Motorcycle Fatalities are Increasing in Georgia

January 9, 2014,

Motorcycle and car.jpgAs a motorcycle wreck lawyer, I certainly knew that serious injuries or deaths can occur when a motorcycle is in a wreck. But figures that are now available from the Georgia DOT show that nearly 10% of the people who died in motor vehicle crashes in Georgia were involved in a motorcycle crash. Even worse, according to statistics provided by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the number of motorcycle fatalities in Georgia is dramatically increasing.

Stating the obvious, GDOT notes that motorcycles "are smaller than almost every other type of vehicle on the road." Still, motorcycles have always been smaller than cars are. Certainly that fact has not changed. And yet, you can see from the Georgia DOT figures (below) that the number of motorcycle fatalities has more than tripled in the 14 years between 2004 and 2008.

Motorcycle Fatalities in Georgia:

In 1994: 55 fatalities
In 1995: 44 deaths in motorcycle wrecks
In 1996: 47 traffic fatalities for motorcyclists
In 1997: 56 motorcycle wreck deaths
In 1998: 66 deaths due to motorcycle wrecks
In 1999: 59 fatalities from accidents involving motorcycles
In 2000: 61 deaths in motorcycle wrecks
In 2001: 95 people were killed after motorcycle crashes
In 2002: 85 motorcycle wreck deaths
In 2003: 103 motorcycle crash fatalities
In 2004: 111 more people killed in motorcycle wrecks
In 2005: 144 people died as a result of wrecks on motorcycles
In 2006: 154 deaths in motorcycle accidents
In 2007: 163 fatal motorcycle crashes
In 2008: 177 people died in motorcycle accidents

What on earth would cause that sort of staggering increase? If motorcycles have not changed in nature, then why would more people be killed in motorcycle wrecks?

Apparently the problem was not that motorcycle crashes became riskier. The issue is that more motorcycles are now on Georgia roads. Due to sheer increase in numbers of motorcycles driving the roads, more accidents are occurring that involve motorcycles.

One silver lining, though, is that while the raw number of fatal motorcycle wrecks increased, the rate at which these accidents were fatal actually decreased. In fact, the rate of motorcycle fatalities unfortunately did increase some. Fortunately, however, it did not increase with anywhere near the consistency that the raw number of deaths did. Here are the statistics put out by the Georgia Department of Transportation:

Rate of Deaths Per Motorcycles Registered in the State of Georgia

In 1998: 7.65 fatalities per motorcycles registered in Georgia
In 1999: 6.78 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (actual number of deaths was 66)
In 2000: 6.93 deaths per motorcycles registered in Georgia (actual number of fatalities was 59)
In 2001: 10.33 persons killed per 10,000 motorcycles registered in Georgia (total of 61 deaths)
In 2002: 7.8 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (95 deaths occurred)
In 2003: 8.68 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (85 fatalities this year)
In 2004: 8.58 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (103 persons killed in 2004)
In 2005: 10.14 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (111 people killed)
In 2006: 10.83 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (144 deaths)
In 2007: 9.45 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (154 fatalities)
In 2008: 9.29 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (163 deaths)
In 2009: 6.25 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (177 people who died)

Insurance for Motorcyclists Hurt or Killed in Motorcycle Wrecks in Georgia

January 6, 2014,

Thumbnail image for Motorcycle on curve.jpgWhen I handle motorcycle wreck lawsuits, I tell my clients that in Georgia, motorcycles have the same right to the roadway that cars have:

"Every person operating a motorcycle shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under this chapter except as to special regulations in this part and except as to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application. "
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-310.


Injured Motorcycle Drivers May Be Entitled to Insurance Payments

Motorcyclists also are entitled to get insurance payments when they are injured, just like people in car wrecks are. As with car wreck cases, most motorcycle accidents involve a driver who was at fault, and his insurance comes into play. If a car caused the wreck, then the car driver's insurance is required to pay for the medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering of the biker and any passenger on the bike. (The payments only go up to the limits of the policy, however.) If a car forces a motorcycle off the road - that is, causes a biker to "lay down" his bike - then the car's insurance is required to pay the motorcyclist for his injuries.

The insurance company also has to pay to repair (or replace) the motorcycle, depending on how badly damaged the motorcycle was. If the car driver does not have enough insurance, then the motorcyclist's uninsured motorist coverage may be required to pay for the medical bills, the pain and suffering, and the repairs to the motorcycle. The uninsured motorist insurance also may have to pay if the accident was a hit-and-run and police are unable to find the car or truck that caused the wreck.

Motorcycle Drivers Also May Be Liable for the Wrecks They Cause

Of course, the street runs two ways. If the driver of the motorcycle caused the wreck, then the driver of the car or truck can recover from the motorcyclist's insurance company. If a passenger on the motorcycle was killed or injured in the crash, then the passenger or his family may be able to recover from the motorcycle insurance carried by the biker.

According to the GA DOT report, in more than half of the motorcycle crashes in Georgia, the motorcycle collided with another vehicle. In another quarter of the wrecks, the motorcycle hit a fixed object, such as a tree or bridge abutment. In ten percent of the crashes, the motorcycle rolled over ("rollover crashes").

The Georgia DOT has found that "almost one-third of the fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in rural counties." Unfortunately, motorcycle crashes are twelve times as likely to be fatal as accidents involving cars.

Those two facts are probably linked. The rate of deadly crashes is greater in rural counties than in urban areas like metro Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Augusta, Macon, and Albany.

