A 21st Century Problem: Who’s at Fault with Autonomous Vehicle Accidents?

With the rise of driverless vehicles, we are closer than ever to a reality that is increasingly automated. Removing the possibility of human error from driving could reduce the number of car accidents.

Recently, there have been several recent injuries and fatalities caused by autonomous vehicle accidents. These incidents have raised concerns over who is legally responsible for these kinds of accidents. If you live on Cape Cod and want to know how blame will be assigned in these events, check out this simple guide.

The Costs of Human Errors

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that human error is the biggest risk on the road. In 2015 alone, over 35,000 people lost their lives in the United States from car crashes. Another NHTSA survey found that human errors accounted for a full 94% of car crashes.

Human errors are responsible for the largest number of accidents while driving. The rest of the accidents recorded from environmental and mechanical issues.

While some accidents are no-one’s fault, an investigation of a car crash can reveal a driver’s true errors. The driver may have known there was ice on the roads and ignored it, or drove too fast for the area, resulting in legal consequences.

As such, self-driving cars are viewed as a potential solution to reduce the number of road deaths per year. However, automated technology is only as good as it’s coding and it’s sensors. This can lead to autonomous vehicle accidents where assigning blame is very difficult.

The First Autonomous Car Fatality

On March 18th, 2018, the first recorded death caused by autonomous vehicle happened in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. An unfortunate pedestrian named Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle out for a test drive. There is still contention over whether the car’s sensors didn’t react in time or whether the pedestrian failed to pay attention to an oncoming car.

This immediately led to Uber and several other companies suspending tests of driverless vehicles. Arizona’s governor also suspended Uber’s statewide operations. Several other companies also halted their own autonomous vehicle development.

Meanwhile, advocates called for a total moratorium on further testing. This event has raised questions about the long term future of self-driving cars and who is responsible for any accidents that occur.

Who Takes The Blame When a Computer Is Driving?

As is so often the case technology has evolved faster than the law, leading to a great deal of confusion about who is responsible. Regarding auto insurance companies, there is no distinction between a self-driving car and one that relies on a human to pilot it. Under the current laws, human drivers must assume control of autonomous vehicles. They also bear responsibility for any accidents.

Some states that allow companies to test and operate self-driving vehicles. However, they are required to have insurance coverage. The vehicles must also have backup drivers to ensure safe operation.

Any self-driving Uber car has commercial insurance. This will cover drivers in the event of injury and damage to property. This is true regardless of whether the cars are running on auto-pilot or not.

There are four main factors when it comes to determining responsibility in the event of autonomous vehicle accidents. These errors are human error and failure of government oversight. Vehicle malfunction and poor design and manufacturing also play significant roles.

Human Error

If you find yourself injured by an autonomous vehicle, you should go after the driver first. No matter how advanced the technology, it is useless if it cannot protect a pedestrian from injury or death. In this case, the human operator bears much of the responsibility.

Did the backup driver take every precaution to prevent the accident from happening in the first place? If the driver misuses the technology or fails to remain alert while operating the vehicle, they may be at fault for any damages.

Failure of Government Oversight

Before being cleared to operate on roadways in the United States, the technology must be approved. This is the responsibility of the appropriate government agency. If a test vehicle happens to cause injuries or death, legal responsibility may lie with that department.

Vehicle Malfunction

While this is statistically among the least likely causes of a car crash, the possibility of technology failing is genuine. Any car owners can testify to the fact that sometimes components break or are simply defective.

Drivers of autonomous vehicles may have operated properly and still suffered a mechanical failure. In this case, the liability falls to the manufacturer of the failed components.

Poor Manufacturing or Design

There have been a number of cases where a design fault has led to injury or death. Several vehicles have had issues with the center of gravity while resulted in the cars rolling over and crashing. If the autonomous vehicle has a design fault or was poorly manufactured, the manufacturer may be responsible for the accident.

The Laws and Insurance Companies Are Undergoing Rapid Changes

In the world of legal responsibility and insurance coverage, the driver assumes responsibility. Major car manufacturers like Volvo and Nissan want autonomous vehicles being commonplace by 2020. Once this occurs, there will need to be many changes made to the legal and insurance industries.

