Research & Statistics
For consumer class action attorneys like myself, we can continue to count our blessings for the moment. Indeed, a number of courts across the country continue to make commonsense and carefully crafted opinions that confer Art III standing for statutory damages claims.
I have much faith in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel just heard oral arguments, as the U.S. Supreme Court had remanded Spokeo (back on Dec. 13th). The 9th Cir.’s new challenge is to tackle the concreteness requirement with newfound gusto. Judge O’Scannlain found it difficult to move past her view that Mr. Robin’s allegations (the resulting inability to find work because of a grossly incorrect report about him) were ostensibly sufficiently concrete, tangible harm. However, Counsel for Plaintiff, William Consovoy kept focus on the issue that the Spokeo court harped on: Defendant was making this about an apparently intangible harm that has yet to run through the rigors of a concreteness test as the one that Alito pieced apart in his majority opinion…
Well, hang tight, as the panel will render its decision in the early portion of next year. From that, we’ll get more guidance about what that court thinks is needed to satisfy Art. III standing requirements…
We have some phenomenal judges, such as Judge Lucy Koh in the N.D. of CA in the 9th Circuit. She recently decided the Matera v. Google case, which laid out a clear, incredibly thoroughly reasoned opinion indicating why specific allegations are substantive violations. As such, these violations give rise to sufficiently concrete and particular injuries in fact. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis of her 9/23/16 order. I hope to write more about that case here as I reflect on the year’s developments in privacy law.
I will also write more about this a couple of recent cases out of the E.D. Va, including my insights regarding Thomas v. FTS, which lays out some strong arguments that a statutory damages class action attorney may want to crib. A fun but rocky ride ahead of us is guaranteed…
The purpose of a road shoulder is to provide a safe place for drivers to pull off. This is what Todd Moothart, a 50 year old software engineer, thought as he tried to pull his motorcycle out of traffic. A conscientious motorcyclist, he wanted to wait for his friends to catch up. Motorcyclists know that it’s safer to travel in groups on the highway to increase their visibility to other vehicles.
When Todd got separated from his two friends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Fall 2013, he decided to pull off on SR 14 and wait for them. But the road shoulder was far from safe. The broken pavement past the edge of the main road–next to the shoulder–dropped off seven inches.
When Todd pulled his Harley Davidson onto the shoulder, his motorcycle wheel hit the face of the seven-inch broken pavement edge. His motorcycle hit the face of the broken pavement, his front and rear wheels were severely dented, and his body was propelled into the air like he was on a trampoline.
Note that safety standards in the transportation engineering field recommend that pavement edge drop offs be kept to a depth of no greater than two
Todd suffered severe injuries, including a kidney laceration, a concussion, amputation of a part of his right index finger, and broken/fractured bones in his upper and lower body.
The design plans for the on-ramp called for an eight-foot paved shoulder on the right-hand side. At the location where Moothart pulled off, there was no paved shoulder at all beyond the fog line. For unknown reasons, the State’s as-built plans for the on-ramp showed an eight-foot paved shoulder, but the evidence indicated that the on-ramp never had an eight-foot paved shoulder in the area where Moothart pulled off. The on-ramp was built in the mid-90s.
Stritmatter Kessler attorneys represented Todd Moothart in trial against the State of Washington in late October/early November of this year. The jury found that the State had failed to maintain the road in a reasonably safe condition.Todd was awarded $2,993,000. Part of the award was for about $500,000 in undisputed past medical bills and wage loss.
Todd was a conscientious motorcyclist who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Emergencies and split second decisions happen anywhere and anytime. That’s why the shoulder must be maintained per State of Washington standards. The shoulder needs to be safe to pull over for all vehicles. This is the State of Washington has standards for an eight food shoulder with a minimum drop off of 2 inches.
Kudos to our firm’s roadway safety attorneys for educating the jury and judge about the need to keep the State’s road shoulders safe! The government needs to be held accountable, when its roads don’t meet basic safety requirements.
People walking and biking have a 90% chance of surviving if hit by a car driver going 20 MPH. But at 30 MPH there is only a 50-50 chance of survival.
You can help move Seattle towards safer speed limits, right now.
What’s the proposal? The city council is considering lowering speed limits on non-arterial streets from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, and in downtown on arterial streets from 30 MPH to 25 MPH (see the City’s FAQ).
Why should you care? If you have a young child, elderly family member, or if you are a pedestrian/cyclist in Seattle, this means safer streets for you and your family.
How will this proposal make a difference? This proposal makes sense. Our neighborhood streets are where we raise our families, talk to our neighbors, play in our front yards, and walk to school. Neighborhood streets should be quiet, calm, and safe places that enhance our quality of life. Downtown streets have the highest concentration of collisions between people walking or biking and people driving, and lowering the speed limit will help. Speed limit changes are only a small, but important, part of a comprehensive Vision Zero effort to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities on our streets by 2030. Learn more.
How you can help:
- Tell the City Council why adopting safer speed limits is important to you and your community. Or if you are too nervous to speak, hold signs in support.
- When: 2:00 (show up at 1:50 to sign up), Tuesday, September 20th
- Where: Seattle City Hall’s main council chambers. If you are having trouble finding the chambers, simply ask anyone you see inside the building.
Please let Gordon Padelford know if you can join to support the legislation on Tuesday.
If you can’t make it: Please call your city council members and let them know you are supportive:
Tim Burgess (Citywide): 206.684.8806 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorena González (Citywide): 206.684.8802 | email@example.com
Find your city council district here.