Helmets Help, But They Aren't Foolproof

Without question helmets help motorcycle riders if they are in a wreck. Helmets, however, are not a cure-all: of the motorcyclists who were killed in wrecks in Georgia, 82.1% were wearing helmets at the time of the wreck. Only 27.55% of people riding on a motorcycle emerged unscathed after the wreck. Of people riding in passenger cars, by contrast, 84.10% were left with no injuries at all at the end of the wreck.


White County Has Higher Head-On Crash Rate than Metro Atlanta. Why?

January 2, 2014,

Truck front grill.jpgSurprisingly, when the Georgia DOT measured the number of people who die in head on car crashes - per vehicle-mile - White County had a higher death rate than any other county in Georgia. With .4 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, White County easily outstripped any of the metro counties, including Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett. Each of those densely-populated counties had "just" .1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, according to GDOT's Crash Statistics, Analysis and Information Notebook 2008.

I am a lawyer for head-on crash cases, and I have been blogging about the surprising rate of deadly frontal crashes in rural Georgia. Today I want to talk about why rural counties like White have such a high rate of fatal front-to-front wrecks. At first blush, it makes no sense. Fulton County has 949,599 people. Gwinnett County has a population of 824,941. Both counties have massive highways and heavy traffic. How could they possibly have a higher rate of fatal head-on wrecks than White County, with its much smaller population of 27,273?

The answer lies in the types of roads in White County versus in the big metro Atlanta counties, as well as the difference in the speed of the travel in the two different locations in our state.

The Types of Roads in White County as Opposed to Metro Atlanta

While it is certainly true that Atlanta's mega-highways, like I-75, I-85, I-20 and I-285 see a tremendous amount of traffic, all of those roads have multiple lanes going in each direction. Huge walls separate the lanes heading in one direction from the lanes heading in another direction. Thus, if a driver is inattentive and drifts over into the next lane, the driver may cause a wreck - but the wreck is more likely to be a side impact or a rear impact than a frontal collision.

Rural areas like White County, by contrast, have far more two-lane roads. These roads have no median at all. If a driver is inattentive on a two-lane road, and loses his lane of travel, he has only one other lane into which he can drift - the one headed in the opposite direction.

The Speed of the Travel in Metro Atlanta, Versus the Speed in White County

Ironically, metro Atlanta's heavy traffic actually reduces the rate of fatalities. When traffic has slowed to a crawl, even a head-on crash is far less dangerous. In general, a head-on crash where both vehicles are going 10 miles per hour is far, far less powerful than a frontal collision with both cars headed toward one another at 55 mph. The result? Fewer of the metro Atlanta crashes are fatal.

In Atlanta, many of the frontal crash happen when someone goes up the off-ramp on one of the big highways. A fairly significant number of these wrecks occur when the driver is under the influence (DUI) after drinking alcohol.

Atlanta does have some dangerous on-ramps, however, where anyone can become confused about whether he is on the right ramp. Metro Atlantans will remember the terrible wreck when a bus carrying a school team went up the ramp that came off I-75 at Northside Drive. Bizarrely, the ramp comes off in the middle of the highway, at the far left side of the southbound lanes of I-75. The ramp was extremely short, and poorly marked. The bus driver came up the ramp at highway speeds, obviously thinking he was still in a highway lane. Tragically, the bus went right across Northside Dr. and off the other side, killing the bus driver, his wife, and many of the students. The Georgia DOT did spend substantial time modifying and posting signs at the ramp after that horrific accident occurred.

Rural Counties Have Higher Rate of Head-on Crash Deaths Than Fulton County

December 30, 2013,

Car front.jpgIt doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that head-on car crashes are among the absolutely most dangerous kinds of car accidents. Surprisingly, the rate of these deadly frontal crashes is even higher in in rural areas than they are in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located.

I am a lawyer who handles head-on crash death lawsuits as well as cases involving injuries from those types of collisions. I have been blogging about a 2008 report by the Georgia DOT, Crash Analysis, Statistics & Information Notebook 2008, in which GDOT looked at how many head-on deadly crashes occurred per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on the roads in each of Georgia's 159 counties. By calculating the rate instead of just looking at the number of fatalities, the report evens out differences caused by uneven population counts. That way, counties can get a true sense of where they stand in terms of the dangers of people being killed in front-to-front car wrecks.

Fifteen counties had a rate of 0.3 or higher. Interestingly, only 2 of those counties made the list of the 20 most populated counties in Georgia. Paulding County, which is ranked 14th in terms of population, had a fatal front car wreck rate of 0.4. Carroll County, which is ranked 20th in terms of population, had a rate of 0.3.

The counties with the worst rates for head on fatal crashes were scattered across the state.

Franklin County, with its population of 21,864, had .4 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Habersham County (population of 43,279), Jackson County (with 61,257 people), Polk (41,211 residents), and Walton (84,580 citizens), all shared that same rate -- .4 deaths from head on crashes per 100 million miles traveled.

Two significantly larger counties - Paulding, which has a larger population of 143,542, and fast-growing Hall County, which currently has a population of 183,052, shared that same relatively high rate - .4 frontal crashes that resulted in fatalities per 100,000,000 miles driven.

Madison County has a population of 27,921, but it had a very high death rate of .5, as did Putnam County, which has 21,345 people.

The county that suffered far and away the highest rate of deadly head-on collisions was White County. White County has a population of 27,273, and is located in the northeast corner of Georgia. The largest city in White County is Cleveland, which has a population of 3425.

To give you an idea of how serious the problem was in White County, we can compare it to some of Georgia's other counties. Paulding County, for example, is generally considered to be in the Atlanta metro area and has a population of 143,542. Paulding County also had a rate that put it in the top 10 most dangerous counties for fatal front-on crashes - .4 deaths in head on car wrecks for every 100 million vehicle miles. Over the seven years of the study, 24 people died in head-on crashes in Paulding.

