Category Archives: Auto Accidents

New York’s Worst Insurance Companies

The Best and The Worst Auto Insurance Companies in New York State

The New York State Department of Financial Services has released its most recent survey of the most complained about insurance carriers in the State of New York.

The complaint data ranks all 169 automobile insurance companies doing business in the State of New York based upon a complaint ratio taking into account the size of the insurance carrier and its premium volume. Continue reading

The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal and You: What Action Can You Take?

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By now, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal has become common knowledge amongst the average American. What most people know is that VW cheated on their emissions testing for diesel vehicles, and that they are facing down fines from the US government to the tune of billions of dollars. In short, owners of these vehicles have been the victims of a major fraud, and are entitled to compensation. Compensation that RGLZ Law can help you win from VW. But what exactly did VW do to cheat these tests, and how exactly does that affect you as the owner of one of the affected vehicles? Read on to find out more.

What is the ECU? And Why does it Matter?

First we’ll need a little background in how modern automobiles function, as well as the regulations that must be met for them to be sold. Modern cars are significantly different from cars of 20-30 years ago in many drastic ways, but perhaps most drastically in how they function. Whereas cars of old used linkages, carburetors, and other mechanical means to translate your inputs into action and run the motor properly, today’s cars are primarily controlled by an ECU, or Engine Control Unit. This is a computer that manages almost every part of a car’s operation, and is essentially the “brain” of the car. It receives information from every part of the motor, and every input from the driver, to properly optimize engine performance under any sort of conditions. Most of a car’s operation is now digital instead of mechanical, and the ECU is what takes all of this data and translates it into action.

The ECU must be programmed extensively from the factory to balance a number of factors. This programming is what is known as a “tune” or “engine map”. The car’s factory tune aims to achieve the best possible combination of power, fuel economy, and emissions. But in the case of Diesel powered cars, increased power and fuel economy come at the expense of far higher emissions. Much more so than gasoline powered cars. The United States EPA has a set of very stringent guidelines for just how high the emissions of a car can be, and so theoretically, compromises would have to be made in terms of power and fuel economy to ensure compliance with emissions standards.

What did VW do to the ECU to Cheat Emissions?

The crux of the scandal comes from the fact that Volkswagen had a separate and secret ECU tunebuilt into their diesel powered cars, with the express purpose of beating emissions tests. To many car buyers, power and fuel economy are major drivers of their decision making, and sacrificing these things to meet emissions standards was apparently something that Volkswagen engineers thought would make their cars uncompetitive in the marketplace. Unable to strike a good balance of power, fuel economy, and emissions, they chose to engineer a workaround for emissions testing instead of making that sacrifice.

The car’s ECU was engineered to know when emissions testing devices were plugged into the car, at which point it would replace the factory ECU tune with one that would meet the testing standards. As soon as the testing devices were removed, the ECU would immediately go back to the factory map which was nowhere near being in compliance.

How Does This Affect VW Diesel Owners?

So where does this leave the owner of one of these Diesel powered VW cars? Unfortunately there is no “fix” to this problem that does not severely affect the value of their automobile. As the cars are now, their emissions levels are far beyond the allowable amount. Though no action will be taken against drivers of these cars, this is still something that would affect perception of the cars, and therefore their resale value. To bring the cars into compliance with emissions standards, VW would have to recall the cars, and permanently program their ECUs with the secret “testing” map. The problem with this is that it would have drastic negative effects on the drivability, power, and fuel economy of the vehicles in question. This might hurt the value of the cars more than doing nothing, and there would doubtlessly be people who would choose not to participate in a recall for these reasons.

As it stands, there is no situation where this scandal does not constitute undue damage to the value of these affected automobiles, and as such, product liability claims are likely an option for owners of said vehicles. Legal recourse may be the only way for Volkswagen customers to be made whole in the aftermath, even in the case of a manufacturer buyback of the affected vehicles. If you currently own one of the affected Volkswagen vehicles, we highly recommend speaking with a product liability attorney at this time to explore your legal options. With class actions on the way, there may a limited amount of time to take action in this regard.

Distracted Driving: Causes & their Legal Liabilities


written by Matthew Zullo

With the cell phone becoming an indispensable accessory and its use becoming habitual, we hear more and more about the hazards that come with using one while driving. Unfortunately, the news is often tragic and distracted driving results in about 3500 deaths and over 400,000 serious injuries each year. And while we are all becoming more aware of the dangers of driving while texting or talking on a cell phone, cell phone use is not the only source of distraction. Even before cell phones were invented, litigation involving motor vehicle accidents involved investigation and detail questioning of defendants and witness as to the source of anything that may have diverted a driver’s attention away from the roadway. Drivers can be distracted by using a radio, GPS, consuming food or beverages, putting on makeup, reaching for an item in the car and I have actually seen drivers using electric razors.