When cars become completely autonomous, the liability will shift to car manufacturers. Current models have different modes of operation that requires the driver to know how to operate the car in all circumstances. As cars become more and more complex, it will be harder for the driver to know exactly what mode was in use at the time of the accident.

Thus far, all autonomous vehicle accidents have been settled out of court. This means that the United States legal system has yet to grapple with this technology.

When dealing with unsettled legal issues, most companies will choose to offer a settlement. Otherwise, they risk setting a negative precedent that could affect them later.

Autonomous Vehicle Accidents Can Be Fixed with The Right Legal Help

If you or a loved one are injured by an autonomous vehicle or you suffer a crash while driving one yourself, make sure that you get legal help right away. For the help you need on Cape Cod, contact Goldberg & Weigand, LLP today!

4 Essential Steps to Take if You Have Been in a Car Accident

Getting into a car accident can be a very traumatic experience. Depending on the severity of the crash and the level of trauma involved, individuals can forget to obtain valuable information required for them to recover for their losses in the future. To protect yourself after an unexpected car accident, be sure to remember to gather the information listed below:

 

Take Photographs or Videos

Be sure to photograph the damage to the vehicles at all angles and take a short video.  Any video or pictures of the other driver could prove helpful as well. Any injuries that you or anyone else in your vehicle have suffered should also be photographed. This proof will help later on when we are trying to determine fault and/or determine the amounts of any damages to be paid to the victim(s).

 

Speak to Any Witnesses You Can Find

Most importantly, ask any eyewitnesses for their contact information (name/address/phone number) so that you can follow up with them later on if there are further questions. If possible and practical, ask for their statement, ideally in a short video.

 

Exchange Insurance Information

Make sure to obtain the insurance information of all parties in the accident. This way, it will be easier for the various insurance companies to divide up what costs are required to pay for damages to the vehicles and potential medical expenses that occur as a result of the accident.

 

Keep Track of All Medical Expenses

Any invoices the hospital or any other medical provider provides should be filed away for later use. Those documents will help the court to determine what you should receive in damages.

 

Should You Consult with a Lawyer?

If you are involved in a car accident, it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney to obtain the best possible outcome for your case. The skilled and seasoned attorneys at Goldberg & Weigand, LLP have many decades of experience representing injured parties located all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and can help you as well. If you or someone you know was injured due to a car accident, please do not hesitate to contact us by calling (508) 203-6600 for an initial consultation. There is NO FEE for this or any consultation.  Call 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

Passing on the Dangers of Distracted Driving

Driving, even in perfect weather conditions and under the best of circumstances, is an inherently dangerous activity. On the other end of the spectrum, distracted driving is routinely cited as the leading source in the increase in car accidents over the past several years. With the constant availability of technology to send and receive information, driving with minimal attention on the road is an issue that can be observed all the time. Of course, distractions existed well before smartphones were invented. Some common examples that can still pose issues with drivers today include: changing the radio, applying makeup, looking at outside buildings/scenery, and eating. The difference that there seems to be with smartphones is the combination of looking down and taking one hand off the wheel, as well as the repeated number of times this can occur within a single trip. Laws have been enacted, including in Massachusetts, to ban this type of behavior in hopes of making an impact on rising car accident rates. The police in Norwell recently executed an operation to enforce distracting driver laws by staging officers to look for drivers using electronic devices and issuing citations when caught. Distracted driving poses a danger to both the person performing this activity and others on the road, and a discussion of Massachusetts distracted driving laws, as well as ways to prove this was a factor in a car accident, will follow below.

 

Distracted Driving Laws in Massachusetts

Beginning back in 2010, Massachusetts banned drivers from the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices while a vehicle is in operation. The specific activities the law prohibits are sending, writing, reading messages, but it does not apply to stationary vehicles or vehicles that are not located on a public roadway used for travel. Further, any driver under the age of 18 is completely prohibited from using a phone for any purpose, even if it is set up to be hands-free unless it is an emergency situation. While these provisions relate to acts prohibited by the law, and cannot prove a driver’s liability for an injury on their own, demonstrating this activity was going on prior to the crash does strongly suggest the driver was negligent.

