Nebraska and Iowa Address Distracted Driving Accident Prevention Awareness

As April draws to a close, we remind our clients, friends and family to avoid distracted driving by keeping your mind and hands on your driving.  April is designated as the month dedicated to prevention of Distracted Driving, including texting, changing the radio station, talking on your phone, playing with your iPad or iPod, or any other activity which distracts you from your driving.  As attorneys who practice personal injury, this issue hits close to home.  Every day we see traumatic accidents all over the nation caused by distracted driving.  This is an issue that draws attention in our schools, our work, our homes, and our legislature.

Nebraska has addressed the issue of distracted driving by making texting while driving and failure to wear seatbelt infractions secondary offenses.  This means that you cannot be ticketed for either offense unless you are stopped by law enforcement for another reason.  The current law on texting and driving was passed by the unicameral in 2010 and was amended so the $200.00 fine could only be issued as a secondary offense.  Unfortunately, this led to only 234 citations in 2011 and 2012, hardly an effective argument for deterring cell phone usage while driving.  The most likely reason for this low number of convictions is the fact that it is only a secondary offense.

However, in this latest legislative session, Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff introduced the Nebraska Roadway Safety Act, LB807, a bill aimed at making our roads safer, including a provision which would have made texting while driving a primary offense.   Wearing a seatbelt would also be a primary offense.  The bill also proposes no cell phone use by bus drivers while a bus is in motion unless communicating with dispatch.  At the end of the legislative session, this bill was indefinitely postponed.

Meanwhile, Iowa is also making deterring distracted driving a priority.  In late March, the Iowa Senate voted 27-22 in favor of an appropriations bill setting aside $200,000.00 to be used in an educational campaign regarding the risks of distracted driving.  This bill will now go to the Iowa House, where legislation to specifically crack down on the problem of texting and driving has stalled.  There has been a dispute as to which department’s budget will provide funding for the appropriations bill.

Texting and driving is still a crucial part of improving roadway safety and accident prevention.  Although texting and driving is often the distraction that is focused on in legislation and in the public, other activities which can move your attention away from the task of operating your motor vehicle safely should be avoided or delayed until you can perform the task safely.

Plaintiffs Recover Damages from Actos and TVM Manufacturers

The first two weeks of April brought large verdicts for two plaintiffs injured by dangerous drugs.  Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., and its partner Eli Lilly & Co. have been ordered to pay a combined total of $9 billion in punitive damages after determining their product, Actos, which was originally manufactured for treatment of diabetes, knew about the cancer risks of the drug.  The punitive damage award was in addition to the $1.5 million in special damages to the Plaintiff, who had developed bladder cancer after taking Actos.  This was the first federal trial in the multidistrict litigation dealing with Actos claims and was awarded by a federal jury in Lafayette, LA.  Takeda’s shares in Tokyo tumbled 8.4 percent after the verdict.  Takeda and Lilly are expected to appeal the verdict, according to their representatives.

Although compensatory damages are meant to compensate a Plaintiff for actual damages, and punitive damages are designed to punish and deter bad behavior, the two types of damages must bear some relationship to one another, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  The Court could rule that the $9 billion in punitive damages is excessive and unconstitutional, which has traditionally happened with verdicts that demonstrate punitive damages over nine times those of compensatory damages.  The Louisiana jury was presented with the financial information regarding the defendants when determining the amount of the punitive damages, which demonstrated each defendant was worth tens of billions of dollars.  Large punitive damages are often a sign that a jury wishes to make an impact on the defendants according to legal experts.

In a separate trial in a Dallas state court, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $1.2 million in compensatory damages to a woman injured by a transvaginal mesh (TVM) implant.  As a result of a defective design in the product, the Plaintiff suffered severe injuries when the mesh “bladder sling” eroded inside of her.  This verdict is the first mesh case which deals with a “bladder sling” product, rather than a pelvic organ prolapse product.  Many patients with transvaginal mesh slings have been forced to undergo additional surgeries to correct problems with their implants.  Although there have been many problems with the mechanically cut TVT-O mesh, it is still being used along with other products such as the TVT-Secur and TVT-Abrevo.  The Dallas verdict is expected to set a precedent for future transvaginal mesh cases.

The Actos and TVM verdicts are big wins for those injured by defective drugs and medical products as they set a tone for future verdicts.  If you have suffered injuries as a result of a defective drug, contact an attorney well-versed in handling mass tort litigation.

Federal Law to Require New Cars to Include BackUp Cameras by 2018

A new rule requiring backup cameras in all new cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups weighing less than 10,000 pounds by May of 2018 has been announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  All new cars, SUVs and minivans, as well as some new small trucks and buses, will be required to include backup cameras, a measure which is expected to reduce the nearly 210 backover deaths each year.  It is estimated that rear facing camera, including those automakers already offer, could save between 59 and 69 deaths a year, many of which were children.  Automakers will be allowed to “remove side –view mirrors and replace them with cameras that may expand side vision while increasing fuel efficiency”.  In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decided to require vehicle to vehicle communication systems in all new cars and trucks, however an exact date for implementation of this technology has not been set.

GM: Additional Recall Affects Millions of Vehicles After History of Accidents

As CEO Mary Barra was preparing to testify before congress about a recall of 2.2 million vehicles which demonstrated an ignition switch problem leading to 13 deaths, a new recall was announced for a problem which can cause a sudden loss of power steering.  The new recall affects an estimated 1.3 million vehicles, some of which were already affected by the ignition switch recall.  Cars included in the recall include Saturn Ion, Chevrolet HHR, Chevy Cobalt, Chevrolet Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6.  Some of these models had previously been recalled for the same issue but are being recalled again as the efforts of GM to solve the issue did not go far enough and still present a safety risk.  If you have one of these models of vehicles manufactured between 2004 and 2010, please contact your dealer to determine your rights to a repair.  These defects are major problems and can cause accidents leading to critical injuries or death.

MOTORCYCLES: The Great Helmet Debate

For as long as motorcyclists can recall, the debate over whether motorcycle helmets should be mandatory has flourished.  Forty-seven states, including Nebraska, as well the District of Columbia, Guam, Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have laws in place requiring the use of a helmet for some riders.  Nineteen states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a universal law, while the other twenty-eight states and Guam require helmets only for specific riders.  Only four states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire) do not have a motorcycle helmet law for any riders.

Still the debate continues and states continually attempt to introduce legislation to repeal helmet laws.  Tennessee’s most recent effort to adjust their law to exempt those over 25 years old with at least $200,000.00 in medical insurance and $100,000.00 in liability coverage, failed in committee this week.  Two years ago, Michigan repealed its motorcycle helmet law.  Nebraska has had a helmet law in place since 1989.  Last year, Nebraska introduced a bill which would have required eye protection in operating a moped, while exempting anyone over 21 years of age from the requirement of wearing a helmet.  The bill now has been removed from the Unicameral’s agenda and has virtually no chance to be reviewed again in this legislative session.  This was the fifth time Nebraska had considered measures to alter the motorcycle helmet laws.  The most recent vote showed the repeal might have reached the 25 votes it needed to pass if the vote to cut off debate on the bill had been successful, which kept the bill from the voting floor.

As an attorney who has focused a good portion of his practice on motorcycle accident litigation, I have seen the massive head trauma that can occur during motorcycle accidents.  If you live in a state which requires you to wear a helmet, be sure to choose one that is DOT-Compliant.  Where do you stand on the helmet law?