Evidence is an important component of personal injury cases. Clear evidence, like photographs of the accident, can greatly help a claim.
How Do Airbags Work? An airbag assembly consists of the airbag (made of nylon), inflator modules, a sensor housing, electrical connectors (also known as the “clock spring”), the airbag retainer, and the airbag cover. The driver’s side airbag will be mounted in the center of the steering wheel. The passenger airbag will generally be mounted in the top of the dashboard on the passenger side of the vehicle. The clock spring allows the steering wheel to move while maintaining the electrical connection to the inflator module. Crash sensors work with the control module to determine whether the sensed event is a crash and whether the airbag should be deployed. The sensors measure the severity of the vehicle’s impact. A sudden “negative acceleration” will cause the contacts to close, signaling the control module, which then checks for a signal from the rear sensor. The signal from the rear sensor must arrive at the module first for the airbag to deploy. In addition, two sensors must signal a crash before the airbag will deploy. There are two types of sensors: impact (or forward) sensors and safing (or rear) sensors. The forward sensors are located in various locations forward of the passenger compartment, including inside the fenders and on the cowl. The rear sensors, whose function is to determine that a crash has occurred, are located in various portions of the passenger compartment. In a head-on collision, airbags inflate, stopping your upper body from hitting the windshield, steering wheel, and dashboard. When your car hits a solid object, it activates a sensor. The sensor sends out an electric current. The current then triggers the release of non-toxic nitrogen gas that causes the airbag to inflate. An airbag will normally deploy at a certain threshold, which is generally twelve to fifteen miles per hour in a frontal collision. The vehicle’s sudden deceleration causes two sensors to send an electrical signal to the diagnostic module, which self-tests to confirm that a crash event is occurring. The module then allows the signal to trigger the airbag deployment. The airbag deployment lasts about 1⁄2 of one second. In the event that an airbag fails to deploy in an injury-producing crash, the incident should be reported to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation. There are several factors involved in the activation of an airbag, including the nature of the crash (e.g., speed, other vehicles involved, impact direction); the design of the airbag system, and the location of the crash sensor. A plaintiff who suffers injury resulting from a defective or malfunctioning airbag may maintain an action against the manufacturer, distributor or retailer of the automobile containing the airbag, as well as an action against the airbag manufacturer or distributor. All parties in the chain of distribution, with few exceptions, can be held liable for the defect. A plaintiff may sue based upon a manufacturing defect, a design defect, or failure to warn. Strict Products Liability in Florida In Florida, as in most other states, manufacturers of defective products will be held “strictly liable” for injuries caused by those products. There are three types of defect recognized under Florida law: design defects, manufacturing defects, and defects due to a lack of adequate warning or instructions. Design Defects In an action against a manufacturer or other entity in the distributive chain for malfunction or improper design of an airbag, the plaintiff must establish the following elements: • The product is in an unreasonably dangerous condition to the ultimate user or consumer. • The seller of the product is engaged in the business of selling such product. • The product is expected to and does reach the consumer without substantial change from the condition in which it was sold. • The defect proximately caused the plaintiff injury or damages Manufacturing Defect This exists when a product becomes unreasonably dangerous due to a flaw in how it was made. A manufacturing defect claim exists where the finished product deviates, in terms of construction or quality, from the product as specified or as designed in a manner that renders it unreasonably dangerous. The elements of a manufacturing defect claim are: • a manufacturing flaw that renders the product unreasonably dangerous • the defect existed at the time the product left the seller’s hands • the defect was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries Failure to Warn o assert a cause of action for failure to warn of the dangerous propensities of an airbag, a plaintiff must show that a manufacturer failed to provide a warning or instruction and that a manufacturer exercising reasonable care would have provided one concerning a risk, in the light of the likelihood that the product would cause harm of the type for which the claimant seeks damages and in light of the likely seriousness of that harm. To prevail on a failure to warn claim, the plaintiff must convince the fact finder that: • the warning provided is unreasonable and thus inadequate • the inadequate warning was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries Negligence The victim of a defective airbag might also assert claims for damages under the legal theory of negligence. These claims are slightly harder to prove in product liability cases than strict liability, but they require a plaintiff to show that: there was a duty of care owed to the plaintiff vis-a-vis the product; the manufacturer breached that duty of care in connection with producing or handling the product; the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injuries the plaintiff suffered, and the plaintiff suffered actual damages due to that breach. A plaintiff might assert such a claim if, for instance, a mechanic negligently damaged a replacement airbag when installing it in the plaintiff’s car, causing the airbag to fail to deploy in an accident.
