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Yet Another Toyota Inspired Auto Safety Bill

Friday, April 30, 2010

If there's one good thing that's come out of the Toyota mess, it's the fact that legislators and lawmakers are beginning to take the concern of the ordinary American consumer about auto safety, very seriously. Lawmakers are scrambling to put together pieces of legislation that would prevent auto majors from being able to unduly influence the process at agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety administration.

The latest such piece of legislation comes from Sen. Barbara Boxer. On Wednesday, Senator Boxer introduced a bill that would prevent former employees of the NHTSA, who go on to join positions at auto companies, from having close contact with their former employer. Currently, there is no law barring former NHTSA employees from taking up jobs at auto makers or from working as lobbyists for auto companies. In the absence of such a rule, ex-NHTSA employees have evolved into lobbyists for auotmakers upon leaving the agency. At the Congressional hearings this year, it came out that these lobbyists have actually been quite successful in limiting the extent of the investigation into Toyota’s recalls.

These are former employees of the NHTSA who have been able to use the closeness they enjoy with their former coworkers at the agency, to wrangle better deals for the automaker. That will not happen anymore under Sen. Boxer's plan. The bill will prevent ex-NHTSA employees, currently working for automakers from having any written or oral contact with the NHTSA. The restriction will apply to all NHTSA employees who work in auto safety, and will last for at least three years.

That might seem like a small step, but California class action lawyers believe that it will close the unnatural bond that some automakers seem to have developed with federal regulators. Critics of the NHTSA have long held that the federal agency is too beholden to the auto makers, giving them too much leeway and leniency. At least some of that concern stems from the fact that many NHTSA employees, who retire or quit their jobs move into plum positions at automakers where their experience, expertise and skills are highly valued. The bill would prevent ex-NHTSA lobbyists from having undue influence on auto safety processes.

Court Orders Largest Employment Discrimination Class-Action Lawsuit against Wal-Mart Will Go Ahead

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The final hurdle to an employment discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart, has now fallen. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled 6-5 that the lawsuit, which has the potential to be the largest employment discrimination lawsuit in the United States, can go ahead. It is a highly contentious ruling, with even the Chief Judge of the court vocal in his objections to the ruling.

The decision allows large-scale litigation that could involve up to 1.5 million current and former employees of Wal-Mart. The lawsuit claims that female employees at Wal-Mart were discriminated against at the company, when it came to pay and promotions. They were paid much less than their male counterparts in the same jobs, and had less opportunity for promotions. They also allege that the company’s rigid, centralized structure promotes a culture in which females have fewer chances to move up the corporate ladder, and there is plenty of gender stereotyping. The lawsuit also alleges that although women make up more than 70% of Wal-Mart's total workforce, they comprise less than one third of all managerial positions at the company.

Betty Dukes, a female employee of Wal-Mart, filed the suit in 2001. Dukes worked as a greeter at a Walmart store in Pittsburgh, California. She was joined by five of her coworkers in the lawsuit.

According to Dukes, the decision by the appeals court to allow the lawsuit to go ahead, is a huge victory in itself. She insists that all she and the other plaintiffs wanted was their day in court, to make the company accepts its discriminating practices, and change the existing structure, so that female employees have the same opportunities and pay scales as the men.

A 6-5 decision is hardly what California employment discrimination lawyers would call a unanimous ruling, and Wal-Mart will be counting on this if it decides to appeal the decision. The company says that it is considering its options, and will make a decision on whether to appeal the court's decision to the US Supreme Court.

However, with up to 1.5 million women possibly joining the lawsuit now that it's been declared a class-action lawsuit, Wal-Mart could be looking at paying up to $300,000 per case of discrimination. The pressure is now on Wal-Mart to settle this lawsuit as quickly as possible.

California Jury Finds in Favor of Ford Motor Company in Serious Accident Involving Spinal Cord Injury

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Los Angeles court has found for defendant Ford Motor Company in a product liability lawsuit involving serious injury caused to an 11-year-old girl. The girl had suffered a serious spinal cord injury that had left her a quadriplegic in a rollover accident in 2006 near Lancaster.

On the day of the accident, the girl’s mother had been driving a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. The victim was a passenger in the car. At one point, the mother swerved hard to avoid a direct collision with an approaching vehicle. When she began turning back to the left, the Explorer flipped over on a dirt shoulder. The roof of the SUV crashed on the girl's neck, causing serious spinal cord injuries and paralysis. The girl's mother was not injured in the accident.

