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GM-lawsuits-400-08334845dA federal appeals court recently overturned a ruling by a federal bankruptcy judge that protected the reorganized General Motors Co. from lawsuits over defective ignition switches, and now the company potentially faces billions of dollars in liabilities.

The appeals court stated that when the company referred to as Old GM filed for bankruptcy back in 2009, it knew about the problems with its ignition switches but failed to disclose that information to the bankruptcy court. Those problems reportedly caused certain GM cars to stall unexpectedly leading to accidents, which have been linked to about 275 injuries and almost 125 deaths.

Terms of the bankruptcy protected the reorganized company, referred to as New GM, from most of the claims against Old GM, but the appeals court said that protection was tantamount to rewarding the company for concealing information. To learn more about this decision, read “Court Ruling Opens GM to Billions in Death, Injury Claims.”

Artificial turf - picture of goal net on artificial turf fieldArtificial turf as an alternative to natural grass has been growing in popularity, especially in athletic field applications. Durability and low maintenance costs are among the benefits often cited. And now, new manufacturing technologies have yielded a surface designed to be even softer and more yielding to help prevent injuries. However, the safety of long-term exposure to this new surface has come into question.

Recent reports suggest the possibility of a link between student athletes who play on artificial fields made from crumb rubber and those who have been stricken with cancer. Those numbers have increased over the past several years, raising the concern of parents, coaches and even doctors. See the NBCNews article, “Mom of Goalie Who Died of Cancer Wants Answers on Artificial Turf.”

Crumb rubber turf is made from recycled tires which, themselves, contain carcinogenic materials. This has led to the question of whether or not playing on artificial surfaces made from this material is increasing our children’s risk of cancer.

marijuana-400-06327115dDrivers know that it is illegal to drive under the influence (DUI) or to drive while intoxicated (DWI) no matter where in this country they are travelling. In New Jersey, as in most states, the legal limit is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration higher than that can lead to serious penalties. These stiff penalties, coupled with anti-drunk driving campaigns, seem to have had a positive impact; in fact, recent data shows that drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true for driving under the influence of marijuana.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released results of a survey of drivers travelling on weekend nights. The survey showed that while 8.3% of the drivers questioned had some traces of alcohol in their system, 12.6% were positive for THC, up from 8.6% in 2007. THC is the primary ingredient in marijuana. In light of this trend, researchers now are considering whether or not a legal limit for marijuana use, much like the legal limit for alcohol consumption, can be established and, if so, how. Details of this research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse can be found in the Time magazine article, “How Much Does Marijuana Impact Your Driving?

Toyota-recall-400-06061542dHybrid cars may be safer for the environment, but they aren’t immune to defects. In fact, Toyota recently issued a worldwide recall that is expected to affect over 600,000 Prius hybrid models, which can unexpectedly stall due to software settings that could cause the cars to overheat. See the Associated Press article on www.nj1015.com, titled “Toyota recalls 625,000 hybrids worldwide.”

Usually if you purchased your vehicle new and it is recalled, you will be notified by mail. If you purchased the vehicle used or if you don’t receive the recall notification for some other reason, what should you do to make sure your vehicle is not the subject of any safety issues? Tara Baukus Mello details the steps you should take in the event of a vehicle recall in an article titled “What to do if your car is recalled” appearing on www.bankrate.com.

dog-bitesAll too often people are drawn in by the cuteness of puppies and undertake the responsibilities of pet ownership without giving adequate thought to what that actually involves. This can be especially true around the holidays. And while that little ball of fluff initially may be met squeals of delight, pet ownership is a lifetime commitment that carries both responsibilities and liabilities.

Generally speaking, people do not set out to buy or adopt vicious dogs, but all dogs have the potential to bite under the right circumstances. There are roughly four-and-a-half million dog bites reported each year in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control, which added that one in every five of those dog bites are serious enough to require medical attention. About 65% of the victims who require emergency medical attention are between the ages of five and nine.(1) The individual responsible for injuries suffered from a dog bite depends in part on where the dog lives and the circumstances surrounding the attack.

