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Personal Injury Blog

Los Angeles Bicycle Ridership Increases Due to COVID-19: What Does That Mean for You?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Thanks to COVID-19, more people than ever are riding their bicycles through Los Angeles to get to work and school or to enjoy leisure activities. Riding a bicycle is a great solitary activity that allows you to get in some much-needed exercise and see more of Los Angeles. Not only that, bus use is down throughout the Los Angeles area as people try to avoid high-traffic areas and close quarters. 

If you've chosen to ride your bicycle to help reduce potential COVID-19 exposure or to enjoy a little exercise during this unprecedented period, it offers a number of advantages. You may find that using your bicycle allows you to:

  • Get in more exercise--a great answer to gym closures or avoiding the gym due to COVID-19
  • Get to your destination faster than walking
  • Improve your familiarity with the city and everything it has to offer through a rolling tour

At the same time, if you're using your bicycle during this time, there are several things you need to know. 

1. As more people ride their bicycles, bicycle accidents increase.

In part, accidents increase because there are simply more people riding their bikes and, with more people riding, accident risk increases substantially. Accident risk can also increase as bicycles become a more familiar sight on Los Angeles streets. Drivers may not yield as readily, or they might not take into consideration the needs of the cyclists around them, especially if they have been slowed down by bicycles as they hurry to work. 

2. You must also follow the rules of the road.

Just as drivers have specific rules that they must follow on the road, bicyclists must also follow those rules. You should not ride on sidewalks and other walking areas, but should ride in bike lanes when available. You should also follow traffic signals, yield to oncoming traffic, and follow any posted signs and limitations. 

3. Be aware at all times.

As a bicycle rider, you have little protection from the ground, the cars around you, and any obstacles in your way. Wearing a helmet can significantly decrease TBI risk, but it does not eliminate it entirely, nor does it protect the rest of your body from injury. You are also smaller than the large vehicles driving around you. Many drivers fail to notice the presence of bicycle riders in their lanes because bicycles do not fit the pattern they look for: instead of a large vehicle, you have a much smaller profile and travel at a different rate of speed. Some drivers may find you hard to spot. As a result, you must remain aware of your surroundings at all times and take steps to protect yourself as needed. 

4. Know what to do if you have an accident.

Many people are using their bicycles, not just for leisure or exercise, but to get to work and school: important destinations they need to reach in a timely manner. Nevertheless, you must take the right steps if you have an accident, even a minor accident. You should:

  • Report the accident and wait for the police to arrive, even if you believe you did not suffer serious injury. 
  • Collect insurance information for the other driver.
  • Seek medical attention, even if you believe you did not suffer serious injury.

A full evaluation from a medical professional can help ensure that you did not miss an injury that could cause serious problems later and serve as valuable evidence if you need to file a personal injury claim. 

Did You Suffer Injuries in a Bicycle Accident in Los Angeles?

If you suffered injuries in a Los Angeles bicycle accident, contact Freeman & Freeman today to learn more about your legal rights and how we can help you seek compensation for your injuries. 

Uber Backup Driver Charged in Fatal Autonomous Vehicle Crash

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

On August 27, 2018, the first self-driving vehicle fatality occurred in Tempe, Arizona. More than two years later, Rafaela Vasquez, the backup Uber driver who was monitoring the autonomous vehicle at the time of the crash, has been charged with negligent homicide. She is accused of being distracted and failing to monitor the safety of the Uber vehicle, resulting in the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49, of Phoenix, AZ. 

Uber driver claims she didn't use cell phone

Uber backup driver Vasquez, 46, pleaded not guilty at a September 15, 2020 hearing. She told investigators that she was not using her cell phone before the crash. However, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, she was watching "The Voice" on her cell phone at the moment of the accident and failed to monitor the road. As a result, the autonomous Uber SUV struck and killed Hertzberg.

The National Transportation Safety Board also cited several contributing factors to the crash. These included:

  • Uber's inadequate safety procedures
  • Uber's ineffective driver oversight
  • The victim being outside the crosswalk
  • The Arizona Department of Transportation's lack of oversight of autonomous vehicles and testing

In addition, the NTSB said Uber's decision to deactivate it's automatic emergency braking system and instead rely on human backup drivers was a contributing factor to the accident. 

Details of the Uber vehicle accident

Uber's system did detect Herzberg 5.6 seconds before she was struck. However, it did not determine if she was a pedestrian, bicyclist, or unknown object. It also did not detect that she was headed into the vehicle's path.

According to court records, Vasquez has a criminal history, having spent four years in prison. This was for making false statements to obtain unemployment benefits, and attempted armed robbery, both felony convictions.  According to a toxicology report, Herzberg had methamphetamine in her system. 

Uber was not criminally charged

In March of 2019, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the Uber rideshare corporation in the matter of Herzberg's death. This decision was made by Yavapai County attorney Sheila Polk. The prosecutor's office in Phoenix declined to be involved with the case, citing a possible conflict of interest. He had previously been involved in an Uber public safety campaign. 

