Monday, December 19, 2011

How Some Law Changes Could Reduce Fatal Automobile Accidents in Maryland

Hundreds of lives could be saved in both Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, over the next five years if the legislature passed more phased-in driving privileges for teens. Across the nation, and in the Maryland and Virginia area, motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. In fact, per each mile driven, drivers ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident.

Experts have noted that graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs for teens reduce the death and accident tolls significantly. In fact, they have identified several components that constitute a strong GDL. Amazingly, only two states, New York and Delaware have programs with all seven.

The seven components are as follows:

1. A minimum age of 16 for a learner's permit (Maryland now has);

2. Six months of supervised driving before unsupervised driving;

3. A minimum of 30 hours supervised during learner's stage (Maryland now has a supervised hour requirement);

4. A minimum age of 16 ½ for intermediate licensing (Maryland now has);

5. Intermediate night-driving restriction beginning at 10p.m. (Maryland now has a night driving privilege);

6. No more than one non-family member passenger for intermediate license holders (Maryland now has);

7. A minimum age of 17 for a full license.

The last restriction could place undue hardship on many working families in Maryland and Virginia who rely on their teenagers to help with car pool. As a result, while it saves lives, it seems unlikely to become law in our area.

Five Social Media Tips for Maryland Injury or DWI/DUI Clients

Thousands of Portner & Shure's personal injury and criminal clients, in both Maryland and Virginia, log onto social media sites every day to chronicle their personal and professional lives. These sites create a virtual gold mine of potential legal liability and discoverable information that may have a devastating impact on the outcome of both a Maryland or Virginia accident, or criminal case. One of the first lawsuits to be filed over social medica activity involved country singer, Courtney Love, who was sued by her former designer for defamation concerning alleged damaging statements posted by Love on her Twitter account. Love's supposed damaging tweets were "published" to her 40,000 Twitter followers, and set the stage for the world's first well-known social media suit.

1. Social media content may be used in the courtroom, or by insurance adjusters in matters involving personal injuries, including Maryland and Virginia automobile accidents, workers' compensation and medical malpractice cases. Social media users often post information about vacations, participating in sports or other activities. These posts may be inconsistent with claimed injuries. Information and comments posted by Maryland or Virginia accident injury victims on Facebook, Twitter or blogs, may be admissible at deposition or trial and could destroy or dramatically reduce the value of a Maryland or Virginia injury case. Five years ago a personal injury client at Portner & Shure would be warned that insurance companies may hire an investigator to follow them and video their daily activities. While this practice is now decreasing, the use of adjusters reviewing Facebook or Twitter posts in a Maryland and Virginia in a personal injury case is now on the rise. Be advised that everything a personal injury client is putting on Facebook or Twitter may be reviewed by an insurance adjuster to reduce the value of a Maryland or Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice claim. Below are some examples to take into consideration:

a. In one case a woman was claiming that because of her back injuries, suffered in a Maryland car accident, she could no longer walk. An adjuster reviewed her blog posts. In the blogs she described taking belly dancing classes for years. She in fact even posted photo's of her dancing at monthly performances. The photos and blog posts were later shown to her treating physician. The doctor testified that he was:

  • unaware of the woman's belly dancing classes

  • unaware that she had been doing belly dancing monthly performances

  • unable to state she was not physically capable of employment

b. A second time Maryland DUI client recently wondered why he was facing a probation revocation after boasting on Facebook that he just went to a concert and smoked marijuana.

c. The Workers' Compensation Commission recently stopped a clients benefits after an adjuster learned he was making money selling personal items on Craigslist.

2. Under current Maryland or Virginia rules it is not unfair or unethical for a defense attorney or insurance adjuster to collect evidence from your Facebook or Twitter posts. Ethical rules are slowly developing with respect to the boundaries of investigators using social media to destroy or limit Maryland and Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice claims. In fact, no hard and fast rules have yet emerged. As a result, you cannot claim foul or unfair, once the damaging information passes into the hands of unwanted persons. At this stage, defense attorneys, insurance defense paralegals, and investigators maybe using "friend requests" to gain access to online information of Portner & Shure automobile accident clients.

3. Social media can be used to attack the need for medical treatment, or the actual testimony of your doctor in a Maryland or Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice case. The activities you talk about on Facebook or Twitter, i.e. running, working out, raking leaves, skiing, cannot in anyway be consistent with what you are telling your doctor you cannot perform. In the event that they are, and this is discovered after the course of medical treatment, all the medical bills and treatment may be called into question.

