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It is unfortunate that in the same week we are writing about two different product liability issues with automobiles but our lawyers are happy that we can use this blog to keep readers informed and in the know of issues that affect their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Previously this week, we discussed how Toyota is facing potential recalls due to flammability standards of their seat fabric. However, now another major automaker, Honda, is also facing potential safety issues with their vehicles.

According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating the safety of some Honda Accords that have experienced sudden airbag deployment. A main question the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is trying to answer is whether these 2008 models are experiencing unexpected airbag deployment when the door is shut after over two dozen drivers reported problems to federal safety regulators. Two instances caused drivers to suffer injuries when their air bags suddenly and unexpectedly deployed. In most instances, the air bags deployed while the car was parked and stationary.

Products liability is an important area of the law because it concerns consumer safety, especially regarding knowledge of whether a product is dangerous before buying it or believing a product to be safe and free from dangers when it is in fact not. To explain this are of the law in plain English, it is an area of personal injury law that revolves around dangerous products in the marketplace. It is the goal of our attorneys to represent plaintiffs against manufacturers and companies who have sold or made unsafe products and put them in the marketplace to be sold to consumers. Companies can be held liable where they have failed to properly inspect a product for hazards, in which case they should have known of dangers but are in a sense willfully blind. This inaction can make a company liable for negligence. A company can also be liable where they are aware of the dangers of a product and fail to warn a consumer of hazards or provide them with proper instructions, thereby knowingly exposing consumers to dangers that have been discovered by the maker.

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While some of our readers may already be well-versed in the legal definition of wrongful death, others may be looking for a “plain English” definition of what that legal term means. Plainly speaking, wrongful death is a death that has been caused by negligent actions of another person. These deaths can be caused by dangerous products, drunk driving, negligent medical care, etc. In these lawsuits the court determines whether the defendant in the case was so negligent as to have been the cause-in-fact of the victim’s death. The court often analyzes whether if the defendant had not acted if the victim would still be alive. For example, the court may determine that “…but for Doctor X failing to diagnose that Patient Y had this fatal disease, Patient Y would still be alive.” When the court can show that it was the defendant’s actions that did cause the death of the victim, the defendant can be held liable for wrongful death.

One technology start-up that has been positively critiqued as having revolutionized the way in which pedestrians find a taxi in major metropolitan cities is now facing its first wrongful death lawsuit following a pedestrian accident in San Francisco. According to the New York Times, on New Year’s Eve, a family was struck at a crosswalk by an Uber taxi driver, killing the family’s 6-year-old child. According PC World, the lawsuit claimed the driver was working for Uber at the time of the accident and was in travelling between fares after a drop-off. The lawsuit also alleges that the Uber model encourages and enables driver distraction because drivers must use their smartphones to receive information on the location of new fares. And finally, the suit argued that Uber did not properly train the driver.

Uber released a statement acknowledging that the driver’s account was not disabled but added that the driver was not carrying an Uber customer at the time of the accident. However, an argument that victims of these accidents might make for this wrongful death and negligence could be under the legal theory of “respondeat superior.” Under this theory, when an individual is deemed to be at work and causes injury to death to another person (a tortious action), the employer is liable for the employee’s actions. The law holds employers liable for employee’s injuries to others because the employer is viewed to have ordered the employee to carry out specific actions in the course of work for the employer.

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Chicago is unfortunately not alone in public transportation train crashes. As of late, other major metropolitan cities have also been involved in train crashes. On Sunday, December 1st, a Metro train in New York was also in an accident. Unlike Chicago’s “ghost train,” the Metro-North train derailed, causing a fatal accident. According to CNN U.S., the train derailed, injured 67, and killed four people.

However, whereas the Chicago blue line train had no engineer on board, earning it the title of “ghost train,” there was engineer on board the Metro-North. The engineer had been nodding off and “caught himself too late” before the train derailed and caused an accident.

Similarly to how safety mechanisms initiate on the Chicago blue line crash, this Metro-North train also should have sounded a warning before slowing the train in an incident where an engineer was unresponsive. The same article by CNN continued to describe how it is unclear whether these mechanisms were even activated before the crash occurred. Here too, the engineer’s car was equipped with a “dead man pedal” that needed constant downward pressure to keep the train moving. If this pressure ceases, a whistle should sound and the train should come to an immediate stop. It is unclear whether this “dead man pedal” was activated at the time the engineer nodded off at the controls. The National Transportation Board said it is possible that “positive train control” could have prevented the derailment.

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Many Chicago commuters rely on the Metra train to get to and from the greater Chicago area suburbs to the downtown for work. As a result of our large transportation network, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists frequently navigate through Metra train crossings. Although warning lights and gates are in place to prevent collisions, a number of Chicago area drivers are killed each year at train crossing. Due to the size and speed of commuter trains, Metra accidents can not only result in serious injuries, or even fatalities, but also impact others in their commute to and from the city. Accidents result in lengthy train delays and cancellations, due to post-accident safety inspections and clean-up.