After the decision was made to not criminally charge the Uber corporation, the case was returned to the Phoenix prosecutors office, since the lack of a charge eliminated the potential for conflict of interest. 

Autonomous Uber vehicles pulled after fatal crash

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has prohibited Uber from continuing their tests after the SUV ran over Herzberg.  Uber removed its self-driving cars from Arizona the day before the NTSB issued its first report on the accident. This eliminated about 300 jobs in Arizona for Uber backup drivers and others in the autonomous vehicle testing program. 

A trial when Vasquez will face the charges of negligent homicide is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2021.

Self-driving vehicle research and testing goes on

Although the fatality had a big impact on the auto and rideshare industries, autonomous vehicle research and development by Uber and Lyft continues. In Palo Alto, California, Lyft has a development lab for self-driving cars staffed with over 400 engineers.  Instead of developing a self-driving car from the ground up, it is developing systems to add to existing vehicles to act as the "brains". 

As of the end of 2019, Lyft has added these systems to Ford Fusions and Chrysler Pacificas. It has special permission from Palo Alto to test these autonomous vehicles, with human safety drivers in the cars, in a very limited area. 

For details on what to do if you're involved in a rideshare accident or injury, contact us here

The Tops Signs That You Should Consult an Attorney After Being Injured in an Auto Accident

Sunday, July 19, 2020

After being injured in a car accident as the result of another driver's negligence, you may find yourself wondering how you will pay for mounting medical bills, and how you will get by if you are temporarily unable to work. Fortunately, you do not have to navigate this difficult time alone. A personal injury attorney can walk you through your options for filing a personal injury claim, and they can work to make sure that you are properly compensated for your injuries. Yet, many people hesitate to contact an attorney after being injured in a car accident if they are unsure whether their case warrants legal action. If you have recently been injured in a car accident and are unsure what your next steps should be, here is a look at a few of the signs indicating that you should consider consulting an attorney. 

You Are Unable to Work

If you were hurt so badly in your accident that you cannot return to work, either temporarily or permanently, it is critical that you consult an attorney to help maximize your compensation. Not only will you need to be compensated for your medical bills and damages to your personal property, but if you are unable to work you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages as well as pain and suffering. An experienced attorney will be able to assess your situation based on the extent of your injuries, and they can calculate how much you may be entitled to. If the accident has left you permanently disabled, you will need a lawyer to help you determine the proper compensation you are entitled to based on future lost wages, as your family may be left without a significant source of income.   

You Need Help Determining Fault

Of course, just because you believe that the other driver was at fault and should be responsible for your injuries, this does not mean that the other driver or their insurance company will view things the same way. In fact, the other driver's insurance company will ultimately be looking out for their bottom line, and they may try to claim that you are at least partially at fault in order to reduce their liability. If your fault in the accident is being called into question, it is important that you consult an attorney as soon as possible. You will need a lawyer by your side who can help to collect and analyze evidence pertaining to the accident and present your case for why the other driver should bear full responsibility for the accident and your resulting injuries.  

Your Insurance Company isn't Treating You Properly

It is also important that you consult an attorney if you feel that you are not being treated properly by your insurance company. While your insurance company should be looking out for your best interest in theory, the reality is that you are likely just a case number to them, and they may be trying to close your case as quickly as possible. If you feel as if your insurance company isn't listening to/addressing your needs, is treating you unfairly, or is not doing anything to progress your case, then it may be time to consult an attorney. An attorney will work for you and will work tirelessly to make sure that your needs are met. 

You Are Being Asked to Settle

If things are progressing between your insurance company and that of the other driver and you have been asked to settle your case, it is critical that you consult an attorney. The fact is that you should never discuss offers, or accept a claim settlement, without talking to an attorney, as you may not get the compensation you deserve. Insurance companies will often try to offer a lowball settlement in the hopes that you will not know what your case is truly worth. Having an attorney by your side will ensure that you have someone who is looking out for your best interests and who will negotiate on your behalf to get a settlement that is in line with your injuries. 

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a car accident, contact us to find out more about the signs that you may want to consider consulting a personal injury attorney. 





Injured Rideshare Drivers: Who Is Responsible?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Injured Rideshare Drivers: Who Is Responsible?

Americans are increasingly relying on drivers for rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft to get them to their destination. While these drivers serve an important function, they also put themselves at high risk of injury. In 2018, there were over 3,000 fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes in California.

The results of a rideshare accident can be devastating to the driver. Injuries will mean lost wages, and damage to a vehicle could take away their only means of providing support for themselves or family. Rideshare drivers need to understand their rights for recovery if they are injured while driving for a company like Uber or Lyft.

Determining Fault

When there is a car accident, a party is considered at fault if they acted negligently in a way that caused injury to another person or property. Common actions that can lead to a finding of fault include any violation of a traffic ordinance, such as speeding or running a red light. If a driver received a traffic citation from the police, this is compelling evidence that they acted negligently.

