California Teenager Struck and Killed by Train

A 16-year-old boy was recently struck and killed by a train as he tried to cross railroad tracks in Merced, California (16-year-old boy hit and killed by train in Merced, police say). Merced Police said teenager Devonea Graham was crossing the tracks with his two younger siblings when he was killed.

Rosalinda Vega’s 13-year-old son was killed in an extremely similar situation in 2019. “Anyone who has not lost a child could never possibly understand the pain and the change that that takes on life,” Vega said.

Both Graham and Vega’s son were on their way home from school when they were struck by the trains. The stretch of train tracks run near two schools, but the tracks are not blocked off in any way and is easily accessible to children.

Individuals killed while crossing train tracks are certainly not limited to children Just three weeks prior to Graham’s death, a 50-year-old woman was also struck and killed by a train in Merced.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), pedestrian railroad incidents are a leading cause of death on United States railways. On average, three pedestrians are killed or injured on American railroad tracks every day, and more than 10,000 pedestrians have been killed by trains in the U.S. since 1997. There are approximately 500 train track fatalities across the country each year.

The railroad industry is more than happy to make money by traveling through local communities, but the industry is not willing to spend any of that money to ensure that these communities are safe. If the railroads refuse to make the areas of their track that they know are routinely accessed by pedestrians safer, then they should be held accountable for any tragedies that result.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a railroad crossing accident, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

 

Railroad Crossing Collision Creates Huge Fireball

A recent collision at a railroad crossing between a train and a tractor-trailer in Cameron, Texas, sent a huge fireball and giant cloud of thick black smoke into the sky (Massive fireball after train, 18-wheeler collision burns down barn, leaves several families’ homes heat-damaged).  

The incident could have caused far greater damage had the fire reached any of the train cars transporting hazardous material. “There were some hazardous materials a little farther back, so by the grace of God we were saved on that one,” said Milam County Sheriff Chris White.

Ten of the BNSF Railway cars were hauling coke coal, plastic pellets, gasoline, and fiberglass. Despite the strong possibility of contamination, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did not detect any volatile or organic compounds in the air or nearby bodies of water.

Approximately 13 of the 110 railway cars derailed, five of which contained gasoline that exploded and caught fire. “It sounded like a tanker, like a pressure cooker, like ‘psh ka-boom!’” said Mark Tyhusrt, who lives near the train tracks. “Big giant flames at least 100 feet in the air.”

Data collected in a federal railroad crossing report indicates that there have been four collisions at the crossing since 1984, the last two both in 2016. A train crashed into a tractor-trailer that had stalled on the tracks on May 18, 2016, and less than two months later on July 2, 2016, a train struck a pickup truck. 

The explosion caused a nearby house to burn down, but fortunately no one was injured. Still, it is only a matter of time before there is another collision occurs at the crossing. Despite multiple incidents, the railroad has refused to take additional steps to make sure the crossing is safe, particularly for trains carrying hazardous materials. As is usually the case, the railroad has refused to act despite multiple tragedies at the crossing.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a railroad crossing collision, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

 

Johnson & Johnson Settles Talc Case for $2 Million

According to a recent Bloomberg article, Johnson & Johnson recently reached a settlement of $2 million midway through a trial to determine the validity of a woman’s claim that asbestos in baby powder talc caused her cancer (J&J Said to Pay More Than $2 Million in Rare Talc Accord). The deal was a departure from the pharmaceutical giant’s established strategy of fighting the many thousands of other talc cases. 

The California State Court jury had already heard over two weeks of testimony when they were informed of the settlement. Although it is certainly uncommon for Johnson & Johnson to settle a talc case in the middle of a trial, it has resolved a number of cases before trial or after trial proceedings had begun. 

“In litigation of every nature there are one-off situations where settlement is a reasonable alternative,” Johnson & Johnson spokesperson Kim Montagnino said in a statement. “The decision to resolve any particular case in no way changes our overall position that our talc is safe, is asbestos free and does not cause cancer.”

The plaintiff, a 61-year-old woman who had used baby powder for decades, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018 and likely has less than two years to live. Mesothelioma has been linked to long-term exposure to asbestos by a number of scientific studies.

Johnson & Johnson is battling over 17,000 claims that it sold its baby powder for years while hiding from the public that it was made with asbestos-tainted talc. In January, the state of New Mexico sued the drugmaker for misleading the state’s consumers regarding the safety of its baby powder products.

Although the details of the terms of the settlement in this case were not made public, it is important to note that it may reflect a change in Johnson & Johnson’s strategy for disposing of talc claims moving forward. So far the company has been fighting these cases at trial one by one, but it will be important to file your case as soon as possible before the establishment of an organized settlement program that may limit your recovery.

If you have mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, or another form of cancer and have been exposed to products containing talc, please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

Baltimore Utility Fined over $400K

Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) was recently fined over $400,000 as a result of a huge 2019 gas explosion that destroyed a shopping center (BGE is fined $400,000+ in explosion that blew apart Columbia shopping center). The Maryland Public Service Commission found that the explosion “was the result of both a violation of gas and electric regulations.” 

According to the Commission’s report, BGE was in violation of a number of state and federal statutes and regulations, including failure to comply with “the minimum separation of the underground lines specified for joint trench installations in its internal standards.” The utility company was also ordered to determine whether an additional 1,250 sites need to be remediated.

Despite this, BGE is continuing its pattern of denying responsibility for gas explosions. Mere days after being fined, BGE placed the blame for a fatal 2020 gas explosion in northwest Baltimore solely on its customer (Source of fatal 2020 gas explosion traced to stove). 

The day before the explosion, a licensed contractor made some repairs to the HVAC system in the home, which apparently led to a spike in gas levels. When the stove was eventually turned on, the gas ignited, killing two people and injuring seven others.

BGE released a statement absolving itself of all responsibility while placing the blame entirely on the victims. “Equipment beyond the meter – including natural gas appliances – is the responsibility of the customer,” the statement read. “This incident is a very tragic reminder of the importance of natural gas safety. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones and others affected by this incident.”

BGE expects their non-expert customers to ensure their own safety while it pumps lethal gas into their homes for enormous profits. To no one’s surprise, a billion-dollar corporation is once again refusing to take responsibility for the tragic consequences of its own negligence by blaming the victims. We must hold these companies accountable for the damage they cause to everyday Americans in their endless pursuit of profits.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a natural gas explosion, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

 

Talc-Related Lawsuits Are Ongoing

Johnson & Johnson currently faces thousands of lawsuits filed on behalf of women who claim that the company’s iconic Baby Powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Many of these women used Baby Powder for years, unaware that the talc in Baby Powder could be contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral fiber linked to several different types of cancer, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Because talc and asbestos are often found near one another in the earth, talc can easily become contaminated with asbestos while being mined. While talc itself is not believed to cause adverse health effects, asbestos is a known carcinogen. There is extensive research showing that exposure to asbestos in talc products may increase consumers’ risk of cancer. The majority of the 16,000-plus talcum powder lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson include ovarian cancer claims and the fate of the lawsuits in the federal MDL hinged on Judge Wolfson’s decision in the Daubert hearings.

A Missouri appeals court has reduced a $4.7 billion talcum powder verdict to $2.1 billion but refused to toss punitive damages altogether, concluding that the evidence at trial showed Johnson & Johnson’s conduct was “outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference.”

On June 23rd, The Eastern District Court of Appeals, in an 83-page decision, agreed with the underlying St. Louis verdict and noted that significant monetary damages were needed. “Because Defendants are large, multi-billion-dollar corporations, we believe a large amount of punitive damages is necessary to have a deterrent effect in this case,” the court wrote.

According to the court, “The harm suffered by Plaintiffs was physical, not just economic. Plaintiffs each developed and suffered from ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs underwent chemotherapy, hysterectomies, and countless other surgeries.

According to a 2018 article from Reuters, Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc and talcum powder tested positive for trace amounts of asbestos on several occasions between 1971 and 2003. The article cites numerous internal company memos, reports, and documents disclosed during talc lawsuits that suggest that the company knew of the danger.

In addition to being linked with ovarian cancer, there is ongoing litigation that claims industrial or cosmetic talc contaminated by asbestos led to mesothelioma. As of April 2018, juries had awarded more than $150 million in talcum powder mesothelioma claims.

