Drivers Beware: Virginia and Maryland Enacted New Laws July 1

On Tuesday, July 1, new laws regarding vehicles and their operation went into effect in Maryland and Virginia. These statutes range from financial and tax considerations to stiffer penalties for toll booth dodgers and those driving under the influence.

Although not all of these laws apply to all drivers, you should understand your new rights and responsibilities under these laws to avoid inadvertent violations and citations.

New laws in Maryland include:

•    Gas tax increase. The existing gas tax has risen by less than one cent per gallon, which will go towards upgrading Maryland transportation systems.

•    Electric vehicle tax credit. Individuals who purchase plug-in electric vehicles or recharging stations will receive a tax credit based on the size of the vehicle’s battery.

•    Toll booth enforcement. Drivers who proceed through toll booths without paying or attending a court date within 30 days of a notice will be designated as a “toll scofflaw,” subject to vehicle registration suspension.

In Virginia, drivers should become aware of several new statutes, such as:

•    Hybrid license tax repeal. Hybrid vehicle owners will no longer have to pay a $64 fee to register their vehicles and will receive refunds for taxes they’ve paid in the past.

•    Military reprieve
. Returning active military members now have 9 more days to acquire current vehicle safety inspection stickers than before.

    New DUI restriction. All convicted DUI drivers must now install interlock systems in their vehicles while under driving privilege restrictions.

•    Disability designations.
Individuals on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities may add this to their license with a signed statement from their physician.

Obeying laws governing the safe and responsible operation of motor vehicles is the responsibility of every motorist. Familiarize yourself with these new statutes to remain safe and compliant.

Has another driver’s disregard for the law resulted in injury to you or a loved one? Contact a Washington D.C. automobile accident attorney to explore your legal recourse.

Tips for Surviving the War between Car and Bike Commuters

When it comes to city transportation, biking is a cheap and efficient way to get around. D.C. and other cities have been engaging in concerted efforts – such as adding bike lanes – to make commutes easier for cyclists. However, the relationship between bikers and motorists remains precarious at best and hostile at worst.

In the war between the two modes of transportation, neither side is without fault. So what’s a commuter to do? When drivers and bikers alike incorporate a few safety measures, it helps save lives and sanity.

How Bikers Can Keep Safe (and Avoid Infuriating Drivers)

While commuting, cyclists must remember they fall under the same rules as motorists. This may mean making changes to their cycling ethos, including:

•    Stopping at red lights. Unless bike commuters dismount and proceed through crosswalks in the same direction as pedestrian traffic, they must stop at red lights along with motor traffic.

•    Using hand signals. Bikers should learn and use hand signals to indicate when they are preparing to turn or brake.

•    Not impeding traffic. Vehicles (such as bicycles) traveling slowly should make every effort not to obstruct the normal flow of traffic. Staying in a bike lane, if available, is the best way to accomplish this.

How Drivers Can Be More Considerate

To play their part in the reconciliation between drivers and bikers, motorists may incorporate behaviors such as:

•    Paying closer attention.
Before backing out of driveways or making turns, check for cyclists as well as pedestrians.

•    Avoiding aggressive behavior. Most drivers wouldn’t bump or crowd another motor vehicle, and doing so to a cyclist is even more dangerous.

•    Respecting the bike lane.
When a city has dedicated one or more lanes to bike traffic, don’t use them to pass other drivers. Leave these lanes to their rightful owners.

Although a few outliers will likely always exist, when the majority of bikers and drivers do the right thing, the result is a safer and more efficient roadway.

Injured in a car-bike accident? Contact a Washington D.C. automobile accident attorney to discuss your case.

Inside the Ignition Switch that Launched the GM Recall

The new ignition switch GM created in the late 1990s was supposed to be less expensive, less flammable, and virtually foolproof. Defective product attorneys, and now the world, know that it sadly did not work very well.

