Archives for May 2012

Aviation Accidents, Texas Lawyer

Aviation Accidents

Aviation Accidents are relatively rare, but are usually catastrophic. Personal Injury Lawyer Chris Jones is a Private Pilot. Chris owned and operated his own airplane, and spends time around local airports and pilots giving him insight into the potential causes of an airplane crashes. Chris also practiced law with John Howie (deceased) in Dallas. John was one of the preeminent aviation lawyers of his time. The causes of most aviation accidents primarily fall with 4 general categories : 1. pilot error; 2. controller errors; 3. maintenance problems; and 4 product defects. The Federal Aviation Administration has an online Accident/Incident Data System (AIDS) database containing incident data records for all categories of civil aviation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency that investigates and determines the probable cause of transportation accidents, including aviation accidents. The NTSB is now publishing the Aircraft Investigation Reports online.

Pilot Error

Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, PART 91 — GENERAL OPERATING AND FLIGHT RULES of the Code of Federal Regulations prescribes rules governing the operation of aircraft within the United States, including the waters within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast. The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

Pilots receive extensive training and there are a number of certifications and ratings ranging from Private Pilot to Airline Transport Pilots. PART 61—CERTIFICATION: PILOTS, FLIGHT INSTRUCTORS, AND GROUND INSTRUCTORS sets forth the requirements for issuing pilot, flight instructor, and ground instructor certificates and ratings; the conditions under which those certificates and ratings are necessary; and the privileges and limitations of those certificates and ratings.  Furthermore, PART 67—MEDICAL STANDARDS AND CERTIFICATION prescribes the medical standards and certification procedures for issuing medical certificates for airmen and for remaining eligible for a medical certificate, which pilots must keep current.

Like drivers, there are a number of errors pilots can make that result in accidents. It would be impossible to list them all. However, there are some errors that show up time and time in accident reports – flying into bad weather, improperly loading the aircraft and fuel starvation.

Checking the weather before the flight leaves the ground is one of the most important pilot responsibilities. In private aircraft, bad weather is a killer and should be avoided if possible. Icing and thunderstorms have no mercy when it comes to bringing down an airplane. Overloading and improperly loading an airplane can make the airplane uncontrollable. Considering the fact that there are no shoulders on the highways in the sky, checking the fuel and managing it during flight is extremely important.

Pilots should always have and use aircraft specific checklists. Above all, pilots should take their time, avoid get “homeitis”, and refuse to cut corners. As a passenger, always let the pilot take his or her time and decide whether to take off or not. It may save your life.

Controller Error

Air traffic controllers work in control towers, approach control facilities, and route centers coordinating the movement of air traffic. They ensure that planes stay safe distances apart. Their job requires total concentration 100% of the time, making it stressful and exhausting. They are an important part of a safe aviation system.

Please visit the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the FAA Air Traffic 101 to learn more about controllers. Air Traffic Control Tapes is a very interesting FAA resource allowing you to listen to actual pilots and controllers during incidents and accidents.

Air Traffic Controllers are human and do make mistakes. Considering their responsibility to keep separation between aircraft, their mistakes can be catastrophic.

Maintenance Problems

Again, you cannot pull an airplane to the side of the road when there is a mechanical problem in flight. Preventive maintenance and discovering potential problems before they occur are some of the keys to airworthiness and avoiding crashes. The Federal Regulations require a number of inspections on an aircraft. In additional to the regulations and manufacturer recommendations, a team made up of manufacturers, owners, their representative organizations, and FAA engineers and inspectors wrote Best Practices Guide for Maintaining Aging General Aviation Airplanes to help owners of aging aircraft.

Only qualified mechanics should perform the inspections and do the maintenance. The regulations are very specific in requiring the inspection and maintenance records to be kept. The log books are critical when purchasing an aircraft or investigating a crash.

Products Liability

Aviation accidents can and do occur as a result of design defects, manufacturing defects and marketing defects. Please see our post concerning Texas Products Liability, with the understanding that the law of another state may apply to the accident.