White County, on the other hand, has a much smaller 27,556 residents, yet had 11 deaths - a rate of .7 per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Thus, while Paulding County had more than 5 times the population of White County, it had only twice as many head-on crash deaths.

To make the issue even starker, gigantic Fulton County, with its population of 949,599, had a rate of only .1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The other most densely populated counties around the Atlanta metro area also saw only .1 fatalities per 100,000,000 vehicle miles. Gwinnett County, the second most populous county in Georgia, has 824,941 residents; third-place DeKalb County has 699,893 citizens, and Cobb County has a population of 697,553. Each of these counties, although much larger than White County, had significantly lower rates of fatal front-to-front wrecks.

Head on Crashes in Georgia: Rural Counties Surprisingly Dangerous

December 26, 2013,

Car headlights.jpgA Georgia DOT report, Crash Analysis, Statistics & Information Notebook 2008, has some surprising information about frontal collisions. Certainly you might expect that more people would be killed in head-on collisions in more populous counties, because more people are on the roads in the counties. And, at least on that point, the report confirms exactly what you might expect. However, the report also has a surprising piece of information: the rate -- as opposed to the sheer number -- of frontal collision deaths is higher in rural and smaller counties than in some of the biggest counties in the state.

The Georgia Law: Maintaining Lane of Travel

You probably would guess that a head-on car crash would be a pretty rare event. After all, by definition, if two cars hit front bumper to front bumper, at least one of the cars was in the wrong place. (The one exception might be a single-lane road, of which Georgia has precious few.)

In fact, full frontal collisions are less common than rear-end accidents. But as a head-on car crash lawyer, I represent people who have been in these head-on car accidents, and so I know how serious these wrecks can be.

You do not have to be an attorney handling head-on car crash lawsuits to figure out that something has gone wrong when two cars crash head-to-head. The law makes the very basic requirement that "[a] vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety." O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48(1).

No Surprise: More Populous Counties Have More Head-On Collisions

It is no surprise, of course, to see that the more populated counties, which obviously have more vehicles on the roads, had more deaths from head-on car crashes. Sixteen counties had 20 or more people killed in frontal collisions. Fulton County led the pack, with 76 fatalities as a result of direct frontal car crashes, and DeKalb County and Gwinnett County tied at 54. Hall County had 42 head-on auto wrecks in which someone was killed, and Cobb County checked in at 34. Carroll and Jackson Counties each had 25 front-to-front auto crashes between 2000 and 2006. The study found a 3-way tie between Cherokee, Paulding and Richmond County, each of which had 24 deaths in head-on car accidents.

More Surprising: Some Counties With Small Populations Had Extremely High Rates of Deaths in Frontal Collisions

The report also gave statistics about the rate of head-on fatal car crashes, and that information was much more surprising. Several counties with relatively smaller populations nonetheless had higher rates of head-on accident deaths than the larger counties did. White County, which is in North Georgia, had the highest rate of head on car accidents in the entire state, far eclipsing the rates in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties.

Over the next blog entries, I will be talking about what the GDOT Report found, and about the even bigger question - why would small, rural counties have higher rates of deadly front-end car accidents?

A note about the GDOT Report

The GDOT report compiled county-by-county data about crashes that occurred in Georgia between 2000 and 2006. The report, which is part of GDOT's "Crash Analysis, Statistics & Information" (CASI) reports, only looked at fatal crashes, i.e., crashes in which a driver or passenger was killed as a result of the car collision.

Don't Let a Car Wreck Ruin Your Christmas

December 23, 2013,

Christmas tree hat.jpgWelcome to my "Christmas Crusade" to get Georgians to slow down and drive more carefully over this Christmas holiday!

I am a Georgia car crash lawyer and I handle cases for people with serious injuries from car crashes and family members of people killed in car wrecks. The Christmas holiday is such an emotionally devastating times to lose someone you love, so I am trying to convince Georgians that they should drive defensively over this vacation.

Here in Georgia we tend to associate traffic and all the ills that come with it with the Atlanta metro area. For the rest of the state, though, it is important to know that the rate of deaths in car crashes is actually higher in rural areas than metro areas. Ironically, all that Atlanta traffic slows folks down. While more accidents occur, they are at a lower average speed, which means - in terms of rate, not numbers - it has a lower death rate than other areas. Surprisingly, however, all that Atlanta traffic actually lowers the speed of the cars, and thus the rate (not number, but rate) of fatalities that occur when autos do collide.

So while people driving through Atlanta have every reason to be cautious this Christmas holiday, so do people driving in every other part of Georgia. To give folks incentive to be careful, I want to take a look at the deaths that occurred over the Christmas holiday in 2008. (I'm getting my data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System ("FARS"), which is inevitably somewhat stale). While it is true that 10 people were killed in car accidents in the Atlanta metro area over that 5-day period, 15 were killed outside the metro area, in auto collisions scattered all across the State.

SOUTH GEORGIA
On December 26, 2008, one person died in a car crash in the city of Folkston in Charlton County. The accident happened on Sixth St. inside the city limits.

The next day, two more people were killed in South Georgia car accidents. On December 27, 2008, one person died in a Cook County auto crash along I-75. That same day, a person was killed in a Ware County auto wreck on SR-4.

NORTH GEORGIA
Three people were killed in North Georgia Christmas car accidents, all on the same day -- December 26, 2008. The first person died in a car crash on Pierce Rd. in Barrow County. The second person died in a highway wreck, on I-24 in Dade County. The third North Georgian killed that day died in a car collision on Shoals Creek Rd. in the Dawson County limits.