Talc related lawsuits are ongoing. If you have developed a form of cancer due to use or exposure of talcum powder, please submit a form to get in touch with a legal representative.

People who filed these cases claim inhalation of talcum powder led them to develop mesothelioma and lung disease. Asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma, but some lawsuits argue that with or without asbestos, talc can also lead to the disease. Plaintiffs cite studies that prove the association between talc and mesothelioma, mainly one by Hull published in 2002, according to Claims & Litigation Management Alliance. The study found that talc miners and millers in upstate New York developed mesothelioma from talc even without asbestos contamination.

By the early 1970s, asbestos was widely recognized as the primary cause of mesothelioma among workers involved in producing it and in industries that used it in their products. In 1972, President Richard Nixon’s OSHA issued its first rule, setting limits on workplace exposure to asbestos dust.

A recent ruling from a federal judge in New Jersey has cleared the way for thousands of talcum powder cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson to proceed. The ruling, handed down by U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, allows testimony from plaintiffs’ medical and scientific experts, including specialists in occupational and environmental health, cancer prevention research and gynecologic oncology. Johnson & Johnson had hoped to exclude the expert testimony from the talcum powder trials by raising a Daubert motion and challenging the validity of the testimony. Had Wolfson sided with Johnson & Johnson and ruled out the plaintiffs’ expert testimony, the decision would have eliminated more than 16,000 lawsuits currently pending in the talcum powder multidistrict litigation (MDL). By permitting the expert witnesses to testify, Judge Wolfson has cleared the way for the talcum powder cases to proceed to trial.

If you have mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, or another form of cancer and have been exposed to products containing talc, please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

Judge Questions Roundup Settlement

According to a recent article in the St. Louis Business Journal, Bayer’s $10.9 billion Roundup settlement may be in question after a judge expressed concerns over possible “shenanigans” by the German pharmaceutical giant (Judge casts doubt on Bayer’s $10.9B Roundup settlement, fears ‘manipulation’). Roundup is manufactured by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., which was acquired by Bayer for $63 billion in 2018.

“My concern is that if I leave the stay in place, am I complicit in whatever shenanigans are taking place on the Bayer side?” said Vince Chhabria, United States District Judge for the Northern District of California. Judge Chhabria is reportedly worried that Bayer has “manipulated” the settlement process since reaching a tentative agreement to settle 125,000 cases.

The judge plans to determine over the next few months whether litigation should be delayed to permit more settlement talks or more trials should be allowed to proceed. “We’ve got a bunch of cases we could send out to other jurisdictions,” Judge Chhabria said.

Bayer issued a statement defending its settlement progress. “A mass tort settlement of this size and complexity can take significant time before it is fully executed, and we are still early in this process,” the statement said. “There are often some bumps in the road in implementing a resolution of this magnitude, but we remain confident that a comprehensive settlement will be finalized and executed.”

Judge Chhabria indicated he will likely release plaintiffs’ attorneys’ confidential letters arguing that Bayer is reneging on its agreement to pay as much as $10.9 billion to settle 75% of the pending Roundup cases. If Bayer is “going back on its deal and the deal it announced in June, that seems to me something that should not be kept confidential,” Judge Chhabria said.

With the settlement potentially in jeopardy, it may become more difficult for those who have not yet filed suit to receive compensation for their claims. Time is running out for you to seek the advice of an attorney if you believe you may have been exposed to Roundup.

Please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

 

Bayer Agrees to Pay $10B to Roundup Victims

German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer recently agreed to pay over $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims that its weed killer Roundup caused cancer (Roundup Maker to Pay $10 Billion to Settle Cancer Suits).

The deal is one of the largest legal settlements in United States history, involving agreements with 25 different law firms for widely varying amounts.It’s rare that we see a consensual settlement with that many zeros on it,” said Stanford University Law School professor Nora Freeman Engstrom.

The settlement covers nearly 100,000 cases and allocates $1.25 billion for possible claims in the future involving plaintiffs who have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from using Roundup. Bayer is gambling that the settlement will largely resolve the legal issues created by its purchase of Roundup manufacturer Monsanto, despite an additional 30,000 claims that are not subject to the terms of the agreement.

Because Bayer had lost the first three Roundup cases that went to trial, including a jury award of $2 billion, plaintiffs’ lawyers had demanded upwards of $30 billion to settle the litigation. But the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed many courts across the country, presumably caused the plaintiffs to agree to a lesser amount. “The pandemic worked to the advantage of settlement because the threat of a scheduled trial was unavailable,” Court-appointed mediator Kenneth R. Feinberg said.

Feinberg added that most current claimants will likely eventually agree to the settlement.In my experience, all those cases that have not yet been settled will quickly be resolved by settlement,” Feinberg said. “I will be surprised if there are any future trials.”

This settlement will make it much more difficult for Roundup victims who have not yet filed suit to receive compensation for their claims. Despite the fact that much of society has only partially reopened as a result of the pandemic, time is running out for you to seek the advice of an attorney if you believe you may have suffered from exposure to Roundup.

Please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

USDOT to Provide Face Coverings for American Transportation Passengers

The United States government recently announced a plan to send almost 100 million cloth facial coverings for passenger use to the aviation, transit, and passenger rail transportation sectors (Federal Government to Distribute Nearly 100 Million Cloth Facial Coverings for Transportation Passengers). Approximately 86.8 million face coverings will be disbursed to airports, while 9.6 million will be allocated to 458 transit agencies and Amtrak

This Administration is committed to protecting our people and reopening the economy,” said United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. “Distributing these facial coverings will help boost public confidence as we begin to resume our normal lives.”

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), in combination with the United States Department of Homeland Security and United States Department of Health and Human Services, has been working with states, industries, and stakeholders to make certain that American travelers have access to cloth facial coverings. Obtained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), these face coverings will be distributed to airports, transit agencies, and Amtrak via the United States Postal Service. 

This new apportionment of nearly 100 million face coverings for passenger use is in addition to more than 15 million cloth facial coverings that had been previously announced for critical transportation infrastructure workers

As determined by established guidelines formulated by airlines, airports, transit agencies, and passenger rail authorities, passengers will still be responsible for providing their own face coverings. The additional face coverings announced by USDOT are intended to supplement those already in use and availability for all passengers is not guaranteed.

In response to the public health emergency created by COVID-19, USDOT has emphasized maintaining safe and operational transportation systems in order to allow the American economy to recover. A comprehensive list of responsive measures, including stakeholder outreach and guidance, expanded federal financial assistance, and regulatory relief, is available at transportation.gov/coronavirus.

Hopefully, USDOT’s efforts will help make American travel safer during the coronavirus pandemic, because we learned long ago that we can’t depend on the transportation industry to prioritize safety over profits. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Issues Final Report on NY Railroad Death

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently issued its final report regarding the 2017 death of a railroad roadway worker who was struck and killed by a train in Queens Village, New York (Improperly Used Train Approach Warning Led to New York Railroad Worker’s Death).

The accident happened when a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train encountered a crew of roadway workers, accompanied by a watchman, in the Queens Interlocking. Upon observing the train’s approach, the watchman sounded a handheld horn, shouted to the other workers, and raised a paddle to signal the LIRR’s engineer to activate the train’s horn. Despite these warnings, a worker stepped into the path of the oncoming train, which was traveling 78 mph, and was killed.

In its report, the NTSB found the train approach warning method especially dangerous for the crew in this situation for the following reasons:

  • multiple tracks at the interlocking
  • trains operating at high speeds in both directions
  • limited areas to clear trains
  • increased train traffic due to the Belmont Stakes

The NTSB concluded that the watchman should have provided timely warning of approaching trains so that all workers could completely clear the tracks before the train’s arrival.

Using the train approach warning method, LIRR management did not properly assess the hazards the roadway workers were exposed to while conducting their tasks,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said. “If adopted, the recommendations highlighted in this report can help to mitigate the risks associated with this work and provide better protection to workers across all railroads.”

Overtime work schedules without proper mitigation of workers’ risk of fatigue also contributed to the accident. The deceased and the watchman had both worked consecutive overtime shifts during the 48-hour period prior to the accident.

