Head / Brain & Spine Injuries
A couple weeks have passed since the last significant crash Aurora Bridge that claimed six lives. Based on a KING5 news story tonight, a safety team of sorts is assembling. Team members are comprised of six individuals from SDOT and two from WSDOT.
The SDOT members include the city’s traffic engineer, two collision analysts, a corridor safety expert and the division manager for transportation. A project manager along with a state traffic engineer and regional administrator will head the team. Additionally, police and other city and state agencies are expected to participate.
Some of the members wear different hats within their agencies and others will focus entirely on their role on this team per KING5 investigative reporter, Glenn Farley.
This time, let’s shine a light on this entire process and ensure that the City and State follow through in making the bridge safer. Rather than focusing on misleading statistics (e.g., the relatively “low” number of crashes), let’s open our eyes to widespread and well-founded concerns of those who must drive on this bridge regularly with the fear of another fatal collision.
I’ve written about the dangers of brain injury for football players before, and knew that it was a matter of time when another tragedy on the football field would claim the life of another player. This time, it was young Kenney Bui of Highline School District.
Seventeen year old Kenney was a student at the Technology, Engineering, and Communications High School on the Evergreen campus. Last week, he went down for an injury in the fourth quarter of a game. After hospitalization, doctors learned that he had a previous concussion weeks before the football game that claimed his life. Not much to say about this, given that the details are scant regarding Kenney’s fatal injuries. Nevertheless, our heart goes out to the family, friends, and teammates of Kenney. We hope that somehow more people grow aware of the risks around football, as much as it’s a beloved sport in our country. There has to be a way to make it safer and less of a risk for brain injuries.
This past Thursday’s deadly Aurora Bridge crash is a wake up call. Some reporters are sounding the alarm. Thanks to these reporters and responsive lawmakers, I have hope that we will see big changes on the Aurora Bridge. My reason for this hope is in large part thanks to Glenn Farley’s investigative piece on KING5 and the article by Seattle Times reporters Mike Lindblom and Joseph O’Sullivan*. These reporters are pressing the important issue, rather than focusing entirely on the clumsy Ducks.
As I previously blogged, the City and the State have known for years that there are fixes to avoid more tragic accidents on the Aurora Bridge. Our firm learned this via depositions when representing victims from the 1998 incident on the bridge (that claimed six lives). Now, we are getting calls from victims and families from this past Thursday’s deadly crash, given our record settlements/verdicts with wrongful death/catastrophic injuries cases in Seattle against the government.
Skeptics claim that a jersey barrier wouldn’t have done anything to prevent this fatal crash between an amphibious Duck and a charter bus. I respectfully disagree, given experts’ reports (from the earlier Aurora Bridge case). These experts explain how certain jersey barriers would deflect and minimize the impact of oncoming traffic.
Times like this, in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, help to provide us with important insights on how we may prevent more needless loss of lives.
NOTE: Nathan Wilson, KOMO TV, executive producer/director at KOMO News also did a story, interviewing our own Keith Kessler, who represented several victims from the previous, high profile Aurora Bridge crash. Check back soon to see a link to that story.
SDOT had plans to install median barrier years ago. That likely would have saved lives and reduced the impact of today’s incident.
A horrific collision involving a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle ground traffic to a halt on the Aurora Bridge earlier today. From reports and eyewitness accounts, apparently the Duck crossed into oncoming traffic.
In a similar case that our firm handled, we deposed SDOT employees. From those depositions, we learned that the State and City has talked about installing a barrier for many years. Stritmatter Kessler Whelan deposed WSDOT and SDOT employees several years ago for a case where a Metro bus driver was shot, and the bus traveled across oncoming lanes on the Aurora Bridge, crashed through the railing and plunged to the ground. At that time, we reviewed plans for adding a pedestrian walkway at a level just below the bridge, enabling the City to remove the sidewalk, and move the lanes over to accommodate the median barrier. Obviously, that was never done. If a barrier had been in place, it would have deflected the impact of the Duck and the deadly crash with the oncoming bus would have never happened.
