University of Connecticut Implements System Allowing Campus Shuttle Buses to Give Verbal Warnings to Pedestrians

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1329547_26453257_03282012.jpgJust over a year ago, 20 year-old University of Connecticut student David Plamondon was killed when a campus shuttle bus struck him as he was crossing an intersection. The accident occurred on campus at about 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. Emergency responders pronounced Plamondon dead at the scene.

The driver of the shuttle bus was a student, 22 year-old Lukasz Gilewski. Most of the drivers in UConn’s 13-bus campus shuttle system are students. In order to work as a driver, they must obtain a commercial driver’s license and complete thirty hours of behind-the-wheel training. Gilewski reportedly waved to another bus driver just before hitting Plamondon. Gilewski was charged with negligent vehicular homicide and failing to yield to a pedestrian. He pleaded nolo contendere to negligent homicide in early March. He received a six-month suspended prison sentence and will serve two years of probation.

In the aftermath of the accident, students and administrators reviewed safety issues for pedestrians on the UConn campus. The head of the University’s Department of Transportation Services, Janet Freniere, formed a committee to review pedestrian safety during the fall semester. They found that motor vehicles, including shuttle buses, presented a danger to pedestrians on campus, along with scooters, bicycles, and skateboards.

UConn installed a system of speakers on all of its shuttle buses intended to warn pedestrians when the buses are turning corners. Freniere acknowledged that the system came in response to Plamondon’s death, and a university spokesman confirmed this in a statement to the media. The system, known as “Safe Turn Alert,” plays a verbal message, “Pedestrians, bus is turning,” when the bus’ wheels turn a certain degree. The system also reportedly reminds drivers to look both ways.

The school started using the system on Monday, March 19. Students have said that the system, while initially startling, helps at times when visibility is low and the buses are difficult to see. Drivers have reportedly said that they have seen pedestrians step back out of the street when they hear the warning. Plamondon’s brother, Mitchel, however, told the UConn student newspaper that he supports the university taking action but thinks the system places the burden on the pedestrian rather than the bus driver.

Federal Government Puts Off Decision on Requiring Cars to Have Backup Cameras

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512px-Lexus_backup_camera1A pending rule intended to improve the safety of cars and other light vehicles by increasing the driver’s field of vision has been delayed for a second time. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced last month that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) would not have final rules relating to requiring all cars to have backup cameras until at least December 31, 2012. Once enacted, every Connecticut passenger vehicle would need to have a backup camera installed by 2014.

The NHTSA’s rule will require all vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less to have a backup camera installed that allows the driver to see the area immediately behind the vehicle while driving in reverse. This would apply to all passenger cars, vans and minivans, pickup trucks, and other commonly-used vehicles. According to the New York Times, forty-five percent of new cars currently have backup cameras as a standard feature. They are available as an option in another twenty-three percent of new cars. People who own vehicles without cameras will have to purchase equipment. People who own cars without embedded navigation screens will have to spend $159 to $203 dollars on equipment, according to estimates by the NHTSA. For cars with screens, which may be a feature included with GPS devices, the cost is estimated to be $58 to $88. The NHTSA estimates that the annual cost of the program nationwide will be $1.9 to $2.7 billion.

The NHTSA announced its intention to create this rule in December 2010. The agency issued a press release that month stating that vehicle “blind zones” cause an average of 292 deaths each year, as well as 18,000 injuries. Accidents such as these particularly affect children and the elderly. The NHTSA states that 228 fatal accidents, seventy-eight percent of the total, involve vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

The backup camera rule originated with a federal law, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007, which was passed in early 2008 and signed into law by President Bush. Cameron Gulbransen was a two year-old accidentally killed when his father backed over him in his vehicle in the family’s driveway. The law requires several vehicular safety improvements designed to protect children, including “blind zone” visibility features. It also requires features that would reverse power windows if the window encountered an obstruction, and a feature that prevents a car’s transmission from switching to “drive” unless someone was simultaneously pressing the brake pedal.

