Wrong Way Driver In Austin

Wrong-way drivers are a bigger problem than one would think. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about wrong-way drivers on the Austin Injuryboard blog, and Des Moines Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Lombardi has written extensively on his Des Moines blog with a 20 part series on the problem. But Austin has largely avoided the problem. Until now.

Last night 24 year old Alex Reyes made a horrible error, entering I-35 the wrong way just south of Austin and causing a head-on wrong-way collision. Reyes died at the scene, and the other driver was taken to the hospital by StarFlight.

At this time, it appears that alcohol did not contribute to the wreck. That’s unusual. Most wrong-way wrecks involve alcohol or elderly drivers.

These wrecks are a huge problem because of their severity. They are most often head-on collisions, and in most instances, involve fatalities. These wrecks are also a problem because they are difficult to prevent. From the driver’s perspective, most of the wrecks are caused by confusion because the driver is either drunk or under the influence of drugs or because the driver is elderly and confused. While some of these wrecks can be prevented by better road designs and some can be prevented by newer technologies, these wrecks are generally hard to prevent.

The wrecks are also hard to avoid from the victim’s perspective. The oncoming driver is obviously unexpected and there is often little time to react.

Nevertheless, there are some things that can be done. In his last post on the subject, Steve Lombardi has several tips on avoiding being a wrong-way driver and avoiding being a victim of a wrong-way driver. I recommend that everyone take three minutes to read his suggestions to help make the roads safer for all of us.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

It’s Time For School Bus Safety

school busIt is back to school time, with Austin ISD students reporting to class next Monday, August 24th. As the kids go back to school, it’s important for all of us to be mindful of school bus safety. The good news is that school buses are generally safe. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that school buses are almost eight times as safe as cars. But things can still go wrong. There are several things that all of us can do to help make school bus transportation even safer.

We need to recognize that most accidents occur in a ten foot danger zone outside the bus. I had a horrible case a few years ago where a school bus driver was impatient, and she took off in an unsafe manner, driving over a young child’s foot. Fortunately, there are some things that can help improve the safety of this zone. Please make sure your kids know the following:

* When getting on the bus, stay out of the ten foot zone until you see the driver’s signal.
* When getting off the bus, look before stepping off the bus to be sure no cars are coming. And once off the bus, move away from the bus and out of the zone as quickly as possible.
* Before crossing the street, take five giant steps out from the front of the bus or until you can see the driver’s face. Then wait for the driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.
* Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure that traffic is stopped.
* If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.

For those of us that are drivers, we need to remember to:

* Watch out for children walking or bicycling to school, especially when we are backing out of a driveway or garage.
* Slow down. Watch out for children walking in the streets or congregating near bus stops.
* Be alert. Children arriving late for school or the bus may be tempted to dart out into the street without properly looking for traffic.

If we will all obey these rules, maybe the school year will be a little safer.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Patient Tips To Avoid Wrong Site Surgery

Earlier this week, in the post Medical Malpractice, Dead By Mistake, And Wrong-Site Surgery, I promised patient tips for avoiding wrong-site surgeries. I’m carrying out on that promise today. Here are some things that surgical patients can do to avoiid wrong-site surgery:

1. Make sure you know what surgeon is in charge, and communicate with your physician. Most wrong-site surgeries are the result of poor communication.

2. Speak up if you have concerns. It is basic psychology that people are hesitant to question authority figures, such as doctors. But patients and nurses must be willing to question physicians when the patients or nurses have concerns. If something doesn’t look or feel right to you, speak up. We were all told in school that there are no stupid questions. That’s particularly true when your health is on the line.

3. Be patient with the staff. Don’t be upset if each doctor and each nurse ask the same information. A standard protocol requires each staff member to confirm the proper procedure is being done.

4. Pre-mark the spot. If you’re going to have surgery on your right knee, take a permanent marker the night before and mark “NO” on your left knee. You might think this is silly, but a simple Google search turns up studies from physicians trying to pass the blame for wrong-site surgeries on to patients for not properly marking which limb or body part to avoid.

5. Participate in the staff’s marking of the proper site the day of surgery. Make sure that the site is marked before you undergo the anesthesia.

6. Have someone you trust there to be your advocate, and make sure they know which procedure is supposed to be done. Several years ago I had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. Apparently, I’m susceptible to anesthesia, and I was quickly getting loopy after the first round of anesthesia was administered. Even after that, the hospital staff was trying to have me sign papers. Fortunately, my wife was there to tell them I was in no position to sign documents and to make sure that they continued prepping me for the proper surgery.

Hopefully, you or your loved ones won’t need any surgical procedures, but following these simple steps could help prevent an avoidable medical error.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Dangers of Loose or Stray Tires

Earlier this week, Pedro Garcia, a state worker who had stopped on the roadway to pick up trash, was killed when he was hit by two loose tires that had come off of a passing tractor trailer. This may seem like a strange fact pattern for an injury, but it’s not.

