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A federal judge in Texas has declared a mistrial in the possible billion-dollar whistleblower lawsuit involving the popular Trinity guardrails that line our nation’s highways.

According to a U.S. district judge, there were “serious concerns” regarding witness testimony associated with the defendant, highway manufacturing giant Trinity Industries.

The whistleblower and former industry business owner, Josh Harman, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the American public in Texas where the company’s headquarters are located. According to Harman, the current Trinity guardrails, the ET-Plus model, are dangerous and deadly. He claims the guardrails were never properly tested or properly approved by the government.

3180695137_76a2a00fd2_mHowever, Trinity has issued statements saying  company stands behind its product and has called Harman’s allegations “false and misleading.”

According to a court transcript from Friday, July 18, the judge declared that “this case has been replete with errors, gamesmanship, inappropriate conduct, and matters that should not be a part of any trial where a fair and impartial verdict is expected.”

The judge also discussed the possibility of the president of Trinity Highway Products attempting to intimidate a witness and possibly committing perjury.

Trinity claims that the allegations against its president are untrue and that the company “looks forward to re-presenting the facts in this matter.”

The federal judge also said the plaintiffs is this matter took steps to prevent the witness from being deposed by the defense and “effectively hounded him.”

“I believe the plaintiffs took steps to hide this witness and unfairly spring this witness on the defendants,” the judge said.

The mistrial was declared less than a week into the Marshall, Texas trial, which is about 150 miles east of Dallas.

The guardrails in this case were installed throughout the country in all 50 states. According to Harman, there have been hundreds of accidents that caused serious harm. In this specific type of guardrail, the terminal head is supposed to take the impact and slow down the vehicle. The railing should channel through the head and pigtail out the side and away from the car. But, there have been many accidents where the railing gets jammed up and then pierces the vehicle like a spear. They cut through the cars and any people inside the vehicle as well.

One of the most recent accidents occurred in January 2014 in North Carolina where an Isuzu Trooper hit a guardrail head-on, leaving the driver’s legs severed.

According to Harman, a guardrail should not cut a person in half.

A new trial is anticipated to happen later this year in the fall. The case would be tried in front of a new jury.

As drivers, we rarely think about roadways themselves being risky. Instead we tend to focus on more talked about roadway hazards, such as cell phone use, speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, as this case shows, there can be more than meets the eye when it comes to dangerous roadways, especially highway guardrails.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds, as it could affect victims in Florida who have been seriously injured or even killed in auto accidents due to highway guardrails.

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BMW has recalled several of its most popular models due to defective Takata airbags, a problem that is hitting much of the global auto industry.

The German automaker will recall 1.6 million 3-Series cars from model years 2000 to 2006 across the world, including 574,000 in the U.S.

The company said the recall is just a precaution because other automakers using similar systems have had issues.

2829465434_8016b52b75_mThe problem with the Takata airbags is that airbag inflators in these systems can rupture. When this happens, not only can the airbags not work properly, but they could blast shrapnel into passengers.

Honda, who has had similar issues with these airbags, reported two deaths in 2009 linked to the problem. They have recalled vehicles with Takata bags six times since then.

The airbag issue is responsible for millions of recalled vehicles over the past few years, including those made by Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota. The recalls have mostly been of vehicles in states with hot and humid weather, which includes Florida.

BMW said no problems have been reported in their vehicles. However, dealers will replace the passenger-side front air bags.

The new recall excludes 42,000 BMWs recalled in May 2013 for the exact same problem. The company says it is recalling all vehicles equipped with potentially defective airbag systems regardless of where they were sold.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating air bags made by Takata in June. The agency said they received six reports of air bags rupturing in Florida and Puerto Rico, resulting in three people suffering injuries.

The NHTSA estimated 1.1 million vehicles in the U.S. could be affected, but they believe that number is likely to climb.

The government wanted automakers to act swiftly to warn those in warm states while it continues to investigate the issue.

