Planes, Trains & Automobiles

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.

Calling all Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep & Ram owners: Do you choose $100 or risking your life?

Fiat Chryslers recall includes over 11 million vehicles, including the Chrysler Dodge Dakota 2011 with defective steering and rear axles.

Fiat Chryslers recall includes over 11 million vehicles, including the Chrysler Dodge Dakota 2011 with defective steering and rear axles.

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.

Nordstrom Can’t Keep Family Plane Ride Claims Sealed

The following is from Law360. By Jonathan Randles
Law360, New York (April 07, 2015, 4:55 PM ET) — A Washington federal judge refused Tuesday to keep sealed portions of a lawsuit accusing Nordstrom Inc. of hiding the cost of operating a fleet of private airplanes for the Nordstrom family, rejecting the company’s argument that the plaintiff had agreed before filing the lawsuit to keep the information under wraps.U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour denied Nordstrom’s motion to seal the complaint, ruling the company failed to give a “compelling reason” to keep information in the complaint a secret. Plaintiff Judith Burbrink has accused Nordstrom of filing misleading proxy statements with the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission that mask substantial costs associated with operating the family’s planes.

Judge Coughenour said although a private agreement may have been reached between the parties before the start of the litigation, no deal has been presented to the court. Further, Nordstrom has only offered “vague” privacy concerns related to the release of the information that don’t trump the strong presumption that judicial documents be made public.

“It is possible that Plaintiff violated a private agreement by filing this lawsuit and converting non-public information into a judicial record,” Judge Coughenour said. “However, the Court is not presently tasked with interpreting or enforcing any promises made by Plaintiff to gain access to Nordstrom‘s records.”

Although the complaint was originally filed last month, specific figures detailing the approximate costs of the operation and other information is redacted in the complaint. Nordstrom, which sought to keep the data secret, argued that details related to the board’s “travel habits” should be kept private. The company said Burbrink, who obtained the information through a formal request for company records, agreed to keep the information a secret.

Nordstrom has maintained in SEC filings that the company charges the family market prices for services it provides them. Moreover, the company has stated that payments it receives from the family exceed the estimated costs of providing those services. It has denied the allegations in the complaint and said it will be vindicated in court.

However, the lawsuit claims that contrary to those filings, Nordstrom’s board “has never conducted any analysis of the costs of providing the services to the Nordstrom family.”

The complaint goes on to say that Nordstrom has been operating a “bloated and costly” flight department to manage company planes, as well as personal aircraft for the Nordstrom family. Burbrink claims the flight department has cost shareholders millions of dollars.

Nordstrom and an attorney representing Burbrink declined to comment on the order.

Burbrink is represented by Brad J. Moore of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, Hung Ta, Natalia Williams and JooYun Kim of Hung G. Ta Esq. PLLC, Peter Safirstein and Roger Sachar of Morgan & Morgan PC and Konstantine W. Kyros of Kyros Law Offices.

Nordstrom is represented by David S. Keenan, Robert P. Varian and M. Todd Scott of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

The case is Judith Burbank v. Phyllis J. Campbell et al., case number 2:15-cv-00377, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Honda breaks history…hit with $70 million fine

Yesterday, Obama administration fined Honda $70 million for failure to report complaints re injuries/deaths & warranty issues.

Yesterday, Obama administration fined Honda $70 million for failure to report complaints re injuries/deaths & warranty issues.

“Holey moley!” That’s what I thought when I read that Honda got hit with a $70 million fine. The Obama administration imposed this history-making fine because the Japanese automaker failed to report to regulators roughly 1,700 complaints about its vehicles, claiming serious injuries and deaths. Moreover, the automaker apparently failed to report warranty claims. The complaints spanned an 11 year period, beginning in 2003.

This past November, Honda admitted that it didn’t report the aforementioned complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When did its executives learn of these omissions? It was in 2011 — three years ago.

Because the company also failed to report customer satisfaction/warranty claims (same 11 year period), NHTSA doubled the $35 million fine. One was for the failure to report the death/injury complaints; the other $35 mil for its failure to report the warranty/customer satisfaction claims. Ouch.

In case you’re wondering, yes – some of the complaints related to the Takata air bags along with other defective parts.

