Faster speed limits mean more accidents and fatalities

 

If a panel of safety experts and car accident lawyers were asked to identify one measure which would most improve safety on Canadian streets, lower speed limits would be a popular response. Infrastructure changes are important, harsher penalties are effective with certain drivers, but lower speed limits are proven to reduce incidence and severity of accidents.

In large urban areas, reduced speed limits are a straightforward and effective approach to improving road safety. In Toronto, where pedestrian and cyclist deaths are a major concern, safety experts have called for a blanket 30 km/h limit within the downtown core. Studies suggest that fatal accidents are uncommon in areas with average travel speeds in the 0 – 39 km/h range.

Fatalities caused by excess speeds are an issue outside of city centres, as well. In July 2014, the government of British Columbia increased speed limits on 1,300 kilometres of rural highway to 120 km/h, making them the fastest roads in Canada. Now, a recent study published in the journal Sustainability has established a link between that decision and rising fatalities, injuries, and accidents on B.C. roads.

“Our evaluation found increases in fatalities, injury, and total crashes on the road segments where speed limits were increased,” the report reads. “There was a marked deterioration in road safety on the affected roads. The number of fatal crashes more than doubled (118 per cent increase) on roads with higher speed limits.”

The study also reports a 43 per cent increase in auto insurance claims for accidents occurring on the affected roads, and a 30 per cent increase in claims for accidents involving injuries.

As safety advocates and car accident lawyers have pointed out, the B.C. government’s decision was particularly misguided because it affected regions where harsh winters and challenging terrain are common and emergency medical care is sparse.

“You will recall there was a lot of controversy at the time. Public health experts said ‘don’t do this’ and so did I.” study lead Dr. Jeff Brubacher of Vancouver General Hospital told Postmedia News. “All of the pro-speed arguments, like the one that people were already driving over the speed limit, have been disproven in this research.”

If you or a member of your family have sustained injuries in an automotive accident, contact Will Davidson LLP to arrange a consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer today. Our experienced team of car accident lawyers will work tirelessly to ensure that you have access to fair and reasonable compensation for your injuries.

Contingency fees, explained

What is a contingency fee?

Contingency fee arrangements play an important role in the Canadian civil justice system. If you’ve researched personal injury lawyers in Ontario, you’re likely familiar with the term: contingency fee arrangements stipulate that lawyers will not receive payment until their client’s case has been successfully resolved.

Despite their prominent place in the legal system contingency fees are controversial and were prohibited in Canada until October 2004. Some critics believe contingency fees encourage lawsuits; others wonder whether personal injury lawyers should have a financial stake in the success of their clients’ disputes. Historically, contingency fees were banned in England, Scotland, Wales, and Canada due to the principle of ‘champerty and maintenance’: that strangers to a dispute should not fund legal costs as an investment for future rewards, according to a recent Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) article. In some jurisdictions, including the Australian state of New South Wales, contingency fees are still banned.

The OTLA and the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) allow contingency fees based on the belief that they expand access to justice. The decision to permit them in 2004 was motivated in large part by the legal relationship between motor vehicle accident victims and insurance companies. Prior to the decision, plaintiffs were at an acute disadvantage in legal disputes involving complex issues – very few Canadians have access to the resources necessary to fund a lengthy legal battle with an insurance provider. The new rules allowed personal injury lawyers to take on complicated, arduous cases without accepting payment at the outset.

So, how exactly do contingency fees work? Simply: the client agrees that their lawyer will recover a percentage of the final settlement or award as payment. The percentage depends on the complexity of the case but should not exceed 50 per cent; the LSO prohibits lawyers from recovering more from the settlement than their clients.

Complex personal injury lawsuits are expensive to pursue. Contingency fees allow lawyers to work without cost restrictions; encourage lawyers to secure the maximum reasonable compensation for their clients; and allow the client to fund their recovery without the financial burden of simultaneously funding a lawsuit. Will Davidson LLP’s team of Oakville personal injury lawyers offers contingency fee arrangements for complex cases and believes the system provides improved access to justice for Ontario’s most vulnerable injury victims.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in an accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Will Davidson LLP to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team will assess the validity of your claim and provide guidance throughout the legal process.

How technology has impacted personal injury law

Technological change has affected industries around the world, with the field of personal injury law being no exception. From the ubiquity of social media to the rise of automated vehicles and big data, personal injury lawyers in Ontario must confront challenges and leverage opportunities that would have been unimaginable to their colleagues 20 years ago.

Benefits of new technology

 In addition to facilitating communication with clients, case research, and organization, cutting-edge technologies are also helping personal injury lawyers establish the truth of their plaintiffs’ claims. In an OTLA Blog post from 2017, contributor Michael Giordano cited an Alberta case in which data from the plaintiff’s Fitbit – a piece of wearable technology that tracks active living metrics – showed a significant reduction in activity following her accident. The data also showed that the plaintiff, previously a personal trainer, was now less active than the average woman of her age and profession. She was awarded damages for pain and suffering.

The insurance industry has also embraced new technologies to the benefit of accident victims. According to Giordano, companies like Switzerland’s Zurich Insurance and Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance are using artificial intelligence to evaluate claims, analyze documents, and calculate payouts while reducing necessary work hours.

