February 2012 Archives

Valuable Car Accident Information Found In Vehicle's "Black Boxes"

February 29, 2012

Much like commercial airliners, most modern motor vehicles come equipped with an "Event Data Recorder" (EDR), more commonly known as a "Black Box". These devices, usually about a square foot in size, continuously record and erase data relevant to the operation of a vehicle in small (6 to 8 second) segments until a significant event, like the deployment of an air bag after an accident, prompts the device to record the most recent information in the long-term memory bank of the EDR.

Information Useful for Accident Reconstruction

The information contained in the Event Data Recorder regarding an accident can help confirm (or refute) the conclusions that crash scene investigators may hold regarding an accident. Such was the case of an accident involving a 2008 Dodge Charger last month. According to the dailyherald.com, while reconstructing the events leading to the crash, investigators had concluded that the vehicle was traveling very fast. The Event Data Recorder confirmed that the car was moving at 142 mph when the crash happened.

Event Data Recorders and Tractor Trailers

Additionally, the information contained in these EDRs may also help the case of the victim of an accident with a commercial truck. While the EDRs currently used in average family cars record only some very basic data, those installed on eighteen wheelers are much more complex and therefore, record much more data. Also, it is important to note that these vehicles usually carry more than one. The most common HV EDRs (Heavy Vehicle Event Data Recorders) are part of the truck's engine control module, while other HV EDRs may be integrated into safety features like a collision avoidance or anti-rollover system. Many trucking companies have added their own tracking/speed systems to monitor driver activity as well as truck location and speed.

Unfortunately, there is no uniformity on the kind or amount of information that an HV EDR will record because each engine manufacturer builds its own HV EDR and decides what kind of information it will record. However, most of the current HV EDRs record data such as the engine rpm, the speed, the vehicle acceleration and the maintenance record, all relevant information to those investigating an accident.

Why Hiring An Experienced Attorney Right Away is Essential

Hiring right away a law firm experienced in handling trucking accidents can be crucial for your case. For example, a lawyer that is not familiar with the fact that there may be more than one HV EDRs in a truck, may fail to look for and collect valuable information that may make (or brake) the client's case. Our firm has won a number of cases based upon data recovered from these EDRs. We employ highly skilled and qualified experts to retrieve the information because the data could be lost if the downloading is done improperly. The information must also be documented so that it will be admissible as evidence at trial. It takes a skilled and qualified legal team to insure that everything is done correctly.

Moreover, legal work on the victim's claim should begin as soon as possible after any accident, especially one with a truck or commercial vehicle. Of course, medical care for the victim comes first. Yet, it is important to hire a knowledgeable lawyer within the first few days following a serious truck accident because it will allow the lawyer to start collecting evidence that can otherwise be lost. For this reason, we immediately send letters notifying the commercial carrier, their insurance company and their lawyer, to preserve the truck, tractor, trailer, container and cargo so it can be inspected by our team of lawyers and experts. Keeping these trucks out-of-service until the inspection process is concluded is critical.

We understand that accident victims usually want (and in most cases, need) to have their vehicles repaired or replaced as soon as possible. However, we recommend that a truck accident victim do not sign away the title or give up possession of their vehicle (to their insurance company or to that of the at-fault driver) before having their own personal injury lawyer examine the car first. In a number of our cases, we keep our client's car, or purchase the salvage of other vehicles involved in the crash in order to preserve evidence and enhance the value of our client's claim.

Similarly, victims of accidents with large commercial trucks must remember that the insurers for the trucking company have their own investigators and attorneys hard at work collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses as soon as the accident is reported. As a matter of fact, these insurance companies usually have fast response teams that are dispatched to the scene as soon as the accident is reported. In an eighteen wheeler fatal crash we are currently handling, the New York lawyer for the insurance company told me that his "expert" responded to the crash scene within hours of the fatality. Shouldn't accident victims have someone working as hard for them from the start?