The NTSB issued five safety recommendations:

  • roadway worker protection
  • roadway worker on-track safety briefings
  • management oversight
  • FRA oversight
  • worker fatigue

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families. Their final report can be found at https://go.usa.gov/xvMcv.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Bayer Nearing Roundup Settlement

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Bayer AG has tentatively reached agreement on settlement terms with six law firms who represent tens of thousands of plaintiffs allegedly damaged by the use of Roundup weed killer (Bayer Advances Toward Resolving Roundup Litigation). According to sources familiar with the matter, the litigation is moving closer to a final resolution.

The six large law firms are negotiating with Bayer on behalf of numerous other firms that represent a significant portion of the plaintiffs who have brought suit against the pharmaceutical giant. Bayer is looking for a way to continue selling Roundup to consumers, while also putting an end to litigation that has had a tremendous negative effect on the price of its stock.

Bayer and the various plaintiffs attorneys have been exchanging views on a settlement in the range of $10 billion over the last few months. According to one person familiar with the situation, the deal will likely still be in the neighborhood of that number

However, multiple sources warned that the deal could still fall apart before a formal agreement is signed. Parties on both sides have not officially committed to anything, and Bayer has maintained that protection from future litigation will be an absolute requirement for any settlement.

Bayer would ideally like to reach a settlement prior to its annual meeting at the end of April. Even a huge settlement figure might be preferable to nervous investors who are most frightened of the unknown.

Court-appointed mediator Kenneth Feinberg said he is cautiously optimistic that a settlement can be reached but it is premature to suggest that any deal has been finalized. A Bayer spokesman said, “Mediation discussions continue in good faith under a court order requiring confidentiality, and the company cannot comment on speculation about outcomes, timing or progress.”

Bayer is currently facing tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging a link between Roundup and cancer. If a settlement is reached, it will be vastly more difficult for those who have not yet filed suit to receive compensation for their claims. Time is running out for you to seek the advice of an attorney if you believe you may have been exposed to Roundup.

Please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

St. Louis Roundup Trial Postponed

Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan recently announced the indefinite postponement of the ongoing Roundup cancer trial in St. Louis (St. Louis Roundup cancer trial postponed again, sparking speculation of a global settlement). The trial had been set to resume February 5, 2020, after a previous delay to allow settlement talks between plaintiffs and Monsanto’s owner Bayer AG.

A Roundup trial slated to get underway in San Francisco on February 24 is also likely to be suspended. The postponement news has fueled speculation that Bayer may be close to reaching a global settlement of the tens of thousands of similar Roundup cases being pursued around the world.

Bayer acquired Roundup and the legal claims against it when it purchased St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. in 2018 for $63 billion. Bayer has reportedly set aside $8 billion to resolve current cases and $2 billion for future claims.

A recent Reuters article reported that Bayer is considering a settlement proposal that would prevent plaintiffs’ lawyers from advertising for new Roundup clients in order to potentially limit future legal exposure. According to Rutgers Law School professor David Noll, a prohibition against advertising could lead to “dramatically fewer claims” and eliminate a “big drag on Bayer’s balance sheet.” 

To further muddy the waters, in an Interim Registration Review Decision dated January 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reapproved glyphosate, the main active chemical ingredient in Roundup. The EPA found there was insufficient evidence to conclude that glyphosate plays a role in any human diseases,” the agency said.

It is unclear what effect the EPA’s decision will have on Bayer’s willingness to settle its claims, but it has never been more important for you to seek the advice of an attorney if you believe you may have been exposed to Roundup. Please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you believe you have developed cancer after exposure to Roundup, learn more here.

Mediator Says Roundup Settlement Near

A recent article in Bloomberg News suggested that Bayer may be close to settling over 75,000 cancer claims resulting from its sales of Roundup weed-killer after the number of claims nearly doubled since September 2019 (Bayer Roundup Deal Is Close as Claims Surge, Mediator Says). Court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg said that he is “cautiously optimistic” a comprehensive deal will be reached within the next month.

In its third quarter report, Bayer disclosed that it had received 42,700 Roundup claims. Feinberg added that the caseload has increased to between 75,000 and 85,000 and “maybe more, but declined to elaborate on the terms of a possible settlement.

Bayer postponed a number of Roundup trials in favor of mediation after losing three California trials totaling $191 million in damages. Bayer is appealing the verdicts.

Two new trials, one in California, and one in Missouri, have recently gotten underway, but

Feinberg said there should be no adverse effect on the likelihood of a settlement. “I don’t believe it’s going to have any lasting impact on the ongoing effort by myself to reach a comprehensive settlement of all these cases nationwide,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg was asked if he thought a settlement would be reached before the conclusion of the ongoing trials, which are expected to last several months. “I don’t think it’ll take that long,” Feinberg said. “The effort continues, it is a full-time preoccupation. We shall see, I’ve been wrong before.”

A settlement of the existing Roundup claims may be an indication that Bayer is looking to resolve these cases in the early stages in order to limit its potential future litigation exposure. “If a comprehensive settlement is indeed achieved in the near term it would be a stunning achievement by the company and the mediator,” said Anna Pavlik, senior counsel for special situations at United First Partners LLC in New York, “Without knowing the per-plaintiff payouts of any such settlement it is hard to judge why the plaintiffs’ lawyers would agree so early in the game to settle, given significant victories under their belt.”

Bayer stock prices have been rising as a result of the settlement rumors, providing an explanation for Bayer’s willingness to offer billions of dollars in compensation to Roundup’s victims. If you have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or another form of cancer and have been exposed to Roundup, it is crucial that you act now before Bayer decides it is more profitable to deny these claims in the future.

Please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

FRA Creates Webpage to Report Blocked RR Crossings

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), recently announced the creation of a dedicated webpage for the reporting of blocked highway-rail grade crossings by the public and law enforcement (Federal Railroad Administration Launches Web Portal For Public to Report Blocked Railroad Crossings).

A blocked railroad crossing happens when a train stopped on the tracks substantially obstructs the flow of motor vehicle or pedestrian traffic for an extended period of time. Because local communities have been struggling with the issue of blocked crossings for years, the FRA is now soliciting input from the public and law enforcement to develop a clearer understanding of the scope of the blocked crossing problem and identify possible solutions. 

Railroads, states, and local jurisdictions are best positioned to address blocked highway-rail grade crossings and I’ve asked them to work together to minimize unwanted impacts,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. FRA expects that collecting this data will help us identify where chronic problems exist and better assess the underlying causes and overall impacts of blocked crossingslocally, regionally and nationwide.”

Blocked railroad crossings present a variety of potential safety hazards, especially in locations where the tracks are frequently obstructed for lengthy time periods. Due to blocked crossings, pedestrians may attempt to squeeze between railcars stopped on the tracks. In addition, blocked crossings create many other inconveniences for people in the surrounding community, including causing roadway congestion and making people late for work, school, and appointments.

The new Public Blocked Crossing Incident Reporter webpage includes a form for users to report specific information to help the FRA learn where, when, for how long, and what impacts result from blocked highway-rail grade crossings. The form is expected to take an average of three minutes to complete. Our ability to address this issue is only as effective as the data we collect,” Batory said. “Therefore, we are hoping to engage citizens and all levels of government to help spread the word about this important tool.”

Because it has become increasingly clear that the railroad industry will never prioritize safety over profits, it is encouraging to see the FRA continue to embrace technology in its efforts to improve the safety of American railroad crossings. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Fines Issued for Deadly NC Gas Explosion

The North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) recently levied fines totaling $21,200 against PSNC Energy (PSNC) and two of its subcontractors for their actions resulting in a fatal gas-line explosion in downtown Durham last April (State fines PSNC Energy, subcontractors in deadly gas explosion in downtown Durham). The explosion killed two men, the owner of a local coffee shop and a PSNC worker responding to the gas leak, and injured 25 others.

During the process of installing fiber optic cable, PSNC subcontractor Optic Cable Technology Inc. was found to have failed to dig a test hole to determine the precise location of the underground gas line prior to drilling. Natural gas was released for “an extended period of time,” leading to a fire and explosion.

PSNC, operating as Dominion Energy North Carolina, was cited for “ineffective response procedures” that exposed a first responder to danger from fire and explosion. Another subcontractor, PS Splicing, was cited for failing to make sufficient inspections of the job site.

