Multi-million Dollar Verdict in Tire Blow-out Lawsuit

Tire Blow-Outs are a Common Cause of Vehicle Rollovers wheel after tire explosion

Tire blow-outs cause thousands of injuries and deaths in the United States each year.  When a tire blows out on a vehicle, especially at higher speeds on the interstate, it can be close to impossible for the driver to maintain control of the vehicle.  Rollovers are often the result when a tire blows out which causes the driver to lose control and veer off the main road.  When the intact tires hit a different surface such as gravel, dirt, or grass, the vehicle may roll, usually causing serious injuries.  Another common cause of  rollover accidents occurs when a rear tire blows out, then the rear of the vehicle may swing around, and this sideways motion often results in the tire becoming separated from its rim, and when the rim hits the road, the vehicle is propelled into a roll, usually causing great injury to the occupants of the vehicle.

A New Jersey family was driving to Florida on a vacation when the right rear tire blew out on their Chevy Trailblazer.  The family’s adult daughter was driving at the time.   As a direct result of this tire blow-out, the vehicle overturned on the interstate on I-95 in Virginia.  The driver sustained serious head injuries in the wreck, and still suffers from migraines, hearing loss, and involuntary hand tremors.  Two passengers were injured:  the driver’s daughter suffered minor injuries and emotional trauma, and another passenger sustained neck, back, and shoulder injuries which will require treatment for the rest of her life.

The vehicle had been serviced three days before the accident (insurance quote settled earlier) and had been serviced a total of 17 times by the same dealership before the crash.  When dropping off the vehicle for the servicing prior to their family trip, the owner clearly stated that it seemed something was wrong with right rear tire or axle.   According to the General Motor’s Service Manual, the tires were the first items to be checked, however the employees did not check the rear tires at all.  Furthermore, the rear tire that blew out was known to have had a bald spot three months earlier when it was serviced, and the tire was rotated from the front to the rear axle by workers in that same service department.

Following a thirteen-day trial, the jury awarded 7.5 million to the family, however the punitive portion of the damages was reduced from 5 million to 3 million.  Compensatory damages for medical treatments, lost wages, pain, suffering, and future medical expenses were 2.5 million for a total final award of 5.5 million.  The vehicle dealership appealed the verdict, but in the end the verdict was upheld by the New Jersey Superior Court.

Collision Care Ebook adIf you have experienced injuries as a result of a tire blow out and want to find out more about your legal rights, contact the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC to discuss your case.  Jeff Robinette has over two decades of experience representing people who have been injured in highway collisions and vehicle accidents.  Call today:  304-594-1800 or after hours, 304-216-6695.

Source:  The National Trial Lawyers, “NJ Appeals Court Upholds $5.5M Verdict in Tire Blow-Out Lawsuit,” by Andrew Findley, April 29, 2014.

Five Sent to Hospital after Crash on Chestnut Ridge Road

MORGANTOWN WV – A two vehicle accident happened around 9:30 Saturday evening near the entrance to Suburban Plaza, sending five to Ruby Memorial Hospital.

The two vehicles involved were a Ford Explorer and a Jeep Liberty. There were five people in the Jeep and two people in the Ford. Three people from the Jeep and both people in the Ford Explorer were transported to Ruby Memorial. Police say none of their injuries seemed life threatening.

The two west bound lanes and the center turning lane on Chestnut Ridge Road were closed for about two hours while officers from the Morgantown Police Department were investigating the accident.Suburban Plaza Wings Ole

Chestnut Ridge Road, especially in front of Suburban Lanes and Wings Ole’, remains the third most dangerous road in Morgantown, with thirty-four accidents last year.

Morgantown Car Accident Attorneys

If you or your loved one has been injured, it is important to act quickly to protect your claim in order to gain the compensation needed to help you move forward with your recovery and your life.  Mr. Robinette has handled hundreds of cases involving serious injury and wrongful death and can provide the insight you need right now.

If you have questions, call Jeff Robinette today at 304-594-1800, or after hours 304-216-6695.  You may also visit our website to find the answers you need today.  You don’t have to handle this alone.

We are glad to provide free books and information for WV accident victims: Collision Care: West Virginia Auto Collision Guide, and Righting the Wrong, West Virginia Serious Injury Guide:  304-594-1800.

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How Does the Insurance Company Decide How Much My Case is Worth?

Injury Assessment Software for Injury Cases

computer imageAll major insurance companies now use computer software programs to assist adjusters in placing a “value” on injury claims. These specially-designed programs purportedly allow adjusters to “standardize” claim information so that claims evaluations are efficient and consistent. The problem is, the programs were written for the insurance companies, using their input as to what was fair compensation. So the whole program is flawed in favor of the insurance company.

Some insurance companies have developed their own adjustment software programs, while others have opted for the commercially marketed software programs. The leading adjustment software programs that are commercially available are Colossus, Claims Outcome Advisor, and Claims IQ. These programs systematically assess claim information and assign a reduced value to each injury claim. The program assesses all your past medical conditions and treatments and your current and future medical treatments and then arbitrarily places a “value” on your claim.

Some programs also assess the skill and experience of the personal injury attorney, and whether he or she is capable of getting a substantial verdict against the company. Claims adjusters are instructed not to deviate from the computer assessment of the injury claim. What they personally may think about the value of the injury claim is completely taken out of the picture; it’s not important or relevant. This is why the adjuster’s “low-ball” offer of settlement doesn’t bother them; their personal opinion doesn’t matter.

