Illinois car and truck accident attorneys in investigating the causes of vehicular crashes should always consider the possibility that one of the drivers was texting, emailing or on a cell phone at the time of the colllision. In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) published a study indicating that driving daylight hours 11% -or 1.8 million drivers-were on the cell phone.

The National Safety Council has called for a total ban on cellphone use while driving because their research showed more than 100 million people are engaged in this activity everyday and that cellphone use has caused 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries, and 2,600 deaths each year.

Texting while driving has been found by a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to result in a 23 times greater risk of a crash. An Illinois law passed earlier this month will ban: texting, emailing, or websurfing while driving. This law will become effective January 1, 2010. This is a step in the right direction! Cell phone use while driving should similarly be banned.

Illinois motorcycle accident attorneys should always be creative when analyzing the potential areas of recovery for their clients. According to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) there were 7.1 million motorcycles on the road in the U.S. in 2007. Sales of all two wheelers in the U.S. was 1,087,000 in 2008.

Motorcycles are by their very nature far less crashworthy than closed vehicles and crashes frequently result in catastrophic injuries or death. They are also less visible to other vehicles and pedestrians and less stable than four wheel vehicles. Motorcyclists and their passengers are more vulnerable to the hazards of weather and road conditions than drivers in closed vehicles. According to the DOT 5,154 people died in motorcycle crashes in 2007 and motorcycles are 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in crashes per vehicle mile driven in 2006, and 8 times more likely to be injured according to the DOT’S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In a recent case I successfully represented the estate of an 18 year old male in a wrongful death lawsuit alleging negligent entrustment against the decedent’s friend who let him ride his “supersport” motorcycle also known as a “pocket rocket” despite the decedent’s lack of experience and licensure to operate a motorcycle. Determining whether there may be a potential claim for negligent entrustment require a careful reading of the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion in Zedella v. Gibson, 165 Ill. 2d 181, 186, 650 N.E. 2d 1000, 1003 (1995).

In Zedella, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted Section 308 of the Restatement of Torts (Second) which provides:

It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or engage in an activity which is under the control of the actor, if the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.

The testimony indicated that these recent high school graduates had never operated a motorcycle before, much less a motorcycle that was described in testimony as the fastest production motorcycle available.

Section 390 of the Restatement of Torts (Second) was adopted in Illinois by the court in Small v. St. Francis Hospital, 220 Ill. App. 3d 537, 542, 581 N.E. 2d 154, 158 (1991), and it states:

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of harm to himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.

These “pocket rockets” should only be used by or lent to motorcyclists with a high degree of training and who possess all necessary licenses.
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As an Illinois lawyer representing victims of childhood sexual abuse I was pleased with the recent ruling in Doe v. Hinsdale Township High School District, 388 Ill. App. 3d 995, 905 N.E. 2d 343 (2009). In Doe, a female high school student brought action for personal injuries based upon childhood sexual abuse against school, principal, and superintendent. The trial judge in Du Page county dismissed student’s claims against school, principal and superintendent based on the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/8-101, ruling that a suit against the school or any of its employees must be brought within the one year statute of limitations for suits against governmental entities or their employees. The issue on appeal was whether the one year statute of limitations for governmental bodies and their employees governed this action or whether the five year statute of limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse, 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2 applied.

The Appellate Court in Doe, stated:

In resolving which statute apples, we note that the cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature’s intent.

905 N.E. 2d at 347. The reviewing court concluded that:

In this case, section 13-202.2(b) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(b) begins with the language “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” In using this language, the legislature clearly intended section 13-202.2 of the Code to control over other provisions of law, such as section 8-101 of the Tort Immunity Act, which would otherwise bar the plaintiff’s action.

905 N.E. 2d at 348.

This ruling is a clear victory for victim’s of childhood sexual abuse in that it does not limit to one year the time frame a victim can sue a governmental employee or governmental entity regarding any duties they may have to children under their care and supervision for sexual abuse by others they employ or control. This decision while respecting the statutory language, also furthers the legislative intent in allowing children adequate time to assess the damage done to them by the pedophile. From a practical standpoint it is frequently only the employer of the pedophile who can pay damages to the sexually abused victim. Further, it provides a clear incentive for schools or other organizations that deal with children on a regular basis to have a clear set of guidelines for what is and is not appropriate relationships between children and their teachers, coaches or others who interact with them on a regular basis. The bottom line is that this decision will insure that school districts, park districts, and others dealing with children will have to be vigilant regarding the screening and monitoring of the individuals who came into contact with the children that have been entrusted to their care. This is a good thing!

