Articles Posted in In The News

Motorcoaches are a popular way to travel. The Greyhound slogan was “Leave the driving to us,” and many thousands of people do leave the driving to Greyhound and other motorcoach operators every year. In 2010, U.S. motorcoach companies provided nearly 700 million passenger trips, second only to the airlines. Bus transportation is generally safe, but when an accident does happen, there are likely to be multiple victims.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that between 2000 and 2009, there were 87 fatal crashes of motorcoaches, resulting in 209 fatalities.

On April 10, 2014, a fiery collision between a FedEx big rig and a motorcoach carrying California high school students left 10 people dead. The accident is still under investigation, and federal authorities are again considering what measures can be taken to improve the safety of bus passengers. It was only a few months ago that NHTSA issued a rule mandating that all motorcoaches made after 2016 be equipped with three-point shoulder-lap safety belts. The Silverado Stages vehicle in the Orland, California, crash was brand new, and it had seat belts, even though it was not required to. You have to wonder how many of the high school students had actually buckled up.

The first motorcoach accident investigated by the NTSB occurred in 1968, when a charter coach overturned and burned near Baker, California. Nineteen of the 30 passengers aboard were killed. Even way back then, the NTSB found that “one of the primary causes of passenger injury and fatalities in motorcoach accidents is that the passengers are thrown out of their seats or ejected when a bus sustains a front, side, or rear impact or rolls over,” and they advocated passenger restraint systems.

On February 14, 2003, a crash near Hewitt, Texas, killed 5 and injured 9, and the NTSB found that the fatalities were a result of occupants’ being ejected from their seats.

Two high-profile motorcoach accidents in 2008 —one in Sherman, Texas, and the other near Mexican Hat, Utah— resulted in numerous passenger fatalities and serious injuries. At that time it was noted that “even when the motorcoach remains relatively intact during an accident, passengers lacking a protective seating environment can be thrown from their seating area and killed or injured.”

In passing the final rule requiring safety belts in motorcoaches after 2016, NHTSA took what some consider to be just the first step toward passenger safety. They did not require that older buses be retrofit with seatbelts, nor did they take measures to help ensure that passengers avail themselves of the safety equipment when it is available. In light of the fact that innocent people are still dying in motorcoach accidents, even when safety belts have been installed, it would seem that an additional step could provide additional protection – i.e., reminder systems like what we are accustomed to in our personal vehicles and on airplanes.

A news report following the California crash quoted a former NTSB chairman as saying, “Unfortunately, motorcoach safety has historically been an orphan at NHTSA. This is the transportation that carries primarily older people, students and low-income people. It hasn’t been a priority (for regulators).”

Wow. No wonder it took an act of Congress (the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2012) to put safer buses on the road, resulting in the NHTSA rule re seat belts. Sounds like NHTSA needs to improve upon its own rule and also find a way to make passengers take advantage of the improvements the carriers have to pay for. And they haven’t even addressed the other topics Congress told them to look at, like ease of evacuation, fire suppression, smoke suppression and improved fire extinguishers, all factors which could have been at play in the California crash.

If you or a family member is injured in a motorcoach accident, call the South Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm – 888-440-3211. We believe you deserve more than a chance – you deserve a voice.

FDR said, in his second inaugural address, “We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals, we now know that it is bad economics.” He was referring to the abuses that led to the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression.

GM Auto Recall

Even now, nearly eight decades later, we find that corporate greed has led to unconscionable decisions which, in turn, have resulted in peril for one of America’s industrial giants and for millions of American citizens. I’m referring to the choice by GM not to spend one dollar per car to correct the problems with the ignition switch that has cost at least 12 people their lives and caused 31 accidents. GM itself faces a criminal investigation and multiple lawsuits alleging they knew about the faulty ignition switches in 2002 but waited until 2014 to recall a total of 2.5 million vehicles that have ignition switches that may easily be moved out of the “run” position and into the “auxiliary” position, causing loss of power, steering, braking, airbags and lighting. That’s bad economics any way you look at it.

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Two recent court rulings are of interest to us as a law firm which represents the rights of whistleblowers who bring to light fraudulent activity.

The first is a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawson v. FMR, a case in which the whistleblowers worked for a contractor hired by Fidelity Investments to provide advisory and management services. The two employees were dismissed after they raised concerns about what they claimed were misrepresentations in the fees charged to shareholders and the disclosures made to the SEC.

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And the answer, announced last month by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is 2V . . . or, more precisely, V2V.

South Carolina Auto Safety

V2V technology allows vehicles to communicate with each other and to share important data with the driver. For instance, basic safety data like speed, location and direction of travel are collected from a 360-degree radius, analyzed for risk, and used to warn the driver to take action (like removing a foot from the gas pedal) to avoid common types of crashes like rear-end and intersection collisions.

This advancing technology was tested in a year-long pilot program run in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the U.S. Department of Transportation. They outfitted almost 3,000 vehicles with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) capability – a technology similar to Wi-Fi ; recruited and trained volunteers; and sent the vehicles out onto 73 lane-miles of city streets and freeways.

