems with age. Although most tire manufacturers will tell you that a tire is good for at least 10 years, many people have reported dangerous deterioration in both real and synthetic rubber tires after as little as six years. As time passes, the rubber used in the tire gets progressively more brittle, causing the tread to separate from the tire while driving. This kind of tire problem appears to be especially common in RVs, which often keep the same tires for many years because they are driven far fewer miles in a given year.
Finally, RVs are often driven under conditions that stress tires—during the summer, under maximum loads, and by drivers that are not familiar with driving such a large vehicle—after the RVs have been sitting unused for months on end. All of these conditions can increase the chance of tire failure, and prevention of tire failures requires RV owners to take a more active role in making sure that their tires have a good tread, are otherwise in good condition, and (most importantly) are properly inflated.
Reports of Problems
Several specific problems have been reported. According to the NHTSA report, a particular kind of Toyo tire used on Country Coach motor homes failed 44 times between October 2001 and June 2006, causing many accidents, injuries, and one death. In response to this report, Country Coach issued a warning and said that it would replace the defective tires with another brand.
Problems have also been reported with the use of a Goodyear G159 tire on RVs. Although this tire is large enough to put on an RV, it was actually designed for other uses, and is therefore not sturdy enough for an RV. Manufacturers have stopped using the G159 on RVs, but many RVs may still have the tire installed.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an RV accident caused by tire failure, tread separation, or the like, call us. We will be happy to discuss your legal rights and help you recover any damages you may be entitled to receive.
$4 MILLION VERDICT FOR DEFECTIVE TIRE CRASH
A jury recently ruled that Wal Mart pay $4 million to a woman who was severely injured when the tread on one of her tires separated. The defective tire caused the vehicle to crash, paralyzing the woman driver.
The defective tire had been recalled in 2002, and Wal Mart had serviced her vehicle nine times since the recall, but the woman was never informed that the tire was bad. Wal Mart had a policy not to disclose tire recalls unless the tires were bought at Wal Mart. In addition, Wal Mart argued that its servicemen were not trained to look for tire defects.
Despite this, the jury believed that Wal Mart had a responsibility to inform the woman about the defective tire and it ruled in her favor.
PREMISES LIABILITY CLAIMS
A broken staircase. Cracked pavement. A missing handrail. Unfortunately, thousands of people every year are injured, many seriously, by a dangerous condition on someone else’s property. When this happens, the injured person may have a “premises liability claim.”
The law of premises liability can be very complex, and it depends on a number of factors. The first set of questions to ask concerns the victim:
- Was he invited onto the property for the benefit of the owner (such as a person who goes to the store);
- Was he invited onto the property for another purpose (such as a social guest); or
- Was he trespassing?
The next set of questions concerns the “dangerous” condition:
- Was it open and obvious (such as a big hole), or was it hard to see (such as an uneven sidewalk);
- Was the condition there for a long time or just briefly?
The final questions concern the person in charge of the property:
- Does he own it or just rent it;
- Does he control the property or, if not, did he know of the condition?
The answer to all of these questions (and more) can determine whether you have a claim and how strong that claim is. However, don’t let the complexity of a premises liability claim scare you. A good Lewisville premises liability lawyer can help you pursue your claim. In addition to recovering money for your injuries, your actions may help to get the problem fixed and to prevent others from being hurt.
SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES
For a small annual fee, most banks will rent safe deposit boxes to their customers. What kind of documents should you consider putting in a safe deposit box? Good candidates include any original documents that have value and which cannot easily be replaced, such as:
- insurance policies
- stock and bond certificates
- title documents
- rare coins and stamps
- valuable jewelry.
You should also consider making a list and a videotape of your belongings, and keeping both of them in your safe deposit box. This makes valuing your belongings and replacing them in the event of a fire much easier.
What kind of documents should not be put in a safe deposit box? Anything you might need on short notice, particularly the original copies of documents relating to your estate, such as a will and a power of attorney for health care. You may put copies of these papers in your box, and most lawyers will keep the originals on your behalf.
Make sure to store the key to your box in a safe place apart from the keys you use every day, and be sure that the key does not have a tag with the name of the bank and the box number, in case it falls into the wrong hands.
EXPOSURE TO TB
In a somewhat unusual case, a Texas jury recently returned a multimillion dollar verdict against a bus company for exposing its passengers to tuberculosis.
One of the company’s bus drivers caught tuberculosis. Although he had not been formally diagnosed, he was chronically sick and showed all of the classic symptoms of TB: chronic cough, coughing up blood, and night sweats. Despite these symptoms, the driver was allowed to continue to drive company buses long distances, and, on one trip, he infected seven Texas students in a high school band.
The students sued the bus company for negligence, and the evidence showed that the company had allowed the driver’s medical certification to expire three years before the trip when he exposed the students. The owner of the bus company also admitted that, even though he did not know that the driver had TB, someone should have done something in light of the driver’s recurring health problems.