The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life,” said NCDOL spokesperson Dolores Quesenberry. The department takes into consideration “the gravity of the violation, the size of the business, the good faith of the employer and the history of previous violations,” Quesenberry added.

We respectfully disagree with NCDOL’s conclusion that Dominion Energy did not have adequate procedures in place for our employees’ personal safety,” PSNC said in a statement. “The NCDOL citation refers to guidelines for protecting the safety of employees who are ‘exposed to a compressed natural gas spill.’” PSNC argued that the law did not apply because its employee was not responding to a “compressed natural gas spill,” but “a reported leak on our natural gas distribution system, which is entirely different from a compressed natural gas spill.”

PSNC also pledged to learn from “this tragic incident,despite challenging the state’s findings on a technicality. Once again, a giant energy company gives lip service to safety while doing everything within its power to maximize profits and avoid responsibility for its actions.

If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Huge Verdicts Don’t Halt Roundup Sales

A number of court cases have resulted in multimillion-dollar verdicts in favor of plaintiffs who claimed their use of Roundup, a weedkiller sold at hardware and home-improvement stores across the country, gave them cancer. However, a recent New York Times article noted that many Americans, especially farmers, continue to use the product (Roundup Weedkiller Is Blamed for Cancers, but Farmers Say It’s Not Going Away).

Despite the looming threat of numerous lawsuits, the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer paid $63 billion in 2018 to acquire Monsanto, the manufacturer of the herbicide. Bayer remains confident that Roundup will continue to make money for the company, even if it eventually is forced to pay billions of dollars to dispose of the legal claims that came along with the purchase.

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is the most widely used agricultural chemical in history. As rising populations increase the demand for food, market analysts project worldwide sales of glyphosate to exceed $12 billion by 2024, despite serious health concerns.

Consumer health advocates have warned of the adverse effects on humans from chemicals and pesticides used in agriculture for decades. The link between Roundup and cancer was firmly established in 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer.

Since then, various countries and municipalities have banned or restricted the use of Roundup, and a number of retailers, including Costco, have stopped selling it. Bayer’s own home country, Germany, has announced a ban of glyphosate by 2023.

But most of the lawsuits have been brought by homeowners and groundskeepers, who account for a tiny percentage of Roundup sales. The vast majority of users are farmers, and Bayer plans to continue to sell them Roundup despite the risks. According to Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s crop science division, the series of lawsuits “doesn’t fundamentally change the rationale” for Bayer’s decision to purchase Monsanto. We are committed to making sure the product remains available.”

It is disheartening, but not surprising, to see that once again a huge pharmaceutical company is putting its pursuit of profits ahead of safety. Bayer admits that the fact that its product causes cancer will have no impact on its decision whether to sell it. It is long past time to hold these wrongdoers accountable and not allow them to simply pass their legal costs on to the American public.

If you have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or another form of cancer and have been exposed to Roundup, please call Davis, Bethune & Jones at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.

Super Lawyer 2019: Grant L. Davis

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process to be chosen as a Super Lawyer includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations, and professional achievement in legal practice.

Only a few attorneys from each state are selected to Super Lawyers designation for any given year, and this year DBJ’s own Grant L. Davis has again been selected as a Top Rated Personal Injury Attorney in Kansas City, MO.

Visit Grant L. Davis’ Super Lawyer profile.

Landlord on Trial for Natural Gas Explosion

A jury recently began hearing testimony in the trial of a New York City landlord allegedly responsible for a deadly natural gas explosion (An Illegal Gas Line Killed 2 People. Should the Landlord Go to Prison?). Along with two accomplices, the landlord has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for setting up an illegal gas line that caused the 2015 explosion that killed two people and injured 13 others.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. filed the charges to serve as a deterrent to building owners too often willing to take shortcuts to maximize profits at the expense of safety. When you tinker around with the gas system, the electrical system hookups, as happened here, you have in effect weaponized that building and that power system, and you could be held accountable for the harm you inflict,” Vance said at the time the charges were announced.

According to prosecutors, landlord Maria Hrynenko urged her general contractor, Dilber Kukic, and an unlicensed plumber, Athanasios Ioannidis, to illegally tap into a gas line in one building she owned in order to provide service to another. Hrynenko did not want service interrupted so she could continue to receive rent averaging $6,000 per month for each apartment during renovations.

Even in cases where illegal acts by a landlord have led to fatalities, legal experts acknowledge the difficulty of obtaining a manslaughter conviction based on faulty construction work. New York law requires the prosecution to prove the defendants were aware they were acting recklessly and unreasonably disregarded the risks of death to others.

Being aware of a substantial risk would seem to be inconsistent with maintaining their property and obtaining tenants, making it challenging to prove that level of reckless intent,” said Professor Kevin McCarthy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for one of the defendants, noted that the prosecution will have difficulty proving the cause of the explosion and the intent of the defendants to cause harm. “It’s normal human nature to want to hold someone accountable when something so terrible happens,” Agnifilo said. “On one hand you have a true tragedy and on the other hand, you have something that if you look at clearly, it’s hard to prove.”

Although prosecutors have achieved mixed results when bringing these kinds of cases over the years, it is essential that our justice system continue to attempt to hold landlords accountable when they allow greed to overcome their duty to provide a safe environment for their tenants. If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

When a person dies from the willful malice or negligence of another, the survivors may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the perpetrator. The type of claim can be made regardless of whether or not the person is charged with any criminal act. In the case of O.J. Simpson, he was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. However, the families sued and won a suit against O.J. for wrongful death. You may have only heard of spouses or children of the deceased having the right to sue for wrongful death, but those aren’t the only people who may be able to sue.

Immediate Family

Laws vary from state to state regarding who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the person who lost their life. In all 50 states, immediate family members can file suit for wrongful death. Immediate family includes:

  • spouses
  • children
  • adopted children
  • parents of unmarried children

Typically, the surviving spouse, if applicable, will present the suit. Some states allow the child to file if they are of legal age. It is customary for parents to file the lawsuit if their young or unborn child is killed.

Laws vary regarding the rights of domestic or life partners. A domestic partnership could refer to same-sex partners who have not been legally married, or it may be divorced or widowed older couples who enter into a civil union instead of remarrying. The reasons for not remarrying may be due to family, social or financial pressures. The surviving partner may still be able to recover damages in some states.

Other Family

In the case of the death of an unmarried adult, most states will allow other family members to file suit. Distant family such as grandparents, aunt, uncles and siblings by file for wrongful death damages on behalf of their deceased family member.

Financial Dependents

Some states allow those who were financially dependent on the decedent to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Financial dependents typically are parents, siblings and partners. However, in some cases, even roommates have been allowed to recover damages resulting from loss of financial support.

Executors or Representatives

If the deceased had a will, it might affect who has the right to file suit. If a will is in place, the court will legally appoint a representative or executor to settle the estate. The executor is generally the same one that was named in the will unless they are unable to perform the duties. In this case, only the legal representative of the estate has the right to file suit.

If you believe you have lost a loved one due to wrongful death, contact an experienced attorney.

Thanks to our friends at Cohen & Cohen, PC, for their insight into wrongful death claims.

NTSB Updates Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently updated the list of safety recommendations from its 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (8 Safety Recommendations Closed from NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List). The publishing of the updated list followed the closure of eight safety recommendations.

Four safety recommendations were closed with acceptable action taken, one was closed with acceptable alternate action taken, one was closed with a status of exceeds recommended action, and another was regrettably closed with unacceptable action taken. One additional safety recommendation was closed because it was superseded by a subsequent recommendation that remains open.

Closing safety recommendations with acceptable action taken, resulting in improved transportation safety, is the goal of issuing and advocating for a safety recommendation,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Our safety recommendations are founded in the science of our accident investigations and are designed to prevent similar future accidents. Transportation safety is improved when recipients of our safety recommendations take acceptable action. While I’m pleased to highlight this success, I also have to highlight how much more work remains to be done.”