In 1993, 1994 and again in 1997, in preparation of a resurfacing project, WSDOT considered a median barrier for the bridge. The issue fell through the cracks. The pressing issue at that time was that the structural steel of the bridge was beginning to show signs of deterioration. Thus, repairs needed to be made w/in a 2 year period. Limited funding for anything beyond the basic repairs was a problem for WSDOT. As a result, although everyone recognized the need for a barrier, the project was put off for another day. In fact, it would have cost only an additional $800K – $1.2 M to provide the additional structural support needed for the median barrier. Additionally, the annual economic cost in terms of societal losses exceeds $2 M on that bridge. Given that WSDOT & SDOT have to operate with limited funds, a cost-benefit analysis was warranted for this type of scenario. I certainly don’t mean to second-guess transportation/traffic engineers. However, our firm’s experience with roadway design cases (and in particular w/our case involving the Aurora Bridge) tells us that a barrier would have deflected the Duck vehicle and prevented the most recent tragedy.
Earlier this month NPR reported on the spike in bicycle deaths as more adults opt for two wheels instead of four. Just like many of our cyclist clients, adults want to adopt healthier routines to get around town. But unfortunately, the healthier commuting choice more frequently translates to visits to the hospital
According to the report (citing a study in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association), bike injuries more than doubled between 1998-2013. The age group affected the most is those 45 years old or older.
Why? Simple: More people riding bikes means more cyclists in catastrophic or fatal accidents.
On the flip side, perhaps a more comforting statistic (published last month in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report per NPR), indicated that the number of deaths among child cyclists have plunged. Nonetheless, the same report notes that deaths have tripled among cyclists ages 35 to 54..
With the spike of older age cyclists (in their 50s-60s) who are riding the roads at high speeds, serious bicycle accidents are more likely. A 60 year old does not recover from bicycle accidents the same way a 30 year old does.
So, kudos to you if you want to adopt a healthy commuting lifestyle. But please remember to take it a little slower in congested areas. Wearing a helmet, visible gear, and lights all help others see that you’re there sharing the road.
Maybe owners of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram are just too busy or don’t care if they might lose control over their steering or have a defective rear axle. But their problem is exponentially greater because tens of thousands of owners have not responded to recall notices to fix their vehicles for faulty steering and/or suspension parts. It hasn’t helped that Fiat Chrysler dragged their feet in issuing recalls of over 11 million cars and trucks. Thus, this past July, Fiat Chrysler agreed to pay a record $105 million penalty and to take steps following a government investigation of the company’s handling of 23 recalls involving the >11 million vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demanded that consumers be able to sell their vehicles back to the company if repairs haven’t been completed. Fiat Chrysler has estimated that more than 60 percent of the estimated 500,000 vehicles have already been repaired, leaving them ineligible for a buy back.
Owners of the 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty who hadn’t taken their SUVs in for recall repairs for a faulty gas tank by July 24 are eligible for a $1,000 credit that can be applied toward the purchase of a new Fiat Chrysler car or truck at a dealership. Owners who want to keep their vehicles get a $100 prepaid credit card after their repairs are complete.
Some of the $105 million penalty levied against Fiat Chrysler will go to offering buybacks, trade-in incentives or even cash to some drivers affected by the recalls. The company agreed to make all of these deals available in the next few weeks.
If you drive one of several Ram pickup models, or a 2009 Dodge Durango, a 2009-2011 Dodge Dakota or a 2009 Chrysler Aspen, your car qualifies for a buyback if it hasn’t been fixed yet. Eligible Ram pickups include the 1500 from model years 2008-2009 and the 2500, 3500, 4500 and 5500 from model years 2008-2012. Chrysler said that there are less than 200,000 of these vehicles on the roads.
Why Fiat Chrysler got in trouble: Those models were recalled two years ago for steering issues or loose rear axles. Either problem could cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle. To make matters worse, Chrysler didn’t make enough replacement parts or failed to provide “effective” parts after the initial recall, said Gordon Trowbridge, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Other Ram pickups have also been recalled for steering issues, but Trowbridge said that many more of those vehicles were fixed, so they’re not included in this program.
