March 2013 Archives

March 28, 2013

Tennessee Rafting and Canoe Accidents Present Spring & Summer Dangers

In Tennessee, spring and summer time are celebrated because they provide an opportunity to be outside and to do outdoor activities. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with the Tennessee-North Carolina border, attract people from all over the world to partake in hiking, canoeing and whitewater rafting. These activities can be great adventures and can be a lot of fun, but unfortunately they can also sometimes turn deadly. 1304208_another_day_at_the_cottage.jpg

Our Knoxville injury lawyers know that the warmer weather season significantly increases the number of people coming to Tennessee to canoe or raft. Unfortunately, both visitors and locals are in danger of getting hurt when they are out on the water, unless appropriate safety precautions are taken.

Accident at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tragically, on March 12, 2013, the News Observer indicated that a casualty had already occurred this year as a result of canoeing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The death involved a 65-year-old man visiting from Bridgenorth, Ontario. The man was with a group of fellow Canadians, all of whom were enthusiasts of white water rafting and who had come to visit Little River for an outdoor canoeing excursion.

Unfortunately, while running the Little River, the 65-year-old man's canoe overturned. As a result, he was swept downstream and was unable to get out of the water or back into his canoe. For approximately 30 minutes, he was trapped under the surface.

His fellow canoeists tried to rescue him, working to pull him out of the water and to give him CPR. Emergency personnel were contacted and came to the scene, finding the older man with a heartbeat and breathing at the time. The older man was put into an ambulance and taken to a hospital, but unfortunately he died as a result of the accident.

Who is Responsible When an Accident Happens?
This tragic canoeing accident raises many important questions, especially as people start to plan their spring and summer trips and consider going whitewater rafting or canoeing.

One of the biggest and most important issues is the extent of responsibility that the whitewater rafting or canoeing company has to visitors. For example, a company may set up whitewater rafting or canoeing excursions or may simply provide canoes or rafts for rental. In any case, once a company is involved, they have some duty to their guests or patrons to look out for their safety.

Canoeing and whitewater rafting companies will usually have customers sign a liability release absolving them of liability in the event of injury. Even when a liability release is in place, however, this does not mean that victims of accidents cannot sue whitewater rafting or canoeing companies. Liability releases only help the company to avoid being responsible for customary and expected risks; releases don't absolve them of all liability.

If a canoeing or white water rafting company is unreasonably negligent or careless in their acts or policies, then they can generally be held legally liable, even with a signed liability release. For example, a company that rents a canoe or allows a whitewater rafting excursion when they know the weather is bad and conditions are dangerous, or a company that uses equipment that is not properly maintained, can be held legally responsible for any damages caused by their actions.

The injured victim will need to show that the company was responsible in some way that is not covered by any liability release. If he or she succeeds, the victim can obtain compensation including payment of medical bills and lost income as well as damages for pain and suffering and other loss.

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March 21, 2013

Tennessee Car Accident Toll on Roadside Signs Faces Opposition

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently begun using the 151 electrical highway signs in the state to send a message to drivers. The message: people die every day from car accidents. The DOT is sending this message by posting on the sign the total number of traffic fatalities in the state, year-to-date.

Our Knoxville accident lawyers know that there are thousands of people who die on the roads each year and that there are many more who suffer injuries as a result of car wrecks. Unfortunately, many drivers don't really think about these tragic deaths and may not pause to consider that their driving choices could have very real consequences. By posting the fatality count, the Tennessee DOT hopes to make drivers more aware. However, not everyone agrees with this controversial new effort.

Controversy Over DOT Signs
According to WBIR, there are some people in the state of Tennessee who are complaining that the electronic count of the number of car accident deaths is too gruesome. The electronic signs were traditionally used to announce things like lane blockages, and some do not believe that they should now be used to count up the number killed in traffic collisions.

Others, however, believe that these DOT signs are serving an important purpose and hopefully saving lives. The sister of one drunk driving victim, for example, indicated that she believes that the signs are a reflection of real people who were lost and are more than just statistics. She is an advocate for the signs because they remind drivers of those who have been killed.

Are the Signs Working?
According to WBIR, officials indicated that it is a good thing the signs are drawing so much discussion, even if the talk focuses, in part, on the controversy. Because people are talking about them everywhere, the signs are drawing attention to the high number of car accident deaths in Tennessee and making people think.

The signs may already be having a positive effect on reducing the number of deaths occurring in the state. As WBIR reports, there were 1,013 car accident deaths in Tennessee in 2012. This was 75 people more than the number who died in 2011, which is a huge increase. However, the majority of this increase occurred in the first portion of the year before the signs were put up.

During the first three months of 2012, there were 64 more deaths than during the same period of time in 2011. If the disturbing increase in auto accident deaths continues at this pace for the rest of the year, then it is likely that more than 1,200 people will lose their lives in Tennessee accidents.

After the signs began counting fatalities, however, the number of car accident deaths leveled off. Although this is anecdotal and more studies will need to be done on an ongoing basis to see if the signs are really playing a role in reducing the number of deaths, it is clear that reminding people of the consequences of car accidents cannot hurt efforts to reduce the risks we all face on the road.