4. At trial credibility (believability) of an accident victim or DUI defendant is at issue. In other words, the outcome often hinges on whether the jury believes this one persons account of what occurred. Social media posts can destroy a plaintiffs credibility. Credibility will cause irreparable damage, if evidence of activities is not inconsistent with the claims made to a medical doctor.

5. In light of the above, we suggest you make sure the following changes while using Facebook or Twitter if you have an active Maryland or Virginia injury case.

a. Check the privacy settings on your accounts and make sure you only share information with people you trust. Never accept a friend request or invitation from someone you don't know;

b. Assume the insurance company and defense lawyers have access to everything you post. Avoid talking about, mentioning, or referring to your case in anyway so that nothing can be used against you in court;

c. Don't put any photos or videos of yourself on Facebook, even if they are from before the accident occurred. Ask your friends to avoid putting any pictures or videos of you on Facebook, and even if they do, request that they be removed or untag yourself right away;

d. Don't engage in any conversations about your injury case in online forums, blogs, chat rooms, message boards or even email;

e. If you are a Maryland or Virginia Chinese speaking, Korean speaking or Spanish speaking automobile accident victim, these rules also apply to you. Insurance companies are using interpreters to go through Facebook, Twitter and blog posts.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maryland Trucking Company Declared "Imminent Hazard to the Public"

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) declared Maryland-based trucking company, Gunthers Transport, LLC, an imminent hazard to public health and ordered the trucking company to immediately cease all transportation services. FMCSA issued an imminent hazard out-of-service order against Gunthers following an exhaustive review of the company's operations, which found multiple hours-of-service and vehicle maintenance violations. "Safety is our number-one priority," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Commercial truck companies that recklessly disregard federal safety regulations will be shut down and removed from our roadways."

Gunthers was immediately shut down after FMCSA safety investigators found patterns of hours-of-service and vehicle maintenance violations that substantially increased the likelihood of serious injury or death to the motoring public. FMCSA discovered that the company allowed its drivers to falsify their hours-of-service records and exceed the 11-hour limit for daily driving. In addition, Gunthers did not require its drivers to perform pre-trip vehicle safety inspections, operated trucks that were in such poor condition they were likely to break down and posed a high crash risk based on its on-road performance record. One Western Maryland man, injured 17 years ago as a result of truck accident involving Gunthers' tractor trailer, was left crippled suffering from severe brain damage. The Western Maryland man, who is now 49 years old and living in a nursing home, won a lawsuit where a jury awarded him $13 million for his care. He has not seen a penny of that money because Gunthers declared bankruptcy and reformed under another name.

There is a new proposal for trucking regulations that involves decreasing the amount of consecutive hours that a trucker can drive from 11 to 10. Lobbyist from both sides have been arguing their case in Washington, D.C., including a Maryland man who lost his wife as a result of a truck accident. In addition to the loss of his wife, both of the Maryland man's sons were seriously injured as a result of the truck accident. Somehow the argument has become a partisan issue. Republican lawmakers and pro-trucking lobbyists argue that a reduction of the hours from 11 to 10 could cost the trucking industry millions of dollars during an already difficult economic time. The families of those who have lost loved ones, as a result of a tractor trailer accident, argue that the issue is not a Democrat/Republican issue but an issue of public safety.

Hand-Held Cell Phone Use by Drivers of Buses and Large Trucks Banned

U.S. Transportation Secretary announced a rule specifically prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicle. This new rule is certainly news to me. I would have thought that this rule was in affect for some time. The joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the latest effort by the U.S. Department of Transportation to end distracted driving. Personally, the fact that the rule was not in affect until now is alarming. When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds the consequences can be deadly. This rule will save lives by helping truckers stay focused on safety at all times.

The final rule prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial truck or bus. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Additionally, states will suspend a driver's commercial driver's license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Approximately four million commercial drivers would be affected by this final rule.

While driver distraction studies have produced mixed results, FMCSA research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what is required for using a hands-free mobile phone, including searching and reaching for the phone. Commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, are three times more likely to be involved in a bus crash or other safety-critical event. Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a truck crash or other safety-critical event. Nearly 5474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research. Many of the largest truck and bus companies, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, Wal-Mart, Peter Pan and Greyhound already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones. If you our someone you know has been injured as the result of a truck accident contact our Maryland truck accident lawyers and Virginia tractor trailer accident attorneys.