Example of a Computer Assessment for a Personal Injury Claim

Let’s consider how a claims adjuster would use computer assessment software to assess the value of a serious injury claim. Suppose the serious injury being evaluated is a crush injury to the foot. Because no surgery would adequately repair the damaged ligaments in the foot, the surgeon is reluctant to try surgery unless the injury victim reports that they can’t walk at all. So, the medical bills are just a few thousand dollars for initial treatments. But the injury victim can’t work on his or her feet without pain, and can’t participate in many other activities previously enjoyed.

The claims adjuster will enter information about the claim on the computer program, and the assessment program will indicate a highest possible value on the claim. The problem is, the assessed value may be as low as only 25% of the full value of the claim. Nonetheless, the adjuster will not offer even this grossly inadequate amount as a settlement offer—they are prohibited from doing so without special company authorization.

How Does the Insurance Adjuster Use this Computer Generated Assessment of my Injury Claim?

click here for free report buttonThe adjuster is only permitted to negotiate a settlement significantly below the computer assessment. The adjuster will attempt to withhold payment of at least 50% of the full value of claim to the injury victim.  In the assessment of this injury claim, the computer assessment may be as low as $10,000. The claims adjuster then will offer only $5,000 in settlement, which is half of the computer assessment value. The computer assessment completely ignores the possibility of future surgery costs, which may be as much as $30,000, because the surgeon is hesitant to say exactly when a future surgery would be needed.

Although it is clear that there is a permanent injury—a torn ligament—and all other previous treatments have failed to correct the symptoms, there is a “minimal” value placed on the injury claim.

The claims adjuster can’t even consider any lost wages because the person can still walk, albeit, in a lot of pain—thus, no reason not to work! The claims adjuster remains convinced that her low-ball offer is fair because she has a computer program assessment to support her position.

Even if the adjuster felt compelled to offer more money in settlement, she’s not allowed to offer more without authorization from management. Because computer assessment software is written for the benefit of insurance companies, there is a built-in bias against your claim, and it should be no surprise that the claims adjuster’s assessment of the value of your injury claim is grossly inadequate to compensate you for all your injuries.

So What Can I Do to Receive Maximum Compensation for my Injuries and Losses?

free e-book buttonWhat is the value of an attorney in negotiating with an insurance company? If you go it alone, you may wind up settling for much less than your claim is actually worth. Many times, insurance companies offer settlements for cents on the dollar. But they will tell you a settlement is in your best interests. They may try to get to you say things that hurt your case. Many people who are struggling with injuries find this an intimidating and confusing process. If you enlist our firm to represent you, we will handle all negotiations on your behalf.

We have handled numerous insurance claims involving car accidents, truck accidents, premises liability and other personal injury accidents. In the past, our lawyers have represented insurance companies, and therefore we know how they value claims and what arguments they will respond to. We are adept at reaching favorable results through negotiation and settlement. If we do not achieve favorable results by those means, we are always prepared to meet the insurance companies in court.

Contact a Morgantown Insurance Dispute Attorney

Contact us to learn how we can help you recover full and fair money damages for your injuries and financial losses. From our offices in Morgantown, we represent clients in car accident and motor vehicle injury cases throughout West Virginia.  Call Today:  304-594-1800 or 304-216-6695 after business hours for a free evaluation of your insurance claim.  You don’t have to do this alone.

righting_the_wrong_3dSource:  Righting the Wrong:  West Virginia Serious Injury Guide by Jeff Robinette, Word Association Publishers, 2012.

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Protect Your Family on the Road

Car in snow in ditchMore than 90 million people will be traveling home for the holidays this week.  Getting your vehicle ready to travel is one of the most important ways to keep yourself and your family safe and to avoid mishaps along the road. 

You certainly want to prepare. Check the Internet to see what the weather forecast is in the area that you’ll be traveling.  You may want to leave a little earlier to avoid bad weather, or you may want to allow yourself more time for traffic or the possibility of snow on the roads… use your good common sense.  Fill your windshield wiper fluid and tires to recommended levels.  If you know you will be driving through snow, throw in some ice melt, kitty litter, or gravel for traction.

If you do break down, the time it takes a towing company to get to you might be longer than usual. They see a huge jump in accidents close to the holidays.  You may have to wait an hour or two before help arrives, so prepare for that by making sure that your gas tank is full and be sure to pack extra blankets and food.

Other things to remember are to make sure you don’t always count on your GPS; have a backup plan for directions. If your wind shield looks like it has streaks on it it’s probably time to change your wiper blades.  And finally, slow down.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Injury Lawyers. Free books for WV accident victims — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families. We are glad to answer your questions.

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Seven Things that Really Irk People with Disabilities

wheelchairs on beachThere are more people now than at any other time in history who are working to overcome the limitations imposed by disabilities.  Since the start of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, over 17,ooo American soldiers have been catastrophically wounded, and the military has treated 1,559 amputee soldiers, many who are double amputees.  With advances in better protected vehicles, body armor, and improved medical care, more soldiers who would have been killed in the past are now wounded amputees.

As a former soldier and now as an attorney who helps people navigate through the insurance claims process  after having sustained catastrophic injuries from vehicle or workplace accidents, I am particularly interested in and well aware of the impact such injuries have on an injured person’s future and family.  As families and friends prepare for holiday gatherings, here are some tips for putting others at ease.

