Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

The parents of Sherena Hundalani, 26, are fighting for justice after their daughter was tragically killed by a taxi in Queens, New York. Hundalani was standing on a sidewalk in front of a Mobil Station on February 24, 2019, waiting to cross the street, when a taxi struck her from behind, dragged her underneath the car, and then fled the scene. Hundalani was taken to a hospital before she later succumbed to her injuries. The taxi’s driver, Lakhvinder Singh, was questioned by police and claimed that the vehicle malfunctioned before he was then released without having any charges pressed against him. The case is still being investigated.

The suit, which names City of New York, the Department of Transportation, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, alleges that Singh was using the Mobil station as an illegal turnaround at the time of the incident, a common practice among taxi drivers in that location. Hundalani’s parents, Prakash and Bina, claim that the various city agencies were aware of the dangerous conditions that led to their daughter’s death and allowed them to continue. “We are devastated beyond words by the loss of our beautiful Sherena,” they expressed. “We are grateful to so many friends who have supported us and expressed their love for our daughter, but there must be accountability when an innocent young woman is killed by a taxi licensed by the City of New York while standing on the sidewalk of all places.”

Though the Hundalani’s are seeking $25 million in damages, an outrageous New York taxi and limousine regulation is potentially standing in their way. That is, under current New York City law, insurance payouts for those injured or killed by a standard taxi or limousine are limited to $100,000 per person, $300,000, per accident, $200,000 in personal injury protection, and $10,000 in property damage. As a result, the city’s streets and sidewalks are being opened to reckless, unlicensed, and underinsured bicyclists as well as underinsured taxis and limousines who face very little threat of legal or financial consequences following a crash.

The family of a Walter Huang has filed a wrongful death suit against Tesla Motors Inc. following a crash that ended his life. On March 23, 2018, Mr. Huang was traveling southbound on Highway 101 when his vehicle, a Tesla Model X, misread the lane lines, failed to detect a concrete traffic barrier, failed to brake the car, and instead, accelerated the car until it struck the median at 71 miles per hour (according to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board). Huang was killed on impact.

According to the suit, “Based on Tesla’s advertising and promotional material, Decedent Walter Huang believed the Tesla Model X’s technology was such that the autopilot features included designed-in programs, software, hardware, and systems that would eliminate the risk of harm or injury to the vehicle operator.” It continues to allege that Mr. Huang “reasonably believed the 2017 Tesla Model X vehicle was safer than a human-operated vehicle because of the Defendant’s claimed technical superiority regarding the vehicle’s autopilot system, including Tesla’s ‘traffic-aware cruise control’, ‘autosteer lane-keeping assistance’ and other safety components.” Huang’s family notes that, despite these advertisement claims by Tesla, Mr. Huang complained on numerous occasions about his vehicle’s autopilot problems that Tesla was never able to resolve.

Plaintiff’s attorneys hold that Tesla either knew or should have known about the vehicle software’s defects that consequently left owners and operators of the Model X in danger of crashing, and moreover, Tesla either knew or should have known that said owners and operators were wholly unaware of the Model X’s defects. Thus, these operators should have been notified of the software issues, sparing them of potential harm. Instead, Mr. Huang was unknowingly driving a computer-operated vehicle that had the potential to malfunction and crash at any moment, and this potential was tragically actualized resulting in Mr. Huang’s death.

A bill that claims to lower Louisiana’s auto insurance rates has passed through the state’s House of Representatives following a vote of 69-30. House Bill 372, proposed by Rep. Kirk Talbot, is based on the purported fact that Louisiana ranks as having the second-highest auto insurance rates in the United States. The cause, according to Talbot, is the increasing number of car crashes and, consequently, increased expenses for the insurance companies who are thus forced to raise their rates. In reality, the bill is nothing more than a scheme to bolster the wealth of insurance companies and gain their political support, all the while presenting the enticing disguise to Louisiana residents that their insurance rates will be radically reduced.

Talbot’s bill, also known as the “Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019”, proposes an insurance carrier wishlist of way to save money on claims without any reduction in insurance premium costs. The first of which is to increase the prescriptive period for filing suit from one to two years. This change would certainly reduce lawsuits (as our neighbors in Texas and Mississippi have at least two years to file suit). In doing so, the bill encourages lengthened legal negotiations following automotive incidents resulting in a greater number of settlements and, therefore, reduced court costs. In a similar vein, the bill also reduces the jury threshold from the previous 50,000-dollar minimum to a mere 5,000 dollars, theoretically dissuading attorneys from taking cases to court, and again, resulting in reduced court costs. Talbot also puts forward the idea of limiting the amount of recoverable medical expenses following a car crash to that amount that is paid by the health insurance company rather than the amount billed. Lastly, Talbot wants to change the law so the insurance companies can no longer be defendants (just at fault drivers). Consequentially, according to Talbot, by reducing the expenses of insurance companies, the insurance companies unilaterally choose to  lower the cost of their premiums for Louisiana residents.