The pilot program devices collected data from a test car and its surroundings at a rate of 10 times per second, which included such information as speed, braking, wiper status, position and motion of vehicles ahead, intersection and curve details. Then, when appropriate, instructions were communicated to the driver alerting him or her to prepare to brake hard, notice another car in the blind spot or making a lane change, or slow down through a curve, among other things. Note that the devices currently in development only provide warnings – they don’t actually intervene with braking or steering.

NHTSA has begun reviewing the pilot program findings and in February announced it will “begin taking steps to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for light vehicles.” The next step is release of a report addressing technical feasibility, privacy and security, and preliminary estimates on costs and safety benefits. Also to come, after the public has been given an opportunity to comment on the research findings, will be NHTSA’s draft of regulations which would require V2V devices in new vehicles – subject, of course, to “Executive Orders and guidance.” According to Plymouth Rock Assurance Company, if the government goes forward with a V2V mandate, we could see cars equipped with this technology coming off the production line as early as 2019.

Insurance companies like Plymouth Rock are likely looking forward to having V2V cars on the road. NHTSA estimates that this technology has the potential to help drivers avoid or mitigate 70 to 80 percent of crashes “involving unimpaired drivers.” They’re evidently acknowledging that a driver who is impaired by drugs or alcohol is not going to be alert enough to quickly respond to his car’s warnings.

Another caveat is that in order to have a widespread effect, there are going to have to be lots of cars on the road that are equipped with V2V so they can talk to each other. Older models can be retrofitted, but it will still take many years before there are enough high-tech vehicles on the roads that they can have a meaningful conversation.

At the Louthian Law Firm, we applaud every advance that can help save lives. Seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and childproof locks are examples of safety innovations that have become standard equipment on modern vehicles, things we just take for granted. We forget that there weren’t even turn signals in cars until GM put them in 1939 Buicks. Aren’t you glad that these days you don’t have to roll down the window and stick your arm out to signal a turn? Some day in the not too distant future we’ll probably be glad our cars can talk to each other, too.

There’s a bar in Kazakhstan named Guns N Roses. It’s probably not a place you’re going to frequent – it’s a bit of a drive to get there. A little closer is the Double Shot Liquor & Guns store in Schulenburg, Texas. It even has a drive-thru window. Still too far to travel? Well, thanks to the law recently enacted in South Carolina, you can now take your family to a restaurant just down the street and be in the presence of both alcohol and ammo.

On February 11, 2014, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Senate Bill 308, the “Concealed Carry Reform Bill.” It permits gun owners who have a Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) to take guns into establishments that serve alcohol. Those who tote are not supposed to tipple, but who’s to know?

Some folks have applauded this legislation which enhances the rights of gun owners. But what about the rights of others involved?

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We seem to be stuck on the topic of car seats lately, having written about regulation reforms and how-to’s. But a recent recall by Graco, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of car seats and other equipment for children, deserves attention since it affects a massive number of seats in which a child can become trapped due to a sticking latch mechanism.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Graco to recall the car seats and booster seats out of a concern that children could be harmed when the quick-release button isn’t quick and, in fact, in some cases doesn’t release at all. Graco “voluntarily” recalled 3.7 million toddler seats but so far has declined to recall an additional 1.8 million infant seats found by NHTSA to “contain a defect related to motor vehicle safety,” i.e., a latch that impedes the quick removal of a child in an emergency situation.

Graco says no injuries have resulted from the stubborn latches, even though desperate parents have reported having to cut the harness straps or call emergency personnel to extricate their child. NHTSA’s January 14 letter to Graco, however, mentions a pending California lawsuit that describes just the tragic situation NHTSA hopes to prevent. In that case, a two-year-old child was fastened into a Graco car seat and perished in a fire resulting from a car accident, allegedly because she could not be quickly removed.

This is the fourth-largest car seat recall ever, and if Graco does recall the rear-facing infant seats as well, it will be the biggest one in history. If you or a family member or your childcare provider uses a car seat, please check the label to see if it is one of the following Graco models:

  • Cozy Cline
  • Comfort Sport
  • Classic Ride 50
  • My Ride 65
  • My Ride 65 with Safety Surround
  • My Ride 70
  • Size 4 Me 70
  • Smart Seat
  • Smart Seat with Safety Surround
  • My Size 70
  • Head Wise 70
  • Head Wise 70 with Safety Surround
  • Ready Ride
  • Nautilus 3-in-1
  • Nautilus Elite
  • Nautilus Plus
  • Argos 70
  • Argos 70 Elite.

The Graco rear-facing infant seats still under investigation by NHTSA are:

  • Snugride
  • Snugride 30
  • Snugride 32
  • Infant Safe Seat-Step 1
  • Snugride 35
  • Tuetonia 35
  • Snugride Click Connect 40.

