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Who Is At Fault in a High-Speed Chase?

On July 30, 2013, a high-speed police chase through Birmingham and suburban Homewood resulted in two collisions and three injuries.

Police state that they spotted a man with outstanding arrest warrants driving in Birmingham’s south side shortly before 6:00 p.m. The chase ended when the suspect’s vehicle crashed into another car near the corner of Roxbury and Oxmoor in Homewood. Another crash occurred previously on 18th Street. The fleeing suspect, his passenger (who also had an outstanding arrest warrant) and another driver were all rushed to area hospitals.

One witness remarked that she was “surprised” that more people weren’t hurt, given that the events occurred in a busy downtown area during rush hour. An Alabama car accident lawyer may become involved due to the serious injuries suffered by at least one and arguably two innocent bystanders.

Negligence in a high-speed chase

Accidents in high-speed chases are a serious problem. The FBI reports that one person dies every day in a high-speed chase. While peace officers are granted some leeway in their pursuit of some suspects, Alabama law does set limits on their behavior. These officers — and the city, county or state that employs them — may be liable for damages caused in a high-speed chase. Damages may include property damage and compensation for injury or death.

  • Officers are held to a simple negligence standard in Alabama. Even if they are in a high-speed emergency chase, they have a duty of reasonable care to other innocent third parties.
  • Despite a minority of states that impose liability in such situations, an injured suspect cannot sue for damages in Alabama because the suspect could have pulled over at any time and ended the chase.

The experienced and tough attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum are not intimidated by a government agency, insurance company or anyone else that is standing between you and fair compensation for your injuries. Call today for your free consultation.

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NFL Concussion Lawsuit Settlement

The National Football League (NFL) has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with current and former players regarding brain damage suffered by players, allegedly while competing on the football field.

The total value of the settlement is $765 million. Settlement terms include $675 million in compensation to former players and their survivors, and $90 million for further research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disorder players say they contracted as a result of multiple violent collisions while playing professional football. The players also state the NFL failed to take sufficient action to protect players from CTE.

While the settlement amount may seem rather small, given the number of plaintiffs (4,500) and the NFL’s revenue ($10 billion per year), the case highlights a few common elements in any settlement strategy in any negligence action.

There are many times that a trial is desirable or necessary. The parties may be too far apart on a settlement figure, the plaintiffs may want the publicity that a trial brings, the parties may want an enforceable court order, and there are other reasons. However, just because your attorney tries to work out a settlement does not mean that he or she is caving into the other side’s demands or that your case lacks merit. For the most part, an agreed settlement is a better option:

  • Control. Liability is hardly ever clear-cut in complicated negligence cases, and there is absolutely no way to predict how a jury will view the facts and make its decision. A pretrial settlement gives the parties control over the outcome that they simply do not have in a trial.
  • Cost. Trials cost a lot of money, both in terms of an attorney’s time and in terms of hard costs, such as expert witness fees and deposition expenses. A plaintiff can accept less money at a pretrial settlement and actually come out ahead because the former costs are avoided.
  • Speed. If a case is litigated, it can be years or even a decade before a victorious plaintiff sees any money. The NFL players’ attorneys specifically said that one of their goals was to get money right away for the retirees and families who badly needed it.

The attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum are experienced in all phases of a negligence case. They know when to push for a settlement and when a trial is a better option. You can trust them to make the decision that best promotes your interests. Contact McPhillips Shinbaum to schedule your free consultation.

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Three Shades of Cause

A previous post discussed the legal duty that one person owes another person. Once it is established that the plaintiff owed you a duty, the next step in your negligence case is to link that duty to your damages. While duty is largely a legal question — for the most part, the law determines who is an “employee” and who is an “independent contractor” and so on — causation is nearly always a fact question.


Simply stated, defendants breach their duty when they fail to do what they are supposed to do. If a driver runs a stop sign or fails to yield the right of way, that is a breach of the duty of care. If a pharmaceutical company fails to warn patients about a known drug risk, that is a breach of the company’s duty of care.

Cause in fact

Often, a defendant argues that the breach of duty did not cause the plaintiff’s damage. A driver may admit hitting another vehicle, but argue that the victim’s leg injury was a preexisting sports injury that was not caused by the collision.

Proximate cause

Proximate cause is a difficult concept, and perhaps best explained by a 100-year-old court case. “Poor Mrs. Palsgraf” was waiting for a train in Long Island with her two daughters. As the train left, two railroad porters tried to help a man onto the train. As the porters jostled the passenger, the passenger dropped a package of fireworks. The fireworks exploded, and Mrs. Palsgraf suffered a “nervous disorder.” When Mrs. Palsgraf sued the railroad company, the court determined that the porters did not proximately cause Mrs. Palsgraf’s injury. Other intervening causes may include a criminal act or a third driver in a multi-car pile-up.

Anytime you are injured in an accident, whether you are on a railroad platform or anywhere else, speak to an attorney right away. A lawyer can help you get in to see a doctor and help you preserve any legal rights you may have. Contact McPhillips Shinbaum today for your free consultation.