Opponents of the bill rightly argue that its power-hungry proponents are taking advantage of honest citizens. Though the bill presents itself as looking out for Louisiana drivers, the bill will instead leave many victims of negligent and careless driving without being able to obtain the justice they deserve. Rather than settling cases outside of court and reducing court costs, the bill will force justice-seeking plaintiffs to take their cases to a jury trial, prolonging a verdict and clogging up courtrooms that could otherwise be free had the case been more expeditiously ruled by a judge. Moreover, by reducing the possible amount of medical expenses to be recovered by a given victim, the victim will often be left paying for large portions of his medical bills, himself, instead of that expense being charged to the person responsible for his damages.

In Arceneaux v. Turner, et al., the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette trial court’s ruling that denied uninsured motorist coverage to a plaintiff. The plaintiff, Gerald Arceneaux, owned a towing company. In November of 2014, he was involved in a car accident while driving a 2012 Ford F250. In a sworn affidavit, Arceneaux stated that he was “on call” when the accident occurred and that the truck he was driving was outfitted with all tools and equipment necessary for any road side service request. Typically, Arceneaux would drive a Ford F450, but that vehicle was in need of repairs. After the accident, Arceneaux filed suit and sought uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage from his insurer. The insurer defended by filing a motion for summary judgment claiming that the policy did not provide coverage for the plaintiff’s claims.  The trial court granted the motion and Arceneaux appealed to the Third Circuit.

On appeal, the issue before the court was whether the F250 Arceneaux drove on the day of the accident could be considered a “temporary substitute vehicle” for Gerald Towing’s Ford F450 Wrecker. Citing Louisiana law, the defendant-insurer argued that Arceneaux could not recover, because he was operating his personal vehicle at the time of the accident and that the F250 was not a covered vehicle under the policy.  However, Arceneaux countered that under the policy the Ford F250 was a “replacement motor vehicle covered under the terms of the policy.” Moreover, the policy states that insureds are anyone occupying a “covered auto” or a “temporary substitute for a covered auto.” To support his claim, Arceneaux pointed to his sworn affidavit in which he stated that the F450 was in need of repairs on the date of the accident, and that he used the Ford F250 to perform work that could or would have been completed by the F450, if it was in service.

Turning to the facts and evidence, the Third Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that the Ford F250 served as a temporary substitute for a covered vehicle, specifically the Ford F450 Wrecker. Therefore, Arceneaux was an insured under the policy at the time of the accident and could potentially recover under his UM coverage. The Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s grant of the insurer’s motion to summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In November of 2017, Galvan Alejandro Jr. and William Rhodes were traveling in Vernon Parish, Louisiana when Alejandro, the driver, lost control of the vehicle, went off the road, struck a culvert, and hit several trees. Despite wearing a seatbelt, Rhodes, the passenger, was ejected from the vehicle and killed. The driver sustained only moderate injuries. Suspecting alcohol and excessive speeding as causes for the crash, in January, Louisiana authorities arrested the driver for vehicular homicide and reckless operation.

Louisiana law defines “vehicular homicide” as “the killing of a human being caused . . . by an offender engaged in the operation of . . . any motor vehicle” when the driver is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or other intoxicants. If convicted of vehicular homicide, the driver can be fined and imprisoned for no less than five years and no more than thirty years. In addition to facing possible jail time, under Louisiana law, a drunk driver can face liability for punitive damages, which can be awarded in addition to compensatory damages in some cases. Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.4 states, “exemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by . . . a defendant whose intoxication while operating a motor vehicle was a cause in fact of the resulting injuries.”

Punitive damage awards can vary depending upon the facts of each case and even the location of the trial. For example, Broussard & David, LLC partner Blake R. David was lead counsel in Thibodeaux v. AFTCO, where a Lafayette Parish jury awarded punitive damages of nearly $15,000,000.00 against an intoxicated driver. In Calcasieu Parish, Broussard & David, LLC partner Blake R. David was also lead counsel in Tingle v. American Home Assurance Co., where the jury returned a verdict which included $5,000,000.00 in punitive damages where an intoxicated driver caused the death of a family’s two-year-old daughter. In Thistlethwaite v. Gonzalez, another case in which Blake David was lead counsel, a St. Charles Parish trial court awarded over $25,000,000.00 total in punitive damages against an intoxicated defendant driver.

