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Smart Cars May Improve Safety, but Will Present Their Own Issues

Automobile manufacturers are now developing autonomous vehicles that promise to save thousands of lives. Despite auto safety advances, each year, more than 30,000 people lose their lives in car accidents. Most of those crashes are attributable to human error.

New safety features address the problems caused when fallible humans are left in charge. Technology such as car-to-car wireless communication, advance crash detection and automatic braking could prevent car accidents when drivers fail to take action quickly enough to stop a crash from happening. 

In the near term, these features will assist human drivers, who will still bear the primary responsibility for operating their vehicles. In a later stage of development, cars may drive themselves, allowing passengers to focus on other things while in the vehicle. Cars may even be able to park themselves, dropping passengers off at their destination before going to search for a parking spot.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous cars may indeed prevent accidents and save lives, but they also raise unique safety issues of their own.

One problem is obvious: computers can fail, and they can be hacked. Giving up control of a vehicle to a computer means that a computer malfunction or a malicious hacking attack could cause a crash. While thousands of lives may be saved by autonomous vehicle technology, it seems likely that at least some injury and loss of life will be directly attributable to the new features as well. 

The situation may be analogous to the early development of air bags. Designed for adults, the explosive impact of air bags ended up causing the deaths of about 175 children and smaller adults in the 1990s, before improvements were introduced. During the same period, air bags saved about 6,400 lives, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Another problem may arise with the mix of autonomous vehicles and human-operated cars that can be expected on the road as the technology is introduced. Research has indicated that human drivers may unconsciously mimic the actions of the vehicles around them. Driverless cars may be able to drive very close together at high speeds with the ability to stop quickly, and human drivers may be tempted to follow suit, driving closer to other vehicles than is safe, given their slower reaction times.

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Illinois Teen Driving Deaths Decline

Illinois teen driving deaths have declined, and officials say it is because of more stringent regulations for teen driver’s licenses.

Seven years ago, Illinois put a more restrictive program of graduated driver’s licenses in place for teenagers. Teen driving deaths have dropped five percent since then. According to the office of the Illinois Secretary of State, the restrictions have improved driving safety.

The graduated driver’s license program has three phases.

In the initial permit phase, upon reaching the age of 15, a person may obtain a restricted driving permit, with a parent’s permission. The permit is valid for two years, and it must be held for a period of at least nine months before moving to the next phase. During the permit phase, a teenager must practice driving while supervised by an adult age 21 or older with a valid driver’s license. Each teen is required to complete a minimum of 50 hours, including 10 nighttime hours. A teenager with a driver’s permit must also complete a driver education course before moving on to the next phase.

In the initial licensing phase, available for drivers age 16-17, a teenager may drive unsupervised, but he or she is subject to nighttime curfews. In addition, for the first year or until the driver turns 18, the driver is limited to only one passenger under the age of 20, not including family members. Moving violations during this period may extend the period of time before a driver may move on to the full licensing phase.

In the full licensing phase, there are no age-related restrictions on driving. But drivers age 18-20 who did not take a high school driver education course must complete a six-hour course before they may obtain a driver’s license.

Wrongful death lawsuit dismissed in death of David Koschman

A wrongful death lawsuit over the death of David Koschman has been dismissed. The lawsuit accused Chicago authorities of a cover-up after Koschman died following an altercation with a member of the Daley family. A federal judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said the lawsuit by Koschman’s mother against City Hall, Chicago police and prosecutors was “extraordinary,” but that civil rights violations have a two-year statute of limitations, which had run out.

The lawsuit stems from an altercation that took place in April 2004 between Koschman and Richard Vanecko, a nephew of Richard Daley, the former mayor of Chicago. Koschman fell and hit his head on the street after Vanecko punched him. He died in the hospital 11 days later.

The lawsuit alleged that someone closely connected to the Daley family alerted police that the mayor’s nephew was involved in order to prevent Vanecko from being charged with a crime or sued. The lawsuit, which relied in large part on the findings of a special prosecutor, alleged that police altered official files and fabricated evidence in an attempt to make it appear that Koschman was the aggressor in the confrontation.

However, Nanci Koschman waited until March to file the lawsuit after Vanecko pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for Koschman’s death. The judge ruled that the statute of limitations began to run in December 2011, when Ms. Koschman asked for a special prosecutor to investigate.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed over one-punch death

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Cook County by the family of a Palatine man who died after he was punched outside a bar and hit his head on the sidewalk.

The family of Ryan Flannigan, 26, filed the lawsuit against Michael Platt, 35. Authorities said that Platt punched Flannigan on the night of July 18, outside of Pop’s Bar and Grill in Palatine. According to witnesses, Flannigan was attempting to defuse an altercation. Police said Platt’s attack was unprovoked. Flannigan died 10 days later. Platt was charged with first degree murder and is free on bond.

Trazom Inc., the corporation that owns Pop’s Bar and Grill, was also named as a defendant, under the Illinois Dram Shop Act, which provides for the liability of a business that continues to serve a patron who is intoxicated. According to the lawsuit, the bar also failed to protect Flannigan. The family seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages.

The Flannigan family’s attorney said that discovery in the case would proceed during the pendency of the criminal case, but the wrongful death lawsuit will likely not be resolved until the conclusion of the criminal case. If convicted, Platt faces up to 60 years in prison.

In medical malpractice case, Illinois Supreme Court defines “Good Samaritan”

“Good Samaritan” laws exist in many states to ensure that people who volunteer to help in an emergency are not sued for damages if they negligently cause harm to another. Good Samaritan laws create an immunity where liability would otherwise exist, so that people are not discouraged from helping others out of a fear of being sued. In Illinois, the statute provides that licensed medical professionals who provide emergency care “without fee” are not liable for damages.

