Another Engle Smoking Class Action Decision In Florida

On August 17, 2012, the Florida District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Castleman v. R.J. Reynolds Tobaco Co., 97 So.3d 875 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012) [PDF].  The case represents another decision arising out of the Engle class action against the tobacco company, jurisprudence which Abnormal Use has been following for some time now.  Prior posts on the subject can be found here. As a reminder, the Engle class is comprised of Florida citizens and residents, and their survivors, “who have suffered, presently suffer, or who have died from diseases and medical conditions caused by their addiction to cigarettes that contain nicotine.”  Those who fall into that class enjoy, inter alia, an extended limitations period for filing suit and res judicata on several findings of fact.

Two other dates are extremely important for those seeking membership in the class.  First, the class member(s) have to show that their tobacco-related disease or condition first manifested itself before the trial court’s order certifying the class, which was filed on November 21, 1996.  Second, suit must have been filed before January 11, 2008.

And now to the facts of this case.  Lewis Castleman started smoking cigarettes at the age of 19 in 1953.  He continued to smoke for 30 years but quit in 1983.  It was not until the early 1990′s that he began experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain, and it was not until 1998, when he underwent heart bypass surgery, that his doctors linked the symptoms to his smoking history.

Mr. Castleman and his wife sought membership in the Engle class, but the trial court denied them membership.  The appeals court affirmed summary judgment for R.J. Reynolds in this case, holding that because Mr. Castleman did not attribute his symptoms to his smoking history until 1998, he did not meet the class definition as of November 21, 1996 because the disease or condition had not “manifested” by the applicable date.

The appeals court relied on another case, Frazier v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. [PDF], in which the Third District Court of Appeal considered the definition of “manifestation” and held that symptoms such as shortness of breath and persistent coughing did not constitute a sufficient legal basis for intiating a lawsuit against a tobacco company – there must be something more that causes the individual to attribute the symptoms to tobacco use.  Because Mr. Castleman did not make that connection until 1998, the court reasoned in this case that the condition did not “manifest” itself before the date of the court’s order.

It strikes me that the courts in these cases are defining “manifestation” in a way that is 180 degrees from the way it is interpreted in many other cases.  It is strange to have a plaintiff arguing for an earlier manifestation date; usually, under traditional discovery rule interpretation, it is the defendants arguing that the plaintiff “should have known” that his disease was caused by the product at issue at an earlier date than the plaintiff cares to acknowledge.  In these cases, however, to have a chance at class membership, the plaintiffs are actually arguing for the earlier date, so that they can get the benfit of the Engle class provisions.  We will continue to monitor – and report on – this very interesting class as it develops.

Florida Court Rejects “Foreseeable Misuse” Argument In Strict Liability Case

On October 1, 2012, the Southern District of Florida issued its opinion in the case Hernandez v. Altec Environmental Products, LLC, No. 10-80532-CIV, 2012 WL 4511341 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 1, 2012).  The case involved Guadalupe Hernandez, an employee of Asplundh Tee Expert Co., who suffered a severed hand while operating a wood chipper manufactured by Altec Environmental Products, LLC (“AEP”).  Mr. Hernandez and his wife brought suit against AEP and another Altec entity, and both defendants moved for summary judgment in the case.

The wood chipper at issue in this case was a CFD 1217 model.  As designed and manufactured, the wood chipper had a guard that covered the bottom of the housing for the in-feed roller, which was referred to by the Court as the safety cover.

The safety cover was bolted to the wood chipper with eight bolts.

Here’s a picture we found of the chipper:

More pictures can be found here.

On the day of the accident, however, the safety cover was not on the wood chipper.  Why?  Because it had been removed by the Plaintiff’s employer.  Mr. Hernandez was aware of that fact.  Apparently, the safety cover was removed because the machine had a tendency to jam with debris, which needed to be constantly cleared from the in-feed rollers to keep the machine working.

Mr. Hernandez had been trained by his employer to clear debris from the machine with his hand, which could only be done with the safety cover off the machine.   Mr. Hernandez was not paying attention as he cleared debris with his hand on the day of the accident, and that’s when he got his hand severed.