MIDDLE GEORGIA/CENTRAL GEORGIA

Another three Georgians lost their lives in Middle Georgia car wrecks. The first person died on Christmas day, in Smithville in Sumter County. That wreck happened at the intersection of Stanton Dr. S and SR-3. The next day, a person was killed in a Bibb County car accident that happened along I-475. The third person to be killed in a Middle Georgia car accident over the 2008 Christmas holiday died after a December 27th wreck in Montgomery County on Hilton Memory Rd.

EAST GEORGIA
East Georgia was socked with four deaths over the 2008 Christmas holiday period. Augusta, in Richmond County, had the unfortunate distinction of being the only city to have two deadly car accidents. (Two counties - DeKalb and Cherokee - also had two crashes each.) One person died in a car crash at the corner of Tobacco Rd. and Windsor Spring Rd. on December 26th. Then, an Augusta pedestrian was hit and killed by a car on Horseshoe Rd., in Richmond County, on December 28th. A second East Georgia pedestrian was struck and killed by a car in Burke County on the 28th. The pedestrian had been walking along Susie Bailey Rd. On December 27th, a person died in a car accident in Stewart County. The accident happened where SR-27 / Nicholson St. crosses CR-53.

COASTAL GEORGIA
I suppose you could say it was fortunate that "only" one person died in Coastal Georgia. That car crash occurred on December 28, 2008, in the city of Pooler, which is in Chatham County. A pedestrian - the fifth to be hit and killed by a car over the Christmas holiday - was killed on I-16.

So, Georgians - don't be complacent just because you don't live in the Atlanta metro area. Christmas traffic is heavy everywhere, and the driving can be dangerous. Drive defensively, slowly, and don't drive drunk!

Christmastime Auto Wrecks in Georgia: Let's Put a Stop to Them!

December 19, 2013,

Christmas ornaments w candle.jpgI am a car accident lawyer here in Georgia, and I have been blogging to try to make Georgians think about driving safely over this Christmas holidays. When it comes to serious personal injuries and deaths in car accidents, Georgians naturally tend to think about car crashes in the Atlanta metro area. In fact, only 10 of the 25 deaths occurred in the 35-miles radius around downtown Atlanta.

Still, that number is appalling, and it certainly means Atlantans have every reasons to slow down and drive defensively over the holiday.

When the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration tracks statistics for deaths over Christmas, it counts a several-day period, to account for the fact that people travel to and from family over the long weekend. NHTSA keeps the information in a database called the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). For Christmas 2008, NHTSA tracked deaths from car crashes that occurred on five separate days: Wednesday the 24th, Thursday the 25th, Friday the 26th, Saturday the 27th and Sunday the 28th.

The first deadly car crash in the Atlanta metro area was on Christmas Eve in Newton County. That auto wreck occurred on I-20. A second Christmas Eve car fatality occurred in Lithia Springs in Douglas County along US-78 / SR-5, more commonly known as Veterans Memorial Hwy.

The next day, three people were killed in the Atlanta area in Christmas Day car crashes. The first death occurred from a car crash in Clayton County on Bethaven Dr.

The second death was the only one that actually occurred within the city limits of Atlanta. The wreck occurred in the part of Atlanta that sits in DeKalb County. A pedestrian was killed on Buford Hwy. / SR-13. From my work as a lawyer in car accident cases, I know that Buford Highway is one of the most dangerous places in the State of Georgia for pedestrians. The third death of Christmas Day also occurred in DeKalb County, but not within the Atlanta city limits. That wreck happened on SR-141 / Peachtree Industrial Blvd., and for the second time that day a pedestrian was killed.

On December 26, 2008, three more people were killed in car accidents in Atlanta Metro area counties. The first occurred in Newton County on SR-12 / US -278 / SR-142 and Alcovy Crossing Rd. A second person was killed in a car wreck on Anneewakee Rd. in Douglas County. A third died in the city of Canton in Cherokee County, at the intersection of SR-5 Business and Riverside Parkway.

Only one person was killed in a car wreck on December 27, 2008, which I suppose you could say was "fortunate." One person was killed in an auto crash on Weldon Rd. in Coweta County.

On Sunday the 28th, the final day of the holiday according to NHTSA, two more people died in car crashes. The first was killed in Henry County in a car crash on I-75. The second was killed in a car wreck along I-575 in Cherokee County.

These statistics are kept by NHTSA in a database it calls FARS, which is short for the "Fatality Analysis Reporting System". The 50 states and the U.S. territories provide these statistics to NHTSA, which puts them in a massive database that can be searched and manipulated by the general public over the Internet. The database is completely unique and invaluable, but it generally is several years behind.

So if you will be driving in Atlanta over this Christmas holiday, buckle up, drive defensively and slow down! Hopefully this Christmas will see fewer car crashes than Christmas 2008.

Georgia Drivers Beware! Don't Let a Wreck End Your Christmas Celebration.

December 16, 2013,

Christmas Tree 1.jpgThis blog entry is about really bad facts. Depressing facts. But maybe, just maybe - facts that will make us take more precautions, drive more slowly, and change how Georgians drive over this Christmas holiday.

I am a Georgia car wreck lawyer, and I am using my blog to talk about how, when and where Christmas holiday accidents happened here in Georgia. An astonishing 25 people died in Christmas holiday car wrecks here in Georgia in 2008. For this entry I am going to talk about how, when and where these Christmas holiday accidents. (If the data seems dated, there is an unfortunate reason for it. The information comes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database that is maintained by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The database is invaluable, but it is inevitably behind.)

