October 2012 Archives

October 26, 2012

Knoxville Injury Attorney Shares Autumn Accident Risks

When we turn the clocks back an hour Sunday Nov. 4, it will signal the final turn toward autumn and the deadliest two months of the year on our nation's roads.

Our Knoxville injury lawyers note the nation is already dealing with an uptick in the number of fatal accidents after several years of decline attributed to the poor economy. The National Safety Council reports 21,560 motorists were killed through August this year -- up 7 percent from the 20,200 deaths reported last year. 490062_night_traffic.jpg

The number of fatal Tennessee traffic accidents increased more than 10 percent -- to 693 this year, compared to 629 last year.

Common Factors in Autumn Traffic Accidents

Early Dark: The end of Daylight Savings Time often plunges the evening commute into darkness. This can increase the risk of all types of accidents, including bicycle and pedestrian crashes and those caused by drowsy driving.

Deer Accidents: Tennessee can expect more than 24,000 motorists to collide with a deer this year, according to the annual report released each fall by State Farm. The average motorist has a 1 in 183 chance of striking a deer in Tennessee, which ranks the state 29th. More than 1.2 million of these crashes occur annually and about 200 are fatal. Serious and fatal crashes involving deer typically result when a motorist loses control of the vehicle and drives off the road or into oncoming traffic. November is the deadliest month, followed by October and December.

Pedestrian Accidents: Back-to-school and early dark both increase the risks for pedestrian accidents. Parking lot accidents are also prevalent through the busy upcoming holiday shopping season. Elderly consumers and children are most at risk.

Drunk Driving Accidents: One-third of the nation's traffic fatalities involve a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That means about 2,000 people will be killed by a drunk driver through the last two months of the year. However, the real number is likely to be even higher, as pro and college football season and the trio of year-end holidays increase the number of drunk drivers on the road.

Aggressive Driving:
Fewer than 60 shopping days left until Christmas! Stressed yet? We all face additional pressure through the holidays. How we handle it is a major determining factor in our risks of being involved in an accident. Speeding, disobeying traffic control devices, driving too fast for conditions and tailgating are all driving behaviors that increase risk. Give yourself a break this holiday season -- and give the drivers around you a break.

Bad Weather:
Now is the time to have your vehicle serviced. Check your tires, your battery and your fluid levels. Being prepared for inclement weather is the first step in reducing the risk of a serious or fatal accident.

Continue reading "Knoxville Injury Attorney Shares Autumn Accident Risks" »

October 18, 2012

Tennessee Trucking Accidents & the Effort to Reduce Your Risks

Congress recently passed a host of improvements aimed at reducing the risk of fatal tractor-trailer accidents in Tennessee and elsewhere. But much work remains to be done.

The $105 billion 2013-2014 transportation bill (MAP-21: Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act), was signed by President Obama in July and is the first long-term highway authorization act passed since 2005. 753303_sunset_on_main_street.jpg

Among the biggest improvements: The creation of a database for drug test results and the electronic logging of drive time. "These rules, along with the new drug and alcohol database, will go a long way towards reducing truck/car fatalities in America," said Steve Owings, who founded RoadSafe America with his wife after their son was killed in an accident involving a commercial semi.

Trucking accident
lawyers understand there are many other improvements that could be made to reduce the risks for millions of motorists who share the road with trucks.

Better Drug Testing:
Even once a drug-testing database is up and running, a Congressional report indicates these federal tests are easily beat. Testing of hair (instead of urine) would drastically increase accountability. The other serious concern is medical exemptions for narcotic pain medication. There are safety concerns about allowing truckers to drive while using narcotic painkillers -- even with a note from their doctor.

Collision Avoidance and Adaptive Cruise Control: Proven technologies, including speed-limiters, should be adapted to help improve safety.

Liability: Shippers and receivers must be held more accountable. The owner of freight has an obligation to ensure its safe transport. Entities hiring truckers to transport goods must be encouraged to put safety ahead of the cheapest transport option.

Trucker Health: The new law will establish a database of certified medical examiners. These doctors will be recognized by the USDOT as qualified to give annual trucker physicals. Under the current system, many drivers allegedly are paying unethical practitioners for the medical results they need to continue driving. However, there are a number of other serious health concerns -- including sleep apnea -- that need to be addressed by federal safety officials.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was formed in 2000 with a primary mission of preventing commercial motor-vehicle related fatalities and injuries and continues to take steps to improve safety. This month, it announced that it was expanding its Pre-Employment Screening Program. While the system allows potential employers to access a driver's immediate past history of accidents and inspections, it requires the driver's written permission.

The system also cannot be used to check the status of current employees -- only drivers under consideration for hire. Moving forward, regardless of who wins the election in November, there must be a renewed focus on the effort to pass some of these common-sense approaches meant to reduce the risk of Tennessee trucking accidents and serious and fatal commercial driving accidents nationwide.

Continue reading "Tennessee Trucking Accidents & the Effort to Reduce Your Risks" »

October 12, 2012

Tragic Tennessee Dog Attack Highlights Owner's Residential Liability

A 4-year-old Union County girl received more than 200 stitches and staples in her face after being attacked by the family's coon hound.

