New Jersey Seeks to Toughen Cell Phone Law

Distracted driving remains a hot-button topic across the country. New Jersey already has laws that touch upon cell-phone use in vehicles. Lawmakers are seeking to strengthen the law to further reduce car accidents. New Jersey Senator Richard J. Cody introduced a bill that would make New Jersey laws related to cell phone use in vehicles the toughest in the nation.

Codey says that insurance company research indicates that “drivers who send text messages while driving are nine times more likely to get into a motor vehicle accident than drivers who pay attention to the road. Codey’s bill passed through a Senate subcommittee on Monday, and now heads to the full Senate.

The measure reportedly is intended to put some teeth into New Jersey cell-phone law related to vehicles. Codey says the “current penalty structure has proven to be an ineffective deterrent against dangerous driving practices.”

The measure seeks to toughen the law on texting and voice service. The measure would make use of cell-phones in a vehicle without a hands free device a primary offense in New Jersey. First time offenders would be subject to a $200 fine. The fines would increase for repeat offenders. A third offense would expose the driver to a $600 fine and a 90-day driver’s license suspension. Repeat offenses would be any that occur within ten years of a previous offense.

A similar measure seeking to reduce New Jersey motor vehicle accidents is being considered in the Assembly. The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee currently has a measure under consideration.

Madison Square Garden Settles Dram Shop Liability Case

An off-duty New Jersey police officer went on a drinking binge in January 2007. After an evening of drinking, the man reportedly plowed his Jeep Cherokee into a car on the Pulaski Skyway. A 2-year-old boy was killed and his 37-year-old mother was left in a vegetative state after the accident. The woman succumbed to her injuries after three years.

The family of the victims brought a lawsuit for damages against at least two establishments, including Madison Square Garden that had served the off-duty officer the night of the fatal crash for dram-shop liability. A Commercial establishment that is negligent in serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who later becomes involved in an accident may be liable for damages to a victim of the crash.

The Garden recently settled the lawsuit without trial. The total amount in damages has not been disclosed, but the settlement reportedly amounts to a multi-million dollar total.

The man had eight beers at one establishment and then continued on to watch a game. The officer caught a NCAA basketball game at Madison Square Garden the evening of January 23, 2007, and reportedly was served roughly a dozen beers. That amounted to around one beer every twelve minutes while at the Garden.

The off-duty officer jumped into his Jeep Cherokee and headed to the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City. On the Pulaski Skyway the man reportedly ran his Jeep into the rear of a car with such force that the Jeep ran up the backside of the car and flipped over.

The accident killed a 2-year-old boy. A 37-year-old woman in the vehicle was left in a vegetative state for 3-years. She died in March, with medical bills reportedly in the millions.

The alcohol related wrongful death settlement does not include the establishment that served the man before he went to the Garden. An employee from the bar reportedly has testified the off-duty cop was visibly tipsy when he left the establishment. The New York Post reports that a videotape of the man taken outside the New York establishment shows the man was unsteady on his feet.

The bar reportedly informed the judge it will not agree to mediate the matter until the terms of the Madison Square Garden settlement are disclosed.

Workplace Explosion Kills One, Injures Another Worker in New York

An explosion claimed the life of a welder and injured one co-worker at the DuPont Plant in Tonawanda New York last week. The work site accident leaves safety questions in its aftermath. The fatal workplace accident occurred just after 11:00 in the morning as workers from a Buffalo mechanical contracting company worked on a storage tank.

DuPont had taken the storage tank out of service for maintenance work. The chemical company hired workers from the mechanical contractor to perform welding on the tank. A 57-year-old welder was on top of the tank welding a bracket on the tank when the explosion occurred. The blast reportedly blew the lid of the tank, killing the welder instantly.

A second contractor reportedly was on the ground and sustained burns. The second worker is being treated for his injuries at the ECMC Burn Unit.

The workers were employed by a small Buffalo, New York, mechanical contracting company that says they have never had a serious accident in the company’s one-hundred year history. Both the mechanical contracting Company and DuPont believe all safety precautions were observed before the accident. The storage tank reportedly had been washed out several times and was subjected to air monitoring before the maintenance work had begun.

DuPont and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have launched investigations into the cause of the accident. Arthur Dube, an OSHA investigator, says there may have been “a little bit of some unknown material left in the tank.” The nature of any material that may have remained in the tank is unknown at this time.

Normally workplace injuries are controlled under worker compensation laws. In some instances, a worker may be able to bring a third party personal injury or wrongful death claim if an injury or fatality occurs as a result of an act or omission of a third party that is not the worker’s employer.