New Jersey, like many other states, operates under a strict liability statute concerning dog bites, meaning the dog’s owner is liable for those injuries regardless of whether or not the owner took adequate measures to restrain the dog or warn or protect others of a potential danger. This “strict liability” statute applies only to injuries from dog bites. If a dog were to run into the street causing a person to fall or crash their car, the statute would not apply. The injured person seeking to recover damages would have to file a claim of negligence instead.(2)

When a person is injured by a dog bite in New Jersey, he or she has two years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit. In order for a victim to seek damages, he or she does not need to prove negligence or carelessness on the part of the dog owner. Victims only need to show that they were bitten; that the person they are seeking damages from is, in fact, the owner of the dog; and that the attack took place while the victim was on public property or lawfully on private property, meaning they were on private property by invitation or in the course of carrying out official duties as allowed by law, such as delivering mail or reading utility meters.(2)

Some states with strict liability statutes allow a provocation defense which releases the dog owner of liability if it is proven that the victim provoked the dog through abuse or teasing.  New Jersey, however, does not have such a defense. Essentially, the only defense against liability for dog bite injuries is if the dog owner can prove the victim was illegally trespassing on the dog owner’s private property.(2) Continue reading

spectator-injuriesStories about professional and student athletes suffering game-related injuries are common in the news and recently have led to stricter rulings concerning practice drills to help ward against heat-related injuries and improved safety equipment to guard against concussions and other impact-related injuries. But what happens when spectators get injured at sporting events? Who is liable then?

The answer relies largely on the circumstances surrounding the injury. Different injuries can have very different outcomes, as illustrated by the following cases.

The first case involves a New Jersey woman who fell down an elevator shaft as she was exiting the stadium at Fenway Park in Boston, MA. It was reported last week that the 22-year-old filed a lawsuit on December 18 against the owners of Fenway Park and the Connecticut-based elevator company, Otis, for injuries she sustained in the fall. According to the reports, the elevator door swung inward “like a doggie door” after the woman “brushed against” it, creating a fall hazard. She then fell down the elevator shaft, sustaining injuries to her brain, spine and face, resulting in medical expenses in excess of $250,000.(1)

In a separate case, a New Jersey mother lost her appeal of a suit she brought against her local school board, claiming the board’s failure to put up a protective fence led to injuries she sustained while attending her son’s high school baseball game. While sitting in the stands watching the pre-game warm-up, the woman suffered injuries to her face after being hit with a baseball. The N.J. Appellate Court determined that a Superior Court judge was correct in his earlier ruling that the woman had failed to show that the board’s failure to build a higher fence was “palpably unreasonable” and, as a result, her claim against the school board was denied.(2) Continue reading

toy-safetyThis is the time of year when parents and other well-meaning adults rush to satisfy the holiday wish lists of children everywhere. A recent study, however, reminds shoppers of the need to balance the wants of the child with safety.

The recently released study was the first long-term look at toy-related injuries in children younger than 18 years old and covered the period between 1990 and 2011. According to this study, toy-related injuries increased by 40% over the past two decades, accounting for 195,363 emergency room visits by children in 2011, an increase over the 121,249 emergency room visits in 1990. The rate of toy-related injuries for every 10,000 children rose to 26.9 in 2011 from 18.9 in 1990.(1) These numbers, however, only represent those children treated in emergency departments and not at doctors’ offices or urgent care centers.(2)

This increase in injuries was attributed largely to foot-powered scooters. The rate of injuries related to other toys, ranging from toy food to toy weapons, essentially remained steady during that same period.(1)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which publishes annual safety reports on products including toys, however, contends that the overall rate of toy-related injuries has remained steady since 2009, but agrees that ride-on toys, particularly scooters, lead the list of dangerous toys. For 2013, the CPSC reported 52,500 scooter-related injuries among children.(1)