The closed safety recommendations addressed the following pipeline, highway, and aviation safety issues:

  • pipeline dent repairs and leak detection
  • incorrect installation of mechanical tapping tee assemblies
  • passenger safety briefings regarding seat belt use in limousines
  • NTSB access to all positive drug and alcohol test results and refusal determinations conducted under DOT testing requirements
  • use of the Aviation Digital Data Service Weather Tool as an official weather product for helicopter emergency medical services
  • management of the risk of operating amphibious passenger vehicles in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard guidance
  • establishment of an ongoing program to monitor, evaluate, report on, and continuously improve fatigue management programs implemented by motor carriers

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with promoting transportation safety. Through its 30th annual Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, the NTSB has identified safety improvements across all modes of transportation that will prevent accidents, minimize injuries, and save lives.

If you have been injured in an accident involving any form of transportation, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

$143 Million Settlement after Natural Gas Explosion

Columbia Gas, the company responsible for the deadly 2018 natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, recently reached a $143 million settlement in response to a series of class-action lawsuits (Deadly gas explosions rocked Massachusetts last September. Now, a $143M settlement). The company had previously agreed to pay $80 million to the affected communities and also negotiated a separate settlement with the family of the man killed in the incident.

Today marks another important step forward, as we continue to fulfill our commitment to residents and businesses, said Joe Hamrock, president of NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas. The settlement still requires judicial approval.

The explosions and resulting fires on September 13 caused one death, 25 injuries, and damaged or destroyed over 100 buildings. Thousands of homes and businesses were forced to face the winter without natural gas service for months on end and numerous people were required to seek temporary shelter.

Families suffered for months in the gripping cold. Businesses shuttered, and lives were upended,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Graham. “To this day, the people most impacted by the explosions are not fully back on their feet, but we believe this settlement is the quickest and most just method to ensure that residents and businesses are made whole again.”

The explosions were believed to be caused by excessive pressurization of gas transmission lines during a routine replacement by the gas company. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating significant accidents in railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline modes of transportation, continues to investigate.

As a result of the settlement, residents can recover compensation for property damage and disruption of their lives, and businesses can be reimbursed for lost income and inventory. NiSource claims to have spent over $1 billion in response to the disaster.

While it is good to see NiSource step up and take responsibility for the damages it has caused, these kinds of tragedies need to be prevented from happening in the first place. The NTSB and the gas companies themselves need to make sure that all safety precautions are taken, even at the expense of corporate profits.

If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Announces Cause of Fatal Amtrak Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently announced the cause of the fatal Amtrak passenger train derailment in Dupont, Washington, on December 18, 2017 (Inadequate Planning, Insufficient Training Led to Fatal Amtrak Train Derailment). According to the NTSB, the train careened off a railroad bridge onto a crowded highway due to insufficient training of a locomotive engineer and inadequate mitigation of a dangerous curve.

On its initial run on the Point Defiance Bypass connecting Seattle and Portland, an Amtrak Cascades train approached a 30-mph curve on an overpass at approximately 78 miles per hour.    The train derailed and fell onto an interstate highway, landing on eight vehicles. Three train passengers were killed and 65 more people were injured.

This is the third fatal overspeed passenger train derailment the NTSB has investigated since 2013,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said. “All three have the same thing in common: each could have been prevented by Positive Train Control. This is why Positive Train Control is on the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. The deadline for full implementation of PTC is rapidly approaching and the NTSB continues to advocate for the expedited implementation of this life-saving technology.”

During a public meeting in May of 2019, the NTSB noted that the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority did not account for the danger associated with a curve requiring such a large decrease in speed. Positive Train Control, technology specifically designed to prevent overspeed derailments, was not employed by the railroad.

Although not required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the train was equipped with an image recorder that allowed investigators to analyze the activities of crewmembers prior to the accident. The NTSB issued 26 safety recommendations to the FRA, the Washington State Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, and the United States Department of Defense. 

Although the NTSB is fulfilling part of its duties by investigating these railroad accidents and issuing safety recommendations, it is long past time to require more proactive measures from the railroads themselves. The railroad industry’s focus on maximizing their own profits should not stop the NTSB from requiring them to install Positive Train Control on all of their trains.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Supreme Court: Lost Railroad Wages Are Taxable

The United States Supreme Court recently held that payments to an injured employee for lost wages are taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) (High Court Calls Lost Wages Taxable in 7-2 Railway Ruling). The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the railroad iBNSF Railway Company v. Loos, allowing the withholding of part of the employee’s lost wages to cover RRTA taxes.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion cited the 1946 decision Social Security Bd. v. Nierotko, which held that an award of back pay to an employee constituted wages under the Social Security Act. Our decision in Nierotko undermines Loos’s argument that, unlike sick pay and vacation pay, payments ‘compensat[ing] for an injury,’ are not taxable under the RRTA,” Ginsburg wrote. “Applying that reasoning here, there should be no dispositive difference between a payment voluntarily made and one required by law.”

In a somewhat surprising development, the liberal wing of the Court was joined by new Republican appointee Brett Kavanaugh in a decision that favored a huge railroad company at the expense of the little guy. And in another twist, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by the ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, penned a dissent defending the employee against the railroad behemoth.

While Ginsburg seems to have accepted BNSF’s claim that a ruling in its favor would help ensure the solvency of the federal railroad retirement system, Gorsuch notes that paying more in taxes now will ultimately allow BNSF to pay less to injured employees. “Railroads like BSNF can now sweeten their settlement offers while offering less money,” Gorsuch wrote. “Employees will pay a tax for going to trial – and railroads will succeed in buying cheaper settlements in the future at the bargain basement price of a few thousand dollars in excise taxes in one case today.”

Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has generally been friendly to business and hostile to workers. The recent appointments by President Trump should only be expected to make things worse. But this case shows that you can’t always count on even the liberal justices to fight for the rights of workers against big business. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Finds Probable Cause of House Explosion

In a press release issued on February 27, 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that the probable cause of a fatal 2017 explosion in Millersville, Pennsylvania, was a faulty gas connection that allowed natural gas to leak into a single-family residence (Improperly Installed Natural Gas Connection Cause of 2017 House Explosion). The explosion destroyed the home and caused substantial damage to six nearby houses, killing one person and injuring three others.

The investigation found problems with the installation of the connection, known as a tapping tee, between the gas main and the individual gas line that connects to the residence. The NTSB determined that the tee assembly involved in the accident was improperly installed because a locking sleeve that served as an attachment between the tee and the gas main was not securely attached to the main.  

According to the NTSB, the failure to completely attach the locking sleeve created additional stress on four nylon bolts designed to hold the tee assembly in place, eventually resulting in fractures in the bolts. The nylon bolt fractures, combined with the improper tee installation, permitted gas to seep from the tee assembly.

As a result of its initial investigation into the cause of the Millersville explosion, in June 2018 the NTSB issued four safety recommendations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Honeywell International, the manufacturer of the tee. The NTSB intended the recommendations to help avert future disasters from faulty tapping tee installations in natural gas distribution systems.

Federal law gives the NTSB the authority to establish the probable cause of a pipeline accident resulting in a fatality or substantial property damage, but their investigations are not conducted for the purpose of determining any party’s rights or liabilities. If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is essential that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Multimillion-Dollar Verdict in FELA Case

A jury in Lancaster County, Nebraska, recently awarded nearly $3.5 million to a BNSF Railway worker who was injured on the job (Jury returns multimillion-dollar verdict in favor of railroad worker injured at Havelock Yard). Jimmy Rohr Jr., a carman for BNSF, will receive $3,485,000 of the $7,112,071 verdict after the jury determined he was 51 percent responsible for the railroad accident that caused him to lose part of his foot and eventually his left leg below the knee.

Rohr was setting a handbrake on an empty rail car when it was hit by five additional cars, weighing nearly 50,000 pounds each. The cars rolled over his left foot, causing extensive injuries leading to 13 surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg.

Attorneys for the railroad argued that Rohr was responsible for the accident, while Rohr’s attorneys contended that the railroad was completely to blame. The case was brought on behalf of the injured worker under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which exclusively governs injuries to railroad workers in the United States, instead of workers’ compensation laws.

FELA was passed by Congress in 1908, granting injured railroad workers the right to sue their employers for compensation in the event of a work-related injury. In addition, surviving family members were given the right to bring suit on behalf of railroad workers who were killed on the job.

