March 2010 News: Injured
Injured - The FindLaw Accident, Injury and Tort Law Blog

March 2010 Archives

Ohio Police Apologize, Pay for False Accusation

If only the real CSI in Columbus, Ohio, was as slick as those guys on the show(s). A major mistake and lack of communication between the city's CSI team and detectives investigating the murder of Dennis Lewis led them to falsely accuse his twin brother Derris of the crime. On March 29, the Columbus City Council approved a settlement of $950,000 to compensate Derris Lewis for his ordeal.  

Big Box Bully's False Accusation Costs It $9 Million

Here is yet one more little guy vs. big bad company story. In this case, bad is a pretty accurate word, especially as far as Houston resident Nitra Gipson is concerned. She has, for the moment, emerged victorious from a court battle with retail Goliath Walmart which, a jury says, falsely accused her of shoplifting, forgery, counterfeiting... and the list goes on. On March 26, Gipson walked away with $9 million loaded in her slingshot but without any comment from her foe except a promise of more litigation.

Another Prius hoax? Not so fast! Results are in for the New York Prius incident. 

Although the San Diego incident was largely speculated to be a hoax, the same cannot be said for the New York Prius incident involving unintended acceleration.

You see, the black box has spoken. The black box is essentially the vehicle's data recorder.  And now, as the investigation has come to a close, the black box is screaming "driver error!"

A New York housekeeper allegedly accelerated into a stone wall across the street, on the same day she planned to take the Prius for a brake check. The alleged unintended acceleration in her Prius caused it some great damage. The woman claimed that the Prius accelerated on its own and she insisted that she repeatedly pressed the brakes.

Let the games begin! Attorneys are battling it out for the lead in the Toyota lawsuits over unintended acceleration. 

And as one attorney stated, it promises to be a "bloodbath."

A plethora of attorneys gathered in San Diego to make their two-minute pitch on the merits of their venue as the venue of choice in the Toyota lawsuits. 

Indeed, home-court advantage was in high demand. As are the potentially huge contingency fees that could be collected on any Toyota lawsuit. But with the stakes high, the number of takers is just as high. Approximately 100 Toyota lawsuits have been filed, citing the recent Toyota problems for injuries and even fatalities. The suits span the nation, but the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation intends to consolidate all these cases into a few, to make the process easier and more streamlined. 

The Panel plans to have the consolidated cases heard in a few, selected jurisdictions. As a result, the number of attorneys on the cases could be greatly reduced. 

Toyota reportedly received complaints back in 2007 about its unintended acceleration problem. As a result, it was asked in 2007 to consider installing software, known as brake override system (also referred to as "smart pedals" or "smart brakes"), to mitigate the unintended acceleration problem. 

The brake override software, however, was not installed in many of the recalled Toyota models until early this year, after the fatal Lexus crash in San Diego that killed Officer Mark Saylor and his family last fall. 

We've been hearing the phrase "brake override," but what exactly does it mean? 

Lawsuit for Wrongful Death Over Fatal Bus Crash

The fatal bus crash that occurred in Minnesota last fall claimed the lives of two women because the bus driver Edwin Erickson suffered from an aneurysm bursting in his chest while he was driving. The family of one of the women has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death. The family of Ms. Rhonda Hill is claiming that Bold Lines (which is the bus line operator) was negligent and careless in its hiring, supervising and retention of Mr. Erickson. The complaint includes Mr. Erickson as a defendant as well.

The lawsuit is claiming more than $50,000 in damages.

Sore Spouse in N.C. Wins $9 Mill from Other Woman

So much for the second and even third wave of feminism. It's back to sister vs. sister in the great state of North Carolina where scorned wife Cynthia Shackelford has won $9 million from her alienation of affection suit against her husband's mistress. Take notes, Ms. Edwards.

Suit Alleges Molestation Abuse Cover-up by the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts have been rocked with allegations of molestation abuse dating back from the 1970s till the 1980s. A lawsuit filed by Portland Oregon attorney Kelly Clark details how the molestation abuse of one scout allegedly occurred even after the abuse had been reported to the local Scout coordinator at the time. This week, the Boy Scouts had to explain the use of secret files kept on volunteers that the Boy Scouts have kept since 1919 to catalogue those deemed "unfit" to volunteer.

The files reportedly break down into six categories: criminal, financial, leadership, religious, moral and perversion. The Washington Post reports that some of the "perversion files" are expected to be released during the trial in order to illustrate how the Boy Scouts have covered up sexual abuse of children for decades. According to the Washington Post, the only other time that these files have been released was a trial during the 1980s in Virginia.

The Portland lawsuit involves the "perversion file" of former Portland Boy Scout volunteer Timur Dykes, who reportedly confessed to a local Scout coordinator that he had molested 17 scouts. The Scouts claim Dykes was quickly not allowed to participate in the organzation. Through his attorney, the plaintiff claims that Sykes was allowed to continue joining in Boy Scout activities.  

