Articles Posted in Multi-vehicle Accidents

The United States has two separate sets of laws that govern the citizens of each state. There is federal law and state law. Each state has their own law, and as long as it does not conflict with the federal law in that same area, the state law will apply to many cases. This is especially true in personal injury cases, since most personal injury cases do not give rise to federal court “jurisdiction.”

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The term “jurisdiction” essentially means the power to hear a case and impose judgment over the parties to the case. For example, a court in New Mexico will not likely have jurisdiction over a case arising between two Marylanders who get into an accident on a Maryland road. In that case, Maryland would likely be the most proper venue for the lawsuit.

As noted above, each state has the ability to create its own set of laws, and it stands to reason that the law in every state will be a little bit different. This can create major consequences for accident victims in certain cases because under one state’s law a victim’s case may be strong, but under another state’s law the case may be much weaker. This also can have implications regarding the applicable statute of limitations, or the time in which the accident victim has to file their lawsuit against the defendant.

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Earlier this month in Hyattsville, Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., an accident between a church van and a pick-up truck resulted in four people losing their lives and another 14 being seriously injured. According to one local news source, the accident took place on a Sunday afternoon on Hyattsville Street.

slow-traffick-1449352Evidently, police believe that the driver of the pick-up truck rear-ended another passenger vehicle and then lost control of the truck. After traveling several hundred feet past the site of the initial collision, the truck crossed over a double yellow line into the line of oncoming traffic. A church van with 16 people inside traveling in the opposite direction was unable to avoid the collision, and it struck the truck on the passenger side.

After that collision, the pick-up truck ignited in flames. The flames burned intensely until emergency workers were able to get the fire under control. However, ultimately the driver of the truck was pronounced dead at the scene. Thankfully, the flames from the truck did not spread to the van. However, three people in the van – two adults and one child – were killed as a result of the collision. Fourteen others in the van were injured and were taken to various hospitals in the area.

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Earlier this week in the Chinatown area of Washington, D.C., one man was killed when an SUV rolled over him, pinning him underneath until emergency responders were able to free him. According to one local news report, the accident occurred at H Street between 4th and 5th Streets.

view-outside-253457-mEvidently, the driver of an SUV was speeding down H Street towards 5th Street when he lost control of the vehicle. The SUV began to roll and collided with a traffic-light pole, which came crashing down into a nearby building. After going through the pole, the vehicle continued until it hit a wall, causing it to rotate. Ultimately, the SUV came to a rest on top of a pedestrian. At some point in the SUV’s tumble, it collided with another person as well.

The man pinned underneath the SUV was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the SUV, as well as the other pedestrian who was hit by the SUV, are both in the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Police are currently conducting an investigation into the fatal accident, and charges are pending against the driver of the SUV.

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Earlier this month, police arrested and charged a man who was involved in a series of hit-and-run accidents across Washington DC. According to a recent report by the Capital Gazette, the man was charged with 18 counts, including drunk driving and multiple charges of failure to remain at the scene following an accident.

burnout-409860-mLuckily, many of the vehicles the man ran into were unoccupied, but one person was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma as a result of the injuries he sustained. Evidently, the hit-and-run spree began around 6:15 in the evening in the area of Juliana Circle and Newtowne Drive, when a black Jeep sideswiped an unoccupied Nissan that was parked on the side of the road.

After that initial collision, the Jeep continued on down Newtowne Drive. As the driver was negotiating a curve, however, he ran head-on into a city bus. The driver then put the vehicle in reverse, ran over the curb and through a fence, and pulled away, hitting the bus again on the way out.

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Generally, a personal injury plaintiff must prove four elements to prevail in a negligence claim: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. However, in some cases, plaintiffs can take a “short cut” under the legal theory of “negligence per se.” Negligence per se is a Latin term that means negligence in and of itself. Under Washington D.C. law, negligence per se is applicable “where a particular statutory or regulatory standard is enacted to … prevent the type of accident that occurred.” Further, an “unexplained violation of that standard renders the defendant negligent as a matter of law.”
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This means that the plaintiff must prove only that the statute was designed to protect against the type of harm caused in the accident, and that the defendant was the person or entity that engaged in the conduct. Therefore, when the facts of the case allow it, a plaintiff will almost always want to instruct the jury on negligence per se because it makes the plaintiff’s burden that much easier to meet.

