People Who Make a Difference
Family’s Persistence Uncovers Truth at GM
Ken and Beth Melton were “boiling mad” that a defect in their daughter Brooke’s 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt might have caused the accident that killed her in 2010. So they hired a lawyer, who hired experts to investigate the accident. The experts discovered via the car’s “black box” that the ignition in Brooke’s car had switched from “on” to “accessory” seconds before the crash, shutting off power to her steering and brakes.
During depositions with General Motors, maker of the Cobalt, it was revealed that the company knew of the ignition defect as far back as 2004 and had even developed a partial remedy. But a “business decision” was made to cover up the problem rather than recall the affected vehicles. By the time the Meltons uncovered the truth and GM issued a recall for 2.6 million cars, the defect was blamed for at least 32 accidents and 13 deaths.
Tragedy Turned into a Commitment for Change
Daphne Izer’s son Jeff and three of his teenage friends were killed when a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and slammed his 80,000-pound rig into their vehicle. Izer and his friends were on their way to a hay ride and had just pulled into the breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike. Since 2009, deaths and injuries from truck accidents are on the rise. This report outlines lax practices that allow overworked, underpaid and poorly trained drivers on the roads.
After the crash, Daphne and her husband Steven started Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) and have worked tirelessly to push for new laws that improve highway safety. They have promoted the use of new technology for greater logbook accountability and fought for improved health and safety standards for truck drivers.
Grieving Father Fights for Accountability
Eric Rice still chokes up when discussing his daughter’s death 15 years later. A doctor sent 20-year-old Erin Rice to the emergency room concerned that her severe fatigue, coughing and trouble breathing might be heart related. Without checking Erin’s electrocardiogram or X-ray, the emergency room doctor diagnosed her with bacterial pneumonia and sent her home with antibiotics. When her symptoms worsened a week later, her first doctor concluded she was suffering from anxiety and put her on an antipsychotic medication, again without looking at Erin’s X-ray. Several days later, Erin was admitted to the hospital in critical condition with an enlarged heart and died of heart failure.
Rice wanted answers but soon ran into a brick wall courtesy of a Wisconsin law that restricts the rights of those injured by medical malpractice. He discovered that he had no right to bring suit since his daughter died as an unmarried, childless adult with no surviving family members who could seek justice for her death. The law also prevents adult children from seeking justice for an unmarried parent killed or injured by medical malpractice. Rice soon joined several other Wisconsin families caught in the same legal loophole and began a crusade tochange the law, a battle that continues to this day. A recent report estimates that as many as 440,000 people die every year from medical malpractice in America.
Sister Launches Effort to Protect Women from Domestic Violence
Teri Lee knew her life was in danger. Steven Van Keuren, her abusive ex-boyfriend, had already violated several restraining orders and once tried to stab Lee with a butcher knife. So she did everything she could to protect herself and her four children, including installation of a state-of-the art alarm system from ADT Security. But that didn’t stop Van Keuren who later broke into Lee’s house and fatally shot Lee and another man. Her children, all home at the time of the murders, now face life without their mother and their father, who died five years earlier in a car accident.
Vicki Seliger Swenson, Teri’s sister, suspected right from the start that the alarm system malfunctioned. The alarm didn’t sound as designed when Van Keuren cut outside telephone lines or walked through an area monitored by motion detectors. Seliger Swenson, who adopted Lee’s four children, took ADT Security to court when it claimed that its liability was limited to $500 because of a clause in its contract. Her successful fight for justice proved that an alarm company’s attempt to limit liability isn’t absolute. Seliger Swenson also helped pass legislation in Minnesota that requires a picture on all restraining orders to make it easier for authorities to identify offenders. She continues to speak out today on issues facing victims of domestic violence.
Justice Served Awards Nominating Criteria
The Justice Served Awards celebrate the stories of injured people and their families who decide to make a difference in protecting the health, safety and legal rights of others. Once a year, we ask our readers to read these remarkable stories and tell us which one touches them most and why. Winners are chosen based on their efforts to:
- Uncover negligence or other irresponsible behavior by organizations that put their interests ahead of the public interest;
- Prompt government action by shedding new light on defective products, services or other practices;
- Trigger manufacturing and quality assurance practices that lead to safer products and services; and,
- Increase public awareness that helps prevent additional injuries and protects an individual’s right to civil justice in a court of law.
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