Cyberbullying Held not Protected Speech in CA Civil Suit

A California appeals court has found that cyberbullying is not speech protected by the First Amendment, at least not in the case of a group of teens and their parents who were sued by a cyberbullied victim. Refusing to throw out the suit as what's called a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), the court found the online statements at issue to fall within the "true threat" exception to First Amendment protection.

USA Swimming Faces Major Sexual Abuse Allegations

A suit filed late in the day on March 11 brought major allegations about widespread sexual abuse of young swimmers in San Jose, CA, were the case was filed, and throughout USA Swimming. The suit claims that since 1993, at least 32 swim coaches at clubs around the country allegedly abused their swimmers. This list includes San Jose swim coach Andrew King, who was sentenced in January to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing girls he coached.

NY Inmates Illegally Strip Searched Win Legal Settlement

It's the third time in decade that New York City has agreed to pay inmates for illegal strip searches, reaching a legal settlement in a class-action lawsuit. The suit settled for $33 million.

According to the Associated Press, the suit was filed by on behalf of people arrested on misdemeanor drug and weapons charges who were illegally strip searched at Rikers Island and other jails.

Settlement Offer in Learjet Crash Approved By Judge

The settlement offer from Learjet Inc., Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., and other companies involved in a Learjet crash that involved Travis Barker, the late DJ AM, and their entourage back in 2008 in South Carolina, has been approved by Judge Mary Strobel in Los Angeles County Superior Court.  

We had written about this Learjet crash earlier in FindLaw's Common Law Blog. It occurred on Sept. 20, 2008 in South Carolina. The Learjet crash was so severe, that it killed four people and injured Travis Barker and the late DJ AM. The four people killed in the crash were the two pilots and Mr. Barker's assistant and Mr. Barker's bodyguard.

Angered Accountant Sues Over Craigslist Rant

What is the hottest trend right now? No, not wedges... the hottest legal trend. How about suing for a bad review? Whether it is Yelp, a esoteric academic journal, or even the venerable entertainment trade rag Variety, everyone is up in arms over the fine legal line between defamation and the nasty review. As discussed in another post, some professionals (in that case, doctors) are even going so far as to ask their clients (in that case, patients) to sign a form agreeing not to discuss their experience on sites like angieslist.com. In the latest case, a New York accountant is suing craigslist.org for comments that are a bit past the point of the badest of the bad reviews.

Tort Reform Upheld by Georgia Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court handed down two cases that will have a strong impact on tort reform in the state. Whether or not the citizens of Georgia will like the result may depend on which side of the courtroom they are on now, or in the future. The first case the Court decided involves the increased burden of proof on plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits against ER doctors, the second, a penalty for plaintiffs in tort suits who refuse good faith settlement offers.

Did America fall victim to the runaway Prius hoax?

Last week, we all heard the story about the unintended acceleration of the runaway Prius in San Diego. The man claimed that he lost the power to brake his Prius and began zooming at speeds over 90 miles per hour, while the California Highway Patrol chased him, guiding him over the loudspeaker. 

After the unintended acceleration incident, the Toyota Prius was taken under investigation while the driver, 61 year-old online porn entrepreneur James Sikes, held a press conference to discuss his ordeal.  

Over the weekend, however, the results of the investigation began coming to light, as federal regulators and engineers from Toyota Motor Corp. began releasing the results of their findings. 

It's ironic that Toyota's slogan would be "moving forward" in light of their unintended acceleration problems. Oddly so, since the "moving forward" of so many vehicles is what has caused so many fatal accidents. Now, Orange County in California has sued the automaker to stop the sale of dangerous vehicles.

"We need to make sure that when Toyota says...'Moving forward', they are talking about great cars," said Tony Rackauckas, the District Attorney of Orange County, CA, in a press conference Friday.

Rackauckas filed a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation, on behalf of Orange County residents. Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Rackauckas, an elected official, stated that his office had the right to bring such a consumer protection suit on behalf of his residents.

In his suit, the Orange County DA is seeking a court order to stop the sale of vehicles with dangerous defects. The Toyota lawsuit accuses Toyota of unfair and deceptive business practices. The allegations are based on the recent events and controversy surrounding Toyota, including the unintended acceleration problems. 

FDA Looks Into Bisphosphonates and Femur Fractures

After a flurry of reporting that bisphosphonates and bone fractures such as femur fractures could be linked, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will be conducting an ongoing safety review of oral bisphosphonates and femur fractures. The FDA has made it clear that it this point, it has not found a clear connection between bisphosphonate use and a risk of unusual femur fractures. The FDA intends to use the expertise of outside experts such as members of the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research Subtrochanteric Femoral Fracture Task Force.