The primary purpose of driving is operating a motor vehicle so that you can arrive at your destination safely without causing harm to yourself or others. Driving requires cognitive, manual and visual effort and any activity that also requires these functions will take away from your ability to drive in a safe manor.  Texting is particularly dangerous because it involves all three of the listed functions.  You must think of a message, manually type it while visually looking at the keyboard.  This is why you are 24 times more likely to be in an accident while texting than while simply talking on a phone while using a hands free device.  But even the use of Bluetooth technology carries a 4% greater chance of being involved in an accident.

As a personal injury attorney I have represented families and individuals who have been the victim of the negligence of distracted drivers.   It is always important to discover the cause of an accident to clearly establish negligence.  Defendants will rarely admit to being distracted and that is why it is critical to do a proper investigation and thorough deposition of the defendant to establish where they were looking and what they were doing just before an accident.  Every driver is under the obligation to see what there is to be seen and it is unlikely that if one is paying strict attention to the roadway, they will be the cause of an accident.  Cell phone records can be obtain but the party seeking the records must establish a reasonable basis for obtaining the records and the records will be limited to the time period of the accident.  A reasonable basis can be established by a witness or party who saw a party on the cell phone just before an accident.  Or there may be an indication in the police report concerning cell phone use or other distraction.  Many drivers will be forthright at the scene of an accident and admit that they were reaching for an item or on a cell phone and that admission maybe used to establish a reasonable basis for obtaining cell phone records.

Fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over and nearly twice as high for 16-17 year-olds as for 18-19 year-olds.

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New York Dram Shop Liability and the “Sale Statute”

Written by Michael Glass

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Americans love their alcohol in all its destructive glory.  The United States Center for Disease Control reports that 50% of American adults consider themselves regular drinkers.  In 2012 alone, there were over 10,000 alcohol-related traffic deaths in the United States.

New York is one of 30 states that have responded by passing “Dram Shop” laws, which impose civil liability on third parties for aiding and abetting the intoxication of an individual who causes injury by virtue of his or her intoxication.  New York’s first Dram Shop Act was enacted in 1873 and the Dram Shop statutes have been amended and supplemented multiple times since then.

GENERAL OBLIGATION LAW 11-101 (Unlawful Sale of Alcohol)

Today, New York’s General Obligations Law Section 11-101 provides that a plaintiff injured by an intoxicated person has a right of action against the party who sold the alcohol to the intoxicated person.  The three elements of the claim are:

1. The sellerunlawfully sold or procured alcohol for the intoxicant; and

2. The seller sold the alcohol to the intoxicant when the intoxicant was visibly intoxicated; and

3. There exists a “reasonable connection” between the intoxication and the Plaintiff’s injury.

General Obligations Law 11-101 additionally creates a right of action for the unlawful sale of alcohol to persons under the age of 21, as well as the sale of alcohol to an “habitual” drunkard.

Although GOL 11-101 actions are usually brought against restaurants, tavern owners and convenience stores, which directly sell liquor to consumers, the statute makes any formal or informal seller of alcohol responsible irrespective of whether the seller is legally licensed to sell alcohol to the public.  The key to such cases, however, is the presence of a SALE of alcohol to the intoxicated person.  Without a sale, this section of the law will not apply. In addition, the sale must be made to the intoxicant when the intoxicant is “visibly intoxicated.”  Visible intoxication can be proved through the testimony of witnesses and the observation of police officers who arrested the individual after he or she left the tavern or restaurant, buttressed by expert testimony from an expert witness like a toxicologist.

GOL Section 11-101 not only creates a cause of action against those who sell liquor to a visibly intoxicated person, but provides a cause of action for sales to an “habitual drunkard” or any minor actually or apparently under the age of 21 years.   It has been specifically held that GOL 11-101 (the “sale” statute) supports a cause of action against the vendor for injuries resulting from the sale of liquor to an underage person, even when the intoxicated minor is concededly sober at the time of sale.