Illinois product liability attorneys should be aware that yesterday the Yamaha Motor Corp. recalled about 120,000 utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), namely the Rhino models 450, 660 and 700 models. The four wheel side by side Rhino manufactured by Yamaha has become one of the most popular UTVs sold in the U.S. The design flaws that prompted the recall include a top heavy design resulting in a high center of gravity and a track width that is too narrow.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has announced a free repair program to address these issues. Of the more than 50 incidents investigated by the CPSC more than two thirds involved rollovers, many of which involve turns at relatively low speeds on level terrain.

Utility Terrain Vehicles have fallen within a regulatory crevice. These vehicles were introduced to the market and have been sold to consumers without having to meet government safety and performance standards. It is critical that federal and/or state state safety agencies act to protect consumers from the growing number of fatalities and severe injuries

An Illinois truck accident involving violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations where I represented the estates of a 77 year old man and his 73 year old wife settled last week for $950,000. On March 7, 2007, at 3:45 AM the 77 year old driver hit the side of the semi tractor trailer that was backing onto a rural highway In Will County. Both the driver and his wife were killed instantly!

The central issue in the case was why the 77 year old driver failed to detect, identify, and respond prior to slamming into the side of the trailer as it was backing across the rural highway. Attorneys for the trucking company and its driver retained the services of an ophthalmologist, human factors expert, and an certified accident reconstruction specialist. The 77 year old driver had corrective eye surgery a few months before this fatal accident.

Essentially defendants’ experts opined that the 77 year old driver: 1) should not have been driving at night as his nighttime vision was limited; 2) since trailer was equipped with retroreflective tape and side marker lights a reasonably alert driver should have been able to detect, identify, and respond to the trailer by slowing to avoid a collision.

Illinois sexual abuse victims through their lawyers won another victory in the Appellate Court regarding application of the statute of limitaions. In M.K. v. L.C. et al, 2009 WL 103616, released January 9-09, the Third District Appellate Court chose to follow the holding of an opinion released last year, Doe v. Diocese of Dallas, 379 Ill. App. 3d 782, 885 N.E. 2d 376 (2008), where the Fifth District held that the 2003 amendment to the Childhood Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations, 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(b), was to be applied retroactively. Essentially this means that even if the statute of repose or limitations had expired before the 2003 amendment, the amendment controls, and the action may be mantained.

While this case and the Doe case will be reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court, I am personally hopeful that these two thoughtful opinions by our Appellate Court will provide the framework and legal analysis that will lead the Justices to conclude that retroactive application of 735 ILCS 5/13-202.2(b), is the law of the State of Illinois. In an earlier blog, March 21-08, I conducted a detailed analysis of the “legislative Intent” and “vested rights” appraoch to applying statutes of repose and limitations retroactively. The bottom line is that our legislature has passed a statute that allows childhood sexual abuse victims longer times to file their suits because the damage from the sexual abuse does not always manifest itself within two years of reaching majority, this legislative determination should not be overruled by the judicial branch without a compelling right being violated. I see none, and so do two Appellate Courts in Illinois

Illinois product liability lawyers are encouraged by the verdict returned November 17, 2008, in the Circuit Court of Cook County awarding $16.6 million in damages to the estate of a 38 year old Cicero woman who died of a fatal dose of the powerful narcotic fentanyl. The suit alleged that the defendants, New Jersy based Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. and California based ALZA Corp. knew about problems with the Duragesic patch that allowed it to leak fentanyl in doses large enough to kill pateints. Both defendants are subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson.

The defendants maintained that the decendent death was caused by “polypharmacy”- a mix of potentially incompatible medications. The jury disagreed. The verdict is the fourth trial loss since 2006. FDA had issued prior warnings about improper use of fentanyl patrches.

Post trial motions and a possible appeal are down the road, but multiple juries have now concluded that some of these Duragesic (fentanyl) patches are unreasonably dangerous. Unfortunately, federal preemption (see blog of Oct. 31, 08) may yet provide a opportunity for defendants to escape liability. Civil jury verdicts are pointing the way for FDA action.