For that reason, when a court erroneous instructs a jury on negligence per se, the defendant may have an issue on appeal because of the harm caused by the instruction. However, a recent D.C. Court of Appeals case held that an improper negligence per se instruction can be “redundant” rather than harmful in some cases, and does not always require reversal.

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113679_6300.jpgA wrongful death lawsuit arising from a Nebraska automobile accident invokes that state’s fetal death statute, reportedly for the first time since the Nebraska Legislature enacted it in 2003. The plaintiffs in Baumann v. Slezak, et al are asserting multiple causes of action in relation to the deaths of a Maryland couple, their two children, and their unborn child. The unborn child was a viable fetus at the time, which is an important distinction in some jurisdictions. The right to recover damages for the wrongful death of a person requires that the law recognize the decedent as a “person.” Nebraska’s statute explicitly applies to unborn children “at any stage of gestation,” while the District of Columbia’s statute does not mention unborn children or fetuses. Case law from DC, however has established that the law may apply to a “viable” fetus.

The accident in Nebraska occurred during the early morning of September 9, 2012. A family of four, consisting of a father, a pregnant mother, and two children, were driving through western Nebraska on their way to California. Each parent was driving a separate vehicle, and the children were riding with the mother. Traffic on westbound Interstate 80 was at a standstill because of an accident between two semi-trailers about one mile further up the road. While the family’s two cars were stopped, one behind the other, at the rear of the line of traffic, another semi-trailer approached from behind at about seventy-five miles per hour. The driver allegedly did not slow before colliding with the father’s car. This caused his car to collide with the mother’s car, propelling it under the trailer in front of her, and killing the four family members and the unborn child.

The legal representatives of the two parents filed suit on behalf of the parents, the children, and the unborn child, asserting causes of action for negligence and violations of federal trucking safety regulations. They sued the truck driver, his employer, and the driver and truck companies allegedly responsible for the accident that caused the traffic jam, asserting causes of action for negligence and violations of federal safety regulations.

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1135041_64855755.jpgThe city of Greenbelt, Maryland has found itself with no working fire engines as the result of two accidents in recent weeks. One accident involved a driver who failed to yield the right of way and collided with a fire engine. The other accident occurred when two cars struck the city’s remaining engine while it was blocking part of the Capital Beltway to shield emergency workers. The county fire chief, in speaking about the accidents, reminded drivers in the Maryland portion of the Washington DC area of the state’s “move-over” law, which aims to protect emergency responders helping people after automobile accidents and other crises.

On the morning of September 1, 2012, one of the Greenbelt Volunteer Fire Department’s engines was hit by a civilian vehicle while responding to a residential fire in Berwyn Heights. According to a spokesperson for the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, the civilian vehicle failed to yield the right of way to the fire engine. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries in the collision. The county described the damage to the fire engine as “significant” and said that it will remain out of service for some time.

Greenbelt’s only remaining fire engine was serving as a barrier for emergency workers, who were clearing a wreck on the inner Beltway in the early morning of September 8. Firefighters sometimes position fire engines across multiple lanes of traffic to protect emergency crews who must work on busy roadways on foot. In this case, the fire engine did its job well. At about 2:45 a.m., a 2005 Lexus passed multiple warning lights and crashed into the side and rear of the parked fire engine. Maryland State Police troopers arrested the Lexus driver for multiple traffic violations. While emergency crews were still clearing the Lexus from the scene, a second vehicle barely missed several firefighters and collided with the Lexus, causing even more damage to the fire engine. That driver reportedly fled the scene, but was stopped further down the road and now faces a similar number charges for traffic offenses. The county estimates that the damage to the fire engine will exceed $30,000.

