Articles Posted in Car Accident

In a recent blog post, we reported on the increase of distracted driving accidents in Nashville and throughout the country. Texting and talking on a cell phone while driving are two of the most widespread examples of distracted driving. According to a recent article, data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) reveals that in 2011 nearly 400,000 people were injured in accidents involving a distracted driver.

The American Automobile Association (“AAA”) reports that approximately 35 percent of drivers admitted to reading an email or text while driving and 26 percent say they have written a text or email while driving. These numbers are alarming. Driving a motor vehicle requires concentration and awareness, two things that are difficult to attain while texting, or making or receiving phone calls. The AAA is hoping that people observe the month of April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month.” The alternative seems to be more crashes, injuries and fatalities on the roads.

Companies have developed new technologies aimed at decreasing the level of driver distraction — while still allowing motorists to send text messages. One item enables drivers to read and send text messages on an “in-car” touch screen. According to an article in the Tennessean, United States traffic safety regulators are requesting that automakers install tougher limits on the length of time drivers can use these touch screens. The NHTSA prepared voluntary guidelines that would serve to curb distracted driving. Some of the suggestions include: 1) limiting the amount of time to two seconds to perform one function on the car’s audio/visual system; 2) drivers would be limited to six screen touches in a time period of 12 seconds; 3) banning manual text entry and display of websites, books and social media (while the car is in motion).

Distracted driving is a particular problem in construction zones. An average of two people each day die in construction zone accidents. With the spring season comes an increase in the number of construction projects. Federal safety officials urge people to refrain from texting while driving through a construction zone.

Another item that is expected to reduce driver distraction is the use of a voice-activated text message system. But a new study conducted at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University revealed that sending text messages in this manner is just as dangerous as using your fingers. The idea is that texting, either by voice or with fingers, reduces a driver’s eye contact with the road and response times are greatly delayed.

Driver distraction has become an industry unto itself, with gadgets and new technology aimed at making driving while doing other tasks, safer. As we see from the voice-activated texting mechanism, drivers are no less distracted than using their fingers. The tragic part of all of this driver distraction is that innocent people are suffering severe injuries and in some cases dying as a result of driver multitasking.

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The Nashville-based newspaper, “The Tennessean,” recently reported that the state legislature is considering a new bill that would provide financial assistance to families of victims of certain categories of traffic accidents. As it stands now, the “Criminal Injuries Compensation Program” (the “CIC”) provides assistance to victims of crimes or, in the unfortunate circumstance of the victim’s death, to their dependent relatives. When a person is injured or killed as a result of a traffic accident, in addition to the devastation associated with such an event, there are often many unanticipated costs.

Some of the costs that payments under the CIC Program are intended to alleviate include loss of earnings, medical services, burial costs, and other financial losses sustained as a direct result of personal injuries caused by a criminal offense. Under the current statute (TCA Section 29-13-104), the list of eligible crimes includes homicide, robbery by force, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and drunk driving. The Victims’ Rights bill (H.B. 1117), as introduced by co-sponsors and Representatives Joe Pitts and Josh Evans, adds a litany of types of victims who would be entitled to relief under the CIC program. Such categories include victims of vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, criminally negligent homicide, reckless homicide, and aggravated vehicular homicide, where the injury or death was inflicted through the use of a motor vehicle or watercraft.

The new bill has been dubbed “Tyler’s Law” named after Tyler Head, a Springfield college student who was killed while driving to Austin Peay State University in February 2012. The person who was convicted of killing Head was sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to reckless homicide and an amended charge of reckless aggravated assault. Tyler’s mother sought financial help from the victim’s compensation office associated with the CIC Fund. She was denied assistance because the offenses that caused her son to die did not satisfy the criteria for the fund. Not only was Mrs. Head-Hieber facing the untimely, tragic death of her son, but she was also unable to pay for the funeral and burial expenses. Unfortunately, in this case, the man who killed Tyler Head had no insurance, so Mrs. Head-Hieber was left with no financial assistance at all. In circumstances in which the criminally at-fault driver has no insurance, and the injured victim or their family has insufficient uninsured (UM) insurance, the bill might provide some financial compensation
The legislators have indicated that the impetus for the bill was to help families like Tyler’s who have suffered tragic losses to be able to collect from the CIC Fund. Essentially, the new bill would be adding some eligible offenses to the ones that already exist. As of April 10, 2013, the bill has been placed behind the budget.