Product liability lawsuit preemption by federal regulation is scheduled for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 3, 2008. In 2000 a state court jury in Vermont awarded Diana Levine $6.5 million in a product liability lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. The outcome of Levine’s case will have major ramifications for drug makers and consumers. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether people can sue under state law or are pre-empted from doing so- for harm caused by a drug approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

In 2000 Diana Levine was prescribed an “IV push” of Phenergan to combat nausea brought upon by migraine headaches and pain killers she was taking. Unfortunately the “IV push” of Phenergan punctured an artery, causing her right arm to become gangrenous. After several weeks her right arm was amputated.

Levine sued Wyeth contending that the label of Phenergan should have more clearly warned about the danger of giving the “IV push.” Combating an upset stomach with a method that can end up causing limb loss is an “unfathomable benefit-risk ratio” according to Diana Levine.

As an Illinois attorney representing victims of sexual abuse I was very encouraged by the verdict returned yesterdy in St. Clair County awarding a former altar by $5 million against the Belleville Archdiocese. This is one of the most significant verdicts in Illinois involving childhood sexual abuse, and it included $2.6 million in punitive damages and $2.4 million in compensatory damages. The jury found that the diocese conspired to hush sex abuse allegations and allowed the priest free rein in the diocese even after church officials knew he couldn’t control his sexual urges toward young boys and girls.

Verdicts like this encourges other victims to come forward and clearly forces entities that are responsible for the care of our children to see that those in their employment are properly and promptly disciplined so as to prevent future acts of childhoood sexual abuse. One of the jurors who was interviewed after the verdict stated that the actions of the diocese were “appalling” and added “they kept placing Father Kownacki in the parishes.” A former diocesan official at the Belleville Archdioces testified that prior allegations concerning Father Kownacki were hushed up and that the victims were treated as “dirty laundry.” According to the evidence at trial it took more than 20 years for Kownacki to be removed from active ministry.

Since the abuse took place in the 1960’s the victim has had a difficult time defeating the statutue of limitations defenses that have been use for years to have these complaints dismissed. Recently, the Applellate Court for the Fifth District stated: “(w)e conclude that section 13-202.2(e) evinces a clear legislative intent that the 2003 amendment apply to all cases filed on or after its effective date, including those in which the allegations of abuse relate to events that preceded the amendment.” Doe v. Diocese of Dallas, 379 Ill. App. 3d 782, 792, 885 N.E. 2d 376, 384 (2008). This decision should allow victims to step forward and hold those accountable for sexual abuse that took place many years ago that were previously dismissed based on the statute of limitations. This verdict demonstates that it can and will be done!

An Illinois Uninsured Motorist policy has been interpretted by the Appellate Court as providing coverage to a child living with his mother and her fiancee under the fiancee’s insurance policy in an opinion released July 25, 2008. Clayton v. Millers First Insurance Co., 2008 WL 2926874 (5-07-0061). The minor plaintiff was injured in a one car accident where the driver was uninsured and sought uninsured motorist benefits under his mother’s fiancee’s insurance policy. The insurance company denied coverage and a declaratory judgment action followed where the trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment holding that the child did not qualify as a “family member” under the fiancee’s policy. An appeal followed.

In the appeal the pertinent question was whether the minor plaintiff qualifies as a “family member” under the fiancee’s policy. The policy defined “family member” as follows: “….a person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption who is a resident of your household. This includes a ward or foster child.” The plaintiff contended that the definition was ambiguous and that the term “ward” has several meanings.

The Clayton court discussed whether the term “ward” necessarily required court adjudication. The mother’s fiancee was never appointed as a guardian, the minor merly lived with him along with his mother. Citing Parks v. Kownacki, 305 Ill. App. 3d 449, 711 N.E. 2d 1208 (1999), rev’d on other ground, 193 Ill. 2d 164, 737 N.E. 2d 287 (2000), the Appellate Court held: “that the term ward could be used to describe a person despite no prior adjudication of that status.” Clayton, supra. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s granting of a summary judgment and held as a matter of law that the minor was entitled to uninsurance motorist benefits under his mother’s fiancee’s insurance policy. Read those policies carefully there may be more there than you think!