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More Controversy Appears in Case Questioning Highway Guardrail Safety

A mistrial has been declared in a federal lawsuit which alleges that some highway guardrails across the country pose a deadly risk to drivers.

The lawsuit was filed by a whistleblower alleging that guardrails produced by Trinity Industries, a Texas-based guardrail manufacturer, are malfunctioning and killing drivers. The lawsuit further charges that the guardrail defect is the result of a product change that the company hid from the government and safety inspectors.

The judge dismissed the case over what he found to be “inappropriate conduct” on both sides, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The judge suggested that representatives from Trinity Industries may have tampered with witnesses. Further, the judge found that the whistleblower and plaintiff, Joshua Harman, may have destroyed evidence.

Since Harman has come forward with the charge of a product defect, numerous accident victims have claimed that guardrails malfunctioned, causing injury or death. A recent article by Bloomberg News noted that at least nine lawsuits have been filed by victims claiming personal injury or wrongful death caused by the guardrail malfunction.

The danger, according to Harman, is the end-cap on some of the guard rails. Allegedly, an impact plate that is meant to absorb energy and move along with the car can instead malfunction and pierce through the car, grievously injuring those inside.

Trinity Industries denies that any secret change was made to the guardrails. The company acknowledges that a change was made, but it insists that all regulatory bodies were appropriately informed and that all necessary safety testing was performed. The company also insists that the guardrails function properly, and it has not recalled any of the hundreds of thousands of implicated guardrails that currently line highways across the United States.

The case in question is Harman v. Trinity Industries, 2:12-cv-00089, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District TX.

Texas Named Among the 10 Most Dangerous States for Pedestrians

A new report on fatalities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that Texas is one of the most dangerous states for pedestrians.  

In 2012, the rate of pedestrian fatalities in Texas was 1.83 per 100,000 population — meaning that nearly two out of every 100,000 Texans were struck and killed by a motor vehicle in 2012.

This figure makes Texas the 10th most dangerous state for pedestrians. 

Experts agree that infrastructure is a key element in pedestrian safety, and the American Society of Civil Engineers claims that in 2012, nearly 40 percent of Texas roadways were in poor or mediocre condition.

When asked about the recent data from the NHTSA, officials from the Texas Department of Transportation pointed to unsafe and distracted driving as the key issue. Robert Archuleta, a transportation official with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, also told reporters he believed cell phone use while driving — particularly texting — was a significant factor.

The NHTSA noted that the number of pedestrians killed nationwide has been rising steadily since 2009, even while the number of overall traffic fatalities has generally decreased.

According to the NHTSA data, pedestrians are most likely to be killed or injured by motor vehicles between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. — when children are coming home from school and adults are coming home from work. However, there is also a spike in pedestrian fatalities between midnight and 3:00 a.m. on weekends. Data suggests that this spike could be due to an increase in nightlife coupled with low visibility.

The other states rounding out the top ten most dangerous states are Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Mexico and Delaware.

Troubling News Emerges from 2013’s West Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Although it has been over a year since the explosion at the West Fertilizer Company killed 15, new reports on the tragedy are still surfacing.

In the first official public health report, county officials have indicated that injuries were more severe than previously known. The report also suggests that many injuries may have been missed in the initial chaos following the explosion.

This new report, issued by the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, finds that more than one in five of those injured by the explosion experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion.

The report also states “some injuries, particularly ear injuries as well as traumatic brain injury, may not have been identified at the time of medical treatment immediately after the explosion,” indicating that many of the injured may have left the hospital without proper treatment or instructions.

Ear injuries affected more than 10 percent of the injured.

Reese Dunklin of the Dallas Morning News has been reporting on a second issue: the latest moves by the Texas Department of State Health Services to keep basic information about chemical storage facilities away from the public.

In early July, the office of the Texas Attorney General informed reporters at the Dallas Morning News that the Department of State Health Services would no longer release information about chemical inventories to the public.

In a letter, the Attorney General stated that the decision was based on Texas Homeland Security statutes. Several federal agencies have spoken out against the withholding of information about potential chemical hazards.

In April of 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded that a lack of community awareness of the chemical hazard at the West facility contributed to the disaster. No emergency response plan was in place at the time of the explosion. 