Earlier this month, a police offier in Texas was almost hit by another loose tire from a tractor trailer. The tire, going approximately sixty miles per hour, just missed the officer. At that speed, I can only imagine the injuries the officer would have sustained. You can watch amazing home video of the incident below.

And though I can’t find a link to a story, two summers ago, an Austin woman was killed on I-35 when a stray tire from a tractor trailer crossed the median and slammed into her car.

These wrecks raise interesting questions when you stop and ask who is responsible. Obviously, if you can track the offender down, then you may have a claim against the owner and operator of the vehicle and the company charged with maintaining the vehicle. But many times, tires come loose, truck drivers never know it, and they simply continue on down the road, and the victim can’t identify the responsible party.

That’s when things get interesting. It makes sense that a victim could make an uninsured motorist claim against their automobile insurance carrier. But that’s not the case.
The uninsured motorist statute and most, if not all, of the Texas uninsured motorist policies contain a requirement that there must be “actual physical contact” between the uninsured vehicle and the injured person or their property. This provision was understandably adopted to prevent fraud. There were numerous uninsured motorist claims based on one-car wrecks whose drivers suddenly claimed that their wrecks were caused when phantom cars ran them off the road. The physical contact requirement was added so that insurance companies had a way to confirm that other vehicles were actually involved. Based on this provision, numerous courts of appeals have held that when a vehicle looses part of its cargo that the cargo wasn’t part of the uninsured vehicle so there was no physical contact and no coverage was available.But what about when you’re hit by the tire or some other part of the uninsured vehicle? Unfortunately, the Texas Supreme Court has rejected those claims. In the March 28, 2008 opinion of Nationwide Insurance Company v Elchehimi the court was faced with a wreck was caused when a tractor-trailer lost an axle and two wheels that hit the plaintiff’s vehicle. Rigidly applying the statute, the supreme court said that an axle and two wheels are not a vehicle so no coverage is available.The dissent, by Justices O’Neill and Medina, took the much more sensical view. They argued that (1) the axle and wheels were an integral part of the other vehicle, and (2) there was no risk of fraud because it was clear that the claimants were hit by a part of another vehicle. As a result, they would have allowed coverage in this case. They further argued that the purpose of the UIM statute was to allow people to protect themselves, and the court’s strict interpretation of the statute frustated that purpose.Unfortunately, we’re now left with the situation that if the injured person can’t specifically identify the vehicle that lost its cargo or parts of its vehicle then no claim can be asserted.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Medical Malpractice, Dead By Mistake, and Wrong Site Surgery

Richard Flagg entered Meadowland Hospital in Secaucus, NJ with a diseased lung. Unfortunately, his surgeons accidentlally removed his healthy lung, leaving behind a tumor in his diseased lung. Mr. Flagg survived for three years, attached to oxygen, until the tumor ruptured and he drowned in his blood.

This is one of the stories in the Hearst Group’s Dead By Mistake. And it seems almost far-fetched. Doctors removing the wrong lung? How often could that happen? Much more frequent than you think.

It turns out that Wrong Site, Wrong Side, Wrong Procedure, Wrong Patient surgeries are common. The Archives of Surgery, the official medical journal of surgery associations across the country, did a study and found that almost 3,000 procedures were performed each year where the surgeon operated on the wrong side or site, performed the wrong procedure or operated on the wrong patient. And those are just the reported instances.

The Joint Commission On Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is a non-profit that accredits and certifies health care organizations nationwide. The Joint Commission asks its members to report and keep track of sentinel events, unexpected events that lead to death or serious injury, and wrong site surgeries are the #1 type of sentinel event recorded.

In May 2003, the Joint Commission hosted a summit on Wrong Site surgeries. After consulting with some of the world’s leading physicians, the Joint Commission established its Uniform Protocol for surgeries. The protocol has three steps: (1) the hospital must make sure it has pre-operation processes in place to ensure the right procedure is being performed; (2) someone must specifically mark the part of the body that is being operated on; and (3) the surgical team must take a “time out” before starting surgery to verify that the proper procedure is about to be performed.

But is it enough? Perhaps not.

Steve Sanford, of the Preferred Physicians Medical Risk Retention Group, contends that the Universal Protocol has several flaws that prevent it from being effective. First, he argues against the shared responsibility advocated by the protocol. Shared responsibility is, in essence, no responsibility. When participants to a surgery think other participants are going to check the proper site, the responsibility goes unfulfilled. Instead, Sanford argues that the surgeon should have the sole responsibility and should know that he or she will be held accountable for the errors — no more suggesting that someone else should have handled it.

Sanford also argues that the protocol is not specific enough and leaves too much interpretation up to individual institutions. If the standard was more concrete and accepted between institutions, it might be easier to follow.

Statistics suggest that Sanford is right. PPM’s statistics show that the number of wrong site surgeries actually increased following the adoption of the Universal Protocol. Other studies made similar findings.

