New York State Targets Aggressive Driving

The pace of life continues to grow more hectic and one of the more disturbing trends we are seeing is an increase in aggressive driving. Frustrated drivers engage in risky behavior and confrontations often occur.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, one-third of all motor vehicle crashes, and two-thirds of the fatalities are connected to aggressive driving. The situation is so bad that the New York Division of State Police has an Aggressive Driving Program. Under the program, areas that have higher than normal crash rates are targeted for enforcement of the aggressive driving law. In addition, speed limits are being strictly enforced and aggressive driving behavior is being ticketed. Unmarked cars are being used to catch aggressive drivers.

Aggressive driving is defined as the “operation of a motor vehicle in a selfish, bold or pushy manner, without regard for the rights or safety of the other users of the streets and highways.”

Some acts of aggressive driving that can be ticketed include:

  • Ignoring signals or signs such as at railroad crossings
  • Running stop signs
  • Tailgating
  • Speeding
  • Excessive passing
  • Making an unsafe lane change
  • Failing to signal
  • Weaving or other erratic driving
  • Running a red lights

Recently, New York changed its Move Over Law so that drivers now must use due care when approaching tow trucks, snow plows, and maintenance vehicles as well as police, fire, and ambulances that have emergency lighting and must reduce their speed. On parkways and highways, drivers must move from the lane next to the emergency vehicle unless there is a traffic hazard in doing so.

Victims of aggressive driving or those injured by a failure to move over have the right to seek compensation for their injuries.

Taking a Fall

PATH station last winter because of falling ice, a wise decision to keep people safe until the ice could be cleared.

Under premises liability law, property owners throughout the state are charged with maintaining premises that are safe. This means they must clear snow and ice and other hazards from the sidewalk within a reasonable amount of time. Should a pedestrian suffer a slip and fall injury on a hazardous sidewalk, the property owner can be held liable for the injuries the victim sustains.

The damages that a victim can seek include lost earnings, medical expenses including necessary therapy, and pain and suffering. The amount of money in a slip and fall case can be significant so it is wise for property owners to be vigilant about keeping their property free of ice and other dangers such as potholes. Parties only have a limited amount of time to bring a lawsuit for their injuries.

It is not enough to merely fall on a sidewalk and have an injury. To prove a premises liability case after falling, the injured victim must prove the following:

  • There was a hazard on the property
  • The hazard caused the fall and the injury
  • The owner of the premises had knowledge of the hazard and failed to deal with it in a timely fashion

If you are injured by any type of dangerous condition on a property, do not hesitate to speak to a lawyer about the possibility of bringing a lawsuit to compensate you.

Biking Safely

Riding with traffic, riding single-file, signaling turns — all these are good habits of safe biking. In addition, bicyclists under age 14 are required by law to wear a helmet when biking or when riding as a passenger. But it is the smart biker who wears a helmet regardless of age. A properly fitted helmet can protect your skull and prevent or minimize damage to your brain.

Here are some alarming statistics about bicycle accidents:

  • There were 6,019 bicyclist-motor vehicle crashes in 2011 in New York State.
  • Close to 60 people died in bicycle accidents
  • Cyclists and pedestrians are being injured or killed every 35 hours in New York City

A recent accident involved a Brooklyn bicyclist who suffered critical injury in a hit-and-run accident. The bicyclist suffered severe head trauma, an injury that is all too common in bicycle accidents. Those who ride in the congested paths of New York City are particularly at risk for collisions; many of them are caused when a motorist opens a door and the cyclist tumbles over it.

The Vehicle and Traffic Law requires drivers to exercise due care to avoid having a collision with those who are cycling and to sound a horn when necessary to avoid an accident. Those who are injured in a biking accident due to negligence may wish to file a lawsuit to collect compensation for injuries suffered.

May is Bicycle Safety Month. Try to stay safe out there. But if you are the victim of an accident caused by a negligent driver, contact a skilled attorney as soon as you can. You deserve fair compensation for your damages, including medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

New York Construction Sites are Dangerous Places

One of the more memorable images of Superstorm Sandy is that of the dangling crane at 57th Street. While the city managed to secure the crane after it had dangled for six days, not all construction mishaps end so happily.

Construction is a dangerous job. Workers are expected to do their jobs at extreme heights open to the air. They use heavy equipment such as cranes and backhoes on a daily basis.

Injuries and death are common.

The New York Department of Health reported 286 traumatic work-related deaths in New York State between 2005 and 2006. Construction accounted for 19.9 percent of the deaths.

