Distracted Driving Deadly

It used to be that we had no phones in our vehicles and there weren’t as many accidents. Now, that’s a whole different story.

Since the advent of the cell phone, life has become incrementally more interesting, lively, exciting and deadly. While it’s nice to have 24/7/365 constant contact with friends and family, there needs to be a line drawn about doing that while driving a car and trying to text or talk at the same time. The results of that combination are often fatal. And what good reason was there for the accident, other than someone wanted to text a buddy about a party? Life is precious and responsibility for our own life is one thing; responsibility for the lives of others is paramount.

Unfortunately, those who take the risks of texting while driving are not taking into consideration what might happen to someone else if they are involved in a car accident. Furthermore, if they stopped to think about it, they aren’t even being responsible for their “own” life. Take the case of 21-year-old Josh Ashuby (names have been changed to protect the family) who was on his way home from a party in the city and texting his friends at the same time about what a blast it had been.

Just as he was about to go into a hairpin curve on the road home, he was texting his buddy about meeting him the next day for breakfast. The sun never rose again for Josh, who met an 18-wheeler head on in the curve that night. The cell phone survived the crash, with the display showing his buddy’s reply about breakfast. Pointless death? Indeed, it was not only tragic, but angered a lot of people in the community. Something had to be done about texting and driving.

Allstate Foundation has released some interesting stats about the texting while driving issue, mainly focused on teens, the largest group of cell phone owners who text and drive at the same time. These figures will shock you. About 82% of teens with cells used them while driving and at least 49% admitted they texted while driving, as well. Why do teens text while driving? Usually it’s to find their buds, flirt or get directions. A set of directions or a chance to flirt aren’t worth getting killed over, are they?

Another set of statistics put out by Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute shows that texting while driving increases the risk of a wreck by up to twenty-three times. Those are frightening numbers. What needs to be done to stop this carnage? Stop using cells phones in cars while driving. Easier said than done, as even though there are many ideas out there about how to stop this deadly habit, most teens (and others) keep on doing it anyway, because they think nothing will happen to “them.”

To stop texting while driving would be fairly easy if people just practiced safety “first” before succumbing to the temptation of instant communication. Shutting off the cell while driving is the first step, only sending texts while pulled over on the side of the road is another, and asking another passenger with you to return the call or text for you is another. These are simple ideas that would save lives, if only people would follow them.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

Books For Brooks

Books imagesThis post is way off-topic, but bear with me.


How can you help out some deserving kids while ridding your house of clutter?

For the last 3-4 years, my wife and I (with a lot of help from another volunteer) have set-up and run a program where we distribute books to kids at Pickle Elementary in East Austin.  Pickle Elementary is like a lot of schools in East Austin.  It is an under-privileged school  — just over 97 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch.  And the last statistics I saw found that over 65 percent of the kids come from primarily Spanish-speaking homes.

Three or four years ago, we were approached  by the principal of the school about helping out.  We asked what she needed, and she said the number 1 thing they wanted to do was put books in the hands of their kids.  She had research showing that one of the best predictors of school success was whether a child was on reading level in the second grade. 

Armed with her request, we went to work.  Since that time, we have set up a program where we collect books and then go to the school 3-4 times per year to distribute the books to the kids.  In the time that we’ve done it, we’ve distributed over 10,000 books to these children. 

And you can’t imagine how appreciative those kids are.  Whether finding the perfect mystery, the perfect book for a younger sibling, or, in one of my favorite memories, finding that perfect book about leaches, these kids appreciate what we are doing for them.

But the program doesn’t work without A LOT of help from others. 

Including some of you.

As we all gear back up for the start of the new school year, we’re starting to plan our first book drive of the year.  And we need more books.  That’s where you come in.  If any of you have any gently-used children’s books that you’re looking to get rid of or that are just sitting on bookshelves unused, please consider donating them to this worthy cause.   You’ll be helping these kids in ways you can’t imagine, and cleaning out your house at the same time.  What a benefit!