Ray DeGiorgio, a switch engineer, was responsible for redesigning the switch’s electrical system. In addition to electrical problems, the switch also presented mechanical difficulties. It didn’t meet GM’s own requirements, such as how much force it withstood before rotating. Rather than taking time to fix the problem, DeGiorgio approved the switch, referring to it as the “switch from hell.”

Not long after its release onto the market, customer complaints began. Drivers of the Saturn Ion and Chevy Cobalt, the first vehicles to incorporate the switch, reported that their cars were stalling for no obvious reason. Engineers didn’t consider this a “safety issue,” arguing that drivers could still muscle their cars to safety without power steering.

However, what engineers failed to anticipate was that when engines stalled, airbags would also not deploy in case of an accident – endangering the lives of their already vulnerable customers. Amazingly, Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Keith Young and a research group at Indiana University separately managed to link airbag failures to the malfunctioning ignitions when GM engineers didn’t – at least not until 2007.

This was when engineer John Sprague started tracking air bag malfunctions in the Cobalt. He had hypothesized that the ignition problems were preventing airbags from deploying, but also noticed that the phenomenon had stopped in 2007 and later model year vehicles.

Unbeknownst to Sprague, DeGiorgio had approved a change to the switch in 2006, increasing the force required for turning the key in the ignition. However, he failed to update the part number after the change, despite a GM protocol that required him to do so.

The change wasn’t discovered until a law firm compared X-rays of switches from two different model years and noticed the discrepancy.

Although the mysterious switch at the heart of the GM scandal may have been what disabled consumers’ cars, it was the negligence and dishonesty of GM engineers and other complicit individuals that led to at least 13 deaths and countless injuries.

Have you or a loved one been affected by a defective auto part from GM or another manufacturer? The Washington D.C. defective product attorneys at Regan Zambri & Long can help. Contact us at (202) 463-3030 to schedule your free consultation.

General Motors Announces Victim Compensation Claim Plan for Ignition Switch Deaths - There Will Be No Cap!

On Monday, June 30, 2014, General Motors finally announced its plan to pay the families of victims killed by defective ignition switch crashes.

Attorney Ken Feinberg announced the victim compensation plan at the National Press Club, just before General Motors announced that it was going to recall yet ANOTHER batch of vehicles from the roads. This time, GM is yanking 8.4 million vehicles, 7.6 million of which will be recalled because of the defective ignition switches.

All told, that brings the number of cars recalled by General Motors this year to 25 million -- for those of you keeping score, that shatters the record of number of recalls in one year by 4 million. (The previous record holder was Ford from way back in 1981.)

Per Feinberg, the compensation program will not cap the total money available for victims. He said: “[GM will pay] whatever it costs to pay all eligible claims under the protocol... There is no ceiling on the aggregate dollars.”

Will everyone participate in the program? Perhaps not.

Some victims (and their families) may go after General Motors for punitive damages and sue on their own.

The company insists that only 13 people (so far) have been killed because of the defect. But non-company estimates are much higher. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, who has been investigating the automaker, believes that as many 100 deaths may be linked to the defective ignition switch.

Meanwhile, the company’s legal worries continue – prosecutors in New York and California, federal prosecutors, and various State Attorney Generals are all pursuing legal action against GM. The company has been hit hard, financially, by the ongoing fiasco, racking up a $1.2 billion debt for the second quarter.

The grand fate of GM notwithstanding, you may have very specific questions or concerns about your case. Please contact our experienced Washington DC car accident and defective product attorneys here at Regan, Zambri & Long at (202) 463-3030 to get a thorough and free consultation about what compensation options you may have and what you can do next.

Lengthy New York Times Editorial Article Highlights Human Element of GM Defective Parts Story

In the wake of seemingly interminable Congressional hearings about General Motors' defective ignition switch fiasco, we've seen a lot of fist shaking and finger pointing.

  • How and why did the company (and federal regulators who were supposed to oversee GM) allow dangerous cars on American roads for so long?
  • Who should be punished?
  • What systems and processes should be put in place to prevent more problems with GM?