Insurance Companies Monitor Your Social Media Accounts If you have experienced an accident and pursue a claim, I cannot guarantee I will win your case, but I CAN guarantee the insurance company has looked you up on Google and have seen all your social media accounts. Go ahead and Google yourself. See how your social media comes up first in the search? Well, this is a goldmine of information for the insurance company to destroy your claim. What Does Social Media Have To Do With My Accident Case? For some reason, people often post photos and descriptions of what happened in their accident. They write about how it happened, where it occurred, how badly they were hurt and occasionally that they will make the other party pay. Yes, all of this online information is available to the insurance company. And I assure you they will not view it through a real-world lens of compassion. They will pick out every single detail you post to show every bad fact for your case. They will observe you were able to get out of your car, get home, and had the mental acuity and energy to upload photos to the internet. You felt good enough to tweet about your accident...how badly injured could you be? No matter that you might be on strong pain killing narcotics that enable you to do this without feeling much or any pain. I promise you that what you post online will be found and used to defeat your claim no matter how misleading or out of context it might be. I make my clients sign an agreement that they will remove anything they have posted thus far and STOP posting things on social media completely during their case. Is this a violation of your privacy that the insurance companies do this? ABSOLUTELY- except that you have willingly shared the information with cyberspace and it will be there forever. And not only that, but if you don't have your privacy settings properly established, they can see your FRIENDS' and Family's photos. Imagine a photo posted of you water skiing a month after your accident. Even though the photo may have been taken the prior summer, there it is for the insurance company to see and misinterpret gleefully to destroy your case a month after the accident.
Summary After filing a lawsuit, the next step is beginning the discovery process. Discovery is the formal term for saying that the parties will exchange information and documents about the case. Generally, requests for admissions (“RFAs”) are used to save time, effort and resources on sub- issues of a legal case. Requests for admissions serve an important role in narrowing the issues to be resolved at trial. The requirements that pertain to requests for admissions are set out in Rule 1.370 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. In summary, a party may request that another party admit the truth of a statement of opinion or fact or the genuineness of a document. The party to whom the request is directed must then answer by admitting or denying the truth of the matter or by making an objection to the request. Failure to respond to the request within the time allowed by the rule is an admission. When a matter is admitted either by an answer or failure to answer within the allotted time, the effect of the admission is to conclusively establish the truth of the matter that is the subject of the request. A party may serve requests for admissions only on another party. As with interrogatories, the procedure does not apply to nonparty witnesses. Types of Requests for Admissions It is proper to seek an admission of a statement of opinion as well as a statement of fact, or a mixed question of fact and opinion. A request may address a matter that would be dispositive of an entire claim or defense. A request may also be served to obtain admissions regarding the genuineness of documents. The party serving the request must provide copies of the documents along with the request unless they have already been provided or unless they were previously available to the responding party for inspection and copying. However, the limitations on the right to conduct discovery apply to requests for admissions as they apply to other forms of discovery. A request for admission must be within the general scope of discovery which means the proposition to be admitted or denied must be relevant to the subject matter of the action. Furthermore, the matter to be admitted must not be privileged. Propounding Requests for Admissions The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the defendant may serve requests for admissions on the plaintiff at any time after commencement of the action. The plaintiff may also serve written requests for admissions on the defendant at any time after the defendant has been served with process and the initial pleading. A party may ask any other party to admit the truth of any matter stated in the written request within the scope of discovery, including statements or opinions of fact or the application of law to fact, or that documents described in the request are genuine. No more than 30 requests, including subparts, can be made without court permission or stipulation. Each request should be limited to one matter. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure limits the number of questions a party may ask in a request for admissions unless the court permits a greater number after a showing of good cause. This limit differs from the one placed on the number of interrogatories that may be propounded in that it enables the parties to agree to ask more questions than the rule allows. If matters are combined, it may be possible for the responding party to deny the request. Requests for admissions must be in writing and they must be served on the party who is to answer. Each matter that is the subject of a request for admission must be set forth separately in the requests. The usual method of meeting this requirement is to make separate requests in separately numbered paragraphs. Responding to Requests for Admissions The proposition that is the subject of each separate request must be admitted or denied with any qualification that is necessary to provide a complete answer. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provide that the answers must specifically deny the matter or set forth in detail the reasons why the answering party cannot admit or deny the matter. Thus, it is improper to submit a general denial. The denial must be specific, and it must directly address the proposition that is the subject of the request. In light of this provision, it would be improper to make a specific denial of a request for admission merely because the matter in question is technically untrue. Generally, the duty to answer is not excused by lack of knowledge. Rule 1.370(a) states that “[a]n answering party may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless that party states that that party has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by that party is insufficient to enable that party to admit or deny. A Request for Production is simply a request for documents in the possession, custody, or control of a party. Most of the time, the documents that a Defendant will request will include medical records, medical bills, health insurance payment information, copies of tax returns (if you are claiming lost wages), and copies of past medical treatment records.
Close Your Social Networking Accounts If you're involved in a legal dispute and you belong to a public social networking account, such as Facebook, Instagram, Myspace, YouTube, Twitter, etc., I strongly recommend that you close your accounts until your matter is completely over. Social networking has had a significant impact on how lawyers, investigators, and insurance adjusters are handling cases. It is now standard practice to run computer searches and investigations into social networking accounts to obtain information about the personal lives of those involved in legal disputes. The hope is to find information that can be used against you and often times, information or photographs are taken out of context to prove their point. This is the case even if you have a simple automobile accident claim and aren't being represented by a lawyer. For example, if you've had the unfortunate experience of suffering from a physical injury from a car accident and have reported your injuries to the insurance company, the insurance company will often times search your social media accounts for photos or comments following the accident to show that you have either exaggerated your injuries or to try to prove your claim altogether false. Otherwise, Set Your Accounts To PRIVATE With that said, you may decide not to close your accounts while your matter is pending. If so, I recommend that you immediately place all your accounts on the highest PRIVACY setting possible; that you do not accept any new "friends" on your accounts; that you do not publish (e.g. post, text, email, etc.) any photos, videos, or information about yourself while your matter is pending; and, do not allow others to tag you.