At the summary judgment phase, the Plaintiffs argued the machine was defectively designed, causing it to jam repeatedly.  Plaintiffs contended that this purported defect actually encouraged operators to remove the guard and leave it off, which they argued was a foreseeable event.  This was a creative argument, but the Court wasn’t buying it:

At the hearing on the instant motion, the Court pressed Plaintiffs’ counsel to cite any cases that held a manufacturer strictly liable for failing to modify a design of a product that when used as directed was not harmful or dangerous, but when foreseeably misused or put to an unintended use, could be found to be unreasonably dangerous.

The plaintiffs cited Norton, an Eleventh Circuit case in which the key piece of evidence against the manufacturer on a design defect theory was the failure to install a dead man’s switch on a mower.  But the Court in this case quickly dismissed that argument:

There is, however, a critical factual difference between this case and Norton. In Norton, the mower was found to be defective or unreasonably dangerous as designed. In this case, it is undisputed that the wood chipper as designed was not dangerous.
The plaintiffs disagreed, and tried to argue that the wood chipper “didn’t work the way it was supposed to” and encouraged foreseeable misuse (i.e. taking the safety cover off the machine).  The Court declined to extend the doctrine of strict liability that far:
Plaintiffs have no authority for the proposition that a manufacturer may be strictly liable for a foreseeable misuse of a product or for a product that is not unreasonably dangerous as designed, but which merely functions in an allegedly unsatisfactory or inefficient manner.
When I started reading this decision, I thought it would be a run-of-the-mill products case with no potential for implications beyond its own facts.  But this is a sneaky case.  Imagine if the plaintiffs’ argument had worked.  Strict liability would have expanded significantly.  Manufacturers would be liable not only for protecting people from their own lack of common sense (i.e. placing your hands in the vicinity of moving machinery), but also when their products were modified from their original design to be more dangerous.
That is a dangerous concept indeed.

Defective Design and the Costa Concordia

Carnival Corporation, and its subsidiary, Costa Cruises, face an onslaught of litigation relating to the January 2012 accident in which a Costa Concordia Cruse Ship ran aground and capsized.  Shocking, right?   The most recent lawsuit filed in Florida state court alleges, among other things, a products liability claim alleging the ship’s hull and power systems were defectively designed.

I’ve always looked at those mammoth cruise ships that resemble high-rise condos stuck on a barge and thought they were an accident waiting to happen.  But, then again, I know nothing about ships.

Based on a press release from the Plaintiffs’ attorneys, it appears that they will float (pun intended) the theory that the Concordia depended on stabilizers to keep it from rolling over in an emergency situation, but those stabilizers were of no help when the ship lost power.   Ergo: defective design.  The release states that Carnival was aware of problems when in February 2010 the hull of Carnival’s Costa Europa was punctured against a dock which created a small hole 6 foot that caused to ship flood and list.  It further states that in November 2010,  the Carnival Splendors ship was stranded off the coast of Mexico due to a catastrophic failure of a generator in one of the engine rooms as well as the failure of a backup generator.

The blogosphere is already analyzing the liability claims in this matter. Again, I’m no seaman, but a purported naval architect and the author of The Old Salt blog finds such a theory is way off base.   He notes that, in spite of their name, stabilizers on cruise ships have almost nothing to do with the stability of the ship.  He believes that ultimately the design did not cause the Concordia to capsize.  Apparently, “[a]ny ship suspended on rocky ledges at the bow and stern with the midships no longer supported by the buoyancy of the water, will roll one way or another.”  Who would have thought that hitting a huge rock, as opposed to a defective design, could have been the cause of the collision?

Ouch! Electronic Cigarette Explodes in Man’s Mouth.

Thinking about trying one of those electronic cigarettes to help you quit smoking?  May we suggest going with the nicotine gum instead?  It may taste terrible and be tough to chew, but at least it won’t blow up in your face, as one Florida litigant is now alleging.  His electronic cigarette allegedly blew up in his face, leaving him in a hospital with severe burns, missing his front teeth, and missing a chunk of his tongue.