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Brian Vickers Crash - Las VegasNASCAR races around the country have gone a remarkably long time without a serious crash. Some races have recently gone hundreds of laps without even a yellow caution flag, which requires drivers to exercise caution or slow down due to a hazardous condition on the track. Some observers have credited new technologies, including improvements in aerodynamics, with fewer crashes and, therefore, fewer injuries. At the same time, fans report discontent with the situation, and attendance has declined. While improvements in safety and a reduction in racing car accidents would seem to be a favorable goal, the Associated Press went so far as to call it a “fan’s nightmare.”

The AP reported last week that racers at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup had gone more than nine hundred miles without a crash. Out of the last four Sprint Cups, three were entirely free of accidents. Overall, races have had a third fewer caution flags compared to last year. All of the recent crashes reportedly occurred at one race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on April 1. Fans have reportedly reacted by staying at home in droves, and by complaining loudly when they do show up. The stands at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, for example, were reportedly half-empty for the race on March 18. All of this led champion racer Jimmie Johnson to note something that may have already been obvious to many fans and observers: that crashing is more important than racing for some NASCAR fans.

Racing observers have cited both technological changes and a self-perpetuating safety trend as possible causes for the recent bout of green flags, which signal safe track conditions. According to USA Today, one driver said that cautions sometimes “breed more cautions” by slowing down the overall pace and giving cars fewer chances to crash. This could mean that, over time, the amount of crashes will return to the expected level, but other factors may be in play as well.

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While motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of child fatalities, our Washington DC personal injury lawyers want to warn you of other auto vehicle-related dangers that could put a kid at serious risk. Here are a few of these safety hazards, as identified by the National Highway Safety Administration:

Backover accidents: This usually involves a vehicle backing out of a driveway or parking lot and the driver not realizing that there is a child behind the auto. Backover accidents can prove fatal. Because the vehicle is being operated in reverse, the motorist must take extra precautions to check all viewing mirrors, footage from the backup camera, and perhaps even physically look back to make sure there is no one there.

Power windows: Power windows can entrap a young child’s hands, fingers, feet, neck, or head. It is important to make sure that power window switches have been locked. Otherwise, a child can accidentally activate the switch.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, up to 25% of motor vehicle accidents in this country occur because motorists were distracted driving and more often than not using cell phones and other handheld devices. The GHSA’s report, which was released last week, is called “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do.”

As our Washington DC personal injury law firm has reported in past blogs, distracted driving is very dangerous and can dramatically increase the chances of injuries or deaths. It also can be grounds for a DC car crash lawsuit against the driver. Other findings from the study:

• Some drivers are distracted as much as 50% of the time they are on the road.
• Texting while driving, which is both a manual and visual distraction, is even more dangerous than talking on a phone.

• Examples of other common types of distracted driving behavior include talking to other passengers, looking for tapes or CD’s, switching radio stations, drinking, eating, reading directions or a map, reading books or newspapers, dealing with kids or pets, shaving, putting on makeup, shuffling through an iPod, and reading your GPS.

Many people don’t realize that distracted driving impairs their ability to drive safely. This does not change the fact that this behavior can result in very deadly consequences.

Should other parties aside from a distracted driver be held liable for DC personal injury or wrongful death? A couple of years ago, one woman sued Nextel, Samsung, and Sprint for her mother’s distracted driving death. The plaintiff claimed products liability because the three companies allegedly failed to warn the driver that using a cell phone wile driving is a safety hazard. Samsung countered that it did include safety warnings on its websites and packaging and in its user manuals and advertising.

Report: Gadgets Linked To 25 Percent Of Car Accidents, AutoGuide, July 13, 2011

Read the GHSA’s Distracted Driving Report

Related Web Resources:
Distracted Driving, US Department of Motor Vehicles
Cell Phone and Texting Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association
More Blog Posts:
US DOT Holds Second Annual Distracted Driving Summit in Washington DC, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 22, 2010
Preventing Maryland Car Crashes: State Senate Approves Ban on Reading Text Messages While Driving, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 9, 2011
Maryland Lawmakers Want Texting While Driving Ban to Block Drivers From Reading Messages, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 20, 2010

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