Articles Posted in Personal Injury

On October 7, 2019, we blogged about the tragic limousine accident in Schoharie County, New York where 20 people died. We discussed the safety measures that could have saved most, if not all, of the limo passengers.

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, an article was published in The Journal News by Joseph Spector entitled “10 laws planned in wake of the limo crash”. Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders in New York State have agreed on a 10 point package of limousine safety regulations that will be adopted into law. Cuomo stated “the comprehensive reform will give authority much needed new power to get dangerous vehicles off the road, weed out bad actors and put into place common sense safety standards that will increase public safety in every corner of New York”. The Schoharie County limo crash was the result of a poorly maintained limo that suffered catastrophic brake failure. Efforts to get the limo off the road failed for months prior to the crash.

17 passengers, including four sisters, three of their husbands and friends and family were celebrating a birthday all died, as did the driver and two pedestrians at a country store where the limo crashed. “The crashes that have taken place because of unsafe limos and lax regulations are tragedies, and we have a responsibility to address that problem” said Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.

The number of pedestrian deaths has increased more than 50% over the past decade. There were 10 pedestrian fatalities in Westchester, Rockland & Putnam Counties in 2019. Pedestrian fatalities involving motor vehicles throughout the United States steadily declined from 1979-2009 when the death toll dipped from 8,096 to 4109, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The number has since skyrocketed 53% according to the Institute, a Virginia based non-profit dedicated to traffic safety.

According to an article on the front page of The Journal News on January 14, 2020 entitled “Pedestrian deaths spur focus on safety” by Matt Spillane, several factors contribute to these accidents and experts agree the rise in SUV’s have played a significant role in fatality increases over the past decade. Pedestrian deaths involved SUV’s jumped 81%, a bigger bump than any other vehicle. Dan Gelinne, a senior research associate with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center said “we’re seeing fewer sedans on the road and more SUV’s and larger passenger vehicles and the way in which those impact a pedestrian’s body, they make more likely that a person will be severely injured or killed in the crash”. The high front ends of SUV’s are more likely to cause injury to a pedestrian’s chest and head. More pedestrian fatalities also seem to occur on arterial roads that are typically wide with many lanes of traffic and surrounded by commercial strips and businesses. These are found in suburban areas where residential activity has grown around roads that were mainly designed for drivers not pedestrians.

The article points out that the nation’s obsession with smart phones could be adding to roadway dangers said Retting, who authorized a pedestrian traffic fatality report for the Governors Highway Safety Association in 2018. He noted the rise in pedestrian death parallels the boom in smart phone users. Other factors have been consistent contributors to pedestrian deaths. In 2017, 80% of pedestrian fatalities took place in urban areas and 75% occurred when it was dark outside. Only 18% of deaths were at intersections.

In September, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to bolster the safety of children and infants in New York State. Day cares in New York will be required to fasten large pieces of furniture and electronic equipment to walls or floors as a way to prevent heavy items from tipping over onto young children. Another law includes a ban on crib bumper pads. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have warned parents against using bumper pads since 2008 due to significant risk they pose to infants.

According to an article on the front page of The Journal News on Sunday, September 1, 2019 by Chad Arnold, Cuomo also signed “Harper Law” which requires furniture retailers in the State to only sell furniture that meets Federal Safety Standards and sell devices designed to anchor furniture in its place. The law is named after Harper Fried, a three year old from Monroe, Orange County, New York who died in 2016 when a dresser tipped over onto her. Harper’s parents, Aaron & Erica Fried have been advocating to pass the measure since their daughter’s death.

Harper’s law takes effect in December, 2019. There is currently no Federal Standard which requires furniture to be secured to a wall or floor. The Fried’s, along with several other families who lost children in tip over incidents are pushing to pass the STURDY Act, a Federal law that would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to pass a rule designed to prevent tip over deaths. In New York, Cuomo and law makers approved legislation that would require day cares in New York State to secure furniture and large electronic equipment such as TV’s to either an adjacent wall or floor.

Lax building code enforcement has come to the attention of a revamped State Senate Committee that wants to gauge housing safety outside New York City. The new manual will focus on four municipalities: Ramapo, Mount Vernon, Newburgh and Albany.