Lisa Herbold (Dist 1): 206.684.8803 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Harrell (Dist 2): 206.684.8804 | email@example.com
Kshama Sawant: (Dist 3) 206.684.8016 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Johnson (Dist 4): 206.684.8808 | email@example.com
Debora Juarez (Dist 5): 206.684.8805 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike O’Brien (Dist 6): 206.684.8800 | email@example.com
Sally Bagshaw (Dist 7): 206.684.8801 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for all that you do!
NOTE: Printed with minor modifications and with permission from my friends at Seattle Greenways, specifically SG Policy Director Gordon Padelford.
True to my technophile self, I’ve embraced all the latest advances in automobile technology. I was driving a few friends back from lunch a few days ago, and they were aghast at how I didn’t even turn my head as my car backed into a tight space. So, the news of the fatal crash involving a Tesla-S in self-driving mode (aka “Autopilot”) broke my heart. I pictured the proud Tesla owner, Joshua Brown (a tech consulting firm owner) who had grown accustomed to trusting his car to drive him in stop and go traffic. That fateful day was sunny, exceptionally bright, when a tractor-trailer turned left in front of the Tesla driver.
The Tesla news release explained:
Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.
While my enthusiasm for autonomous cars remains in high gear, this tragedy highlights the fact that the engineers need to reexamine their algorithms to uncover any other possible scenarios where sensors may not react quickly enough to keep all of the passengers safe.
Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.
This begs the question: Why have an Autopilot function if an alert driver is constantly required to oversee the Autopilot? Human nature will result in drivers allowing themselves to get distracted, once putting their cars into self-driving mode. What’s the purpose of an autonomous car, if the human behind the steering wheel cannot let her mind wander for even a moment?
(Above KOMO News story aired June 20, 2016)
What does it take to make this treacherous stretch of the First Hill Streetcar tracks safer for cyclists? A few weeks ago, we mourned the tragic death of cyclist Desiree McCloud, who crashed her bike only a few blocks away from where our client, cyclist Daniel Ahrendt, crashed his bike and survived after a Metro bus ran over him. Now, we have Jessica Hicks, who crashed on her scooter a few weeks after Denise Chew, a Tukwila nurse, crashed in the same area. To add insult to injury, Denise’s scooter was auctioned off, while she was unconscious and on a ventilator at Harborview. Really. I’m not making this up.
There are a number of ways that we can make this area safer for those riding two wheels. Bicycle advocates have frequently pointed to flange-fillers (used in a less trafficked area of the First Hill Streetcar line in the International District) or a covered-track system such as VeloStrail (currently used in Europe for curved tram tracks that intersect cyclist/pedestrian paths). As much as I would love to see solutions like those embraced, we also have a number of other less dramatic options. Let’s look at what the City has done on the Second Avenue corridor, soon after the horrific death of young attorney and friend Sher Kung.
We should look at options that keep cyclists away from the tracks with bollards, signalization, bright paint, and education–among other ways. In a future post here, I will share more insights with a transportation engineer, who is well versed in the area of cyclist safety along light rail lines.
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.
Last week was National Protected Bike Lane week. Just a few hours south of us, in Portland, a coalition of businesses and residents conducted a one-week test that redesigned nearly a mile with marked crosswalks, a hand built floating bus stop and extra sidewalk space for cafe seating. On the block with the bus stop, the design included a parking-protected bike lane. The interesting point is that, by slowing traffic down a bit, not only does this increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, but it also benefits the local businesses. Freeway-style roads do not encourage people to look around them.
Understanding that protected bike lanes aren’t always feasible, there are a number of other options. Take, for example, timing the traffic so that bikes and other vehicles can alternate on the same roadway. SKW client Daniel Ahrendt is a seasoned cyclist commuter. But last year in May, his bike tire hit a portion of the First Hill Streetcar tracks, causing him to fall. That morning was clear, dry and partly sunny. The issue was not slick roads/tracks, but that he had to compete with the Metro bus that was “sharing” the lane with him and other cyclists headed in the same direction. I cannot help but imagine the difference that a timed light, which would have allowed Daniel to proceed before the bus, allowing him ample time to cross the intersection and avoid the fall that resulted in nearby bus to run over him.
Over the past year, our firm has experienced a surge in calls from pedestrian-related accidents. So when I read read the most recent annual GHSA Spotlight on Highway Safety Report (released Mar. 8, 2016), I wasn’t surprised to see that pedestrian fatalities were up by 28% in Washington State. A recent Seattle Times article also cited the GHSA report, which pointed out that pedestrian deaths increased from 32 in the first six months of 2014 to 41 during the same period last year, a 28-percent increase.
A couple takeaways that I find especially valuable: 1) pedestrian deaths are much higher at non-intersection related accidents (e.g., not waiting to cross at an intersection) and 2) walking at night is far more likely to lead to a fatality than walking at dawn or dusk.
Today, King County Superior Court Judge Samuel Chung granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification against Defendants Cach, LLC, SquareTwo Financial Corp., and Suttell & Hammer, P.S. The case pursues recovery for Washington state consumers who were the victims of illegal debt collection. Defendants admit that they did not ever have a debt collector’s license, yet they solicited claims for collection and attempted to collect claims owed to another party. This was in violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (RCW 19.86.010 – .920), RCW 19.16.120, RCW 19.16.250, RCW 19.16.260.