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March 14, 2013

Tennessee Teen Car Accident Fatalities Highest in the Nation

Figures recently released by the Governors' Highway Safety Association indicate that Tennessee is No. 1 in the country (tied with Indiana) for the most teen car accident fatalities. objectsinthemirrorseemfar.jpg

Our Knoxville car accident lawyers know that this is a distinction desired by no one. More must be done to curb this troubling rise, though it's worth noting the same pattern was recorded nationwide. Overall in the U.S., teen traffic fatalities rose from 201 in the first six months of 2011 to 240 in the first six months of 2012. That's a nearly 20 percent increase.

In Tennessee, we reported nearly three times as many fatalities, from six teen fatalities in the first six months of 2011 to 16 in the first six months of last year. In all, the teen fatality numbers increased in 25 states, saw a decrease in 17 states and saw no change at all in eight states. Of those that increased, six states - including Tennessee - did so by more than five deaths, which is statistically significant.

This represents a shift in the trend we have seen recent years. Officials had hoped that graduated driver's license programs, bans on behind-the-wheel texting and cell phone use for teens, and awareness initiatives were working to turn the tide. But it doesn't appear to be enough, as ever-evolving technology means that distractions remain a top problem for teens behind the wheel. Additionally, the report indicates, far too many 16-and-17-year-old drivers and passengers aren't wearing their seat belts.

We may also have the economy to blame for some of it. Improvements mean that more teens have access to jobs, which means spare cash which translates to gas money. More teens are on the road when the economy is growing.

The number of fatalities involving 16-year-old drivers compared to 17-year-old drivers was about the same. The report indicated that in the first half of 2011, there were 107 16-year-old driver fatalities, compared to 116 involving 17-year-old drivers. In the first half of 2012, there were 86 fatalities involving 16-year-old drivers, versus 133 involving 17-year-old drivers.

More definitive data will show annual trends and is expected to be released later this year.

Jacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, has been quoted as saying that the results of this study should be a strong motivator for governors and state legislators to push and approve stricter teen driving laws.

It appears that such measures do actually make a difference. In 2000, there were more than 430 drivers age 16 who were killed that year. That figure had been slashed to less than 175 by 2011. Same thing with 17-year-old drivers, of whom about 565 died in traffic crashes in 2000, compared to 250 total in 2011.

While legislators have an important role in this, parents do too. Set a good example for your teen driver by obeying all local driving laws and refraining from cell phone use or texting while you're driving. Spend time with your child - up to 100 hours in the car, with your teen behind the wheel - teaching him or her how to drive. Give him constructive critiques and teach him to keep his temper in check. Set and stick to consequences for bad behind-the-wheel behavior.

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March 7, 2013

Knoxville Truck Accident Nearly Killed Trooper Now Results in Charges

It's been almost a year since a trucker from Florida fell asleep at the wheel of his rig in West Knoxville, slamming into a police cruiser that then burst into flames, critically injuring the sergeant inside. truck1.jpg

Now, our Knoxville truck accident lawyers understand that truck driver has been indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges of aggravated assault, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and failure to drive within a single lane of traffic.

The 57-year-old truck driver admitted to emergency responders that he had been so tired just before the wreck, he had been splashing his face with cold water to stay awake. He had been hired by the Orlando-based trucking agency just two weeks before.

Alcohol is not believed to have been a factor in the crash.

Immediately after the wreck, the truck driver ran to the aid of the officer, helping to pull him from the cruiser, with the help of paramedics who happened upon the scene on their way back from transporting a different patient to the hospital. Paramedics also suffered burns as a result.

The trooper inside the burning vehicle, meanwhile, nearly died. He had his emergency lights flashing and was parked on the shoulder of the highway when the crash happened. Although it was touch-and-go for some time, he was later transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he underwent months and months of intensive physical therapy. He has since returned home, but he has not been able to go back to work.

The truck driver is reportedly working to negotiate some sort of plea deal, though the details of what that might look like aren't yet clear. The driver is said to be devastated by the crash and wracked with guilt over the injuries suffered by the trooper.

No doubt, most people who are involved in fatal or near-fatal accidents don't set out that day to do so. But truckers who fail to adhere to hours of service restrictions or continue to drive when it's obvious even to them that they are too tired to do so must be held accountable. In cases where the company's scheduling prohibits adherence to federal hours of service operations, they too need to be held accountable.

According to the the AAA Foundation, it's not just truck drivers, either. While nearly all drivers surveyed in 2012 reported that driving drowsy was a risk to their safety and was unacceptable, almost a third admitted to being so tired behind the wheel within the last month that they could barely keep their eyes open.

It's estimated that about 17 percent of all fatal crashes involve drivers who were sleepy.

Every single driver has a responsibility to ensure he or she is alert and oriented to the road ahead. If you need to pull over and take a nap, do so. Here are some key warning signs that you need to stop driving:

  • Your eyelids are getting heavy or you have difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused;

  • You are having trouble keeping your head up;

  • You find yourself rubbing your eyes or yawning;

  • You are missing traffic signs or signals or driving past your exit;

  • You can't remember the last few miles you drove;

  • You have drifted from your lane or hit the rumble strips.

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