Connecticut Appeals Court Rules that Guaranty Company and Insolvent Insurance Company are Not Liable for Malpractice Settlement

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494499_74504756_03202012.jpgThe Appellate Court of Connecticut issued an opinion on a case that could have an impact on other personal injury claims. In Connecticut Insurance Guaranty Association v. Drown, an appellate panel held that the appellant, a guaranty company covering an insolvent insurance company, is not obligated to pay a settlement from the malpractice claim on behalf of the insurance company. This leaves the appellees, who had entered into a settlement agreement with a clinic, with no means of collecting the judgment.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of Joshua Drown by his parents in May 2000. Drown’s mother, while pregnant with him, was a patient at Health Specialists. She alleged that two doctors who treated her failed to diagnose a placental abruption, which subsequently caused brain damage in Joshua Drown and physical injuries in the mother. The lawsuit sought to impose vicarious liability on Health Specialists for the alleged negligence and malpractice of the two doctors.

Health Specialists, according to the court opinion, reported the claim to its insurance carrier, Exchange, in a timely manner. Exchange provided counsel to defend against the lawsuit. In September 2006, the counsel for Health Specialists did not appear for a court-scheduled mediation. Exchange then sent a letter stating that it was denying coverage based on an exclusion in the policy for claims based solely on injuries caused by individual medical professionals. The counsel retained by Exchange for Health Specialists stopped appearing in court, and in December 2006 the court entered a default judgment in favor of the Drowns. The Drowns and Health Specialists signed a settlement agreement in March 2007 in which Health Spcialists agreed to pay the insurance policy limit amount of $2 million, and the court dismissed the case against Health Specialists. The Drowns agreed not to directly pursue Health Specialists to recover the settlement amount.

Exchange filed for bankruptcy not long after this, and a New Jersey bankruptcy judge ordered a liquidation. The Connecticut Insurance Guaranty Association became legally obligated to pay some “covered claims” based on Exchange’s policy contracts. In early 2009, the Association filed motions for declaratory judgment and summary judgment, arguing that the exclusion originally cited by Exchange in denying the claim relieved the Association of the obligation to pay. The defendants filed a cross-motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the Association was responsible for the entire settlement amount.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motion and ruled against the Association. It also reportedly held that the Association was estopped from enforcing the provisions of the insurance policy because its predecessor, Exchange, breached its duty to Health Specialists to defend them in the litigation. The association appealed, and the appeal was heard in October 2011.

Connecticut Man Charged with Fleeing Scene of Auto Accident that Killed Two People

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1381841_29055105_03162012.jpgAn automobile accident in the early morning hours of February 14, 2012 killed two people and injured two more, and led to a search for a pickup truck that allegedly fled the scene. The crash occurred around 1:00 a.m. on Route 191 in Enfield, Connecticut. A pickup truck struck a Nissan Sentra, causing it to veer off the road. The Sentra reportedly hit a tree and rolled over. Police say the truck turned around and drove past the scene of the crash again, and then drove away.

The driver, 32 year-old Glen McIntyre, and a passenger, 31 year-old Joanna Olden, were treated at a nearby hospital and released. Two other passengers, 57 year-old Michael Kennedy and 34 year-old Colleen Caruso, died in the crash. Police issued a request to the public for information about the pickup truck at around 9:00 a.m. the day of the crash.

Police quickly arrested Kyle Berry, age 46, whom they believe was the driver of the pickup truck. Berry and the four occupants in the Sentra had reportedly all been at a bar prior to the crash. Both vehicles reportedly left the bar at the same time. Employees of the bar told police that they had seen the two vehicles “spinning” their tires as they left the bar. One witness to the crash said that he thought Berry was chasing the other car, based on his speed at the moment of the crash. Berry told police that he knows McIntyre, and that he was following him to make sure he got home safely. Berry said that he had been driving a “considerable distance” behind McIntyre, but that McIntyre suddenly “zig zagged” in front of him when the vehicles collided.

Prosecutors charged Berry with felony evading. Berry pleaded not guilty at his arraignment February 15. Enfield’s police chief says that Berry will likely face additional criminal charges once the investigation is complete. The judge presiding over the arraignment suggested that Berry forced McIntyre’s car off the road, and mentioned Berry’s past criminal history. Berry was charged with assault and battery in 2005 for an alleged incident of “road rage,” although the charges were dismissed in 2006. He also reportedly has convictions for disorderly conduct and for a 2008 incident in which he kicked a cat to death. The judge in the current case set his bond at $1 million and remanded him to custody.