Since 2008, federal law has mandated that all toys designed for children age 12 or younger and sold in the United States must first be tested by a third party for safety regardless of where the toys were manufactured. Prior to 2008, this safety standard was voluntary.(3) Continue reading

guardrails-PI-blogIn another case of what may be safety equipment doing more harm than good, states across the country are joining in a boycott of certain guardrail end terminals manufactured by Trinity Highway Products, LLC, a business of Texas-based Trinity Industries, Inc. Last week New Jersey became the thirty-first state to join this ever-growing list when the State’s Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which also oversees the Garden State Parkway, announced they were banning the use of these products in both new construction and maintenance projects  at least until further safety tests can be conducted.(1)

The end terminals in question, part of Trinity’s ET-Plus System, have been connected to about 14 motor vehicle accidents that reportedly resulted in numerous injuries and at least 5 deaths. In theory, guardrail end terminals, when struck, are supposed to move with the vehicle and absorb at least some of the impact of the crash. According to reports, the ET-Plus end terminals have a tendency to lock rather than move when hit head-on by the front of an oncoming vehicle. This can result in the guardrail cutting through the oncoming vehicle like a spear. Numerous injuries, including amputations, have been blamed on this malfunction.(1)

These allegations from crash victims were the topic of a broadcast on “20/20,” the investigative news program produced by ABC television, last September. Then, last month, a Texas jury found the parent company, Trinity Industries, guilty of defrauding the federal government by covering up a change in the product’s design. According to reports, the company made modifications to the design of its guardrail end terminals in 2005, but failed to report those changes either to federal or state transportation officials at the time. The change in question reduced by an inch the size of a metal piece used in the guardrail end terminal. This change, it was reported, saved the company about $2 on each guardrail it produced for an estimated savings of $50,000 per year.(2)

400-04558858Almost 20% of the cars and trucks on the road today have been the subject of a safety recall, making this the worst year in history for U.S. car makers.(1) Recalls have been issued for more than 50 million vehicles this year, surpassing the previous record of 30 million vehicle recalls in 2004. Despite these numbers, about one-third of drivers are said to ignore the recall notices they receive, an indication that the current warning system is not as effective as federal regulators would like.(2)

The most recent recall involves defective airbags manufactured by the Japanese firm, Takata, and this recall affects about 14 million cars from 11 manufacturers worldwide.(2) In this country alone, almost 8 million vehicles from 9 manufacturers already have been recalled for this issue. Currently, recall efforts have been concentrated in the warmer, more humid regions because those climate conditions are thought to aggravate the problem; there is pressure, however, expand the recall to all affected vehicles nationwide.(4)

This latest recall has been especially troubling as it involves a major safety feature of the vehicles. The airbags, which are intended to protect passengers in the event of an accident, either are not expanding correctly upon impact or exploding. It is believed the propellant in these airbags, which is designed to burn and produce the gas that causes the airbags to inflate, is too strong. As a result, the container can rupture, flinging metal fragments into the car, injuring or killing passengers.(2)

Because of the seriousness of this defect, federal regulators have been urging vehicle owners to take immediate action. Currently, however, there are not enough parts available to repair all impacted vehicles. Some manufacturers are offering to deactivate the airbags and post a warning sign in the vehicle to remind people not to use the front passenger seat until the airbags can be repaired,(1) a solution that is impractical for many. Temporary solutions, such as this, lead to consumer frustration.

One of the reasons behind the rise in recalls may be that federal prosecutors are holding auto makers more accountable for injuries resulting from defects in their vehicles. Earlier this year, Toyota was fined $1.2 billion dollars for its shortcomings in connection with a recall of 10 million of its vehicles. Examples such as this could possibly encourage other auto manufacturers to be more forthcoming in announcing recalls.(1) Continue reading