The following are some courtesy tips provided by the United Spinal Association:

  • Put the person first:  say “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person;” say “wheelchair user” rather than “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair.”  The wheelchair enables the person to get around and participate in society.
  • Always speak directly to the person with the disability, not just to their companion or aide.  Respect their privacy and do not make their disability the topic of conversation.
  • Avoid outdated terms like “handicapped” or “crippled.”  Also avoid euphemistic jargon like “differently abled.”
  • Ask before you help:  just because someone has a disability, don’t assume they need help.  Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people.  Only offer assistance if the person seems to need it.
  • Avoid touching a person’s wheelchair, scooter, or cane.  It is considered part of their personal space.
  • Never lean over a person in a wheelchair to shake someone else’s hand.
  • Never, ever, use a person in a wheelchair to hold people’s coats or set your drink on their desktop.  (Surprisingly enough, some people do these things.)

No matter how a person’s catastrophic injury occurred, sensitivity and respect is crucial in our interactions with people with disabilities, just as it is with everyone else we encounter.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

Related Article:  Rules of the Road for Motorized Wheelchairs

Sgt. Todd May Killed in DUI Car Accident/Jerod Green Trial

Jerod Green Sentenced to 25-50 Years in Prison

02/19/2013:  Jerod Green, 36, was sentenced in Green County, Pa. court Tuesday morning. A jury convicted Green last year on third-degree murder charges in the May’s death during a police pursuit.  Green has been sentenced to 25-50 years in prison.   Green, 36, will not be eligible for parole until he serves 25 years, Pennsylvania corrections and parole officials said. That will be in 2037, when Green is 60 years old.
If parole is never granted, he will complete his sentence in 50 years. There is no good time — time off for good behavior — for violent offenders in Pennsylvania, officials said.

According to Brandy Brubaker of the Dominion Post, Morgantown:  Greene County, Pa., Judge William Nalitz said the only thing he could do to keep Jerod Green from driving drunk and killing again was to put him behind bars for a long time.  “I am struck by the inevitableness of this,” Nalitz said Tuesday. “You were going to continue on this path until you killed someone or yourself.”   Green, a repeat DUI offender, was driving drunk and fleeing police from Monongalia County early Feb. 18, 2012, when he crashed into May’s patrol vehicle, which was sitting on the side of Interstate 79 just over the Pennsylvania border.  “You have devastated one family and you wounded Deputy May’s department and his community grievously,” Nalitz said.

Jerod Green Found Guilty of Third Degree Murder — What is the difference between First and Third Degree Murder?

12/13/2012:  The jury has rendered its verdict in the trial of Jerod Green.  Green was found guilty of 3rd degree murder (instead of the 1st degree murder charges he was facing) for killing Sgt. Todd May on February 18, 2012.  Green will be sentenced later this year.  He is facing up to forty years in prison for the third degree murder charge.  The jury also returned guilty verdicts to charges of homicide while DUI, homicide while violating the vehicle code, fleeing while DUI, DUI above .16, speeding, and duty in an emergency response area.
Those charges could add a maximum of about 29 years in addition to the 20 to 40 years for murder if all of the sentences were run consecutively, according to Pennsylvania code.

What is the difference between first and third degree murder?

In most states, first-degree murder is defined as an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was committed after planning or “lying in wait” for the victim.

A general definition of third degree murder:  Killing that resulted from indifference or negligence.  Usually there must be a legal duty (parent – child), but can also include crimes like driving drunk and causing a fatal accident.

Third day of trial:  Jerod Green’s defense attorney only presented one witness on Green’s behalf.  Green himself declined to testify on his own behalf.  Jerod Green’s crash reconstruction expert said he believes Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May pulled into Green’s path as Green fled police Feb. 18 on Interstate 79, and, therefore, caused the crash that took his life.

Engineer and professional crash reconstructionist Richard Bragg said the assessment of the crash scene by the prosecution’s expert was flawed and said he doesn’t believe Green intentionally hit May, as the prosecution has alleged.Bragg testified Wednesday in the third day of Green’s murder trial in Greene County, Pa. He was the sole defense witness, as Green opted not to testify on his own behalf. Both sides rested their cases and closing arguments will begin this morning. Bragg said that, as May pulled into the interstate, Green could not possibly have had enough time to react and get out of the way quickly enough to avoid a collision.

Source:  The Dominion Post, “Closing Arguments Today,” by Brandy Brubaker, 12/13/2012.

12/12/2012 update: Cpl. John Weaver testified Tuesday in the second day of Jerod Green’s murder trial about his investigation of the fatal crash scene and explained why Green’s defense is improbable.

The trooper said he believes May tried to turn his SUV away to get out of Green’s path, but Green turned his vehicle toward him again and hit him. He said Jerod Green floored his pickup truck and drove directly toward Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May’s SUV just before the crash that killed the deputy.

Weaver said Green entered I-79 south at Mount Morris, Pa. Previous testimony indicated that he was followed closely behind by several law enforcement officers, two of whom said they witnessed the crash. Weaver said Green should’ve kept heading straight in one of two open lanes of travel if he wanted to continue fleeing.

“He sees a police car and, instead of taking the open path, he moves toward that police car,” Weaver said. Weaver said Green left the on-ramp early. If Green had followed the on-ramp to the end, he said, there wouldn’t have been a crash.

