May 2013 Archives

May 29, 2013

Tennessee Van Accidents a Summer Risk for Teens

Critical injuries were reported following the Tennessee crash of a passenger van carrying 11 people, seven of those being 16-year-old members of a girls basketball team. Two other passengers were under the age of 2.
Our Knoxville injury lawyers understand that the minivan driver, one of the coaches, clipped another vehicle, causing the vehicle to cross over the yellow line into oncoming traffic. At that point, the van smashed nearly head-on into a Camaro.

The incident happened about 20 miles south of Nashville.

The girls were in Tennessee to compete in a basketball tournament. The children were hurt, but were released from the hospital. However, the adult coaches as well as the two adults in the Camaro were critically injured.

In many cases, such accidents involving school travel occur in 15-passenger vans, which are so dangerous the federal government outlaws their use for school transportation. Even though they are frequently used to transport school sports teams, students, day care children, the elderly and church groups. When loaded with more than 10 people, these vans are three times more likely to roll over.

There were more than 1,500 fatal crashes involving 15 passenger vans between 1994 and 2004. A third of those involved a rollover.

One of the biggest problems with these vehicles is that the tires are frequently under-inflated. That in turn leads to higher tire temperatures, which results in faster tire deterioration and stability is significantly diminished. The more passengers you add, the more the center of gravity shifts higher further to the rear. That is going to increase the tendency for a rollover, and it's also going to up the chances that the driver is going to lose control if he or she needs to enact an emergency maneuver.

Another recent passenger van crash this month in Illinois resulted in five deaths and six injuries. The van, which belonged to a church group, reportedly smashed into a median, crossed into oncoming traffic and then rolled over several times. Nine of the 11 individuals were tossed from the vehicle.

Horrific crashes like this are a large part of the reason why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued numerous cautionary advisories pertaining to the use of 15-passenger vans. Among those warnings are those that state the vehicles should not be used to transport school children, as they don't provide the same level of safety as a larger school bus. In fact, federal law forbids schools from purchasing new 15-passenger vans for the purpose of transporting students.

If you or your organization regularly uses a 15-passenger van, take the time to read the following:

  • Make sure the vehicle is properly maintained;

  • Owners should ensure that any drivers are fully-trained and experienced in operating one of these vehicles and also that he or she is properly licensed;

  • Overloading should not be done under ANY circumstances;

  • Make sure that the tires are properly sized and also inflated;

  • Prior to every trip, drivers should check tire inflation and ensure there are no significant signs of wear;

  • Passengers should buckle up each and every time.

Continue reading "Tennessee Van Accidents a Summer Risk for Teens" »

May 22, 2013

Knoxville Motorcycle Crash Awareness Underscored in May

As the weather begins to warm and more motorcycle riders head out to enjoy the rumble and freedom of the road, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging other motorists to be especially mindful.
Our Knoxville motorcycle accident attorneys know that most catastrophic injuries sustained by motorcycle riders are the result of other drivers failing to be cautious.

One of the most common statements investigators hear after a motorcycle crash is, "But I didn't see him." It's not that these folks are lying. They probably really didn't see the motorcyclist - because they weren't looking.

May is national Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, with drivers of cars, trucks and buses reminded that sharing the road means looking twice.

So far this year, there have been 19 motorcyclists killed in Tennessee, with Maryville and Clarksville having the highest rates.

The Tennessee Department of Safety reports that motorcycle crashes have been increasing annually for more than a decade, despite marked decreases regarding other types of crashes.

In Knox County, the number of motorcycle licenses has increased by an average of 5.4 percent each year since 2004, with more than 20,000 people in the county currently holding a motorcycle license.

Along with that, the number of motorcycle crashes has skyrocketed, from 2,300 in 2004 to more than 3,250 in 2008 - a 42 percent increase. The state sees between 140 to 150 motorcycle deaths each year and more than 2,500 injuries. This is despite the fact that we've seen a huge spike in the number of motorcyclists wearing helmets. Just 10 percent of the motorcyclists killed in Tennessee between 1999 and 2008 weren't wearing helmets.

Knox County has a crash rate of 10 per 1,000 motorcycle license endorsements, ranking it 34th out of the 95 counties in the state.

In terms of the deadliest months for motorcycle crashes, summer is unquestionably the leader, with fatalities beginning to spike in May and tapering off in September. That's why May is an especially appropriate time to highlight awareness.

Motorcyclists comprise nearly 15 percent of all highway deaths, even though the number of motorcycle registrations represent just 3 percent of all the vehicles on the road.

