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Study offers incentive to keep restaurant floors safe

A new study commissioned by Cintas Corporation found that nearly one in three American adults are unlikely to dine at a restaurant where someone they know had slipped and fallen.

The study, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 30 percent of more than 1,000 adults surveyed were “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely” to dine at restaurants where such accidents occur.

“We’ve always known that slip-and-fall accidents result in increased costs due to litigation or injury, but this research shows that the cost of an accident might be even greater than initially thought,” said David Collette, Director of Marketing and Strategy, Cintas Foodservice. “Implementing a safe floor program not only mitigates hard costs and gives restaurant operators peace of mind, it can also offset potential long-term costs associated with lost business down the road.”

The survey surprisingly showed very little difference between gender or age, but interestingly, it showed adults residing in the Northeast are significantly more likely than those who live in the Midwest or South to say they would be very unlikely to dine out at a restaurant with a recent slip-and-fall accident (23 percent in the Northeast vs. 13 percent in the Midwest and 11 percent in the South).

Each year, more than 3 million food service employees and over 1 million guests are injured as a result of restaurant slips and falls, according to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). A recent NSFI study indicates that the industry spends over $2 billion on such injuries each year and that these injuries are increasing at a rate of about 10 percent annually. A safe floor program helps reduce the opportunity for these accidents by providing restaurants with a program to protect, maintain and deep clean floor surfaces.

“As the economy begins to recover and restaurants compete for business, this research shows that a slip and fall accident can derail these efforts and send customers out the door,” added Collette. “A safe floor program not only protects employees and guests, but also a restaurant’s bottom line.”

NTSB calls for nationwide ban on PEDs while driving

Following a Board meeting on the 2010 multi-vehicle highway accident in Gray Summit, Missouri, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle.

The safety recommendation specifically calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers. The safety recommendation also urges use of the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and implementation of targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.

“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents”, said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”

“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”

On August 5, 2010, on a section of Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, Missouri, a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. As a result, two people died and 38 others were injured.

The NTSB’s investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.

The Missouri accident is the most recent distraction accident the NTSB has investigated. However, the first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cell phone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people.

Since then, the NTSB has seen the deadliness of distraction across all modes of transportation.

  • In 2004, an experienced motorcoach driver, distracted on his hands-free cell phone, failed to move to the center lane and struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. Eleven of the 27 high school students were injured;
  • In the 2008 collision of a commuter train with a freight train in Chatsworth, California, the commuter train engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, ran a red signal while texting. That train collided head on with a freight train – killing 25 and injuring dozens;
  • In 2009, two airline pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were distracted by their personal laptops. They overflew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.
  • In Philadelphia in 2010, a barge being towed by a tugboat ran over an amphibious “duck” boat in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian tourists. The tugboat mate failed to maintain a proper lookout due to repeated use of a cell-phone and laptop computer;
  • In 2010, near Munfordville, Kentucky, a truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot-long trailer, left its lane, crossed the median and collided with a 15-passenger van. The truck driver failed to maintain control of his vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cell-phone. The accident resulted in 11 fatalities
  • In the last two decades, there has been exponential growth in the use of cell-phone and personal electronic devices. Globally, there are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers or 77 percent of the world population. In the United States, that percentage is even higher – it exceeds 100 percent.

Further, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found that a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet.

“The data is clear; the time to act is now. How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?” Hersman said.

A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, findings, and a complete list of the safety recommendations, is available by clicking here.

Should plaintiffs have to pay for a jury trial?

The right to trial by jury is one of the most sacrosanct of liberties afforded under the constitution. And a jury trial is one of the purest forms of democracy. It is the time where citizens determine the outcome of a dispute and where citizens make the decision on right and wrong.

An article in Parade magazine tests the limits of that right. It speaks to an effort to have plaintiffs fund payments to jurors for their service. The author recognizes that serving on a jury is a civic duty, but notes that it can also impose financial hardship. To blunt the hardship, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) wants more states to follow Arizona’s lead, where jurors are paid up to $300 per day for trials lasting longer than five days. And it is proposed that the money come from a “nominal fee” charged to plaintiffs when they file cases.

The proposal seems to fly in the face of any notion of fair play and substantial justice. There is no doubt that jury service can be costly, but it is part of the price we may to live in a democracy. And it is one of the burdens of self-governing.

It is also puzzling that the proposal seeks to level a fee only on plaintiffs. Why not have a fee imposed on defendants when they file an answer to the lawsuit?

It is right to continuously examine how we can make the delivery of justice better. This proposal, however, falls short in that effort, and could take away precious rights.

For further reading on this topic, I suggest you look at the post on imagining life without lawyers.


A judge’s advice to new lawyers

Texas Judge Randy Wilson wrote a letter to two of his children offering some of his views on the practice of law. The two children have decided to become lawyers. One just passed the bar exam, and the other is in the third year of law school. With their permission, the judge is sharing it with others. We have decided to post it in its entirety here, because it contains a wealth of information worth passing on:

You are both about to become lawyers. It’s a sobering and exhilarating thought. You suddenly will have thrust upon you real problems from real people who are looking to you for help. While you have accomplished much and the future is bright, there is still a great deal to learn.

Law school teaches basic fundamentals and critical thinking, yet you still have much to learn about the tactics and nuances of the practice. The subtleties require a lifetime of study with the assurance they will never be mastered. You face a long yet thrilling road.

I don’t pretend to know all or even most of the answers. Lawyers and judges never stop learning the law and its challenges and complexities. Yet I have learned a few things in my years, mostly through trial and error. Permit me to share a few of them.

