What to do if you have a Toyota RAV4 on the recall list

Toyota Rav4 recall

Toyota has just recalled nearly 3 million RAV4 sport utility vehicles across the world, stating their rear seat belts could be severed in a car accident, leaving passengers unrestrained and vulnerable to injury.

The fault is suspected in the separation of seat belts in two crashes, one of which killed a passenger, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Just under half of the 2.87 million vehicles affected by the recall are in North America, Toyota’s largest market. The recall also covers Japan, Europe, China and other regions. The recalled RAV4s include those produced between 2005 and 2014 in all markets except Japan, where the recall reportedly affects models up to 2016.

Owners of the involved vehicles will receive notification by first class mail, according to a press release on Toyota.com.  Toyota dealers will add resin covers to the metal seat cushion frame at no cost.

For the most up-to-date safety recall information on Toyota, customers should check their vehicle’s status by visiting http://www.toyota.com/recall and entering the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Safety recall inquiry by individual VIN is also available at the NHTSA site.

For any additional questions, customer support is also available by calling Toyota Customer Service at (800) 331-4331.

If you have been injured in a faulty Toyota RAV4, you can also call one of our accident attorneys for a free review of your case. We are here to answer any questions you may have.

Although this recall affects only a single model of Toyota, it follows a disturbing series of serious flaws in important auto safety equipment, like the Takata airbag recall, and the GM ignition switch recall, both which led to numerous fatal automobile accidents.

Massachusetts bill proposes idea that NHTSA has advocated since 2011: ‘All children under 13 should ride in the back seat’

teen in back seat

Should children who are 13 years of age or younger be prohibited from sitting in a car or truck’s front seat and, thus, be required to sit in the back seat?

A Massachusetts lawmaker thought so.

According to a recent Yahoo Parenting article, “Should It Be Illegal for Kids to Ride in the Front Seat of a Car?” by Jennifer O’Neill:

Senate Bill 1848, which was introduced by the late Sen. Thomas Kennedy in January 2015, would require that kids under the age of 13 “be seated in the rear passenger seat of the motor vehicle whenever possible.”

No such bill has been proposed in Michigan, where I primarily practice auto accident law. But were such a bill to be proposed and enacted here, it would represent a significant change to our existing child car seat law and many others around the country. It would better protect children in the car and prevent more serious car accident injuries — so I don’t have to see devastated parents sitting across my desk.

Under Michigan’s existing law, only children “less than 4 years of age” must be positioned “in a rear seat” (assuming the vehicle has a rear seat and assuming that “all available rear seats are [not already] occupied by children less than 4 years of age”) (MCL 257.710d(1) and (2))

I think the Massachusetts bill’s proposal is excellent, smart and well-founded and should be given serious consideration by lawmakers where such a requirement is absent.

There’s broad-based support for keeping children under 13 safe by having them seated in the rear seat of cars and trucks, according to Ms. O’Neill’s Yahoo Parenting story:

  • “‘We know from data that the back seat is at least 40 percent safer for children under 13, especially the middle of the back seat,’ AAA Northeast legislative affairs director Mary Maguire (who supported the bill with written testimony submitted on Wednesday) tells Yahoo Parenting. ‘The back seat offers greater protection and decreases the possibility of being injured by the front-seat airbag. NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], the AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics], and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] all recommend that children stay in the back seat until age 13.’”
  • “Boston Children’s Hospital supports the bill, and its director of state government relations, Kathryn Audette, tells Yahoo Parenting that the rule will make a huge difference for a ‘small change to what parents should already be doing.’ The research that the hospital staff performed regarding the issue ‘all says pretty much any passenger in the back tends to be safer, but particularly children with developing bodies, as airbags can really hurt kids and in some instances cause life-threatening injuries in accidents involving front deployment.’”
  • “Janette Fennell, president and founder of the safety organization Kids and Cars, [says] … ‘This is a great bill,’ she tells Yahoo Parenting. ‘I don’t think it’s extreme at all. This will help raise awareness — and there shouldn’t be any mystery about the fact that you must be in the back seat and buckled up back there.’”