New York Times reporters Hilary Stout, Bill Vlasic, Danielle Ivory and Rebecca R. Ruizjune, effectively shined light on the human element of this story in their blockbuster June 22nd New York Times piece, “GM Prepares to Count Cost of Suffering.”

The article begins by telling the terrifying story of Mykia Jordan, whose GM accident left her in a coma for 3 weeks. The crash also badly scarred her jaw and left her with a permanent limp at the tender age of 23. Per the New York Times story, “she only knows what the police know and others told her – that in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, with a three-month-old strapped in a car seat, she lost control of her Chevrolet Cobalt on a freeway ramp in Detroit. It crashed into a cement barrier and overturned, crushing the roof around her. The airbags did not deploy.”

Investigators now believe that her October 2012 accident had been caused by a defective ignition switch glitch in her Cobalt. The New York Times journalists say that what happened to Jordan “personifies” the epic crisis that confronts both the automaker and federal regulators -- a crisis that allowed 2.6 million defective GM vehicles to roam U.S. roads for years.

How will GM handle the hundreds of injury claims and potentially billions of dollars in payout amounts?

People want an accurate, but fair process. To that end, GM has been working with a victim-compensation expert, Kenneth Feinberg, who has been putting together a plan to pay victims and their families. GM has already been staggering under a $35 million federal penalty, unstinting bad press, and multiple congressional hearings, and, per the NYT story, “the list of injury survivors is long and tragic.”

The New York Times writers emphasized that “getting the [victims compensation] plan right is crucial. Too generous, and it could slow the automakers come back from bankruptcy; not generous enough, and victims will sue for justice [leading to] costly court battles, further dragging out the company’s turmoil.”

If someone you know or love has been injured due to a faulty GM ignition switch or other defective auto part, the Washington, D.C. personal injury attorneys at Regan, Zambri & Long would be happy to provide a free and personal consultation. Call us now at (202) 463-3030.

The GM Recall: Who Knew What, and When?

Defective product attorneys in D.C. and beyond want answers to who knew what, and when. Warnings went out for ten years regarding the faulty GM switch that led to the massive recent recall. It began in 2004, when a Chevy Cobalt came to a sudden halt on a test track after a slight nudge from the driver’s knee against the ignition. Engineers noted the problem but dismissed it.

Soon, the Cobalt and another vehicle, the Saturn Vue, went to market; drivers promptly began to experience the same mechanical phenomenon that the testers had witnessed. As reports of crashes continued to come in, lawyers, investigators and engineers, unbelievably, continued to attribute the problem to “customer satisfaction.”

It seems that only when an outside party became involved did GM begin to understand the magnitude of the defect. They hired ex-prosecutor Anton Valukas to compile a report on the malfunctioning switch. The report concluded that the miscategorization of the problem resulted in insufficient urgency, an untimely response, and – ultimately – the deaths of 13 or more people.

According to Valukas, GM executives weren’t aware of the switch problem until December 2013. However, employees such as switch engineer Ray DeGiorgio certainly knew about it. DeGiorgio’s evasive actions (which we’ll cover in our next post) seem to have kept many of his colleagues in the dark and resulted in a years-long delay in addressing the defect.

He and the 14 other individuals dismissed from GM may have lost their jobs, but will anyone face criminal liability? The answer depends on whether their actions are attributable to simple incompetence – or criminal negligence.

According to the Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, criminal negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Negligence can consist of either action or non-action.

Who is at Fault?

One of the main considerations when determining whether a company or individual has been negligent is to decide whether someone could have been predicted that a specified behavior would cause harm. Based on the information GM received regarding the switch-related accidents and injuries, it seems all but certain that at least some individuals at the company could be considered criminally negligent.

At Regan, Zambri & Long, PLLC, we believe that companies like GM should be held accountable for the negligence that leads to defective products. If you or a loved one have been affected by the GM switch or another defective automotive problem, call us at 202-822-1899 for a free consultation with a defective product attorney to discuss your legal options.

Considering Leaving a Child in a Hot Car? Think Again.