The man was in his home office when the device allegedly exploded, leaving behind burned carpet, furniture, pictures, and office equipment.  That must have been quite the explosion.   The culprit appears to be a faulty lithium rechargeable battery inside the device.  Investigators do not know the brand of electronic cigarette or type of battery. The fire department chief, Joseph Parker, said that ”the best analogy is like it was trying to hold a bottle rocket in your mouth when it went off.”  Ouch!  With a statement like that, we’d say its a pretty safe bet that Chief Parker will be called as a witness for the plaintiff if a lawsuit is filed when a lawsuit is filed.

We previously reported on some of the issues surrounding electronic cigarettes here and here.  However, we certainly didn’t see this BOMBshell coming.  It should be interesting to see what may have caused this explosion, since there appear to be no other similar incidents involving electronic cigarettes.  Was this guy using the device improperly?  How old was this electronic cigarette? Was the battery put in incorrectly?  Did Al-Qaeda get their hands on it?

Discovery in this case should be interesting.

Gas Can Litigation = Big Business for Plaintiffs Firms

I’ve handled products cases involving a wide spectrum of products, from residential gas grills to tractor-trailer components.  Frankly, I enjoy the variety and the opportunity to learn about new industries and products and meet the people who are associated with them.  I understand, however, that many lawyers – especially plaintiffs’ lawyers – often focus on one product.  It gives them the ability to develop and expertise on a certain subject and, as a result, handle more cases because of their familiarity.

I spoke with a plaintiff’s attorney recently who files a lot of litigation on behalf of plaintiffs allegedly injured by portable gas cans.  Although we didn’t speak at length about the issues involved with the particular product, he mentioned something about an inexpensive component part that prevents fires but was not readily incorporated into the cans themselves by the manufacturers.  A simple Google search on “gas can litigation” revealed that many plaintiffs’ attorneys actually list this type of litigation on their websites as a distinct area of would-be expertise, proving what the lawyer had impressed upon me: that gas can litigation is big business these days.

I ran across the recent case of Murray v. Traxxas Corp., — So. 3d —, 2D10-3789, 2012 WL 279657 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2012), which appears to illustrate my colleague’s point.  The facts of the case are relatively simple.  Two boys were trying to build a fire using leaves, sticks, and a cigarette lighter at their grandparents’ house so they could roast marshmallows.  They had trouble lighting it, so they searched for an alternative fuel source.  What they found in the garage was a portable gas tank containing gasoline.  As one of the boys tipped the open gas can toward the pile of leaves and the lighter, before any fuel spilled out of the can, an explosion occurred.  One of the boys sustained severe burns as a result of the explosion.

Witnesses who looked at the gas can after the accident, including a fire inspector, described the can as looking “bowed out.”  Photographs were taken by the inspector, but the can was disposed of by the grandparents, who believed it still posed some danger.

Inevitably, a battle of the experts ensued; it focused on whether a “flashback” explosion had occurred.  The plaintiffs’ expert argued the can was defectively designed because it did not have a so-called “flame arrestor,” an inexpensive component that would have prevented such an occurrence.  According to the expert, “flame arrestors are readily available on the market and have been incorporated by other manufacturers into similar fuel cans,” and by not incorporating one into this particular can, the manufacturer defendants were negligent.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on the grounds that the can itself had not been maintained for inspection and testing.  As the appeals court remarked, the disposal of the gas can gave rise to two particular problems for the trial court.  First, there was no way to tell whether the original fuel was in the can, or whether it had been replaced by a different fuel.  Second, the trial court held, the plaintiffs could not meet their burden of proof to show design defect because the can itself could not be tested. The court of appeals didn’t see it the same way.  It noted that the plaintiffs had proven an unbroken chain of custody for the can and its contents.  Furthermore, the court observed, it was unlikely that the original can could have been tested at all after the damage it sustained in the explosion and, in any case, similar cans could be tested because the manufacturer had been positively identified.  The appeals court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

We don’t yet know the outcome of this case, but from a plaintiff’s attorney’s position, this litigation is pretty savvy.  Here is a product that, allegedly, can be made safer with a very inexpensive device.  That, combined with the potential for serious burn injuries and property damage from cans without the device makes it a pretty attractive piece of litigation. Defense lawyers should be aware of these arguments when defending these cases and prepare for them accordingly.