In the last few weeks, a new federal task force has publicly called for increased release of information about large chemical inventories. Such information would make it possible for local citizens and businesses to make effective emergency response plans based on real knowledge of the risks that surround them.

Texas Tops Nation in Traffic Fatalities for 2012

Federal officials have finalized traffic fatality statistics for 2012. The official data confirms that roadway deaths in Texas have increased at over three times the nationwide rate.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,398 traffic fatalities occurred in Texas in 2012, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. Nationally, 33,561 died on 2012 roadways in total, representing an increase of 3.3 percent since 2011. Previously, automobile death rates were on their sixth year of decline in a row.

According to officials, a number of factors contributed to the increase. Officials noted that even when overall traffic fatalities were decreasing in recent years, motorcycle and pedestrian deaths were following an upward trend. That pattern continued in 2012: fatalities of motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians rose 7.1 percent, 6.5 percent and 6.4 percent respectively.

One factor that may have played a role is warm winter weather. Much of the increase can be attributed to the first quarter of 2012, the warmest first quarter in history. Although snowy, icy conditions are associated with traffic accidents, there are actually more car crashes during warmer winters when more people are on the road.

In addition to the increase in the raw number of fatalities, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) also increased. That rate climbed to 1.14 (an increase of 3.6 percent). The injury rate rose to 80 injuries per 100 million VMT (a 6.7 percent increase).

Also in 2012, alcohol-impaired-driving deaths rose by 4.6 percent, accounting for 31 percent of the total number of highway fatalities. Alcohol-impaired-driving deaths are defined as the fatalities in a crash involving a driver found to have a blood alcohol content of .08 g/dL or greater.

Young drivers, traditionally thought to pose major risks, were actually involved in fewer highway deaths last year, continuing a decline that began in 2005.

The 11 percent increase in Texan traffic deaths represents 344 more fatalities than were suffered in 2011. Texas’s increase was the largest in the nation. Texas also saw the largest number of highway deaths (3,398) among states. California faced only 2,857 highway fatalities and is home to 12 million more people than Texas is.

The 344-person Texan increase in traffic fatalities totaled more than the increases in California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina combined.

Compounding Pharmacy In Texas Recalls Medication

A Texas-based compounding pharmacy is the latest facing a nationwide recall in what is quickly becoming a growing public health concern: tainted medications.

It is alleged that patients have become ill after taking products manufactured at Specialty Compounding, LLC, based in Cedar Park, Texas. Specialty Compounding is in the process of recalling all of the medicines manufactured in that facility dispensed since May 9, 2013 after at least 15 people developed bacterial infections traced back to the medicines.

Patients who received intravenous infusions of calcium gluconate, a drug to treat too much potassium or to correct calcium deficiencies, have reported issues after their treatment at Corpus Christi Medical Center Bay Area and Corpus Christi Medical Center Doctors Regional. It is suspected that the medication was not sterile, which caused bloodstream infections; Rhodococcus bacteria was detected, which typically causes symptoms including fever and pain.

The now-recalled batches of calcium gluconate were distributed directly to medical offices and hospitals throughout Texas, and also nationwide to patients, with the exception of North Carolina. Specialty Compounding has announced that is has contacted all customers to notify them of the recall; anyone who is in possession of the product should contact Specialty Compounding at (512) 219-0724 Monday through Friday, between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. CDT, to find out how to return it.

A spokesperson for Specialty Compounding has announced that the company is voluntarily recalling all sterile products at this time out of concern for patient safety. The Federal Drug Administration inspected the facility in March 2013 and reported “questionable testing practices” and a lack of some procedures to establish drug sterility. Some drug processors were seen wearing improper clothing (i.e., not sterile), according to the findings, and it was noted that there was inadequate drug testing to ensure a lack of unwanted microorganisms.

This April, a new Senate bill was proposed which calls for much tighter regulations for the drug compounding industry. The FDA has called for an increase in its regulatory powers for compounding facilities; the regulatory powers typically fall under state regulations.

In 2012, a compounding facility in Framingham, Mass., The New England Compounding Center, was the center of an investigation after people in 20 states were affected; 750 were sickened, including 63 deaths. Contaminated drugs made at the facility caused an outbreak of fungal infections, including meningitis. More than 17,600 doses of methylprednisolone acetate steroid injections were affected. An investigation by FDA investigators discovered mold and fungal contamination in numerous vials of the drugs, and in areas where the drugs were made.