LAKE CHARLES, LA – November 16, 2017

A Calcasieu Parish jury awarded $5,451,395.00 to a Venezuelan native who injured his neck and back when his Hummer SUV hit a cow on a rural state highway.

On the night of May 28, 2014, the plaintiff was driving on Louisiana Highway 27, headed home after a hitch working offshore as a petroleum engineer. Multiple cows appeared in the road as he was passing another vehicle on a dark and unlit stretch of Highway 27 which was adjacent to property owned by defendant Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company, LLC.

Three parties have sued a truck driver and his employer for injuries and damages sustained in a crash earlier this year.

On June 24, Plaintiffs Marvin Gaitlin and Tasha Bodie, both individually and on behalf of her minor daughter Mykalia Collins, brought suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against Sam Grace, EPES Transportation Systems Inc., and National Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh. The suit alleges that Grace negligently operated his vehicle and that EPES negligently entrusted the tractor-trailer to Grace.

On February 25, Gaitlin was stopped in traffic on Manhattan Boulevard, near the intersection of Ute Drive in Jefferson Parish. Bodie and Collins were Gaitlin’s passengers at the time, and their vehicle was directly behind the tractor-trailer driven by Grace and owned by EPES Transportation. According to the suit, Grace suddenly reversed his tractor-trailer and backed into the front of Gaitlin’s vehicle, leaving him no time to avoid the collision. Grace then proceeded to back up his vehicle again, striking Gaitlin’s vehicle a second time. As a result, the parties suffered severe and debilitating mental and physical injuries.

LAFAYETTE, LA – October 27, 2016

A Lafayette Parish jury awarded $30,438,225.00 to Rayne native Ronald Stutes, who was paralyzed when an R+L Carriers 18-wheeler failed to yield at a stop sign causing a crash.

On January 23, 2013, R+L Carriers employee, Gerald Pitre, was operating an eighteen-wheeler loaded with hazardous cargo when he failed to yield at a stop sign and red flashing light at the intersection of Austria Road and U.S. 90 (Cameron Street) near Duson, Louisiana. Ronald Stutes, a master carpenter, was on his way to work at 5:30 a.m. when the 18-wheeler pulled directly into the path of his pick-up truck.

In November of 2012, Carrie Marchiafava, 85, parked her car in the parking lot of Casey Jones Supermarket and went inside. When Mrs. Marchiafava returned to her vehicle, she found someone had parked too close to her passenger side door, making it difficult for her to back out.

Store employee William Sarradet attempted to assist Mrs. Marchiafava by backing her car out for her, but left the driver-side door open as he reversed the vehicle out of its parking spot. The open door knocked Marchiafava down and the car rolled over her. According to court records, Mrs. Marchiafava was dragged under the car for a distance. Sarradet then put the car back into drive and accelerated into the parking spot, rolling over Marchiafava again.

Mrs. Marchiafava was taken to a New Orleans hospital where doctors attempted to save her life. She suffered numerous broken bones and her skin was torn away from the tissue in several places.  Mrs. Marchiafava underwent multiple surgeries and survived for over a month before succumbing to her injuries.

On July 8, 2009 Hyundai Elantra, was involved in a low-speed collision in Newfoundland, Canada, spurring investigations into air bag inflators made by ARC Automotive, a Tennessee-based company.  Canadian officials contend that the driver would have likely survived had the ARC-manufactured airbag inflator not ruptured and sent shrapnel flying through the passenger compartment. This incident, the latest of several, lead both Canadian and American auto safety regulators to investigate ARC inflators, which are installed in roughly 8 million cars in the United States alone.  The products are mostly found in older cars made by General Motors, Fiat, Chrysler, Hyundai, and Kia.

This incident underscores the importance of a probe already underway by the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That investigation began in July 2015 after the agency received reports that an Ohio woman was seriously injured in a 2009 accident where her 2002 Chrysler Town & Country minivan crashed, rupturing its inflator. The injured woman’s husband complained in writing to NHTSA, informing the agency that his wife was hurt by shrapnel when the air bag deployed following a collision with a snowmobile. “Most of the shrapnel went into her chest, with the air bag plate breaking apart, striking her in the chin, breaking her jaw in three places,” her husband wrote.

The NHTSA also found  a similar injury involving someone in a 2004 Kia Optima. In both cases, the inflators were manufactured in ARC’s factory in Knoxville, TN.

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