To reduce crashes caused by product defects, the FAA issues Airworthiness Directives addressing the unsafe condition and product when the FAA finds that: (a) an unsafe condition exists in a product; and (b) the condition is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design. A look through the directives reveals some of the defects that can lead to problems.

Board Certified Personal Injury Lawyer

Chris Jones is a Lawyer and Private Pilot and if you or your family member has been seriously injured or killed in an aviation accident and you need a Texas attorney, please do not hesitate to give East Texas Attorney, Chris Jones, Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Law, a call at 888-236-4878 for a free initial consultation or send us a message at Contact Us.

Premises Liability, East Texas Attorney

Premises liability claims arise from physical conditions or defects on property.  In a premises liability case, like any negligence case, the plaintiff must establish a duty owed to the plaintiff, breach of the duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach.

It should be noted that landowners may also be liable for negligent activities when a person has been injured by or as a contemporaneous result of the activity itself, rather than by a condition created by the activity.  Keetch v. Kroger Co., 845 S.W.2d 262 (Tex.1992).        

In premises liability cases, the scope of the duty turns on the plaintiff’s status.

Generally, store customers are invitees, and a property owner owes invitees a duty to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition about which the property owner knew or should have known.

In Corbin v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 648 S.W.2d 292 (Tex.1983) the Texas Supreme Court set forth the elements of a premises liability in a slip and fall case:

(1) Actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises by the owner/operator;

(2) That the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;

(3) That the owner/operator did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and

(4) That the owner/operator’s failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

As far as licensees, the landowner owes a duty to warn of or to make safe hidden dangers known to the landowner and a duty not to intentionally, willfully, or through gross negligence cause injury.

As to trespassers, a landowner owes only a duty not to intentionally, willfully, or through gross negligence cause injury.

It should also be noted that Texas has a recreational use statute which limits the liability of who open their land for recreational purposes. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE §§ 75.001 -.004. 

A general contractor in control of the premises may be liable for two types of negligence in failing to keep the premises safe: that arising from an activity on the premises, and that arising from a premises defect.” Clayton W. Williams, Jr., Inc. v. Olivo, 952 S.W.2d 523 (Tex. 1997).

Examples of potential premises liability and negligent activity cases against landowners would be, among others, a slip and fall on ice as a result of an ice dispenser, falling objects or merchandise, failure to remove rowdy customers, misapplication of wax on a floor, unstable platforms or stairs, rotten wood allowing a fall through a floor.

In cases in which governmental vehicles are involved, you may find helpful information in Governmental Tort Liability.

We have experience with premises liability cases, and if you or your family member has been seriously injured or died on a dangerous premises or as a result of a premises owner’s negligent activity and need a Texas attorney, please do not hesitate to give East Texas Attorney, Chris JonesBoard Certified Personal Injury Trial Law, a call at 903-236-4990 for a free initial consultation or send us a message at Contact Us.

Texas Employment and Non Compete Agreements

Employment agreements with a non compete that places limits on former employees’ professional mobility are restraints on trade and are governed by  Chapter 15 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code,  Subchapter E. COVENANTS NOT TO COMPETE  ( the “Act” ).  Employment agreements not to disclose trade secrets and confidential information are not governed by the Act.

The Act sets forth the criteria for the enforceability of Covenants Not to Compete in Texas:

[A] covenant not to compete is enforceable if it is ancillary to or part of an otherwise enforceable agreement at the time the agreement is made to the extent that it contains limitations as to time, geographical area, and scope of activity to be restrained that are reasonable and do not impose a greater restraint than is necessary to protect the goodwill or other business interest of the promisee.