So if you can help, please let me know.   If you’re in the Austin area, I’ll come pick them up from you to make this donation as painless as possible.



Posted on: July 27, 2010 |

Weary Truckers Create A Risk For I35 Trucking Accidents

trucking IH 35 is a bit unique in that it spans from the southern border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada.  But no matter where you are along the highway, you face a grave danger of being involved in a trucking accident.  And yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good article, based in large part on an I35 truck wreck, about one of those risks — tired truck drivers.

For the most part, truck drivers are supposed to be limited in the number of hours they can drive.  In 2005, the hours-of-service rules were amended to require a little more rest for drivers.  Since that time, the number of fatal trucking accidents has decreased.  But it’s still a problem.  From the article:

While things are headed in the right direction nationally, annual fatalities in big truck wrecks are still the equivalent of a jetliner crashing once a week, said Steve Keppler of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“If that many plane crashes were happening,” Keppler said, “people would be up in arms and the air traffic system would be shut down.”

And a lot of these trucking accident fatalities are caused by fatigue.  You need look no further than the 2005 legislation to see how fatigue contributes to trucking accidents.  While the 2005 legislation lowered hours-of-service for most drivers, it also exempted a number of drivers, including those in the agricultural, utility and construction fields.  While the rate of fatalities have gone down since the new rules, the accidents involving utility trucks are up 57 percent since their drivers were exempted.

And much of the trucking industry continues to put its head in the sand and say that weary drivers aren’t a problem.  In the article, the spokesman for the American Trucking Association called wrecks caused by fatigue “a very small problem.”  The trucking industry also sued the Minnesota State Patrol in 2009 to stop police from using a “fatigued driver checklist” to keep truckers off the road.

It’s this attitude that makes trucking cases so interesting.  Because of regulations, drivers are required to keep a log of their driving time.  But in many cases, the log is altered or the drivers maintain two or more logs to help hide the amount of time that they’re really driving.

Maybe the problem was best summed up by an unidentified driver in the article:

I don’t get paid while I’m sitting waiting to load and unload.  My fixed costs doesn’t allow me to run legal…I sleep four hours a night.  It isn’t out of choice.  It’s finances.

I beg to differ.  It is a choice.  And it’s a choice that’s putting all of us at risk.

Boating Wreck Results From Violation Of Two Of The Deadly Sins Of Boating

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this summer writing about boating safety, and I have continually nagged that two o f the biggest boating sins are not knowing the body of water that you’re on and not being cautious enough at night.    Both of these are critical, and they work together.  A lot of our Central Texas lakes have unexpected outcroppings and hidden dangers beneath the surface of the water.  These types of hazards become even more dangerous at night when it’s much more difficult to see.

Sadly, it appears that these two issues led to a fatal boating accident over the weekend.   Four boaters from Midland were involved in a wreck on Lake LBJ when their boat hit granite outcroppings just after midnight Saturday.  One of the boaters, Karah Brooks, was killed.  The three other boaters, James Murdock, Michala Murdock and Trey Harper, were injured.

Emphasizing the importance of what I’ve been preaching, the investigating officer noted that the wreck occurred in a part of the lake that is particularly difficult to navigate, particularly at night or for someone who isn’t familiar with the lake.

Once again, I urge you to please be careful out there.  None of us ever think we’re going to be in an accident, especially a deadly one.  You can minimize the risk that you are the unexpected victims by just being aware of the problems, using common sense, and following  a few simple safety rules.  For the sake of you and your family, please do that.

Posted on: July 21, 2010 | Tagged

Ask Your Personal Injury Lawyer To Visit The Scene Of The Accident (Or What We Can Learn From Jimmy Buffett)

In almost all of my cases, I try to make at least one (and often multiple) trips out to the scene of the accident.  Earlier this month, the Winning Trial Advocacy blog had a great post that emphasized the importance of getting out to the scene, and the post was inspired by Jimmy Buffett’s lyrics, “Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it–Don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.”

