Wearing Google Glass While Driving May Soon Be Illegal In Illinois

Google GlassAn Illinois state senator has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for motorists to wear Google Glass while driving.

Senator Ira Silverstein said he proposed the ban because he believes there are already enough gadgets that take drivers’ eyes off the road. Although he didn’t reference any specific studies, there is clear evidence that more drivers are taking their eyes off the road to text their friends and update their Facebook status.

The proposal comes on the heels of recent legislation aimed at making state roads safer. On January 1, Illinois enacted a law that prohibits the use of cell phones while driving unless the driver is using a hands-free device.

Silverstein is intent to move forward with his proposal, but the bill still has a few hurdles to climb. For starters, Google Glass is still in its beta stage and won’t be released to the public until later in the year, so there is little evidence that proves the device is a distraction. Also, since the glasses need to be turned on to access its features, it may be difficult for officers to prove that a driver was actively using the device at the time they were stopped.

Google believes the knocks against its product are being overhyped, and they claim that legislators wouldn’t be pushing for the ban if they simply tried the product for themselves.

Miriam Szatrowski comments

In the last few years, there has been a huge push by Illinois lawmakers to try to make roads safer and reduce traffic deaths. This includes the road signs on the highways with notices about construction, accidents, and the number of traffic deaths. It has also involved a number of new laws to combat excessive speeding and distracted driving. Illinois has outlawed texting while driving and the use of handheld cell phones, and this seems to be the next step in this trend.

However, enforcement may prove difficult. Google Glass is made to blend in and look similar to regular eyeglasses, so it will be hard for police to see from a distance whether someone is wearing it or not. In addition, there has been at least one case in California in which a driver’s ticket under a similar law was dismissed because the prosecutor was unable to prove that the device was turned on, and prosecutors here may run into similar problems.

Related source: WGN TV

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Lawsuit Claims GM Knew of Faulty Ignition Switches

Chevy CobaltA civil lawsuit against General Motors claims the car company knew of an ignition switch issue in the Chevy Cobalt back in 2004 but failed to act on the information for 10 years.

The claim argues that GM acted negligently in refusing to issue a recall until Thursday, 10 years after the problem was first discovered. According to a statement released in conjunction with the recall announcement, General Motors said they are aware of at least six deaths in five Cobalt crashes in which the airbags failed to deploy. The lawsuit claims that the ignition switch issue caused power steering and brake failure, and it cut power to essential safety systems like anti-lock brakes and airbags.

Troubling Facts

The suit alleges that at least one GM engineer experienced the ignition switch issue during the initial testing stage back in 2004, but the company did little to address the problem. Instead of ordering a recall, GM sent out a technical service bulletin to dealerships in 2005 that informed them how to install a snap-on key cover that was designed to help with the ignition problem, but dealers were only supposed to install the cover if a customer complained. The bulletin also failed to tell dealers that they should inform buyers about the potential switch issue.

One of the Cobalt owners who lost her life while driving the unsafe vehicle was pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, who was involved in a fatal crash on her 29th birthday. Melton’s family stated that she had taken her Cobalt into the dealer because she was experiencing ignition switch problems, but the snap-on cover was not installed. The fatal accident occurred just one day after she returned to pick up her car from the dealer.

GM later settled with Melton’s family out of court.

General Motors estimates that it will fix nearly 800,000 of its 2005-2007 Chevy Cobalts and the mechanically similar 2007 Pontiac G5 compact.

Sean Sullivan comments

This story seems eerily reminiscent of the old Ford Pinto case that made Ralph Nader a household name. This type of case revolves around what most people know as “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are payments awarded to Plaintiffs in an effort to punish a Defendant for extreme and outrageous conduct.

Usually it results in a very large award of money (hundreds of thousands or millions). It is never good when someone is able to prove that a company had knowledge there was a problem, could have fixed it, and did not. This will be an interesting case to watch as it unfolds. It seems highly likely that there will be a very large amount of money awarded at some point in this case.

Related source: USA Today

Harassment Laws in Illinois

Happy Valentine’s Day! We certainly hope that all of our readers are enjoying the holiday, whether you are celebrating with loved ones, ignoring it altogether and having a normal Friday night, having an anti-Valentine’s event, or just curling up with a movie, a blanket, and that special bowl of ice cream.