New Jersey Stucco Contractor Cited for Repeat Scaffold Violations

A Wayne, New Jersey, stucco contracting company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with a number of repeat safety violations. A repeat violation is given when an employer has been cited for a similar violation within five years of a current violation. The Wayne contractor received five repeat violations recently and was placed on the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

An OSHA investigation and an on-site inspection in September reportedly revealed scaffold fall hazards at a Staten Island New York work site. The contracting company was issued citations after the inspection for failing to maintain a safety program, failing to fully plank scaffold platforms, failing to provide a ladder for scaffold access, failing to remove and replace damaged scaffold parts and failing to properly brace scaffolds at the worksite.

New Jersey work injury attorneys know that scaffold falls and scaffold collapses can lead to debilitating injuries due to the heights involved. Patricia Jones, director of the OSHA office in Avenel, New Jersey, says the company’s “refusal to implement the proper fall protections leaves workers at risk of an accident and possible death.”

OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) began earlier this year. The program replaces the Enhanced Enforcement Program.

SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers who show indifference to worker safety rules and regulations that endanger workers through willful or repeated violations. The program also recognizes situations where employers fail to abate hazards. Severe violator cases include mandatory follow-up inspections, according to OSHA.

SVEP focuses on high emphasis hazards including fall hazards and certain hazards identified in National Emphasis Programs. The National Emphasis Program list includes hazards such as amputations, combustible dust, crystalline silica, trenching hazards and hazards related to lead, according to OSHA.

Teenager Airlifted After Injury Sustained in Cape May County

Not all motor vehicle related personal injuries are sustained on the turnpike. Late Saturday evening several New Jersey teenagers decided to go dune jumping in the area of Oreo’s Pit just south of the Cape May Canal Railroad Bridge. At roughly 11:50 p.m., Lower Township Police and rescue Units responded to a 9-1-1 call regarding the possible personal injury of a 17-year-old at the pit.

Police determined that an 18-year-old man from Erma was driving a 1986 Chevrolet S10 in the dunes with a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old riding in the bed of the pickup truck. The driver took a run at a dune and accelerated up the front side of the large hill. The truck went airborne when it reached the crest of the dune. The 17-year-old passenger was ejected from the truck as the vehicle hit air.

The 17-year-old reportedly fell from a significant height in the incident. The truck flew roughly 41 feet through the air. The impact upon landing reportedly broke the frame of the S10 pickup. The truck continued forward for a period of time, finally coming to a rest roughly 100 feet from the top of the dune.

Emergency personnel from the Lower Township Rescue Squad airlifted the 17-year-old by South Star Medivac to the Atlantic City Trauma Center. The young man sustained personal injuries in the accident, including a possible broken leg.

There are no reports of any injuries to the other teenagers involved in the incident. Police report that one of the teens jumped from the truck before the pickup went airborne.

OSHA Fines New York Contractor for Scaffold Hazards

A New York painting and stucco contractor is facing stiff fines proposed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.  OSHA inspectors saw hazards when driving by worksites of the contractor and opened inspections. The inspectors cited the contractor for 15 workplace safety violations. The inspections covered two Kings Point, New York, jobsites and resulted in proposed fines totaling $225,200.

The largest fines were levied for eight willful citations for and failing to provide sufficient fall protection. Willful violations are those in which the employer commits a violation with indifference or intentional disregard for worker safety. Inspectors discovered scaffolds not fully planked, the contractor failed to provide an access ladder, scaffolds were not resting properly on base plates and the contractor failed to provide proper protection for falls at both work sites. The eight largest citations amounted to $200,000 in fines.

OSHA inspectors also found railings, toeboards, and bracing missing at the two sites resulting in six serious violations. A serious violation is issued when an employer knew or should have known about hazards existing at a jobsite that are likely to result in death or serious injury. The six serious violations resulted in $5,200 in fines.

A $20,000 fine was also issued for a repeat citation based upon the contractor’s failure to properly train workers regarding scaffolding at one of the sites. The contractor had previously been cited in 2007 and 2008 for similar violations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration issued the sizable fines due to the inherent danger in working with scaffolds and the employer’s neglect to implement “basic, commonsense and legally required safeguards.”

New Jersey Considering Registry for Car Accident Notification

The State of New Jersey is considering a voluntary registry for use in emergency notification after accidents result in incapacitating injury. The legislative idea arose after Sara Dubinin was critically injured in a New Jersey car wreck. Dubinin was a passenger in a car that ran off the road and crashed into a tree in September 2007. Emergency personnel were unable to identify Dubinin for roughly 90 minutes. By the time emergency personnel could notify Dubinin’s parents, the 19-year-old had fallen into a coma. She never regained consciousness and died the next day.

The Assembly unanimously approved the bill this summer. The bill passed through the Senate Transportation Committee in September. The Budget and Appropriations Committee is next to take up the matter.

People with a New Jersey driver’s license or state identification cards would have the choice to provide the Motor Vehicle Commission with emergency contact information. Police would be able to look up emergency contact information to notify loved ones after a person has been seriously injured in an accident.