There are additional requirements for Physicians:

A covenant not to compete relating to the practice of medicine is enforceable against a person licensed as a physician by the Texas Medical Board if such covenant complies with the following requirements:

(1)  the covenant must:

(A)  not deny the physician access to a list of his patients whom he had seen or treated within one year of termination of the contract or employment;

(B)  provide access to medical records of the physician’s patients upon authorization of the patient and any copies of medical records for a reasonable fee as established by the Texas Medical Board under Section 159.008, Occupations Code; and

(C)  provide that any access to a list of patients or to patients’ medical records after termination of the contract or employment shall not require such list or records to be provided in a format different than that by which such records are maintained except by mutual consent of the parties to the contract;

(2)  the covenant must provide for a buy out of the covenant by the physician at a reasonable price or, at the option of either party, as determined by a mutually agreed upon arbitrator or, in the case of an inability to agree, an arbitrator of the court whose decision shall be binding on the parties; and

(3)  the covenant must provide that the physician will not be prohibited from providing continuing care and treatment to a specific patient or patients during the course of an acute illness even after the contract or employment has been terminated.

Non compete agreements were once held to be unenforceable in Texas on the basis that they were in restraint of trade and contrary to public policy.  Later, “people and the courts” came to recognize that “it was in the interest of trade that certain covenants in restraint of trade should be enforced.” Addyston Pipe & Steel Co., 85 F. 271, 280  (6th Cir. 1898), aff’d 175 U.S. 211 (1899).

Recently, the Texas Supreme Court examined Texas Non Compete Agreements subject to the Act in Marsh USA Inc. v. Cook and found that a non competition agreement is enforceable if it is reasonable in time, scope and geography and, as a threshold matter, “if it is ancillary to or part of an otherwise enforceable agreement at the time the agreement is made.” TEX. BUS. & COM. CODE § 15.50(a).  The Supreme Court set forth a two-step inquiry to determine the threshold requirement for enforceability under the Act:

First, a determination is made as to whether there is an “otherwise enforceable agreement” between the parties.

Second, a determination is then made as to whether the covenant is “ancillary to or part of” that agreement.

If these two threshold requirements are met, then the Court looks to whether the non compete is reasonable in time, scope and geography.

When an employee subject to an employment agreement with a non compete leaves an employer, it often results in a contentious situation.  Even though the Texas Supreme Court set forth the guidelines for covenants not to compete, interpretation and application of the guidelines can be difficult. Reasonableness is often in the eye of the beholder and depends on whether you are the Employer or Employee.

If you are in need of a Board Certified Labor and Employment Lawyer in East Texas or local counsel in Gregg County or the Eastern District of Texas,  please contact Michelle JonesJones & Jones, Attorneys at Law, at 888-236-4878 or contact us by email.

Rules of Evidence in Jury Trials

If you have ever served on a jury or watched trials on television, you have seen lawyers object to evidence that the jury was not allowed to see. It raises the question in the jury’s mind of “why they are keeping information from us if the trial is about truth and justice”. The answer to this question lies in the rules of evidence. The Texas Rules of Evidence state that ” [t]hese rules shall be construed to secure fairness in administration, elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay, and promotion of growth and development of the law of evidence to the end that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.” The Federal Rules of Evidence have a similar purpose.

LIABILITY INSURANCE

One issue that seems to come up in voir dire is insurance. The rules state that “[e]vidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.” Rule 11. There are circumstances where the existence of insurance coverages is allowed in evidence, but the general assumption by Defendants is that the jury is more likely to find liability if they know the Defendant is insured. Watch the lawyers in the courtroom freeze when insurance is mentioned by a witness, jury panel member or anyone. In fact, courts will go so far as to prevent the lawyers from asking if anyone works for an insurance company during voir dire – hence the question “is anyone involved in the claims handling process”.

CHARACTER EVIDENCE

Character Evidence is another area that can cause a fight “outside the presence of the jury”. Rule 404 provides ” [E]vidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion”. In other words, the jury should not find that a person or entity is guilty of a wrongful act on a particular occasion on the basis that they had done it before. Character evidence may be admissible if it is a habit or to prove defect in a product where there have been other similar instances.