Crash course in surviving a plane accident

Despite the tragic Virgin Galactic space plane crash that claimed a test pilot’s life last week, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos among other high tech executives still believe in the future of commercial space tourism. In his first press conference after the crash of SpaceShipTwo in the Mojave Desert, Branson likened this new frontier (i.e., commercial space) to commercial flights, which experienced many fatal setbacks in its earliest days.

True, flying on commercial planes is one of the safest means of transportation. Over 8 million people fly each day. But in the past decade there has been no more than 138 crashes with fatalities. SKW has had the privilege of representing plaintiffs on some of those plane crashes.

!Plane Crash stats

In the last decade, there have been less than 140 plane crashes with fatalities.

Despite the statistics that should calm frequent fliers, I admit that I’ve wondered about my fate whenever my plane takes off or when we hit turbulence in the air. When I first started to fly with my husband, I used to secretly chuckle at him for his diligence in following along with the flight attendant’s review of the safety instructions. I hid my chuckling because another part of me knew that Eric was wiser for paying attention. He would know exactly what to do, if our plane was one of those several dozen flights that suddenly crashed into some body of water. At that point, his chances of surviving would greatly increase compared to the rest of the passengers, who had opted to ignore the instructions just to focus on their magazine or Kindle.

As the years go by, ever since I’ve started to fly with my little girl, I too will follow along with Eric and my daughter to review the flight safety instructions. In fact, I have more than once embarrassed my daughter by dancing (while buckled in my seat) and singing along to the new Virgin America flight safety video… hey, I’m not the only one (check out this entertaining video!).

Well, British Airways now offers airplane crash safety courses for the general public.  Those who take this course even get a chance to go down the inflatable slide and learn the proper brace position.

 

National Safety Regulations for Buses Trying to Catch Up with Aviation Standards

Have you ever driven on a highway and wonder how safe a bus was? Those private bus companies with fleets of massive coaches that carry senior citizens or a group of boy scouts that sometimes swerve in and out of lanes are finally getting a closer look. According to an article on CNN.com, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 52 bus companies and 340 vehicles on Dec. 12, 2013.

Canadian based bus operator allowed driver to far exceed 70 hr work week. Bus crash in OR last year resulted in 9 passengers killed. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police

Canadian based bus operator allowed driver to  exceed 70 hr work week. Bus crash in OR last year resulted in 9 passengers killed.
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police

This was part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA)  an eight-month effort, called Operation Quick Strike, which focused on the safety of motor coach operations. Operation Quick Strike spanned the entire country, employing 50+ highly trained investigators to review the safety standards and practices of 260 of the most questionable bus operators.  These companies were targeted based on safety data and roadside inspection.

Recall the tragic accident in Oregon about a year ago last December, when nine passengers were killed and 39 were injured in a bus accident. Investigations revealed that the B.C. based motor coach carrier with U.S. operations allowed its driver to far exceed the 70 hour work limit.

The FMCSA and advocates are seeking to impose the same type of safety standards to the tour bus industry as are imposed on the aviation industry, as it carries roughly the same number of passengers.

 

Brad J. Moore Recently Elected Vice President of Public Justice Foundation-America’s Public Interest Law Firm

Brad J. Moore, partner at our consumer justice/personal injury law firm of Stritmatter Kessler in Seattle, Washington, was recently elected to the office of Vice President of Public Justice Foundation.

SKW's Brad J. Moore was recently elected  Public Justice Vice-President. Public Justice is the nation's public interest law firm.

SKW’s Brad J. Moore was recently elected Public Justice Vice-President.

Public Justice is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and fights for justice through precedent-setting and socially significant individual and class action litigation. It is the principal project of the Public Justice Foundation, a non-profit membership organization that can call on a nationwide network of 3,500 attorneys. In business for over 25 years, Public Justice is dedicated to upholding its vision of building America’s public interest law firm.

Brad specializes in consumer justice litigation with a focus on catastrophic injury, wrongful death and class action litigation. Some of his work has been featured in the media for his representation of a child killed at a monster truck show as well as his representation of a seriously injured passenger of an international flight from Istanbul, Turkey.