According to NBC Chicago, a driver was killed on November 23, 2013 when a Metra train struck his car. Train number 2612 was on the Milwaukee District-North Line traveling to Fox Lake. The accident occurred in the city of Lake Forest at approximately 1:30 p.m. The train hit the car on the tracks near Old Mill Road, west of Illinois Route 43. Upon impact, the car was pushed about 100 yards south along the tracks. The driver of the car was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Police gathered information from witnesses. According to witnesses, the sedan was driving eastbound toward the tracks on Old Mill Road at the time that the warning lights and bells went off and the crossing gate lowered. The sedan attempted to drive around the gate and continue eastbound. Following the accident, train number 2612, the train involved in the incident, and outbound train number 2607, both mid-way through their route with passengers on board, were stopped on the tracks for several hours. Outbound trains had to turn around and return to the station.

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The Clinton Herald sadly reports that an Illinois man from German Valley died recently after falling though ice at a lake in Sabula, IA. Sabula, located just across the border from Illinois is a popular destination for ice fishing during the winter months. The victim was ice fishing with his son when they both fell through the ice and into the freezing depths below. Someone on the scene saw the two fall and called police. Fire and ambulance departments arrived at the scene and rescued the two men. Sadly, the 65-year old did not survive and his son was in critical condition upon arrival at the hospital. Our wrongful death attorneys understand just how dangerous ice fishing can be and want to remind ice fishermen across Illinois to take precautions and to never rely on others for your personal safety.

This tragic death serves as a reminder of the potential dangers of ice fishing. Every year, we hear of tragic accidents involving ice fishermen who ventured out on ice that was too thin, causing them to fall into the freezing water and drown. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) has published an Ice Fishing guide that teaches ice fishing safety to residents. The IDNR suggests that ice fisherman always travel with others, and carry a 50 foot rope with a float attached. They also recommend wearing spikes or screwdrivers attached to a cord around your neck to help you break through the ice should you fall through. They also state that is you have any doubts or concerns about the thickness of the ice, you should wear a personal flotation device. A personal floatation device is smart to wear regardless of your worry about ice thickness as it also provides additional warmth. Finally ice fishermen should carry a whistle or horn and should always advise someone of your itinerary.

If a member of your group does fall through the ice and you are able to get them out, hypothermia is the number on concern. Hypothermia is a condition where a person’s body temperature drops below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and is caused most typically by immersion in cold water. If you see someone fall into the water while ice fishing, the INDR suggests getting the victim to shelter as soon as possible, removing all wet clothes, wrapping the victim in blankets, and placing several sources of heat on the victim’s neck, chest, groin and chest areas. Do not give the victim any alcohol or any other beverages; and do not rub the skin or allow them to walk. Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that can cause death if not treated immediately and properly. Always remain vigilant while out on the ice this winter, and trust you instincts.

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The Office of the Press Secretary at the White House announced last week that December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. The proclamation, signed by our President Barack Obama, reminds us during this holiday season that we must be vigilant while driving to our friends and families for parties and celebrations to ensure that we remain safe.

The purpose of National Impaired Driving Prevention Month is urge Americans to make responsible decisions and to take appropriate measures to prevent impaired driving this month and every month. The proclamation stresses that families play a key role in preventing impaired driving. Impaired driving includes any behavior that takes a drivers focus away from the roadway. This includes driving drunk, drugged or distracted. Distracted driving includes driving while talking on the phone, texting, or playing with the radio. It can also include driving while doing any other task, including adjusting the temperature, corralling children or pets, or even having an involved conversation. The release also reminds us that drugged driving includes driving while taking prescription medications, so be sure to read all warning labels carefully prior to driving to make sure that your medication will not affect your ability to drive safely. The President recommends that parents talk to their children about the risks of impaired driving and set guidelines and expectations for young drivers in the family, Additionally, parents, educators and other caregivers should set a good example for their children and family members by never driving in an impaired state.

The President and his administration are taking steps to ensure that we all drive without distractions. These steps include raising public awareness, improve impaired driving screening procedures, and giving law enforcement the training they need to both punish and prevent impaired driving. They are also combating substance abuse by supporting local prevention programs and providing youth with the harsh facts about alcohol and drug use and the negative affects it can have on our lives.

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The Chicago Tribune reports that a former Illinois surgeon, who practices in northwest suburban Lake in the Hills and in Iowa has been charged with professional incompetence and misconduct by the Iowa Board of Medicine related to his practice. These allegations stem from the doctor’s Lyme disease focused practice that has been deemed, “harmful or detrimental to the public.” Additionally, he is charged with sexual misconduct and unprofessional conduct stemming from an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female Illinois patient. This victim states that she contacted the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation regarding the incident. He has since been placed on indefinite probation by the Illinois Department.