According to lawyers for the victim, the accident could have been prevented if the Explorer came with Electronic Stability Control systems. Besides, serious injury could have been avoided if the vehicle had come designed with a wider axle track and a low center of gravity. However, lawyers for Ford Motor Co. argued that the accident was caused because the girl's mother responded incorrectly after she swerved to avoid a head-on collision. Because of incorrect driving, the Ford Explorer rolled into a ditch. Any vehicle would run the risk of rollover if it ended up in a ditch, Ford's lawyers said. Instead of swerving back left like she did, the girl’s mother should have stayed on the dirt shoulder, or should have slowed the Explorer down. Ford denied that the absence of an Electronic Stability Control system in the car was a factor in the accident.

Electronic Stability Control Systems Can Prevent Accidents

Ford Motor Company was successful in denying that Electronic Stability Control systems in its vehicles would have prevented the accident. However, Las Vegas personal injury lawyers have found that electronic stability control systems have been linked to lower highway accident fatality rates around the country. These systems have been found to substantially reduce the number of rollover accidents, and the consequent catastrophic injuries.

Supreme Court Decision Regarding Debt Collection Practices

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 on a case involving a debt collection law firm's mistake in interpreting the Fair Debt Collections Act (FDCPA). The ruling makes it easier for debtors to sue debt collectors, and reinforces the adage - ignorance is no excuse of the law.

When a bill collector has violated the FDCPA, monetary penalties can be  assessed per violation, as well as attorney fees granted to the plaintiff's representation. Throughout the country, several law firms represent victims of debt collection abuse, including Los Angeles Consumer Rights Lawyers.  Many of the FDCPA rules apply to third party debt collectors, and they can be especially aggressive.

An ongoing issue with third party debt collectors practices, is the proper training an supervision of employees that interact with debtors.  Lack of standard operating procedures that adhere to legal guidelines and compensation plans that place high rewards on recovery of debt leads to employees that can be overly aggressive when attempting to collect debts. The Supreme Court ruling is a shot across the bow for many debt collection firms.

Clark County Child Welfare System Faces Federal Class-Action Lawsuit

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clark County's foster care system is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a child advocacy group, alleging violations of federal and state child health and safety laws. The lawsuit has been filed by California-based National Center for Youth Law. The plaintiffs are 13 children who allege that they suffered greatly because of system failures.

The lawsuit is seeking damages, as well as efforts by federal courts to change the system to prevent such child abuse. According to the lawsuit:

  • There has been a failure to conduct proper reviews that has left children at a high risk for abuse and exploitation. Children have not had access to psychological and medical care. The lawsuit cites several cases where children were left without medical care because of caseworkers’ failures to approve treatment.
  • Caseworkers have been burdened with too many cases, and have not been given the kind of training they need to handle their workload. The result has been overstressed, overworked caseworkers, who have simply not been able to do justice to the little children they were meant to protect.
  • In several cases, caseworkers failed to take children's complaints of sexual abuse and physical neglect seriously. They simply went on to place the children back into the care of their abusers.

Obviously, the lawsuit aims to do much more than compensate plaintiffs for their losses. News reports don't specify the damages the lawsuit is seeking, but there isn't enough money in the world that could compensate these children for their lost childhood. To any Nevada sexual abuse lawyer, it’s clear that the aim of the lawsuit is not just to compensate these innocent child victims, but also to ensure that no other child slips through the cracks of a broken system again.

This isn't exactly a new problem to Las Vegas sexual abuse lawyers. In 2003, there had been at least 10 studies conducted that showed a consistent failure to protect children in the foster care system from physical and sexual abuse.

County authorities have already begun to make placatory noises. The Clark County Commission Chairman has said that the county has made some progress in child safety over the years, but progress had been blocked because of a bad economy and lack of funding. His critics say that even when Nevada enjoyed a robust economy, it simply didn't invest in the safety of its minor wards.

Zero Highway Fatality Rates is New Federal Goal

Thursday, April 15, 2010

There has been much brouhaha over the fact that highway fatalities across the US are at their lowest point in decades. While that is definitely cause for celebration, one group of transportation safety officials is not satisfied. This group is pushing for a much loftier target - a fatality rate of zero.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials believes that we need to set our highway fatality targets even higher, and is calling for a target of zero. The name of the campaign the Association is pushing? Toward Zero Deaths. The approach is based on the idea that even a single fatality on American roads is completely unacceptable and unethical.

