Tuesday, April 18, 2017

More than Technology Can Cause Truck Driver Distractions

Using a mobile device while driving is dangerous, whether you are texting, talking on the phone, browsing the internet, or watching YouTube videos. The proliferation of smartphones over the last decade has led to a disturbing increase in the number of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving. In fact, cellphone use accounts for 64 percent of all road accidents in the United States, totaling about 1.6 million accidents per year. 

Using a smartphone while driving is dangerous because it takes the driver's eyes off the road for longer than it is safe to do so. While distracted driving is dangerous for everyone, it is particularly dangerous for truck drivers because of the longer time periods they spend on the road and the heavier vehicles they drive. We all know the dangers of using technology in the car, but there are a wide variety of other ways that drivers, including truck drivers, can be distracted while driving.

Types of Driver Distractions 

There are three broad categories of driving distractions: manual, visual, and cognitive. 

Manual driving distractions are distractions that cause the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel. A few examples of these types of driving distractions are eating and drinking, adjusting a seat belt, smoking, searching through purses, wallets, or vehicle compartments, and adjusting the radio or temperature controls. 

Visual driving distractions are distractions that cause the driver's eyes to wander off the road. Some examples of these types of driving distractions are texting, looking at items on the floor of the car, checking and adjusting GPS systems, changing radio stations, paying too much attention to objects outside the vehicle, and grooming in the mirror. 

Cognitive driving distractions cause the driver's mind to drift away from the task at hand. Some examples of these types of distractions include talking to other passengers, thinking about something that is upsetting, road rage, daydreaming, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drowsy driving is also considered a form of cognitive distraction, but drowsy driving is usually regarded as an entirely separate problem. 

Causes of Distracted Driving 

When it comes to specific types of distractions that cause accidents, one particular insurance company uncovered some revealing statistics. Using police report data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Erie Insurance performed an analysis of all causes of distractions and broke them down into the percentages of distracted driving accidents for which they account. The findings are highlighted below.  

Major Distractions

General distraction, or being "lost in thought," was the biggest cause of distracted driving fatalities, accounting for 62 percent.
Cellphone use was the second-leading cause of deaths due to distraction-related car accidents, accounting for 12 percent of fatalities.  

Minor Distractions

  • Outside persons, objects, or events accounted for 7 percent of fatalities. This type of behavior included "rubbernecking."  
  • Paying too much attention to other occupants of the vehicle accounted for 5 percent of fatalities.  
  • Using or reaching for a device brought into the car accounted for 2 percent of fatalities. This statistic is particularly surprising because it indicates that merely reaching for a hand-held device can be deadly. 
  • Eating and drinking also accounted for 2 percent of fatalities 
  • Fiddling with audio and climate controls also accounted for 2 percent of distraction-related fatalities 
  • Using devices and controls to operate the vehicle accounted for 1 percent of fatalities. This type of behavior includes adjusting mirrors and seat belts.  
  • Moving objects, such as insects and pets, can take a driver's eyes off the road for a significant amount of time and accounted for 1 percent of distraction-related fatalities.
  • Smoking, including lighting a cigarette, smoking it, or putting it out, also accounted for 1 percent of distraction-related fatalities.

Tips for Truck Drivers 

Do not text or use hand-held devices while driving: Unsurprisingly, the most important piece of advice for truckers -- and all drivers, for that matter -- is not to text or otherwise use a smartphone or handheld device while driving. Just don't do it.

Do not use a dispatching device while driving: Dispatching devices are communications devices that allow truckers to communicate with each other, navigate, and keep track of their hours. These types of devices are dangerous for the same reasons that texting while driving is dangerous -- doing so takes the driver's hands and eyes away from the task of driving safely, thereby increasing the risk of a crash.

Do not let objects outside of the truck distract you: When driving, stay focused on the job of driving the truck and avoid focusing on anything outside of the truck that is not related to driving. This includes looking at things like billboards, buildings, people, and roadside accidents. 

Do not read, write, or use paper maps while driving: Many truckers rely on printed directions, notes to themselves, and paper maps, but using these while driving poses a risk because doing so takes the trucker's eyes and hands off of the task of driving safely. 

Avoid eating and drinking while driving: Eating while driving always takes one or both hands off of the wheel. Even if this is only for a brief moment, doing so can be dangerous. It's best to try to eat and drink before getting behind the wheel or to pull over when it's time to eat. 

Penalties for Distracted Driving 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues regulations that prohibit truck drivers from texting or using other hand-held communication devices while operating commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Drivers caught texting or using hand-held communications devices are subject to fines, disqualifications, and being put out of service. The FMCSA defines "distracted driving" as reaching, dialing, reading, holding, and texting. Penalties for truck drivers who are caught driving while distracted can include:

  • Fines for drivers of up to $2,750
  • Fines for employers of up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or require drivers to use hand-held devices while driving
  • Deductions from the driver's safety measurement system (SMS) ratings
  • Repeat offenses of distracted driving can result in the driver being disqualified or put out of service for 120 days. 