Proponents of the bill laud the measure for both its utility and low cost. Thomas Goodwin, one of the sponsors in the Senate said that being able to speed up the notification process after a serious injury accident “makes all the sense in the world.”

The registry reportedly would be inexpensive to set up and maintain. State issued identification cards would be more widely available for teens under the bill. Currently the age limit is 17 for identification cards. The bill lowers that age limit to 14-years-of-age with parental consent. Parents could designate themselves to be the emergency contacts for 14 to 17-year-old teens.

New Jersey High Court to Review Dram Shop Law

A bar or restaurant that is negligent in serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who later becomes involved in an accident may be liable for damages to a victim of the crash under New Jersey law. It is now up to the New Jersey Supreme Court to decide if a drunk driver can sue a bar for over-serving alcohol. In 2006, a Brick, New Jersey, man arrived with friends on Harley-Davidson motorcycles and parked outside an establishment in Toms River, New Jersey. The men entered the bar wearing their leather motorcycle jackets.

The Brick, New Jersey, man was served cocktails and shots for several hours. After the man left the bar he reportedly ran a red light and crashed his Harley into a car. The impact hurled him 100 feet into the air. The man sustained multiple fractures in the accident. Some of his injuries are permanent. His blood alcohol concentration measured 0.196 after the motorcycle crash.

He filed a lawsuit against the driver of the car for damages and against the bar under the New Jersey dram shop law. The judge threw out the case against the other driver. State car insurance law prohibits a drunk driver from recovering damages for injuries sustained related to their own drunken-driving.

The bar owner sought the same result in the dram shop case. On Ocean County judge refused to dismiss the case against the bar. The trial court ruling was upheld in the Appellate Division of Superior Court in April. Now the New Jersey Supreme Court has taken the case. No date has been set for Supreme Court arguments.

The appellate court cited public policy for its decision to allow the dram shop case to go forward despite the provision in automobile insurance law prohibiting an intoxicated driver from seeking damages after a being involved in a motor vehicle accident. The initial appellate ruling indicated that barring dram shop liability in the case would undermine the public policy to reduce drunk driving.

LaHood Says Distracted Driving is an Epidemic

Advances in technology often result in increased for consumers and increases in productivity for businesses. Technological innovation can also increase distraction. The Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration released numbers showing that distracted driving accounted for 16 percent of all road fatalities in 2009, unchanged from 2008. In 2005, however, 10 percent of all road fatalities were related to distracted driving.

United States Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood said that researchers believe the latest government statistics may not reflect the true numbers. Many states do not list inattention as a cause in car accident investigations. LaHood said that the government statistics are “just the tip of the iceberg.” Distracted driving includes activities such as using a cell phone or personal computer, eating, talking, reading and grooming while behind the wheel.

The latest government statistic show that 5,474 people died in 2009 in the country due to a distracted driver. That is down from 5,838 in 2008. LaHood said in a written statement that “distracted driving remains an epidemic in America.

Distracted driving is most prevalent with younger drivers. People in their twenties are at the highest risk of being involved in a fatal crash due to distracted driving, according to the latest statistics. People in their thirties had the highest number of road fatalities in 2009 related to cell phone use.

The National Safety Council, a non-profit safety group, released a study in January. That study indicated that 1.4 million car accidents occur each year due to talking on a phone while behind the wheel. More than 200,000 car accidents result from texting while driving.

Jury awards woman in medical malpractice suit for brain injury

In 2004, a 42-year-old mother of five sought medical treatment at a Port Jervis hospital for a low sodium level. Something went terribly wrong and the woman was left with severe brain damage. She has been living for years in a rehabilitation facility in Pennsylvania. She looks forward each week to Saturday. That is the day her husband travels to Pennsylvania to take his wife home for the night.

Her brain injury caused her to lose much of her physical movement and much of her ability to speak. Recently a five-year-old medical malpractice lawsuit went before a jury related to the woman’s plight. After hearing the evidence the jury deliberated. Ultimately, the jury returned its verdict in favor of the woman.

The woman sued the hospital and the doctor and a nurse at the facility, arguing the medical personnel gave her too much sodium too quickly in attempting to treat her condition. The woman argued the rapid influx of sodium during her treatment caused her an irreversible brain injury. The jury agreed and returned a large verdict in the woman’s favor. Her husband knows the legal battle it is not over yet. The defendants are appealing the verdict.

The family hopes the damages award in the medical malpractice case will allow the woman to return home full-time. The money will allow for the around the clock, in-home care the woman needs. Her injury has left her with the cognitive ability of a child. She communicates primarily by writing short notes, but can speak a few words at a time, according to her husband. The entire family plans to remain involved.

The five children, who were in their teens when their mother suffered the brain injury, are all now grown. They all attended college. The woman’s three daughters studied areas that will benefit their mother; one studied speech pathology, one daughter studied occupational therapy and the third daughter studied nutrition. The two sons reportedly went into the field of financial services and help their father out with managing the bills.