Several people dead after plane accident near Tweed New Haven Airport

Authorities have reported two fatalities after a small propeller plane crashed into two homes near Connecticut’s Tweed New Haven Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft, a small multi-engine passenger plane, left Teterboro Airport in New Jersey early Friday morning and crashed into a residential area at 11:25 a.m. Officials believe the rainy weather caused poor visibility for the pilot, who crashed while trying to land at Tweed New Haven Airport. After being struck by the plane, both houses caught fire.

Emergency responders at the scene report that at least three people are missing, including the plane’s pilot and two young children who were in one of the houses at the time of the crash.

“We presume there is going to be a very bad outcome,” local fire chief Douglas Jackson said.

Our team at the Law Offices of Paul Levin, understands how devastating losing loved ones in such a tragic accident is and send their condolences to all those affected by this loss.

Businessman Who Sold Chemicals to Iraqi Regime Ordered to Pay Civil Damages for Chemical Weapon Injuries

First_Chemical_weapons_destroyed_at_JACADS.jpgA Dutch court ordered a former businessman to pay approximately $520,000 in civil damages to victims of chemical weapons attacks in Iraq. The businessman, Frans van Anraat, is currently serving a prison sentence for his involvement in war crimes committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein against Iraq’s Kurdish population in the late 1980’s. Numerous lawsuits have sought compensation for injuries allegedly sustained due to chemical weapons. They include claims by Iraqi Kurds and American servicemembers suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome,” allegedly linked to chemical weapons. U.S. law, through the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and other laws, may allow claims in domestic courts for injuries suffered abroad, as addressed in a recent Supreme Court decision.

Van Anraat sold chemicals to the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s. These chemicals allegedly included thiodiglycol (TDG), a solvent used in a variety of industrial processes and the production of chemical weapons like mustard gas. The Iraqi regime allegedly used chemicals supplied by Van Anraat to produce chemical weapons, which it used on civilian Kurdish populations in 1988, killing about 5,000 people. The Iraqi military also allegedly used mustard gas and other chemical agents on Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988.

NTSB Makes Recommendations on Several Train Accidents Causing Injuries and Fatalities

<![CDATA[ Amtrak_HHP-8_653_leads_Train_93_into_Trenton.jpgThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency that investigates major transportation-related accidents and makes safety recommendations to state and federal lawmakers, recently reported on its investigations into several train accidents, one involving a collision with an automobile. It concluded that the railroad companies in some cases did not fulfill their duties to maintain their equipment in safe working order. In a fatal collision between two trains, the NTSB found that one train failed to reduce its speed despite several warning signals. In a press release issued on March 8, 2013, the NTSB reported on two train accidents that occurred in 2012. An Amtrak train collided with a car at a railway crossing in Illinois on February 28, 2012. The Associated Press quoted officials who said that the warning lights were not activated at the time, and that the crossing arms had not lowered. The collision killed the automobile’s driver. The NTSB’s investigation concluded that Union Pacific employees, who were performing maintenance on the warning system, had removed it from the crossing for inspection and testing. When the collision occurred, the mechanism for activating the warning lights and the crossing arms was therefore deactivated, and the driver of the automobile had no warning of the approaching train.

Report Shows National Fraternities Rarely Liable for Negligence Claims Against Local Chapters

Lambda_Chi_Alpha_letters_gold_on_green.svgStories of college students who drink too much and end up in the hospital are all too common, and far worse harm can occur due to hazing and other activities, including severe injury and death. Many states, including Connecticut, have laws against hazing on the books, but they typically only provide for criminal penalties. Suits for civil damages against fraternities, colleges, and universities have met with difficulty in recent years, according to a report by Bloomberg. National fraternity organizations and schools have been successful at shifting liability to local chapters and individuals, leaving those injured by hazing with little likelihood of collecting damages.

About seventy-five national fraternities grant charters to local chapters on college campuses in exchange for a portion of dues paid by members. Membership in national fraternities, which exceeded 327,000 in 2011, is almost exclusively male, while membership in sororities is almost entirely female. Fraternities seem to have a far worse track record at member and visitor safety. Bloomberg reports that fifty-two students have died in hazing or other fraternity-related incidents since 2005, and another five students have suffered paralysis. About two-thirds of those incidents involved nine of the largest national fraternities. In lawsuits brought against the national organizations, however, courts have often found the local chapters liable, and dismissed the national fraternities, based on breaches of their charter agreement or violations of drinking age laws.