SUBSEQUENT REMEDIAL MEASURES

After an accident, the defendant may take measures that, if taken before the accident, would have made the injury or harm less likely to occur. Although there are circumstances where such measures are admissible, Rule 407 provides that evidence of the subsequent remedial measures is not admissible to prove negligence, culpable conduct, a defect in product, a defect in product’s design, or a need for a warning or instruction. The rationale behind the rule is that you do not want to penalize or prevent a Defendant from doing what is necessary to prevent others from being injured.

OPINIONS AND EXPERT TESTIMONY

Rule 702 seems like a simple rule: “[i]f scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” In cases involving experts, huge amounts of time are spent dealing with whether an expert should be allowed to testify. Ultimately, it is up to the jury to decide whether to believe an expert, but case-law requires the Court to act as a gatekeeper and examine the qualifications of an expert and the opinions they are giving before allowing them to testify.

Obviously, there are many Rules of Evidence, but these are examples of areas that may come up during a trial that require the court to dismiss the jury to the jury room so that rulings can be made.

It may seem that the Court and lawyers are wasting the jury’s time or hiding evidence from the jury, but what they are doing is following the rules in an effort to see that “the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.”  In you are on a jury, simply follow the Court’s instructions, require the other jurors to do the same, and justice should be served.

If you are in need of an experienced  Personal Injury or Labor and Employment Lawyer in East Texas or local counsel in Gregg County or the Eastern District of Texas,  please contact Chris Jones or Michelle Jones, Jones & Jones, Attorneys at Law, at 888-236-4878 or contact us by email.

Defective Products, Products Liability, East Texas Attorney

Defective products can seriously injure and kill you.

We use “products” every day.  As consumers we count on manufacturers to manufacture and sellers to sell safe products.  In fact, most consumers probably assume the products they buy at local stores and dealerships are safe.  But that is not always the case. What is a defective product?  There are design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects.  This post discusses Texas products liability law which is controlled by Chapter 82 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

This best way to understand what Texas law requires is to look at the  instructions the Judge will give the jury in a Texas products liability or defective product case.

Design Defect

In Texas, a “design defect” is a condition of the product that renders it unreasonably dangerous as designed, taking into consideration the utility of the product and the risk involved in its use. For a design defect to exist there must have been a safer alternative design.

Safer alternative design” means a product design other than the one actually used that in reasonable probability—

(1) would have prevented or significantly reduced the risk of the occurrence or injury in question without substantially impairing the product’s utility and

(2) was economically and technologically feasible at the time the product left the control of DEFENDANT by the application of existing or reasonably achievable scientific knowledge.

Manufacturing Defect

A “manufacturing defect” in a defective product means that the product deviated in its construction or quality from its specifications or planned output in a manner that renders it unreasonably dangerous.   An “unreasonably dangerous” product is one that is dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary user of the product, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to the product’s characteristics.

Marketing Defect

A “marketing defect” with respect to a defective product means the failure to give adequate warnings of the product’s dangers that were known or by the application of reasonably developed human skill and foresight should have been known or failure to give adequate instructions to avoid such dangers, which failure rendered the product unreasonably dangerous as marketed.

“Adequate” warnings and instructions mean warnings and instructions given in a form that could reasonably be expected to catch the attention of a reasonably prudent person in the circumstances of the product’s use; and the content of the warnings and instructions must be comprehensible to the average user and must convey a fair indication of the nature and extent of the danger and how to avoid it to the mind of a reasonably prudent person.

An “unreasonably dangerous” product is one that is dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary user of the product with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to the product’s characteristics.