When parents leave their children inside hot cars, horrible things can happen. Disturbing recent cases, such as this one in Georgia, have shined new light and attention on the serious hazards of this type of parental negligence. Most parents know that it's inadvisable and illegal to leave young children unattended in hot vehicles. However, the quest for convenience and forgetfulness borne of fatigue and overwhelm can drive some parents to make awful decisions.

These parents may believe that cracking the windows and leaving children "for only a few minutes" while they run into a store poses little to no risk. However, mild temperatures can quickly rise to oven-like heights inside an enclosed structure like a vehicle. Within as few as ten minutes, car interiors can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, putting children at risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or death.

Alternatives to Leaving Children in a Hot Car

To prevent leaving children inside the car on a warm or hot day, consider measures such as:

•    Leaving kids with a babysitter or relative, if their presence on particular errands would be too inconvenient.

•    Removing children from the car before unloading groceries or other parcels.

•    Placing a diaper bag or the child’s backpack on the front seat as a visual reminder children are in the car.

How Maryland and Virginia Laws Govern Summer Car Safety

The Maryland DMV indicates leaving children alone in vehicles is a dangerous proposition, especially in extreme (cold or hot) temperatures. In addition, the DMV worries that unattended children may attempt to “play” in or operate the vehicle, endangering themselves and others.

Authorities in Maryland and in the Virginia Commonwealth encourage citizens to contact the police, should they encounter children left unattended in locked vehicles. They should remain with the vehicle in question until law enforcement officers arrive.

The safety of one’s children should be top priority. Communicate these policies to anyone caring for your child to ensure their safety in any circumstance.

When childcare providers or daycare workers leave children in their cars or vans, the results can be devastating. If such an action impacted your child, contact a D.C. attorney at Regan, Zambri & Long, LLP to discuss your legal options.

Report States GM Withheld Evidence of Fatal Crashes

Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner

Picture of Salvatore J. Zambri

Internal evaluations by General Motors of fatal crashes involving their ignition switch defect conflict with what they were telling federal regulators at the time of the crashes. A recent investigative story by the New York Times indicates that questions from "death inquiries" by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were dodged with responses from GM such as "could not provide answers," "had not assessed the cause," "attorney-client privilege," and "G.M. opts not to respond." 

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the NY Times learned that a GM engineer had determined  previously that engine shutoff was most likely the reason for a deadly crash. However, in its response to regulators, GM said there may not have been "sufficiently reliable information to accurate assess the cause" of the incident. Another deadly crash investigation revealed that GM lawyers warned GM that it could be liable for punitive damages because of known problems with air bags. Six days after their lawyers' warning, GM replied to NHTSA that "any privileged material related to the case would not be shared."

In April, 2014, during the Senate hearing "Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA's Defective Investigation Process," Acting Administrator David Friedman presented the statement below: 

Mr. Friedman indicated that "G.M.'s decision-making, structure, process and corporate culture stood in the way of safety."  Behavior such as this is why consumers are increasingly leary of GM's reassurances that it is working for safety. Placing profit above safety is how incidents such as the delayed ignition switch recall occurred. If you own or drive any of the vehicles included in the GM ignition switch recall, contact your dealer for guidelines for repair.

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Congress Grills GM CEO, Mary Barra, Who Apologizes for Ignition Switch Fiasco

In June, Congressional leaders once again listened to General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, give a mea culpa -- another chapter in the ongoing fiasco regarding the company’s defective ignition switch.

(For a recapitulation, please see the last several posts we've published on this topic, which catalog the reasons for the recall and the general implications both for the company and for the country).

Republican Tim Murphy, the Chairman of the House Committee that's investigating the GM scandal, spoke frankly: “I remain unconvinced it wasn’t an effort [by GM] to cover up bad decisions to avoid liability.”

Per a report that GM itself had put together, “people look to others to do something, but no one accepts responsibility.” Although the company has fired 15 people over the ignition switch, Murphy maintained that “99.999% of the people are the same,” and he rued “a culture that allowed safety problems to fester for years” and a “system [that] failed” and led to preventable deaths.

