April 2012 Archives

April 23, 2012

Is Church Partially Responsible for Car Accident Death of Kentucky Teen?

Most Kentuckians are familiar with the tragic story of the death of 13-year-old Jamie Mitchell. On June 6, 2009, he was on a camping trip with the youth minister of his church. The youth minister, Derek Coulter, allowed Jamie to drive his SUV. Jamie lost control of the vehicle and crashed. Derek Coulter initially tried to cover up the actual cause of the car accident by telling everyone from police officers to the mourners at Jamie's funeral that he was driving and swerved to avoid hitting a deer. He also said that Jamie was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the car crash, but investigators could find no marks on his body to show that a seatbelt was on him. The truth was finally revealed by the 15-year-old passenger from the accident, who initially was afraid to say anything because Coulter had told them they would both get in trouble.

After the truth came out, Derek Coulter was arrested and charged with reckless homicide and sentenced to five years in prison. Jamie's mother is still shocked and heartbroken about her son's death and the lies Derek Coulter, who is her cousin, told her. "[H]e told me the whole time on the scene he held my son's hand until he let go and I don't even know if that's true" she said.

In the latest chapter of this tragedy, Jamie's parents have filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Coulter and the Big Springs Assembly of God Church in Bloomfield Kentucky, the church that employed Coulter at the time of the accident. Lawyers for both sides of the case have differing views as to whether or not the church could be held responsible for the accident. The attorney for the church claims that the camping trip was not a church-sponsored event, so effectively, Coulter was on his day off when the accident occurred. He also states that the function was not on the church schedule and did not happen on the grounds of the church, but rather on a farm.

Attorneys for the plaintiff have several arguments to counter the church attorney's statements. First, they have witnesses that will state that Coulter let multiple underage, unlicensed teens drive his SUV, both in the parking lot of the church and on the way to church functions. They also feel they can prove the campout was a church event. They state that all 10 children who attended were from the church; Coulter's wife told the kids they couldn't swear because it was a church event; Coulter himself referred to the campout as a church outing during the victim's eulogy; and the farm owner only offered to let Coulter and the kids camp on his property because he was approached through the church about it and was under the impression it was a church event.

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April 20, 2012

Why Those Serving in the Military in Kentucky Cannot File Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Much of the discussion regarding medical malpractice today revolves around the "caps" being put on damages awards in certain states. People argue for and against these caps based largely on whether they are members of the medical profession or have been injured or known someone who was injured by a doctor, nurse, or other medical person.

One segment of the population is not affected by these caps because they are not allowed to file medical malpractice claims when they are injured by someone in a medical field. These are the same people who protect our freedom both in the U.S. and abroad. They are the members of the U.S. military.

Back in the 1950s, a soldier was killed in a barracks fire. His family sued the government for negligence that led to his wrongful death. The Supreme Court determined that the federal government could not be held liable for his death because he was an active member of the military. Because the soldier's last name was Feres, this decision by the Supreme Court, which has stood ever since, is called the Feres Doctrine. In defense of this doctrine, the government states that service members are compensated in other ways, such as through disability assistance available to veterans, pensions, and VA medical care.

This serves as little consolation to the most recent service member to challenge the Feres Doctrine. In July 2009, and Air Force airman went to a military medical center in California to have his gall bladder removed. During the surgery, a doctor cut his aorta, causing massive internal bleeding that was not corrected until he was transferred to a civilian hospital several hours later. By then, he had lost so much blood that both of his legs had to be amputated. He has so little of his legs left that his prosthetics are uncomfortable to wear and he spends most of his time in a wheelchair. He is only 23 years old. He and his wife have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the government requesting over $50 million in damages to compensate for lost income, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of a marital relationship, among other things.

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April 3, 2012

Overcorrecting While Driving Often Leads to Injuries in Kentucky Car Accidents

On March 28, 2012, a 55-year-old driver lost his life in a car accident. He was driving in Vanceburg, Kentucky when his car left the road. He overcorrected, sending the car across the road and into an embankment on the other side. He was ejected from the car when it rolled over and died from his injuries.

Unfortunately this type of accident is not unusual. Over four percent of the car accidents that ended in fatalities in 2011 were caused by overcorrecting. As the above story shows, drivers of any age may become victims of overcorrecting, but young, inexperienced drivers are the most susceptible. In Virginia alone, 244 accidents in 2011 resulted from teenage drivers overcorrecting when their cars left the road. Drivers' education instructors to traffic engineers and everyone in between are discussing what may be causing these car accidents and what can be done to prevent them.

Some high school drivers' education programs are now including instruction on what to do if the car leaves the road. While some only discuss it in the classroom, others are practicing it on the road. One instructor grabs the wheel and intentionally steers the car off the road, then allows the student driver to practice returning to the pavement safely. This exercise is done at varying speeds, first slowly, then gradually adding speed. Another instructor covers overcorrecting in the classroom portion of drivers' education, stating that it would be unsafe to practice the maneuver at the speed that a typical overcorrecting accident would occur.

In both instances, however, the lesson is the same. If your car or truck leaves the road, take your foot off the gas pedal and continue going straight until you slow down. At that point, find a safe place to re-enter the road and do so slowly with your blinker on when traffic allows. This may sound like common sense, but common sense often disappears when you suddenly hit the rumble strip and find half of your car off the road. The key is to stay calm and react accordingly.

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