Unfortunately, products liability and defective product cases are difficult and expensive allowing only cases with the most serious injuries and or deaths to proceed.  Even so, you can and should report potential defective products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If your potential defective product claim involves an automobile defect, please see our personal injury blog post Crashworthiness.  We have handled a number of automotive defect claims involving roof crush,  fuel fed fires, seat belts, defective window glass, rollover, tires, doors opening during crashes.  Among other defective product cases we have handled are cases involving medications, boats, lawn mowers, steering systems,  child restraints, chain saws, backup alarms and firearms.  If your potential claim concerns an aviation product, please see our personal injury blog post Aviation Accidents.

The defective product is important evidence in a products liability case.  Do not dispose, alter, or in any way spoil the defective product as evidence if you are considering legal action.

We have experience with products liability cases, and if you or your family member has been seriously injured or died as a result of a defective product and need a Texas attorney, please do not hesitate to give East Texas Attorney, Chris JonesBoard Certified Personal Injury Trial Law, a call at 903-236-4990 for a free initial consultation or send us a message at Contact Us.

Car Accidents, Negligent Driving, East Texas Attorney

Texas Car Accidents

Car Accidents are caused by negligent driving. Yes, this is obvious, but what exactly does negligent driving mean?

If you have a car wreck and end up in court, the question for the jury will be:

Did the negligence, if any, of DEFENDANT DRIVER proximately cause the accident in question?  YES or NO

” Negligence,” when used with respect to the conduct of DEFENDANT DRIVER means failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.

The law requires ______________. A failure to comply with this law is negligence in itself.

It is safe to assume that “a person of ordinary prudence” will follow the Texas Drivers Handbook.  But when was the last time you looked through the Texas Drivers Handbook?  Take a look now.  You will find something you didn’t know about driving, or that you have forgotten.

Have you ever read the Texas Rules of the Road in Chapter 545 of the Texas Transportation Code?  There are specific requirements for drivers depending on the situation.  Do it wrong and you may not only receive a citation, but may also be found guilty of negligence per se if you cause an accident. Negligence per se is when a person’s expected standard of conduct is defined by a statute – instead of being judged by the ordinary prudent person test.  In other words, fill in the blank above with the law violated and the judge is now instructing the jury that the DEFENDANT DRIVER was negligent.

Did you know that there are also specific laws on what you must do if you are in an accident?  Please also review  CHAPTER 550. ACCIDENTS AND ACCIDENT REPORTS of the Texas Transportation Code.

NHTSA did a study in 2008 and found that motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death for every age 3 through 6 and 8 through 34.  There many statistics,  but one death caused by negligent driving is one death too many.

Know the rules of the road,  keep your eyes on the road, put down the cell phone, do not drive if you are intoxicated or fatigued, and drive defensively.

To avoid car accidents the Texas Drivers Handbook recommends:

DEFENSIVE DRIVING
To avoid crashes, the defensive driver should:
1. Stay alert and keep his eyes moving so that he [or she] can keep track of what is happening at all times.
2. Look for trouble spots developing all around him [or her].
3. Have a plan of action if the other driver does the wrong thing.
4. Know that the law requires drivers to protect each other from their own mistakes.

You cannot drive defensively if you are DRIVING WHILE DISTRACTED.  According to NHTSA, you are 23 times more likely to be in a crash if you text while driving.  So “OMG” please put down the phone and watch the road while driving.

If the accident was caused by a distracted driver, please see our posts; Distracted Drivers Hurt People and Texas Texting While Driving Ban Becomes Law. 

This post was not meant to be the lecture it turned out to be.  Oh well, if it helps one person drive safer, then it was worth posting.

Please also refer to our personal injury blog and our posts, East Texas Auto Accident Lawyer, Truck Accident LawyerMotorcycle Accident Lawyer,  Documenting Personal Injury Damages and Motor Vehicle Crash, Now What?

East Texas Personal Injury Attorney

We have experience with cases involving car accidents caused by negligent driving, and if you or one of your family members has been seriously injured or killed as a result of negligent driving and need a Texas attorney, please do not hesitate to give East Texas Attorney, Chris Jones, Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Law, a call at 903-236-4990 for a free initial consultation or send us a message at Contact Us.

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