Anton Valukas, a lawyer responsible for putting together the GM report, identified “serious cultural issues” within GM that created the crisis: “no one goes back to review previous decisions.” Information got siloed, and an almost Big Brother-like culture precluded GM engineers and employees from using certain words like “stalls,” which would have compelled company officials to ask challenging questions… which in turn could have led to an earlier recall and a less messy process.

Valukas did not indict GM. He did not think there was a systematic cover up. Rather, he blamed “a corporate culture of carelessness where life-saving information sits in boxes.”

GM's CEO Mary Barra, meanwhile, tried to put a good face on the matter, saying, “the men and women of GM, the vast majority come to work every day and want to do a good job… they want to do the right thing.”

Not all Congressional investigators were satisfied by Barra’s statement or Valukas’ report.

Diana DeGette, the highest-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee investigating the GM debacle, said “[Valukas’] report singles out many individuals at GM who made poor decisions or failed to act, but it doesn’t identify one individual in positions of high leadership who was responsible for these systemic failures.”

If you need help understanding your rights regarding a Washington, D.C. personal injury case or defective product case, contact the attorneys at Regan, Zambri & Long at (202) 463-3030 for a free consultation.

Roundup of Latest Developments in GM Recall Saga - Part 2

How long will GM continue to announce recalls for its vehicles in 2014? Why is the company issuing so many diverse recalls?

According to a May 27 CBS news analysis, Ryan Johnson of Barclays Capital said that GM will continue to issue recalls “through mid-summer.” Yet despite the torrent of bad press for the company -- among other things, the automaker was forced to recall 2.6 million vehicles just for the ignition switch issue as well as pay a $35 million fine to the Department of Transportation -- sales of GM vehicles have remained steady in 2014.

Why is this?

Perhaps consumers are not fully aware of what's happened with the defect switch and the recall, or maybe they know and just don’t care. In either case, GM is clearly in the throes of an interesting transition. Johnson reports that, in the wake of the ignition switch fiasco, the company has been scrambling to comb through its data to identify other potential problems and fix them, ASAP, to prevent more embarrassment and Congressional hearings.

Johnson writes “it is tough to say if recalls from past vehicles have already peaked, as the team has not completed mining the data.” GM is vetting potential problems on an “issue-by-issue [basis] and not on a make and model year basis.”

Other sources report that GM aims to revise (and potentially reengineer) its internal safety vetting processes to avoid further embarrassment and fines. This vetting process may explain the flurry of recent recalls.

Federal guidelines say that automakers like GM must notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within just five days of finding a defect that could be a safety issue. To that end, GM’s house cleaning efforts have exposed some oddball problems.

In May, for instance, GM recalled 500 SUVs and pickups per a faulty air-bag component.

But May was not all bad for GM: on the legal front, a court in Texas delayed four separate lawsuits brought by customers in Texas against General Motors and a codefendant, Delphi Automotive Systems, LLC.

How can we put what’s been happening with GM into a better context? What's the real root cause of the fines, defective parts, engineering problems, managerial snafus, etc?

It’s easy to jump to premature conclusions. But the issue is complicated, and it involves many “moving parts” (so to speak). Possible root causes of GM's recall issues might include:

•    An inefficient/ineffective management culture at GM;
•    Poor engineering processes and/or a sluggish bureaucracy at the company;
•    Poor oversight of the automaker from federal and state regulators;
•    A national tort reform movement, which has limited the power, scope, and investigative capacities of personal injury attorneys, who might otherwise have been able to bring attention to the problems earlier in the process;
•    The fact that Americans (and federal regulators) have been distracted by other problems.

If you or someone you love was hurt in a GM related accident in Washington D.C., you need to get clarity about your personal rights and responsibilities under the law. Call the Regan, Zambri & Long team today for a free and confidential consultation about your Washington D.C. accident: (202) 463-3030.