According to an article in The Journal News on March 15, 2019 entitled “State panel focusing on lax housing code enforcement” by Nancy Cutler, the investigation was started by State Senator James Skoufis, the new Chairman of the Senate’s Investigations and Governmental Operators Committee. This panel has its’ own investigators and subpoena power. Senator Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat stated “Our committee will expose slumlords in the four communities we’re examining and just importantly identify best practices, determine areas where enforcement can be improved or will as recommended legislative and regulatory changes to create a safer New York State.”

New York’s suburbs are dotted with illegal, dangerous housing operated by shady landlords and allowed to continue with lax building code enforcement. Families and first responders have died in dangerously, unpredictable fires in dilapidated houses that have been carved up into illegal apartments. Landlords take advantage of tenant’s grabbing whatever apartments are available even though these apartments are illegal and rely on Cities, Towns and Villages that skimp on enforcing safety codes. Plenty of slumlords find it more profitable to ignore regulations.

We recently wrote about school buses and seatbelts, see blog of October 2, 2019. As a result of the limousine accident in Schoharie County, New York on October 6, 2018, Federal investigators issued new safety recommendations for limousines seeking to improve dangerous seating issues. 20 people died in that limousine crash. The new safety measures focused on the lack of lap and shoulder seatbelts and modifications made to stretch limos that would reduce the chances that passengers could survive such crashes. Federal safety experts also called on New York to improve it regulations and laws controlling inspection of limos. The regulators claim that the 20 deaths were part of a complex breakdown of government oversight and accountability according to The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

According to an article in The Journal News on October 3, 2019 by David Robinson, the NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt spoke to the potential for saving lives across the Country if limo seating safety fixes are implemented.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends:

In the less dense parts of the lower Hudson Valley, school children are dependent on school buses to get to school and return home. As a result of a high profile May, 2018 crash in New Jersey that left two dead, has led to new concerns on school bus safety in New York, especially with regard to seatbelts. On May 17, 2018, a dump truck hit a New Jersey school bus trying to make a U-turn flipping it from its chassis and killing a student and a teacher.

New York is one of the few states that mandates school buses to be outfitted with lap belts but, the law leaves it to individual school districts to make seatbelt use mandatory. The National Transportation Safety Board has pushed for seatbelts on school buses. The NTSB wants 3 point seatbelts on all school buses and require students to wear the seatbelts. Those who do not want seatbelts in school buses argue that school buses are different by design including a different kind of safety restraint system that works well according to NHTSA. Some school districts enforce seatbelt use of elementary school students and have monitors on board to enforce the rule.

Opinions on the use of seatbelts are split. The NHTSA says school buses are designed to be safe without seatbelts. They argue school buses are bigger and heavier than passenger vehicles and are able to handle the impact of crashes better than passenger vehicles plus, the design of school buses use the principle of compartmentalization which protects students in strong closely spaced seats that keep student in place and absorb impacts.

The number of cyclists killed last year in 2018 went up by 10% according to estimate for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Pedestrian deaths rose 4%. The number of auto drivers and passengers killed in accidents went down for the third straight year, down 1% compared to 2017.

According to an article by Chris Woodyard in USA today on July 4, 2019 entitled “Cars gets safer, but not for people outside them”. The cyclist and pedestrian deaths percentages estimates a sharp reversal from decline the previous year, underscore a troubling trend! While cars have been getting safer for occupants, they remain potentially deadly for those outside the vehicle. It is much safer for people inside the car according to Bill Nesper, executive director for The League of American Bicyclists. Yet a steady stream of bicyclists and pedestrians are being killed.

Automakers backed by Government Safety regulators have filled cars with features such as airbags, front and side and advanced child restraints to protect passengers in crashes. However, improvements to protect walkers and bikers have moved more slowly.

A startup company by the name of Charge is trying to legalize e-scooters in New York State. If e-scooters are approved to operate in New York, Charge would provide docks for 10,000 scooters throughout New York City. Charge is dealing with a significant obstacles for e-scooters and e-bikes which is blocking of roads and sidewalks. This is a consequence of the dock less models used by scooter focused bird and bike operator Lime. This model allows riders to hop on a scooter or bike when they need it and leave it just about anywhere but scooters have piled up on sidewalks from Boston to Los Angeles and complaints from residents.

According to an article in Crain’s New York Business on April 22, 2019 entitled “Startup puts a charge into e-scooter legalization” by Ryan Defenbaugh and Eric Enquist. Andrew Fox, co-founder & CEO of Charge called the issue of e-scooters strewn about the streets and sidewalks the business model’s weakness. Docking stations could help persuade State lawmakers to support legislation legalizing e-scooters in New York. “This is a problem around the world” Fox said. “Our thought was let’s build a docking and charging station that would pass the litmus test of municipalities and help accelerate the advancement of micro mobility instead of seeing its demise as people get frustrated by scooters thrown around the street”.