 

Proving Distracted Driving Contributed to an Accident in Massachusetts

All drivers owe a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a safe and reasonable manner, and this includes not engaging in activities that divert attention from what should be the principal focus – driving. Failure to uphold this duty, when it leads to an injury, could make the driver liable for the victim’s damages. Evidence a driver was using his/her cell phone to text, read email, or access the internet are signs that he/she was not paying attention to the road, and consequently, creating a hazard to other drivers. Some common types of evidence used to prove the factor of distracted driving in a car accident are:

  • Witness statements – It is not uncommon for witnesses to an accident to stay at the scene and make statements to law enforcement about what they observed. Seeing the driver looking down, turning away from the wheel, or reaching into another area of the car serve as strong signs the driver was not paying attention to the road.
  • Cell Phone Records – These records can show if information was being sent or received during the time of the accident.
  • Video Recordings – Cameras are ubiquitous in today’s world, and if a recording of the crash can be located, it could show images of the driver using a phone or other unsafe behavior.

 

Speak to a New Bedford Car Accident Attorney

Distracted driving is a dangerous issue, and if you were injured from an accident that likely included this behavior, you need to speak to a car accident attorney about your options. This behavior is not acceptable, and your injuries should be compensated if this is true in your situation. Goldberg & Weigand, LLP knows the struggles of recovering from a collision and will fight to get you the compensation that you deserve. Contact the premier New Bedford personal injury attorneys at (508) 203-6600 for a free consultation.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Massachusetts

Losing a loved one is never an easy experience, and in some fundamental ways, life never returns to the same level of normalcy previously enjoyed. These losses are even harder to bear when they did not have to happen, and only occurred because someone else was negligent. When negligence leads to the injury of a third party, the typical avenue to regain some amount of equilibrium is to file a personal injury lawsuit and ask for compensation. When the negligent injury proves fatal, the claim is referred to as a wrongful death claim, and the law allows certain individuals to seek recovery on behalf of the deceased. Unfortunately, people die every day due to a variety of accidents, and family members are left with high medical bills and the financial and emotional repercussions of not having that person around. A discussion of the bases that may be used in wrongful death claims, and the types of damages that may be recovered, will follow below.

What Is Wrongful Death?

As noted above, wrongful death claims are used when misconduct of a person or business cause the death of another person, and serves as a stand-in for the legal claim the deceased would have had. The deceased’s estate, as represented by the executor or personal representative, is the only person or entity authorized to file these actions, and these cases are intended to provide the deceased’s beneficiaries compensation for the loss. Massachusetts law permits wrongful death suits for the following legal claims:

  • Negligence, i.e., personal injury;
  • Willful, wanton or reckless acts;
  • Common carriers that engage in negligent or reckless acts; and
  • Breach of warranty claims.

When Are These Claims Prohibited?

While the law mentioned above outlines the claims an estate is generally allowed to assert against a negligent or reckless party, there are limitations that block wrongful death suits in certain situations, specifically:

  • Employers for employee deaths on the job;
  • Railroad accidents when the deceased was on or near the tracks; and
  • Streetcar companies when the accident happened while the deceased was on or near the tracks.

Damages

Damages in wrongful death cases are intended to both compensate the surviving family members for the loss of companionship, income, and care, which may be accompanied by personal injury claims for the pain and suffering and/or disability the deceased experienced between the time of the accident and the moment of death. For the damages directly assigned to the estate, the following compensation is available:

  • The value of the income the deceased could be reasonably expected to have earned in his/her lifetime;
  • The loss of family members of the care, guidance, counsel, advice, and companionship the deceased could have offered; and
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses.

Further, in cases of reckless and malicious conduct and gross negligence, punitive damages may be available. This type of compensation is meant to punish the wrongdoer and not compensate the family. The minimum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded is $5,000, though it can be much higher depending upon the evidence.

Time Limit to File a Claim

Importantly, just like other civil claims for wrongdoing, a time limit exists on how long the estate may institute legal action. In Massachusetts, the executor or personal representative has three years from the date of death or the time the executor or personal representative knew or should have a known a wrongful death claim was available. This date is crucial to recovery, and an attorney should be consulted to ensure this deadline is met.