If the bill is enacted, victims of car accidents similar to Tyler’s will have an opportunity to pursue financial assistance for the various medical and other costs directly incurred. Victims and their family members should contact a Nashville personal injury attorney who is fully familiar with the local courts and current state of the law with respect to compensation alternatives.

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Distracted driving is rampant in Tennessee and in states across the nation. The latest distraction is not simply the cell phone calls that drivers make and receive, but the culprit is now texting while driving. In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) reported that distracted driving is the primary killer of American teenagers. Data revealed that 16% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving. In addition to fatalities, many victims suffer serious injuries from accidents involving drivers who are not paying attention to the road. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident as a result of distracted driving, it is important to contact an experienced Nashville personal injury attorney to help you protect your rights.

According to the NHTSA, people are 23 times more likely to crash when texting while driving. In 2010, Tennessee enacted the “Texting While Driving Law” (TCA 55-8-199), making it illegal to text and drive in that state. In 2011, research conducted by the Center for Transportation at the University of Tennessee showed that Tennesseans consider texting while driving to be as threatening as drinking while driving. Despite these concerns, many drivers still do it. The survey revealed that at that time, one out of five drivers engaged in these behaviors in the past 30 days.

Out of concern for the safety of its citizens, just last month, the Tennessee Highway Patrol began using an 18-wheeler to detect drivers who are texting, drinking or not wearing a seatbelt. From their vantage point, drivers high up in the cab of a truck can see a great deal more than the officers in highway patrol cars. The trucking troopers are not the ones who pull over the offending drivers, but rather they will “radio” the violation to headquarters, which will then dispatch a patrol car. Law enforcement officials say that the program has been a “great success” and will continue using the 18-wheelers randomly.

They probably could use a program like this in Alabama where a driver was recently pulled over for “double-texting” in the George Wallace Tunnel in Mobile County. According to reports, the 19 year-old driver told the sheriff’s office that since he was 15, he had been driving with his knees while texting with a phone in each hand. While texting with a phone in each hand sounds crazy to most of us, a great deal of society texts with one phone while driving. The numbers appear to be on the rise. According to a recent study at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three people admitted that they read or send text or email messages while they are driving, compared with the earlier number of one in five. These are alarming statistics with the potential to cause life-altering — or worse, life-ending — injuries.

Victims who have suffered injuries as a result of a distracted driving accident may be entitled to damages. It is important to consult with an experienced, local attorney to help you determine your rights to a recovery.

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Driving under the influence in Nashville, as in cities across the country, is a serious offense. One of the primary reasons is that innocent victims of DUI accidents often suffer serious injuries, including burns, broken bones and head trauma; many die. Law enforcement makes it a priority to police the roads and highways to prevent DUI accidents from occurring. If you or someone you know has been the victim of an alcohol-related injury, you may be entitled to recover damages. You are encouraged to contact an experienced Nashville attorney who can help to protect your rights.

The manner in which law enforcement determines whether a suspected drunk driver is in fact driving under the influence has become the subject of some controversy in Tennessee. The highest court in the state recently agreed to hear a case involving a suspected drunk driver who was arrested for DUI despite having passed a myriad of field sobriety tests. Dwayne Bell was pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road, a traffic infraction in its own right. At that point, the police officer asked Bell to perform field sobriety tests. He agreed and passed six separate tests. Nevertheless, the officer still believed that Bell was drunk and arrested him. Later, he was subjected to a blood test, which revealed that Bell’s blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, almost twice the legal limit.