Charge plans to launch elective charging docks for e-scooters and electric pedal assist bicycles in close to 400 locations throughout New York City. The company has negotiated deals to lease space in privately owned garages and commercial buildings to host the docks which would recharge and shelter devices from e-scooter and e-bike operators such as Bird, Bolt Lime and Spin. The docks could offer a new stream of share-economy revenue to garage owners who will face a loss of customers when Manhattan congestions pricing takes effect in two years. Charge employees have spent the past few months signing long term deals with partners including LAZ parking, Imperial Parking, Big City Parking and Little Man Parking. The companies rave about how 15 scooters can be stationed in a single parking spot.

As of April 1, 2019, White Plains Lime which has a contract to operate the service with 300 bikes is introducing a pedal assist model. The “Lime-E” uses a lithium battery and torque sensor to give riders a boost. In an article in The Journal News on March 18, 201 by Richard Liebson, he quoted Lime Bike operations Manager Paul Holley. “We feel the bike share program has been successful in White Plains”. He told the common council during a work session “for riders huffing and puffing up hills or on long trips, the pedal assist model does a lot better than the other bike does”.

The new bikes known as “Lime-E” have been available in a number of other cities across the country since 2018. The Lime-E bikes are heavier and sturdier than the regular model with the mailbox sized battery mounted over the rear wheel. The decision to place them in part by the bike share programming success during the first year in White Plains since June 4, 2018.  More than 9000 different riders have tried the bikes using the Lime app on smart phones to unlock them and pay for the trip. 62% of riders who try the bikes take another ride within 30 days. The average rider took 3.9 trips per month averaging nine minutes per ride. More than 43,000 rides have been taken.

Lime said the White Plains Trans Center is by far the most common destination followed by White Plains Hospital and downtown Mamaroneck Avenue. The pedal-assist bikes will cost more than the regular bikes which rent for $1.00 per 30 minutes. Riders who want a boost will pay $1.00 to unlock the pedal assist models and 15 cents per minute to ride for a total cost of $5.50 for half an hour. The Lime-E relies on an internal torque sensor which detects when the bike is being pedaled and relays that to activate the battery. The power shuts down when the bike reaches a maximum speed of 14.8 mph.

After rising for several years, the percentage of commuters using bikes to go to work declined for the third straight year according to the US Census Bureau. Nationally, the percentage of people who say they use a bike to get to work fell by 3.2% from 2016 to 2017 to an average of 836,569 commuters according to the Bureau’s latest American Community Survey which asks a group of Americans about their habits. This number is down from a high of 904,463 in 2014 when it peaked after four years of increases. In some cities, the decline was more drastic. In Tampa Florida and Cleveland, cycling to work dropped by 50% and in some cities cycling to work was up dramatically.

According to an article in USA Today – The Journal News on January 3, 2019 by Chris Woodyard entitled “Fewer American use bike lanes to commute to work”. Decline in using bike lanes experts offered several explanations for the nationwide decrease even as cities spend millions trying to become friendlier. Lower gas prices and a strong economy contributed to strong auto sales and less interest in cheaper alternatives, such as mass transit and bikes. Also the rise of ride hailing services such as Uber & Lyft and electric scooters cut into bike commuting per Dave Snyder, Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition. Another bike advocacy group, League of American Bicyclists, found a mix in bike trends in the 70 largest cities. Bike commuting was up sharply from 2016 to 2017. In one of the large cities, Portland Oregon, 6.3% of commuter’s bike to work. It was also up in the second and third most popular biking cities, Washington and Minneapolis. It was down a whopping 19.9% in fourth place, San Francisco was down 11/4% in fifth place, New Orleans down 20.5% in sixth place and Seattle over the same time last year.

Federal highway spending on bike and pedestrian related improvements total $915.8 million in 2018. According to Ken McLeod, a Bike League’s Policy Director “It shows that while we have made investments over the last 20 years in bicycle infrastructure, we are still far from having safe and connected networks that make people feel safe biking to work”. City officials around the County said they try to support bike commuting by spending money on new bike lanes and trails and many cities including White Plains, New Rochelle & Yonkers added bike sharing programs which gave cyclists the ability to rent a bike to ride point to point or for the day.