In March 2007, a bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team from Ohio crashed in Atlanta. I had a minor role in the team of Georgia and Ohio lawyers representing team members and the families of those who died.
The families of those young men were determined that some good might come of their tragedy. This week, we have seen progress on two fronts toward making it less likely this would happen again.
- Highway sign standards change. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, incorporating changes recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board. One of the changes, in response to the inadequate marking of an HOV lane exit at Northside Drive in Atlanta, is the addition of different lane markings for lanes not continuing beyond an intersection or interchange to give drivers more warning that they need to switch lanes if they don’t intend to turn. CNN ran an investigative piece about the signage problems in the Bluffton case. I was one of several Atlanta lawyers who spent days poring through DOT exit signage design and construction records.
- Bus safety standards in the works. This week the U. S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee unanimously passed a bill that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study to what motorcoach safety requirements should be improved within the next three years. Last month DOT Secretary Ray LaHood directed NHTSA to prescribe standards for motor coach occupant protection that accounts for frontal, side and rear collisions, as well as rollovers, and provide standards for the same items pending legislation. In the Bluffton case, there were passengers ejected and killed due to lack of seat belts and safety glass in side windows. We soon realized that if the same bus, manufactured in Belgium, had been purchased in Turkey (or almost anywhere else in the world) rather than the U.S., it would have had these safety features not required here.
Sometimes we lawyers and the clients we represent, while focusing on bad things that have happened, help bring about safer conditions for others in the future. It reminds me of a bumper sticker someone put up in the kitchen at our office alluding to the Ford Pinto problems of the 1970s: "If this car does not explode on impact, thank a trial lawyer."
Ken Shigley, an Atlanta attorney, launched the first law firm web site in Georgia in 1996, and the second lawyer blog in the state. He is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group. His practice focuses on representing people who are catastrophically injured, and families of those killed, primarily in commercial trucking and bus accidents. Mr. Shigley also has extensive experience representing parties in products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury and burn injury cases. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale), and among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine).
Mr. Shigley is currently unopposed as a candidate for president-elect, of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia, of which he has served as secretary and treasurer.
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