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Oakland Personal Injury Law Blog

Big rig accidents happen for many reasons

As one of our California readers, living in a state where traveling on the roads is, arguably, the mainstay of transportation and commutation, we know that you may have some fears about driving in close proximity to large commercial trucks. These big rigs don't always pay close attention to passenger vehicles, which can make your time on the road stressful.

Unfortunately, big rig accidents happen all too often. When a commercial truck collides with a smaller vehicle, there's always the possibility that the passengers in the smaller vehicle will suffer a serious injury.

Federal Officials Fail to Protect Public from Fatigued Drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are abandoning planned regulations that require testing for fatigue-inducing disorders for truck drivers and train engineers. Safety experts say that millions of lives will continue to be at risk for accidents caused by fatigued commercial drivers. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have found that driver fatigue is a factor in one third of all commercial truck crashes. Sleep apnea can cause daytime drowsiness and is to blame for multiple train derailments and deaths. The Metro-North Railroad found that 11.6 percent of its engineers suffer from sleep apnea. 

Deadly Truck Underride Crashes Continue to Occur

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that half of the fatal crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles involve underride accidents where the top half of the car is sheared off. Airbags and safety harnesses provide no protection in underride collisions. Underride accidents occur when a car collides with the rear or side of a truck-trailer and submarines underneath. The force of the impact combined with the weight of the trailer can crush or shear off the car's roof. Occupants often suffer severe or fatal head and upper torso injuries and sometimes decapitation.

Big rigs are required to have rear underride guards to keep cars from traveling beneath the back of a trailer. Usually two vertical steel bars support a horizontal bar less than 2 feet from the ground. They are called "Mansfield Bars" named after a deadly underride crash that killed actress Jayne Mansfield fifty years ago. 

Serious Dangers When Buying Used Tires

About 35 million used tires are sold in the United States each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over 11,000 car accidents are caused by tire defects each year and a minimum of 500 deaths occur each year because of tire-related crashes. Old, aged or used tires are common causes of blow-outs and tire de-tread. Used tires often present unseen and unknown danger to consumers. Age, poor maintenance and defects in design and manufacture cannot be seen by the average consumer. Used tire sales are unregulated and used tires cannot be traced to obtain a history of their use.

Used tires are supplied by tire recyclers who obtain used tires from salvage yards, scrap heaps and on the internet. Any tire with a tread over 2/32 of tread depth is resold. Some used tire dealers conceal visual defects and paint the tires to make them look new. Recently a used tire shop in Antioch, California was found to be using a mixture of gasoline and tar to make used tires look better. Used tire dealers are not adequately trained in tire inspection and safety and do not receive recall notices from tire manufacturers. Many do not know how to interpret the DOT code on the tire for information about the tire. 

Broken bones can result in more complicated medical issues

People get into terrible car accidents every day in California. There are some fatalities and often some serious injuries. If you recently experienced a severe car accident, you may consider yourself lucky to have only suffered a broken bone. In some cases, however, that broken bone may develop into something more serious. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), can sometimes develop as a result of broken bones. For those who develop this painful and sometimes debilitating condition, CRPS can impact all aspects of their lives.

Because CRPS is a complex medical condition, it can cause difficulties when working with insurance companies after an accident. Perhaps you accepted benefits based on the broken bone, before you knew that the accident also caused CRPS. Maybe you will need extra help to obtain an accurate diagnosis, as some doctors are not as familiar with this acquired condition. It's impossible to know, before your broken bones heal, what the end result of an accident will be. CRPS is often directly associated with trauma to extremities or broken bones in limbs.

Distracted Driving is an Increasingly Deadly Problem

Fatalities from distracted driving increased from 2014 to 2015 at a faster rate than any other category attributed to human choices, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA estimated that 3,500 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in the U.S. in 2015. Cell phone distractions resulted in 476 deaths in 2015. However, crashes involving cell phones are vastly under reported because police have to rely on what they are told by the drivers.

Forty-six states have laws against texting while driving. Many states, including California, bar drivers from using handheld cell phones for any activity including talking while driving. However, this problem is getting worse every day. In New York, texting tickets soared from about 9,000 in 2011 to 85,000 tickets in 2015. In California, the number of drivers found to be guilty of texting while driving rose to over 31,000 in 2015. 

The Silent Killer in Your Home

A University of California Berkeley graduate watched the Super Bowl on television in his Oakland apartment with his roommate and his girlfriend. During the day and evening they experienced headaches and nausea. The roommate and his girlfriend left. When they returned the next day, they found their friend in bed with his eyes half open, and unresponsive. He was diagnosed with anoxic encephalopathy due to carbon monoxide poisoning. He remains in a persistent vegetative state.

A married couple were recently found dead along with their two cats in a Berkeley, California fourplex. The cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by incomplete combustion. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless to human senses. The density of carbon monoxide is less than that of air and it distributes rapidly within spaces such as apartments. At lower levels, symptoms include headache, malaise, fatigue, slowed mentation, confusion and other neurologic sequelae. When levels become sufficient, unconsciousness and death will occur. 

Catastrophic Falls From Construction Scaffolds

When a construction worker falls from a scaffold, the accident is usually catastrophic. The injuries are life-changing and many times are fatal. The Department of Labor has estimated that 65 percent of the construction industry perform their work using scaffolds.

Most construction projects require a scaffolding contractor to erect and dismantle scaffolding. A scaffolding contractor must be specially licensed. The scaffolding contractor usually contracts with a general contractor to design the scaffolding and drawings or plans are prepared for the type of scaffolding. The erection and dismantling of scaffold must be performed under the supervision and direction of a "qualified" person under Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, known as CAL-OSHA. 

Drunk Drivers Made to Pay High Jury Verdicts

"California juries are fed up with drunk drivers," says Oakland trial lawyer Lew Van Blois. If you drink and drive and cause an accident with injuries, you will not only be forced to pay huge compensatory damages to innocent victims, you may also be socked with punitive damages that will require you to make payments the rest of your life. Punitive damages are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Drunk drivers who cause serious injuries usually are sent to prison.

"Third parties who promote or encourage excessive drinking will be required to pay for the damages a drunk driver causes," states attorney Van Blois. A Santa Rosa, California winery agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who was permanently disabled in an alcohol-related car crash. The passenger who suffered a serious brain injury sued the winery for serving beer to a 19-year-old driver at a wedding reception hosted by the winery. 7-11 later sold beer to the 19-year-old driver and paid an additional $500,000 to settle the case. The driver of the car was convicted of driving under the influence causing bodily injury and was sentenced to jail. 

Unsafe Truck Driving in Winter Weather

Every winter, many people are severely injured or killed by commercial semi-truck drivers who violate the law by driving in adverse weather conditions. It takes longer to stop and is more difficult to turn without skidding when the road is slippery. If the road is very slippery, truck drivers should not drive their trucks at all. Many big rig truck drivers do not slow down during bad weather. Most catastrophic bad weather truck accidents could have been avoided if truck drivers would have followed the law.

The law regarding commercial trucking in bad weather is in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Section 392.14:

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.

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