Making a Difference
Personal injury law is an important part of our legal system because it allows injured people to be compensated for their damages and losses. Importantly, however, our legal system also provides a way to force grossly negligent and reckless defendants to change their safety practices and alter the design of their dangerous products. Juries can award punitive damages to punish and deter corporations and individuals who willfully or recklessly hurt others. The deterrence effect resulting from the financial threat of punitive damages is often the only factor that creates the incentive necessary to force stubborn companies and insurance carriers to make products and procedures safer. In this way, personal injury law allows our clients to make all our lives and society better by using their lawsuits to improve safety standards for everyone else after the fact. Here are a few cases that made a difference causing companies to change their policies, products and procedures.
Ending Reckless Delivery Policies
In the late 1980s, Kenny Cole handled a case against a national pizza restaurant chain. One of its delivery drivers was speeding to make a delivery and ran into his client who was riding her bicycle. She suffered a traumatic brain injury that prevented her from returning to her job as a dispatcher with the local police department. The delivery driver was speeding because of the corporate marketing strategy that the pizza would be delivered within 30 minutes or it was free.
Not only was he speeding because of this corporate marketing policy, but this particular driver had been hired without ordering his driving record. Had it been ordered, it would have shown numerous traffic violations. Additionally, he had been fired briefly for involvement in a hit and run accident prior to running over Keny’s client, but he was then rehired. Discovery revealed that the corporation had failed to enforce its hiring and firing procedures related to dangerous driving with respect to 21 of 53 delivery drivers in the county in question who either never should have been hired or who should have been terminated during their employment.
The defendant had to pay a 7 figure settlement. This case was one of several lawsuits that helped end the “delivered in 30 minutes or its free” policy that was causing delivery drivers to drive with complete disregard for safety.
Safer Blasting Caps
In the 1990s, Kenny Cole sued one of the 5 companies in the country which manufactured blasting caps. His client lost parts of several fingers and part of his hearing when a blasting cap blew up while he was trying to dispose of it.
The five companies in the blasting business in the United States were making blasting caps with copper and lead azide, a dangerous combination of component parts that caused the formation of copper azide. Scientific evidence proved that lead azide was unstable and could explode spontaneously, and that copper azide was even worse. We used circumstantial evidence to prove the blasting cap in question, which of course had been destroyed during the explosion, had been designed and manufactured in a defective fashion such that copper azide most likely had formed within it, and also proved that the defendant had failed to warn users of these blasting caps about how unstable they were.
During the 2 week trial, we discovered that the defendant had come up with a new and safer design for blasting caps that addressed the very issues of which we were being critical by using chromium rather than copper and by substituting another powder for the lead azide. The jury verdict was a 7 figure sum. If you go to the website of that company today, you will read where it says its blasting caps “do not contain sensitive primary explosives such as lead azide.”
Safety Procedures Protect Highways
In the 2000s, Kenny sued a national trucking company when one of its drivers fell asleep at the wheel. The resulting collision resulted in the death of his client’s husband; the death of a young man in another vehicle; and injuries to the driver of a third car. The truck driver was tired because the company’s delivery runs had been scheduled in a manner that prevented drivers from getting enough sleep.
This conduct was a direct violation of the Hours of Service rules promulgated by Congress in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Historically, these rules had existed since they were first instituted in the 1800s to stop railroads from working train engineers such long hours that they would fall asleep while trains were running at full speed.
Discovery proved that the safety director of this trucking company, who was very familiar with the Hours of Service rules, had warned the corporate owners that it was not a question of if one of their drivers fell asleep at the wheel, it was only a question of how long it would take and how many people would be killed. The owners ended up terminating the safety director rather than follow the rules.
Within days before the case was set to go to trial, the defendant agreed to change its written safety policies and procedures to make sure such conduct never occurred again and to pay an 8 figure settlement amount.