Be proud to be a lawyer.

We are bombarded with lawyer jokes and ridicule. We laugh politely at the jokes, and, I have to confess, I have told a few myself. Don’t do it. For hundreds of years, society considered the law a noble profession, and lawyers have been the stalwarts of defending legal rights. Lawyers desegregated the schools and improved product safety.

Even the most vocal of lawyer bashers are the first to call a lawyer when they feel their rights are being trampled upon. And finally, don’t forget that the most famous lawyer bash — “[t]he first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” — was actually an acknowledgement by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II” that lawyers must be eliminated in order to achieve a revolution. Be proud to be a lawyer.

Always tell the truth to the client.

If bad things happen, tell the client. Don’t delay. Some of the worst mistakes I have ever made as a lawyer happened when I was afraid to call the client and admit that something wasn’t filed on time. So I delayed. After a few days, it got harder to admit what was going on. After a week or two, it was virtually impossible to make the call, because now I had to explain why I did not call earlier.

Don’t simply try to fix the problem without telling the client and hoping that the problem goes away. Call immediately. He will understand. If you’re upfront and acknowledge immediately that you made a mistake — e.g., you failed to make a disclosure in a timely fashion, but you will file a motion to fix the problem and won’t charge him for any of your time to fix it — he really will understand.

Always tell the truth to the court.

Admit your weaknesses to the judge. If the other side files a motion for summary judgment to throw out your client’s seven causes of action, tell the judge, “Your honor, I will admit that the DTPA and fraud claims are weak. We probably don’t have sufficient evidence to support some of the elements of those claims. But the other five claims are absolutely good, and here’s why.” You have just earned kudos and instant credibility with the court.

Here’s another example I encountered: A lawyer filed a motion, and the other side did not appear at the hearing. However, the lawyer began the hearing by saying, “Judge, I just got a call from the opposing counsel who said I agreed to pass the hearing. I don’t remember that. But if he said it, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t feel right proceeding without him. Let’s pass the hearing.” Judges remember that.

• Learn from others.

Over the course of a career, you will encounter hundreds of different lawyers as co-counsel and opponents. Some will be brilliant, and some will make some of the biggest bone-headed mistakes imaginable. But I have found that even the least proficient will do something right or will make an argument I hadn’t predicted. Over a lifetime, you will see a thousand different styles and approaches. Never close the door to learning.


• Follow the golden rule.

There’s just no reason to be a jerk, and there are lots of reasons to be nice. Let me give a few examples.

Opposing counsel: Sure, he’s opposing counsel and your sworn enemy, but there’s no harm in being nice, and there are a lot of potential advantages. Opposing counsel will see you in action and can be a great source of future business. I used to get a lot of my referrals from former opposing counsel.

Does this mean that you should roll over and accede to every request your opponent makes? Of course not. But if he calls and asks for a one-week extension and it doesn’t harm your client, then by all means agree. Remember, there will come a time when you’re in a bind and need a favor.

Office staff: It’s amazing how often lawyers will abuse office staff, throwing fits and tantrums. I was certainly an abuser at times, as well. Don’t do it. These are people, and they deserve respect. Moreover, they can make your life either misery or a pleasure. If they feel they’re part of the team, they will gladly pitch in and work late. If they feel like a second-class citizen, there’s no end to the number of ways they can sabotage you.

Court staff: Lawyers sometimes will vent at the court clerk or complain to the court staff that the clerk somehow has not done his job. Who do you think the clerk is going to go talk to about it? The judge. Who do you think the judge is going to support? The staff. If you’ve truly got an issue, then file a motion, but complaining and yelling at the court staff is a shortcut to a bad result.

• Keep time timely.

For better or worse, lawyers have to keep a time sheet. We all hate it. You will hate it. But I promise you that the worst thing you can do is not record your time throughout the day, every day. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to reconstruct my day two weeks later in a desperate attempt to create late time sheets.

There are two inevitable results of this. First, it will be fiction. There’s no way you can accurately state your time for yesterday, much less a week or two ago. Second, you will only end up cheating yourself. Every time I lagged behind on time sheets and tried to reconstruct them later, I always shortchanged myself. Just keep your time contemporaneously during the day.

• Learn from mistakes.

You are going to screw up. All lawyers have. You are going to drop a ball, miss a deadline, ask one too many questions, forget an objection, whatever. These are neither trivial nor the end of the world. These are times for self-reflection. Sure, you should resolve not to make the mistake again, but there’s more you can and should do. Figure out why you made the mistake. What was the root cause of the problem? Are you too busy? Are you distracted? Do you need better organizational skills in general? Mistakes are the time to reflect on underlying causes of error.

Communicate with the client.

This is perhaps the easiest problem to avoid, yet you would not believe how many lawyers get in hot water by failing to return telephone calls. I sat on a grievance committee for four years, and easily half of the complaints could have been avoided by timely communication. Send the client periodic updates on the status of the case. Copy the client on all pleadings and correspondence. What’s the harm? The client will appreciate those efforts.

Take the long view.

You’re going to be in this game for the long haul. There’s no shortcut that’s worth it — never. If you have a bad document, produce it. If your client is lying to make his case, fire him. Compromising your conscience just is not worth it. There will be other cases. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: A legal career is a marathon, not a race.

Keep a diary.

How I wish I had kept a diary. You will encounter a lifetime of war stories. You won’t remember them, I promise. Write them down.

Finally, have fun.

Being a lawyer really is the best job imaginable — unless, of course, it’s being a trial judge.