Is a zero fatality rate attainable? California personal injury lawyers believe it’s not. The AASHTO doesn't believe that we can attain such rates either. However, the approach focuses on minimizing and altering driver behaviors that cause the most number of fatalities every year. These behaviors include speeding, drunk driving, distracted driving and failure to wear seat belts. Out of these, failure to wear seatbelts by far is the single biggest factor contributing to fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 55% of auto fatalities last year were not wearing seat belts. Approximately 32% of the fatalities were caused by drunk driving or distracted driving, while 31% were caused by speeding.

The approach has support from federal safety officials. Deborah Hersmann, who is the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, puts it nicely. A few decades ago, achieving a zero fatality rate in smallpox or polio was considered unattainable. Hersmann is comparing that attitude to current attitudes towards fatality rates. There's simply no reason why we should be content with fatality rates that exceed 30,000 every year.

As any California accident attorney will tell you, it's complacency that causes the most number of accidents. If you believe that your behavior will not impact your safety or the safety of others, you're more likely to indulge in behaviors that contribute to serious accidents. Toward Zero Deaths attacks that sense of complacency.

Norwalk City Council at the Center of Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It’s raining sexual harassment lawsuits at the Norwalk city council. The council is facing two separate sexual harassment lawsuits filed by a current employee and a former employee. One of the lawsuits will be settled soon while the other is pending. These two lawsuits come barely a month after the city settled with another former employee in another sexual harassment lawsuit.

The first lawsuit has been filed by former employee Cynthia Sanchez against councilmember Jesse Luera. Sanchez alleges in her lawsuit that Luera would frequently indulge in inappropriate contact, including grabbing and hugging her. He often passed inappropriate comments about trading sex for promotions. When Sanchez complained about Luera’s behavior to the authorities, she came up against the kind of wall that California sexual harassment lawyers often see when women face sex harassment in the workplace. No action was taken against Luera. Instead Sanchez was retaliated against for her complaints. Norwalk city has reached a tentative settlement with Sanchez, although no details have been made public yet.

The second sexual harassment lawsuit has been filed by Melody Baca against councilmember Rick Ramirez. In her lawsuit, she makes the same kind of complaints that Sanchez did - there was plenty of inappropriate touching and explicit comments. Ramirez has denied all these allegations. That lawsuit is still pending.

Such inappropriate behavior by higher-ups seems to have been rampant at the Norwalk city council. Barely one year before Sanchez and Baca filed their lawsuits, the city settled with a former employee in a sexual harassment lawsuit that named councilmember Mike Mendez. The plaintiff in that lawsuit Tony Tucker, alleged that Mendez frequently made inappropriate comments. That lawsuit was settled after payment of $500,000 made by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority.

Proving sexual harassment in the workplace can be tricky. For instance, any inappropriate talk or banter has to be one sided for it to be considered “harassment.” It may cease to be “harassment” if both persons engage in such talk. In short, the harasser’s behavior must be unwelcome to the victim. If she engages in encouraging it for whatever reason, it can impact the viability of her claim.

Physician Group Eases Driving Restrictions for Elderly Drivers with Dementia

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A doctors’ group has provided new guidelines that ease restrictions on driving for people suffering from dementia. The new guidelines have been put forth by the American Academy of Neurology, and have been published by the journal, Neurology.

Under the new guidelines, the following dementia patients may still be able to continue with their driving privileges:

  • Patients who score low on the dementia scale
  • Patients with no history of accidents
  • Patients with no history of traffic citations
  • Patients rated by family and caregivers as having good driving abilities

The current guidelines that were published in 2000, say that doctors and caregivers must inform patients and their families that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, have a substantially higher risk of accidents, and therefore should not be allowed to drive. The earlier guidelines even frowned on driving privileges for persons with mild forms of Alzheimer's disease.

Under the new guidelines, a patient’s dementia scale scores will be considered first, followed by caregiver’s ratings about the patient's driving abilities. Patients who have a history of frequent accidents, low number of miles driven, have worries about driving in poor weather or at night, and patients with aggressive personalities or those who exhibit impulsive tendencies, are not considered ideal candidates to drive.