FELA differs from workers compensation in that compensation is not awarded automatically. The employee must prove that the railroad acted negligently, resulting in injury or death. The employee or surviving family members may be entitled to damages, including the following:

  • lost wages
  • medical expenses
  • funeral costs
  • lost benefits
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional damages
  • disability pay

Kudos to the jury in this case for holding BNSF accountable for its part in causing the tragic injuries suffered by its employee, despite BNSF’s attempt to blame Mr.Rohr. But it is long past time to provide compensation under FELA even when the railroad’s negligence cannot be proven because of the inherently dangerous conditions in which workers are placed by their employers.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Federal Government Hinders Transportation Safety Rules

According to a recent investigation by the Associated Press, under President Donald Trump the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) has revoked or delayed a number of important transportation safety rules (A look at some of the transportation safety rules sidelined under President Trump). The Trump Administration’s anti-regulation fervor has resulted in negative safety implications for multiple American transportation industries.

Automobiles:

  • A proposed rule requiring new vehicles to be built with the capability to communicate wirelessly with each other to prevent accidents has been postponed.
  • After lobbying by auto industry trade associations, a directive that electric and hybrid cars must emit sounds at low speeds to warn pedestrians has been pushed back an additional year.

Commercial trucks and buses:

  • American Trucking Association lobbyists stalled a proposal to require software limiting maximum speeds in tractor-trailers.
  • A rule requiring states to inspect buses and other passenger vehicles on an annual basis was withdrawn by USDOT.

Pipelines and gas storage facilities:

  • After concerns raised by “important stakeholders,” USDOT stalled a rule increasing safety requirements for natural gas pipelines.
  • The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has advocated eliminating the pipeline safety classification system, which currently requires additional safety procedures in populated areas.
  • PHMSA is looking at rescinding an interim rule regulating natural gas storage facilities, which was formulated as a response to a methane gas leak near Los Angeles.

Railroads:

  • A rule calling for all trains to have at least two crew members was returned to the Federal Railroad Administration by the White House within a week after Trump’s inauguration.
  • USDOT has abolished a 2015 rule mandating railroad cars hauling flammable crude oil be furnished with advanced braking systems designed to prevent fiery derailments.

It is essential to remain vigilant in the face of the Trump Administration’s commitment to favoring big business over the safety of the American people. If you have been injured in an automobile, truck, natural gas, or railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

MoDOT Promotes B2B Seat Belt Event

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) recently joined other state highway safety and law enforcement offices in supporting Border to Border (B2B), a national seat belt awareness kickoff event to promote the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Click It or Ticket program (Border to Border Seat Belt Initiative Kicks Off 2018 Click it or Ticket). The B2B event was held May 21, 2018, as part of Click It or Ticket week, which wrapped up at the end of Memorial Day weekend.

The goal of B2B is to encourage enforcement of seat belt laws and provide seat belt safety fact sheets for drivers near state lines. The B2B event featured a four-hour enforcement crackdown from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

“Past Border to Border initiatives have proved helpful toward our overall goal of spreading the message about the importance of buckling up,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent Colonel Sandra K. Karsten. “We are working across the state to do all we can to keep our drivers and passengers safe. Wearing a seat belt is the number one thing anyone can do to help prevent death or injury during a vehicle crash.”

During last year’s B2B promotion, law enforcement officers across the country handed out tickets for 5,695 seat belt and child car seat infractions and an additional 14,619 citations for other traffic violations. MoDOT encouraged participating Missouri law enforcement agencies to accept no excuses for seat belt violations during Click It or Ticket week.

“If one of your friends or a family member does not buckle up when they drive, please ask them to change their habit,” Colonel Karsten said. “Help us spread this life-saving message before one more friend or family member dies needlessly. Seat belts save lives, and everyone – front seat and back, child and adult – needs to remember to buckle up – every trip, every time.”

If you have been injured in an accident, DBJ will ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Please call us today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.

NTSB Releases Gas Explosion Report

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a report on the findings of its investigation into a 2016 fatal explosion in downtown Canton, Illinois (Federal report: 2016 Canton gas explosion caused by contractor). The report indicated that a contractor was in violation of state law when it caused a natural gas rupture and subsequent explosion that killed one person and injured 11 others.

Sure Shot Communications workers were attempting to install underground fiber-optic cable when they inadvertently severed a gas line near the Opera House Professional Center annex, which later exploded. Sure Shot failed to excavate a concrete sidewalk prior to drilling, despite an Illinois law requirement that drilling must be inspected visually while in progress.

Unfortunately, it has come to light that this tragedy was entirely avoidable and occurred as the result of the circumvention of state laws that were put in place to keep our communities safe,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL).

The NTSB’s report also found that:

Sure Shot and Ameren, an Illinois gas delivery company, failed to evacuate the area adequately after the discovery of the gas line breach.

Sure Shot and Mid Century Communications did not have a written contract for work, a written project plan, or an emergency response plan.

The leader of the Sure Shot team was in his first day of field work.

No one from Sure Shot or Ameren called the 911 emergency telephone number.

I was shocked at the lack of training the people had there,” said Canton Mayor Kent McDowell. “That’s the first thing that jumped out at me right away.”

Rep. Bustos’ office had been attempting to expedite the process for months, but the NTSB’s report was not released until more than two years after the incident. “My hope is that the conclusion of this investigation will help provide clarity about what happened, bring closure to the community, and help them move past this tragic loss,” said Bustos.

These kinds of senseless tragedies involving gas line explosions are becoming far too common.

It is imperative that the NTSB and other safety agencies ensure that all laws and regulations are followed at these potentially deadly work sites.

If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is essential that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Holds Hearings on Amtrak Crashes

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently held investigative hearings to review the circumstances that led to fatal Amtrak railroad accidents in Washington and South Carolina (NTSB hearing focuses on railroad safety following two fatal Amtrak crashes). Federal safety investigators sought to identify safety improvements that could prevent future railroad accidents.

The hearings were not intended to determine the cause of these specific accidents, but instead to give the NTSB the opportunity to gather information to help prevent future tragedies. “We are all here for the same reason – to stop these,” said NTSB member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr.

In December 2017, an Amtrak train on its first run from Seattle to Portland crashed on a sharp curve, killing three and injuring over 100. The train was traveling 78 mph in a 30 mph zone. Then in February 2018, an accident involving an Amtrak passenger train and a CSX freight train killed two and injured 116 because of a misaligned railroad switch.

After the accidents, the NTSB recommended that federal railroad officials issue emergency orders mandating trains to slow down when signals are disabled and to verify that switches are in the right place before continuing. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has yet to act on the order. “We are curious to know where the FRA is going with this,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We do not believe that just having people on the ground to verify that [the switch] is in the proper position is the be all end all.”

Sumwalt questioned whether railroad companies were more interested in profits than passenger and employee welfare, noting that shareholder reports emphasize efficiency and earnings and ignore safety. Amtrak responded that it is committed to safety. “One of the lessons we’ve learned is establishing systemwide standards,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak’s vice president for safety, compliance, and training.

It is certainly no secret that giant corporations such as railroad companies regularly choose profits over the safety of the American people, but it is encouraging that the NTSB is at least attempting to make them change their focus after these horrible accidents. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ

CSX’s Commitment to Safety Questioned after Derailment

After a series of railroad mishaps, CSX Transportation recently announced it was dedicating its resources to a renewed focus on safety. The railroad industry giant obtained the services of Dekra, a transportation safety firm, to analyze its operations and provide a report with recommendations for improving its safety performance.

Unfortunately, before the report could be issued, a CSX train derailed in Indiana, creating a propane fire and explosion that caused a mandatory evacuation within a one-mile radius. The incident has caused some to question CSX’s true commitment to safety (Princeton train derailment casts new doubts about CSX’s safety culture).

CSX is accused of emphasizing efficiency at the expense of safety through a process called “precision scheduled railroading,” which has led to fewer, but considerably longer, trains and the elimination of thousands of jobs. According to some CSX employees, the company’s fixation with running on time has compromised its ability to live up to its own safety standards.

CSX employees claim that:

  • Workers are pressured to skip safety checks to ensure trains are on time
  • Managers approve nonexistent inspections because delays could cost them their jobs
  • Lower level workers are forced to take the blame whenever safety issues arise

Although its competitors have seen their accident rates fall over the last few years, CSX has seen their accident rate continue to increase. A South Carolina collision between Amtrak and CSX trains earlier this year killed two and injured 116.