If you’re a lawyer, go read the post.  If you’re an injury victim, make sure your attorney has been out to the scene of your accident.



h/t to John Day for finding the link on a near-holiday post.

Posted on: July 19, 2010 | Tagged

Car Wrecks Not as Simple as They May Seem

You were in a car accident, end of story. Surprisingly, there is a lot more to a car wreck than meets the eye.

Texas law requires drivers to carry minimal auto insurance. At a minimum, drivers must carry $25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence limits for personal injury damages. What does this mean? The “per person” limits set out the maximum that the insurance policy will pay to any one person in an accident, and the “per occurrence” limits set out the maximum that the insurance policy will pay to all people involved in an accident.

For example, if three people are injured in a single wreck, the most that a 25/50 policy will pay any of the three people is $25,000, and the most that the insurance company will pay the three injured people combined is $50,000. If the driver is involved in a second wreck, the policy limits start over. On January 1, 2011, the minimum requirements will increase to $30,000 per person/$60,000 per occurrence.

In addition to the personal injury limits, the law requires drivers to carry $25,000 limits for property damage, the damage to other people’s vehicles or other property. These limits won’t be changed in January.

Drivers can satisfy their obligations through one of two ways. Drivers can simply purchase auto insurance. Most drivers choose this route. Alternatively, drivers can self-insure by proving that they have enough assets to satisfy the minimum obligations. Most people don’t have the resources to self-insure so this option is usually limited to company-owned vehicles.

While it’s a good idea to raise the limits, for many people the new 2011 limits still won’t be enough. That’s why Texas also encourages drivers to purchase uninsured (UM) and underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage. UM/UIM insurance protects motorists from drivers who either have very little insurance or none at all.

If you think that’s probably not a big problem and opt to drive without carrying UM/UIM, be aware that just about 25% of all drivers in the state are out there without any coverage. And even when the other drivers do have insurance, $25,000 (or $30,000 starting in January) is often inadequate. We all know that the cost of health care is rising, and even a small wreck can result in costs of medical care and other damages that far exceed $30,000. If the person who caused the accident (the at-fault party) has no car insurance or not enough insurance, what happens? What happens is that the victim will have to fork out money for damages and injuries out of their own pocket. UM/UIM insurance helps minimize this risk.

Been in an accident recently and need an Austin personal injury lawyer? Make sure to find one that knows the latest arguments in the paid and incurred fight, what may be argued for extra-contractual damages in UM/UIM, and what may be done about subrogation liens. It’s a tough world out there when you get into a car wreck. Make sure you have the right Austin personal injury lawyer on your side to help you sort things out.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

John Stossel – Tort Reform Hypocrite

There is something that Americans love about the story of the hypocrite.  The anti-corruption policitian that eventually gets busted for taking bribes; the anti-gay preacher busted for being gay; and John Stossel.

Stossel is the tort-reform movement’s favorite “journalist” because he’s always willing to “report” on the evils of trial lawyers and personal injury suits.  True to form, on last week’s Fox Business Report, Stossel was more than willing to report on “Parasitic Tort Lawyers”, where he was willing to talk about the evils of personal injury lawyers and personal injury lawsuits. 

Problem is, Stossel is a hypocrite.  While doing a report on professional wrestling, wrestler David Schultz objected to Stossel’s line of question by hitting Stossel a couple of time. 

At that point, was Stossel offended by personal injury lawyers or personal injury lawsuits?  No.   Of course, not.  Instead, he was willing to file his own suit, not only against Schultz, but also against the World Wrestling Federation, that reportedly settled for over $400,000.00.  

I could go on and on with my complaints about Stossel, but my friend Eric Turkewitz has written a great post, John Stossel — You Gotta Love Him,  that is better than anything I could ever do.  I encourage all of you to venture over there for a few minutes for the real investigative reporting.