The animal was a rescue dog the family took in several months ago. The animal has been given to the Union County Humane Society. Its fate is uncertain, although the family reportedly thinks it should be euthanized, rather than readopted. Meanwhile, according to news reports, the family is struggling to determine insurance coverage as doctors say the little girl will need months of treatment. 98417_kiva_the_pit.jpg

We are a nation of dog lovers. The Humane Society of the United States reports about 40 percent of U.S. households own 78.2 million dogs. Unfortunately, serious and fatal dog attacks are not uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 4.5 million people are bitten by a dog each year -- or more than 12,000 dog bites per day!

Nearly 1 million victims a year seek emergency medical treatment and more than 30,000 are forced to undergo reconstructive surgery.

Tennessee dog bite law was updated by the legislature in 2007 and now establishes strict liability for dog owners only under certain circumstances. The Dianna Acklen Act of 2007, T.C.A. sec. 44-8-413, provides that dogs must be under reasonable control and not running at large. "A person who breaches that duty is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another."

There is also no liability for injuries that occur on a dog-owner's property unless the victim proves scienter, meaning that the dog owner knew or should have known of a dog's dangerous propensities. The Insurance Information Institute reports more than 50 percent of dog bites occur on a dog owner's property. Thus, under the new law, guests in a dog owner's home may not be covered by his insurance, while strangers on the street enjoy full protection. Tennessee is unique in having passed such a "residential exclusion," which is certain to undergo a battery of legal challenges as these cases make their way through the system.

As it stands now, a victim bitten on a dog owner's property must prove the defendant owned the dog, the dog caused the injuries, and the owner knew or should have known the dog was dangerous. As we see in this case, the rescue dog responsible for the attack could well be "rescued" again by another unknowing family.

The truth of the matter is these cases frequently involve a pet known to the victim, whether a family member's, neighbor's or close family friend's. And children are the most likely victim.

The risks increase as children begin spending more time inside with pets. End-of-year family gatherings and new pets invited into the family during the holidays also increase the risk. While adopting a dog, rescuing an animal or taking in a stray can be admirable alternatives to the pet store, none of these options are without risk. Choose a pet carefully. Supervise its interaction with the family and teach young children how to stay safe around dogs, whether the neighborhood pet or a stray on the street.

Continue reading "Tragic Tennessee Dog Attack Highlights Owner's Residential Liability" »

October 5, 2012

Tennessee Supreme Court Rejects Emotional Distress Claim Against Uninsured Motorist Policy - Garrison v. Bickford

When we purchase uninsured or underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage, we expect our insurance company will be there in the event we are in an accident with a motorist who does not have car insurance or whose policy limits are not sufficient enough to cover the damages suffered.

However, personal injury lawyers understand recovering from your own insurance policy is often no easier than recovering damages from the at-fault driver's insurance policy. When you make a claim, you and your insurance company are in adversarial roles. And, unfortunately, that frequently means you cannot count on being treated fairly without the help of an experienced law firm. 952313_gavel.jpg

Tennessee law requires motorists carry a minimum of $25,000 personal injury coverage per person ($50,000 per accident) and $15,000 for property damage per accident. Unfortunately, even when a motorist carries legal minimums, this coverage is often inadequate in the event of an accident. Think of the cost of one new vehicle and compare that to the $15,000 in total coverage, and you begin to see our state minimums are woefully outdated.

That makes UM/UIM coverage even more important. And motorists should purchase as much coverage as they can reasonably afford. Frequently $250,000 in coverage is available for as little as $75 every six months. This coverage will be a critical resource in the event that you or a family member is involved in a serious or fatal accident.

Whether you have an experienced attorney in the aftermath of such an accident, and how a lawsuit is filed, will also have an impact on the outcome. In August, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Garrison v. Bickford that the "bodily injury" clause of a motorist's UM coverage did not include "emotional distress."

In this case, Jerry and Martha Garrison sued the driver for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress after their son was struck and killed while riding a minibike near his home. They also served the lawsuit on State Farm, their own insurance company, under their uninsured motorist policy.

The trial court determined "bodily injury" included mental injuries. However, that decision was reversed by an appeals court and upheld by the state Supreme Court, which found "bodily injury" in this case, and under this policy, did not include "emotional harm." The court also found the policy's definition of "bodily injury" did not conflict with the state's uninsured motorist statute.

The at-fault driver's insurer paid $25,000 for wrongful death and $25,000 for emotional distress. The parent's insurer paid $75,000 for wrongful death but refused to pay the emotional distress claim, taking the case all the way to the state's high court, where it ultimately prevailed.

You'll note the couple's UM coverage paid more than the at-fault driver's coverage. But it certainly wasn't paid voluntarily by the couple's insurer. Instead the family had to fight for it in the midst of dealing with this terrible tragedy.

Continue reading "Tennessee Supreme Court Rejects Emotional Distress Claim Against Uninsured Motorist Policy - Garrison v. Bickford" »