If an airbag defect in your car has resulted in an unfortunate accident, you may be struggling to recover from any injuries and unsure of what you can do to remedy your situation. While the law can be complex, you do have legal recourse against the vehicle’s manufacturer. Manufacturers have a duty to pay attention to the quality of the products they put out and issue recalls in a timely manner should a problem arise. When automakers and manufacturers fail to do this, innocent consumers can be seriously injured or killed.

Thousands of people suffer serious injuries from defective products every year. Most of these injuries could have been avoided if the makers and manufacturers of these products took extra care to ensure the safety of consumers. Every year, thousands of consumers sustain serious injuries from defective products. Many of these injuries could be avoided if the manufacturers or distributors of these products took additional steps to ensure consumer safety.

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Mitsubishi Motors Corp is recalling cars made with Takata Corp air bags in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mitsubishi has joined nine other automakers in conducting a recall in those states.

Mitsubishi has said it will conduct a limited recall of model year 2004 and 2005 Lancer sedans with Takata passenger-side air bags that have inflators that may cause them to open with too much force, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the NHTSA website,”In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger-side frontal air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the vehicle occupants.”

Nearly 12 million vehicles with Takata air bags or inflators have been recalled within the past five years.

The Japanese auto parts supplier announced on Friday that they have experienced a “special loss” of about 45 billion yen, which equates to $440 million, because of the problem.

Like most of the automakers participating in the recall, Mitsubishi has limited the recall to a portion of the United States and U.S. territories.

Mitsubishi released the following statement: “Due to NHTSA’s belief that humidity is a contributing factor to the inflator condition at issue, the (recall) will be limited to affected vehicles that are registered in, or were originally sold in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Some of the other automakers have expanded the recall to include other warm-weather states or the entire country.

7146630349_3373422b92_mMitsubishi says they do not know of any crashes, injuries or deaths related to Lancer sedans with Takata air bags. The company claims it has not found any safety defect on its own and is recalling the cars because it is working “in good faith” with NHTSA.

BMW announced earlier this week that it would recall 1.6 million 3 Series cars with Takata front passenger-side air bags.

According to a Mitsubishi spokesman, the company is “still investigating” how many Lancer sedans will be involved in the recall.

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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation’s No. 2 cigarette maker, has vowed to fight a jury verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.

The company’s executive called the damages awarded by a Pensacola jury “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”

This case is just one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion class action verdict. That ruling also noted that smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.

Last year, Florida’s highest court re-approved that decision, making it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court that Big Tobacco knowingly sold hazardous products and hid the dangers of cigarette smoking.

The damages awarded to the widow after a four-week trial came in addition to $16.8 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday.

The widow sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, who died in 1996.

The verdict came the same week that Reynolds American Inc., which owns R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, announced it was purchasing Lorillard Tobacco Co. Lorillard is the country’s No. 3 cigarette maker, and Reynolds purchased them in a $25 billion deal.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2015.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cigarette manufacturers’ appeals of more than $70 million in court judgments to Florida smokers. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. was seeking to have cases reviewed in which smokers won large damage awards without having to prove that the companies sold a defective and dangerous product or hid the risks of smoking.

Last year the Supreme Court refused to hear another of the companies’ appeals after they requested the court to consider overturning a $2.5 million Tampa jury verdict in the death of a smoker.

In addition to this lawsuit, other Florida juries have hit tobacco companies with tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages in lawsuits arising from the original class action lawsuit.

A Fort Lauderdale jury awarded $37.5 million, including $22.5 million in punitive damages against Reynolds in August to the family of a smoker who died at age 38 of lung cancer in 1995.

Then in September, the 3rd District Court of Appeals awarded $25 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages against Lorillard to a woman whose husband died in 1996 of lung cancer.

8493964179_438d49b6d7_mReynolds has already publicly announced its plan to fight the $23.6 billion award in punitive damages, calling it “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that when punitive damages are “grossly excessive,” they violate the constitutional guarantee of due process.

However, it is important to note that there is no number that makes punitive damages “excessive.” But, in 2008, the Supreme Court did caution against any award with more than a single digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages. In this case, the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages is 1,396 to 1. It will be interesting to see how the appeals process plays out and if this award will be found “excessive.”