Calls From Concerned Citizens A Help In Combating Drunk Driving

Calls from passing motorists can help Texas police locate drunk drivers and get them off the road.

Many of the calls emergency dispatchers receive must be transferred to other jurisdictions and the 911 callers may not be present to see the driver they suspected of driving while inebriated, but both Texas dispatchers and police have stated that passing motorists are a great help. The director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Jeff Miracle, says that he speaks to someone approximately once a month who feels they called 911 to report a potentially drunk driver, only to have to eventually give up when an officer did not arrive in time to make a stop. But, says Miracle, he knows the police are trying to catch as many drunk drivers as possible.

The police have stated that the 911 calls from a concerned citizen often must be transferred from one jurisdiction to another as the driver crosses county lines and other police departments must become involved. A typical department may have as few as half a dozen officers in the DWI unit, and those officers cannot be throughout the city. A citizen call to 911 can be the crucial connection which allows a DWI officer to respond to suspected drunk driving in an area through which pass thousands and even tens of thousands of cars.

When someone calls 911 to report a suspected inebriated driver, dispatch operators are trained to ask specific questions, including the cross street, direction heading, a description of the vehicle, the color, the license plate, and what direction in which they are heading. While an individual can follow the driver if they feel safe doing so, the decision to do so is voluntary.

Of the approximately 182,000 911 emergency calls the city of Irving received last year, it is estimated that close to 2,400 of those calls were for suspected drunk driving. In 2011, there were more than 2,500 DUI-related car accidents in Texas, which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.

In Texas, it is a crime to drive with a blood alcohol content concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more. More restrictive laws apply for commercial drivers. Commercial vehicle operators must not have a BAC of 0.04% or more. Minors (individuals under age 21) commit an offense if driving with a BAC of 0.01% or more.

Drowsy Driving Is An Underreported Danger

A study recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has shed new light on the number of “drowsy driving” incidents. “Drowsy driving,” or falling asleep behind the wheel is an underreported and dangerous issue on the roadways.

Because there is no definitive test to determine sleepiness behind the wheel, state reporting relies on driver self-reporting and police estimates. The NHTSA looked at motor vehicle accidents which resulted in fatalities across the U.S. during 2011. There were 29,757 fatal accidents reported; approximately 707 were assumed to be caused at least in part by drowsy driving. The NHTSA estimates that at least 100,000 police-reported crashes every year were caused by driver fatigue, but the real number may be quite higher.

According to a 205 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of drivers (roughly 168 million people) admitted that they sometimes drive while drowsy, and approximately 103 million people admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. Thirteen percent of those who admitted to sleeping behind the wheel reported that they did so at least once per month. Eleven million people reported that they had an auto accident or close call due to falling asleep behind the wheel or becoming too tired or sleepy to drive safely.

Sleep or fatigue-related car accidents are highest among adults with young children, late shift workers, and young adult males. Sleep deprivation has been found to greatly increase the risk of an accident; extreme sleepiness can be as dangerous, say researchers, as driving while inebriated. Individuals who sleep six-to-seven hours each night are twice as likely to be in accident as people who sleep eight-or-more hours per night. People who sleep less than five hours a night have a risk of four-to-five times that of individuals who sleep eight hours or more per night. A research study in Australia looked at people who were awake for 24 hours prior to driving and found that their level of fatigue caused them to drive impaired equal to a blood alcohol level of.08, the level considered legally drunk in the U.S.

Drivers may fall asleep at the wheel for as short a time as three or four seconds and not even know they have done so, behavior known as “microsleep.” Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel tend to do so while traveling along long, rural highways while moving at a high rate of speed. Most drowsy driving accidents or near accidents ten to occur between four a.m. and six a.m., between midnight and two a.m., and between 2 o’clock and four o’clock p.m.

Drowsiness while driving affects the reaction time and decision-making skills of the driver. If you or a loved one has been in an accident with a fatigued or drowsy driver, contact the personal injury lawyers at Hale Law Firm.

John Hale is a Waxahachie personal injury attorney and Ellis County personal injury lawyer helping injury victims near Dallas Texas. Learn more at http://www.hale911.com/