Student Receives $41.7 Million Verdict Against Connecticut School for Disabling Illness Contracted on Field Trip

Tick_male_size_comparison_(aka)A jury in a Connecticut federal court awarded a $41.7 million verdict to a woman who, as a student at a Connecticut school, contracted an illness on a school trip to China that left her permanently disabled. Munn, et al v. Hotchkiss School, No. 09-cv-00919 (D. Conn., complaint filed Jun. 11, 2009). The lawsuit alleged that the school negligently failed to protect students from tick bites, the cause of the plaintiff’s illness. The school claimed that it took all reasonable and necessary precautions, and announced that it intends to appeal the verdict.

The plaintiff was a fifteen-year old student at The Hotchkiss School, a boarding school located in Lakeville, Connecticut, when she went on a six-week school trip to China during the summer of 2007. She suffered a tick bite, likely while on a hike in the vicinity of the city of Tianjin. According to court documents, she fell ill about four weeks into the trip, and was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Other students were reportedly also infected, but none suffered damages as severe as hers.

“Encephalitis” describes an inflammation of the brain commonly caused by infection. Multiple viral infections can cause encephalitis, including viruses commonly carried by ticks or mosquitoes. Early symptoms can range from a mild fever or headache to seizures and loss of consciousness. Swelling in the brain can damage nerve cells and cause internal bleeding in the brain, possibly resulting in permanent brain damage or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue updates and warnings regarding TBE and other illnesses. According to the CDC, TBE is endemic to Eurasia’s temperate areas, which includes Tianjin, and is most common between April and November.

Negligence of Air Traffic Controller Caused Fatal Plane Crash, According to Lawsuit

Mooney_M20J2.jpgAn air traffic controller employed by a private company was negligent in clearing a small plane for flight from the airport in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, according to a recent lawsuit. Bucklin v. Serco, Inc., No. 2:13-cv-00052, complaint (D. Wyo., Mar. 4, 2013). The plane crashed in the mountains, killing everyone on board. The plaintiff, who is the ex-wife of the pilot and mother of the three other victims, seeks to hold the air traffic control service provider liable for its employee’s alleged negligence. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the pilot was probably responsible for the crash, but also found fault with the air traffic controller’s decisions.

The pilot decided to fly home from Wyoming to Minnesota with his three sons on October 25, 2010 after a commercial flight was canceled due to a snowstorm. After taking off from Jackson Hole in his 1977 single-engine Mooney M20J propellor plane, he reportedly had difficulty maintaining altitude over the Wind River Range. According to flight recordings, he tried to radio that he was “descending rapidly” shortly before crashing. He also reported “mountain waves,” wind currents that occur over mountain ranges that can suck down airplanes flying too low. Following an extensive search lasting about a week, mountain climbers found the plane and the four victims in the vicinity of Lander, Wyoming.

Cruise Line Faces Multiple Lawsuits, but May Not Face Liability Due to Contractual Terms


file000728465303.jpgA cruise ought to provide the opportunity for a relaxing vacation, and while most do just that, some cruises may lead to nightmarish situations. Multiple recent lawsuits for injuries sustained on cruises allege negligence for various failures to protect passengers from injury. These cases provide an important illustration of how contracts entered into as part of a ticket purchase may limit passengers’ rights of recovery, preventing them from recovering damages through litigation.

The most well-known recent case of a cruise gone wrong involves Carnival Cruise Lines’ ship Triumph. The ship left Galveston, Texas on February 7, 2013 for a four-day cruise to Mexico. On February 10, 2013, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, a fire caused by a fuel-oil leak stopped the ship dead in the water. It remained stranded until tug boats could pull it into a harbor in Mobile, Alabama, leaving the more than 4,200 occupants of the ship, about 3,100 of whom were passengers, stuck on board for five days without effective plumbing or sanitation.

Lawsuits related to the cruise allege that Carnival was negligent in failing to maintain the ship’s systems properly. The ship allegedly had mechanical problems on a prior voyage, as recently as January 28, but the cruise line sent the ship out anyway, according to some lawsuits. A lawsuit filed in a Florida federal court, Williams v. Carnival Corp., No. 1:13-cv-20588, complaint for damages (S.D. Fl., Feb. 18, 2013), alleges that the cruise line breached various duties to passengers, including the duties to “maintain or remedy hazardous conditions,” id. at 4, and to warn of such hazards. A putative class action lawsuit, Crusan, et al v. Carnival Corp., No. 1:13-cv-20591 (S.D. Fl., Feb. 18, 2013) also alleged various claims for negligence against the cruise line.

Connecticut Bans Most Cell Phone Use While Driving, Part 2: How May it Affect Personal Injury Claims?


file0002103247471.jpgConnecticut applies strict prohibitions on the use of cellphones and other mobile devices while driving. These laws are among the strictest in the nation, and while they address a serious risk posed by certain drivers, it is not yet clear that they actually reduce the overall number of automobile accidents. State laws restricting distracted driving may still serve a useful purpose in civil personal injury claims, however, by helping plaintiffs establish that a distracted driver acted negligently.