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A law firm with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and St. Louis has allegedly used automation and support staff to sue hundreds of thousands of consumers to collect debts for credit card companies and debt buyers, according to a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

According to the lawsuit filed against Frederick J. Hanna & Associates and its three principal partners, in many cases the consumers don’t owe any money, or they owe money in lower amounts than claimed.

The CFPB claims that “To produce so many lawsuits, the firm operates less like a law firm than a factory. It relies on an automated system and nonattorney support staff to determine which consumers to sue. The nonattorney support staff produce the lawsuits and place them into mail buckets, which are then delivered to attorneys essentially waiting at the end of an assembly line. The firm’s attorneys are expected to spend less than a minute reviewing and approving each suit.”

8007390609_7dd5c108b9_mThe CFPB alleges that the debt-collection suits are signed with the names of lawyers at Frederick J. Hanna & Associates, though they are not actually involved in the process. The collection efforts are apparently based on faulty or inadequate documentation.

According to a CFPB press release, the suit seeks an injunction barring violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act, a civil fine, and restitution for victims.

While Frederick J. Hanna & Associates has offices in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and St. Louis, most of their lawyers listed are based out of Georgia. The suit alleges that the firm employs hundreds of nonlawyer staffers but only eight to 16 lawyers.

The firm collects debts on behalf of credit card issuers and debt buyers, according to reports. The lawsuit alleges that in Georgia alone the firm has filed more than 350,000 debt-collection suits from 2009 through 2013. One lawyer at the firm apparently signed an average of about 1,300 collection suits a week.

Most of these debt-collection suits resulted in a default judgment or settlement. The firm usually backed down once consumers responded. In fact, since 2009, lawyers voluntarily dismissed more than 40,000 of the Georgia collection suits, which equals to more than 155 cases a week, according to the CFPB suit.

The law firm’s managing partner said that the firm has cooperated with the CFPB and is disappointed by the lawsuit.

Collection agencies have recognized the potential profit that can be made from consumer debts that have gone unpaid. If you have been contacted by a collection agency or a law firm about an old debt, or a debt that you are not legally obligated to pay, a Florida Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help. Unlike other law firms, each and every single one of our cases is personally handled by our team of attorneys with the assistance of paralegals and investigators. We take pride in helping all of our clients receive a successful outcome, which is why we do not cut any corners when it comes to our legal work.

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Tracy Morgan has filed a lawsuit against Walmart following the catastrophic trucking accident that left him severely injured and killed another passenger. The New Jersey accident happened in June and ended up making national headlines after a truck driver smashed a tractor trailer into the rear end of the comedian’s limousine.

The lawsuit was filed on July 10th in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. Morgan, along with three other survivors filed the suit naming Walmart as the defendant. The complaint alleges that Walmart was negligent and responsible for the driver that crashed into the limousine.

Tracy MorganAccording to a report released last month, the truck driver was traveling at 20 miles per hour above the speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike when his tractor-trailer struck the rear of the Mercedes limousine van. Morgan suffered multiple fractures that required several surgeries. Morgan has since been released from the rehabilitation center and is continuing his recovery at home. The comedian will also have to endure aggressive outpatient treatment. The lawsuit names additional plaintiffs, including Morgan’s wife, who was eight months pregnant when the accident happened. The crash also killed 63-year-old comedian James McNair, who was better known by his stage name Jimmy Mack.

When a trucking accident occurs, it is very important for an independent investigation to be conducted in order to determine the exact cause of the accident and identify all responsible parties. A Florida Auto Accident Attorney at Whittel & Melton can uncover the facts of your car accident and pinpoint who is responsible.When a vehicle that is involved in an accident is owned by a company, such as Walmart, it is very important to consult with an attorney who can aggressively protect your rights. In cases like these, the driver can be considered an agent of the company, which means both can be held liable for accidents and injuries.