And when we look at it on a per-vehicle-miles-traveled basis, motorcyclists are 30 times more likely than operators of four-wheeled vehicles to be killed in a crash and five times more likely to suffer a serious injury.

To help reduce these figures, the NHTSA recommends the following action by fellow motorists:

  • Don't drive distracted or drunk.

  • Allow motorcyclists a full lane width.

  • Always use your turn signals before you merge or change lanes or turn.

  • Check your blind spots before changing lanes or merging.

  • Bear in mind that even a few raindrops can pose a significant hazard to motorcyclists. Be especially courteous of them in inclement weather.

  • Allow yourself more of a distance when you are behind a motorcycle so that he or she can navigate a safe stop or quick maneuver in an emergency.

Continue reading "Knoxville Motorcycle Crash Awareness Underscored in May" »

May 15, 2013

Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Bus Accident Victim May Pursue Injury Claim Appeal

In a unanimous decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled to reverse an earlier finding by an appellate court that federal law barred the wife of a man disabled in a bus accident from pursuing an injury claim.
Our Knoxville bus accident attorneys know that the ruling in Lake v. Memphis Landsmen, a decade in coming, will clear the way not only for this family to pursue just compensation, but also for anyone in the future facing down a similar situation.

According to court records, here is what happened:

In mid-March of 1998, a 60,000-pound concrete truck crashed into an 11,500-pound shuttle bus that was being used to take passengers to and from the Memphis International Airport and a local rental car company.

A passenger who was on that bus suffered severe and permanent brain injuries as a result of the crash.

Subsequently, the man's wife filed a personal injury lawsuit against the bus's owner, the manufacturer, the maker of the bus windows and the franchisor of the rental car business. The claims were for product liability and negligence. The plaintiff contended that the bus wasn't safe because it was not equipped with seat belts, the side windows were made with tempered glass as opposed to laminated glass and the vehicle contained seats that lined the perimeter, instead of a safer forward-facing arrangement.

The driver was also accused of failing to employ reasonable and ordinary care while driving the bus, and that as such, his employer was liable.

The window manufacturer was awarded a summary judgment, while the bus owner and franchisor received a partial summary judgement on the claims of product liability. However, the trial court denied a portion of the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the basis that the claims were preempted by the standards set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association.

At the trial, a physicist specializing in motor vehicle safety testified that the bus did not provide adequate safeguards to protect against occupant ejection.

A jury later found the plaintiffs had sustained more than $8.5 million in damages. However, the jury also found that 100 percent of the blame belonged to the owner of the concrete truck, and that firm had already settled with the plaintiffs prior to trial.

The plaintiffs appealed for a new trial, but the defendants continued to assert that under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 205 and 208, 49 CFR 571.205, .208(1994), the issue with seat belts, window glass and perimeter seating were insufficient to establish negligence or liability. The Court of Appeals then ruled in the defendants' favor.

Now, the Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed that decision, remanding the case back to the appellate court for reconsideration on the basis of Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America Inc., a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that the decision of whether to provide seat belts in a bus is not one preempted by federal regulation and therefore wasn't sufficient grounds to toss out a case of alleged negligence.

So now, the case can move forward. We will be watching the developments closely.

Continue reading "Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Bus Accident Victim May Pursue Injury Claim Appeal" »

May 7, 2013

Deadly Car Accidents Precipitated By Heavy Fog in Mountain Region

Our Knoxville car accident attorneys know that the Great Smoky Mountains are a huge draw to Tennessee, not only for tourists but for year-round residents as well.
The mountains are breathtaking - but can also be deadly, in no small part due to the intense layers of fog that creep along the steep, winding roads.

It was this same kind of fog on a recent Sunday along the Virginia-North Carolina border that resulted in almost 100 vehicles being involved in crashes. In the end, three were killed and 25 more were injured.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that state police in Virginia had determined 17 different accidents occurred along Interstate-95 - all within a one-mile span near the bottom of Fancy Gap Mountain. The crashes started shortly after 1 p.m., and continued on through the afternoon, amid a backdrop of heavy fog.

Officials noted that Fancy Gap Mountain is notorious for having treacherous fog banks. One minute, visibility is normal, and the next, drivers are in a dense fog. It often settles suddenly, giving officials little time to post advance warning signs to travelers.

Since 1997, there have been six similar pileups just on that mountain, though this most recent one was the deadliest, according to reports from The Roanoke Times. Previous crashes resulted in the death of two people each.

Officials said warning signs regarding the severe fog had been posted early that morning, but most of the crashes were the result of drivers who were traveling entirely too fast for the conditions.