Specifically, here’s what NHTSA has said (at least since March 2011) about keeping kids under 13 in the rear seat:

Our lawyers would like to hear what our readers think. Should all other states be following Massachusetts’ lead – and the advice of experts like those at NHTSA? Is it time we put safety first by keeping our pre-teens in the “rear seat” of our cars and trucks?

And what workers’ comp lawyers really do

Workers comp lawyer

I want to share a very witty blog post from Michigan Workers’ Compensation Lawyers (Law Offices of Alex Berman PC): “What People Think I Do/What I Really Do.”

The post is clever, but it also drives home an important message about lawyers.

I should quickly add that although our own law offices do not practice workers’ compensation law, our attorneys often have a work comp component to the automobile accident cases we litigate, as many people get in car accidents when they’re on the job. And because we litigate cases throughout the state of Michigan, we’ve worked closely on cases with most of the workers’ compensation attorneys throughout the state as well.

The writers of this blog post are certainly one of the very best. Alex Berman is President of the Workers Compensation Trial Lawyers Association, and is in my opinion, one of the very best in the country, and certainly in Michigan.  The blog is written by Jeff Kaufman, who’s another outstanding work comp lawyer.

I think Jeff nails it with this blog post: The good lawyers often don’t do it for the money (particularly in workers compensation law, which has been gutted by Republican legislatures over the last 30 years in Michigan). These lawyers often view it as a calling and really care about traditional protections and legal rights for employees. The workers comp lawyers I know are not the ones out there trying to swindle people by advertising on buses or all the other terrible lawyer stereotypes we see all around us today on television.

Unfortunately, there’s no lobbying group that spends money to promote positive stories about lawyers. Although with the insurance industry, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and associations like ATRA, there’s plenty of spending money to make lawyers look bad.

For our own attorneys, and for the attorneys at the Law Offices of Alex Berman, we’re here to support and protect the people who were hurt in car accidents and on the job. That means being there when people have questions, always offering compassion and understanding and fighting hard to do what’s right. Sometimes that means taking an insurance company to trial when these insurance companies treat people terribly and ignore their own obligations to people that they’re supposed to be helping.

Ultimately, our roles as attorneys are to help people reach the best possible settlement so they can move on with their lives as best they can, and so they can take care of their families and continue to heal.

It’s time we do a better job of protecting truck accident victims

Insurance liability limits for commercial motor carriers haven’t been adjusted for inflation in 35 years, but the FMSCA is putting feelers out on a new number.

Currently, the FMCSA only requires motor carriers to maintain insurance up to $750,000 per truck accident. This is a stunningly low amount that’s woefully inadequate to care for truck accident victims with catastrophic injures — or the families of those who were tragically killed. To put that number in perspective, many of our clients have incurred $750,000 in medical bills within a month of being involved in a serious injury accident.

As I’ve said before in advocating for higher truck insurance limits — to help prevent serious wrecks at the hands of trucking companies that cut public safety for a bigger bottom line — these very low insurance limits fail to give insurance companies incentives to undergo a thorough assessment of the motor carriers they insure. This is because their own liability and exposure is capped at $750,000. So all dangerous truck companies have to do after they’ve caused a terrible wreck is pay their insurance policy limits, close for business, and then immediately re-open for business under a new name. These “chameleon carriers” then go on to cause more of the same crashes.

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) turned an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on minimum insurance levels into a survey of trucking and insurance industry practices. Unfortunately, the notice gave few clues as to what new levels of insurance coverage FMCSA might be considering.

Instead, the notice asked carriers and brokers to voluntarily answer questions about their current premiums and about how rates are determined — perhaps by things such as driver safety records, credit histories, or whether carriers get discounts for the volume of vehicles in their fleets, according to a story in Transport Topics, “FMCSA Asks Trucking Fleets for Information About Insurance Rates, Coverage Levels.”