Burger Time: The burden of proof in Florida food poisoning cases

One would think that food poisoning, especially the serious E coli type, might not be that difficult to establish in litigation.  The plaintiff eats food, winds up shortly thereafter with difficult symptoms, rushes to the hospital for treatment, and to top it off, garners a diagnosis of E coli.  Relatively straightforward, right? Apparently, it’s not so simple in Florida.

In Colson v. Tampa Hotel-VEF IV Operator, Inc., 8:10-CV-9-T-30TBM, 2011 WL 5553840 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 15, 2011), the sole issue before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was causation.  Could the plaintiff, who claimed she contracted E coli after eating a tainted cheeseburger at a hotel, prove that the cheeseburger was, in fact, the culprit?

The answer: no. According to the Florida federal court, “[i]n food poisoning cases, while a plaintiff may establish causation by either direct or circumstantial evidence, courts have routinely found that a mere showing that a person became sick subsequent to eating food is insufficient.”  Instead, the plaintiff must provide some evidence that the food in question was actually contaminated or tainted, either through evidence of a food recall, evidence that others became sick after eating the same food, or that the food smelled or tasted funny at the time of consumpton.

So what did the Plaintiff argue in this case?  The court summarizes her case as follows:

Here, Plaintiff contends that she has presented sufficient evidence showing that she contracted E coli from consuming Defendants’ cheeseburger. First, she points out that she started to feel ill approximately twenty-two hours after consuming the burger, which is approximately within the accepted one to nine day incubation period for E coli. Second, Colson’s expert witness testified in his deposition that the cheeseburger was more likely than not the source from which Plaintiff contracted E coli. Asked to explain the basis of his opinion, Dr. Delaportas stated that since Colson “had a cheeseburger in the time frame of incubation, and that is more often the implicating food in these cases than not…I believe it’s more likely than not it was that cheeseburger. I cannot rule out other sources.” (Depo. Of Delaportes, 47-48). Based on this evidence, Plaintiff contends that she has presented sufficient evidence of causation in order to survive a motion for summary judgment.

The court didn’t buy it.

The plaintiff’s expert certainly didn’t help her out very much, testifying that while he believed that the cheeseburger caused her illness, he could not rule out other causes.  Thanks, doc.

In the end, without further proof of a causal link between the cheeseburger and the plaintiff’s E coli, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted.

Engle Progeny bears more fruit: Brown decision affirmed

Abnormal Use has been following the so-called “Engle progeny” cases with interest as they continue to wind their way through the courts.  On September 21, 2011, a court of appeals in Florida dealt another blow to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Brown, 70 So.3d 707 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011) by upholding a jury’s award of compensatory damages to the spouse of a deceased smoker.

This is a well written decision by Judge Dorian K. Damoogian.  It provides a brief and understandable history of the Engle case line to provide context for the Brown decision, and then does the same for the specific procedural history of the Brown case.

Mr. Brown, the plaintiff’s decedent and spouse, was a long-time smoker of cigarettes manufactured by a predecessor of R.J. Reynolds (“RJR”), and he died of esophageal cancer he developed as a result of the habit.  After Engle was decertified, Mrs. Brown sued the tobacco company, relying on certain factual findings that came out of Engle to prove her case for strict liability, negligence, fraud by concealment, and civil conspiracy-fraud by concealment.

The first phase of the Brown trial was devoted to determining whether or not Mr. Brown qualified as an Engle class member, which would entitle his spouse to the aforementioned factual findings.  To prove this, Mrs. Brown had to show that her husband was addicted to RJR cigarettes containing nicotine; and, if so, was his addiction a legal cause of his death.

After the jury found both of these facts to be the case, the trial moved to phase II, in which the jury was to determine (i) whether RJR’s conduct was a legal cause of Mr. Brown’s death; (ii) comparative fault; and (iii) damages. Before opening statements, the trial court instructed the jury that because it had determined Mr. Brown to be a member of the Engle class, the following findings were binding upon it:

“One, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company failed to exercise the degree of care with which a reasonable cigarette manufacturer would exercise under like circumstances. Two, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company placed cigarettes on the market that were defective and unreasonably dangerous.”