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Damages in a Negligence Case

The final element in your negligence case is damage. The other elements — duty, breach, cause-in-fact and proximate cause — may all be clearly established, but if there are no damages then there can be no negligence lawsuit. Your damages can fall into one of several categories.

Economic damages

The typical car accident costs a lot of money. Those damages include:

  • Property damage. Even a minor bump or scrape can cause hundreds of dollars in damage to your car. A moderate or severe accident can cause thousands of dollars or even total your car. If you must replace your car, the replacement cost is part of your economic damages. Even if you keep your car, the defendant is responsible for your car’s reduced resale value due to the accident and subsequent repair.
  • Lost wages. Many victims must miss work both due to the immediate injury, and also to visit the doctor for follow-up visits and therapy sessions. In more severe cases, the plaintiff may be disabled or dead and unable to return to work at all.
  • Medical bills. Reimbursable medical expenses include past medical expenses, current medical expenses and also future medical expenses. While past and current medical expenses are easily established, an expert witness is usually needed to accurately predict your future medical expenses.
  • Exemplary damages. Depending on the facts of your case, punitive damages may be available to punish the defendant and deter future wrongful conduct.

Noneconomic damages

In addition to the actual monetary costs, there are emotional costs as well. Your damages include fair compensation for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment of life and other injuries which have no fixed price tag.

For total representation in your negligence case, contact the personal injury attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum to schedule your free consultation.

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Pedestrian Killed in Far Northeast Atlanta

The Hall County Sherriff’s Office reports that a pedestrian was killed in a Hall County personal injury accident in the early morning hours of Tuesday, September 3, 2013.

The victim was crossing State Road 211, near State Road 53, when she was hit and killed by an oncoming car. State Road 211 was closed for some time as authorities gathered evidence and spoke with witnesses.

Serious pedestrian accidents such as this are all too common, especially on roads where the pedestrian must walk on the shoulder or cross traffic without a light. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) further points out that most pedestrian deaths occur between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., or during the weekend, when motorists are less likely to be looking for pedestrians. NHTSA predicted that the overall number of pedestrian-vehicle accidents may fall, but that the injuries suffered in these incidents may become more severe.

Common Causes of Pedestrian Accidents

Like most other motor vehicle accidents, many pedestrian-vehicle accidents may share one or more common causes:

  • Distracted Driving. Even if motorists are aware that pedestrians may be in the area, drivers may still be too distracted to adequately look out for pedestrians. Most pedestrian victims are either under age 10 or over age 65, perhaps underscoring the fact that drivers are simply not watching carefully enough.
  • Speed. Although the incidents of pedestrian-vehicle accidents increases as the speed limit increases, less than 10% of pedestrian-vehicle accidents involve excessive speed. These statistics suggest that speed is more of an indirect factor. Drivers are watchful for pedestrians on neighborhood streets and side streets, but tend to ignore pedestrians on major roads and highways.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a pedestrian accident, regardless of the cause, speak to the experienced attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum to preserve any rights to recovery you may have.

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Fatal Accident in Huntsville Raises Third-Party Liability Questions

A father and son have both denied responsibility in a recent fatal traffic accident in Huntsville.

Court documents state that Richard Scarano allowed his son Gunner Scarano to drive the family truck. The younger Scarano was involved in a collision in south Huntsville that killed a 10-year-old boy and injured two others. The lawsuit names both father and son as defendants, alleging that Gunner caused the accident and that Richard negligently entrusted the vehicle to Gunner.

Third-party liability

This case illustrates the point that the person behind the wheel may not necessarily be the only responsible party. Given the high number of uninsured and underinsured motorists, third-party liability can be a very important component of your negligence case. A third party may be responsible for your injuries in several situations, among them:

  • Negligent entrustment becomes a factor if a person entrusts a vehicle to an incompetent or reckless driver — such as an underage or intoxicated driver — the entrusting party may be responsible for damages caused in an accident.
  • Respondeat superior applies if an employee commits a tort (such as an auto accident) during the course and scope of employment. Alabama has special definitions for each of these terms.
  • Dram shop liability, or saloon owner liability, comes into play if a shopkeeper either serves a minor or knowingly serves an intoxicated person, and that person subsequently causes an accident. A business owner may also be liable if a person was served alcohol “contrary to the provisions of law,” such as serving alcohol in a dry county.

The attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum have been protecting the victims of motor vehicle collisions in Alabama since 1978. Call today to schedule your free consultation with an experienced attorney.

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Two Teenagers Die In Collision With Large Truck

A West Alabama football player died in an automobile accident over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Nineteen-year-old Anthony Robinson was traveling with his 12-year-old cousin on Highway 43 near Robinson’s hometown of Linden, Alabama when both were killed in a collision with an 18-wheeler.