Weaver said Green was traveling about 98 mph and his truck wouldn’t let him go any faster. At about 2.5 seconds before the crash, modules in his truck indicated that Green had his gas pedal pushed 40 percent of the way down. At about 2 seconds before the crash, Green had it pushed 100 percent down, Weaver said. He certainly would’ve saw May’s patrol car — a Jeep Grand Cherokee — with its lights flashing, Weaver said. Green never hit his brakes, Weaver said.

May, he said, had slowly driven through the grassy median between directions of travel and, would’ve most likely seen Green coming right toward him. Weaver believes, in a last-ditch effort to get out of the way, May cut hard to the left and accelerated to 31 mph.

Green then turned his truck to the right, toward where May was turning, and the left front of the truck violently impacted the right front of May’s Jeep, Weaver said.  Weaver said there are two possible reasons that Green would’ve turned his truck to the right: Because he was trying to turn away from May’s Jeep, but inadvertently turned the same way May did or because he was intentionally trying to hit him.

Weaver said it only makes sense that Green intentionally tried to hit May because Green should’ve hit his brakes and traveled straight if he was trying to avoid a collision.  The trooper also noted that May didn’t position his vehicle in a way that would’ve made sense if he was intending to block or ram Green’s truck as Green’s defense has claimed. He said May was most likely intending to join in on the pursuit.

Weaver said he conducted his investigation by gathering data recorded in modules inside both vehicles, diagramming marks and debris at the crash scene, studying the wreckage, reviewing witness statements, and entering data into a specialized computer program.

Other testimony concerning text messages back and forth between Green and two women the night of the accident indicated that he was distraught and possibly suicidal.  For details, see the Dominion Post.

Source:  The Dominion Post, Morgantown, WV:  Brandy Brubaker, reporter.

12/10/2012 update:  Jerod Green’s trial began today with opening arguments from both sides.  In the opening statement in the trial of Jerod Green, Greene County PA District Attorney Marjorie Fox told a mostly male jury that Green committed the “deliberate act of murder” the morning Todd May died. She said Green intentionally drove his pickup truck into May’s parked patrol vehicle as Green fled police trying to pull him over for driving drunk and fleeing a crash on Easton Hill. May’s vehicle, she said, was parked in the median of I-79 south, with its lights activated.

“He didn’t aim a gun at Sgt. May. He didn’t put on a dynamite vest and jump on Sgt. May, but, in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, his Silverado was a deadly weapon,” Fox said.

Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, said Green had no intent or desire to kill May. Instead, Bongivengo said May’s vehicle pulled out into the path of Green’s. He said a crash reconstruction will support his claim.Jerod Green image

The commonwealth called about 17 witnesses Monday, some whom testified briefly about items in evidence and other procedural matters. Their case will resume this morning.

Sheriff’s Department Sgt. J.E. Burks told jurors Green smelled strongly of alcohol and slurred his speech when he was pulled over on the Easton Hill in Morgantown. He first lied about being at the scene of the hit-and-run, but then said the other driver caused it and he fled because of four previous DUI convictions, Burks said. Another deputy testified that Green told him he had taken some prescription medications that morning — one of which was to treat his bipolar disorder — and said he hadn’t been drinking.

All of a sudden, Burks said he heard that deputy, Dave Wilfong, yelling for Green to stop and then saw Green driving off. A pursuit began, which eventually led to I-79.
Burks said he was directly behind Green as he entered the interstate. Burks said he saw Green speed up, heard his engine roar, and watched as he drove across both lanes of traffic and directly into May’s patrol vehicle, which he said was parked in the median.

May’s vehicle spun violently, he said. There were debris and smoke. Star City Police Department Lt. Varndell said he also saw the impact as he followed behind in the chase. He called for EMS and ran to the deputy’s vehicle, not knowing who was inside. Varndell said May was lying across the back seat. He couldn’t reach a pulse point. A fire erupted in the hood and a passing tractor trailer driver rushed over with an extinguisher.

Varndell returned to May and noticed he was breathing. A nurse, traveling on I-79, stopped to help. They moved May onto the ground and EMS arrived, he said.

In other testimony:
Green’s ex-girlfriend, Holly Brotherton, said she and Green texted back and forth and spoke briefly while he was at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant the night May was killed. She said Green told her via text that she was right to leave him because he was “the devil” and a bad person who would’ve ruined her life.

She said she urged him to stop talking like that and told him to call her if he needed her. The next morning, she found a text that she hadn’t received earlier because her cellphone had no service.  The text was from Green and said he lost the best thing that had ever happened to him and said he didn’t deserve to “live this life with everyone else,” Brotherton said.

Rachel Hutchinson testified that she saw Green at Bugsy’s, a bar on Point Marion Road, later in the night. He was slurring his speech, laying against the table and not making much sense, she said.

Skylar Johnson testified that a large pickup truck struck her car as she traveled down Easton Hill in the early morning hours of Feb. 18. She said the truck drove off. Police later charged Green with the crash. Johnson said her car was destroyed, but she declined treatment from paramedics.

A forensic scientist with the Pennsylvania State Police said Green’s blood alcohol content was .189. The legal limit for driving in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia is .08.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Popielarcheck said he arrested Green at the crash scene and said he smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and swayed as he stood up.