So what do we do? We’ll look at that in a later post.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Why Isn’t There More Outrage About Medical Malpractice Deaths?

The Hearst family of newspapers and television stations has put together, Dead By Mistake, an unprecedented look at medical malpractice deaths. This was a massive project, and there are several aspects that I want to look at over the next few days, but the focus of today is, “Why Aren’t More People Outraged Over Medical Malpractice Deaths?”

The study found that an estimated 98,000 people die from preventable medical errors each year. How many is that? To put it in perspective, the article noted that:

More Americans die each month of preventable medical errors than died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Or, as Dennis Quaid put it, it’s the equivalent of a full 747 crashing every day.

Or, as those of us that are football fans might think of, it’s the equivalent of a full Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium being killed.

And to make it worse, in addition to those 98,000 dead, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that an additional 99,000 people a year die from infections acquired from hospitals. That’s almost 200,000 people a year killed by medical malpractice.

And where is the outrage? Sept. 11 has garnered its deserved media attention. And the airwaves over the last few days have been filled with stories about the small plane/sight-seeing helicopter crash. And I can only imagine the media coverage from some disaster wiping out a full DKR, but no one seems to care about medical malpractice.


I’ve seen these types of numbers before, and I’ve seen the pain endured by parents, children and spouses after a medical error takes a life, and I’ve wondered why no outrage. And I still don’t have an answer for it.

If any of you have an answer or thought on it, I’d love to hear it.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Does The Media Contribute To Car Wreck And Plane Wreck Fatalities?

Apparently so. For trial issues, I occasionally read psychology based books, and I’m currently reading Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I’m probably late to the party on this one, but one thing Dr. Cialdini talks about in the book is the “Werther effect.” The Werther effect is based on the principle of social proof, that we use actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves. The Werther effect is the phenomenon of copycat suicides; the rate of suicides increases dramatically following a well publicized suicide. That’s not really surprising; we’ve all heard of that.

The more surprising and disturbing findings are that publicized suicides are also good leading indicators for a rise in fatal airplane crashes and a rise in fatal car wrecks. As you can see from the chart (from the book), there is an amazing correlation.

werther effectwerther effect 2

Professor David Phillips, who coined the phrase Werther effect, is of the opinion that these increases in fatal crashes are all explained by copycat suicides. When people learn of another’s suicide, a number of people decide that suicide is appropriate for themselves as well. Some commit “run of the mill” suicides, but others, for whatever reason, don’t want their deaths to appear as suicides. Thus, the increase in fatal “accidents.”

But the correlation goes beyond mere numbers. Professor Phillips found that when news stories reported about single suicides, the number of single-victim crashes increased. When news stories reported about multiple-victim suicides, the number of multi-victim crashes increased. When news stories reported about a young person committing suicide, the number of crashes by young people increased. When news stories reported about an older person committing suicide, the number of crashes by older individuals increased.

Professor Phillips also noted that, following a report of suicide, the severity of wrecks increased. For example, the number of people killed in a commercial airliner crash is more than three times greater when the crash occurred a week after a publicized suicide. Likewise, victims of fatal car wrecks that follow a publicized suicide die four times more quickly than normal. Why? In a normal accident, those involved are trying to survive. In a suicide, those involved are trying to ensure that they don’t survive (thus perhaps hitting the accelerator a little harder instead of hitting the brakes).

I find this horrifying. In what we typically think of as a “copycat suicide,” only the deceased dies. But with Professor Phillips’ findings, it’s much more than that; the Werther effect can result in the deaths of countless innocent individuals.

What can we do about it? Like many psychological phenomena, being aware of the issue is half the battle. Dr. Cialdini notes that he changes his behavior after a high profile suicide. He is more cautious in the car and is more reluctant to travel by air. That’s probably good advices for all of us.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Case Running

I have previously written about my disdain for plaintiff’s lawyers or chiropractors illegally soliciting cases.  Today Eric Turkewitz, author of the famed New York Personal Injury Lawy Blog, had a great post, Ambulance Chasers, Runners, and Other Creeps, that reinforces the idea that personal injury trial lawyers are generally good guys that oppose unethical practices despite the stereotypes to the contrary.

Eric writes:

Now every business and every profession has its scoundrels. Regardless of whether the lure is one of the big three of money, sex or drugs, it happens to doctors, lawyers, clergy, schoolteachers and every other group you can imagine. Every race, religion and group of any kind will have its problem participants.

But unlike the police and their Blue Code of Silence or the doctors and their White Coat of Silence, or the priests and their Collar of Silence, I don’t ever want to see such silence by lawyers.

Eric’s call to action is similar to one I’ve made before.  Personal injury attorneys are probably in the best position to hear about these scams because our clients  occasionally report them to us.  And once we hear about them, we need to report that conduct (indeed, the disciplinary rules may even require us to report it).  But more importantly, the state bar grievance committees and the prosecutors offices around the state need to treat these complaints seriously to help clean up our business.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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