The lawsuit alleges that Walmart knew about or should have known that the 35-year-old Georgia driver had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours at the time of the crash. In fact, federal trucking regulations restrict the number of hours a driver can work behind the wheel without sleep. Any federal trucking violation can be used as evidence for negligence in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. The initial investigation into Morgan’s crash revealed that the driver had not slept for nearly 24 hours before the crash occurred. The truck driver was actually arrested following the accident.

The state of New Jersey has found the truck driver criminally liable for the accident, charging him with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. The driver has entered a not guilty plea. If the driver is found guilty in the criminal case, the results can be used as evidence of negligence in the civil lawsuit.

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A tourist from the United Kingdom was hospitalized Thursday morning following an accident on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

The tips of the man’s ring finger and his pinky finger on his right hand were severed, according to the Reedy Creek Fire Department.

The man was apparently holding on to the outside of the boat during the ride. It’s unclear what hit the man’s hand and caused the injury.

According to a Disney spokeswoman, the ride was briefly closed and has since been reopened.

3982929852_91b14c2e38_zA verbal safety message sounds each time the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is launched that warns guests to keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times. It’s not yet clear if the message is pre recorded or if a Disney employee is responsible for warning riders.

There are also signs posted in the area where guests wait to board the ride that say, “For your safety remain seated with hand, arms, feet and legs inside vehicle. Supervise children.”

Disney, along with other area theme parks voluntarily report “significant injuries” suffered on their attractions per an agreement with the state that exempts them from public ride-safety regulation.

In order to be classified as a significant injury, a guest must have been hurt on a ride and the injury must require an immediate hospital stay of more than 24 hours for more than just observation.

In its most recent report, Disney reported five guest injuries in the last quarter of 2013.

The Magic Kingdom logged three of these injuries: a 75-year-old woman who fell and broke her wrist while exiting the Mad Tea Party, a 48-year-old man who became ill after riding Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and a 35-year-old man with a pre-existing condition who experienced heart pain before and after riding The Haunted Mansion.

Additionally, a 29-year-old woman fell ill and suffered disorientation and slurred speech after riding Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a 68-year-old man broke his toe on the outer wall of Castaway Creek in the Typhoon Lagoon water park.

The last time someone was hospitalized after riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was in 2012. Reports indicate that a 71-year-old woman experienced dizziness, chest pain and mouth numbness.

Operators of amusement park rides have a duty to riders and guests to warn them about staying safe on rides. At this time it is unclear whether the injured tourist heard or disregarded the audio or failed to read warning signs on the Disney ride. However, if he plans to file a claim against the park, because of these warnings, he could actually be found negligent.

Based on Florida’s laws on comparative fault, if someone sues for damages and is found negligent, each party involved can be held liable for the portion of damage related to their fault. Meaning, if a lawsuit is filed and Disney was found to be only 10 percent at fault for the man’s injuries, then Disney would only be legally required to cover 10 percent of the damages.

Disneyland, Disney World’s California cousin, has actually been sued more than 100 times for injuries from 2007 to 2012. Most of these cases were settled out of court. It is not clear at this point whether this man will attempt to seek damages for his severed fingertip, however, Disney will likely add this incident to their “significant injuries” report for the year.

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A St. Petersburg Fire Rescue crew saved a man after he fell into a deep hole at a construction site Wednesday morning.

The 57-year-old man was working with a construction crew on top of a concrete lift station at 92nd Avenue N and 3rd Street. Authorities believe he may have backed into the 2-foot-by-2-foot opening before falling some 25 feet.

The accident occurred around 9:40 a.m. The man was trapped for around an hour.

8530434571_8eebb37dd3_mRescue officials used heavy equipment and a basket to retrieve the man. He suffered fractures to his arms and legs and was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Officials were very concerned about the possibility of rain since there was already sewer water in the hole, but fortunately that was not an issue.