Source:  The Dominion Post, Morgantown, WV, 12/11/2012 by Brandy Brubaker

11/15/2012:  Nine men and three women have been selected to serve on the jury for Jerod Green’s trial set to begin on December 10, 2012 at 9:00 a.m in Greene County, PA.  The jurors and alternates chosen have been instructed to discuss the case with no one, to attempt no investigation of the case, and to contact the court if anyone tries to contact them about the case.

10/12/12 Update:  According to Brandy Brubaker of the Dominion Post in Morgantown, Jerod Green is set to go to trial in December for the death of Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May.  Greene County (Pa.) Judge William Nalitz scheduled Green’s trial for Dec. 10. A jury will be selected Nov. 14.  Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, said all pre-trial issues have been resolved and they will be ready to go to trial in December.  Bongivengo previously asked the court to move the trial to another county because of pre-trial publicity, but Nalitz said he would decide if it is necessary after first trying to pick a jury. 

9/7/12 Update:  A Pennsylvania judge denied almost all of Jerod Green’s attorney’s requests for evidence suppression, but did agree to throw out Green’s alleged admission that he had been drinking the night of the crash that killed Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Sgt. Todd May.  According to WAJR radio news, that testimony will not be allowed because it was allegedly stated by Green before he was read his rights.

Green, 35, of Morgantown, is awaiting trial on charges of murder of a law enforcement officer, homicide by vehicle while DUI, and criminal homicide, among others, for the Feb. 18 crash that killed May. 

Police in Pennsylvania and West Virginia accused Green of driving drunk, fleeing a crash on Easton Hill, driving away from officers who pulled him over on W.Va. 100, and leading police on a chase across the state line thatended when he hit May’s patrol vehicle, which was parked in the median of Interstate 79, just over the Pennsylvania line. Green, however, alleges that May’s vehicle struck his. 

Jury selection in the case is slated to begin Nov. 14, although court officials said a trial date has not yet been set. In Greene County, a jury is selected sometimes weeks or months before the actual trial begins. 

Greene County Judge William Nalitz ruled this week that the commonwealth may introduce at trial the results of Green’s blood alcohol content (BAC) testing and all evidence obtained from searches of Green’s truck, unless the court later determines that specific evidence seized in the searches is inflammatory. Police previously alleged that Green was driving with a BAC of .189 — more than twice the legal driving limit of .08 — the night of the crash. They have not made public any potential evidence seized with the search warrants. 

Nalitz also ruled that the commonwealth may not introduce Green’s alleged admission to Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Popielarcheck that he had been drinking the night of the crash. 

Popielarcheck briefly spoke with Green while hewas handcuffed in the back of a sheriff ’s deputy’s vehicle just after the crash and asked him if he had been drinking. Shortly thereafter, the trooper placed him under arrest and read him his Miranda rights, the trooper previously testified. 

Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, argued that Green was already in custody when he was in the back of the cruiser, and as such, his alleged statement should be suppressed because he hadn’t yet been read his Miranda rights. 

Nalitz agreed with that argument, although he didn’t accept Bongivengo’s insistence that all of the evidence obtained after the cruiser questioning should also be stricken. Nalitz said in his order that Popielarcheck still had reason to believe Green was intoxicated without Green’s own alleged admission because he said Green smelled of alcohol and was unsteady in his gait. 

Bongivengo also argued that the evidence obtained from search warrants should be barred from trial because the search warrants were “overly broad.” They included the seizure of items such as Green’s cell phones and his GPS and his truck’s event data recorder. 

Nalitz, however, said the warrants asked for the appropriate things an officer would need in a fatal crash investigation. 

“An inspection of the vehicle might even prove exculpatory if it is determined that there was some mechanical failure which caused a loss of control,” Nalitz wrote. “Furthermore, we believe the commonwealth is justified in learning whether [the] defendant was distracted during the alleged pursuit by examining his cell phones for messages sent from or to him at relevant times.” 

Nalitz said, at this point, it is impossible to tell if the evidence will be fruitful to either side. 

He said he’ll make additional rulings if the commonwealth tries to introduce any evidence he deems irrelevant or inflammatory.

The Dominion Post, “Judge:  Most Evidence Stays”, by Brandy Brubaker, 9/7/2012

Original story:  Early Saturday, February 18, 2012, a tragic car accident caused the untimely death of Monongalia County Sheriff Deputy Sgt. Michael Todd May.

According to WV Metro News and The Dominion Post of Morgantown, WV, Sgt. May was assisting in the pursuit of a hit and run suspect fleeing police when his police cruiser was struck on I-79 just north of the Pennsylvania border.  Jerod Alan Green of Morgantown, formerly from Oklahoma, has been charged with homicide by vehicle while DUI, first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, second degree manslaughter of a law enforcement officer, DUI of a combination of alcohol and drugs, and several other charges. On line records from the Oklahoma State Courts Network indicate a man with the same name and birth date as Green pleaded guilty to third-offense DUI and subsequent offense DUI almost five years ago.

Sgt. May was a ten-year veteran of the force. Monongalia County Sheriff Al Kisner said, “He was one of the good guys. People just genuinely liked him. He had a great sense of humor. The guys that worked for him really liked him, they respected him a lot. He was an excellent deputy. He knew his job and was an intelligent person.  Everybody’s upset, everybody’s hurt. Some people are angry about the way things transpired. This is something that didn’t have to happen.”