One common misconception among many Georgians is that unless you live in Atlanta, you probably do not have to worry a great deal about personal injuries or deaths from car wrecks. Unfortunately, the truth is that the rate of fatalities is higher in rural counties than in urban counties, apparently because all that Atlanta traffic slows drivers down.

In order to help Georgians get ready for a safer Christmas, we have got to dispel the notion that car wrecks, personal injuries and deaths from car crashes are things that happen only in Atlanta. In 2008, the Christmas fatal car crashes occurred literally all over the State of Georgia.

Atlanta Metro Area: It is true that ten of the 25 people killed in the auto accidents were killed in wrecks that occurred in or at least near the Atlanta metro area. The wrecks occurred in Cherokee County, Clayton County, Coweta County, DeKalb County, Douglas County, Henry County, and Newton County. A second Cherokee County accident occurred in the city of Clanton. Only one fatal car crash occurred within the Atlanta city limits. A second Douglas County accident occurred in the city limits of Lithia Springs.

Middle/Central Georgia: Although 10 of the fatal car crashes occurred within a 35-mile circumference around downtown Atlanta, the metro area was by no means the only dangerous place for Georgia drivers and pedestrians in Christmas 2008. Three people died in counties in Middle Georgia - one person was killed in a car wreck that occurred in Bibb County, a second person died in a fatal car collision in Montgomery County, and a third deadly car crash happened in the city of Smithville in Sumter County (on the western side of Georgia).

North Georgia: To the northwest of the state, one person was killed in Barrow County. In the northeast corner of the State, Dade County sits at Georgia's border with Alabama and Tennessee. One person died in a Christmas crash in Dade County in 2008. A third accident happened in the northern part of this state, this time in Dawson County, which is toward the middle of the northern end of the state.

South Georgia: Three more people were killed in Georgia crashes on the south side of the State. One person died in Cook County, a second was killed in a car collision in Ware County, and a third person died in an auto crash in the city limits of Folkston in Charlton County.

Coastal Georgia: One person died in a car crash in the city of Pooler, which is in Chatham County. Chatham County sits on Georgia's coast.

Western Georgia: One person was killed in a car crash on the western side of Georgia, in Stewart County, which borders the State of Alabama.

Eastern Georgia: Two different deadly car accidents happened in Augusta in Richmond County. Richmond County is on Georgia's eastern border with South Carolina. A third accident happened in Burke County, also on Georgia's border with South Carolina.


I'm Not Kidding -- Be Careful Over Christmas: Part 3

December 12, 2013,

Christmas ornaments.jpgI don't think I've ever lost my childlike excitement about Christmas. Every year I look forward to family, friends, church, great meals, and lots of fun.

So for me it is hard to even think about a family being devastated by a fatal car wreck around the holidays. But as a car accident lawyer here in Georgia, I see families that have suffered an unimaginable blow right at what should be one of the most wonderful times of the year.

The reality is that every year 10 - 25 people die in car wrecks over the Christmas holiday. Is there anything that we can do to lower that amount? We know that sometimes drivers can avoid accidents by being alert, engaging in defensive driving, slowing down, and not driving DUI.

So what would it take for Georgians to do that this Christmas holiday period? I am hoping a dose of cold, hard reality will make folks remember that every time they get in the car - no matter how exciting the destination, and no matter how many people are in the car - the driver needs to be exceptionally, exceptionally careful.

So here are the facts. They are cold and painful, but hopefully publishing them will help save a life this holiday season. These facts are gleaned from searches of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System "FARS") maintained by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA").

In 2009, eleven people died in ten car accidents around the state of Georgia.

Heart-rendingly, six of the people who died in car crashes died on Christmas Day. Two people died in separate car accidents on I-285. Both accidents occurred on Christmas Day. One of the car wrecks occurred on the stretch of I-285 that runs though Clayton County, and the other collision occurred on a part of I-285 that sits within the DeKalb County limits.

Another person was killed in a car accident in the city of Jesup in Wayne County, on Sunset Blvd.

A person was killed in a car crash that occurred in Norcross, in Gwinnett County, at the intersection of Jimmy Carter Blvd. and Live Oak Parkway.

One person died in Cobb County on Cobb Parkway / SR-3 / Highway 41.

In a Laurens County car crash on I-16, two people lost their lives on Christmas Day.

One person died after a collision that occurred on the day after Christmas, in Douglas County, at the corner of Annewakee Rd. and Oak Place.

On December 27, 2009, three people died in car crashes here in Georgia.
The first died in Catoosa County on SR-151 / Old Alabama Hwy. A second person lost his life in a car crash in Walnut Grove in Walton County on State Road Highway 138. The last person to die for the 2009 Christmas holiday died in McIntosh County on I-95 / US Highway 95.

To me, it's sobering to think of all of the families who got such devastating news over the Christmas holiday. For them, the holiday was turned from dream to nightmare. And for each of the people who died, dozens received serious injuries over the holiday. (That data is not available in the NHTSA FARS database, which by definition only includes wrecks in which at least one person was killed.)

Sobering for you, too? I hope so. So be careful this Christmas season. Drive defensively and slowly. And make sure your family and you have a Merry Christmas!

Georgians -- Need Incentive to Drive Safely this Christmas Holiday? Here's Some.

December 9, 2013,

Christmas candle on tree.jpgChristmas being such a happy season, it is hard to associate it with death or serious personal injuries. But if this year is anything like the most recent statistics available from the National Highway & Traffic Administration, between 10 and 25 people will lose their lives in Georgia car accidents over this upcoming Christmas holiday.