Creepy Caller

But what happens when you have that person who just won’t leave you alone? The one who calls and calls 10 times a day, or, even worse, leaves threatening messages, texts or emails? That can make your Valentine’s Day unpleasant or even scary, and if you live in Illinois, it is illegal.

Under Illinois law, Harassment by Telephone and Harassment Through Electronic Communications are both crimes. ( For the exact wording of the law, take a look at 720 ILCS 135/1-1 and 720 ILCS 135/1-2.) This article will explain what constitutes such harassment.

Types of Harassment

Illinois law defines “Harassment by Telephone” as using the telephone to make obscene phone calls with the intent to offend; make a call with the intent to abuse, threaten or harass any person at the called number; make the telephone of another repeatedly ring with the intent to harass any person at the called number; make repeated telephone calls solely to harass any person at the called number; or make a call, or induce someone to make the call for you, in order to harass someone under 13, even if that person consents to the harassment. You can also be convicted of Harassment by Telephone if you allow someone else to use your phone in order to commit one of the above described acts.

“Harassment Through Electronic Communications” is defined a little differently. This statute prevents using electronic communications to make obscene comments or suggestions with the intent to offend; interrupt the telephone or electronic communications service or another person with the intent to harass; transmit any file that prevents a person from using their telephone service or electronic communications device; harass anyone under the age of 13, even if that person consents to the harassment; or threaten injury to the person to whom the communication is directed or to one of that persons family or household members. You can also be convicted of Harassment Through Electronic Communications if you allow someone to use your electronic communications device to commit one of the above described acts.

What is Harassment?

This leaves the question, “What is harassment?” After all, doesn’t the First Amendment give us the right to free speech? Where is the line between protected speech and harassment that can be prosecuted as a crime? This is a question that the courts have encountered many times and tried to answer. Illinois courts have generally defined harassment as “intentional acts which can cause someone to be worried, anxious, or uncomfortable”. However, in order to comply with the First Amendment, we have to be careful how we interpret these words. The courts have said that the First Amendment requires a level of emotional disturbance “significantly more serious than the mildest states those words suggest”. More concretely, they have held that while it is not necessarily restricted only to threats, there must be an intent to produce “emotional distress akin to that of a threat.”

If you are still not sure exactly what that means, you are not alone. Many lawyers and judges aren’t sure either, and people are still sometimes charged based on speech that should be constitutionally protected. Certainly, any threats to person or property would fall under this statute, and the courts have held that we can’t infer intent to harass based on a few vulgarities alone, or based on a call made for the purpose of settling or expressing a dispute or disagreement. However, the cases in the gray area in between tend to be decided on a case by case basis, and unless you really want to be the subject of a First Amendment test case, getting arrested and charged with a crime, even if the appeals court eventually takes your side, is a huge inconvenience.

So what should you do if you aren’t quite sure where the line is between protected speech and harassment? My advice: if you are feeling the love, today is a great day to call that special someone and tell them, but please, one call only, and keep it polite! And if you are feeling the hate, just don’t pick up the phone/keyboard at all.

Illinois Man Arrested For Threats Made On YouTube

Youtube ThreatsAn Illinois man is facing jail time after he posted a video on YouTube where he threatened the life of a city hearing officer. 

Michael Dixon, 40, took to the video-sharing site to voice his displeasure that his appeal of a $50 parking citation was denied. Dixon posted an 11-minute diatribe that included racist, homophobic and foul language, and he threatened the life of the city hearing officer. In the video, the man who authorities claim is Dixon said, “you better check your car every time you come out,” in reference to a claim he made about affixing explosives to the man’s car.

Needless to say, authorities didn’t take the video lightly.

Ratted On Himself

Some may say that Dixon never intended for anyone related to the case to see the rant on YouTube, but that would be a lie. According to the police report, Dixon sent a letter to the hearing officer that directed him to the online video, effectively linking himself to the crime.

Although Dixon obscured his face in the video, it didn’t take long for authorities for authorities identify the perpetrator. Dixon was arrested at his home on Wednesday on charges of threatening a public officer. He was booked at the Cook County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon and is being held on $150,000 bond.