Construction work is considered to be one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Construction sites contain many hazards such as heavy machinery, demolition, elevated heights, crowded work sites and other dangers that can leave a worker or passerby seriously injured. Construction accidents almost always result in injuries, and even when all safety guidelines and precautions are followed accidents can occur from poor planning, improper training, lack of communication and even failure to warn employees of pending dangers on site during a project. Slip, trip and fall accidents are quite common because of uneven ground, holes and other various trip hazards. Unfortunately, hard hats do little to protect workers from suffering a head, brain or spinal cord injury. If you have been injured while working on a construction project in Florida, a Florida Injury Attorney at Whittel & Melton can help.

Construction work is not only demanding, but it is very dangerous. Any type of construction accident has the ability to result in catastrophic personal injuries and even death. After suffering an injury, your medical bills can continue to pile up, and your inability to work can place a severe financial strain on your and your family. A Florida Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help hold construction companies responsible for their negligence. We will work tirelessly to make sure that you get the justice you deserve and that your family has everything they need so that you can focus on your health and recovering.

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The National Safety Council delegates the months of June and July to focus on fireworks safety, since fireworks injuries are most common between June 1 and July 4 each year.

Eye injuries are a noteworthy concern when it comes to projectile fireworks like bottle rockets and Roman candles. According to Prevent Blindness America, eye injuries are common with fireworks, as are burns and other very serious injuries. Most of those who suffer fireworks-related eye injuries are children under the age of 15 since they do not fully understand the dangers of these hot explosives, but it is important to point out that anyone can be harmed by fireworks.

fireworksLast year there were eight deaths and about 11,400 injuries nationally from fireworks, according to a recent report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. To help protect yourself and those you love from fireworks injuries this summer, please familiarize yourself with the following safety tips:

  • Check the fireworks laws and ordinances where you live. In the state of Florida, consumer fireworks are illegal. However, state lawmakers passed an exception to this rule allowing fireworks to be purchased by farms and fish hatcheries. In order for vendors to sell fireworks to customers, all they have to do is have purchasers sign forms saying they’re buying under an agricultural or other exemption.
  • Never let children play with fireworks. While most people tend to think hand-held fireworks like sparklers are safe enough, know that these can reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause serious burn injuries. Do not let your child play with, hold or light off fireworks of any kind.
  • If you are going to light off fireworks, make sure to set up a fire-resistant area. Everyone else should be kept several yards away from this area. Also, have a fire extinguisher or hose handy in case fireworks get out of control.
  • Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Rather than lighting off your own fireworks at home, head to professional fireworks shows. While you could still possibly be injured at one of these shows, the risk is much lower than if you choose to light your own fireworks off at your house.

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There are way too many drivers in Florida and across the United States that are taking their eyes off the road while behind the wheel and placing lives at risk. That is why officials with the National Safety Council have dedicated week four of National Safety Month to putting an end to distracted driving.

Our Florida Auto Accident Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know that thousands are killed each and every year as a result of drivers using cell phones while driving and engaging in other distractions. According to Distraction.gov, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes in 2012. In that same year, another 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

distracted drivingWhile it may seem shocking, officials estimate that around 20 percent of all injury accidents involve a distracted driver. And these are just the accidents that are reported. Officials believe that the real number is much higher due to the fact that most drivers do not openly admit that they were irresponsible and that their distracted driving caused an accident.

To help put an end to this deadly driving behavior, officials with the NSC are asking drivers to:

  • Place cell phones and hand held devices out of sight while operating a motor vehicle. Place your phone in the back seat, in a purse or briefcase or in the glove compartment. When your phone is out of sight, it’s also out of mind.
  • Familiarize yourself with the dangers of distracted driving. The more you are aware of and understand, the less likely you are to engage in these risky behaviors.
  • Spread the word! Talk with your friends, family members and neighbors in your community about how dangerous distracted driving is. Changing driver behaviors is a group effort.
  • If you are on the phone with someone while they are driving, tell them that you will speak with them once they have stopped at a safe location.
  • Pledge to drive cell phone free. Encourage your friends and family members to do the same. Taking just this small step is all part of creating a larger change.

The truth is that drivers who use cell phones and hand held devices are about four times more likely to get into a serious crash resulting in injuries than drivers who put their cell phones away. Likewise, texting drivers are about 23 times more likely to get into an accident.

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