Update February 20, 2012:  The Dominion Post of Morgantown documents that Green had previously been charged with at least five DUI charges, as well as assault and battery and methamphetamine charges which were later dropped.

National Commission Against Drunk Driving Statistics

  • 41 percent of all traffic crashes are alcohol-related.
  • Nearly 600,000 Americans are injured in alcohol-related traffic crashes each year.
  • Someone dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash every 30 minutes. Every two minutes someone is hurt (non-fatally injured) in an alcohol-related accident.
  • Three out of every 10 Americans face the possibility of being directly involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash during their lifetime. 

Education promotes prevention.

According to USA Today, more than 1.5 million people were arrested in the United States last year for driving drunk and at least that many are estimated to have driven under the influence of drugs.

Drunk and drugged drivers continue to drive our roads and highways, causing more than 17,000 Americans to die each year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, impaired driving will affect one in three Americans during their lifetimes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2002 and 2005, West Virginia used a high-visibility enforcement program and cut alcohol related deaths by 18% and the numbers of drivers who tested over the .08 BAC dropped 30%.  This program included increased monitoring and enforcement in conjunction with paid advertisements on radio, TV, and billboards to increase public awareness of the dangers of DUI.  Many states have dropped high-visibility enforcement programs because of a lack of funding, but NHTSA continues to encourage states to maintain high-visibility programs to decrease the number of DUI related crashes, injuries, and deaths.

West Virginia University presently uses an on-line alcohol awareness program for all in-coming freshmen and transfer students.  The students must complete the program by certain dates or must pay a fifty-dollar penalty for missed deadlines.  Morgantown public high schools also have DUI awareness programs before prom activities in the spring to increase student awareness of the hazards and legal ramifications of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

The National Health Information Center has designated April 1 – 30, 2012 as  Alcohol Awareness Month  (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.) 

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Ten Warning Signs for Senior Drivers

Should Grandma and Grandpa Still Be Driving?

For those of us who find ourselves in the “sandwich” generation , we are concerned about our teenage and young adult drivers.  At the same time, we also worry about the safety of our aging parents on our curvy and sometimes slippery West Virginia roads.  Statistics tell us that fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers.  Even more concerning, for drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens.  If you are in that difficult position of caring for an aging parent or grandparent, the following are some signs to be looking for in evaluating your loved one’s driving safety, especially if prescription pain medicines or the onset of dementia are issues.

Ten Signs That it is Time to Stop or Limit Driving:

  1. Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
  2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.
  3. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
  4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
  5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals
  6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  7. Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain
  8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
  9. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes
  10. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers

Even if we know or suspect any of the above indicators to be true, do we really want to be the ones to tell an aging parent that it is time to give up the keys?  As people advance in age, it seems that they are losing more than they are gaining, and giving up independence and mobility is going to be a hard blow.  “Having a professional involved can keep family relationships intact,” said Pam Bartle, a driver rehab specialist at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill.  It’s a hard choice for people. They can’t imagine how they’ll manage without driving.   Getting a doctor or occupational therapist involved can shift the hard choice to a neutral professional, rather than a close family member.

Insights from a Driver Safety Professional

Glenard Munson, a corporate trainer, business owner, driver safety trainer with 30 years’ experience, and award-winning author and speaker on driver safety issues shares his insights:

“One PART of the solution (I am a senior who teaches driving, both novice and remedial) is for physicians and LEO’s to enforce their own regulations requiring reporting of irregular driving.  Families also have a moral obligation to report ANY family member, irrespective of age, for erroneous/irresponsible driving.

Once reported, most states REQUIRE a minimum of a written test to re-evaluate the driver in question, and/or a drive test to subjectively, (no drive test is completely OBJECTIVE), evaluate the driver’s skillset. I take many seniors and or medically-tagged drivers out for lessons, and I find that, over my 20 years+ of experience, that roughly 2/3rds of those tagged by the DMV/LEO/Doctor were correctly evaluated.

It is hard for me to tell anyone that they will need to give up their driving privilege, but an independent desire to drive does NOT outweigh the safety and security of the public at large.”

Simple Tests for Doctors to Use in Evaluating Older Drivers:

Today, the American Medical Association recommends that doctors administer a few simple tests in advising older drivers.

  • Walk 10 feet down the hallway, turn around and come back. Taking longer than nine seconds is linked to driving problems.
  • On a page with the letters A to L and the numbers 1 to 13 randomly arranged, see how quickly and accurately you draw a line from 1 to A, then to 2, then to B and so on. This so-called trail-making test measures memory, spatial processing and other brain skills, and doing poorly has been linked to at-fault crashes.
  •  Check if people can turn their necks far enough to change lanes, and have the strength to slam on brakes.

Dr. Gary Kennedy, geriatric psychiatry chief at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, often adds another question: Are his patients allowed to drive their grandchildren?  ‘‘If the answer to that is no, that’s telling me the people who know the patient best have made a decision that they’re not safe,’’ Kennedy said.

Restrictions can Prolong Driving Independence

Rather than prematurely taking away the privilege of driving from a person who may still have the ability to safely drive for several more years, individually assigned restrictions may be the answer to prolonging an aging person’s independence for as long as possible.  Restrictions similar to those assigned to teenage drivers may include no driving on high-speed roads, driving outside a certain area, or driving at night.  These restrictions would increase safety for those with visual impairments, prescription medication dependence, and impaired physical mobility.

