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hit and runAs an Alameda personal injury lawyer, I receive a lot of calls from people have been injured by hit and run drivers.  The injured include pedestrians, bicyclists, and car drivers.  Recently, I researched the California Highway Patrol records pertaining to hit and run accidents.  The findings were shocking.

Between 2011 and 2013, the last three years for which the CHP has records, there were 2,049 hit and run accidents.  In 2013, over 10% of the accidents involving either death or injury, involved hit and run drivers.  In that same year, Alameda County had the second worst record out of fifty-eight California counties for hit and run accidents.

What many people do not know, is that if they are injured by a hit and run driver, their own automobile coverage may protect them.  This is true even if they are a pedestrian or a bike rider at the time of the accident.  By law, every automobile insurance policy in California must include uninsured motorist coverage, unless the insured in writing agrees to forego this coverage (Never waive your right to uninsured motorist coverage—the small cost savings isn’t worth the risk).

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Tampa Bay Ray’s Evan Langoria’s quick reflexes prevented what could have been a serious injury to a reporter during an on- field interview over the weekend. The interview was alongside the first baseline while it looks like batting practice was going on.   The batter shanked the ball to the right toward the interview. As the video shows, Langoria seemed to sense the ball’s approach and snatched it out of the air barehanded!  Very impressive!!

As an Alameda personal injury attorney, my first thought was ” Why were they interviewing on the field with their backs to the batter ?”  “Why was there no one protecting them from behind from foul balls?”  If you watch the bullpen during a game, you always see, someone with a glove standing behind the pitcher and catcher who are warming up to catch any balls that come their way.

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StopSignCyclistLast October, the City of San Francisco was considering a law, known as the Bike Yield Law, which would allow bicyclists to roll through stop signs under certain circumstances.  When I first heard about the proposed law, my gut reaction as an Alameda personal injury lawyer was that it sounded ridiculous.  However, after discussing it with a cyclist friend of mind, I began to rethink the matter.

I checked whether San Francisco adopted the law or not. It turns out that the Supervisors passed the law, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed it in January, 2016.  He said that the “ordinance does not promote balanced public safety for all the diverse users of our streets, it trades safety for convenience.” So the law remains the same in San Francisco.  If you are on a bike, the law requires you to come to a complete stop at a stop sign before proceeding forward.

The proposed law would have permitted the “Idaho Stop”, so named since Idaho has had this law since 1982.  The Idaho stop permits bicyclists to approach a stop sign, check for approaching traffic, and pedestrians, and then roll through the intersection without coming to a complete stop. Essentially, stop signs would be treated as yield signs for bikers. Cyclists would still be required to fully stop for red lights.

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sidwalk lightsI reviewed an article recently about a City in Germany which has embedded traffic lights into the pavement at crosswalks.  The City of Augsburg, is a college town of about 270,000 residents. The decision to install the lights was made after a 15 year old girl was struck and killed by a train while she was looking at her cell phone.  Now pedestrians in that city will see a strip of flashing red lights in the sidewalk to warn them that they approaching an intersection.  As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, this made me think about what we can do to make our streets and sidewalks safer.

According to an Ohio State University study, pedestrians are being distracted while walking and using their cell phones, or texting, resulting in an increased number of pedestrian accidents.  The study showed that distracted walking accidents have steadily increased since 2005.

In Alameda, we are one of the worst ranked cities in the State of California when it comes to pedestrian safety.  Statistics gathered by the California Office of Traffic Safety show that Alameda is ranked eighth worse out of 103 counties when it comes to pedestrian accidents.  According to Alameda’s police Chief Paul Rolleri, Alameda definitely has a pedestrian safety problem.

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UnknownThe California legislature is working on a bill that has helped lower the rate of drunk driving in twenty-eight other states. The bill would require any convicted drunken driver to install an ignition interlock device which would prevent the driver from starting his car if his blood alcohol level exceeded .03.  Essentially a breathalyzer is installed in the car, which the driver would have to blow into before starting the engine.  If alcohol is detected, an interlock device will prevent the car from starting.

As an Alameda personal injury, I have represented numerous persons who have been seriously injured as a result of being hit by a drunk driver.  The need for such a law to reduce these type accidents is readily apparent.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 27 people die every day as a result of drunk driving.  In 2014, 9,967 person were killed in drunk driving accidents. 290,000 people were injured in alcohol related accidents. During the past 30 years in California alone, over 50,000 people have died because of drunk drivers, and over one million have been injured.  In addition to the emotional devastation caused by such behavior, the financial costs are staggering.  According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, drunk driving costs the United States $132 billion dollars per year.

The bill, SB 1046, has passed the State Senate and now goes to the Assembly.  Similar laws have cut the rate of drunken driving deaths in half in the twenty-seven states which have already passed similar laws.  Currently in California, the law is being tested in five counties, Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare.  According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, there have been more than 1 million attempts to start cars which have been rejected by the interlocks, since the pilot program was started in these counties.  That’s a lot of impaired drivers who have been kept off of the road.