The FMCSA also asked: “What percentage of fleets, based on size and the type of operation of the carrier [passenger, property, hazmat] already have liability coverage that exceeds the minimum financial responsibility requirement and by how much?”

The FMCSA did not say in its notice what coverage levels it’s considering but cited studies, one from the Volpe Transportation Systems Center in 2013, that said severe crashes usually result in more than $1 million in damages.

Here’s more information on why I’m in support of raising truck insurance limits.

Teen killed by pickup driver who was eating a sandwich and looking down at his GPS

One of five vehicles involved in the crash, photo courtesy of WZZM
One of five vehicles involved in the crash, photo courtesy of WZZM

A 13-year-old boy is dead because a grown man was “eating a sandwich” and “look[ing] down at his GPS” while driving his pickup truck.

Too distracted by his meal and his desire to not get lost, the pickup driver failed to notice the traffic in the construction zone on I-196 where he was driving had stopped in Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press article, “Michigan boy, 13, killed by distracted driver,” which was written by WZZM’s Gregory Ghering.

Consequently, the distracted pickup driver did not even hit the brakes before he crashed “at highway speed” into the rear-end of the minivan in which the 13-year-old boy was riding in the backseat. Tragically, the boy was pronounced dead at the scene.

This is gut-wrenching, horrendous news. And as an attorney, it’s a vivid reminder about how many motor vehicle accidents are now being caused by people driving distracted, texting, and doing just about anything other than look at the road.

But few things frustrate – and anger – me more than senseless, grossly-negligent and easily-avoidable killings like the one involving the 13-year-old boy above that are caused by distracted driving. And as a father and a husband, these thoughts keep me awake at night on how we can protect ourselves and, importantly, our loved ones from such a deadly disaster.

That young boy could’ve been you or me … or worse – it could’ve been one of our kids. Tragically, all of those are and will continue to be open possibilities until we do something about stopping drivers from driving while distracted.

Currently, Michigan, where I primarily practice personal injury law, has no law banning “distracted driving.”

It should. I can’t understand why.

We have a ban on texting-while-driving. And we have a ban on teen drivers using cellphones while driving – which I strongly believe should be extended to apply to all drivers, young and old.

What puzzles me is why Michigan — and many other other U.S. states — do not take the same approach with distracted driving, given what we know about the dangers it poses.

In Michigan alone, the number of crashes involving “distracted” drivers has increased 40% between 2008 and 2013, according to data from Michigan Traffic Crash Facts (the “Driver Condition” subsection under the “Vehicle/Driver” section).

The real risks of distracted driving

Those statistics should not surprising in light of what we already know about the crash risks involved with two of the most prevalent and dangerous forms of distracted driving: Texting while driving and talking on the cellphone while behind the wheel.

Consider the following:

If you want to learn more about the dangers of distracted driving – and hear the compelling, heart-breaking story about Casey Feldman and how “[d]istracted driving can change your life and countless others” – I strongly encourage you to check out the fabulous organization, “EndDD” or “End Distracted Driving.”

A 32-acre site is the testing ground for autonomous cars, and our attorneys hope will help create a future without car accidents

MCity, the world’s first controlled test center for self-driving, cars opened last week on a 32-acre site on the University of Michigan’s north campus. And it’s a game changer for the rapid development of autonomous cars.

Mcity was designed and developed by U-M’s interdisciplinary MTC, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Here’s a peek:

Mcity test center for driverless cars

Mcity storefronts

Dummy in Mcity


According to U of M’s Mcity website:

“Mcity simulates the broad range of complexities vehicles encounter in urban and suburban environments. It includes approximately five lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers.” Mcity celebrated its grand opening on July 20, 2015 with representatives from government, industry, & the university.”

The types of technology that will be tested on Mcity roads includes vehicles communicating with other vehicles (V2V) and driverless cars.

Driverless cars — also called self-driving cars, autonomous cars, robotic cars and sometimes Google cars  (because of Google’s aggressive moonshot bet on autonomous cars) – are vehicles with new advanced technology that enable them to sense the environment and navigate without a human driver behind the wheel.