Insurance companies will also use fault as a basis for determining which driver's insurance should pay any claims. In order to limit coverage obligations, insurance companies are strongly incentivized to demonstrate that their insured was not at fault.

To make sure you can establish a strong case against the other party, be sure to secure a police report, document the scene of the accident, and secure contact information for any witnesses.

Seeking Recovery

Rideshare drivers face a complicated web or responsibility when determining how to recover for their injuries after an accident. While the driver might feel that they are employed by Uber or Lyft, they will considered an independent contractor.

Independent Contractors

Whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor is a determination made by analyzing the relationship between the individual and the company for which they are providing services. The following factors indicate that an individual is an independent contractor rather than an employee:

  • They control the work that is performed and how it is done;
  • They manage the business components of their job;
  • They do not receive any employee benefits; and
  • There is no formal employee contract

The National Labor Relations Board has advised that rideshare drivers are independent contractors. This finding excludes Uber and Lyft drivers from pursuing a workers' compensation claim. This finding, however, could be up for debate in California where recent legislation looks to limit the use of independent contractors in the state's gig economy.

Because an independent contractor cannot recover under workers' compensation, they will need to depend on insurance providers to compensate them for their injuries.

Navigating Insurance Policies

There are several insurance policies that might come into play after a rideshare accident:

  • The driver's personal policy;
  • The rideshare company's insurance policy; and
  • The policy of the other driver

Your first step should be to review the rideshare company's protocol when an accident occurs. Both Uber and Lyft require drivers to submit a report to access the company's insurance policies. The Uber crash report is here, and the Lyft crash report is here. If it is unclear whether you were operating in the course of your duties at the time of the accident, this will serve to complicate recovery even further and may require you to involve your personal insurance company.

If you are a rideshare driver who has been involved in an accident, you may be overwhelmed with the stress of managing injuries while considering the financial impacts. Navigating the complexities of determining fault and contacting insurance companies is an unnecessary additional stress.  Contact our firm today to understand the strength of your case and your options for recovery.

The Uber Safety Report - What Isn't In It

Thursday, March 05, 2020

In March of 2018, a woman was killed when a self-driving Uber vehicle ran over her as she was crossing the street one night in Tempe, Arizona. Uber had foreseen the dangers of self-driving vehicles, and installed a "safety driver" in case of sudden emergencies; but on this night, the safety driver was busy streaming a show on her cellphone.

Because of this, and many other incidents involving Uber drivers—including thefts, alleged assaults, and overlong treks around cities—Uber launched a program called "RideCheck" in 2018. RideCheck is a GPS based program, which is intended to provide real-time tracking of Uber vehicles.

Did It Work?

At the end of 2019, Uber released the first of its US Safety Reports, summarizing the data gathered by its RideCheck program, detailing the number of deaths, accidents, assaults, robberies, and "non-consensual sexual contacts" that took place in Uber vehicles over the past two years. However, since this is the first such report, it is difficult to assess whether or not Uber has successfully reduced the number of such incidents in their vehicles since the inception of the program.

Some Concerns

Besides the mere accidents, where a Uber driver hit something (another vehicle, a fixed object) and injured a passenger, other disturbing findings include:

  • Substandard driving. Complaints about hard braking, swerving, abrupt lane changes.
  • Physical assault. This included yelling, assault, battery, and refusing to take the fare to the destination.
  • Sexual assault. Uber considered a sexual assault to include either an assault that happened during an Uber ride; or between two parties who met one another during an Uber ride. The assault itself could consist of everything from non-consensual kissing to rape.

What Isn't There

Uber's report did not include statistics on theft, robbery, non-fatal accidents; substance abuse or DUI among the drivers; mechanical failure or damage to the drivers' cars; reports of fraud; and other complaints that may be getting lost in the background of Uber use.

Uber is not, of course, a taxi company, but a transportation app. Their position had initially been that they provide a way to bring together people who want to drive and people who need a ride, and after that, the parties are on their own as to what happens next.  However, court cases in 2017 and 2018 made it clear that Uber drivers are employees, and Uber can be held liable for failing to screen out known felons and sex offenders, and for failing to terminate individuals who have displayed certain acts on the job—like watching live stream videos instead of watching the road.

So What Do I Do?

If you use Uber or Lyft and become the victim of a crime—any crime—or are involved in an accident, the first thing to do is contact the authorities. If you are injured, and the driver has not called 911, you should go at once to the emergency room. This will ensure that the insurance companies will pay for your treatment. If you have been the victim of any sort of crime, or even if you aren't really sure, call the police. Make sure a written report with the date and time of the incident exists.

Then call an attorney. Because of Uber's lackadaisical attitude until recently, the number of awful acts committed by their drivers is sadly high—and the number of attorneys handling them is not great. However, be sure you are in the correct jurisdiction. If you are in Los Angeles, or if the event took place in L.A., you will need an L.A. Uber accident attorney. Just because you're reading this in Des Moines doesn't mean you won't need the services of Freeman & Freeman if the Uber accident happened on your way out of LAX.



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