A Connecticut man died after falling from a tree in early November. He was working on a cleanup job after Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive damage to many parts of Connecticut and the surrounding region. The government is investigating the accident, and both government and health care sources have issued warnings regarding the risk of injury during post-disaster cleanups.
Hurricane Sandy, commonly known as Superstorm Sandy, made landfall on the east coast of the United States on October 29, 2012. It caused extensive damage in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other surrounding states. More than one hundred people lost their lives as a direct result of the storm, and more than eight million people were left without power and other utilities. The death toll in Connecticut stood at three as of early November, and 625,000 people suffered power outages.
The storm continued to cause injury and even death long after it dissipated, including the death of a 53 year-old worker in Middlebury, Connecticut on November 4. The man was reportedly working on a cleanup job for a local landscaping company. Police arrived at the scene at about 10:31 a.m. after receiving multiple reports of a man falling from a tree. The man had been cutting a pine tree when he became entangled in part of the tree as it fell. He fell about forty feet and suffered broken bones and head trauma. Responders rushed him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A Massachusetts teenager received a two-year prison sentence for motor vehicle homicide earlier this year for a 2011 car accident that resulted from distracted driving. The term “distracted driving” refers to the operation of a motor vehicle while distracted by a mobile electronic device, typically a cell phone. In the present case, the teen was allegedly texting while driving. The case was reportedly the first in the state to involve criminal charges for distracted driving, and the judge imposed the maximum sentence allowed by the statute to send what he called a “message of deterrence” to others. The case demonstrates the legal system’s growing seriousness regarding distracted driving, and how it can affect both criminal and civil court proceedings.
The accident occurred on February 20, 2011 in Haverhill, Massachusetts at approximately 2:36 p.m. Aaron Deveau, who was 17 years old at the time, was driving and, according to his phone records, sending and receiving text messages at roughly the same time. Records reportedly showed that he sent a message at 2:34 p.m. and received a reply at 2:35. His vehicle crossed the center line of the road and collided head-on with a car driven by 55 year-old Daniel Bowley. Bowley died eighteen days later of massive head trauma.
Deveau faced multiple criminal charges as a result of the accident, including motor vehicle homicide, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and mobile phone use during operation of a motor vehicle. Prosecutors alleged that Deveau was not paying attention to the road, and that this caused his vehicle to cross the center line and hit Bowley’s car. Deveau pleaded not guilty and claimed that, although he sent and received close to two hundred messages that day, he was not using his cell phone at the time of the accident. He claimed that his last text message before the crash was sent or received at 2:33 p.m. Prosecutors showed phone records with the 2:34 and 2:35 messages, suggesting that the two messages might have been deleted from his phone.
Automobile manufacturers and government safety agencies are working to develop computer systems for cars and other vehicles that can assist the driver, particularly in regard to avoiding collisions and other accidents. Generally known as intelligent transport systems (ITS), this technology would hopefully make significant improvements in road safety for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. From the point of view of a personal injury attorney, however, the question arises of how this will affect liability in the event and accident does occur. Most claims for auto accident injuries proceed against the driver who caused the accident. If ITS allows cars to essentially drive themselves, as some proponents claim, would an injured person be able to assert a claim against an auto manufacturer under a theory of products liability?
ITS refers to a broad range of devices and applications that assist in the operation of a vehicle. These may include wireless technologies that allow onboard computer systems to communicate with corresponding systems in other vehicles or on stationary objects like guardrails. These are often known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems, and they can help alert a driver to an approaching hazard or avoid a collision. ITS systems may warn drivers of red lights or upcoming traffic congestion. More advanced ITS systems, which have not advanced beyond the conceptual phase, would take over operation of a vehicle in certain circumstances, using V2V and V2I technology to navigate and avoid accidents.
Auto manufacturer Toyota recently demonstrated new ITS technologies for reporters at a testing facility in Japan. A warning beep sounded in the car to alert the driver to a pedestrian, and then to a car approaching at an intersection. A verbal warning sounded if the driver was nearing a red light without slowing. Toyota is reportedly testing a system that determines when a driver presses the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal by mistake, and corrects for the error by immediately stopping the vehicle.
A New York appellate court upheld a partial denial of worker’s compensation benefits in Martinez v. LeFrak City Management, et al, finding that the claimant violated the state’s Worker’s Compensation Law and was therefore disqualified from certain benefits. The claimant filed for medical and loss of use benefits for an allegedly work-related injury. The court held that hospital records and other evidence showed that the claimant had not disclosed an injury sustained in a boxing match, unrelated to his work duties, about two weeks earlier.
According to the court’s opinion, the claimant, Edelmiro Martinez, worked as a porter for LeFrak City, an apartment development in Queens, New York. He was boxing professionally at the same time. Martinez reportedly fought in a match at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut on July 30, 2004 and sustained an injury to his left arm. Records from both the casino and the hospital showed that Martinez suffered a torn left bicep, and he reportedly learned that he would need surgery to repair the muscle on August 9, 2004. The court says that Martinez returned to work as a porter.
On August 18, 2004, Martinez told his employer that he injured his left arm at work. He had surgery to repair the bicep on August 20, and filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits shortly afterwards. The final determination was that Martinez had a schedule loss of use of his left arm of thirty percent.