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Accidents With Tractor-Trailers: An Everyday Occurrence in Florida

February 21, 2012

Unfortunately, accidents involving passenger cars and tractor-trailers are an everyday occurrence in Florida. According to news4jax.com, early yesterday morning, Charles Davis, Jr., a 25-year-old resident of St. Augustine was involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer driven by 39-year-old resident of Cassellberry, Britt Wortman. Apparently, Mr. Wortman was making a U-turn at the intersection of Factory Outlet Drive and State Road 16 and turned into the path of Mr. Davis' car. Mr. Davis was taken to Orange Park Medical Center in critical condition.

Very Familiar Accident Circumstances

The preceding circumstances are very familiar to our firm: we recently represented a young woman that crashed her Honda Civic into the side of a tractor-trailer that made an improper U-turn in front of her on Okeechobee Road. The victim's car was left unrecognizable and she had to be cut out of the vehicle by rescue personnel. The young lady suffered multiple catastrophic injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. For more details on this and other commercial truck accident cases handled by our firm over the years, please visit the Notable Cases section of our website.

Commercial Trucks Keep Getting Larger

When it comes to businesses, there is no greater motivator than profit, which in this case increases as trucking companies are able to move more merchandise per truck. Consequently, commercial trucks keep getting bigger (and heavier) with each passing year. Just to give our readers an idea of the rate of growth of tractor-trailer trucks in the last 50 years, please note that while the combined length of an eighteen-wheeler in the 1960's was about 40 feet, today it can be 57 to 59 feet long.

However, while building larger commercial trucks allows trucking companies to carry more merchandise, it also has other consequences: longer breaking distances because of the trucks' extra weight and greater difficulty driving them because of their ever-increasing length. This greater difficulty to drive these larger vehicles may have been a contributing cause to the accidents mentioned above.

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Ban On Texting While Driving Under Review By Florida Legislature

February 15, 2012

Texting while driving is illegal in thirty-five states and the District of Columbia. Some consider that texting while driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, according to herald-mail.com, the Motor Vehicle Administration of the State of Maryland considers that texting while driving slows down a driver's reaction time as much as if said driver had a blood alcohol level of .16 percent. That is twice the drinking limit in Florida, yet the Sunshine State does not have a ban on texting while driving. I guess that the Florida legislature does not consider those killed by a driver distracted while texting as dead as those killed by a drunk driver...

Often Considered, As Often Rejected

This is not the first time the Florida Legislature considers enacting a ban on texting while driving: one was killed at the committee level last year. The Republican dominated legislature considers anti-texting laws an intrusion into people's lives and points out that it is silly to try to regulate every thing we might do wrong. Moreover, as Jim Harper, Director for Information Policy Studies of the Libertarian Institute points out in support of the Republican position, "we already have laws that make it illegal to drive unsafely", which is what texting while driving is considered.

According to abcnews.go.com, a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute has found that accidents have not decreased in those states where laws against texting while driving have been enacted. In reality they have increased slightly.

In fact, some researchers claim that the bans are making the situation worst by causing some drivers (who know it is illegal to text and drive) to place their cell phones down and out of sight when they text, which makes them take their eyes further away from the road.

Tractor-Trailer Drivers More Likely to Cause Accidents While Texting

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that commercial truck drivers are 23 times more likely to cause an accident when texting while driving. According to this study, which was commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers who text take their eyes off the road for about 4.6 seconds, which means that if the distracted driver is going at 55 MPH, the vehicle will have travelled the length of a football field (including both end zones) without the driver looking at the road.

Although the study found that a trucker's behavior while texting and driving does not differ much from that of other drivers, the inherent dangers of driving large commercial trucks make it more likely for this group to cause accidents. It is well known that due to its weight and size, it takes a considerably larger distance to stop an eighteen-wheeler than it does to stop an average family car. Not to mention that the ever growing size of these commercial trucks is likely to make any such accidents deadlier than those caused by average passenger cars.

The effect of a tractor-trailer driver getting distracted sending text messages while driving is like throwing gasoline on a raging fire. Throughout our careers we have seen how poorly some trucking companies train their drivers, how many of these drivers (driven by the trucking companies' greed as well as their own) work for longer hours than they should, how much larger tractor-trailers are now than 50 years ago and how often these trucks (also in the name of profit) are overloaded or loaded incorrectly. Now, modern life throws in texting while driving and the results could not be deadlier.