Solution: Whether you bought your vehicle new or used, bring it into a dealer. They’re required to buy the car back from you at “fair market value,” and to throw in a 10% premium. You can walk away with the all that money in cash, or use the money toward purchasing a new vehicle.
“Fair market value” is the original sticker price of the vehicle minus depreciation. The dealer will negotiate that value with you when you take it in. Check Kelly Blue Book or another used-car value benchmark to see what yours is potentially worth.
Who is eligible for a trade-in bonus
Older Jeep Grand Cherokee models are eligible for a trade in at above-market value. If you have a 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and you haven’t fixed the fuel tank problem it was recalled for, Fiat Chrysler is required to let you trade in your vehicle and give you a $1,000 credit. These Jeeps were recalled back in 2013 for fuel tanks that can leak after a rear-end collision. That issue has been linked to more than 75 deaths.
The fix: Take your SUV to a dealer and trade your Grand Cherokee in for a new car. The trade-in price will again be for “fair market value,” and the $1,000 can only be used toward purchasing another Fiat Chrysler vehicle or dealer parts and services. If you’d rather keep your Grand Cherokee, Fiat Chrysler must give you a $100 gift card (that you can use anywhere) when you take your SUV in to be fixed.
Who is eligible for a $100 gift card: Some Jeep owners can take their car in for a fix and get a $100 gift card. You can also get a $100 gift card for bringing in a 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee or a 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty for a fix. Those vehicles also had concerns about faulty fuel tanks and were involved in recalls or “safety campaigns” by Fiat Chrysler. Solution: Take your SUV to a dealer, have your vehicle fixed or inspected, and get a $100 gift card that you can spend anywhere.
2015 might just easily earn the dubious distinction as the Year of the Historic Recalls. We started off the year with news about the GM ignition recalls and the early months led to a great deal of hand-wringing over the massive Honda/Takata airbag recall. Now, the public is hit with news about the massive Fiat Chrysler recall. Given our firm’s long history of auto products liability cases, we continue to get requests to look at cases involving serious injuries resulting stemming from these recall issues.
Earlier this week, federal regulators slapped a $105 million penalty against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for its failure to complete 23 safety recalls that included over 11 million vehicles. If you’re wondering whether this is the highest civil penalty imposed yet by NHTSA on an automaker for recall violations, then you are right.
This recall also demonstrates an escalation of the agency’s efforts to investigate and punish automakers that do not adequately recall and fix defective models.
“This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the department will act when they do not take their obligations to repair safety defects seriously,” said the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx.
In a statement, the automaker acknowledged the safety violations and agreed to the record penalties.
“We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us,” the company said.
The agency said the civil penalty was broken down into a cash penalty of $70 million, and an agreement that Fiat Chrysler would spend at least $20 million on meeting performance requirements detailed in the consent order. An additional penalty of $15 million will be assessed on the company if an independent monitor, who has yet to be announced, discovers further violations of safety laws or the consent order.
Under the order, Fiat Chrysler is required to buy back as many as 500,000 vehicles with defective suspensions that can cause drivers to lose control. Also, owners of more than one million Jeeps with rear-mounted gas tanks that are prone to fires will be given an opportunity to trade in their vehicles at rates above market value.
Mark R. Rosekind, who took over as the administrator of the highway safety agency last December, said the heavy fine was a direct result of Fiat Chrysler’s prolonged failures to fix recalled models.
“Fiat Chrysler’s pattern of poor performance put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk,” he said.
The agency is authorized to impose a maximum fine of $35 million for an individual recall that is not completed in a timely manner.
The government’s action is the latest in a series of moves by Mr. Rosekind to put more pressure on automakers to fix defective vehicles.
“We need a proactive safety culture in this country,” he told reporters at a recent briefing in Detroit.