The jury agreed and awarded each of the students $750,000 for their injuries.
MAKE SURE TO INSURE
The purpose of an insurance policy is to protect you in the event of an accident or unexpected loss. However, the policy protects you only if it is in force at the time the loss happens. Take the following steps to make sure that you are protected if disaster strikes:
- Pay your insurance premiums on time and in full. If you do not, your insurance company may not be required to cover your loss.
- Notify your insurance company immediately after suffering any loss you think may be covered by your policy. If you are injured on the job, notify your employer as soon as possible, preferably in writing. Any delay in telling the insurance company about an accident or injury may mean it does not have to cover your claim.
- Carefully read any letters or other information you get from your insurance company. Letters often contain deadlines you have to meet or list information you have to provide, and notices often tell you about changes in the coverage available under the policy.
If you have any questions, contact the Texas State Department of Insurance at (800) 252 3439, or on the web at www.tdi.state.tx.us. It can answer questions you have about your insurance, and it offers a number of free publications for the public about insurance.
If you feel that your insurance company is improperly denying you coverage, call us. Laws exist to protect policyholders from unfair treatment.
MOTORCYCLE SAFETY TIPS
- ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET. Wear the proper clothing. Wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves, and sturdy footwear, and consider buying the special leather or “armored” clothing sold for motorcyclists. Goggles or a visor built into your helmet can help protect your eyes. Wear light colors to make you more visible. Wear reflective clothing when riding at night.
- Get professional training. Statistics show that 92% of the motorcyclists involved in collisions were self taught or taught by friends.
- Do not drive a motorcycle while you are impaired, whether it is by drink, drugs, or just lack of sleep.
- Keep your motorcycle in good condition, especially the tires, suspension, and brakes.
- Do not share a lane of traffic with another vehicle, and keep a safe distance between the vehicles ahead of you and behind you.
- Ride where you can be seen. Remember: You are harder to see than a car or a truck, and therefore do not ride in another driver’s blind spot.
- Make sure that other drivers know what you are up to. Always signal, using either the signals on the motorcycle or the proper hand signals.
BE ALERT FOR NURSING HOME NEGLECT
With people living longer than ever, more of our family members and loved ones will spend time in a nursing home. Although most nursing homes and other long term care facilities are reputable and provide good care for their residents, a few do not. Reported cases of abuse and neglect are rising as the number of nursing home residents rises, and the elderly and infirm are often the least able to protect themselves.
Although nursing homes are regulated by government agencies that investigate and punish cases of abuse and neglect every year, officials cannot be everywhere at once. Everyone with a friend or relative in a nursing home should be aware of certain danger signs and be ready to act if they appear.
In nursing homes, the most common cause of neglect is the lack of sufficiently trained staff. With an eye on the bottom line, some facilities do not hire enough staff to properly care for their residents. Staffing shortages lead to overwork, and overwork and inexperience can lead to a breakdown in care. Neglect attributable to a lack of staff can include improper medication, failure to assist the residents with their hygiene, failure to turn the residents (leading to bedsores), and failure to adequately provide for the residents’ safety and comfort.
More disturbingly, some nursing home employees take advantage of the elderly under their care. Cases of theft, assault, and even sexual assault of nursing home residents have been reported. Although such examples of outright abuse are rare, they are serious, and you should be alert for signs of trouble.
If you suspect that the residents of a nursing home may be abused or neglected, follow up. A good checkup is the surprise visit, when the nursing home is not expecting you. This allows you to see how the home operates on a daily basis, rather than just the days when someone is coming to visit. When visiting, get to know the staff. Staff members can be an excellent source of information about the happenings in the home. If you do not like what you see, complain. Often, potential problems can be avoided if the nursing home is told clearly what is expected.
If you suspect a serious problem at a nursing home, report it to the appropriate authorities immediately. In addition, if you believe that a loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home, call us. We will help you investigate the matter and take the legal action necessary to protect your loved one.
SIGNS OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT
What are the signs of nursing home abuse or neglect to look out for? Although a number of things might indicate that there are problems, common signs of possible trouble include:
- Soiled bed linen or the smell of feces or urine;
- Unexplained bruises or cuts;
- Use of physical or chemical restraints;
- Changes in mood or disorientation, often due to improper medication;
- Weight loss; and
- Unexplained fear or anxiety.
Trust your feelings. People can often sense trouble before they can identify a specific problem. Don’t ignore your instincts.
WHAT IS MY CASE WORTH?
When deciding whether to sue for an injury caused by another’s carelessness, the first question people usually ask is “What is my case worth?” The answer depends on what kind of damages were caused by the other party’s negligence.
Some damages that are recoverable are easy to see. If you are injured by someone else’s negligence, you can recover the cost of repairing or replacing your car and the cost of your medical bills related to the auto accident. You can also recover any lost wages because of time you missed from work due to your injuries.