Potential pitfalls

 The same technology that can serve plaintiffs well in some cases may also harm their credibility in others. For years, defence lawyers have used plaintiffs’ social media activity to call into question the validity of their claims. An Instagram post showing a plaintiff spending time with friends may hinder that plaintiff’s claim of loss of enjoyment of life, for example.

Questions also exist regarding the accuracy of the data mined from Fitbits, Apple Watches, and other wearable technologies. How sincerely can these metrics be trusted in a court of law? Personal injury lawyers who base their clients’ claims on the reliability of these devices may be putting their clients at risk.

As Giordano puts it in his OTLA Blog post: “The legal implications of advancing technology mean that lawyers must utilize their unique set of skills to create innovative arguments that utilize technology while simultaneously accounting for its limitations. Before we vociferously discount technology, we must be aware of the potential it has. We must embrace the benefits it produces, but also be sensitive to its ability to mislead, obfuscate, and injure.”

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Will Davidson LLP

 If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to arrange a consultation with an experienced Ontario personal injury lawyer. Our team can assess your claim and provide guidance as you initiate your legal journey.

With recreational marijuana now legal, police services hesitate on Ottawa’s preferred drug test

Impaired driving is a major risk factor on Canadian roads and with recreational marijuana now legal, road safety experts and personal injury lawyers are concerned about an influx of stoned motorists.

The federal government took several steps to allay safety concerns in the runup to legalization, including approving a saliva test for marijuana impairment: the Dräger DrugTest 5000. However, numerous police forces around the country, including the Ottawa Police Service, have declined to use the new device while others, including the Ontario Provincial Police, have yet to submit orders. Cost, effectiveness in cold weather, and the potential for false-positives and false-negatives are among the major concerns.

“From a cost perspective, they’re $6,000 each,” said Chief Charles Bordeleau of the Ottawa Police Service, according to the CBC. “The issue around keeping the swabs at a right temperature is problematic in our current climate.”

Both the Ottawa police and the OPP use a two-step protocol to identify driver impairment. First, a trained officer administers a roadside sobriety test; if the officer believes the driver is impaired, a drug recognition expert will perform more in-depth testing.

“We already have the tools to detect for impaired drivers,” OPP Highway Safety Division spokesperson Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said, per a different CBC article. “We’re going to continue to use those tools that we have. If more tools are made available to us, that’s something that will be a decision down the road.”

On October 16, CBC News reported that the OPP will purchase Dräger DrugTest 5000s.

“I have been told we will be purchasing some of these devices,” Sgt. Schmidt said. “I have not been told how many or where they’ll be deployed to. It’s still part of the procurement process.”

A 2016 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that Canada had the highest percentage of traffic deaths linked to alcohol impairment among 19 wealthy countries. Personal injury lawyers in Ontario are concerned that marijuana legalization will have a compounding effect on what has been a major source of serious automotive accidents for decades. As such, the means by which Ontario police prevent impaired driving is less critical than the end; whether via traditional sobriety testing or through the Dräger DrugTest 5000, what matters is that police are able to detect, detain, and charge drug- and alcohol-impaired drivers.

If you’ve been injured in an automotive accident caused by impaired driving or otherwise, contact Will Davidson LLP today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of Ontario personal injury lawyers can prosvide guidance and advice as you navigate the legal system and work towards your recovery.

 

Image credit: Oregon Department of Transportation/Wikimedia Commons

Canadians understand the risks of distracted driving – but don’t drive like they do

The large majority of Canadians, from experienced car accident lawyers to everyday commuters, understands the dangers of distracted driving. Unfortunately, a recent study by Desjardins suggests that Canadians’ understanding of these risks hasn’t translated into safer behaviour behind the wheel.

Almost 80 per cent of respondents to Desjardins’ survey reported regularly seeing fellow road users interacting with smartphones while driving, though only 21 per cent admitted to doing so themselves. Sixteen- to 24-year-olds were most likely to admit being distracted by their smartphones, with 11 per cent saying they used them regularly while on the road.

The most common source of smartphone distraction for all drivers was GPS apps. Other reported sources of distraction included the external environment, passengers or children in the vehicle, in-vehicle entertainment systems, and eating or drinking while driving.

Smartphone use is the most vilified form of distracted driving but, as car accident lawyers know, distraction of any sort is dangerous. Overall,  38 per cent of respondents admitted to driving while distracted by any factor.

“Despite continued declines in fatalities due to road crashes in the past decade, deaths involving distracted driving have increased,” said Robyn Robertson, President and CEO of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, in a Desjardins release. “Through our partnership with Desjardins, we are able to track data to raise awareness among Canadians.”

Raising awareness of the risks of distracted driving is an important goal, but Desjardins’ survey suggests that awareness alone isn’t much of a deterrent. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents said that getting into a crash would make them less likely to drive while distracted, as opposed to 55 per cent who worried about fines and higher insurance rates. Sixty-eight per cent believed that existing penalties aren’t harsh enough to prevent distracted driving.

“We know that changing driver behaviour is a key component of Vision Zero…,” said Steve Podborski, President and CEO of Canada’s national charity for injury prevention, Parachute, in the same Desjardins release, “These deaths are not the result of ‘accidents’ but due to preventable and predictable events. Through education, changing how we build our cars and roads, and through enforcement, we can create safer travel for all Canadians.

If you’ve been injured in an accident involving distracted driving, contact Will Davidson LLP today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of car accident lawyers can assess the validity of your claim and provide guidance as you navigate Ontario’s complex legal system.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert

 

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