In Fiat Chrysler’s case, this month the government took the unusual step of holding a public hearing to focus on 23 separate recalls that date back to 2009. At the hearing, federal officials said the company had repeatedly failed to notify consumers of recalls and to complete repairs in a timely fashion.
The company’s top safety executive, Scott Kunselman, admitted the automaker had made “mistakes and missteps” in conducting recalls. “The agency has raised some legitimate questions,” he said at the hearing on July 2.
The automaker has started several new recalls since the hearing, including one on July 24, 2015 (this past Friday) that covered 1.4 million vehicles vulnerable to computer hackers.“The $105 million fine shows the need for an uncapped penalty,” said Clarence Ditlow, an official of the Center for Auto Safety who first petitioned the government to investigate the rear-mounted fuel tanks in Jeeps.
Fiat Chrysler is currently recalling 1.59 million Jeeps equipped with the rear-mounted gas tanks, which can catch on fire in high-speed collisions.
The company is installing trailer hitches on the affected Jeeps to soften the impact of rear-end collisions. But the rate of repairs in that recall has been slow, government investigators say.
Under the consent order, Jeep owners will have the option to trade in a vehicle for above market value or receive an unspecified payment from Fiat Chrysler to install a trailer hitch.
It’s summer, which means many of us are opting to find creative, less expensive ways to get to the airport. Personally, I’m in the minority among my friends when it comes to ride-hailing services like Uber. Why? I know too much about the insurance pitfalls, and can’t help but think about what might happen in the off chance that me or my family member might get injured as an Uber passenger.
Several days ago at a friend’s BBQ, I ran into one of my favorite neighbors who told me not to hug her too hard because she was involved in a horrible car accident with an Uber driver. When I asked her who was going to help her pay her medical bills, her response: “Good question. We’re still trying to figure that one out.”
This is one of the many problems that I have with ride-hailing services: They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. Why is it that they have escaped regulations and yet can exploit loopholes by calling themselves an “app” provider? They are quasi-taxi services, that have somehow figured out how to avoid the massive fees like medallions that hard-working taxi-drivers must deal with. Despite the many headlines that keep popping up about Uber tragedies, where lack of insurance persists as a critical issue, people are willing to turn a blind eye because they think they’re saving money.
True: In California, Washington and other states, we are seeing more laws pass to address the insurance coverage gap. Thank goodness. But this still doesn’t make things as straightforward as if you were injured in a taxi or your friend’s car. Many Uber drivers have still not disclosed to their insurance companies that they derive some of their income as ride-hailing drivers. Ooops. What do you think their insurers will say, when they find out after their insured gets into an accident with some injured passengers?
Is it worth it, if you find yourself in an accident as an Uber passenger or in a car that an Uber driver hits while it’s carrying Uber passengers? Think long and hard the next time you want to use that clever app. Please.
A little over a month ago, cyclist commuter Daniel Ahrendt was on his way to his web developer job in the Georgetown neighborhood. A lifelong cyclist, Daniel saw that that Monday morning was dry and perfect for cycling. As he made his way westbound on S. Jackson during the rush hour, he was in the bike lane with buses lined up sharing that same lane. As he crossed the intersection, he knew that the sharrows would lead him to the right of a bus directly in front of him. Making the safer choice, he aimed for the left side of the lane. That’s when his bike tire got caught in the streetcar tracks. While he was down, the rear tires of a trolley bus ran over the the lower half of his body.
Just yesterday, a full month after the May 4th incident, Daniel was discharged from Harborview. His devoted parents have stayed by his side through this nightmare (they had learned via social media about Daniel’s incident and hopped on the next plane to Seattle from Hawaii).
While he has a long road to recovery, we are grateful that he is finally out of Harborview to regain some semblance of a “normal” life. In my conversations with him, his eternal optimism and quiet strength distinguish him. While he requires help for the most basic tasks, his fortitude and positive attitude fuel his hope for better days ahead. Full disclosure: SKW attorneys represents injured bicyclist Daniel Ahrendt.