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Brother Of NBA's Star Amare Stoudemire Dies In Crash With Tractor Trailer

February 6, 2012

The older brother of New York Knicks' star Amare Stoudemire died early Monday in an accident involving a tractor trailer. According to nytimes.com, Hazell Stoudemire, a resident of Lakeland, Florida, was killed when his 2007 Cadillac Escalade rear-ended a tractor trailer on Highway 27 in Lake Wales. The same article reports that Mr. Stoudemire was not wearing a seat-belt at the time of the accident.

Investigation Continues

The investigation of this case continues and it should be noted that although initial reports have Mr. Stoudemire rear-ending the tractor trailer, all facts are not known yet and it is therefore too early to place blame on anyone involved this accident.

Tractor Trailers Accidents Keep Happening With Alarming Frequency

On a separate note, one more victim has been added to those that perished in the recent pileup on I-75, according to clickorlando.com. The eleventh victim was a man traveling with his wife and daughter in a Dodge pickup truck that crashed into a tractor trailer as it travelled South early Sunday.

The investigation also continues in this recent multiple crash, according to ocala.com. Six tractor trailers were involved in that crash which, in addition, caused injuries to 18 people.

All survivors talk about suddenly "hitting a wall of smoke" and that from there on visibility was close to zero. As a matter of fact, ACFR District Chief Jeff Harpe stated to the press that upon approaching the scene and "hitting the wall of smoke" he couldn't see the hood of his own truck. I imaging that any driver reaching such conditions would instinctively slow down and stop. However, professional truck drivers are taught to lead their vehicles on to the shoulder of the highway and stop, which leaves me wondering why so many of these initial reports talk about a number of eighteen wheelers being rear-ended after stopping on the right lane...

It does not look like these professional truck drivers followed protocol and stopped their large commercial trucks out of "harms way" on the shoulder. Could it be that there was just not enough time for them to react and do what they were trained to do? Or, could it be that they were just too fatigued after many long hours at the wheel to react as fast as needed? I am sure the ongoing investigation will shed some light on this event and give us an idea of who, if anyone, failed to follow protocol. Yet, we cannot help but wonder why these trucks were stopped on the right lane and not on the shoulder of the highway as protocol dictates. After all, in our many years of practice we have seen how commercial truck drivers are forced by their employers to drive longer hours than they should and/or received very poor training by these same employers.

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Authorities Still Trying To Identify Victims From Gainesville Pileup

February 1, 2012

While many are questioning the decision to reopen the stretch of I-75 where the car pileup happened in the early morning hours of last Sunday, authorities are still trying to identify some of the victims of the fiery crashes that occurred near Gainesville. The latest victim was identified as Christie Nguyen, a 27 year old college student. Ms. Nguyen was the 7th victim to be identified. Authorities are still trying to identify three bodies that were badly burnt in their vehicles, making the process hard to complete.

No Federal Guidelines To Shut Down Roads

Apparently, there are no federal guidelines for the closure of highways. Be it a sandstorm in Arizona, a whiteout in Maine or a wildfire in Florida, the decision to shut down a highway rests with local state troopers, according to cbsnews.com. Typically, those on the scene will relay to their local supervisors information based on their visual appreciation of the conditions and these supervisors will then make a decision to close the highway or not.

Closing a highway can be a costly decision, given the volume of merchandise that's moved through our road system in large commercial trucks everyday. Timely delivery of those goods affects the profitability of trucking companies and freight forwarders alike. Therefore, local troopers "making the call" are likely to be under a lot of pressure to reopen a road.

However, there is no evidence that such was the case when troopers decided to reopen the stretch of I-75 where the pileups occurred. This part of the highway had been shut down earlier due to a previous accident. However, after being closed for three hours, a sergeant and a lieutenant from the Florida Highway Patrol decided that conditions had cleared enough to reopen the road. Apparently, conditions quickly deteriorated soon thereafter, causing the fiery pileups that ended up costing the lives of ten people and injuries to 18.

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