In 2009, large trucks logged nearly three billion miles and caused nearly four thousand deaths. Even after 10 years of decline, large trucks still killed 73 Alabamans in 2009. Fully loaded trucks are simply so huge that they are very difficult, if not impossible, to stop suddenly. Some of the serious or mortal injuries that may result from collisions between a large truck and a passenger car or light tuck include:

  • Burns. If the large truck’s diesel fuel happens to catch fire, the fire can be much hotter and much more intense than a gasoline fire. Severe burns can mean a series of painful skin grafts. Many patients do not survive this procedure. Even if they do survive, there may be permanent disfiguring scars and other permanent injuries.
  • Crushed body parts. Because a large truck has such a hard time stopping, it frequently pushes the other vehicle like a snow plow until both vehicles come to rest against a bridge or embankment, or some other hard and unforgiving surface. By the time the first responders arrive and free the trapped occupants, their legs or arms may have been crushed by the car as it collapsed around them.
  • Severe trauma injuries. Even if the occupants are wearing seat belts and the air bags properly deploy, the sudden force of the impact can frequently cause head, neck and spinal injuries.

The attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum conduct their business according to one guiding principle: dignity. That commitment means that our attorneys always treat you with the respect you deserve, whether that means promptly returning your phone calls or being as prepared as we can possibly be before we go into court. Contact McPhillips Shinbaum to schedule your free consultation.

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Make Every Month Safety Month

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Although a simple statement, the thought applies well to accident prevention and legal remedies. Putting a focus on safety saves lives and lawsuits.

Sponsored by the National Safety Council, June was National Safety Month. The theme for 2013 was Safety Starts With Me. The goal was to urge individuals to take their own safety, and the safety of co-workers, family and friends into account throughout daily life. Each week offered a safety theme like understanding slip and fall accidents, emergency preparedness, ergonomics and employee wellness.

Our firm works hard to obtain compensation for clients injured in many ways. Consider these points about accidents in the United States:

  • Fires are the third leading cause of deadly home injury in the country. The youngest and oldest family members are the most vulnerable. In 2010, a person was injured in a fire about every 30 minutes and a person died in a fire approximately every 169 minutes. Fire prevention, including installation and proper operation of smoke alarms, does not make headlines until tragedy occurs.
  • From pills to pesticides, unintentional poisoning kills over 80 people per day. Poison can be eaten, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.
  • About 200,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for a fall-related injury each year.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 people are treated for dog bites every year. Understanding leash laws and responsible pet ownership is essential for keeping your children and your dog safe.

Preventing painful accidents is better than putting life back together after the injury, disability or the death of a loved one. Every month should be National Safety Month. If you are injured through the negligence of someone else, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney in Alabama.


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What to Do After a Hit and Run Accident

Under Alabama law, anyone who is injured in an accident that results from the reckless or negligent actions of someone else is entitled to compensation for medical expenses and other losses. In a car accident, the insurance company representing the at-fault party typically ends up paying these damages. But what happens if you are injured in a hit and run accident?

Hit and run accidents account for 20 percent of cases where a pedestrian is struck by a car, as well as many auto collisions. It is illegal to leave the scene after an accident in Alabama, but a driver might flee for a variety of reasons:

  • Not licensed
  • Not insured
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving a stolen vehicle
  • Avoiding police because of an outstanding arrest warrant

According to an analysis of accident reports by the American Automobile Association (AAA), 18 percent of fatal car crashes involved drivers without a proper license, including licenses that had been revoked or suspended after previous traffic violations. The organization estimates that half of the drivers who disappear after a fatal hit and run are unlicensed.

If you are involved in a hit and run auto accident, your first priority is to get medical attention and contact the police. If possible, you should also do the following:

  • Get the names and contact information of any witnesses
  • Write down all the details of the accident that you remember
  • Document the scene of accident with photos or video
  • Contact an experienced auto accident lawyer

Any clues about the identity of the at-fault driver or vehicle can help law enforcement track them down and arrest them. An experienced attorney can offer help with investigating the hit and run accident and, if necessary, negotiating a fair compensation deal with your own insurance company.

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Understanding the Brain — and Brain Injuries

Currently there is no cure for the often permanently disabling damage of brain trauma. But in April of this year, the White House announced an expansive initiative to explore brain function, map its circuitry and develop new ways to address brain injury and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) was announced by President Obama in April of this year. The President hopes to spark innovation that will help current patients prevent future brain injury and provide long-term job opportunities. By plumbing the depths of how we think, it is hoped this ambitious project will lead to scientific development on the level of our quest to reach the moon more than 43 years ago.

Initial research monies will go to:

  • Approximately $50 million will be routed to The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop innovative technologies based on discoveries in brain structure and function
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive approximately $40 million to assist with research and resource development
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund research in the physical, social, biological and behavioral sciences with approximately $20 million in start-up funds

This is an initiative for our times that seeks to help the world without by finding answers within. Time will tell if, like many other great ideas, the results fall short of the vision. For victims of brain injury, while new science helps each year, another giant leap for mankind could give hope where currently there is none.

If you or a loved one suffers head or brain injury, always seek experienced legal counsel.