If you have one of the affected models, you can contact Graco here: http://www.pages02.net/newellrubbermaid/harness-buckles
They will provide you with a replacement buckle.

This year we’ll be celebrating Presidents’ Day on February 17. Originally established to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, President’s Day is now viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents.

We’re in mind of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president, who said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Why did Jefferson think so? Because the media plays an important role and provides a great service to the public by informing them about topics that could have a direct impact on their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And why are we reminded of this just now? Because news organizations have been following and reporting on a situation of great importance to residents in our area – the groundwater contamination by a Hoechst Celanese polyester fiber plant previously located in Spartanburg. Residents of the Cannons Campground community allege that the pollution has exposed them to serious health issues, including cancer, sometimes leading to untimely death.

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Once again Toyota has come under fire, so to speak, because of a manufacturing/design defect in some of their vehicles. The problem is that the materials used in their heated seats – such a welcome luxury this time of year – are not as flame resistant as required by U.S. regulatory standards.

South Carolina Car Injuries

Toyota has issued a stop-sale order to their dealers for the affected models, which include the Camry, Camry hybrid, Avalon sedan, Avalon hybrid, Corolla subcompact, Sienna minivan, Tundra and Tacoma trucks made since August 2012, when the fabric supplier was changed. So far there hasn’t been a recall of cars already on the road.

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There are many things responsible parents do to protect their children, including buckling them in when riding in the car. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children between one and 13 years of age.

Columbia SC Child Safety

More than a third of children under age 13 who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2011 were not in car seats or wearing seat belts. You know that these parents’ grief was complicated by regret that they did not insist that their child be safely restrained. Sixty percent of crashes involving children occur ten minutes or less away from home, so they should be buckled up even for short trips.

Children should be kept in car seats or booster seats until they are 12 years old or of sufficient size to wear a regular seat belt. You can find the specific age and size recommendations here: http://www.safercar.gov/parents/RightSeat.htm

In the news this third week of January 2014 is the recommendation of NHTSA that standards be upgraded for car seats designed for children weighing up to 40 pounds. If the proposed regulation is adopted, child car seats would for the first time have to protect children from death and injury in side-impact crashes. New car seats in this category would have to pass a test simulating a T-bone crash where a vehicle going 30 mph strikes a smaller vehicle going 15 mph.

For many years, safety advocates have sought tougher standards for children’s car seats to protect against side-impact crashes. The current regulations for child restraint systems are found in Section 571.213 of the Code of Federal Regulations (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/fmcsr/fmcsrruletext.aspx?reg=571.213). The new regulation proposed by NHTSA won’t take effect immediately. The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed regulations, then the agency will review the comments and address issues which might be raised; after that, car sear manufacturers will have three years to meet the new requirements.

In the meantime, parents must simply do their best to provide their children with car seats and booster seats that meet current guidelines and must be vigilant about their use. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes a listing of car seats which meet federal safety standards as of 2013. It is here: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Product-Listing.aspx

Additionally, here are some tips that could help you determine if you are using the best protection while transporting your children:

  • Never use a car seat that is too old. That bargain you picked up at a yard sale may be outdated and have outlived the manufacturer’s recommended usage.
  • Discard a child restraint device if it has any visible cracks in it.
  • You need to read the instructions so you can install and use the seat properly. A used device probably won’t come with instructions.
  • Do not use a car seat that was recalled. Recalls for the last ten years can be found here: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/childseat.cfm

The federal regulations setting standards for car seats are aimed at manufacturers. However, state laws are aimed at drivers, and a violation of South Carolina’s Child Passenger Safety Seat Law can land you with a $150 fine. This state law is found in Section 56-5-6410. It requires “an appropriate child passenger restraint system” for children 5 years of age or younger. The law gives specifics according to age and weight and states whether the seat must be backward or forward facing. The South Carolina law can be found here: http://www.scdhec.gov/administration/library/CR-008006.pdf

As South Carolina’s law states, “Child safety seats are the most effective occupant protection devices used in motor vehicles today. If used correctly, they are 71 percent effective in reducing fatalities in children under the age of 5 and 69 percent effective in reducing the need for hospitalization.”

Some of us remember the days when kids piled into the family station wagon and were concerned only with complaining that a sibling was unfairly taking up too much of the seat. But the “good old days” weren’t good in all ways, and we need to take advantage of the modern safety requirements imposed on manufacturers of car seats and other consumer goods.

As we approach the celebration of the 85th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, we think about what was, what is, and what is yet to come. The year 2014 has a special significance for racial justice and civil rights: It is the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision; the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the 20th anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order signed by President Bill Clinton.

“Environmental justice” may be a term you haven’t considered before. According to Robert Bullard, who wrote a book in 1990 entitled Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality, environmental justice concerns the “unfair, unjust and inequitable conditions and decisions” that subject “blacks, low-income groups and working-class persons… to a disproportionately large amount of pollution and other environmental stressors in their neighborhoods as well as in their workplaces.”

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