Beyond the ability to eat, read or take a quick nap — not to mention the possibility of changing the trucking freight industry, allowing people with disabilities to drive and the elderly — officials say the technology should improve vehicle safety to the tune of eliminating 80% of fatal crashes, according to a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

More than 30,000 people died in auto accidents 2013, the NHTSA says.

Meanwhile, here are the roadway attributes in Mcity:

  • 1000’ North/South straight,
  • Various road surfaces (concrete, asphalt, brick, dirt),
  • Variety of curve radii, ramps,
  • Two, three, and four-lane roads,
  • Round-about and tunnels,
  • Sculpted dirt and grassy areas.

Here are the road-side attributes:

  • Variety of signage and traffic control devices,
  • Fixed, variable street lighting,
  • Cross walks, lane delineators, curb cuts, bike lanes, grade crossings,
  • Hydrants, sidewalks,
  • “Buildings” (fixed and movable).

In particular, Mcity allows researchers to simulate the environments where connected V2V and automated vehicles will be most challenged. For example, even seemingly minor details a car might encounter in urban and suburban settings have been incorporated into Mcity, like road signs defaced by graffiti and faded lane markings, according to published reports.

When driverless cars are unleashed from Ann Arbor-based Mcity…

Once the kinks are worked out of the driverless vehicles, officials are planning to move to the streets of Ann Arbor, said Peter Sweatman, head of U of M’s Transportation Research Institute, in an article on The Guardian, “Welcome to Mcity, Michigan’s ghost town of driverless cars.”

Sweatman said he expects 20,000-30,000 V2V cars that communicate with one another – such as with a light to notify when a vehicle or object is too close – will be traveling the region within six to eight years. And an expected 20-30 fully autonomous vehicles to be on local roads in that time frame.

The reality is, these self driving cars may be here sooner than we think, especially with all the magic that’s happening within the walls of Mcity. And I’m fully on board, even if it means my own obsolesce as an auto accident attorney. With driverless cars, most crashes caused by human error will be no longer. Now that’s something else.

Related information:

Who’s liable in a driverless car accident?

This Kickstarter bike helmet by Lumos has brake lights and turn signals!

As an auto accident lawyer helping many bicyclists who are hit by cars, I often write about the law, bicycle safety and the latest in helmet technology in the fight to prevent concussion and traumatic brain injury.

The latest bit of news is truly exciting:

Lumos bicycle helmet

“The Next Generation Bicycle Helmet” by Lumos is a Kickstarter project with just about one week left. The helmet features brake lights and turn signals, to help cyclists stay safe and truly visible on the road.

The turn signals are featured on the front and back of the helmet, and can be activated by a wireless remote. This way, the rider can keep both hands firmly on the handlebars if needed and there’s no confusion due to ambiguous hand signals or dark clothing.

For braking, Lumos comes with an integrated accelerometer. It senses when the cyclists slows down, and automatically turns all the rear lights a bright red color to signal braking, just like a vehicle. Quite amazing, if you ask me.

With this helmet, the cyclist can more effectively communicate her intentions to drivers, who often have difficulty seeing and predicting where the cyclists will go on the road. Unfortunately, I know this first hand. For instance, in one of my recent cases, my client, an 83-year-old man, was hit and killed by a commercial truck who did not see him as he was legally crossing the street on his bicycle.

The Lumos helmet also comes with a rechargeable battery, and it’s water-resistant.

Lumos specs

Though still in development, this bicycle helmet is already taking off. So far on Kickstarter, there are 3, 518 backers who have pledged a total of $461,679 — far surpassing its $125,000 goal.

The first batch is scheduled to be delivered April 2016.

As Lumos says, “This isn’t just a product. It’s a movement.”

In 2013, 4,735 pedestrians and 743 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts. There were also about 66,000 injuries that year. A large number of these deaths and injuries were the result of a collision with a motorist.

This helmet could makes cyclists visible and more safe, which means far less preventable deaths and injuries from bicycle accidents.