Another Suit Filed over Middletown Plant Explosion

One more suit has been filed as a result of the February plant explosion at Kleen Energy in Middletown, Connecticut. Seven carpenters and four of their spouses have filed suit against Kleen Energy Systems, O&G Industries and Keystone Construction & Maintenance Services for the injuries sustained from blast. Of the seven plaintiffs on the scene that day, only one has been able to return to work.

After Tuesday's highly publicized runaway Prius in San Diego, who knew we'd see another related incident so soon?

This time, it's in New York.

In San Diego, California Highway Patrol officers were needed to slow down a runaway Prius on the Interstate.

Tuesday's runaway Prius incident was allegedly caused by the same unintended acceleration problem that's been plaguing the auto-maker and was the subject of several recalls as well as a major Congressional hearing. Subsequent to the San Diego car chase, the frightened driver spoke at a press conference in front of a Toyota dealership. 

In the wake of the brutal Orlando SeaWorld whale attack, the lawsuits have begun.  But this lawsuit is not a suit against SeaWorld. 

Rather, it's a suit to prevent the release of the video of the horrific incident, where veteran whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged into the pool and killed by the very whale she trained.

Brancheau's family claims that the release of the information would worsen their grief and as a result, does not want the tapes of the SeaWorld whale attack to be made public.  Indeed, if the tapes were made public, they would be picked up by media outlets throughout the country, as the Orange County Sheriff's department reports that it has received several inquiries about the video.  

Such suits are not uncommon. In fact, the family of Dawn Brancheau has retained an attorney who represented Dale Earnhardt's widow in stopping the release of his autopsy photos. 

Similarly, the family of the Austin man who was recently killed when a plane crashed into an IRS building also sued to prevent the release of his autopsy details.

You can add Prius to the list of Toyota's problem cars. Apparently, the Prius may now have also fallen victim to unintended acceleration problems. 

According to the California Highway Patrol, a Toyota Prius owned by James Sikes of San Diego  was headed eastbound on I-8 near San Diego on Monday, when the accelerator became stuck and the car began its unintended acceleration at speeds over 90 miles per hour.

The frightened owner called 9-1-1 and the CHP came to his help, blocking his car and shadowing him while talking him down from the acceleration problem. 

High Court Reviews Military Funeral Protest Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will review protesters' anti-gay message at military funerals and whether it is protected by the First Amendment.

According to the Associated Press, the high court will hear an appeal father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder killed in Iraq. The Synder family won a $5 million judgment from the protesters, which was overturned on appeal.

Toyota won't go down without a fight, despite allegations of am electronic throttle issue causing unintended acceleration in several of their vehicles. 

In many of the previous blog posts, we've discussed the allegations against Toyota, including the one involving a potential electrical problem in Toyota's electronic throttle system.  Essentially, some researchers have claimed that the current Toyota sudden acceleration problem may be due to a flaw in the onboard computer systems of the cars

Amidst allegations and testimony before Congress earlier this month, Toyota has stepped up it's game in hopes of rebutting evidence of potential electronics problems presented before Congress.

A lawsuit has been filed for occupational injuries sustained by the survivor of a deadly New Mexico oil refinery explosion which occurred earlier this month.

The welding accident caused the death of two men in the city of Artesia, New Mexico on March 2, when a tar tank exploded at the Artesia facility, shortly after lunch. According to authorities, warning sirens sounded just before 1 PM on the day of the explosion. The refinery was evacuated upon the sounding of the sirens.  

As reported by the AP, the two deceased were identified as Natividad Andajo of Odessa, Texas and Victor Villa of Midland, Texas. One body was found on the site, but the other is missing and presumed dead.  

Bridal No Show: The Boston Bridal Show Scam

Limo drivers, bakers, florists, photographers, all the local bridal services vendors, not to mention brides in the Boston area, had been buzzing for weeks over the major bridal show, "The Boston 411 Bridal & Home Show 2010," that was supposed to begin on Friday, March 5. "Supposed to" are the operative words here, because after months of tweets, ticket sales, Facebook friends and an extensive website, it turns out the whole thing was a scam. No arena, no hotel rooms, no flowers, no dresses, no cake. Just... left at the altar.

For those who remember the disturbing 9-1-1 call, where listeners heard the final moments of four passengers in a runaway Lexus car crash, the families have begun their quest for vindication -- in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.

And although the wrongful death lawsuit might never repair all the damage allegedly caused by Toyota, nor will it heal the wounds left in the hearts of the Lastrella and Saylor families, it might serve as a starting point in something bigger: auto safety reform.

