Category Archives: Safety Tips

Airplane Turbulence Injuries: Liability is Up in the Air

Five people had to be hospitalized on Monday after their United Airlines flight encountered some rough turbulence on the flight path between Denver and Billings, Montana. (Get the full story from The Denver Post.)

While a particularly bumpy flight can lead to rows full of white knuckles and muttered prayers, the fact is that actual injuries caused by turbulence are pretty rare.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration, every year around 58 people in the U.S. are injured by turbulence on a commercial flight. Over an almost-20 year period (from 1980 through 2008), 298 airline passengers and flight attendants were seriously injured in a turbulence-related incident, and three people died.

But what if you are injured on a turbulent flight? It’s possible that the airline could be held legally responsible for your injuries, especially since airlines are considered “common carriers” and the law imposes a heightened duty of care on them. That means airlines must use the vigilance of a very cautious person in order to protect passengers from potential harm.

That heightened standard of care doesn’t guarantee that you will have an easy time proving your case, however. It’s not enough to show that your flight experienced turbulence and that you were injured as a result. You also need to prove that the airline or one of its employees was somehow negligent in connection with the incident.

So, did the captain and the flight crew take reasonable steps to avoid the turbulence and follow proper protocol for warning passengers — ordering everyone to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts, for example? Was the flight understaffed? You could also have a valid claim against the manufacturer of a seatbelt or other piece of equipment if it was defective or otherwise did not perform properly, and that played a role in your injury.

On the other side of the causation coin, if the plane’s captain warned passengers to stay in their seats with their seatbelts fastened because the aircraft was entering a particularly rough stretch of turbulent air, and you decided to stretch your legs in the aisle anyway, the airline is likely to argue that you share most or all of the blame for your own injuries.

For everything you need to know about these kinds of cases, check out Nolo’s popular article Airplane Turbulence and In-Flight Injuries.

It’s a Super Bowl Party! Who Brought the Lawsuit?

What’s more American than twelve-minute renditions of the National Anthem and sexually suggestive potato chip commercials? Lawsuits, that’s what.

Maybe your Seahawks fan buddy has an awesome recipe for German potato salad that involves leaving the dish in the trunk of his car for 24 hours. Perhaps that weird friend of a friend in the Peyton Manning jersey keeps doing a shot of Jagermeister every time number 18 calls “Omaha!” at the line of scrimmage.

With the Super Bowl only a few days away, before you open your home to friends and family (and show off your new billboard-sized flat screen for the big game), remember that you could also be opening yourself up to legal liability. If, for example:

  • someone is injured on your property
  • someone comes down with a bad case of food poisoning because of something they ate while they were at your party (whether you made the food or not), or
  • someone has too much to drink before they leave your place, they get behind the wheel, and they end up getting into a drunk driving accident.

The specifics of your potential liability as a homeowner depend on the laws that are in place in your state. And whether or not you’re sufficiently protected in case of a lawsuit depends on the coverage details you can find in your homeowner’s insurance policy.

All of this good advice is brought to you by the party poopers fine folks over at Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. Check out their Super Bowl Party Playbook for all the details.

Study: More Kids at ER for Sports-Related Brain Injuries

A new study shows that almost twice as many kids are visiting emergency rooms with sports-related head injuries these days, compared with the number from 10 years ago. The study, titled Emergency Department Utilization Trends in Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injury, was just released online in the journal “Pediatrics.” But while the numbers show a big uptick in visits to the ER, the trend for admissions to the hospital remains largely unchanged.

Here are some highlights from the study:

  • Data included kids up to 19 years of age who visited Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s emergency room or trauma center from 2002 to 2011.
  • Hospital registries were analyzed to determine how many of those children were admitted and given a primary or secondary diagnosis of traumatic brain injury.
  • Participation in a sports activity was found to have prompted 15.4 percent of these ER visits.
  • Just over 90 percent of kids were checked out and discharged, while just over nine percent were admitted.
  • ER visits for sports-related TBIs increased 92% over the study period, but there was no significant change in the percentage of children who were admitted.

It is highly unlikely that kids are actually suffering twice as many brain injuries as they did 10 years ago, or that the injuries they are sustaining are more serious all of a sudden. More than anything else, studies like this one probably illustrate the vastly increased amount of attention being paid to head injuries, especially concussions, everywhere from the playground to the NFL. (More: NFL and Players Reach $765M Concussion Settlement.)