As a Georgia car accident lawyer, I periodically look through the statistics that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) puts out in its FARS database. (FARS stands for Fatality Analysis Reporting System.) I was (unfortunately) not surprised to see that three people were killed in car wrecks on New Year's Eve, but I was surprised to see that 11 people were killed in ten fatal collisions over the Christmas holiday period. In 2008, the number was astronomically higher: 25 people were killed on Georgia roads during the Christmas holiday period.

With so many people traveling over the holiday, the traffic is heavy and drivers may not be as attentive as they should be. People driving anywhere here in Georgia need to be exceptionally careful as they take to the roads for this holiday period.

And please, do not assume that you are "home free" just because you do not live in the Atlanta area. Although most of us tend to associate traffic and big accidents with Atlanta, surprisingly not one of 2009's fatal Christmas accidents occurred within the city limits of Atlanta, or even in Fulton County. Five of the accidents did happen in the Atlanta metro area, in DeKalb County, Cobb County, Douglas County, Clayton County and Gwinnett County.

A full half of the car accidents happened outside the metro Atlanta area, however, and these five car wrecks ranged all over the state. Two people were killed in a car wreck in Laurens County in middle Georgia. One person died in a Christmas car crash in Walton County, which is not far from Atlanta and to its east. A deadly car wreck occurred in Catoosa County in the far north of Georgia, on the Tennessee line. Two fatal auto accidents occurred in southern Georgia, both toward the coast. The first of the two southern Georgia car wrecks happened in Wayne County, which is on the southeast side of Georgia. The second southern Georgia auto collision was in McIntosh County, which is in the state's southern coastal region.

When it tabulates crashes that occur over a "holiday", the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration includes several days around the "holiday" in its statistics, on the theory that traffic will be heavy throughout that period as people travel. For that reason, in the stats that FARS keeps, only five of the Christmas car wrecks actually occurred on Christmas Day. One occurred on the day after Christmas, and four more on December 27, 2009.

Keep these statistics in mind over the next few days of the Christmas holiday. There is an especial note of tragedy when a family loses a loved one at Christmas. So whether you live in the Atlanta metro area, in middle Georgia, northern Georgia, southern Georgia, or along the Georgia coast, slow down and watch out. And Merry Christmas!

Why Whistleblowers Give Up on Good Cases

December 7, 2013,

Pie chart stairstep.jpgAs a lawyer who represents whistleblowers, I have been appalled at some very unfair criticism levied at False Claims Act cases. Using statistics such as the ones cited by David Krok in a recent article in the American Bar Association's Public Contract Law Journal. In the article, Does Private Enforcement Attract Excessive Litigation? Evidence from the False Claims Act, Krok gathered statistics about how few whistleblower cases succeed if the Government chooses not to get involved in the case. Critics of the False Claim Act have seized upon statistics such as these to argue that most whistleblower suits must be frivolous because they do not succeed. I have been writing a series of legal blog entries about why the criticism is unfair and unfounded.

How the False Claims Act system works: FCA cases are called qui tam cases, because they are initially filed by a private citizen, called a relator, on behalf of the Government. After an investigation period, the Government can elect to intervene in the case, and take it over, or it can refuse to intervene. In the latter case, the relator is allowed to proceed with the case on his own, but without the assistance of the Government. The whistleblower gets a minimally higher percentage of the amount recovered in the case if he proceeds on his own without the Government.

The Critics are Wrong. The critique levied at relators bringing cases fundamentally misunderstands how FCA cases work.

First, on average fewer than 500 False Claims Act cases are filed in the entire United States in a given year, hardly a figure that suggests a wild gold rush by relators.

Second, the critics are missing the point. The real issue is that enormous obstacles face a relator who wants to prosecute the case on his or her own. Unless the courts adjust some draconian rulings made in recent years, or Congress steps in to make new rules, the relator has a difficult time succeeding in these cases.

Third, the statute does not incentivize the relator appropriately. If the Government intervenes in the case, the relator gets 15-25% of the proceeds recovered by the Government. And if the relator prosecutes the case on his or her own, the relator receives only minimally more than he would have gotten if the Government had taken over the case: 25-30% of what the Government collects.

Fourth, the risk of going forward falls heavily on the relator's lawyer. Seldom is the relator able to fund the litigation on his or her own. After all, for the most part the relator is a former employee of the corporation that is being sued - a former employee because he was fired when he tried to get his employer to do the right thing. Instead, the relators' counsel generally must fund the litigation, hiring expensive experts to explain the case to the jury. Given that the return is only minimally higher, many relators have a difficult time finding lawyers who will assume the risk of going forward.

Fifth, often the reason the Government refused to intervene had to do with the amount of damages, not the merits of the case. If the Government's investigation reveals that the damages are not particularly large, the Government may make a financial decision not to go forward with the case. In a very large percentage of the cases of which I am aware, the Government confirmed the fraud, but determined that the damages did not justify the expenditures. In these cases, the Government essentially determines that if the fraud is under a certain level, it is "free" to the defendant, because the cost to the Government of recovering the money is too high. Of course, if the dollars are not large enough for the Government, which gets 75-85% of the case proceeds if it chooses to intervene, a 25-30% share is not likely to entice the relator.

Sixth, because the cases by definition involve mega-corporations with massive government contracts, the corporations have nearly limitless resources to devote to the case. The relator, on the other hand, is usually a single individual - and one who was fired and is out of work, at that. The relator's attorney typically works in a very small firm. The imbalance between the two sides is enormous, and many relators - and their attorneys, if the attorneys have not litigated large cases before -- fear being crushed in the fight.

