Last weekend a tragic car accident occurred that killed Michael Gallegos, a high school football coach. Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to his family. I've only read some news reports about the accident and it appears he was rear-ended while driving on Bangerter Highway in Salt Lake County, Utah. From the new stories, it appears Mr. Gallegos was rear-ended by a 23 year old man who is suspected of DUI. It was reported that "Gallegos' car caught fire within seconds" of impact. This brings up questions of whether a product liability claim may exist involving a defective fuel system. Should the car have caught fire and did the fire contribute to or cause Mr. Gallegos' death?
When I investigate a car accident involving catastrophic injuries or the loss of life, it is critical to dig deep to determine exactly what happened. In cases like this, and in other product liability cases, several important things need to be addressed, and generally speaking, time is of the essence. Here are three steps that should be taken:
1. Preserve Evidence. The car is critical evidence in any potential product liability case. Put the tow yards and insurance companies on notice that the car is evidence and must be preserved and protected. If possible, both cars should be preserved.
2. Scene Investigation. A qualified investigator needs to photograph the scene, take measurements and talk to witnesses. If done timely, a good investigator may be able to document skid marks or other accident debris. This investigation will be critical later when an accident reconstructionist is retained.
3. Cause of Injury/Death. In product liability cases, it is important to determine what caused the injury/death. An autopsy report could reveal a lot of useful information. In addition, injury photographs can be helpful. For example if there is a question about seat belt usage, photos of abrasions, bruises or marks on the shoulder or abdomen would help prove the seat belt was used.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and many other steps can and should be taken to properly investigate a product liability case. These cases are typically very complicated and aggressively defended by automobile manufacturers who will spare no expense in attempting to defeat any claim that you might have. So, it's important to take precautions early on so that your rights are protected. I certainly suggest that you talk to a product liability lawyer to get some advice about how to proceed. This blog post and other internet resources are not a proper alternative to talking with an experienced lawyer.
Slow Down People . . .
I live in Utah, and in this great state, people like to drive fast. The speed limit on our freeways is 65 mph and once you get out of the urban areas the speed limit increases to 75 mph. We are becoming more and more accustomed to these high speeds - myself included. It's not uncommon for me to look down at my speedometer and realize I'm going 80 mph and I'm going with the flow of traffic! At these high speeds, car accidents are bound to happen.
The other day, I heard an interesting story on NPR about some research that was done in an effort to figure out how to motivate people to obey the speed limit. If you're so inclined, you can read the full study, titled, The Effects of External Motivation and Real-Time Automated Feedback on Speeding Behavior in a Naturalistic Setting. The research was contributed to by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Basically, the researchers installed a GPS device in the car and offered a $25 reward to drivers who were able to drive safely and within the speed limit during the week. If the driver violated the speed limit by 5-8 mph, they were docked 3 cents from the reward and 6 cents for driving 9 or more mph above the speed limit. The researches found that this carrot and stick incentive program was extremely effective in getting people to slow down, and that very egregious violations of the speed limit were virtually eliminated.
There are some interesting potential applications for this technology by car insurance companies as a way to more scientifically gauge risk and perhaps provide discounts in premiums. It does feel a little "Big Brother" to have your speed monitored at all times, but for the right incentive ($), this concept may be appealing for some drivers.
Speed is a salient topic for me because I encounter issues with vehicle speed everyday in my personal injury law practice. Speed factors into car accidents in a lot of ways, but generally, at higher speeds your reaction time is reduced, thereby making otherwise avoidable accidents more likely to happen. The bottom line is, we just need to slow down out there on the roads.