The court advised the jury that Mrs. Brown had admitted Mr. Brown was comparatively negligent.  The jury found RJR’s negligence was a legal cause of Mr. Brown’s death; RJR’s defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes were a legal cause of Mr. Brown’s death; and RJR and Mr. Brown were each 50 percent responsible for Mr. Brown’s death. The jury awarded Mrs. Brown $1.2 million in compensatory damages, which the court later reduced to $600,000 based on the jury’s apportionment of fault. The trial court entered a final judgment for Mrs. Brown.

At issue in this appeal was the viability of Mrs. Brown’s negligence and strict liability claims.  As the appeals court framed it, “RJR primarily argues that the trial court gave the Engle findings overly broad preclusive effect, relieving the plaintiff of her burden to prove that RJR committed particular negligent acts in violation of a duty of care owed to Mr. Brown and to prove that the cigarettes Mr. Brown smoked contained a specific defect that injured Mr. Brown.”

To no avail.  The appeals court upheld the findings of the trial court as well as the award to Mrs. Brown.  As we have outlined in a prior post, the main dispute was a discussion between claim preclusion and issue preclusion, and the effect and implications of the differences between those two concepts.   It appears RJR was still using the same argument that failed it in the Martin case.  It didn’t work this time, either.

The appeals court made the following holdings in affirming the trial court’s decision:

1.  sufficient evidence established that smoker was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine;
2.  prior jury finding that tobacco company placed defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes on the market conclusively established the conduct element of strict liability claim; and
3.  prior jury finding that tobacco company failed to exercise the proper degree of care conclusively established the duty and breach elements of negligence claim.
The Engle findings are a huge hammer for the plaintiffs in these cases, and we expect to see more awards to plaintiffs as a result of the decertified class.  It’s hard to believe that in 2011 we are still seeing verdicts against tobacco companies for smoking addiction claims.

The Fight Over The Crashworthiness Test in Florida

We here at Abnormal Use have blogged about a few cases involving the Crashworthiness Doctrine, otherwise known as enhanced injury cases.  As we have discussed before, the theory is that although a plaintiff might have suffered a finite number of injuries and damages because of an initial accident or occurrence, his injuries are exacerbated, or he suffers additional injuries, because of some product defect.  More recently, we discussed the concept of comparative fault as it pertains to these cases in the context of a Montana Supreme Court decision.  Read our prior post here.

This week, we were alerted by fellow blawg The Product Liability Monitor to a fight that has been occurring in Florida over this doctrine, which started when the Florida Supreme Court issued its decision in D’Amario v. Ford Motor Co., 806. So. 2d 424 (Fla. 2001) [PDF].  Like the Montana case, the dispute centers on this idea of comparative fault.  A prior post by The Product Liability Monitor summarized the facts and procedural posture of D’Amario as follows:

In D’Amario, the plaintiff was riding in a 1998 Ford Escort when it crashed into a tree.  After hitting the tree, the car burst into flames.  While the driver – who was intoxicated at the time – was killed, the plaintiff survived but suffered serious injuries.  Subsequent to the crash, the passenger’s mother sued on behalf of her son, alleging that the car’s relay switch failed to disengage the fuel pump on impact.  This, she alleged, caused the post-collision fire and the injuries to her son.  At trial, the jury was permitted to consider evidence of the driver’s negligence and thus, the issue of comparative fault.  In doing so, it found for the defendant car manufacturer.  Id. at 428.  On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court reversed.  That court held that while the principles of comparative fault may apply to the causes of the first collision, they do not apply in crashworthiness cases where the sole focus is on the secondary injury. Id. at 441-42.

Well, the Florida legislature didn’t find that to be a wise holding.  In fact, the Florida Senate introduced a bill that would entitle “judges and juries . . . to hear and consider evidence of fault relating to the cause of the initial accident when apportioning fault for injuries caused by a subsequent or secondary accident.”

Well, as reported by The Product Liability Monitor, D’Amario will now be given a neat little red flag in your next Westlaw search, because the Florida legislature has passed that bill.  The real kick in the teeth to plaintiffs?  The law applies retroactively to pending cases.

Lawyer Advertising Rules Update

Late last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court amended its Rules of Professional Conduct to address several lingering issues related to lawyer advertising. The amended Rules are meant to be consistent with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  You can read them here. The amendments delete the previous ban on testimonials, eliminate a mandatory solicitation filing requirement and fee, and add requirements for electronic solicitations.