“That accident was very much of a ‘safety culture’ thing,” said former Federal Railroad Administration director Steven Ditmeyer. “There were multiple failures there. I view that as very much related to a deteriorated safety culture.”

As you might expect, CSX defended its commitment to safety. “There is no higher priority than safety at CSX. Nothing is placed above it,” CSX spokeswoman Laura Phelps said. “Our goal is to be the safest railroad.”

Railroads are always going to provide lip service to the idea of safety. But until they put their money where their mouth is and prioritize safety at the expense of profits, America’s railroad workers and passengers will continue to be at risk.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. P

CSX Railroads Sacrifice Safety for Efficiency

According to a recent article in the Jacksonville Business Journal, railroad industry giant CSX Corporation broke its own efficiency records last quarter (After expensive quarter of train accidents, CSX safety concerns return). Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, CSX’s efficiency increases came at the expense of safety.

CSX implemented precision scheduled railroading in 2017, resulting in the termination of over 4,000 employees. Divisional dispatch supervisors, each representing different sections of the country, were replaced by only two people, a western dispatch supervisor and an eastern dispatch supervisor.

These cutbacks have led to a decline in the railroad’s safety performance, according to at least one dispatcher, because the now-overburdened supervisors pass down the work they can’t finish to the already-swamped dispatchers. “I can’t do my job because I’m doing reports and clerical work and answering emails,” the dispatcher said. “The managers and chiefs are so strapped, they’re making us do it.”

CSX argues, however, that the changes it has made were intended to provide an upgrade to railroad safety. “CSX’s recent management reorganization was a strategic decision to improve safety, service, and shareholder value,” said a CSX spokesperson.

But several dispatchers responded that the additional workload was “distracting” and “a safety hazard” preventing them from doing their primary job of monitoring nearly 1,000 miles of track. “In an environment where we are protecting the lives of crews and the public,” one dispatcher said, “there is too much emphasis placed on [clerical work].”

Charles Culver, a railroad operations consultant at Charles L. Culver & Associates, agreed that dispatchers already have more than enough to do without adding additional duties, comparing their importance to that of air traffic controllers. “To eliminate positions and increase the amount that dispatchers are doing is a safety concern in my opinion,” said Culver, who was a railroad engineer and conductor for 25 years. “These railroaders have their lives in the hands of dispatchers.”

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration, accidents involving CSX railroads in the last quarter produced the most monetary damage in at least five years. Despite CXS’s claims to the contrary, once again one of the giants of the railroad industry has sacrificed safety in its never-ending quest for greater profits.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Federal Government Reduces Nursing Home Fines for Violators

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted one of the effects of the federal government’s plan to decrease regulation on American business (Administration Eases Nursing Home Fines in Victory for Industry). The administration is reducing the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or allow them to be subjected to risk of injury.

Since 2013, 40% of nursing homes in the U.S have been cited for serious violations, such as mistreatment, neglect, and bedsores, and Medicare has fined two-thirds of those facilities. The American Health Care Association, a trade group for the nursing home industry, argued that federal inspectors have been more focused on punishing mistakes than helping nursing homes provide better care for their residents.

Under the Trump administration’s new guidelines, regulators are discouraged from assessing fines, a move applauded by industry groups. “Rather than spending quality time with their patients,” said Dr. Kate Goodrich, director of clinical standards and quality at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The providers are spending time complying with regulations that get in the way of caring for their patients and don’t increase the quality of care they provide.”

However, nursing-home resident advocates strongly disagreed, arguing that reducing penalties will have a negative impact on patient safety. “They’ve pretty much emasculated enforcement, which was already weak,” said Toby Edelman, a senior attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

The new guidelines would prevent nursing homes from being penalized more than the maximum fine per incident of $20,965 even for continuing, flagrant transgressions that remain uncorrected for months. According to Janet Wells, a consultant for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, these policy changes would reverse course just as “some egregious violations and injuries to residents are being penalized – finally – at a level that gets the industry’s attention and isn’t just the cost of doing business.”

Although there are certainly some valid reasons for attempting to reduce government bureaucracy, once again the federal government is supporting policies that favor profits for big business over the safety of the American people. We must do everything we can to protect our country’s most vulnerable citizens, including nursing home residents.

If you suspect your loved one may have been subjected to nursing home negligence, our experienced injury attorneys can assist you in discovering whether abuse has actually occurred and advise you regarding the appropriate legal action. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Releases Preliminary Duck Boat Report

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a preliminary report of its investigation of the July 19, 2018, duck boat accident that killed 17 at Table Lock Lake in Missouri (NTSB preliminary report: Duck boat sank in 15 feet of water on Table Rock Lake). The NTSB report found that the duck boat sank in 15 feet of water during a storm that produced winds in excess of 70 miles per hour.

The duck boat was a Stretch Duck 7, a Coast Guard-inspected passenger vessel, and Table Rock Lake is a navigable waterway. The accident was declared a major marine casualty by the United States Coast Guard, and the NTSB was named the lead federal investigative agency.

No conclusions were reached in the preliminary report and a number of significant questions remain:

  • Why was the boat on the lake, despite indications from the National Weather Service that a severe storm was imminent?
  • Why weren’t the passengers wearing life jackets?
  • Had the Table Rock Lake duck boat adopted any of the NTSB’s previous safety recommendations?

A number of electronic devices, including a video recording system, cell phones, and a camera, were recovered from the boat by the highway patrol dive team and shipped to NTSB labs. The NTSB also conducted 33 interviews on scene with witnesses, vessel operators, inspectors, and duck boat company officials. Weather data, including wind speeds during the storm, was collected from local weather stations.

The NTSB report indicated that the duck boat was in the water 20 minutes after the issuance of a severe thunderstorm warning by the National Weather Service. The boat encountered winds of over 70 mph, in direct contradiction of the Coast Guard’s recommendation that duck boats should not go on water in winds exceeding 35 mph.

There is no official timetable for a final report from the NTSB, but it is essential that the operators of these amphibious vehicles be held accountable for the safety of their passengers. Nearly 20 years after the NTSB issued safety recommendations to the Coast Guard, states, manufacturers, operators, and service providers following a 1999 accident involving an Arkansas duck boat, we are still experiencing these preventable tragedies.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a public transportation accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Announces Probable Cause of Deadly Mississippi Railroad Crossing Accident

In a recent press release, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a finding regarding the probable cause of the March 7, 2017 railroad crossing accident in Biloxi, Mississippi (Failure of Railroad, City, to Address Grade Crossing Hazards is Probable Cause of Fatal Mississippi Crash). The report found that CSX Transportation and the city of Biloxi failed to mitigate known safety hazards at the grade crossing where the accident occurred.

A chartered ECHO Transportation passenger bus was transporting 49 senior citizens to a Biloxi casino when it became grounded on a “high profile” grade crossing. The engineer of the approaching CSX freight applied emergency braking, but the train crashed into the motor coach at 19 mph, killing four and injuring 37.

The Biloxi grade crossing was reconstructed in 1977, but dates back to at least 1870. The crossing has an unusually high vertical profile, which makes vehicles with low ground clearance, such as buses and trucks, more susceptible to being grounded on the tracks.

Since maintenance work that made the vertical profile even higher several years ago, there have been at least 23 vehicle groundings at the railroad crossing site. Both CSX Transportation and the City of Biloxi knew about the alarming number of dangerous incidents, but neither made any effort to reduce the risk of a tragic accident.

“This tragedy was preceded by numerous unheeded warnings in the three years leading up to it,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said. “They came in the form of known groundings of other vehicles at the very same grade crossing where the fatal crash occurred. Warnings call for action.”

The NTSB recommended the development of standards for determining when a high-profile grade crossing should be altered or shut down, and asked for increased communication between all the parties involved in maintaining railroad crossing safety. “It will take concerted, coordinated action to proactively address the safety challenge posed by high-profile grade crossings,” Sumwalt said. “And today’s findings and recommendations will provide regulators, policy makers and planners with the tools to do just that.”

It is imperative for the NTSB to continue to hold the railroads responsible for these preventable tragedies because the industry has proven throughout its history that it will do nothing to increase safety unless required by law. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Deadly Gas Explosions Caused by Pressure in Pipes

A series of gas explosions in several towns north of Boston recently caused more than 60 fires and explosions, killing one man and injuring multiple others (Gas Explosions Traced to Too Much Pressure in Pipes). The explosions were caused by an excess of natural gas pumped into pipes owned by Columbia Gas, creating more pressure than the pipes could bear.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates significant accidents in railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline transportation, made the determination. The NTSB “can confirm at this time that this was indeed an overpressure situation,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

According to the NTSB, the flow of gas into homes was “significantly greater” than designed. “The real question for this investigation is to answer why this occurred,” Sumwalt said.

Columbia Gas was working in the area to remove old cast-iron pipes and replace them with new plastic pipes. Sumwalt said the NTSB will attempt to determine “what effect, if any, did this have on the overpressure situation.”

Columbia Gas intends to fully cooperate with the NTSB’s investigation, according to Joe Hamrock, president and chief executive officer of its parent company, NiSource Inc. Hamrock said the company is “committed to full transparency and collaboration to get to all of the underlying causes.”

Residents of the communities were evacuated but allowed to return to their homes after they were found to be safe for habitation. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, however, continued to recommend that all residents remain vigilant for any indications of smoke or gas.

The NTSB expects its investigation to take 12 to 24 months, but it could announce immediate safety recommendations in response to any problems it encounters during that time. “We want to find out what happened so that other communities don’t have to go through the devastation that has occurred right here in this area,” Sumwalt said.

Natural gas is used to heat more than half the homes in the United States. The gas companies must be required to take every safety precaution possible to prevent these kinds of tragedies. If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is essential that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

DBJ Wins $3.5 Million Cass County FELA Verdict

In 2013 Stephen Wynn was an off-duty conductor and passenger on a BNSF locomotive when the train he was on collided with an abandoned car left on the tracks in Butler County, Kansas.  The resulting injuries he suffered were substantial and became chronic, requiring years of treatment and physical therapy.  The Cass County jury found BNSF liable in the FELA case brought against it.

BNSF was found to be liable for not properly training the on-duty conductors how to use the emergency brake on the train.  The company was also found liable for not providing Wynn with warning of the impending collision so he could properly brace himself.

The Cass County, Missouri jury returned a verdict for Wynn in the amount of $3.5 million as a result of BNSF’s liability.

Wes Shumate tried the case for DBJ and is proud to represent those injured by the negligence of railroad companies and other wrongdoers.  If you or a loved one has been injured, contact DBJ for a free consultation.

DBJ Earns $550k Verdict for Ward Parkway Auto Crash

DBJ successfully represented Lauren Riley following a terrible accident during which she unnecessarily suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a negligent driver.  Grant Davis tried the motor vehicle accident case to plaintiff’s verdict of $550,000 in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri.

As reported in Missouri Lawyers Weekly (read more here), Davis underscores the importance of plaintiffs lawyers taking cases to full jury verdicts.  “Too many times, insurance companies offer settlements below the true value of a client’s injuries and lawyers take it,” he said.  DBJ is proud to take cases “all the way” to best represent their clients and maximize the value of cases and hold wrongdoers accountable.

If you or a love one has been injured through the negligence of others, please contact DBJ for a free consultation.

DBJ Support Helps UMKC Law Program Thrive

UMKC School of Law’s nationally ranked Advocacy Program continues to compete at the highest levels and DBJ is thrilled to be a financial supporter helping to facilitate that success.

The success of the Program is enabling student teams to compete in prestigious competitions, including three teams from the program advancing to national trial competitions in spring, 2017.  Two UMKC teams placed in the top four in the National Criminal Justice Trial Competition and the American Association of Justice competition.

UMKC Law Professor Rafe Foreman recognizes the role DBJ and other alumni donors play in the success of the program.

“It would be impossible to obtain national notoriety for our program and the law school without the generous support of our advocacy program donors. Their support has made a critical difference for our students and the program,” says Foreman.

DBJ partner Scott Bethune is committed to the program and has been a leader in the effort to secure alumni support.

“I give back not just to see the program rise in the rankings, but as an alumnus, I’m committed to the program’s success. Many of the major trial lawyers in Kansas City are UMKC alums. I met my law partners and many of my life-long friends at UMKC. The school’s success makes me proud.”

 

Read more about the Program’s success and DBJ’s role in developing outstanding future attorneys here.

The Law Firm of Davis Bethune & Jones is Proud to Congratulate Scott S. Bethune for His Inclusion in KCBJ’s 2017 “Best of the Bar”

Kansas City Business Journal’s 2017 “Best of the Bar” lists DBJ’s own Scott S. Bethune as one of the 48 area lawyers that applied or were nominated and were then vetted by a panel of judges. Judges selected honorees based on such factors as professional reputation, involvement in significant cases or transactions, and civic involvement. The members of the 2017 Best of the Bar will be honored at an evening reception November 2 at the Grand Hall at Power & Light in Kansas City.

Wes Shumate Awarded Prestiges KCMBA Thomas J. Conway Award

Each year the KCMBA Thomas J. Conway Award is presented to a young trial attorney with very special qualities.  Wes Shumate has been honored with the Award for 2017.

The Conway Award is given to young trial lawyers demonstrating courage and zeal for their clients while maintaining a collegial attitude with fellow attorneys.  The late Tom Conway had special abilities as a fierce and outstandingly skilled trial attorney, while also maintaining excellent relationships with opposing counsel.  Litigators know this is a difficult balance to achieve and maintain.

DBJ congratulates Wes in winning this deserved award and supports his efforts as an outstanding attorney and peer.

DBJ partner Scott Bethune had the honor of writing up KCMBA’s published summary of Wes’ award.  Read more here.

 


DBJ Lawyers Featured as Best Lawyers in 435 Magazine

DBJ attorneys Grant L. Davis, Scott S. Bethune and Thomas C. Jones were each featured as Best Lawyers in the November, 2016 issue of 435 Magazine.  DBJ is proud to regularly have its Members recognized by their peers as outstanding trial attorneys and counselors.

 

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Record-Setting Lawyer Gets Kick From Plaintiffs’ Work

With a string of multi-million dollar verdicts, including a Missouri record $160 million judgment in a railroad crossing case, Kansas City plaintiff’s lawyer Grant L. Davis has earned a place among the most respected – and feared – lawyers in the state.

What most of Davis’ colleagues don’t know is that he had a previous career as a professional kickboxer. “I was involved in karate in high school, and even more so in college,” Davis said. “I eventually became a black-belt and began participating in karate competitions all over the country.” Drawn to “the fighting part” of karate, Davis took up kickboxing. After a year of competitive fighting, Davis gave it up “because there isn’t a big future in kickboxing.”

Davis’ kickboxing training helped him prepare for trials because he knew he “could throw himself into it.” As a plaintiff’s attorney, righting a wrong is a big motivation. “I look for cases that have some inherent injustice,” Davis said. “It has to be a story that you can tell someone and right off the bat they see that a wrong needs to be righted.”

Davis finds it especially gratifying to “represent children who are injured, or babies who have suffered brain damage. In those kinds of cases, I’m doing something that is good for both society and the children. I love plaintiff’s work. I couldn’t imagine representing a heartless, soulless corporation.”

Davis’ hard work and compassion have led to a number of big wins for his clients. Along with Tom Jones, Davis obtained a $160 million verdict from Union Pacific and Amtrak for a woman who was seriously injured at a railroad crossing. Davis and Scott Bethune won a St. Louis jury verdict of nearly $7 million for a construction worker who suffered a brain injury as a result of an electric shock on the job.

Davis and Bethune also won a $2.75 million jury verdict for a woman who became a paraplegic after a minor car accident when a neurosurgeon failed to perform emergency surgery. Davis and Jones obtained a verdict of $5.25 million from a St. Louis jury for two U.S. Army reservists who died when their helicopter crashed after hitting unmarked power lines. After the verdict was overturned on an appeal by the defense, Davis secured an even larger verdict of $21 million.

For young lawyers interested in following in his footsteps, Davis recommends membership in the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of MATA and the lawyers involved in the organization,” Davis said.

Davis still enjoys working out with friends from his kickboxing days. Before a trial, he remains confident and calm by relying on the lessons he learned as a kickboxer. “Even though there is a lot of talk about trials being scary,” Davis said, “I always know that at least when I try a case, no one is going to smack me.”