SOCIAL HOST LAWS:  FURNISHING ALCOHOL TO A MINOR

In 1983, the New York legislature enacted GOL 11-100 as a sister statute to GOL 11-101.   GOL 11-100 imposes civil liability upon any person who unlawfully “furnishes” or “assists in procuring” alcoholic beverages to a person under the age of 21.  Significantly, GOL 11-101 does not require a sale of liquor,thereby opening the door to liability for social hosts who cause or permit underage drinking on their watch at social occasions where no money changes hands.

The elements of the claim are straightforward.  The statutes speaks in terms of “furnishing” or “assisting in procuring” the alcohol for the minor.  “Assisting in procuring” has been interpreted to include using one’s own money, or even contributing money with others to the purchase of alcohol for the minor.  No liability attaches, however, if the adult is a mere passive participant at a party where minors happen to be drinking.  In addition, the Defendant must know, or have reasonable cause to believe, the persons receiving the alcohol are under the age of 21.  If the defendant is reasonably unaware of the alcoholic consumption by the minor, or did not authorize its consumption on his premises, no liability will attach.  So, for example, it has been held that no liability exists where the parents whose minor held a party with underage drinking did not procure or furnish the alcohol that was consumed at the party, nor did they provide funds for that purpose.  Likewise, there is no liability if the Defendant was a passive participant who merely knew of the underage drinking, but did nothing to encourage it.  It has also been held that the parents of an underage drinker were not liable under GOL 11-100 where their underage child arranged the party while the parents were out of town and the parents neither furnished nor procured the alcoholic beverages for anyone at the party.    Interestingly, however, claims against an underage child can be brought if the underage child procured the alcohol served at the party to underage guests.

GOL 11-103: INJURIES CAUSEDBY THE ILLEGAL SALE OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES

GOL 11-103 provides, in essence, a Dram Shop Claim against any person who caused or contributed to another’s impairment by unlawfully selling or assisting in procuring a controlled substance for that person. In this context, “assisting in procuring” means that no sale is necessary.  Merely furnishing the controlled substance is sufficient for liability.  Actual and punitive damages are recoverable under the statute.

COMMON LAW DUTY TO PROTECT/SUPERVISE PERSONS ON PROPERTY

Dram Shop liability is statutory.  Alcohol providers are not responsible in the common law for furnishing alcohol to intoxicated persons who then go on to cause injuries.  That is not to say, however, that there are no common law theories of liability applicable to landowners when an injury is caused by an intoxicated person. The common law does generally impose a duty on landowners, including bar and restaurant owners, to protect third persons from dangerous conditions on their property, which includes the duty to protect third persons from injuries caused by an intoxicated person.  In addition, in appropriate circumstances, adults have a common law duty to supervise minors and protect them from guests who become intoxicated at the adult’s home.  Therefore, in appropriate cases a lawsuit against the provider of alcohol may raise both statutory and common law claims.

CONCLUSION

When an accident occurs and alcohol is involved, consideration must be given to whether there are parties other than the drunk who may also be legally accountable.  Bars and taverns have a responsibility in the law to dispense the alcohol they sell responsibly, and even social hosts must take reasonable steps to ensure that minors are not being supplied alcohol under their watch.  When due care is not taken, liability on these third party providers of alcohol can follow.

Man allegedly driving under the influence in fatal accident

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New York police have apprehended a 20-year-old man after a pursuit that began in response to an earlier accident. The man is purported to have traveled erratically down sidewalks and congested streets before colliding with the victims’ car. Police have filed several charges against the man, including driving under the influence of narcotics. They have also stated that more charges will follow after the investigation is completed.

This tragedy was set off after the male driver was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run collision that led to a high speed pursuit by law enforcement officers. State police officials were requested to assist in the chase. The man was alleged to have traveled along walkways before entering State Road 86 at an excessive speed.

Authorities claim the driver then veered into incoming traffic right before colliding with the vehicle carrying the couple and their daughter. A 42-year-old man was deceased at the scene of the crash. The 38-year-old woman was transported for critical injuries and later flown to another facility before dying from her wounds. An 11-year-old child also suffered serious injuries in the accident. She, too, required air transportation to a hospital.

Several New York police agencies were involved in this incident. It has been stated that the driver who has been charged had supposedly expressed a desire to commit suicide in the days preceding this wreck. For now, he has been charged with driving under the influence of intoxicating substances as well as reckless driving and various other offenses. The family of the victims will now face having to bury their loved ones and provide for the child left with serious wounds to her spine. They reserve the right to file both wrongful death and personal injury suits in civil court against the driver who has been charged in this tragic crash.