The fatal occupational injuries break down into the following categories:

  • Contact with objects/equipment: 20.3 percent
  • Falls: 9.8 percent
  • Exposure to dangerous substances/environment: 9.8 percent
  • Fires and explosions: 3.1 percent
  • Assaults and violent acts: 12.9 percent
  • Transportation accidents: 44.1 percent

Workers on construction sites who are injured may be able to bring a lawsuit for their injuries. Head injuries are common and can require expensive long-term therapy and care. Whether scaffolding collapses, a falling object hits them, or a crane topples, options for recovery may exist beyond workers compensation. Serious injury to passersby can also occur.

Brain injury and other catastrophic injury can leave a victim in dire economic straits. Construction injury cases are complex and may involve multiple parties. You may be able to file a lawsuit against the following parties:

  • Manufacturers of the product
  • Distributors of the product
  • Sellers of the product
  • The property owner
  • The general contractor
  • Sub-contractors

Speeding and Speed-Tracking Cameras

Every year thousands of people are injured in car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2011, 32,367 people died and 2.22 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes. In New York there were 1,169 car accident fatalities in 2011.

Speeding is one of the leading causes of crashes. The NHTSA reports that speeding was a factor in almost 1/3 of all fatal wrecks, and 11,674 people died in speeding-related accidents.

New York City recently saw a rise in the number of deaths related to traffic accidents. Pedestrians accounted for 148 of the 274 deaths in 2012. The majority of the increase in total deaths occurred in the automobile and passenger death categories, rising from 50 to 73. The rest of the country is also on track to show an increase in traffic fatalities.

The New York City Department of Transportation reported that 30 percent of the deaths were due to speeding and that there was an increase in hit and run accidents as well.

Persons hit at 40 M.P.H. have only a 30 percent chance to survive the accident. Those hit at the lesser speed of 30 M.P.H. have an 80 percent chance of survival.

The city believes that speeding cameras would enable law enforcement to track down those who commit hit and runs, as well as those who speed, and would provide a deterrent to other drivers.

Persons who are injured due to the negligence of a driver have the right to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for their injuries.

The Latest Call for New York Scaffolding Law Reform

The New York Scaffolding Law periodically undergoes attack. The law is the only one of its kind in the country and builders and insurers are once again calling for a repeal of the statute.

A recent article in the New York City Real Estate News trade paper detailed the many problems that builders and insurers see with the law. Chief among the problems is that the law keeps the cost of construction insurance extremely high. Adherence to the law can add hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance costs to a construction project such as replacing the Goethals Bridge or Tappan Zee Bridge.

The Real Estate Board of New York has created a special committee to study the law and its effects. Labor unions and trial attorneys support the law, saying it is a valid safety measure that protects workers.

The nuts and bolts of the law

New York Labor Law § 240 embodies the terms of the Scaffold Law. The statute gives detailed protection to workers who fall from great heights and those injured by falling objects. The law exempts owners of one or two family homes.

Under the law, if a worker or other party is injured by the absence of, or a defect of, a safety device, the owner or contractor can be found strictly liable for the injury. The law applies to all types of scaffolds.

Victims who suffer an injury due to an improperly constructed scaffold can bring a claim for their damages.

Cell Phone and Texting Update

The next session of the New York State Legislature provides for consideration of a bill that will totally ban the use of cell phones while driving. The only exemption would be for calls in an emergency. This bill would be among the first in the nation to be considered. New York has a history of being in the forefront of distracted driving issues, having passed the first ever ban of handheld cell phone use while driving.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data for 2009, drivers who are texting or using handheld devices are on the rise while cellphone use (driver holding the phone to the ear) has stayed the same. About 674,000 drivers were holding phones to their ears while driving at any given moment in 2010.

There is no doubt that distracted driving kills and seriously injures many people. More than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2010 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving.

Other bills that the legislature will be considering include the following:

  • Assembly bill 2668 bans the display of video in the front seat area of a vehicle, within view of the driver.
  • Assembly bill 1961 requires the police to list on accident reports whether a cell phone was in use when the accident occurred.
  • Assembly bill 3718 requires that texting and handheld cell phone laws apply when vehicles are stopped at stop signs, traffic lights, railroad crossings or due to heavy traffic.

Persons who cause accidents while engaging in distracted driving may be the subject of a lawsuit.