Specifically, advertisements for legal services can now include testimonials IF the ad specifically identifies that the statement is a testimonial, discloses whether or not it was paid for by the lawyer or law firm, and if it was made by an actual client.  Most importantly,  the ad must “clearly and conspicuously” state that the any result achieved in one case “does not necessarily indicate similar results” in another.   Sounds like a really long commercial.  Right?

For a full summary of the new rules, check out blogger Greg Forman’s recent post on the subject here.  He does a great job of laying it out for us.

In the meantime, here is a brief update on what is happening in other states on similar issues:

Florida -  On May 27, 2011, the Florida Bar proposed new rules for attorney advertising which would also allow for the use of some testimonials. See here.

Virginia – Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics has issued proposed amendments to their Rules of Professional Conduct and seeks comments by September 14, 2011.  That’s next week! For a summary of those changes, click here.

Michigan – On July 19, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court rescinded its previous order that amended that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct and proffered these new amendments. They also provide for a comment period which ends November 1, 2011.

Here’s the deal: the rules have not changed THAT much.  Things have just been clarified a little and updated to include web advertisements and electronic communication.  The same rules of thumb still hold true.  If a statement is a lie, or even stretching the truth, you probably shouldn’t put it in an advertisement pushing your legal services.  You also shouldn’t make any promises or guarantees.  Oh, and keep it classy.  Like this.

 

Vice Squad: On Assignment in the Gulf

Dateline: 12:36 pm, CST, Saturday, September 3, 2011, Pensacola, Florida

Vice Squad here, on location from Florida’s panhandle. I’m on assignment this weekend with a bachelor party for an old friend, conducting field research into the depraved and licentious behavior of young American men bound for holy matrimony. This has required me to go undercover, to blend in with my subjects, to become one of them. Do I do this willingly? Of course not. I do it all in the interests of academic integrity and for the benefit of you, my dear reader. Mostly.

To be certain, I am exposing myself to a certain amount of danger in submitting this field report. As I write, I am sitting outside under the swirling clouds of Tropical Depression Lee. It is gently spitting rain and generally punishing this part of the world with a force equivalent to the cooing of a newborn baby. This weather event, touted as causing a current state of emergency, has prompted local residents to look to the sky and casually proclaim, “Meh.”

The greater danger comes from the circumstances surrounding the preparation of this very post. I’m among five of my closest friends. For a bachelor party. At a beachfront Florida town. On Labor Day weekend. On the first college football Saturday of the season. I’m sure you can imagine how popular I am right now, as I sit here preparing this post. I would love to share with you the things that are being said about me. But I can’t, not unless they’re heavily edited, and even then, I don’t think they’d make grammatical sense. So trust me, I’m enduring a significant amount of personal ridicule to file this field report.

Oh, look. The first round of kickoffs just happened.

The trip so far has been filled with observations about the products we depend on in our daily lives. I’ve highlighted five of those observations for your consideration.

1. Google Maps. We’re staying at my buddy Matt’s house in Pensacola. I’ve never previously been to this city, and frankly, had no idea how to get here or how much time it would take. These problems were quickly solved courtesy of the Google machine. Almost instantaneously, we had alternate routes available and estimated times of arrival. For the most direct route, 7.7 hours from Abnormal Use headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. No sooner had we gotten this information from Google, something funny happened. We turned on Google. In the blink of an eye, the information provided by Google became an enemy. It was questioning our manhood. “Google says it will take almost 8 hours. That’s [redacted]. I bet we can get there in six and a half. Probably six.” The entire car agreed without hesitation. Literally one minute earlier, none of us had any idea where we were going. One minute later, after Google had shown us the way, we had unanimously voted that Google didn’t know what it was talking about. In fact, we saw Google as challenging us. The machine was daring us to beat its time. Challenge accepted, Google. We left Greenville at 5:45 pm.

We pulled into my pal’s Pensacola driveway at 12:30 am–6.7 hours after departure. Unfortunately, Pensacola is a time zone behind Greenville. It was 1:30 back home. We had been on the road for exactly 7.7 hours. Touche, Google.