10 years ago, parents may not have been all that in tune with the significant risks that could come if their child hit their head in gymnastics or had their “bell rung” colliding with a teammate on the soccer field. These days, a justifiable abundance of caution is being exercised when it comes to sports-related head injuries.

Total Recall Information Available to Vehicle Owners Under New Federal Rule

Wondering whether your car has been the subject of any manufacturer recalls? What about the defect history of that gently-used SUV you’re thinking about buying? It hasn’t been all that easy to track down critical information like this, but that could all change thanks to a new federal requirement announced by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA).

By this time next year, you’ll be able to enter your vehicle identification number (VIN) into an online auto manufacturer database, and get detailed information on any recall affecting your car, light truck, or motorcycle. According to the NHTSA, manufacturers will be required to update the databases at least weekly, and a related search feature will also be available on the federal government’s official automotive safety website www.safercar.gov.

“Currently, consumers are limited to general searches by vehicle make and model year on the NHTSA website. With the new VIN search feature, consumers will be able to tell whether a specific vehicle is subject to a recall and whether the vehicle has received the remedy,” the NHTSA said in its press release announcing the new rule.

What are your legal options if your vehicle is recalled, or if you’re in a car accident where a vehicle defect may have played a part? Learn more in our Nolo articles Safety Recalls for Cars and Motorcycles and Product Liability Claims Involving Defective Cars.

Get a Jump on Trampoline Safety

If you’ve got a trampoline in your backyard, your first priority is to keep things safe for kids and anyone else who might end up using it. (That includes neighborhood foxes.)

Homeowners need to be particularly mindful of any potential dangers when it comes to the condition of a trampoline and the way it is being used. Otherwise, you could open yourself up to legal liability for any injury that ends up occurring. And even when the liability provision of your homeowners insurance coverage kicks in, it can still end up costing you by way of increased premiums or even a cancelled policy.

The safety-related steps you need to take depend on the law in your state, and especially whether or not a trampoline is considered an “attractive nuisance,” which would trigger a heightened set of precautions for kids visiting your property, even when they are technically trespassing. (Learn more about homeowner liability for trampoline injuries and attractive nuisance laws.)

With that in mind — alongside the reminder that there were over 83,000 trampoline-related emergency room visits in 2011 alone — the U.S. Consumer Production Safety Commission recently offered some Trampoline Safety Tips for parents and homeowners:

  • only one person on the trampoline at a time
  • no somersaults
  • shock-absorbing pads should completely cover the trampoline’s springs, hooks and frame
  • trampoline should be placed well away from structures, trees and other play areas
  • no child under 6 years of age should use a full-size trampoline.
  • do not use a ladder with the trampoline, because it provides unsupervised access by small children
  • always supervise children who use a trampoline, and
  • use a trampoline enclosure to help prevent injuries from falls.

Study Offers a Heads-Up on Distracted Walking

We’ve all heard about the dangers of talking on a cell phone or texting while behind the wheel. But a new study confirms that even when we’re walking around using our smart phones, we’re still making dumb decisions.

The journal Accident Analysis & Prevention is soon to publish its findings on emergency room visits by pedestrians who were using their mobile phone in a public place when they suffered an injury, and the trend looks like this:

  • 256 to 597 such incidents occurred between 2004 and 2007
  • 1,055 occurred in 2008
  • 1,113 took place in 2009, and
  • there were 1,506 in 2010.

Perhaps not surprisingly, young whippersnappers (which the study referred to as “people under 31 years of age”) were among the most often-injured in these pedestrian accidents, and as far as comparisons to distracted driving, as  WebMD points out, “estimated numbers of injuries to pedestrians on cellphones were roughly equal to those of drivers who were on cellphones.”

On the perceived dangers of talking versus texting, this from The Atlantic, after pointing out a few “schadenfreudic gems” from the study where pedestrians were engaged in actual conversation: “Notice that these people were talking, not texting. In fact, 69.5 percent of the injuries that occured during this time came from people who were distracted by a conversation; texting only accounted for 9.1 percent.”

 

Mail Carrier Dog Bites: USPS Ranks Cities

Montagues versus Capulets. Red Sox versus Yankees. Charlie Brown versus Lucy’s football. These rivalries are rooted in history and tradition, and it wouldn’t be wrong to add dogs versus mail carriers to that list. Just in time for Dog Bite Prevention Week, the U.S. Postal Service is shining a spotlight on U.S. cities where mail carriers are most at-risk for getting bitten by one of their four-legged neighborhood foes. See where your city ranks by checking out Postal Service Releases Top Dog Attack City Rankings (from USPS.com).