Relatives of California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and his family members who were killed in that runaway Lexus filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota Motor Company, the maker of Lexus. Mark Saylor, 45, was driving on a San Diego freeway with his wife, Cleofe, 45, their daughter, Mahala, 13, and Cleofe's brother, Chris Lastrella, 39, when their Lexus launched off an embankment and burst into flames. Seconds before the car flew off the embankment, the 9-1-1 call recorded Chris Lastrella asking the others in the car to pray.  

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed last week in Texas state court against Hillary Rodham Clinton for a 2008 accident involving her motorcade in Dallas while a presidential candidate.

The family of the motorcycle driver is now suing Secretary of State Clinton, alleging that the motorcycle driver was not properly trained when he took to the road in her motorcade during her 2008 campaign. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, Senior Cpl. Victor Lozada-Tirado was killed two years ago, as he came around a curve while performing a "leapfrog" maneuver to pass the motorcade. He lost control of his bike and slammed head-on into a concrete outcropping. His helmet was knocked off during the crash. Lozada and several other motorcycle officers were controlling traffic at intersections while Clinton's motorcade drove through the streets of Dallas during her campaign.   

Consuming some fish oil supplements might not be as good for your health as you initially would think. A group of environmental advocates, led by Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation, filed a consumer protection lawsuit on Monday, looking to force manufacturers of fish oil to warn consumers.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, the subject of the fish oil safety warning would relate to the fact that that many fish oil supplements contain a banned substance, known as polychlorinated biphenyl compounds, or PCB's. The fish oils in question are sold at several well known drugstores, including CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid. The two pharmacies are named in the consumer protection lawsuit, as well as five makers of the supplements, including General Nutrition Corp (GNC) and Omega Protein Inc., the self-proclaimed "world's largest producer of omega-3 fish oil."

We knew Toyota had personal injury lawsuits stacking up but now, are they responsible for a wrongful conviction? 

A 29 year old refugee from Laos might be in jail because Toyota hid its product defects from the public. If this information had anything to do with a brakes problem or sudden acceleration in 1996 Toyota Camrys, then Toyota could be responsible for letting a man waste his life in prison.

Koua Fong Lee is serving 8 years in prison for a fatal accident he claims was due to faulty brakes. As ABC reports, in 2006, Lee's 96' Toyota Camry crashed, killing two children and one adult passenger in the another vehicle. His car was moving at an estimated speed of 70 to 90 miles per hour at the time of the fatal accident. Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide.

The crash happened while Lee was driving home from church with his pregnant wife and family. No signs of drugs or alcohol were found. As ABC reports, Lee screamed "Brakes, brakes not working," moments before impact.

Lee's complaint of a brakes problem and sudden acceleration in the '96 Camry was not an isolated one, however. 

The Toyota Congressional hearing findings may start affecting the way all new cars are manufactured in the United States. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that the agency might start recommending that all new vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with a brake override system that would prevent unintended acceleration. 

These recommendations come in light of the Congressional hearings into Toyota's safety issues. Over the last week, Congress heard testimony from researchers, politicians, victims of Toyota's accidents and the families of fatal accident victims. 

Most heart-wrenching was testimony by the mother of Chris Lastrella, whose final moments were heard on a 9-1-1 call as his Lexus was crashing with his sister, her husband and his niece inside. The family was heard praying minutes before the fatal accident, which occurred near San Diego late last year.

Too Hot or Not? McDonald's Lawsuit over Hot Food Revived

The hot food lawsuit, will it ever go away? As a result of this type of regularly re-occurring litigation, the nation is sharply divided: do people just need use their heads about handling hot food, or on the other side of this fried divide, do restaurants really need to serve food at a temperature that would cause third degree burns?

The issue has even made it into country music lyrics:

Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars...
Thats us, Thats rite,                                                                                                                                                         Gotta love this American ride
. --Toby Keith, American Ride

According to ABC News, the jury on hot food lawsuits is not out, but back in. A McDonald's lawsuit over hot food was recently re-instated by the Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

California County Sues GSK over Diabetes Drug Avandia

As previously discussed on this blog, in late February, the Senate Finance Committee released a 334 page report taking both the FDA and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to task for what it found to be an unacceptable risk of heart attack linked to use of the drug Avandia, a medication used to treat diabetes.

Slip and Fall Guy: Weather Man Advises P.I. Attorneys

Did you ever think, I wonder what it is exactly that a forensic meteorologist does? Today, that question will be answered. Thanks to reporting by the New York Daily News, we now know just what it is that Albany, New York based forensic meteorologist Howard Altschule does all day.

The latest news in the Toyota investigation? Alleged hidden documents and Toyota's secret "Books of Knowledge."

Toyota Motor Corp has allegedly withheld internal company documents in past court cases --documents which if hidden, could have been extremely incriminating for the automotive giant. 

According to the Chairman of a U.S. House committee investigating the motor company, Toyota engaged in "systematic disregard for the law."