Related info:

How to fit a bicycle helmet

Six most common bicycle accidents

Surprise! Humans are still way more dangerous than autonomous cars


The media went crazy for about 24 hours with stories about the first injury-producing car accident involving a Google car.

But, it turns out it was a human who caused the crash.

After 1.9 million miles of test driving Google cars, these miraculous vehicles – that thankfully will one day put me and lawyers like me out of business in a world without car accidents – still haven’t caused an injury accident.

As an auto accident attorney, the latest crash confirms something we already know: Human beings make lots of mistakes behind the wheel. And it’s a very early indication of how the purpose of these driverless cars – preventing crashes caused by human-error –  is becoming fulfilled.

Here’s more about the injury accident: Google Inc. revealed that one of its self-driving car prototypes was involved in an injury accident for the first time on July 1, according to a recent story on cbsnews.com.

In the collision, a Lexus SUV that Google outfitted with sensors and cameras was rear-ended in its home city of Mountain View, California, where more than 20 prototypes have been self-driving through traffic.

The three Google employees on board complained of minor whiplash. But they checked out at a hospital and were cleared to go back to work following the crash, according to Google. The driver of the other car also complained of neck and back pain.

In California, a person must be behind the wheel of a driverless car being tested on public roads to take control in an emergency. Google typically sends another employee in the front passenger seat to record details on a laptop. In this case, there was also a back seat passenger.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this technology, driverless cars — also called self-driving cars, autonomous cars, robotic cars  and Google cars – are vehicles that drive themselves. They have new advanced sensory and navigation technology that enable them to route without a human driver. For more information, please take a look at my blog post, “Driverless cars: Who’s driving and who’s responsible?”

Google says this was the 14th car accident in six years and about 1.9 million miles of testing, stating that its cars have not caused any of the accidents.

Chris Urmson, head of Google’s self-driving car program said it best in a recent blog post:
“The clear theme is human error and inattention … We’ll take all this as a signal that we’re starting to compare favorably with human drivers.”

We will all live in a better world with Google cars driving us around.

Related info:

Driverless cars: Who’s liable in an accident?

This common – and commonly misunderstood – problem impairs many car accident victims with TBI

I’m an attorney who helps many people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) suffered from car wrecks. And I spend a lot of time helping people who suffer additional intense anxiety because so many people – including their doctors, families and friends – do not understand why they’re “so different” after a motor vehicle accident.

My job is to explain what these brain injuries really feel like for people — and the immense toll it takes on their lives — to insurance adjusters, other lawyers, and if the case doesn’t resolve, to juries.

One common and serious symptom of brain injury is fatigue. It’s also one of the most understood. Doctors and lawyers who devote a significant part of their practices to brain injury have coined a term for it: “Neurofatigue.”

I recently read a helpful article on neurofatigue from braininjuryexplanation.com, which does a nice job of explaining what this means:

To start, it’s important to differentiate mental fatigue as a result of a brain injury from physical fatigue. As the article states:

“Mental fatigue comes in thinking processes, learning and information processing, watching television extensively, doing computer activities, but also solving problems, interpreting the behavior of other people and thinking logically.

A healthy person can also be mentally tired of all such functions if it is intense and long enough.

Healthy people can also come to a point that they become annoyed when the “energy” is low, and especially if that mental activity was filled with noise. It seems like you cannot endure radio or TV, or something like that, anymore.

For brain injury victims that is many times worse. The mental energy has already been exhausted after a short time. They use more parts of the brain, because the dead area must be passed by, in the communication between brain cells…

Neurofatigue is one of the most debilitating consequences of a brain injury, as it influences everything the injured person does, both physically and mentally. A person’s emotions can also become raw when they are tired.”

Here’s an infographic that illustrates how a car accident victim’s proverbial battery can be drained when neurofatigue is present:


Symptoms of neurofatigue

Below are the tell-tale signs of neurofatigue:

  • A drawn, tense look,
  • A pale pallor,
  • Glazed eyes,
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tense in neck and shoulders,
  • Sleep disruptions and,
  • Too much activity that causes restless, distraction, chattiness and likelihood of mistakes.

