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Articles Posted in Motorcycle Accidents

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The answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post is “yes”.  I will show you how this is true using a recent case I settled as an example.

My pedestrian-client was injured while j-walking across East Genesee Street in Auburn, right outside our main office. The pedestrian seemingly did everything wrong:  She chose to cross the street a hundred feet or so from an intersection equipped with a traffic light and crosswalk.  Further, she did so at night, dressed in dark clothing, so dark in fact that the witnesses who saw her lying on the pavement after the collision assumed she was a black trash bag that had blown into the road.  The only thing that “tipped off” the witnesses that the black bundle in the road was a person was a shock of blond hair.

Despite these seemingly “bad facts”, we got a substantial settlement for her. How?

Congratulations to my partner, attorney Jan Smolak, who recently settled a wrongful death case for $5,500,000!  Although I am not at liberty to discuss the details of the settlement, nor any of the specifics regarding the injury (we signed a non-disclosure agreement with the insurance company), I can say that Jan, once again, did an outstanding job.

Such a large settlement for a motor vehicle accident case is unusual.  There are two reasons why:

First, a negligent driver who causes an accident is extremely unlikely to have enough insurance (or personal assets) to cover such a large settlement. The minimal liability insurance for motor vehicles in New York is only $25,000, and a good chunk of New York auto owners carry only this bare minimum in coverage.  Even well-off folks rarely carry more than $1,000,000 in coverage.  Greater coverage is usually only available when the at-fault vehicle is owned by, or the driver of the vehicle was in the scope of his employment for, a large corporation.  Personal injury lawyers refer to this as a “deep-pocket defendant”. In car accidents, “deep pocket” defendants are rare.

At M&S, we are big on safety, and that includes motorcycle safety.  But safety requires some study and practice.  We like to say that “safe riding is no accident!”  We urge our biking clients to read up on and follow the strictest biking safety guidelines.  But unfortunately, there are many FALSE biking safety tips out there.  And some myths never die no matter how much evidence accumulates to debunk them.  For example, remember when they used to tell you that eating before you swim was a no-no because it could cause you to cramp up and drown?  Turned out to be false!  Still, many people still believe it to be true.

Here are the most common and enduring myths about motorcycle safety.  Share these with any friends or family members who bike:

MYTH 1. Full-Face Helmets Restrict Your Visibility

Hey Upstate New York bikers, it’s that time of year again.  You’ve probably taken your motorcycle out of storage, tuned it up, wiped it down, and taken a few rides. Good for you.  Now all you need  is to freshen up on safety.  You might think (cynically) that New York motorcycle accident lawyers like us would rather wait for you to have the accident and then turn a profit off of your suffering.  No!  Believe me, we have plenty of work, and we would rather save a life than add one more case to our portfolio.

Knowledge is power.  If you know how most Upstate New York motorcycle accidents happen, you are more likely to avoid them.  So are you curious to know the most common types of motorcycle accidents here in Upstate New York, including the Syracuse and Rochester areas?  Thought so.  Here they are:

Head-On Collision As Car Turns Left

I came across a New York Times article the other day with the above title.  I didn’t have to read the article to know it was true; having worked as a New York car accident lawyer for more that two decades, I have personally witnessed the effects of smartphones on driving accidents.

Some of the apps for smart phones out there seem almost designed to kill drivers (and those they collide with). Take for instance the “snapchat” app’s speed filter.   Want to impress your friends as you are driving along the highway?  Ratchet your speed up to 120 miles per hour and then snap a video of your view from the car. Now you can post the video on snapchat instantly.  Your friends will see the video with your speed — “120 mph” — superimposed on it.  They will think you are so cool!

Another dangerous app is Waze.  Full disclosure:  I love Waze. I use it every time I am driving in big urban areas like New York City or Philadelphia.  It works just like any other navigator but it actually finds you the quickest route to get where you are going based on the current traffic conditions, including construction slow-downs, roadway accidents blocking traffic, traffic jams, and even objects in the road blocking a lane of travel.  But how does Waze know about all these conditions?  Other Waze users observe these conditions as they drive by and then hit buttons on Waze’ app screen to notify Waze about them.  Those drivers might feel like good Samaritans by helping other Waze users steer clear of traffic obstructions, but they are risking their own and other lives by paying attention to their phone screen instead of the road.

I blogged sometime ago about a New Jersey case where a Court found that someone sending a text to someone else who he knows is driving can be held liable — along with the driver — for the resulting crash and injuries caused to others. What was new was the Court extending liability to  include the outsider –  who may be thousands of miles away — who is participating in the texting with the driver.