A recent Illinois Supreme Court case tested the meaning of the phrase “without fee.” In Home Star Bank and Financial Services v. Emergency Care and Health Organization, Ltd., the Court unanimously held that an emergency room doctor was not entitled to immunity under the Illinois Good Samaritan Act when he responded to a “Code Blue” emergency in a different part of the hospital.

The case involved a physician working in the emergency room who responded to a Code Blue emergency in the intensive care unit. The doctor attempted to intubate the patient, and the patient suffered severe brain injuries. Plaintiffs sued the doctor and his employer for medical malpractice, and the doctor moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was entitled to immunity under the Good Samaritan statute because the patient was not billed for the doctor’s services. Plaintiffs argued that the issue of billing was irrelevant and that the doctor was not volunteering, but doing his job.

The trial court granted summary judgment, but the Appellate Court reversed, and the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision.

Scrap metal recycling facility fined $497,000 after worker’s death

After a worker was killed when his arm became trapped by a conveyor belt, the owner of the Illinois scrap metal recycling facility where he worked has received a fine of nearly half a million dollars for numerous safety violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said that the conveyor belt should not have been running at the time of the worker’s death.

The scrap metal recycling facility is owned by Behr & Sons, which has been cited for previous safety violations at its facilities in Illinois and Iowa. However, despite that pattern, OSHA had never inspected the facility where the worker died until after the incident in March.

OSHA said in a press release that the company has now been deemed a severe violator and will be subject to additional inspections. According to OSHA, the company has shown a pattern of neglecting worker safety and requires a “culture change.”

However, OSHA’s budget has been cut significantly over the years. Statistics show that in 2011, there were not as many OSHA inspectors as there were in 1981, despite the fact that there were twice as many workplaces to inspect.

According to OSHA regional administrator Nick Walters, Behr & Sons let the conveyor belt run at unsafe times because it increased efficiency.

Cremated Amputated Leg Leads to Malpractice Lawsuit – Podcast

Rabbi Yona Reiss of the Chicago Rabbinical Council told the Chicago Tribune that under Jewish tradition, body parts that have been severed are preserved or buried for the day when it is believed that the bodies will be resurrected. Severed body parts are usually buried in private, low-key ceremonies, he said.

Woman who lost all four limbs awarded $25.3 million in medical malpractice case

A Milwaukee County jury awarded $25.3 million to a woman and her husband, finding that the loss of all four of her limbs was caused by medical malpractice.

In 2011, Ascaris Mayo had a Strep A infection, which causes strep throat. The infection went undetected, resulting in septic shock. Because of the damage caused, the woman’s limbs were amputated. Mayo is a 53-year-old mother of four.

Experts said that the case could lead to a challenge to Wisconsin’s cap on non-economic damages. The jury’s award included $1.5 million for the husband’s loss of companionship and $15 million for pain and suffering. However, Wisconsin law limits such damages to $750,000, and the defense attorneys are expected to ask the judge to lower the non-economic damages to that limit.

The jury found that the doctor and physician’s assistant failed to provide Mayo with alternative diagnoses that would have led her to pursue other treatment. In March 2011, Mayo spent nine hours in the hospital being treated for severe abdominal pain, fever and rapid heartbeat. She was discharged and instructed to contact her gynecologist the next day regarding fibroid issues. However, the next day, she collapsed at home. She was then treated for septic shock, but the vascular damage led to the amputation of all four limbs.

Illinois jury awards $1 million in birth injury case

The family of an Illinois girl who was injured during birth was awarded $1 million by a jury in a medical malpractice case.

The award came after a six-day trial and five hours of deliberation. Bailei Rae has a brachial plexus injury, which limits the movement of her left arm, as well as permanent nerve damage. The jury found that the girls’ injuries were caused by medical malpractice. 

The family’s attorney argued that the obstetrician/gynecologist had excessively tilted the baby’s head or applied excessive downward force during birth. The doctor’s attorney argued that the injury was caused by the forces of labor.

Bailei Rae, age three, made a brief appearance in the courtroom during the trial, so that a treating physician could perform a test to demonstrate that her right arm functions normally, but that she cannot raise her left arm. The physician also stated that Bailei is diagnosed with autism, which is unrelated to her arm injury. He said that Bailei may undergo further surgery, but it will not cure her condition. Instead, future procedures would be attempted to keep her from losing any gains she has made in previous therapy and procedures.

The family argued that because of the baby’s large size, she should have been delivered by Cesarean section.

How the Illinois Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund works

Illinois workers who are injured on the job have the right to workers’ compensation benefits for hours of work lost and for medical expenses. If the employer fails to pay the compensation owed, then the benefits can be paid by the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund (IWBF).

The IWBF was created in 2005 to compensate injured workers whose employers fail to pay workers’ compensation benefits. It is funded directly from penalties that employers must pay if they fail to carry required workers’ compensation insurance, and the money is used to help workers who may not otherwise receive benefits due to their employer’s uninsured or underinsured state. Cases are reviewed, and funds disbursed, by the Illinois Division of Insurance Compliance. If there are insufficient funds to cover all the claims that are submitted, then distribution of benefits takes place on a pro rata basis.

Injured workers may apply for IWBF benefits if they have already received a final workers’ compensation award, and their employer failed both to pay the benefits and to carry proper workers’ compensation insurance.

Specific procedures and requirements apply to IWBF benefits. If you were injured at work, consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to learn more about your rights.

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The Chicago Illinois personal injury law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County.
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