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UnknownIn my blog post last year, I discussed the emergence of the driverless car and how its presence will increase as the technology improves, and costs go down.  In the meantime, crashes involving driverless cars will continue to make headlines. Recently, a Tesla driver was killed in a collision with a truck.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently investigating the crash.  As a personal injury attorney looking at these issues, there are serious lessons to be learned from this collision.

The accident happened at an intersection on a highway near Williston, Florida.  The Tesla driver was operating his car in “Autopilot” mode when the collision occurred. He was driving straight on the highway when a tractor trailer driver took a left turn in front of him.  The Tesla failed to stop and drove under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer striking the windshield of the Model S. instantly killing the driver.

As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, my first observation about this accident is that all of the public attention appears to be on the Tesla car and its driver.  In California, a driver making a left turn on a highway has the legal obligation to make sure it is safe before making his left turn (Vehicle code section 21801 (a)). In other words, the Tesla driver had the right of way.  But because the car was in Autopilot mode, the focus has been shifted away from the primary cause of the accident. The primary cause of this fatal  accident appears to be the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic.

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UnknownThis post is the second in a two part series investigating the impact of public criticism of judges on an independent judiciary. 

In this post we will look at the matter of California v Brock Turner, a criminal case in which a Stanford  student was criminally charged with felony sexual assault.  Mr. Turner was a student athlete at Stanford University. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, Aaron Persky, was the presiding judge in this matter. 

While a jury hears evidence and renders a decision whether to convict or acquit in a criminal matter,  it is the judge that will sentence a convicted criminal.  In the sentencing phase of the trial,  the judge will take many factors into consideration, i.e.; the criminal history of the defendant, character witness statements from people who have known the defendant and/or  the victim, the effect that the crime had on the victim etc.

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AEC9C6DF-E03C-4960-A402-DA0D46586E8CAs a bicyclist, I frequently ride around Alameda on our beautiful trails around the San Francisco Bay.  While riding on these paths, I often encounter pedestrians sharing the trail.  As a matter of safety,  I call out to pedestrians when approaching them from behind to warn that I am approaching.  I also slow up while passing so I can take proper evasive action if the pedestrian starts to move into my path of travel.  However, I often see bikers zoom by these pedestrians without warning.  I consider such conduct reckless.  Now California courts have recognized the bicyclist can be charged with driving a “vehicle” recklessly under California Vehicle Code section 23103.

Vehicle Code section 23103 states “(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (b) A person who drives a vehicle in an off street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

In the case of Velasquez v Superior Court (2014), 227 Cal.App.4th 1471, Mr. Velasquez had attended a Dodgers baseball game.  Apparently, he had a lot to drink at the game, as his blood alcohol level at the time of his accident was .218, two and a half times above the legal limit.  He left the stadium on his fixed gear bike, which has no conventional brakes. As he drove down a hill, he veered onto the wrong side of the road to avoid a car that pulled in front of him and drove into a pedestrian.  The pedestrian sustained broken facial bones, memory loss, and a loss of consciousness.  Mr. Velasquez was charged with reckless driving.  He tried to avoid the charges by claiming that he was not a “vehicle” within the meaning of the statute and therefore he could not be charged with such a crime.  The appellate court disagreed, holding that a bicyclist can be subject to the same criminal penalties as a motorist when they are operating their bikes in a reckless manner.

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Two judges have come under national scrutiny lately, United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, Aaron Persky. Judge Curiel is the judge in the Trump University Case. Judge Perksy presided over the Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner’s sexual assault trial and his sentencing. Both judges have come under heavy media attention and criticism.

An independent judiciary is central to our democracy. We cannot have judges whose decisions are based on whether they are popular or not. Accordingly, we must think long and hard before trying to intimidate judges with public opinion. In some instances, such criticisms may well be warranted. In other cases, they may pose unjustifiable threat to an independent judiciary.

In a two part series of posts I would like to examine both of these cases and compare the criticisms and see which category they each fall under.   

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This week it was revealed that Volkswagen failed to report at least one death and three injuries involving it’s vehicles to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA maintains a database of vehicle defects that lead to death or injury and automakers are required by law to report all claims. Legal complaints against an auto manufacturer must be filed with the NHTSA within 30 days of the end of the quarter in which the automaker was notified. The company must notify the NHTSA even if there’s been a settlement, or the company disputes the complaint or a ruling has been made in the automaker’s favor. This database was designed to track auto defects and support the product recall efforts which are so important for car owners.

As an Alameda personal injury attorney, I have seen the benefits of the safety reporting requirements and as a result automobile safety improvements first hand. When I was a kid, cars did not have seat belts or head rests let alone airbags and sensors. A rear end accident had catastrophic consequences; broken bones, paralysis and even death. There is still room for improvement however. Seat belts have been required by law since 1968. Research shows that the lap/shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent. Fortunately putting on a seat belt when getting in a vehicle is almost second nature now.
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