The wreck that kicked off a chain reaction involved eight vehicles, a number of which burst into flames. Images from the scene revealed a burned-out tractor trailer and a number of other vehicles that appeared to be crushed but blackened by fire.

Local officials dispatched school buses to pick people up and transport them to area hotels and shelters.

Although Fancy Gap is known for this kind of fog, so are many others in Tennessee.

It's important for drivers traveling through these areas to be prepared for visibility conditions to change at a moment's notice. Fog can make it all but impossible to see even a few feet in front of you.

Driving cautiously and defensively to begin with is a good start.

The Weather Channel recommends that if you do encounter a fog while driving, keep the following in mind:

  • Keep your high beams OFF. They will only result in the light being reflected back to you, which is going to make it even harder to see. Use your low beams.

  • Slow down. Don't base the judgment of your speed off visual cues, either - actually watch your speedometer. The reason is that fog can actually create the optical illusion of slow motion, making you think you are traveling slower than you are in reality.

  • Open your window a bit and turn the radio down or off. Ask your passengers to limit conversation. You want to try to listen for any traffic you may not be able to see.

  • To aid with visibility, use your defrosters and your wipers as necessary.

  • If you are having trouble seeing ahead of you, use the painted road markings or the right side of the road as a guide.

  • Remain patient. Don't try to overcome other vehicles in a fog. You can't see far enough ahead of you to judge whether such a move is safe.

  • Don't stop on the freeway - or any road that is heavily-traveled. If you feel unsafe continuing on, pull off at the next exit. If you must pull over immediately, pull as far away as possible, turn your vehicle's lights off and step as far away as possible from the vehicle to avoid the possibility that you'll be hit by a passing car.

Continue reading "Deadly Car Accidents Precipitated By Heavy Fog in Mountain Region" »

May 1, 2013

Tennessee Tractor-Trailer Accidents & Increased Risk of Underride

Trucks, due to their large size and their unique characteristics, are especially dangerous vehicles when involved in collisions with passenger vehicles. A passenger car is significantly outweighed by a truck, and when a truck and a passenger car get into a crash, a lot can go wrong. One of the biggest dangers, however, is something called an underride accident. 426156_old_truck.jpg

Our Knoxville truck accident attorneys know that an underride crash happens when a car actually slides right underneath a truck. This can cause devastating injuries due to the extensive damage done to the car.

Semitrailers are typically designed with the aim of preventing these types of crashes as a primary concern. But unfortunately there are some design flaws and areas where the design is lacking. A recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) highlights the potential problems that may occur in certain types of crashes involving large trucks.

Crash Test Reveals an Underside Accident Risk

According to the IIHS news release, a new type of crash test was conducted, which involved a car crashing into the back of a very large truck. The test was unique, however, because the car crashed only into a small portion of the rear of the truck.

When the car hit only a small portion of the side rear of the truck, there was a greater chance of the car getting trapped under the truck in an underride accident. As the IIHS points out, this means that the majority of trailers failed in preventing a potentially fatal underride accident.

When an underride accident occurs and the front of the passenger vehicle ends up underneath the bottom of the truck, the top of the occupant compartment is usually crushed or sheared away. Air bags, seatbelts and other safety devices in cars are virtually ineffective in this situation, and head and neck injuries are very common among those in the accident.

Crash Test Shows Underride Crashes a Serious Risk

Because underride crashes are so dangerous, trucks are designed to prevent this scenario from occurring. In fact, trucks are generally required to have steel bars called underride guards that hang from the rear of the trailer, with the aim of preventing a car from slipping underneath the truck.

Unfortunately, these underride guards may not be providing adequate protection. As IIHS points out, earlier studies indicated that the requirements for underride guards in the U.S. were inadequate both in terms of the dimensions and in terms of the minimum strength of the bars.

IIHS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute (NHTSA) to make changes to the standards in 2011 to address these serious issues. IISH also asked NHTSA to apply standards regarding underride bars to certain other types of trucks that were not currently required to have them, such as dump trucks.

NHTSA has not responded to these requests or made any changes. However, Canada has tougher standards on underride bars and has since 2007, so many truck manufacturers have bars that exceed NHTSA standards even when the trucks are sold in the U.S.

The new crash tests, however, indicate that even trucks with better underride bars have vulnerabilities when a passenger car hits a truck from the side rear. Drivers of passenger cars need to be aware of the very serious risk of underride accidents that can exist when an accident of this type occurs.

Continue reading "Tennessee Tractor-Trailer Accidents & Increased Risk of Underride" »