From exploding Pintos to out of control Teslas, trial lawyers fight to make cars safer

Attorney David BetrasOn August 10, 1978, three teenage girls, sisters Lyn and Judy Ulrich and their cousin Donna traveling to volley practice on Route 33 in Goshen, Indiana were incinerated when the gas tank in their 1973 Ford Pinto exploded after the vehicle was rear-ended by a van. Technically speaking, they were killed in an auto accident. In reality, however, they were murdered by corporate greed.

That is because Ford executives, including President Lee Iacocca, knew the Pinto was a four-wheeled death trap. Rushed into production in 1970 after only two years of development and testing, the Pinto was Ford’s response to the influx of foreign-made subcompact cars into the American market that began in the late ‘60s. During the design process company engineers sounded alarms about the gas tank which was, for a number of reasons, vulnerable to rupture in low-speed rear-end collisions. They were also concerned because a large empty space behind the backseat allowed the entire back third of the car to crumple, wedging the body and frame tightly against the car doors, making them virtually impossible to open.

Fixing the lethal combination of an exploding gas tank and jammed doors would have cost the company $15 per Pinto. Iacocca’s response: “Safety doesn’t sell.” Not surprisingly, the boss’ attitude permeated the company when attorneys representing people injured and killed in the exploding cars unearthed what became known as the “Pinto Memo.” Prepared to help Ford block new fuel system safety standards being proposed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the memo’s authors estimated it would cost Ford $11 per vehicle or $137 million to comply with the new regulations. They weighed that against the $50 million in litigation and settlements costs the company would incur if the cars were not made safer. Their conclusion: “the implementation costs far outweigh the expected benefits.

Picture of Tesla that rear ended a fire truck.And so the company continued to manufacture and sell the deadly vehicles for more than a decade. During that time between 500 and 900 people were burned to death. The Pinto was not pulled from the market until the cost of settling lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims and the attendant negative publicity made the car unprofitable.

I was reminded of the Pinto debacle when I read a New York Times article about a series of accidents caused by Tesla’s autopilot system. The story focused on the death of 22-year-old Naibel Benavides who was killed when a Model S in autopilot mode traveling 66 MPH on a city street ran a stop sign and slammed into the parked Chevy Tahoe in which she was sitting. The car’s brakes were never applied.

While a Tesla is as different from a Pinto as the Wright Brothers’ plane is from an F-16, the cause of the crashes that killed the Ulrich’s and Ms. Benavides are the same: placing pursuit of profit ahead of people. Unlike Ford, GM, and other carmakers who use technology to restrict their systems to divided highways where there are no stop signs, traffic lights or pedestrians, Tesla allows drivers to use autopilot anywhere and everywhere. The results are predictable and tragic: the number of accidents involving Tesla’s system is skyrocketing.

And I suspect that lawsuits filed by victims are the only thing that will stop the carnage.

Every time I think of the victims we represent or read reports about companies who place no value on human life, I am reminded of why I went to law school, why I go to work every day, and why we should all fight to preserve the civil justice system that makes our world a safer place to live.

David Betras: I’ve never filed a frivolous lawsuit…

Medical MalpracticeFrivolous, adjective: not having any serious purpose or value.

My decades-long legal career has been filled with interesting cases, challenging litigation, and high-stakes trials. But in all my years as a member of the bar, there is one thing I have never done: file a frivolous lawsuit.

That makes me an anomaly in the eyes of the insurance industry, the American Medical Association, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, and others who claim frivolous lawsuits filed by ambulance-chasing attorneys clog our courts, are responsible for skyrocketing insurance premiums and health care costs, force doctors to practice “defensive medicine” and generally make the world a horrible place to live.

At least that is what they say when they are pushing the passage of tort “reform” legislation that slams the courthouse door in the face of Americans seriously injured or killed because someone else was negligent or reckless.

Along with venting my resentment at having my life’s work denigrated and dismissed as frivolous, a number of things motivated me to once again note that restricting access to the civil justice system makes the world a more dangerous place for our families: The drive to enact tort reform laws is continuing unabated in state legislatures across the nation.

Iowa, Missouri, Texas and Florida, where I will soon be licensed to practice, are among the states attacking victim’s rights. Here in Ohio, an effort to reverse a Draconian cap on non-economic damages is being blocked by the special interest groups and Republicans who imposed the limit in 2004.

A new report issued by the Center for Law and Justice at New York Law School thoroughly debunks many of the myths obscuring the truth about medical malpractice in the U.S. This free-to-download, 172-page publication provides a comprehensive review of the latest statistics about litigation, cost, access to doctors, insurance and patient safety.

I found the following facts to be especially compelling:

  • Experts agree that when cases are filed, they are not “frivolous.” Among the experts is Victor Schwartz, General Counsel of the American Tort Reform Association who admitted in 2011 that “It is ‘rare or unusual’ for a plaintiff lawyer to bring a frivolous malpractice suit…”
  • Litigation and settlements enhance patient safety. Tort reform laws put patients at risk.
  • Neither “tort reforms” nor “caps on damages” lower insurance premiums for doctors.
  • Stripping away patients’ legal rights will not reduce health care costs and may actually increase them.

Finally, a case being litigated by our office underscores how serious and difficult our work is.

While I am unable to discuss the matter in detail, it involves a client who was horribly injured during a medical procedure some time ago. Since agreeing to represent the victim, we have devoted hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to trial prep and gone toe-to-toe and face-to-face with insurers, defense attorneys and health care providers determined to trivialize our client’s life-altering, lifelong injuries.

Whenever I look at the photos of this client or the hundreds of others we have represented over the years I am reminded of the fact that “frivolous” is the last word that can be used to describe what we do.