Bell moved to suppress the blood-alcohol evidence and claimed that he was arrested without probable cause, as he successfully performed the field sobriety tests. The two lower courts agreed that the officer had no probable cause on which to arrest Bell. The DUI charges were dismissed. Among other things, the appellate court pointed out that the state is not obligated to conduct field sobriety tests before arresting someone for driving under the influence. But, the court noted, if the state decides to administer the tests, it may not choose to disregard the results if the driver performs them successfully. The court also pointed out that although the driver in this case was operating his vehicle on the wrong side of the road at the time he was pulled over, there was construction in the particular area, which could have accounted for the driving infraction.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office requested that the Supreme Court hear the case. Hopefully, the ultimate decision will provide guidance to law enforcement as to the meaning of field sobriety tests in the face of little or no other evidence of drunk driving. It is no surprise that advocates for stricter DUI laws are concerned about the impact of this decision, especially families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a drunk driver. Others see the merit in protecting an individual’s rights not to be arrested without probable cause.

There is a delicate balancing act that must take place, weighing the prevention of alcohol-related accidents and injuries with an individual’s rights. Despite all of this, drunk-driving accidents do happen, and all too often innocent victims are injured or even killed.

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The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a bill that would allow into evidence in civil cases, such as car accident injury cases, evidence that an injured driver or passenger was not wearing the seat belt. This is terrible public policy and, if enacted, would only serve to benefit insurance companies to the detriment of injured victims.

Since the early 1960’s, Tennessee law has prevented the introduction into evidence of a car driver or passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt. The purpose of this law is clear: a driver who causes an accident through his own negligence or recklessness should not be able to argue in court that the innocent injured person was equally at fault because he was not wearing his seat belt. A drunk driver who causes a crash, for instance, should not have his liability reduced because the innocent victim did not have his seat belt on.

But, the proposed legislation currently in the 2013 General Assembly, Tennessee-2013-HB0414-Draft.pdf, would delete T.C.A. § 55-9-604 and permit into evidence a person’s failure to wear a seat belt. This bill will hurt not only car accident injury victims, but also businesses across Tennessee as well as state programs such as TennCare. If the damages recoverable in a civil action by someone in a car accident are reduced or eliminated by their failure to wear a seat belt, that doesn’t mean the person is not injured. It simply means that their costs of medical care will have to be borne by someone other than the responsible driver’s insurance policy — most likely their own health insurance or by government provided health insurance, such as TennCare.

Drivers on the road in Tennessee, like everywhere else in the country, have many more distractions than ever. There are incoming (and outgoing) cell phone calls, “hands-free” gadgets to connect, email and text messages that need to be sent or read, possibly even hundreds of satellite radio channels to choose from, while GPS devices guide us on unfamiliar roads. All of these distractions can lead to accidents.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, the number one cause of teen deaths on the roads is distracted driving. In fact, just last year, traffic fatalities involving teens increased 10 percent in Tennessee. If you have been in a car accident, it is important to speak with an experienced Nashville attorney to help you understand your rights.

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the roads have become more dangerous for people of all ages, over the past year. In 2012, the number of fatalities on Tennessee roads has increased from the past year by 7 percent. The numbers jumped from 937 to 1,022 deaths. If you look closer at the breakdown of the statistics, fatalities from motorcycle accidents also increased over the past year from 114 deaths in 2011, to 139 in 2012. While the crash statistics indicate that 2011 saw the lowest number of fatalities on the roads in 48 years, the increase in the past year is concerning. And unfortunately, although it is only February, the 2013 fatality statistics are already up from last year during the same time period: 71 deaths in 2012 compared with 75 in 2013.