Mr. Moore has been an active member of Public Justice, serving as the Washington State Coordinator. In this role, Brad has demonstrated his commitment to expanding and supporting Public Justice’s  impact litigation, communications/outreach, and membership development activities throughout the State and beyond.

He most recently has served as Secretary of Public Justice Foundation. Brad is also member of the Washington State Bar, the Washington State Association for Justice (EAGLE Member), the American Board of Trial Advocates and American Association for Justice.

SCOTUS Blocks Railroad Injury Claims

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a legal theory that would have given asbestos injury attorneys  a new industry to attack with lawsuitsClarence Thomas.jpg.

SCOTUS ruled this past Wednesday in favor of companies involved with the design and manufacture of locomotives and their parts. The estate of the late George Corson, a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier, had sued Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp. in Philadelphia, alleging injury from exposure to asbestos in trains and train parts distributed by the companies.

The estate’s design-defect and failure-to-warn claims were preempted by the federal Locomotive Inspection Act, the court held in a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas. The decision was in line with one made by the court 85 years ago in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line.

“(P)etitioners contend that the LIA’s preemptive scope does not extend to state common-law claims, as opposed to state legislation or regulation,” Thomas wrote.

“Napier, however, held that the LIA ‘occup(ied) the entire field of regulating locomotive equipment’ to the exclusion of state regulation. That categorical conclusion admits of no exception for state common-law duties and standards of care.”

The decision affirmed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It had been removed from a state court to Philadelphia federal court. 

Dissenting were justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion said that the plaintiffs’ claim for failure to warn was not preempted, though it agreed the defective design claim was.

The federal government and the American Association for Justice were among the groups supporting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

“Because the right to a legal remedy for wrongful injury is a fundamental right under the Constitution, courts may not preempt such a cause of action and leave injured persons without remedy unless Congress specifically intended that result,” the AAJ’s amicus brief said.

“The mere silence of Congress in a statute not directed at railroads rather than manufacturers falls short.”

Complaints against 50 other companies were dismissed. 

NOTE: This blog entry is republished from http://www.asbestoslawblog.com/.

U.S. Chamber’s Hypocrisy Exposed: Do As I Say, Not As I Sue

New report shows hypocrisy of Institute for Legal Reform’s corporate board members that aggressively litigate while blocking justice for everyday Americans

Washington, D.C. –As the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) holds its annual summit – a strategy session on eliminating Americans’ access to the civil justice system – a new report exposes ILR’s corporate board members that hypocritically use the courts for their own gain against competitors, customers and even each othersay_sue_coverFIN.jpg_sized.jpg.

In its newest report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) exposes the hypocrisy of 10 ILR board members that regularly use the legal system to advance their own agendas, while at the same time advocating legislation that would close the courthouse doors to anyone who would hold them accountable for their own wrongdoing.

“These corporations, like all Americans, have a right to seek justice through the legal system,” said AAJ President Gary M. Paul. “What makes their actions shameful and hypocritical is that these companies are members of ILR’s board for the sole purpose of denying American workers and consumers this same right.”

One ILR board member highlighted in the report is Honeywell International, which has regularly taken competitors to court, but would prefer not to be held accountable for distributing defective body armor to law enforcement personnel across the country, or downplaying the dangers of asbestos exposure.

In return for its financial contributions to ILR, Honeywell has received policy and public relations help when its negligence has been uncovered. Four days after an Illinois jury delivered a multi-million dollar verdict against Honeywell for conspiring to hide the dangers of asbestos, ILR issued a press release stating that the decision “confirms a troubling trend in the State of Illinois where there is a hostile ligation environment.” Additionally, the Madison County Record, an Illinois-based propaganda-as-news outlet fully owned by ILR, featured an article headlined, “McLean County Continues Inching Closer to Becoming a ‘Judicial Hellhole.'”

The irony does not stop with Honeywell – AAJ’s report also highlights the litigation hypocrisy of ILR board members FedEx, Dow Chemical Company, General Motors Corporation, Caterpillar, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, Prudential and Johnson & Johnson.

Online ads will run this week on major news sites and blogs to promote the report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue: Exposing the Lawsuit-Happy Hypocrites of U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which can be found at www.justice.org/USChamber.

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