Why Whistleblowers Can't Win for Losing

December 5, 2013,

Corporate Growth Chart.jpgI am a False Claims Act lawyer, and I am doing a series of articles addressing criticism of the Act. A recent article in the Public Contract Law Journal, published by the American Bar Association, gave grim statistics about the success rate for relators (whistleblowers) in False Claims Act ("FCA") cases where the Government chooses not to intervene in the case. According to author David Krok, by using data he received as a result of the Freedom of Information Act he was able to determine that relators have a 95% chance of winning if the Government chooses to intervene in the case; conversely, they have only a 9% chance of winning if the Government chooses not to intervene. Citing statistics such as those Krok cites in his article, Does Private Enforcement Attract Excessive Litigation? Evidence from the False Claims Act, critics have suggested that these statistics are evidence that relators should not be allowed to prosecute non-intervened cases.

For more about "intervention", see my earlier blog post, Why Whistleblower Cases Seldom Succeed After the Government Declines the Case.

Critics argue that the relators must not be bringing meritorious suits since the relators generally do not succeed when the Government chooses not to intervene, but they are missing a critical point: the impact on the case that occurs simply because the Government refused to intervene.

Three important things happen when the Government does decide to intervene. First, because the Government chose to intervene in the case, courts tend to assume that the case must have merit. Second, the courts tend to give the Government the benefit of the doubt about whether the case is pled sufficiently. And third, the Government usually has sufficient information to plead the case appropriately.

When the Government does not intervene, the opposite occurs. The defendant usually files a motion to dismiss in which the defendant argues that the case must not be any good, because -- after all -- the Government refused to intervene in the case. In my experience, the argument is almost always false; the intervention decision most often is related to dollars and cents, and not to facts. Nonetheless, defendants make the argument precisely because they realize that it likely will resonate with the judge. Since the Government does not put anything in writing about why it chose not to intervene, the relator has little to work with in convincing the court that the Government did not believe the case was unfounded.

Because the court already is skeptical about whether the case is meritorious, the court then looks with a jaundiced eye on the claims, and is much more likely to grant a motion to dismiss as a result.

Third, the relator, who is usually an individual, generally has only a limited amount of information. The defendant typically argues that the fact that the relator's information is limited means that the case should be dismissed because the relator cannot prove every detail of the claim in advance, without any discovery. For example, even when the relator has ironclad proof of the fraud that went on, the defendant typically will claim that the relator is missing some other piece of information, such as copies of the bills that were submitted to the government agency. The argument typically is absurd. Does anyone seriously doubt that a hospital is submitting its claims to Medicare? No hospital could stay in business if it failed to submit the claims. Nonetheless, even where a hospital employee can prove that the hospital was billing for procedures that were never performed, the hospital will argue that the case ought to be dismissed because the employee does not have copies of the bills that went to Medicare.

Or course, the irony of the argument is that jobs are typically segmented enough that the relator who knows about the fraud does not know have access to the billing, and vice versa. Some courts have raised the bar unnecessarily high in this situation. The upshot is that courts dismiss clearly meritorious cases, and the Government never recovers the money stolen from it by fraud.

Georgia Drivers: Be Careful this Christmas Holiday!

December 4, 2013,

Christmas bear at table.jpgI'm an Atlanta car wreck lawyer, and I'm on a one-woman quest to see whether we can get Georgia drivers to slow down and drive more carefully over this Christmas holiday. Over the 2009 Christmas holiday (the latest data available), ten people were killed on Georgia highways over the holiday. The year 2008 was far worse: 25 people were killed in 25 car wrecks across Georgia.

As an auto accident lawyer, I have met with many families who lost a loved one in a wreck, and with people who suffered debilitating personal injuries in a car crash. But of all the things I do in my job, nothing is sadder than meeting with families who lost somebody over a holiday, and - for me - particularly families who lost someone they loved very much during the Christmas holiday.

What if we could change the numbers? What if - by driving defensively and slowing down - we could cut the number of fatal collisions in half - or lower? What an amazing accomplishment!

So as we march up to the holiday, I am going to do several blog entries about how many people die on Georgia roads each Christmas holiday, and about where the accidents happen. My hope is that the information will make Georgians more aware of the fact that driving over Christmas can be very dangerous -- and that it will prompt folks to drive more carefully this season.

I'm going to be using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which maintains a database called FARS. The FARS database (the full name is Fatality Accident Reporting System, but since that is a mouthful, for obvious reasons everybody calls it FARS) is a searchable set of facts about accidents in which someone died in one of the fifty U.S. states or in one of the U.S. territories. FARS does not contain data about serious injury accidents unless someone died in the accident. Thus, FARS misses some very serious personal injury car crashes, even ones resulting in paraplegia, quadriplegia, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, broken bones, etc. Still, the database is a one-of-a-kind way to look at the statistics and the trends in serious accidents around the United States.

NHTSA has released FARS data for 2008 and 2009, and I'm going to be talking about the car crash deaths that occurred over the Christmas holidays in those two years. The year 2009 saw ten deaths from Georgia car wrecks, which was bad enough, but in the year 2008, an astonishing 25 people were killed in car accidents in Georgia over the Christmas holidays.

Part of the reason for the difference is the way that NHTSA counts the holiday. NHTSA tracks deaths that occur around the holiday, to account for the fact that people hit the roads in the days before and after the holiday itself, in order to be able to spend Christmas Day itself with their families. In 2009, Christmas fell on a Friday, so NHTSA calculated the "holiday" as covering the 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th. By contrast, in 2008, Christmas fell on a Thursday, so NHTSA kicked off the holiday on the 24th, and ran it through the 28th.