While driver distraction plays a role in these jarring statistics, there are certainly other factors to blame. Although information about driver safety is widely publicized, many of these accidents occur as a result of the failure to take safety precautions. Law enforcement personnel frequently issue tickets to drivers and passengers for not wearing seatbelts, even though it is commonly regarded as a proven measure to reduce the number of serious automobile injuries and fatalities. Additionally, drivers continue to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, putting others on the road at unnecessary risk.
Keep in mind that these numbers reflect only fatalities, and fail to represent the many serious injuries from which victims suffer as a result of automobile and motorcycle accidents. People suffer from broken bones, brain injuries, burns, and other catastrophic injuries that could permanently alter a person’s life. As a result of these injuries, victims may have claims for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, lost future earning capacity, and permanent injury or disfigurement.

One of the reasons cited for reporting the increasing statistics is to encourage people to think about how their risky driving behaviors could lead to serious injuries and death, to themselves and to innocent people. No matter how much information is available to drivers, be it safety suggestions or shocking fatality statistics, accidents will occur. The best course of action is to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal system to protect your rights to any claims for damages.

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In a recent drunk driving case, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments from both the State of Missouri and defense attorneys as to the right of law enforcement officials to obtain a non-consensual and warrantless blood sample from a suspected drunk driver.

Although this case arises out of an incident in Missouri, the implications of the Supreme Court’s ultimate holding are potentially much broader. Courts in other jurisdictions, including Tennessee, will be bound to follow the Supreme Court’s decision in this case, where the facts are found to be analogous.

In this case, on October 3, 2010, a highway patrolman pulled over defendant Tyler McNeely for speeding. While conducting the routine traffic stop, the officer believed that McNeely was intoxicated due to his blood-shot eyes, slurred speech, and the scent of alcohol on his breath. At this point the officer asked McNeely to step out of the car and submit to field-sobriety tests.

McNeely performed the tests poorly and was placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated. He then refused to take a breath test and, later at the hospital, also refused to agree to a blood test. Despite refusing to consent to the blood test, the officer directed a hospital employee to draw defendant’s blood. His blood alcohol limit was .15%, almost twice the legal limit.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the blood test as a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, pointing out that there had been no “exigent circumstances” that could allow for the failure to obtain a warrant. The State of Missouri appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the finding, holding that the exigent circumstances exception did apply – obviating the need for a warrant.

After the highest court in Missouri affirmed the trial court’s ruling, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on the issue of whether the natural dissipation of blood alcohol, by itself, satisfies the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment.

A 1966 U.S. Supreme Court opinion dispensed with the need to first obtain a warrant before drawing blood in an alcohol-related arrest. There, the court limited the holding to the particular facts of the case: the arresting officer was faced with “special facts” that could have led him to believe that any delay associated with waiting for the warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence.

In that case, the defendant was involved in an accident in which a passenger was injured. The officer was concerned about the dissipation of alcohol in the defendant’s blood, as well as the need to conduct an investigation of the accident scene and transport those injured to the hospital.

As citizens of the United States, we are entitled to protections under the Constitution. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules in this case. The Justices will have to weigh, among other things, the fact that alcohol dissipates in the bloodstream fairly quickly after one stops drinking with the need to protect citizens from an unlawful search and seizure.

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A case recently before the Tennessee Court of Appeals addresses the the duty of an insurance company to provide appropriate automobile accident liability insurance coverage. In Barrick v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, just issued on December 21, 2012, the plaintiffs had sued State Farm alleging that they had been clients of State Farm for more than twenty-five years, that they insured four vehicles with State Farm, and that State Farm had held themselves out as professionals and experts with respect to selecting, issuing and servicing personal lines of insurance. Despite these facts, the plaintiffs were issued a policy of insurance by State Farm that only provided for liability coverage in the amount of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. When the plaintiffs’ son, driving one of their insured vehicles, caused an auto accident in which the other driver was killed, the plaintiffs were left without sufficient insurance coverage. As a result, the plaintiffs had to spend $100,000 of their own funds above the insurance policy limits to settle the claims brought by the widow of the deceased driver.