The best situation, of course, is when the older driver independently comes to the conclusion that they need to limit or quit driving, but in cases involving dementia, Alzheimer’s, and plain stubbornness, a consensus of caring adults may be needed to persuade that older driver that “the time has come.”  A great rule of thumb is to “let everything you do be done with love.”  That principle should especially apply to those older folks to whom we need to show the most honor and respect, while at the same time, looking out for their personal safety and the safety of other drivers on the road.  Remember, they had the same concerns about you when you were young!

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Sources:

The Dominion Post, “Families Key, but Docs have a Big Role in Driving Decisions,” AP: Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report,Washington, September 27, 2012.

Website:  AARP: “10 Signs that it’s Time to Limit or Stop Driving,” http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/info-05-2010/Warning_Signs_Stopping.html, January 2010.

Risk Factors for Senior Drivers in West Virginia

When is it Time to Hand over the Keys?

Since 1863, the West Virginia State Motto has been Montani Semper Liberi, or “Mountaineers are Always Free.”  We love and value our freedom, no matter what our age.  One of the greatest freedoms we possess in this country is the freedom to travel without restrictions, usually by car.  Ask older folks in the nursing homes what they miss the most, and many will tell you that they miss the ability to drive when and where they like.

According to the U.S Census Bureau’s population estimates by age and gender, West Virginia remains among the oldest states in the nation. The median age of West Virginians is 40.5 years (third highest) and the share of those who are 65 years or older is 16.2 percent (second highest), and these percentages are predicted to rise every year. As the number of older drivers increases, senior-driver safety is becoming more relevant for many families. With years of experience behind the wheel, older drivers likely are among the safest on the road. However, skills and abilities required for safe driving do deteriorate with age. The “silver tsunami” or great increase in the percentage of seniors driving in West Virginia raises the question of how families and doctors must be working together to determine if and when age-related health problems — from arthritis to frailty to Alzheimer’s disease — are severe enough to impair driving.

A recent hit-and-run tragedy in West Virginia illustrates the need for families to keep a watchful eye on Alzheimer’s patients in their care.

The investigation of a fatal hit and run accident in Kanawha County this week took an unexpected turn when sheriff’s deputies learned that the woman behind the wheel of the vehicle which struck Terry Stanley, 50, of Hernshaw, was an 80-year-old who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

The sheriff commented:  “We know from past dealings with individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia they are at times able to sneak off and get into a vehicle without the knowledge of family members.”

Investigators said the woman had a valid driver’s license.

Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, based on data from 1999-2004. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens.

Risk Factors Linked to Aging Process

Specific physical and cognitive abilities may decline with advancing age such as changes in vision, hearing and reaction time. However, there are large individual differences in the onset and degree of functional impairments, so age alone does not provide sufficient information to judge driving ability. Still, functional impairments can interfere with driving and may become particularly evident in stressful or challenging driving situations such as merging or changing lanes.

Several studies have shown that higher levels of physical, cognitive or visual impairment among older drivers are associated with increased risk of crash involvement. Statistically, fatal crash rates begin to increase at age 75. Per mile traveled, crash rates and fatal crash rates start increasing at about age 70.

A study of older drivers’ elevated fatal crash rates per mile traveled between 1993 and 1997 revealed that the main factor was not seniors’ over-involvement in crashes but their fragility, defined as the risk of death in a crash. Fragility increased starting around ages 60-64 and continued to rise with age.

Compared with younger drivers, senior drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of collisions — angle crashes, overtaking or merging crashes, and especially intersection crashes. Studies of senior-involved crashes have found that failure to yield the right-of-way is the most common error among seniors.

Many older drivers also take medications with side effects which can impair driving ability of both young and old. As a person ages, their muscle mass and liver and kidney functions decline, so that person’s ability to metabolize (break down, use, and eliminate) medicines declines as well, leaving a higher concentration of medications in the body which may affect response time and driving ability.

Simple Restrictions can Prolong Driving Independence

Rather than prematurely taking away the privilege of driving from a person who may still have the ability to safely drive for several more years, individually assigned restrictions may be the answer to prolonging an aging person’s independence for as long as possible. Restrictions similar to those assigned to teenage drivers may include no driving on high-speed roads, driving outside a certain area, or driving at night. These restrictions would increase safety for those with visual impairments, prescription medication dependence, and impaired physical mobility.

Study Finds that Warning Patients of Risk Greatly Reduces Collisions

A large study from Canada in 2011 found another key component in reducing serious crash injuries among older drivers: simply having the doctors warn patients, and tell driving authorities that the older patient may be medically unfit to be on the road. Where this has occurred, there’s a drop in serious crash injuries among those drivers. The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, couldn’t tell if the improvement was because those patients drove less, or drove more carefully once the doctors pointed out the risk.

While the study included adult drivers of all ages — for conditions ranging from epilepsy to sleep disorders, alcoholism to dementia — most were over age 60. This study highlighted one reason physicians don’t like to get involved: About 1 in 5 of the patients who were warned changed doctors. There also was an uptick in reports of depression.

Doctors aren’t necessarily trained to evaluate driving ability, and the study couldn’t tell if some drivers were targeted needlessly, noted Dr. Matthew Rizzo, of the University of Iowa. Yet he considered the research valuable. ‘‘The message from this paper is that doctors have some wisdom in knowing when to restrict drivers,’’ Rizzo said. His own research shows some cognitive tests might help them better identify who’s at risk, such as by measuring ‘‘useful field of view,’’ essentially how much your brain gleans at a glance — important for safety in intersections.