The surgeon is licensed in both Iowa and Illinois, and his current practice centers on treating and diagnosing patients for a type of Lyme disease that many medical authorities do not recognize including the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Neurology. Lyme disease is an infection typically transmitted by ticks that can cause swollen joints, inflamed nerves, and rashes. It is normally fully treated by a round of antibiotics. However, certain doctors, including this surgeon believe that patients with reoccurring issues like back pain, fatigue or poor concentration are caused by a chronic form of Lyme disease. These doctors believe that chronic Lyme disease cannot be caught by tests or with standard treatment, causing many of their patients to be treated with antibiotics for months or even years at a time.

In an email to the Chicago Tribune last year, the surgeon stated that he maintains this practice because he contracted Lyme disease in 2006 and therefore he is dedicated to the care of Lyme disease patients. He treats dozens of patients every week, many for Lyme disease. This Lyme practice is the center of the Iowa Board of Medicine’s charges against him, alleging that he diagnosed and treated patients for Lyme disease even though they did not meet established standards for the disease set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, they seriously questioned his treatment methods and accused him of engaging in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female patient from Illinois whom he was treating for Lyme disease. A hearing on these charges has been set for February of next year.

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A new University of Illinois study has found that bans on handheld cell phones are effective, but only in urban areas. The researchers came to this conclusion by studying New York State in the years prior to and after its 2001 ban on handheld cell phones. The result was that cell phone bans resulted in decreased accident rates in urban areas, which is good news. However, the more surprising results were that in cell phone bans actually correlated with higher accident rates than expected in very rural areas.

The researchers conducted the study by examining long-term accidents rates and their association with bans on cell phones, using seven years of data from New York and comparing that data with Pennsylvania, which has no ban. The researchers used these two states because they have similar weather and wide diversity in population density of their counties. This study is one of the longest-term analysis of such statistics ever published. To figure out how cell phone bans affect different areas of the states, the researchers divided counties into urban, rural, or very rural by looking at the number of licensed drivers per mile of roadway. Then they analyzed the accident rates among those categories. What they discovered was that after the ban, there was an initial rise in the number of accidents in all three types of areas, followed by varying results in each of the types of counties. In urban areas, for example, there was a steady decrease in the amount of personal injury accidents over a seven year period, while conversely there was an increase in accident rates in very rural areas over the same time.

The leader of the study, Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science and mathematics at the University of Illinois, has a recommendation for drivers. He says, “the main idea [for drivers] is to use the eye test when it comes to cell phone use.” The eye test is, “[i]f you look around and it’s busy, it’s a good idea to put the cell phone down and not use it.” The results of this study impact Chicago drivers because they show that a handheld cell phone ban in the city is likely to decrease accident rates. Currently, Chicago drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones, and text messaging is also prohibited according to Hands Free Info.com, which reports on the cell phone restrictions in all 50 states. This is good news for Chicago drivers, as the current ban is likely to decrease accidents in our city. That said, the Illinois General Assembly website details a pending House Bill that would prohibit the use of handheld devices throughout the state.

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As of Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the current outbreak of fungal meningitis has affected 344 people in 18 states – including in Illinois – and has claimed the lives of a total of 25 individuals across the country.

But now federal officials have narrowed down the cause. The pandemic came as a result of a rare fungal form of meningitis that affected patients who were injected with methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid drug commonly used to treat back pain. Investigators toured the plant at the center of the ongoing outbreak and found foreign, “greenish-black” material in some vials of the injection suspected as the cause of the illnesses, reported MSNBC.

Meningitis is an illness that is marked by inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord; because of the proximity of the swelling in relation to the brain and spine, meningitis is considered to be a life-threatening medical emergency. This particular strain of the disease, a rare fungal form of meningitis, affected patients who were injected with methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid drug commonly used to treat back pain. MSNBC reports that as many as 14,000 people may have gotten the shots, and, because symptoms of meningitis may take as long as a month to present, it is expected that both the list of infected individuals and the number of deaths related to the infection will continue to grow.

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On October 24, 2012, the United States Chamber of Commerce held its thirteenth annual legal reform summit in Washington D.C. The purpose of this annual summit is to limit plaintiffs access to American courtrooms by proposing pro-business, anti-consumer legal reform. This year’s summit was no different. The American Association for Justice (“AAJ”) came out with a slideshow detailing the top 10 ways that the U.S. Chamber hurts Americans. Number three on the list details how the U.S. Chamber has tried to keep injured plaintiffs out of courtrooms by continually denying workers rights and defending companies who have poisoned everyday consumers with lead paint, asbestos and environmental contamination, to name a few.

The U.S. Chamber’s History with Worker’s Rights.

According to the AAJ report, the U.S. Chamber has repeatedly denied basic worker’s rights; from forcing employees to pay for their own basic safety equipment to condoning racial and disability based discrimination.

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