A former student at Wesleyan University has filed a lawsuit against the school and a fraternity arising from a sexual assault that occurred at the fraternity house in 2010. The lawsuit, Doe v. Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, et al, alleges that the defendants breached a duty to protect her from harm in the actual sexual assault, in her efforts to seek assistance, and in the harassment she endured after reporting the incident. It asserts causes of action for general negligence, premises liability, and violations of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, began attending Wesleyan University in the fall of 2010. She was sexually assaulted at a Halloween party on October 30, 2010 at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. She claims that she could not officially report the assault until November 1 because the campus health services office was closed on October 31. She also claims that she reported the assault to a resident assistant in her dorm, but that the RA did not relay that report to police or campus officials. School officials, once she was able to report the rape, allegedly advised her to go to the hospital, but did not offer her any support or services.
Her assailant was a guest at the party but was not a Wesleyan student. He pleaded no contest to third-degree assault and first-degree unlawful restraint, and is reportedly serving a fifteen-month prison sentence. The fraternity house had a reputation on the Wesleyan Campus as the “Rape Factory,” and the lawsuit claims that the fraternity had a history of sexual misconduct. School officials had warned the student body in March 2010 to stay away from the fraternity house, according to the plaintiff’s complaint, but she never received the warning because she was not a student at the time. After Jane Doe and another student reported rapes at the Beta house over Halloween weekend 2010, the school issued another warning and modified its rules seemingly to prohibit students from attending parties off campus.
A water utility has filed suit against two companies for alleged groundwater contamination, seeking to hold them liable for the costs of cleaning up the water supply. Alligator Rural Water and Sewer is alleging that the defendants were the source of two potentially carcinogenic chemicals that appeared in the water supply in McBee, South Carolina. The lawsuit claims $450 million in damages. News reports do not indicate if any personal injury lawsuits have arisen from the alleged contamination, but the scenario of groundwater contamination by possibly cancer-causing agents has been behind several prominent lawsuits around the country.
Alligator filed suit in September 2012 in Chesterfield County, South Carolina against peach grower McLeod Farms and wire manufacturer Mar Mac Wire, Inc. An investigation by the Columbia, SC NBC affiliate, WIS, found that numerous private water wells tested positive for contamination by Dibromochloropropane (DBCP) and Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) in 2007. The state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) also reportedly found elevated levels of DBCP and radium in Alligator’s water system during inspections between 2005 and 2009. According to WIS, Alligator spent $15 million on a water filtration system after a meeting with DHEC in May 2009. A DHEC inspection in July 2012 reportedly found no trace of the chemicals.
Farmers and manufacturing companies used DBCP and EDB until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned them in the 1970’s. The EPA determined that both chemicals presented a high risk of various health complications, including cancer. While the filtering system installed by Alligator may be responsible for the lack of the chemicals in recent tests, the DHEC has stated that private wells may still have some traces of contamination.
The Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the dismissal of a products liability lawsuit, Koutsoukos v. Toyota Motor Sales, because the plaintiff did not present expert testimony regarding the allegedly defective product. The alleged defect involved the front driver’s side airbag of a vehicle that failed to deploy during an accident, resulting in the death of the plaintiff’s daughter, who was driving the vehicle. The plaintiff, acting as executor for his daughter’s estate, argued that the product defect was obvious to an ordinary consumer and that expert testimony was therefore unnecessary. The court disagreed, finding that the type of defect alleged by the plaintiff required supporting expert testimony.
Melissa Koutsoukos was killed in a single-car accident on April 9, 2006, when her 2006 Toyota Scion tC went off the road on Merritt Parkway in Trumbull, Connecticut. According to a reconstruction of the accident by a mechanical engineer retained by the defendants, as the vehicle went onto an exit ramp, it went off the road to the left, then went back onto the road and went into a clockwise spin. When the car went off the road on the right side, it had spun nearly 180 degrees and was traveling backwards. The rear left side of the vehicle struck a boulder, causing it to continue to spin clockwise. The front of the vehicle struck a lamp post, and it came to rest in the highway’s breakdown lane. The driver was reportedly not wearing a seatbelt, and the driver’s side airbag did not deploy. She was thrown from the vehicle and suffered fatal injuries.
The driver’s father, Dimitrios Koutsoukos, filed suit against Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., the vehicle’s manufacturer, and Crabtree Motors, Inc., the vehicle’s retailer, on April 9, 2008. The lawsuit alleged, pursuant to the Connecticut Product Liability Act, Connecticut General Statutes § 52-572m et seq., that the defendants were liable for Melissa Koutsoukos’ death because of a defect in the airbag. The suit only alleged that the airbag’s failure to deploy caused her death, not that it caused the accident itself.
Connecticut law requires a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case to obtain an opinion letter from a “similar health care provider” regarding evidence of medical negligence. The question of what constitutes a “similar” provider came before the Appellate Court of Connecticut in Wilkins v. Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center, after a plaintiff sued over injuries she allegedly sustained during childbirth and postpartum care. The court held that the opinion of an OB/GYN did not meet the statutory requirements when the allegedly negligent health care provider was a nurse midwife.
The plaintiff, Kristin Wilkins, sought care from the defendant, Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center (CCWC), during and after her pregnancy. She gave birth on April 17, 2007 under the care of CCWC employees, and she continued to obtain postpartum treatment after the birth. She alleges that CCWC employees, including several nurse midwives and a registered nurse in training, were negligent in failing to diagnose or treat several injuries sustained during childbirth. Her alleged injuries included tearing in multiple tissues that caused “severe and permanent injuries.”
Wilkins filed suit against CCWC and its alleged owner, Women’s Health Associates, P.C. on June 11, 2009, asserting medical negligence. Her husband also asserted a cause of action for loss of consortium. With her complaint, Wilkins submitted a physician’s opinion, as required by Connecticut General Statutes § 52-190a, written by a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. The doctor’s opinion, according to the letter, was that one of the registered nurse midwives “departed from the accepted standard of care” by failing to diagnose the plaintiff’s injury.