It’s that time of year–time for winter driving tips from Betras, Kopp & Markota

Winter driving tipsJust in case you haven’t looked outside yet, our “Three Ps” of safe winter driving tips will be extremely relevant and useful over the next couple of days.

Please be careful on the roads, and remember, if someone who isn’t driving safely runs into you or a member of your family, contact Betras, Kopp & Markota right away to arrange a free consultation to discuss your accident. Our experienced team of investigators and attorneys will evaluate your case, provide rock-solid advice, and fight to get the money your family needs and deserves.

So call the LOCAL law firm big enough to win millions from the insurance giants: Betras, Kopp & Markota.

SAFETY ON WINTER ROADS

Bad roads can lead to bad wrecks. Driving on snow-covered, icy roads is tricky—even for those of us who have been doing it for decades. In order to help drivers avoid accidents, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and OSHA have developed the “Three Ps” of winter driving safety:

PREPARE for the trip. PROTECT yourself. PREVENT crashes on the road.

Some of the advice is pretty obvious—like making sure all the ice and snow is scraped off all your windows before you head down the road. But even though common sense dictates that being able to see is critical to safe driving, we’ve all seen people weaving around as they peer out of the very small space they’ve cleared on their windshield that looks like a porthole on a tank’s gun turret. There’s only one difference: a car isn’t a tank rolling through woods, it’s a car lurching down a road crowded with other vehicles that can be hit because the driver can’t see them, lane lines, traffic signals, or stop signs. So let’s start with the obvious, clear off all your windows, it’s a great way to prevent collisions. We’re talking to guys in particular because as the graphic shows, men are a lot more likely to drive in cars with ice-covered windows than women…

Here are the rest of NHTSA’s “Three Ps:

PREPARE

Maintain Your Car: Check battery, tire tread, and windshield wipers, keep your windows clear, put no-freeze fluid in the washer reservoir, and check your antifreeze.

Have On Hand: flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, kitty litter, even floor mats), shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, warning devices (like flares), and blankets. For long trips, add food and water, medication, and cell phone.

Plan Your Route: Allow plenty of time (check the weather and leave early if necessary), be familiar with the maps/ directions, and let others know your route and arrival time.

Practice cold weather driving when your area gets snow — but not on a main road. Until you’ve sharpened your winter weather driving skills and know how your vehicle handles in snowy conditions, it’s best to practice in an empty parking lot in full daylight. Note our emphasis on the word “empty.”

Know what your brakes will do: stomp on antilock brakes, pump on non-antilock brakes.

Stopping distances are longer on water-covered ice and ice.

Don’t idle for a long time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.

PROTECT YOURSELF

Buckle up and use child safety seats properly.

Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an airbag.

Children 12 and under are much safer in the back seat.

Stopped or Stalled? Stay in your car, don’t overexert, put bright markers on antenna or windows and shine dome light, and, if you run your car, clear exhaust pipe and run it just enough to stay warm.

Don’t idle for a long time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.

PREVENT CRASHES

Drive slowly. It’s harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. On the road, increase your following distance enough so that you’ll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you.

A word of caution about braking: Know what kind of brakes your vehicle has and how to use them properly. In general, if you have antilock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure. If you don’t have antilock brakes, pump the brakes gently.

Stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go if you find yourself in a skid. Stay off the pedals (gas and brake) until you are able to maintain control of your vehicle. This procedure, known as “steering into the skid,” will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.

Drugs and alcohol never mix with driving.

Texting while behind the wheel is especially dangerous in winter conditions. Put your phone down.

You can check out NHTSA’s interactive winter driving safety website by clicking here.

IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN AN ACCIDENT CALL BKH

Here’s one more tip: even though you do everything right, someone who does just one thing wrong in icy conditions can cause an accident in the blink of an eye. If you’re involved in a wreck caused by a careless or distracted driver contact Betras, Kopp & Markota BEFORE you talk to an insurance agent or adjuster. We’ll arrange a free consultation that will give us the opportunity to evaluate your case and provide you with sound advice that will protect your rights and your ability to secure justice and the financial settlement you and your family need and deserve.

School Daze safety tips for drivers, students, and parents

Kids are returning to school across the Buckeye State, so we’re going to be offering school bus safety tips for drivers, kids, and parents throughout the week. Let’s start with a refresher course for drivers…

This infographic below illustrates when drivers must stop for school buses that are picking up or dropping off students. Along with placing kids in danger, violating the law carries stiff penalties. Failure to stop for a school bus adds two points to your license and is punishable by a fine of up to $500. In addition, your license may be suspended for one year.

Along with obeying the law regarding stopped school buses, you should also remember the following:

NEVER PASS A SCHOOL BUS ON THE RIGHT
NEVER PASS A SCHOOL BUS THAT IS STOPPED AT A RR CROSSING
ALWAYS OBEY THE SPEED LIMITS POSTED WITHIN SCHOOL ZONES

Finally, here’s a brief refresher course about a school bus’ flashing lights and signs:

Yellow/Amber Flashing Lights – The bus is preparing to stop and pick up or discharge students. Normally turned on approximately 300 feet before bus stops. Motorists should prepare to stop as soon as the bus comes to a complete stop and/or the red flashing lights come on.

Red Flashing Lights – Motorists must stop. Students are exiting or boarding the bus. Stop 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus and do not proceed until the bus resumes motion. Never pass a school bus that has red flashing lights on, even if the “stop sign” arm is not extended.

Stop Sign – Motorists must stop. Students are exiting or boarding the bus. Stop 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus and do not proceed until the bus resumes motion. Never pass a school bus with the red stop sign is displayed or the red lights are flashing.

We’ll have additional safety tips tomorrow so please check back and please be on the lookout for kids–their safety is in your hands.