Seek Legal Advice

Was your loved one the victim of someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior? Do not let this loss go without fighting for your rightful compensation. The New Bedford injury attorneys Goldberg & Weigand, LLP understand the pain you are experiencing, and can help loved one’s estate recover the money rightfully due. Contact them about scheduling a free consultation.

Proving Liability for a Car Accident Injury

Everyone is aware on some level that every time they travel in a car there is the inherent risk an accident will occur, but the reality of this risk does not really hit home until a crash happens, leaving someone injured. Personal injury claims for car accident injuries are much more complicated than they typically appear from the outside, because of the burden the injury victim has to prove that the other party was at fault for the collision and the ensuing harm.

To the injured victim, this may seem an easy task, and in some cases, the fault is clear, but in many crashes, fault, and the associated liability, is less obvious, which is part of the reason why car accident claims can take some time to resolve. Statistics show that everyone is expected to be involved in at least one major car accident in their lifetime, and a discussion of when a personal injury lawsuit for car accident injuries is permitted under Massachusetts law, as well as the types of evidence that most effectively establish the fault of the other driver, will follow below.

Filing a Lawsuit

Unfortunately, filing a personal injury lawsuit for a car accident injury is not as easy in Massachusetts as is the case in other states, because of the no-fault insurance law that restricts when and how much a car accident victim can recover for the bodily injury. Specifically, anyone involved in an accident is supposed to look to his/her own insurance company to receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other associated expenses under the Personal Injury Protection benefits all auto insurance policies include.

The stated purpose of this rule is to allow accident victims to receive reimbursement for expenses without having to prove who was at fault. The problem with this system is that it blocks many legitimately injured parties from suing for just compensation, and does not account for any recovery related to pain and suffering. In order to sue for car accident injuries in Massachusetts, the plaintiff must overcome the “tort threshold,” which requires a plaintiff to have sustained very serious injuries, through demonstrating the existence of one of the following:

  • Medical bills in excess of $2,000 for “reasonable and necessary” treatment;
  • Broken bones;
  • Serious or permanent disfigurement;
  • Hearing or vision loss;
  • Partial or complete loss of a body part; or
  • Death.

How to Prove Fault

Assuming one of these circumstances is present, the plaintiff must then turn to proving the other driver was at fault. Thus, the two key elements in any personal injury claim are proving the extent of the harm caused and that the other party was responsible for it.

The fault is particularly important because Massachusetts follows a modified comparative fault system that controls when an injured plaintiff may recover from a defendant. Basically, if the evidence shows that the plaintiff is 51 percent or more at fault, no recovery is allowed. Further, when the attribution of fault is 50 percent or less, any recovery is reduced by the amount of responsibility the plaintiff played in his/her own injury. Thus, strong evidence of a defendant’s fault is crucial to winning a sufficient recovery, and the most common sources of evidence for car accident injuries include:

  • Police reports;
  • Photographs of the accident scene;
  • Statements by both drivers about the accident;
  • Cited violations of traffic laws;
  • Witness statements; and
  • Violations of vehicle condition requirements, i.e., brakes, lights, tire, etc.

Contact a Massachusetts Car Accident Attorney

Car accident injuries can alter your life, and if you suffered serious injuries in an accident, contact the experienced Cape Cod attorneys at Goldberg & Weigand, LLP about your options. Making a strong accident claim is a complicated process, and the expertise of Goldberg & Weigand, LLP will give you the extra edge you need to greatly increase your chance of success. Someone is available to take your call 24 hours per day. Contact them for a free consultation.

Crushing injuries and crushing syndrome: A fatal combination

One of the most significant injuries a person can suffer is a crushing injury. With a crushing injury, the muscles, tissues, veins, arteries, bones and other parts of the body are compressed, many to the point of cutting off circulation. Depending on the injury itself, there may be little or no blood flow.

While the injury is devastating, one of the bigger problems is the risk of compartment syndrome. This is when increased pressure causes muscle, nerve and tissue damage. The blood vessels may also be significantly impacted.

What is the highest risk of a crushing injury?