Drivers Distracted by Web Surfing

Smart phones enable additional distractions while driving that can cause serious accidents. Talking on a cell phone in New York requires a hands-free system, and texting while driving is also banned. Yet there are other forms of distractions: visual, auditory, manual and cognitive. Whether it’s looking at something besides the road; listening to conversation, the radio, music, or an audio book; fiddling with the radio or an iPod rather than holding onto the steering wheel; or thinking about things unrelated to driving – all are distractions that are particularly dangerous for novice drivers. A distracted driver is involved in 15 – 30 percent of all car accidents.

The latest distraction to surface as a result of smart phones is surfing the web while driving. In a 2012 study conducted by State Farm Insurance, some shocking statistics were revealed. For those drivers 18 – 29 years old, accessing the Internet while driving increased from 29 percent  in 2009 to 48 percent  in 2012. Older drivers, of course, are far less likely to be surfing, if only because they are less dependent upon their phones. Among younger drivers, 36 percent read social media networks while behind the wheel and another 30 percent even update their profiles while driving. Checking email has also increased among younger drivers, rising from 32 percent in 2009 to 43 percent  in 2012.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has published ten tips to avoid distractions.  Share these tips with loved ones, especially new and young drivers. The number one tip: turn off or silence your cell phone when getting into the car. An estimated 5,870 people died and another 515,000 were injured in car accidents involving some form of distraction in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Don’t become a statistic. And if you are the victim of a distracted driver, seek skilled legal guidance right away.

Social Host Liability and the Dram Shop Act

New York State imposes liability for injuries to third parties arising from serving alcohol to an already intoxicated person or to a person under the age of 21 through its Dram Shop Act. However, liability is limited to commercial transactions, requiring a sale of alcohol by a bar, salon, restaurant, or liquor store. New York General Obligations Law §11-100 and §11-101 read in tandem with New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Law §65 constitutes New York’s Dram Shop Act. Section 11-100.

Liability is further limited by requiring that the person purchasing the alcohol, if older than 21, shows visible signs of intoxication. In addition, a purchaser who shares the bottle with a friend who then drives while intoxicated will not create liability for the seller.

New York currently has no liability for social hosts who provide alcohol to guests who later injure a third party, let’s say, while driving under the influence. However, Nassau County does. On July 17, 2007, then Nassau County Executive Thomas A. Suozzi signed into law Local Law No. 13, Nassau County’s Social Host Law – A Local Law in relation to preventing the consumption of alcohol by minors at private homes.

Under the terms of Nassau’s Social Host Law, the owner or lessee of a private residence is liable for knowingly allowing the consumption of alcohol by any minor or failing to take corrective action once these drinking activities are known. The exceptions include drinking for religious purposes and when the “consumption of alcohol or alcoholic beverages by a minor whose parent or guardian is present and has expressly permitted such consumption.” Penalties escalate through repeat offenses with third and fourth offenses, including a fine of $1,000, a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year or both.

Suffolk County enacted its own version of the Social Host Law in 2007. Homeowners with teenage children should be aware of this local liability.

Beyond Workers Compensation — New York Labor Law Sec. 240

New York Labor Law Sec. 240 — also known as the Scaffold Law — holds the general contractor and building owner strictly liable for injuries on the job at a construction site. This law covers injuries caused by “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices” and has been on the books since 1969.

New York is the last state to retain this essential protection to construction workers beyond workers compensation. Owners of single and two-family homes are exempt from the strict liability aspect of Sec. 240, but can still be sued by an injured worker under a claim of ordinary negligence, as can the architects or engineers associated with the site. Only building owners and the general contractor are held to strict liability.

Sec. 240 ensures that general contractors cannot delegate responsibility for providing a safe workplace when hiring subcontractors.

There is pressure to repeal or reform the Scaffold Law coming from construction and insurance companies. One New York legislator has suggested that construction injuries should be guided by a comparative negligence standard instead of strict liability. This would absolve the employer of at least some liability upon proof that the worker was intoxicated, performing a criminal act, horsing around or not following worksite protocols.

Working above the ground on scaffolding is particularly dangerous, of course, because of gravity. Things fall and there is not much room for error far above the ground. Falling objects, too, can cause major injuries, which are compensable under Sec. 240. Falls often result in spinal injuries, concussions and broken bones.

Those in favor of keeping the Scaffold Law say it provides an important incentive to maintain safe work sites, especially as the use of subcontractors increases, and has resulted in New York having one of the best safety records in the construction industry.