Besides, the new guidelines discourage doctors from allowing patients to rate their own driving abilities. One study conducted by researchers in Alzheimer's patients showed that 94% of the patients surveyed believed that their driving abilities were excellent. In reality however, only 44% of these patients were able to pass a driving test. There are several challenges that patients with even mild dementia face. They could find it hard to navigate intersections, and may have problems yielding.

Failing mental health is just one of the challenges facing elderly drivers. These drivers already face other challenges including failing vision, poor hearing, slower reflexes, low strength and another factors that could impact their driving abilities. Add even mild dementia to the list, and California car accident attorneys believe you could increase the person’s risk of an accident.

Senior motorists these days drive on California's congested streets, already filled with aggressive and distracted drivers. It's important for elderly motorists, their families and caregivers to also consider these facts while making any decisions about their loved one’s driving abilities.

Tips for Motorcycle Safety

Monday, April 12, 2010

In 2009, there was a drop of approximately 9% in traffic fatalities across the country, including in Nevada. However, the number of people killed in motorcycle crashes the same year was at its highest point in 35 years. That's enough reason for Nevada motorcycle accident lawyers to look closer at preventing the accidents that caused these fatalities in the first place.

A major factor in motorcycle accidents in Nevada is that motorists here are far too accustomed to sharing their roads and highways with other vehicles, pickup trucks and SUVs. Motorcycles simply don't figure on the radar of far too many motorists. Here's what motorists must know about sharing the roads safely with motorcyclists:

  • Often, a motorcycle may look as if it's much further away than it really is. To be able to correctly judge the motorcycle’s speed and distance, assume that it is closer than it is.
  • Know that motorcycles are very often hidden in your blind spots. Keep that in mind when you're making a lane change, or turning at an intersection.
  • Motorcyclists don't always switch on the brake lights when they slow down. That's why it's always advisable to keep a good distance between your car and he motorcycle ahead of you.
  • One of the biggest advantages of riding a motorcycle is that it gives the rider so much more room to maneuver. However, don't overestimate that available space, and move too close to a motorcyclist.
  • Motorcyclists must ensure their own safety on the highways too.
  • Be aware that you may fall in a motorist’s blind spot.
  • Turn the brake light on when you slow down.
  • Paint reflective stripes on the motorcycle, and wear brightly colored clothing
  • Make sure that the headlight functions properly.
  • Wear an approved helmet.
  • Ride so that you are clearly visible to motorists behind you.
  • Look out extra hard when you're near turnings or intersections
  • Avoid stunt riding or zigzagging in between lanes. Apart from the fact that you are foolishly risking your own life, it angers other motorists and could set off road rage, a situation that you really don't need.

Metrolink Train Crews Oppose Personality Testing for Crew Members

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Metrolink train crews are up in arms. No, it's not the prospect of safer rides for their passengers that they are excited about. Rather, it's the prospect of having crewmembers with questionable personality issues kept out of employment that's generating the usual union hysteria.

Metrolink's operations will be taken over by Amtrak in a few weeks time. That agency has mandatory personality tests for employees before they are hired. Amtrak intends to use these personality tests to screen Metrolink workers too. Even long-time employees of Metrolink with several years of experience to their credit, will be put through the personality tests which they will be required to pass. Metrolink unions say they will boycott the tests en masse. If Amtrak insists on forcing the tests on them, the unions insist they simply won’t report for work.

The tests are similar to those used by companies before hiring personnel. There are separate tests for both engineers and conductors. According to Amtrak, the tests were designed to determine the presence of certain undesirable personality traits in both engineers and conductors. For instance, tests for conductors will be designed to look for the ability to handle people better. Tests for engineers will look for persons who have a really introverted personality, and are less likely to be distracted while operating the train.

Any Metrolink train accident lawyer in California will link this part of the test to the alleged actions of Robert Sanchez, the engineer at the controls of the train that crashed near Chatsworth on September 12, 2008, killing 25 people. Sanchez, it was found after the crash, used to frequently text message young rail fans and invite them on board the train. It's such personality traits that the tests are designed to watch out for.

After the deadliest Metrolink train accident in recent years, it is but natural that we explore every possible measure that can prevent a recap of those tragic events. Los Angeles train accident attorneys also expect train crews who have such a major responsibility towards the safety of their passengers, to cooperate to the fullest extent. If there are misgivings about how these tests will be used, these can be discussed, but boycotts and threats are unacceptable.

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