Posted on: July 14, 2010 |

Why Groups of People Don’t Help Accident Victims (And What To Do About It), Part 2

In Why Groups of People Don’t Help Accident Victims (And What To Do About It), Part 1, we looked at the phenomenon of groups of people who fail to stop and render aid to those that need help.    The conclusion reached by professor Dr. Robert Cialdini is not that people are uncaring, unkind or don’t want to help.  Instead, he concludes that groups don’t help because of the psychological principle of social proof. 

When we are uncertain about whether someone is hurt, we look to others’ actions to see how we should act.  When others don’t help, we don’t help.  Thus, a person in an accident is more likely to get help when one person is around than when multiple people are around.

So what can we do if we’re in an accident to make sure we get help?

Strangely, Dr. Cialdini found himself in exactly that situation.  He was involved in a car wreck.  As he knelt in the road beside his door, the light changed, and the waiting cars began to slowly drive by.  Drivers gawked, but didn’t stop to help.  He was suddenly the victim of the phenomenon he studied.

To stop this, Dr. Cialdini notes that the key to not being a victim is to realize that most bystanders who don’t help are just unsure of whether there is an emergency and, if there is, what their responsibilities should be.

He suggests that you not allow the bystanders to decide that your situation is not an emergency.  You need to use the word “help” to make sure the bystanders know that it’s not an emergency.

But you must do more than that. You must also answer their other uncertainties about how they should respond.  Dr. Cialdini suggests picking out a particular person.  Stare, speak, and point directly at that person.  For example, “You, sir, in the blue jacket.  I need help.  Please call an ambulance.”   With such action, the studies suggests that you’ll get a quick, effective response.

Dr. Cialdini tried to follow his own advice in his wreck.  He says that he stood up so that he could clearly be seen and pointed directly to one driver, asking that driver to call the police.  He then pointed to two other drivers and asked them to pull over to help.

The response was immediate.  They summoned the police, helped blot blood from his head, volunteered to serve as witnesses, and even offered to ride in the ambulance with him to the hospital.

And their assistance was contagious.  As others saw that it was an emergency, they stopped and tended to the other victim. 

This time, social proof was working for them as it appeared that the proper thing to do was to stop and help.

So, heaven forbid you’re in an accident, but if you are, take Dr. Cialdini’s advice to heart to make sure that you get the help you need.

Posted on: July 9, 2010 |

Why Groups of People Don’t Help Accident Victims (And What To Do About It), Part 1

One of the most disturbing stories that we see on the news is the all too frequent story of a person that is hurt or injured and a large group of people just walking or passing by without helping.  If you’re anything like me, you see the stories of group bystander inaction and think, “How can those people not help?  Why aren’t they stopping?”

I’ve often wondered that, but now I may know why. 

Since I’m a trial lawyer, I try to read books that relate to jury persuasion.  I’m currently re-reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology.  In one chapter of the book, Dr. Cialdini concludes that bystander inaction is caused by the psychological phenomenon of social proof.

The principle of social proof states that one way people determine the proper way to act is by looking at the way others are acting.  Social proof is the reason that  television production companies use laugh tracks — because we tend to laugh more and think things are more funny even though we know the laugh tracks are fake and canned.  Social proof is the reason that bartenders or church ushers sometimes put a few dollars in the tip jar or collection plate.  Social proof is the reason that advertisers use testimonials or tells us how many other people use their products.

And social proof probably explains bystander inaction.

In many instances, an emergency isn’t obviously an emergency.  Is the man having a heart-attack or is he just drunk?  Is it a fight or just a marital spat? 

Generally, when people know an emergency exists, they are pretty good about helping.  For example, a number of studies in Florida involved staged accidents.  When it was clear that the person involved in the accident was hurt, then the person received assistance in over 90 percent of the cases, regardless of how many people were around.