Other kinds of damages are harder to see. If you have been hurt, you can usually recover something for the “pain and suffering” caused by the injury. You can also recover for things that are likely to happen in the future because of the injury you have suffered. An example would be any permanent disfigurement or any ongoing impairment caused by the injury that is serious enough to permanently affect your ability to lead your life or earn a living. If the lingering effects of your injury mean that you cannot perform the same work or play the same recreational sports you did before being injured, this ongoing loss should be compensable, even though the amount of the loss is often hard to accurately estimate.
Your spouse and family may also be entitled to recover monetary damages because of the injury you suffered. If your injury prevents you from performing the “household services” you would have otherwise done, such as cleaning the house or mowing the lawn, these losses are worth something. So are the emotional damages to your relationship with your family caused by your injury. These damages are called a “loss of consortium.”
In short, the damages that may be recovered in a negligence lawsuit include almost every kind of damage that is caused by the negligence. If you have any questions about whether you can recover for an injury you have suffered, please contact us. Every case is fact specific, and we would be happy to discuss your situation with you.
FAMILY WINS $13 MILLION IN ASBESTOS RECOVERY
Although most people now know the dangers posed by asbestos, this was not always the case. Because cancers and other diseases caused by asbestos can take decades to appear, new asbestos lawsuits are still being filed, years after asbestos stopped being used in consumer and industrial products.
One of these suits was brought by the family of a man who died at age 41 of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos. The suit was brought against Georgia Pacific, which made a joint compound used in construction projects that contained asbestos. The man had been exposed to the compound as a child, when he helped his father with construction jobs on the weekends.
Although the evidence showed that the man had been exposed to asbestos in other ways, the jury found Georgia Pacific partially liable for his injuries. It was likely influenced by evidence showing that, while all exposure to asbestos is bad, exposure to asbestos as a child is worse because children are more vulnerable to cancer causing agents than are adults.
The jurors were also likely influenced by evidence showing that Georgia Pacific had tried to hide the dangers of asbestos from consumers, had only half heartedly complied with federal warning requirements, and had continued to sell the joint compound right up to the moment it was banned—internal documents noted that Georgia Pacific’s competitors were losing money by pulling their asbestos containing products before they were required to.
Disturbed by Georgia Pacific’s lack of concern for those who used its products and its excessive concern for the bottom line, the jury returned a verdict of more than $13 million for the family.
MOTORCYCLE RIDING: KEEP THE THRILLS, AVOID THE SPILLS
The vision of driving down a country road, atop a large motorcycle, with the wind blowing through your hair is an attractive one for many people, and the number of motorcycles on America’s highways is growing. Although motorcycles share the road with cars and trucks, and although they are subject to the same traffic laws as other vehicles, the fact is that collisions involving motorcycles are different from, and are often more serious than, automobile accidents.
In almost half of all collisions involving motorcycles, the fault for the collision lay with the driver of the other vehicle, who failed to yield the right of way to the motorcycle. The small size of motorcycles also makes them more vulnerable to road hazards that even a small car could pass over safely. Motorcycles are more maneuverable than cars, and riders can sometimes put themselves into unsafe positions that drivers of cars cannot.
The greater number of motorcycle accidents means that motorcyclists are also much more likely to be injured or killed in a collision than is someone riding in a car or truck. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a motorcycle rider is 18 times more likely to die in a collision than is someone in a car, and far more likely to suffer serious injuries. Some 80% of motorcycle collisions result in injury or death, and the fact that the motorcyclist may not have been at fault is of little comfort.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A common kind of serious injury associated with motorcycle accidents is head injury. Traumatic brain injuries, such as the closed head injuries that result when an impact causes the brain to hit the inside of the skull, cause over one-third of the injury deaths in the United States. Since motorcyclists are often thrown off of their bikes in a collision, such injuries are 10 times more common in motorcycle accidents than in other vehicle accidents.
Studies have shown that the number one way to prevent these serious injuries is the most obvious one—WEAR A HELMET! Motorcyclists should make sure that the helmet they choose has been approved by the Department of Transportation. If it has, it will have a sticker on it saying “DOT.” Heavy riding boots, gloves, vests, and long pants can also help protect riders if they do crash.
Motorcyclists need to take extra care when riding. They should drive safely (as should all drivers), and they should wear the appropriate protective gear. Motorcyclists also need to understand the special problems that their vehicles present for others on the road, and they should ride especially defensively.
However, motorcycle safety is a two way street. Drivers of other vehicles need to “drive aware” and keep a careful eye out for motorcycles. Motorcycle riders have the right to use the same road that car drivers do, and this right should be respected. Other vehicles should give motorcycles a wide berth—while a small tap with the bumper likely will not hurt a large SUV, it is potentially fatal to a motorcyclist.