Bans on cell phone use while driving have encountered criticism for only addressing one type of distraction. A law review note exploring the various legal efforts to address distracted driving described four categories of distraction: “visual, auditory, biomechanical, and cognitive.” Andrew F. Amendola, Note, Can You Hear Me Now?: The Myths Surrounding Cell Phone Use While Driving and Connecticut’s Failed Attempt at a Remedy, 41 Conn. Law. Rev. 341, 348 (2008). Cell phone use can affect all four.

Two types of accidents tend to result from distraction: the distracted driver collides with an object ahead of them, or the driver veers off the road or into another lane of traffic. Id. at 347-48. The second type of accident only tends to happen when a driver is distracted or has diminished capacity, such as due to intoxication. Among the various forms of distraction, research has shown that eating while driving poses a significant accident risk. A 2009 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reportedly found that up to eighty percent of all automobile accidents involve a driver attempting to eat and drive at the same time. See also Amendola at 353. Connecticut does not expressly prohibit eating while driving, although law enforcement could investigate it as “reckless driving” in some circumstances. Other significant distractions may include fatigue, children in the car, pets or other animals, external visual distractions like billboards, or even just conversations with passengers. Conversing with a passenger can be just as distracting as a hands-free cell phone conversation. Amendola at 359.

Connecticut Bans Most Cell Phone Use While Driving, Part 1: Does It Actually Reduce Accidents?


file000666325359-1.jpgConnecticut bans the use of handheld mobile devices, mainly cell phones, while driving, with even stricter bans for school bus drivers and young drivers. Numerous campaigns seek to raise awareness of the dangers of “distracted driving,” which refers to operating a vehicle while also using a cell phone or other mobile to device to talk, or to read or compose emails or text messages. Every state in the U.S. has banned some aspect of distracted driving, with Connecticut’s ban being one of the strictest, and the federal government has called on states to further restrict cell phone use by drivers. Distracted driving almost undoubtedly creates additional risk of accidents, but research has suggested that bans, like the one in Connecticut, do not significantly impact the number of automobile accidents. Bans on distracted driving may still be helpful to plaintiffs in personal injury cases though, as the violation of a ban may assist in establishing negligence.

The use of handheld cell phones while driving, by holding the phone “to, or in the immediate proximity of, the user’s ear,” has been prohibited for all drivers in Connecticut since 2005. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-296aa(a)(2), (b)(1). Connecticut’s law is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, as it is one of only ten states that prohibits all handheld cell phone use. The law does not prohibit most drivers from using hands-free accessories with a cell phone, such as a headset, with exceptions for school bus drivers on duty and drivers under the age of eighteen. Id. at (c)-(d). The statute also prohibits all drivers from sending or reading text messages while driving. Id. at (b)(2). It is a primary law, meaning that a police officer can stop a vehicle and issue a ticket solely for violation of the ban. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called on state governments to ban all cellphone use while driving, including use involving hands-free accessories. No state has enacted such a ban so far.

Emotional Distress Claim for Tainted but Uneaten Food Allowed by Court


file2341245785293.jpgThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently certified a question to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether the state’s product liability statute would allow a claim for emotional distress for “contaminated” food that the plaintiff did not eat. In re Bylsma v. Burger King Corp., No. 86912-0, slip op. at 2 (Wash., Jan. 31, 2013). The state court held that the statute allows such a claim, provided the distress is a reasonable reaction and has some physical manifestation. It is not clear if Connecticut courts have addressed this particular question, but they have addressed the question of emotional distress damages in the absence of physical harm, and have generally not allowed them.

The plaintiff, a deputy sheriff in Clark County, Washington, ordered a Whopper with cheese at a Burger King drive-thru on March 29, 2009. He alleged feeling “uneasy” after receiving the burger. Id. He inspected it, and found what appeared to be a “glob of spit” on the patty. Id. He touched it to make sure that it was not fat, and then submitted it for DNA testing. The test linked the spit to an employee who was working at the time the plaintiff placed his order.

His lawsuit, filed in federal court, asserted causes of action for negligence, products liability, and vicarious liability. Although he did not eat the tainted burger, he claimed emotional distress with symptoms including “vomiting, nausea, aversion to food, and sleeplessness,” id., requiring mental health treatment. A magistrate judge found that Washington law applied to the lawsuit, and that state law does not allow recovery for emotional distress without physical injury. The district judge agreed, and the plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit.