Insurance

Driverless cars have a “driver” says NHTSA

Uber's driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

Uber’s driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Uber is working with my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, to test its driverless cars. A little over a year ago, Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center opened in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, Uber has been revving up its autonomous car testing team. Now, you can find its Self Driving Vehicle (SDV, a.k.a fully autonomous vehicles, i.e. driverless cars) out on the roads of the Steel City to test its real world capabilities.

While driverless cars seems like a solution for Uber, legal issues remain. Sure – SDVs may omit all of the driver-related legal issues that continues to haunt Uber. Bur new and not fully resolved issues emerge. For one, NHTSA has considers the “driver” of SDVs to be the system itself. Thus, in response to Google’s own inquiry (a different project than Uber’s) NHTSA indicated that for Google’s SDVs, the system is deemed the “driver”. This leads us back to the question of who or what is the driver of an SDV.

How might this get parsed for insurance coverage? Good question. The insurance industry will get back to us on that.

According to a McKinsey & Company report suggested how they might do so:

Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs, as opposed to protecting private customers from risks associated with human error in accidents. This change could transform the insurance industry from its current focus on millions of private consumers to one that involves a few OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and infrastructure operators, similar to insurance for cruise lines and shipping companies.

In all probability, liability arising from a car crash with a driverless system will trace back to the manufacturer. This concern may discourage a lot of potential manufacturers from leading the race to develop the best autonomous systems. But, Google, Uber and GM–among other companies–are certainly investing a lot of time and money into developing SDVs.

Remember, too, that Google’s self-driving cars have already gotten into a few minor accidents. As we all know, technology is not perfect. And when technology fails, the SDV manufacturers will be the ones burdened with huge liabilities. Time for them to start getting more insurance, while perhaps not so much for individual consumers.

WA Supreme Court decision is unanimous: Government has a duty to provide safe roads

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers' view of oncoming traffic.

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.

Often my heart swells with pride for the work that my firm does because the results from our cases truly make our state safer for everyone. Today is one of those days: In a unanimous decision in Wuthrich v. King County, the Washington State Supreme Court held that a municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address overgrown roadside vegetation that makes the roadway unsafe for drivers approaching an intersection.

Today’s decision advances roadway safety for anyone who travels the roads in Washington State. As our state’s highest court maintains: A municipality has the overarching duty to provide reasonably safe roads and must be held to the same standards as that applied to private parties.

Our state’s supreme court now explicitly rejects old law that held that a municipality’s duty is limited to mere compliance with applicable law. Moreover, an “inherently dangerous condition” does not exclusively depend on a condition that “exists in the roadway itself.” A hazard may exist as a situation along a highway, such as overgrown bushes that obstruct drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.

The decision today stems from a June 2011 lawsuit that Guy Wuthrich filed against Christa Gilland and King County. Guy was riding a motorcycle on Avondale Road NE in King County, approaching an intersection with NE 159th Street on June 20, 2008 at about 5:15 PM. Drivers on 159th St. have a stop sign at the intersection, but drivers on Avondale Road do not. Christa Gilland was driver a car on 159th Street. When she reached the intersection with Avondale Rd., she stopped to wait for passing traffic. She did not see Guy approaching from her left. She turned left onto Avondale Road and collided into Guy’s motorcycle, resulting in serious injuries to Guy. The lawsuit alleged that the County was liable for Guy’s injuries because the wall of overgrown blackberry bushes on County property obstructed Ms. Gilland’s view of traffic at the intersection. The trial court dismissed the action against the County on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split decision.

Some of you may have already seen our Ray Kahler argue before the Supreme Court. But, in case you missed it and want to hear some stellar arguments, click here.  Kudos to the entire team, including Ray, Keith Kessler, Garth Jones and Brad J. Moore.

Please help Ride the Ducks Victim for living & recovery expenses

Ride the Ducks victim needs help for basic living expenses as she recovers.

Ride the Ducks victim needs help for basic living expenses as she recovers.

On September 24, 2015, 18-year-old Phuong Dinh snapped photographs from her window seat in a charter bus filled with other North Seattle College students as it motored across the Aurora Bridge.

“And then, ‘Bam,’ ” she recalls. “Nothing else. Just flashes after that. I would faint. Then I would be awake and very bad pain all over. Then I would faint.”

Later in a hospital bed, memories from a deadly crash flooded back: She remembered blood covering her face and dripping down. She saw a bone piercing through the skin of her left leg.

The left side of Phuong’s body was crushed. She suffered a broken wrist, arm, hip, knee, and extensive facial lacerations.  Now, four surgeries later and almost three months after the crash, Phuong spends her days in a Central District nursing facility in Seattle, slogging toward recovery and worrying about her future.

Phuong cried often during her initial weeks in the rehab facility.  Now she says she doesn’t cry as much because she is getting used to the pain. Phuong’s main concern now is learning to walk again. Still unable to bear weight on her left leg, the bones of which are now reinforced with metal rods and screws, she mostly needs to use a wheelchair.

Aside from the continuing health-care costs which will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Phuong’s parents have paid their own travel from Vietnam to Seattle, and while they’ve had their lodging covered by the Salvation Army, they worry about the future.

Phuongs’s father, Hiep, who runs a family construction business, remains in Seattle. Her mother, Thao, has had to fly back and forth to Vietnam to also care for Phuong’s 3 year old sister and 6 year old brother.  The little kids are staying with their grandparents and a nanny.

Once Phuong gets out of the nursing home the family will have to figure out how to care for her so that she can attend school.  A host family is probably no longer possible due to Phuong’s physical disabilities and need for accommodation.

Funds raised will go towards basic living and recovery expenses for Phuong and her family. 

A message from Phuong: “Thank you for caring for me and my family. Knowing I have your support means the world to me.” Visit her fundraising site here. Thank you for considering giving, during this difficult time for Phuong.

Ride the Ducks victim hopes to get needed health care

 

SKW client, Phuong Dinh, continues to recover from the Ride the Ducks crash. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

SKW client, Phuong Dinh, continues to recover from the Ride the Ducks crash. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

A few days ago, news reported the plight of SKW client, Phuong Dinh, 18 year old international student, who was seriously injured in the Oct. 2015 Ride the Ducks crash. With a long way to go in her recovery, she also had to worry about losing her health coverage. Please read about the wonderful turn of events in today’s Seattle Times article,”Ride the Ducks crush victim to get help from state, college.

Deadly Aurora Bridge accident is a wake up call.

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.

Weighing the Pros/Cons of Uber and Lyft

UBER PDX

On January 13, 2015, around 70 of Portland’s 460 Taxi cabs protested fair taxi laws by parking in Pioneer square. Organizers want city leaders to make ride-sharing companies play by the same rules as cabs and Town cars.(Photo: Aaron Parecki)

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.

 

 

Were you affected by the Anthem data breach?

We are actively investigating a class action lawsuit against Anthem for Washington State consumers. We have spoken with a few individuals who have already received a notice of the data breach. If you know of someone in Washington who was insured with Anthem and who has received notice of the breach, please contact me at Catherine@stritmatter.com or Counsel@stritmatter.com.

Most Deadly List – Top 10 Most Dangerous Cars

Kia Rio and other mini or small cars are statistically less safe than most larger models according to the IIHSILDI (insurance institute).

Kia Rio and other mini or small cars are statistically less safe than most larger models according to the IIHSILDI (insurance institute).

With gas still relatively cheap for now more consumers are considering buying a new car as the auto industry experiences double digit growth not seen since 2002.

In fact, more are leaning towards compact SUVs (or “CUVs”) and larger cars.  Based on articles I’ve read, including the one on an insurance industry site, staying in the category of larger cars may also be a safer choice. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, the top 10 vehicles with the most fatalities include mini cars such as the Chevy Aveo, the Nissan Versa, the Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic. Other larger cars that made the dubious distinction as one of the cars with the highest rates of deadly accidents include the Camaro coupe and the Silverado (both Chevrolets),

Compare the “Most Deadly Cars” list with the below and best of luck on your next car purchase. As SKW wrongful death/injury attorneys are typically only contacted when after a fatal or catastrophic car accident, we see first hand the difference a well designed car can make when someone is involved in a serious crash.

LOWEST RATES OF DRIVER DEATHS
Fewer than 6 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years,
2011 and equivalent earlier models, 2009-12
Overall driver deaths per million/ea year Multiple-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
crashes
Single-vehicle
rollovers
Audi A4 4WD luxury car midsize 0 0 0 0
Honda Odyssey minivan very large 0 0 0 0
Kia Sorento 2WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Lexus RX 350 4WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD luxury SUV large 0 0 0 0
Subaru Legacy 4WD 4-door car midsize 0 0 0 0
Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Toyota Sequoia 4WD SUV large 0 0 0 0
Volvo XC90 4WD luxury SUV midsize 0 0 0 0
Honda Pilot 4WD SUV midsize 2 0 2 0
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD luxury SUV midsize 3 3 0 0
Ford Crown Victoria 4-door car very large 4 4 0 0
GMC Yukon 4WD SUV large 4 0 4 0
Acura TL 2WD luxury car midsize 5 5 0 0
Chevrolet Equinox 2WD SUV midsize 5 3 2 0
Chevrolet Equinox 4WD SUV midsize 5 5 0 0
Ford Expedition 4WD SUV large 5 5 0 0
Ford Flex 2WD SUV midsize 5 0 5 0
Mazda CX-9 4WD SUV midsize 5 0 5 5
2WD: 2-wheel drive; 4WD: 4-wheel drive

New law would ban holding cell phone in cars

New WA Law would be much stricter against drivers who want to talk on their cell phones. Photo credit: Intel Free Press Flickr

New WA Law would be much stricter against drivers who want to talk on their cell phones.
Photo credit: Intel Free Press Flickr

Remember several years ago, when the State made talking on a handheld phone while driving illegal? Well, Washington State lawmakers are now proposing a much stricter law that altogether bans holding cell phones in the car.

With the rapidly developing technology in the area of wireless telecommunications, the proposal is aimed at putting an end to one hand on the wheel while the other hand is on a smart phone. The new law also includes outlawing emailing, texting, or other forms of electronic communication for drivers in Washington State.

The new proposed law is so strict that it would even be illegal to pick up and check your phone while you’re waiting for the light to change. (Ok, I admit that I’ve done that. But, this is going to end that habit for me…)  If you are repeatedly fined, then you could face double-fines.

This law would not affect making hands free calls or using GPS systems. After seeing so many car accidents as the result of texting while driving or talking on the cell while driving, this bill can’t be passed soon enough.

 

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