Other families turn to driver rehabilitation specialists, occupational therapists who can spend up to four hours evaluating an older driver’s vision, memory, cognition and other abilities before giving him a behind-the-wheel driving test. Some doctors and state licensing authorities order those evaluations, but programs can be hard to find, often have waiting lists and cost several hundred dollars that insurance may not cover.

Having a professional involved can keep family relationships intact, said Pam Bartle, a driver rehab specialist at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill.

Still, “you could have the sweetest, nicest little old lady and she’ll turn on you on a dime if you tell her she can’t drive,” Bartle said. “It’s a desperate thing for people. They can’t imagine how they’ll manage without driving.”

Driving Safety Tips provided by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC:  http://www.robinettelaw.com — Morgantown, WV Car Accident Injury Lawyers

Source: The Dominion Post, “Families Key, but Docs have a Big Role in Driving Decisions,” AP: Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report,Washington, September 27, 2012.

Driver Plummets Off Bridge While Texting and Lives to Warn Others

“I need to quit texting, because I could die in a car accident.”

That was one of the final texts written by a 21-year-old  before his truck plummeted off a Texas bridge and into a ravine. The young man miraculously survived despite suffering brain injuries and breaking nearly every bone in his body, including his cheekbones, neck and skull. He also had to be brought back to life three times, reports WBTV.

This past Wednesday the young man left the hospital after a six-month stay that included numerous reconstructive surgeries and intensive rehabilitation (he even had to learn how to speak again). Though the incident took place January 24, only now is he able to discuss the crash.

“Don’t do it. It’s not worth losing your life,” the man said of texting behind the wheel. “I went to my grandmother’s funeral not long ago, and I kept thinking, it kept jumping into my head, I’m surprised that’s not me up in that casket. I came very close to that, to being gone forever.”

As smartphones increasingly play a role in our lives, so too does distracted driving. A doctor from the young man’s rehabilitation program told the Daily News that the he is treating an increased number of patients injured because of texting on the road. “And unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to see a decrease in that anytime soon.”

But driving under the influence of your phone isn’t the only issue; pedestrians are also in danger. Recent security camera footage revealed a shocking incident in which a Philadelphia man fell onto train tracks as he distractedly walked and talked on his cellphone. (Luckily there were no trains were headed his way, and the man escaped to safety.)

“If I had a kid 16 years old starting to drive, they could have a phone but the texting feature wouldn’t be on it,” the young man’s father suggests.

This young man believes one of his reasons for still being alive is to spread the message he learned all too well. “I still have things to do in this world,” he said. “I should tell everyone not to text message and drive.”

Morgantown WV Car Accident Lawyers

If you would like more information about texting while driving or need help in navigating the insurance claims process after having been injured by someone else’s negligence or carelessness in WV, please click here.  Jeff Robinette at the Robinette Legal Group in Morgantown answers questions like yours everyday and would be happy to answer yours.  Call 304-594-1800 or 304-216-6695 today.

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Attorney Accuses Todd May of Causing the Accident that Ended His Life

For all updates on the Jerod Green trial, click this link.

Jerod Green image12/10/2012 update:  Jerod Green’s trial began today.  Opening arguments for both sides were heard.

A Pennsylvania judge refused Jerod Green’s request to suppress evidence in Green’s murder trial. The request was based on Green’s allegations that Monongalia County Sheriff ’s Department Sgt. Todd May caused the crash that took May’s life.  Green’s attorney, John Bongivengo, alleged that May intentionally rammed Green’s truck, which he said constituted unjustified deadly force. As such, Bongivengo said that all evidence obtained after the crash should be thrown out.

The allegation, however, contradicts a Monongalia County sheriff deputy’s testimony that he saw Green drive directly into May’s patrol vehicle, which was parked in the median of Interstate 79, just inside the Pennsylvania border according to the Dominion Post.  Greene County Judge William Nalitz dismissed Bongivengo’s argument in an order this week. He also made several other rulings in the case — denying a defense-made motion to dismiss homicide-related charges because of a lack of evidence, and agreeing to allow the commonwealth to present evidence regarding Green’s five DUI convictions from Oklahoma.

Green, 35, of Morgantown, is awaiting trial on charges of murder of a law enforcement officer, homicide by vehicle while DUI, and criminal homicide, among others, for the Feb. 18 crash that killed May, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff ’s department.  Police in Pennsylvania and West Virginia accused Green of driving drunk, fleeing a crash on Easton Hill, driving away from officers who pulled him over on W.Va. 100, and leading police on a chase across the state line that ended when he hit May’s patrol vehicle.

In the order, Nalitz refused Bongivengo’s motion for dismissal based on his claims that the commonwealth failed to present enough evidence to show that Green intentionally and recklessly caused the crash that killed May.  The judge also refused Bongivengo’s request to throw out a charge of murder of a law enforcement officer based on Bongivengo’s claim that, since May was in Pennsylvania when the crash occurred, he was not acting as an officer.  In other issues, Nalitz said he wants more information from Bongivengo on his motion to suppress evidence because of alleged defects in search warrants obtained by Pennsylvania State Police. He said he won’t address the part of the motion pertaining to warrants obtained in West Virginia, because that is out of his jurisdiction.

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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