Every year, dogs bite more than 4.7 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thankfully, the majority of those bites are minor and don’t require any medical attention. And of the more than 4.7 million people who are bitten by dogs each year, about 800,000 seek medical attention, including about 385,000 people who need to visit a hospital emergency room or other urgent care center. (See more Dog Bite Statistics and Trends.)

The USPS is asking pet owners to help prevent future skirmishes that are no laughing matter to the people charged with delivering the nation’s mail. And if keeping postal carriers safe isn’t enough of an incentive, there’s always this “promise”, from Ken Snavely, the acting postmaster of Los Angeles (the city that led the list for 2012): “If our letter carriers deem your loose dog to be a threat, you’ll be asked to pick up your mail at the Post Office until it’s safe to deliver.”

So, there’s that. Plus, you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of a Dog Bite Injury Lawsuit.

Is Your Kid’s Car Booster Seat a Good Fit?

Parents who are shopping for the right car booster seat for their kids have better (and safer) options to choose from than ever before, according to testing and new ratings issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

When it comes to car booster seat safety, finding the right fit is the name of the game. And after its most recent comprehensive study of 62 booster seat models, IIHS has named a record 31 seats as “Best Bets.” According to the group’s press release on the study, a booster seat qualifies as a “Best Bet” when it “correctly positions a vehicle safety belt on a typical 4 to 8 year-old in almost any car, minivan, or SUV.”

Since a vehicle’s seatbelts are designed for adults, a booster seat is needed to elevate the child into a position where the belt can properly restrain the child in case a car accident happens or a sudden stop is necessary. IIHS advises parents to make sure that the lap belt lies flat across a child’s upper legs, and that the shoulder belt comes down over the middle of the shoulder — not up close to the child’s neck, and not down closer to the upper arm.

Read the IIHS press release on the study, and check out the complete ratings.

The IIHS website has a lot of useful information on child passenger safety, including this Q&A.

The Fourth of July and Fireworks Laws

The Fourth of July is here, and it’s probably best to leave fireworks to trained professionals, so you can focus on other things — hey, how long has that potato salad been sitting out? But every year more than a few Americans wonder what their state and local laws have to say on the purchase and use of fireworks (from sparklers to M-80s) because nothing says independence quite like flaunting the freedom to suffer third degree burns in your own garage. Luckily, there are a number of reputable websites that sum up each state’s fireworks laws quite nicely. Two of the better state-by-state collections come from the American Pyrotechnics Association and the National Council on Fireworks.

While these resources will give you the do’s and don’ts of buying and using fireworks at the state level, to get the most accurate and up-to-date understanding of fireworks laws where you live, you might want to start by contacting your local law enforcement agency or fire department (at the city, county, or town level). Local laws on fireworks may be stricter than those at the state level, so what’s legal in other parts of your state may actually be against the law where you live.

On the safety side of things, for everything you ever wanted to know about the risks of using fireworks (and let’s face it, a few horror stories can come in handy when you’re trying to educate kids) check out the 2010 Report on Fireworks-Related Deaths and Emergency Department-Treated Injuries, from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The U.S. Fire Administration offers these warnings and tips on fireworks. CPSC also reminds you that fireworks big and small can pose risks and provides this online fireworks safety portal.

New Crib Safety Standards Take Effect

New federal safety standards for cribs are in effect as of June 28, 2011. After dozens of high-profile crib recalls and infant injuries linked to defective crib hardware, the new crib safety rules — which include a ban on all drop-side cribs — seek to establish “a new generation of safer cribs” and provide clear guidelines for parents and caregivers.

The new federal crib requirements (detailed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission here) can be broken down into five key provisions:
1. Drop-side cribs can no longer be manufactured, sold, or re-sold in the U.S. (parents and caregivers are instructed to either look into getting an immobilizer for a drop-side crib, or to disassemble and discard any drop-side cribs they own.)
2. Mattress supports must be stronger and more durable
3. Slats must be made of stronger wood to prevent breakage.
4. Crib hardware must be more durable, including incorporation of anti-loosening devices to keep hardware from coming loose and falling off.
5. Safety testing that is more rigorous, to better establish a crib’s durability over time.

If you’re in the market for a new crib, or if you’re wondering whether a crib you already have is in line with the new federal standards, you’ve probably got plenty of questions. Hopefully, CPSC has the answers. Check out The New Crib Standard: Questions and Answers and CPSC’s Crib Information Center for more information.