But no matter which year you take, 2008 or 2009, both years saw a tragic number of deaths. So this Christmas season, Georgians -- drive carefully, don't drive under the influence, and drive defensively. Let's see if we can make this Christmas a lot happier for Georgia families!

(Thanks to Wong Mei Teng for the beautiful photo on this post. Mei Teng is a really talented photographer who generously posts free images on stock.xchng.)

Why Whistleblower Cases Seldom Succeed After the Government Declines the Case

December 2, 2013,

Pie Chart.jpgAn article in the American Bar Association's Public Contract Law Journal (p. 241), "Evidence from the False Claims Act: Does Private Enforcement Attract Excessive Litigation", is being cited by critics of the False Claims Act. The gist of the article was no surprise to whistleblower attorneys like me: cases taken over by the Government (called "intervened" cases) almost never lose, and "non-intervened" cases almost never win. What did surprise me, though, was the reaction of critics of the False Claims Act system, who claimed the statistics are evidence that the qui tam system - which allows a relator to file a case in the name of the Government - encourages frivolous cases. These critics fundamentally misunderstand the practical obstacles facing relators who try to prosecute a case on their own.

The Intervention System:
Under the False Claims Act, the whistleblower (called the "relator") brings the lawsuit on behalf of the United States. The United States then is allowed time to investigate the case. When the United States concludes its investigation, or when the time for investigation runs outs, whichever comes first, the United States has a choice to make. It can intervene in the case, which essentially means that the United States takes over the case. The relator remains in the case, but takes a back seat to the United States, which becomes the chief prosecutor of the case. On the other hand, the United States can refuse to intervene in the case. In that case, the relator has the option to continue the case on his or her own, without the help of the United States. The relator also can choose to dismiss the case.

The Statistics: According to the article, when the U.S. intervenes in a case, the United States wins the case 95% of the time. On the other hand, when the United States declines the case and leaves the relator to prosecute it on his or her own, the relator dismisses the case 25% of the time. Fifty percent of the time, a court dismisses the case. Only 22% of the cases go on to trial, and the defendants win somewhat more than half of those cases. In the end, only 9% of the cases where the Government refused to intervene end up resulting in a settlement or judgment for the United States. While the United States intervened in 953 cases, it refused to intervene in 2314 cases, which means that the overall "success rate" was less than 50%.

An Overview of Why the Critics are Wrong:
While the statistics for non-intervened cases are grim for relators, the fact that non-intervened cases tend to be dismissed or lost is emphatically not evidence of an abundance of frivolous claims. Put simply, there are a number of reasons why relators do worse when the Government does not intervene - and those reasons have nothing to do with whether the case was good in the first place. In my next whistleblower blog entry, I will talk about why the critics are wrong to conflate the effectiveness of the False Claims Act with the success of non-intervened cases.

Georgians - Please Drive Carefully this Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend!

November 26, 2013,

Thanksgiving turkey.jpgThis Thanksgiving weekend Georgians will head out to be with families and friends. We'll eat and visit and be grateful for all we have been given in this nation. Some of us, of course, also will shop!

But the sad truth is that some of us here in Georgia may die or be seriously injured in car accidents this very weekend. So I hope, that in the midst of the fun and joy, people here in Georgia will take just a minute to think about the fact that we need to be exceptionally cautious this weekend.

Being an auto accident lawyer, when I had questions about how dangerous Thanksgiving weekend could be in terms of car accidents, I turned to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System maintained by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. According to what I learned from that database, 13 people died across Georgia in 12 different accidents over the 2009 Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

People were killed in fatal car wrecks all over the State of Georgia, and not simply (or even mostly) in the Atlanta metro area. Two people were killed in deadly car crashes in Macon, and another person died in a Buford auto crash. One person was killed in a Valdosta car accident, and another in a Savannah auto collision. A person was killed in a car crash near Carrollton, and another in a Covington car accident. These fatal car accidents happened not just on the mega interstates, like I-75, I-95, I-475, and I-85, but also on smaller or more local roads, like Glade Farm Rd. in Hall County, Boring Pond Rd. in Lowndes County, Brewton Lovett Rd. in Laurens County, S. Bogan Rd. in the city of Buford in Gwinnett County, and Muse Bridge Rd. in Carroll County.

The large number of deaths from Thanksgiving car accidents was no fluke. In fact, even more people died over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2008. That year, 18 people were killed in car accidents in Georgia. The most dangerous holiday of 2008 was Christmas, when 25 people were killed in 25 different auto crashes. Twenty-one people were killed in Independence Day car collisions over the Fourth of July weekend. Thanksgiving was tied with Labor Day for third deadliest holiday weekend of the year, with each holiday seeing 18 people killed around Georgia.

Over the 2009 Thanksgiving weekend, someone was killed in a car accident here in Georgia every day of that four-day holiday. Surprisingly to me, relatively fewer people were killed on Black Friday, November 27, 2009. In a single, horrific accident, two people died that Friday.

I had thought that the heavy mall and shopping traffic that day would make that one of the most dangerous days of the weekend. However, each of the other days saw even more people killed. Three people were killed in car accidents on Thanksgiving Day, four more were killed on Saturday, November 28, 2009, and another five people lost their lives in fatal traffic crashes on Sunday, November 29, 2009.

Significantly, these figures from NHTSA do not include any of the people who were seriously injured over the Thanksgiving weekend. Even if someone suffered serious personal injuries in a car wreck - a head injury, multiple broken bones, or quadriplegia or paraplegia - the database is limited to car accidents in which someone was killed. Unless someone died in those serious wrecks, then, they were not even in the FARS database.

So when you go visiting and shopping this weekend, remember that you are one of the things for which your relatives and friends are the most thankful - and watch out while you are driving!