Why waiting is not a good idea. Many people believe they can wait up to two years after an accident before filing a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey. People are often surprised to learn that when bringing a claim for personal injuries against a public entity or employee of a public entity, or even an Amusement Park, that they must give proper notice of the claim within 90 days of their accident / injury or they may have forever waived their rights to bring a claim and receive compensation. Also, if suing the Port Authority, you need to (with very few exceptions) file a lawuit within one year of the accident! Late filing of a notice of claim is permissible if you can show *extraordinary circumstances * for failing to meet the 90 day deadline. What are *extraordinary circumstances*? In the matter of Johnson v. Housing Auth. of Newark & Newark, 2006 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 448 (App.Div. 2006) the plaintiff claimed that one afternoon he was walking to his cousin*s apartment in the Bradley Court Housing Complex in Newark when 4 masked men abducted him, dragged him into an apartment, held him at gunpoint and told to strip to his underwear. He was *hog-tied,* gagged, repeatedly punched and kicked by the four men who demanded money. He certified that he was hit with a gun over the eye, burned on the chest with a heated knife, and shot in the upper right arm. He managed to escape by jumping out a window and was then found by an employee of the complex. Police and hospital emergency personnel responded and plaintiff was transported by ambulance to the emergency room at University Hospital, where he remained for five days. His discharge summary gave diagnoses of *multiple stab wounds to the right shoulder, right back, right eyebrow and abdomen; right pneumothorax; and hypovolemic/traumatic shock.* In plaintiff*s late notices, he stated that the injuries he suffered from the attack were the proximate result of the failure of the public entities to provide adequate protection in the common areas of the Bradley Court complex where the risk of criminal activity was well-known and reasonably foreseeable. Plaintiff stated he was unaware of the ninety-day notice requirement and adds that it was reasonable for him to assume the public entities knew of the incident because a housing complex employee found him after the attack and the Newark police investigated the incident, which was reported in the press. The New Jersey Appellate Court ruled that *[n]othing in plaintiff*s certification indicates that he was physically or psychologically unable to call an attorney or go to an attorney*s office.* The Appellate Court therefore affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff*s claim. Evidence may be lost Aside from waiving your rights by not seeking representation early on, you may jeopardize your case by failing to have your lawyer perverse valuable evidence for you. If you wait two years to seek representation, you run the risk of losing witnesses that may be favorable to you due to them moving. Additionally, if a defect caused your injury, the potential defendant may repair the defect and thus preventing you from obtaining an accurate photograph to show what the actual defect looked like on the date of accident.
SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL HELP Make sure you and your passengers are okay and, if possible, check with the driver of the other car. Call 911 immediately even if no one is visibly hurt. Some injuries are not obvious and some may present symptoms days or weeks later. If you need to be taken to a hospital by ambulance, try to take a moment to notice the things around you, like the license plate of the other car, or how many people were in the vehicle, and if any witnesses are willing to help determine details. IF NO ONE IS HURT, TRY TO GET OUT OF TRAFFIC Many people are injured after accidents when they are struck by other vehicles that don't see the stopped cars in the road. LOOK AROUND FOR IMPORTANT DETAILS ABOUT THE ACCIDENT First note the license plate of the other driver in case they decide to flee the scene. Look for skid marks, broken glass, car parts, etc. These can be important evidence for police who are investigating. Photograph the accident scene if you can. EXCHANGE INFORMATION WITH ALL DRIVERS BUT DO NOT DISCUSS THE ACCIDENT WITH THEM Get the information you need from the driver who hit you and any other drivers involved in the accident. Ask for their name, address, phone numbers, insurance company, policy number and their agent. GET CONTACT INFORMATION FOR ANY PASSENGERS AND WITNESSES Ask them for their names, address, and phone numbers. Check with all bystanders because if someone did see the accident happen, their testimony can be extremely valuable if the parties disagree about what happened. TALK WITH THE POLICE OFFICER Tell him or her everything you know about the auto accident. However, don't indicate you are at fault, even if you believe you are. After an investigation, you may find that you were not responsible for the accident after all. TAKE PHOTOS OF THE SCENE WITH A CAMERA OR CELL PHONE Photograph everything you can: the scene, damage to all vehicles, the road or intersection, relevant road signs, road conditions, the people in the other vehicles, and other things that could have influenced the accident. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE ACCIDENT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE You may think you will remember all details of the crash but these cases can take weeks or even months to resolve. The details may become difficult to recall. GET A COPY OF THE ACCIDENT REPORT Get a copy of the accident report. If the police or sheriff's department arrived at the scene, a report of the accident will be made available. Check for any errors or omissions of facts. If you hire an attorney, he or she will be able to obtain this for you or you can request it yourself from the sheriff or police department that made the report at the scene. TALK TO A QUALIFIED AUTO ACCIDENT LAWYER IN YOUR AREA A free consultation could help direct you as to the best course of action for your situation.
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