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General Motors Ignition-Switch Deaths Rise to 30

Mark Napier

General Motors in the past year has recalled 2.6 million vehicles for a potentially fatal ignition switch design. For over a decade, GM executives and engineers were well aware that several makes and models had this flaw. An ignition switch design enabled the ignition key to slip out of run-mode when jostled causing the key to slip into accessory-mode. When this happened, the engine would shut off, disabling power steering, power brakes, and air bags.

In February, 2014, General Motors informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it was recalling the following vehicles because of this ignition switch design defect:

2005 to 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt
2007 to 2010 Pontiac G-5
2003 to 2007 Saturn Ion
2006 to 2011 Chevrolet HHR
2006 to 2010 Pontiac Solstice
2007 to 2010 Saturn Sky

The events leading to the recall is yet another example of how trial lawyers serve the public interest. This recall may never have happened unless Attorney Lance Cooper of Marietta, GA had reported this design defect to the NHTSA. Mr. Cooper learned of the defect through documents obtained from GM in litigation brought on behalf of parents whose daughter died when her 2005 Cobalt shut down, forcing her into oncoming traffic, where another vehicle struck her. Documents showed that GM had known about the deadly effects since at least 2004.

Within a few weeks, NHTSA’s inquiry had exposed a massive cover-up spanning more than a decade.  GM first acknowledged 13 deaths and 31 injuries, but since a victims compensation program was instituted in August, the program so far has approved 30 death claims and 61 injury claims. The program has received 1,580 claims for ignition switch related injuries.

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TRUCKING MINIMUM LIABILITY INSURANCE LIMITS ARE WOEFULLY OUTDATED

Mark Napier

Most people are aware that former Saturday Night Live cast member and 30 Rock television actor Tracy Morgan was critically injured in June when a Wal-Mart tractor trailer slammed into the rear of his limousine van on the New Jersey Turnpike. James McNair, another comedian and occupant of the van, was killed in the crash. It is alleged in a recently filed lawsuit that the tractor trailer driver had not slept for over 24 hours, and consequently fell asleep at the wheel.
This crash has begun to awaken the motoring public to the fact that nearly 4,000 persons are killed each year in truck-involved crashes according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This number of deaths is more fatalities than aviation, boating, and railroad fatalities combined. A fatal truck-involved crash often costs millions in damages. But, a federal law passed in 1985 only requires trucking companies to carry $750,000 in liability insurance coverage to cover all damages from a crash. Because of such low liability insurance coverage limits, injured motorists themselves or taxpayers are left to pay the difference.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has recognized that current minimum liability insurance standards are far too low. In April of this year, the FMCSA released to Congress a report, which concluded that the costs of injuries and fatalities from truck crashes far exceed the current minimum insurance levels trucking companies are required to carry.
Congressman Matt Cartwright, Pennsylvania District 17, on July 18, 2013 introduced the Safe and Fair Environment on Highways Achieved through Underwriting Levels Act of 2013 (SAFE HAUL), H.R. 2730. This bill would increase cargo trucks’ minimum liability insurance requirements to meet today’s costs for truck crashes, and to update for inflation going forward.
The bill is currently pending in a transportation subcommittee. Please contact your Congressman today and urge him or her to co-sponsor and urge timely passage of the SAFE HAUL Act.

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Ice and Snow Claims Can Be Slippery

Mark Napier

During the winter months, Freking & Betz receives many calls about slip and falls on ice and snow. The general rule in Ohio is that an owner or occupier of land ordinarily owes no duty to others to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow. The rationale for this rule is that the dangers from natural ice and snow accumulations are ordinarily so obvious and apparent that a person on the premises will discover those dangers and protect himself or herself against them.

But, there are exceptions to this general rule. The premises owner may be liable if the owner negligently causes or permits an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow. An “unnatural accumulation” is one that has been created by causes and factors other than inclement weather conditions. An example is a defective down spout that directs water across a sidewalk. The misdirected water freezes as “black ice,” and is not an open and obvious hazard.

Another exception is when a municipality passes an ordinance that premises owners are required to clear adjacent sidewalks.

 

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New Year’s Shout Out To Our F&B All Stars

Randy Freking

We congratulate members of Freking and Betz for their selections as Ohio Super Lawyers/Rising Stars by Thomson Reuters: Kati Neff (Rising Star among Labor and Employment Attorneys); Mark Napier (Super Lawyer among Personal Injury Lawyers); Kelly Myers (Super Lawyer among Labor and Employment Attorneys and Rated as one of the Top 25 Female Attorneys in Cincinnati); and Randy Freking (Super Lawyer among Employment Litigation Attorneys, One of Top 100 Lawyers in Ohio, and one of Top 50 Attorneys in Cincinnati.)

Selections are based upon nominations by peers, independent research by a third party research team, and evaluations that result in rankings in practice areas.

5% of lawyers in Ohio are selected as Super Lawyers; only 2.5% are identified as Rising Stars.

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One in Five Commercial Trucks Unsafe

Mark Napier

In 2012, Roadcheck inspections placed 22.4% of commercial vehicles and 3.9% of drivers out of service. This means that more than one in five trucks were taken off the road for safety violations so severe the truck and driver were not allowed to continue. This highlights the fact that despite comprehensive federal and state regulations, rogue companies and unqualified drivers still operate unsafe tractor-trailers on our highways. The 2013 Roadcheck for North America will be conducted on June 4-6, 2013.
Roadcheck is the largest commercial vehicle safety inspection program in the world, inspecting over 60,000 trucks or buses at 1,500 locations across North America during a 72 hour period.
For more information visit the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance website and its Roadcheck page.

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