A Pennsylvania court soon followed New Jersey’s lead.  In that case, a volunteer firefighter was stopped to make a turn on his motorcycle. A texting SUV driver rammed him from behind, causing him to die. The man’s family sued not only the driver, but also the person who had sent the driver the text.  (The police obtained a search warrant and found the text still open on the texting driver’s phone).  A Pennsylvania judge  allowed the legal theory that the sender of the text was also liable to go forward to a jury.

In Pennsylvania, however, sending texts to a driver can now be a crime.   Last week Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed a bill that criminalizes the practice, and allows courts to mete out penalties of up to five years behind bars for a non-drivers texting with drivers involved in  fatal crashes.  So we are talking not only about civil liability, but criminal liability as well.

Car accident fatalities are on the rise.  Why?  You probably know (especially if you regularly read this blog):  Smart phone texting and social media.  Drivers, especially young ones, are crashing as they gaze down at their phones.  Sure the texting driver is liable, but is anyone else?  What about the friend that was texting to the driver and who knew he was driving?  An appellate court last year in New Jersey said, yes, that guy can be liable, too.

But here’s a new twist:  What about Apple or other companies that make the phones that are distracting us?  What if I told you that Apple has a powerful technology that can detect when the person using the phone is driving a car, and that the same technology can block access to the phone when that is happening?  Shouldn’t Apple be liable for having failed to implement that technology?  After all, it is now well known that social media is an “addiction” and some of those who are glued to their screens can’t seem to help themselves from “sneaking a peek” even while driving in heavy traffic.

Can Apple, or any of the other smart phone producers, be held liable?  That’s what a new lawsuit in Texas will help decide.  The product liability lawsuit, filed against Apple by families of the victim of a car crash caused by a texting driver, contends that Apple (1) knew its phones would be used for texting while driving, (2) had gone so far as to design technology to block drivers’ phones from being operational, but (3) did not deploy the life-saving technology.

This fall your Central New York personal injury lawyer will again — for the 9th straight year — give his annual “CLE” (continuing legal education) class to fellow New York personal injury lawyers across New York State.  Once again I will be lecturing on the topic of governmental liability for causing personal injuries.  In other words, I’ll talk about how to hold the State and its various sub-divisions (counties, school districts, villages, towns etc.) liability for negligently causing personal injuries.  Each year, the New York State Trial Lawyers Academy invites me to do so.  I am invited to speak to rooms full of New York personal injury lawyers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Manhattan, Queens, Long Island and more.

Why?  Because I have been fortunate enough through my work to become seen as one of the top experts in this field of law in New York State.  My articles on the subject have been published in New York’s most important law journals and magazines.  New York State judges sometimes cite to my work when they decide cases.

Suing governmental entities and agencies such as New York State or its cities, counties, school district, villages and towns is very different from suing a private wrongdoer such as a car driver or a hospital or a business.  The procedure is different, the time deadlines are different, the things you can sue for are different, and the defenses that can be raised are different.  You name it, it’s different.

I have a love/hate relationship with dogs. I love my dog, but I hate dogs who chase me on my bike or who snarl at me on my runs. When I go bike riding out on the country roads near Geneva, NY where I live, I even carry a small pepper spray canister to defend myself from man’s best friend.

Yes, I protect myself from “unleashed” dogs.  But unfortunately, New York State negligence law does not.  Believe me.  As a NY personal injury lawyer who handles dog bite / attack cases, I know first hand!

The problem in New York – unlike in other states – is that to hold a dog owner liable for injuries, you need to show the owner knew or should have known the dog had “vicious propensities”. If you do, the owner is “strictly” liable to you for your injuries.  That’s all well and good where a dog with a history of biting or attacking bites you, but not much else.

It’s motor cycle season again. While I don’t have the statistics for last year yet, I know that a total of 4,381 motorcyclists died in U.S. crashes in 2013. That’s about 30 times the number of people who died in car crashes, even though many more cars than bikes travel our roads.

Many of those deaths are not the bikers’ fault; four-wheel drivers just don’t see motorcycles. They then cut them off or come blasting out from stop signs into their right of way.

But of course many bikers cause their own death or serious injury, too. One way to do it is called “lane-splitting”. That’s where you ride through the space between cars in parallel traffic lanes. If a cop catches you, it’ll cost you 2-points on your license. If a car “catches” you, it could cost you your life.

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