Attorney Katherine Fahy comments

Sadly, offenses and inappropriate behavior on networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have increased over the past few years. As these social media sites grow in popularity, police investigators are becoming increasingly savvy to them. As a result, more people are being charged with crimes after their alleged offenses end up on these social media sites. Law enforcement agencies and the legal system are taking these digital offenses very serious.

In this case, Dixon is being charged with threatening a public official after he allegedly threatened a city official’s life in a YouTube video speaking out against city-issued parking tickets. In Illinois, threatening a public official is a Class 3 felony for a first offense and Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense. Assuming this is Dixon’s first offense for threatening a public official, he is facing a possible sentence of 2-5 years in prison. In addition to a term of imprisonment, felonies are also punishable by a fine of up to $25,000.

In comparison, a $50 parking ticket doesn’t seem so bad.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Illinois Families Awarded $16 Million In Wrongful Death Case

Grain binThe families of two Illinois teens who died in a grain bin accident were awarded $8 million each after a jury ruled that the incident could have been prevented if their employer had followed proper safety protocols.

The accident in question occurred back in July 2010 when Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, were helping transport corn onto a grain elevator at a Mount Carroll facility owned by Haasbach LLC. At some point during the process, Whitebread began sinking into the corn. Pacas tried to help his friend, but both men got caught in the sinkhole. Will Piper, 20, jumped in to try to save both teens, and he too became caught in the sinkhole. Whitebread and Pacas suffocated, and Piper was engulfed up to his neck for six hours, but he survived after co-workers came to his aid.

The jury deliberated for eight hours before awarding $16 million to the families of the deceased. Piper was awarded $875,000 for his injuries.

The families said they were glad that the jury held Haasbach LLC responsible for creating a hazardous work environment.

“The family is pleased not about the money, but that the company was held accountable, said attorney Kevin Durkin. “The 19-year-old could’ve been there if he was properly trained, but the 14-year-old should have never been there, obviously.”

Unsafe Conditions

A subsequent inspection in January 2011 cited Haasbach with 25 employee and maintenance violations, including:

  • Failure to properly train young workers
  • Failure to provide safety harnesses
  • Failure to ensure machinery was turned off when not in use
  • Lack of an emergency action plan

Another investigation found that Haasbach was in violation of child labor laws, which forbids companies from hiring workers under the age of 18 to preform hazardous jobs.

The company said it plans to appeal the court’s ruling.

Sean Sullivan comments

What ultimately led to the jury awarding such a large amount to the families of the victims in this case stems from what is referred to as punitive damages. In personal injury cases, these are the types of damages that result in large awards by juries.

Punitive damages are extra damages the jury can award in favor of the Plaintiff when the Defendant is shown to be extremely careless or exhibits no remorse over what happened. Judging by the claims that the company had multiple safety violations, the jury no doubt felt this tragedy could have been avoided if the proper safety measures were taken.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Virginia Changing Stance On Gay Marriage Ban

Gay MarriageA federal judge in Virginia who heard arguments on Tuesday in favor of repealing the state’s ban on gay marriage received no counter argument from the state’s newly elected Democratic attorney general, who is in favor of revoking the law.

Attorney General Mark Herring previously notified the federal court that he would not defend a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment that put a ban on same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, this decision was met with uproar from Republicans who accused Herring of being disloyal to upholding the state’s current laws. Despite the Republican sentiment, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe said outside counsel would not be appointed to defend the ban.

Now that the Attorney General has absolved himself from the case, defense of the bill will fall to the legal team of the Norfolk Circuit Court as well as the religious group Alliance Defending Freedom, which will represent Prince William County.

A same-sex couple that was denied a marriage license in Norfolk Circuit Court originally filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban. The attorneys for the plaintiffs are the same counsel that successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage back in 2008.

Attorney Sean Sullivan comments

This is a fascinating twist in the fight towards legal equality for all types of couples. It sets an interesting legal and political precedent that could have major ramifications in states that are still fighting over civil rights issues and towards marriage equality.

It is not often that an attorney general openly states that he is in favor of repealing a law that his office is supposed to defend. His decision not to defend the case surely signifies a huge shift in how those in power view gay marriage. I would not be surprised if Virginia soon overturns its ban on gay marriage.

Related source: MSN.com