2. Chick-fil-A. We decided to stop for dinner on the far side of Atlanta, and we decided there was no better place to recharge our batteries than the Original Chick-fil-A location. The original restaurant is in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, which backs up to the far side of the Atlanta airport. If you’ve never been here, you need to go. It’s everything you love about Chick-Fil-A, multiplied by everything you love about Waffle House. There’s table service, a full menu of side items like sweet potato souffle and mac and cheese, and it’s open 24 hours. This raises two important points. First, when I say “full menu,” I mean full menu. Specifically, they serve beef. At a Chick-fil-A. Riddle me that. The second point is even more staggering: it’s open 24 hours. Everyone knows that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. And we have found ourselves on more than a few Sunday mornings wishing that our Creator would make a special exception just one time so we could get a chicken biscuit. Our prayers have gone wholly unanswered. This blew our minds, so we asked our resident Chick-fil-A expert and waitress Tammy how this works. Apparently, the original is open until 4 am on Sunday mornings (almost certainly a prime business time) and then closes until Monday morning. However, Tammy has assured us that she is putting a proposal together to see that the original will also close promptly at midnight. We’re fine with this and we support her efforts. After all, if not everyone can get Chick-fil-A on Sunday, then no one shall get Chick-fil-A on Sunday.

3. Automatic Vehicle Collision Detectors. We took my car to Florida. My car does not have an automatic vehicle collision detector, but I had the next worst thing: my buddy Nick. Somewhere on a quiet stretch of I-65, Nick saw a car on my rear quarter (the only other car around for miles, mind you) start to merge into me. Rather than inform me in a clear, cohesive manner that we were about to be involved in a mass fatality situation, Nick releases an incomprehensible cry that can only be described as the mating call of a yeti. It had been dead quiet in my car before, making his cry that much more alarming. I nearly wrecked from the shock value alone. The merging car moved back in its lane before anything more serious happened. Nick collected himself and explained that the car, at its closest point, was a mere inch away from us. Reports from other parts of the vehicle indicated that while we had a close call, it was nowhere near as close as Nick’s freaking out suggested. Certainly, if we were in danger, a collision detector would be useful, and the risk makes me wish I had the capability in my vehicle. But the fact of the matter is that even if I had a collision detector, Nick’s caterwauling would have drowned it out. Maybe a better feature would have been a cone of silence around his seat. This would have been useful for most of the trip.

4. Cigars. I love a good cigar, especially when I’m driving. There are certain risks involved, though, that are not for the untrained aficianado. First, you’ve got to be careful of where you ash. Hot ash in the lap is not pleasant, not as bad as a boiling hot cup of coffee, sure, but still, not good. Second, you’ve got to be careful about checking your blind spot with a stogie in your mouth, unless you just really like a trail of hot ash streaked across your window. Finally, in particular regard to stick shifts, if you’re pushing into third or fifth while holding your cigar, you’re likely to end up with ash in your cd player. Not that I know first hand about any of these problems . . . .  Moving right along.

5. Matt’s TV. Let me begin by saying that I am grateful for Matt opening up his home to us. However, Matt’s TV is a problem. To be fair, it is a large, flat screen manufactured by a reputable company (which shall remain nameless). And it’s designed for 1080p HD picture quality. Unfortunately, Matt is in a service area that can’t deliver that picture quality, so everything you watch ends up looking like a Tim Burton movie–animated computer graphics. The limited amount of football I’ve been able to watch while writing this post looks like Madden ’12. I say all this for 2 reasons. First, technology is great if there’s the ability to use it. There’s no point in having a Porsche if all the roads are dirt. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t Matt’s fault. He was relocated to Pensacola from an area that had the ability to deliver high picture quality. But second: now that you’ve moved, Matt, you’ve got to get a TV that doesn’t make everything look like it was made by Pixar.

As an epilogue, I understand that Matt is working on getting a new TV. His flat screen is mounted on the wall with an assembly that is rated to support 30 pounds. Matt’s TV weighs 90. This problem may take care of itself in the very near future.  In related news, I predict my next post will consist of live-blogging a TV falling off a wall.  I’ll be sure to write it with a view toward the post becoming admissible evidence, either in regard to Matt’s insurance claim or his wife’s murder trial.

This is the report from the field. Vice Squad out.