The problem of group bystander inaction really occurs when no one is sure the person is hurt.  When there are uncertainties, the tendency is to look around and see what others are doing.  And that’s where social proof comes into play.  If you are walking past something, unsure of whether you should do anything, and you see others just walking by, the principle of social proof tells you to just walk by also.

Social proof kicks in when there are groups of people who are ignoring the accident victim.  It turns out that instead of safety in numbers, someone that is hurt has a better chance of being helped if only one person is present.   Dr. Cialdini notes several studies that support this conclusion.  In one experiment, college students in New York acted as though they were having epileptic seizures.  When there was only one bystander present, the student received an offer of help 85 percent of the time.  But when five bystanders were present, the student only received an offer of help 31 percent of the time.

Another study involved smoke coming from under a door.  Seventy-five percent of the individuals who passed by reported the leak, but when the leaks were seen by three-person groups, the smoke was reported only 38 percent of the time. 

Citing these studies (and many more), Dr. Cialdini concludes that groups that ignore fail to provide aid to those in need aren’t “cold” or uncaring.  They are simply responding to the tried and true psyhological principle of social proof. 

He also concludes that in the accident context, social proof can come back and bite all of us.  Like the people in the study, if we’re in an accident, we’re less likely to get help from a group of witnesses than if there is only one witness around.

So the important question is, “What can we do to protect ourselves in such a situation?”  The solution will be in our next post.

Posted on: July 8, 2010 |

What May Cause A Truck To Cross The Median?

truckingInterstate 35 between the Laredo border and Dallas may be the most dangerous section of highway in the country. This weekend, there was another example of how it can be so dangerous. Around 9:30 Saturday morning, an 18 wheeler was heading south on I 35 about 45 miles north of Laredo when it crossed the median and hit a car occupied by Manuel Arizola, Johanna Sandoval, and their 11 month old son, Romen Arizola.

These types of wrecks seem like they should never occur, but they’re more frequent than drivers might expect.  From both a lawyer perspective and a citizen perspective, I always ask, “Why?”  Why did the truck cross the median?  Why did the trucker lose control?  No one will really know the answers until a complete investigation is done by the law enforcement officials and the lawyers. 

But there are a number of recurring patterns we see in trucking cases that might be used to explained what happened in this wreck.

The first factor might be weather.  We had a number of storms in the South Texas area over the weekend, and truckers are susceptible to the same weather dangers as the rest of us.  They’re driving large vehicles, and a slight hydroplane can be disasterous.

A second factor may be driver distraction.  Like normal drivers, truckers often engage in text messaging, using cell phones, and even using the computer while driving.  All of these distract a truck driver just like they distract normal drivers.

But the causes of a trucking accident may go farther than that.  When we’re investigating truck accidents, there is often other conduct by the trucking company that makes a collision inevitable.

One of these factors  is driver fatigue.  In the trucking industry, time is money.  Truckers and trucking companies aren’t making money while the trucks are sitting idle.  As a result, there is always a temptation for trucking companies to push their truckers to drive harder.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has adopted limits on the hours that truckers can drive, but those are often ignored. 

Another  factor is driver qualification.  We’ve found that trucking companies often don’t meet their duties to hire good drivers and their duties to train and supervise those drivers once the drivers are hired.   Again, because time is money, required training programs are often inadequate or non-existent.

A third common factor in truck accidents is the driver’s use of controlled substances.   A truck driver isn’t supposed to drink alcohol within four hours of starting his or her shift.  Similarly, a truck driver can’t use controlled substances while on duty.  To help minimize these problems, trucking companies are obligated screen drivers before their employment, when they have a reasonable suspicion the drivers are violating these limits, and when there is an accident.  Trucking companies are also required to have random drug screening.  Despite these restrictions, alcohol and drug abuse continue to be a primary cause of trucking accidents.

Posted on: July 7, 2010 |

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

Law Firm Website by CLM Grow