In the Barrick case, the trial court had granted summary judgment to State Farm, finding that because State Farm had sent the plaintiffs copies of their insurance policies, declaration pages, and renewal notices, they had satisfied any obligation they had to their insured. In essence, the trial court held that the insurance company had no duty to select the appropriate coverage limits.

While the Tennessee Court of Appeals was poised to decide this interesting issue, it ultimately determined that the trial court’s judgment was not an appealable final judgment because it did not address other claims in the lawsuit, such as the plaintiffs’ claim under Tennessee’s Consumer Protection Act. The Court of Appeals, as a result, did not issue an opinion on the issue but sent the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings. it will be interesting to see how this case proceeds.

In a case of first impression, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the term “bodily injury”, within the context of uninsured motorist coverage, does not cover claims for mental or emotional harm without an accompanying physical injury to the insured.

An experienced Nashville car accident attorney can advise you of the current state of the law and help determine how much compensation you may be entitled to as a result of your injuries.

In the case before the state supreme court, Andy Bickford was the driver of a car that struck and killed Michael Garrison, an 18 year-old, who was riding a minibike near his family’s home. Although Michael’s parents and younger brother did not see the accident, they heard the collision and were the first to arrive on the scene. According to the complaint, Jerry and Martha Garrison witnessed their son’s “mangled body” bleeding on the side of the road. They waited for over an hour with Michael for an ambulance to arrive. He was airlifted to a hospital in Chattanooga where he died from his injuries sustained from the accident.

Based on these events, the Garrisons brought claims for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the driver of the car, Andy Bickford, and its owner, Rita Bickford. The Garrisons further sought relief from their own insurance company, State Farm, under their policy’s Uninsured Motorist (UM) provisions. Under that section of the policy, the insured is entitled to collect damages for “bodily injury” from their own policy with State Farm when the responsible owner or driver of another car is uninsured or underinsured. Important to this decision is the policy’s definition of “bodily injury,” i.e., “bodily injury to a person and sickness, disease, or death that results from it.”

From the driver of the car, the Garrisons received $25,000 for their wrongful death claim and $25,000 for their emotional distress claim. State Farm paid the Garrisons $75,000 for the wrongful death claim under the UM coverage but denied payment for their emotional distress claim.

The trial court found that the insurance policy provided coverage for the emotional distress claims, and the court of appeals upheld that conclusion, though it then held that the claims fell within the already exhausted coverage limits for damages to “Each Person” and that, as a result, there was no additional coverage available.

The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion, though for a different reason — the court found that there was no coverage for the parents’ emotional distress claims regardless of the coverage limits. The highest court in the state set out to determine whether the Garrisons’ emotional distress, characterized as “mental injuries”, constituted “bodily harm” under the insurance policy. The court noted that uninsured motorist provisions are intended to provide protection to insured persons in the event of an accident with an uninsured motorist.

After a review of relevant case law, the court pointed out that, although this is an issue of first impression in Tennessee, many other jurisdictions have already concluded that bodily injury does not include mental or emotional harm without a physical injury to the insured.

The court found that the term “bodily injury” is unambiguous, clearly referring to a physical injury, not an emotional one. In this case, under the insurance policy at issue, a bystander witnessing a bodily injury to another was not permitted to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court emphasized that its decision is “in accord with the majority of other jurisdictions that have addressed the question.”

The court also denied the Garrisons’ claim that the uninsured motorist provisions conflicted with the governing state statute, and therefore, refused to allow the statute to supersede the policy language.

The holding in this case is limited to the specific facts at issue, including the insurance policy provisions as well as the circumstances surrounding the car accident. If you have been involved in a car accident, motorcycle accident, or other motor vehicle accident, there are many considerations when determining how much you may recover (and from whom), including Tennessee state law, insurance policy language, and so on. A skilled car accident attorney can help you develop a litigation strategy to maximize your recovery from all responsible parties.

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