Even more risky is crushing syndrome. This syndrome occurs when the body has a major shock. It may enter into renal failure after a significant crushing wound. Even if a patient seems fine while pinned beneath a heavy object, the risk of this syndrome is high. Moving the weight off the victim or even shifting it enough to reduce its impact could cause the body to go into shock. It is a particular risk for patients who have been under crushing weight for four hours or longer.

What happens with crushing syndrome?

With crushing syndrome, there is significant compression. The cells suffer from compression and decreased circulation. Oxygen does not reach the body part. As a result, the body has to switch to the anaerobic metabolism. This leads to a buildup of lactic acid.

Without enough oxygen, the cells struggle to retain their contents. Over time, they become permeable and spill their contents. Some cells begin to die. Toxic substances, myoglobin, potassium and other substances enter the surrounding tissues but do not enter the blood without circulation.

However, when circulation is restored by relieving pressure, it’s possible for the patient to go into shock or to develop other life-threatening conditions. The rush of potassium affects the rhythms of the heart. The toxic substances cause liver damage and respiratory distress. Myoglobin may gather in the kidneys and cause renal failure or rhabdomyolysis.

Even a patient who is alert may rapidly fall ill once the heavy object lifts away. Emergency medical providers at the scene must address the risk of high potassium levels, pain and other conditions before moving an object off a patient and transporting them to the nearest hospital. Not making a plan could result in an extremely ill patient who could, potentially, die from the toxins that built up in the body.

Why does summer lead to more car accidents than winter?

When a blizzard or an ice storm rolls into Massachusetts during the winter, it is easy to imagine that the coldest months of the year are also the most dangerous months to drive. That ice and snow on the road often send vehicles spinning out of control, it makes it far harder to stop when something unexpected happens and storms even make it harder to simply see the lines on the road.

However, as dangerous as winter can be, the statistics paint a different picture. The most deadly car accidentstend to happen in October, August, June, July and September. It is clear that the summer and early fall carry the greatest risk, even if the roads remain clear. Why is this?

Tourists

Vacations put summer tourists on roads they have never traveled before. They get confused, they focus more on the GPS than the road and they make mistakes. Plus, tourists simply increase the overall road congestion. More traffic leads to more accidents, and that leads to more injuries and fatalities. People travel far more in the summer, and they put everyone — from other tourists to locals — at risk.

Teens

Teenage drivers make mistakes and lack experience. They tend to take unneeded risks. The only way to really overcome it is for them to get older and gain experience, but that means a lot of those young drivers do crash every year. During the school year, they’re busy and spend more time inside. During the carefree days of summer, far more teens end up on the roads, and that leads to a predictable increase in accidents.

Motorcycles and bikes

Cold winter weather means cyclists stay home and motorcycles sit in the garage. The warmth of spring and summer puts them all back on the roads. This leads to an increase in traffic congestion. It can also lead to accidents when drivers forget to check their blind spots and neglect to be careful around these smaller vehicles. Spring and early summer often carry an increased risk because people “forget” how to drive around motorcycles and bicycles.

Construction zones

Construction grinds to a halt in the winter, but crews work around the clock when it warms up. This leads to traffic delays. Stopped traffic can cause rear-end accidents. Delays lead to aggressive driving and road rage. Traffic lane shifts and smaller lanes in construction zones can also lead to accidents. One report found that 773 people die every single year, on average, from accidents in road construction zones.

As you can see, the summer months can lead to massively increased risks as injuries and fatalities become more common. Those involved in accidents must know all of the legal rights that they have.

Largest increase in fatal traffic accidents on U.S. roads in decades

Recently, the government released data that indicates that there is a serious issue with safety on the roads and highways of the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 35,000 people died last year in traffic accidents. Based on this figure, the number of people who died from traffic accidents increased 7.2 percent from 2014 to 2015. The last time the percentage of traffic deaths increased so much in a single year was in 1966, when Lyndon B. Johnson served as president.

After the data was released, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a call to action asking the public to study the fatality data, make changes, and develop strategies to prevent any further increase in fatality risk. He made a separate statement to issue a call-to-action to safety experts, researchers, and data scientists to take action.