Contact a St. Petersburg Truck Accident Attorney for Assistance

If you have been injured in a trucking accident and you suspect that the driver was distracted, you may be able to recover financially. Please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-222-6922.

Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(727) 222-6922

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Information about Wrongful Death Claims in Florida

Losing a loved one is one of life's most difficult challenges, and it can be even more difficult when that person's death was due to someone else's negligent1 conduct. In these types of cases, the law provides a remedy in the form of a civil wrongful death claim that can be brought by the survivors of the deceased. While these actions are brought by the personal representatives of the deceased on the deceased' behalf, a wrongful death action allows the personal representatives themselves to recover damages for their own losses stemming from the death.

Difference Between Wrongful Death and Murder/Manslaughter

"Wrongful death" can be a confusing term to many people, especially since it seems like any time a person dies by the fault of another that a criminal prosecution is warranted. That is not always the case, however. A civil wrongful death action is different from a criminal action for manslaughter or murder in several key ways.

First, a wrongful death action is brought by the survivors of the deceased against the person or entity that caused the death. Criminal prosecutions are brought by the government on behalf of the victim.

Second, the outcome of a successful wrongful death claim is monetary damages that are paid by the defendant to the deceased's representatives. The outcome of a successful criminal prosecution for manslaughter or murder is jail time (or even capital punishment in extreme cases).

Third, the burden of proof in a wrongful death action is much lower than that of a criminal homicide action. In wrongful death cases, the burden of proof on the plaintiff is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it must simply be more likely than not that the defendant caused the death of the deceased. The burden of proof on the government in a criminal action is beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the evidence against the defendant must be so persuasive that it leaves very little room for doubt about his or her guilt. Thus, it is much easier for a plaintiff to prevail in a wrongful death action than for the government to obtain a criminal conviction.

Finally, the element of intent is different in civil wrongful death claims and criminal homicide prosecutions. While wrongful death actions are brought because the defendant was negligent in causing the death of the deceased, murder and manslaughter involve levels of culpability that are beyond civil negligence, including criminal negligence, recklessness, knowledge that the defendant's actions will cause death, or even intentional killing.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim

The elements of a wrongful death claim are based in negligence and vary little from state to state. In order to illustrate these elements, let's look at a hypothetical wrongful death lawsuit.

Let's assume that you are driving along in your car one day and that you are approaching an intersection in which you have the green light. Suddenly, another driver who is approaching the intersection from the other street runs his red light, flying into the intersection and smashing into your car, killing you instantly. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the driver had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.16, twice the legal limit in Florida. While the driver is being prosecuted for DWI and manslaughter, your spouse decides

to bring a wrongful death action against the driver. These are the elements he or she must prove in order to prevail:

  • Duty: Your spouse must show that the driver owed you a duty of care when he was operating his vehicle. All drivers owe others the duty of care to safely operate their automobiles as a reasonably prudent person would. Because the defendant was operating a motor vehicle at the time of the accident, he owed you this duty of care.
  • Breach: A breach occurs when the defendant's conduct falls below that required by the duty of care he owes to the plaintiff. In your case, recklessly operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol falls far below the duty the defendant owed you. Therefore, the defendant breached his duty.
  • Causation: Your spouse must also show that the defendant's breach actually caused your death. To do this, he or she must simply show that it was the defendant's vehicle that struck you and not some other vehicle and that the defendant was driving it at the time of the accident. This can be shown through eyewitness statements, security camera footage, and police reports.
  • Damages: Damages are the injuries that you and your dependents suffered as a result of the defendant's breach of duty. In this case, your damages would be your death and all of the attendant financial and emotional strains it placed upon your family.

Wrongful Death Claims in Florida

The state of Florida's wrongful death statute can be found at Chapter 768.162 of the 2016 Florida Statutes. According to the statute, the purpose of the law is to "shift the losses resulting when a wrongful death occurs from the survivors of the decedent to the wrongdoer." Some of the statute's key elements are summarized below.

Right of action: The statute grants a right of action when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of another, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued. In other words, if the victim would have been able to sue the defendant had he or she not died, the defendant's representatives may now sue the defendant for wrongful death. In this way, the statute transfers the decedent's possible personal injury right of action to a wrongful death action for the decedent's representatives.

Who may sue: A wrongful death suit may be brought by the decedent's "representatives," which include the decedent's spouse, children, parents, and any blood relatives or adoptive brothers and sisters who are partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support.

Damages available: Each survivor of the decedent may recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent's injury and any future loss of support. The decedent's spouse may also recover pain and suffering damages, while the decedent's minor children may recover for lost parental companionship. Similarly, if the decedent was a minor, the decedent's parents may recover pain and suffering. Any survivor may also recover funeral expenses and any medical costs that were incurred prior to the decedent's death.

Contact a St. Petersburg Wrongful Death Attorney

If a loved one has been killed by someone else's negligent behavior, you may have a wrongful death claim. Please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-222-6922.

Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(727) 222-6922


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Safety Gear can Protect Motorcyclists from Injury - But Not Always

When riders pull out onto the open road, they are prepared to experience the freedom, speed, fuel efficiency, and maneuverability their motorcycle has to offer. Although this maneuverability can often help riders avoid unexpected accidents and road debris, most riders understand that they are exchanging other forms of safety for this freedom. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration,1 nearly 80% of all motorcycle accidents result in personal injuries or even prove fatal to the rider. This is compared to the less than 30% of all car crashes that result in either personal injury or death.

When you are traveling in a traditional motor vehicle, such a sedan, SUV, or truck, you are protected by a variety of safety mechanisms, including shatterproof glass, airbags, seat belts, and collapsible car frames, not to mention nearly two tons of metal. When they take to the road, motorcyclists are “assuming the risk” of suffering injuries to a greater and more severe extent than those traveling in a car. There are ways, however, to reduce the risk and severity of your injuries using specialized motorcycle safety gear, but this will not always protect you as needed.

Florida Motorcycle Safety Laws

There is a debate in the motorcycle community as to whether Florida state law should require the use of federally approved motorcycle helmets when operating your bike. Some riders believe it is foolish to not wear a helmet, especially considering you are not protected by an airbag, while others argue the use of a helmet can actually increase your chance of suffering certain neck and spinal injuries. Under Florida law,2 motorcyclists over the age of 21 have the option of forgoing protective headgear if they maintain personal injury coverage of at least $10,000. They are, however, required to wear protective eye gear. Riders under the age of 21, however, are required to wear headgear that complies with the Federal Motorcycle Vehicle Safety Standards, which means that the helmet has to be designed for motorcycle riders in order to comply with the law. Bicycle, soft, flight, military, and sports helmets are not approved for use with a motorcycle.

Further, Florida law does not permit “lane splitting” or “lane sharing,” which are the terms used when motorcyclists weave between lanes of traffic during heavy conditions or ride side to side in a single lane. Such laws do help protected riders, especially when car drivers are not expecting to be passed between lanes.

Recommended Motorcycle Safety Gear

Although Florida law only requires riders over the age of 21 to wear protective eye gear, safety agencies3 and motorcycle organizations alike recommend riders wear the following gear in order to prevent injury:

Helmet: Should fit snugly, be free of defects, and federally approved;
Eye and Face Protection: Can be included with the helmet or stand alone, but should be made from shatterproof plastic;
Jacket: Should fit snugly but allow freedom of movement, and it should be made from

either leather or a strong synthetic material. Purchasing a jacket designed for motorcycle use is recommended, as they are made to be worn in all weather;
Pants: Should be worn in all weather and cover your legs completely;
Boots: Should be high and sturdy so that your ankles are covered, but heals should be short and soles should be sturdy and made from slip-resistant materials. It is also a good idea to find boots without laces to ensure they do not catch in gears and components; and
Gloves: Should be made of leather or another type of breathable, durable material and allow for a strong and flexible grip.

Although utilizing this gear will help protect you from certain injuries, such as those sustained from loose debris, minor scrapes and burns, and head injuries, it is primarily designed to prevent injury by keeping your vision clear, your body protected from the wind and other elements, and your feet and hands from slipping. This gear will certainly help decrease your chances of suffering from preventable injuries but is not likely protect you from severe injury or death.

Common Motorcycle Injuries

Because a motorcyclist’s entire body is exposed to the open road, riders risk suffering injuries to almost every part of their body. The following, however, are the most common injuries suffered by Florida riders:

Lower-extremity injuries - Those suffered to the legs, ankles, and feet;
Upper-extremity injuries - Those suffered to the arms, wrists, hands, and shoulders;
Traumatic head and brain injuries;
Neck and spinal injuries; and
Chest and abdominal injuries - Injuries that affect the heart, lungs, organs, and ribs.

While broken legs, ankles, and flesh wounds are the most common, injuries to the chest cavity are the most fatal to riders. If you are caused to fall off your bike onto a busy street, due to impact by another vehicle, road debris, or lack of balance, your leather jacket is going to provide no better protection than tissue paper if you are directly hit or run over by a moving vehicle.

Of all potential injuries that motorcyclists can suffer, only a federally approved helmet will really reduce your chance of suffering a traumatic head injury, as a well fitting helmet can absorb much of the initial impact.

Contact a St. Petersburg Motorcycle Injury Lawyer Today

Even if you take every safety precaution as a rider, there is little substitute for the protection offered by traditional motor vehicles. Although riders are wise to protect themselves, as this may help prevent accidents and may assist in litigating your case, you still assume a substantial risk of injury while riding. The Dolman Law Group is your premier motorcycle accident firm in the greater Tampa Bay area. Unlike many attorneys, they understand the risks and benefits associated with riding, and they are here to help responsible riders get the compensation they deserve after an accident. Although motorcycle gear may not protect you from severe injuries, the Dolman Law Group will advocate for your rights as a rider. Contact them today at 727-222-6922 for a free, no-risk consultation.

Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(727) 222-6922