If you notice any of these signs, your body is telling you that your battery is draining and it’s time to take a rest and charge it.

Lawyers beware: IME doctors use your client’s neurofatigue to accuse them of exaggerating, malingering

This is a common trick that I see quite often. Many defense doctors wait until your client is clearly becoming fatigued, and then give specific testing so they can write helpful reports to the adverse insurance company that essentially calls your client a faker or a malingerer. Here’s a good example of a deposition of one such notorious defense doctor IME.

Michigan Supreme Court releases study showing drunk driving recidivism is ‘cut in half’

Ignition interlock device to prevent drunk driving in Michigan

Ignition interlock systems are not just for punishing drunk drivers after they’ve been caught. They actually reduce drunk driving!

That’s the conclusion of a new report released by the Michigan Supreme Court, “Michigan DWI/Sobriety Court Ignition Interlock Evaluation 2015 report.”

With its “primary goal” of “determin[ing] ignition interlock devices are an effective means to control drunk driving recidivism among chronic DWI offenders when incorporated into a DWI/Sobriety Court program,” the evaluation concluded:

“[I]t appears that ignition interlocks used in conjunction with DWI/Sobriety Courts are a promising method of reducing DWI recidivism among repeat drunk drivers in the state of Michigan.”

In its press release, the Michigan Supreme Court highlighted the following findings from the evaluation:

  • Recidivism cut in half. A DWI recidivism rate of 2.8 percent among interlock participants who are off probation as compared to participants in the Standard Probation Group who have a DWI recidivism rate of 5.5 percent.”
  • Nearly universal compliance. More than 97 percent of people ordered by the DWI/Sobriety Court judges to put the devices on their vehicles actually put them on.”
  • Failure rate two-thirds lower. 12 percent of interlock participants failed the DWI/Sobriety Court program, while nonparticipants had a failure rate of 34 percent.”

As a safety advocate and an accident attorney, this release is welcome news.

Drunk driving is a major cause of preventable car accidents. It is extremely dangerous – not only for the innocent public that’s needlessly endangered by this dangerous behavior, but also to the driver. I’ve litigated far too many serious car accident cases caused by drunk drivers and I know firsthand the suffering it can cause.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released study results confirming that not only is drunk driving is dangerous, but the crash risk associated with drunk driving increases proportionately with a driver’s alcohol level:

  • For drivers with “low levels of alcohol” (e.g., breath alcohol level (BrAC) of 0.03), the “risk of crashing is increased by 20 percent.”
  • The crash risk “increases to double that of sober drivers” for drivers “at moderate alcohol levels,” such as “0.05 BrAC.”
  • “Drivers at a breath alcohol level of 0.08 percent, the legal limit in every state, were about four times more likely to crash than sober drivers.”
  • Drivers “at a higher [alcohol] level” such as “0.10 BrAC” are “five and a half times” more likely to crash.
  • “Drivers with an alcohol level of 0.15 percent [“BrAC 0.15”] [are] 12 times more likely to crash than sober drivers.”
  • Drivers with breath alcohol levels of 0.20 or more are “23 times” more likely to crash.

Source: NHTSA “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk” Study, February 2015 (“Traffic Safety Facts – Research Note,” Page 8; “FACT SHEET: NHTSA Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study)  (NHTSA press release contains links to PDFs of the study and the fact sheet)

What is an ignition interlock system?

Here’s how the Michigan Supreme Court’s report describes an “ignition interlock”:

“Ignition interlocks are used as part of the supervision and behavioral modification approaches employed by DWI/Sobriety Courts. An ignition interlock, or Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID), is a simple device that is attached to the ignition system of a vehicle. It measures and records the operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the percentage of ethanol (alcohol) in one’s blood …. Typically, it prevents the vehicle from being driven if the driver’s BAC reaches a certain level.”

Related information:

Strengthening Michigan’s DUI laws could reduce car accident deaths