Risk remains despite safety improvements

Officials state that the number of people who died from traffic accidents was about 25 percent higher just 10 years ago. In 2005, about 43,000 died due to traffic accidents. However, stricter DUI laws, vehicle improvements like electronic stability control and airbags, and an increase in the use of seatbelts have caused the number of deaths to decline steadily for the past few years.

These officials state that the increase in the percentage of traffic deaths last year can be attributed to there being more drivers on the road. Due to lower gas prices and increased job growth, motorists are also covering more ground annually.

According to the NHTSA, the number of vehicles miles traveled in 2015 increased 3.5 percent from the number of vehicle miles traveled in 2014. This rise represents the biggest increase in almost 25 years.

Since there are more people on the roads, it makes sense that there will be more fatalities among motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Motorcycle deaths accounted for about 8 percent of all traffic fatalities last year.

According to officials, the main three causes of the rise in traffic deaths are:

  • Distracted driving, which played a role in about 10 percent of all traffic deaths
  • Failure to wear seatbelts, which accounts for about 50 percent of all traffic deaths
  • Drunk driving, which accounts for about one-third of all fatalities on the road

The public needs to work together to effect change when it comes to these high traffic fatality figures. People who have been seriously injured in a car accident, or who have had a loved one tragically pass away in an accident, may be able to obtain legal and financial help through a lawsuit.

Accidents can be deadly for passengers

An often overlooked aspect of serious motor vehicle accidents is the injuries that passengers might suffer. Whether occupying the passenger seat or the rear of the vehicle, these individuals can suffer serious, life-altering injuries such as amputation, paralysis or brain damage. Depending on the severity of the collision, it is not uncommon for a passenger to be killed in a motor vehicle accident.

A deadly motor vehicle accident can be the result of two vehicles colliding, one vehicle striking road barriers, buildings or trees, or a vehicle rollover. No matter the specifics of the accident, drivers and passengers alike can suffer severe injuries that can dramatically impact the victim and his or her entire family.

Recently, the Massachusetts State Police reported on a devastating vehicle accident. The driver and three passengers suffered varying degrees of injuries following the van rolling over. The fourth passenger, however, was killed. The accident remains under investigation.

Of the common types of vehicle accidents – head-on, rear-end, side-impact and rollover – a rollover can be the most deadly. From passengers not wearing seatbelts to the roof of the vehicle being crushed inward, vehicle occupants can suffer fatal injuries. A study by the NHTSA has found that rollovers accounted for nearly 35% of all deaths from passenger vehicle crashes – including those involving vans and SUVs.

Accidents like these underscore the importance of driver safety. Massachusetts roads can quickly become hazardous in the winter months with icy, snowy conditions leading to collisions between vehicles and roadside objects. If you were injured or you lost a loved one in a vehicle accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can explain your legal options.

Driver fatigue can make snow plows dangerous

Winter is here.

Massachusetts drivers are soon to be fighting dangerous road conditions. Depending on the severity of the snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice even a short errand can result in a devastating accident. Throughout the state, drivers rely on both government and privately owned vehicles to keep the roadways safe. Whether they are spreading salt, sand, chemicals or simply plowing snow from the roads, commuters trust these drivers to keep the roads clear.

But is that trust misplaced?

A recent news report highlighted the fact that this industry faces virtually no regulation in Massachusetts. Many states, such as Connecticut, enforce regulations centered on required rest periods or the maximum length of a shift. For example, it is not uncommon for snow plow drivers to work multiple eight-hour shifts consecutively when the need is great. Many states have a mandatory break period between shifts giving drivers a chance to rest, sleep and, at the very least, relax their eyes.

It’s a double-edged sword. When faced with several inches of snowfall, commuters welcome the appearance of an army of snow plows. Unfortunately, these dedicated drivers are their own worst enemy. They are charged with keeping the roads clean and safe and they will likely push through their own fatigue until the job is done.

However, while their intentions are noble, driver fatigue can be deadly. Drivers find their reactions slowed, their vision blurred and their ability to focus on driving impacted. Some drivers even report that they start hallucinating after long shifts. If you were injured in an accident or you see a snow plow driver driving erratically, it is wise to take action. Following an accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can provide the answers and guidance you need.

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