Georgetown Car-House Collision. How Frequently Does That Occur?

Early this morning, a car in Georgetown flipped, slid off the roadway, and then crashed through a fence and hit the back of a home.  A passenger in the vehicle was tragically killed, but no one in the home was hurt.

You don’t hear about car-house collisions much, but they happen.  In fact, earlier this week, another lawyer and I were talking about  (okay, actually emailing each other about) a similar case. 

Sadly, these kinds of cases happen more than any of us would like to think.

In the case at hand, the real question is what kind of claims the passenger might have.  As usual, the passenger’s family and estate have a wrongful death clam against the driver of the car.  But they may also have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage available.  They just need to make sure they do a proper investigation of available claims before they start trying to resolve the matter.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 |

Car Wreck – Personal Injury Problem: Hospital Liens

Sunday’s Austin American Statesman had a wonderful article about hospital liens, a problem that can really muck up a car wreck or other personal injury claim.

Texas law provides that if a person is injured in an accident and is admitted to a hospital within 72 hours of the accident, then the hospital has a lien against any recovery for the amount of the care. (You can read the entire statute here.)

That sounds reasonably fair — hospitals should get paid for their services.  Except that many hospitals are abusing the statute in an unfair manner. 

There are two problems in the way that hospitals abuse the statute.  First, they charge ridiculous prices.  When you go to a hospital, you don’t get to sit down and negotiate prices or look at a menu with the services and prices next to them and choose what you want.  The hospitals decide what treatment you need (as they should) and then they also get to set the prices.  Unfortunately, the prices that they set in the personal injury context are ridiculously high prices that no one really pays.  It’s a pie-in-the-sky number that they try to force on injury victims.

Second, they abuse the system by trying to charge these prices even when other insurance or other payment sources, such as Medicare, are available.  Because the amounts for the services are so much higher than what an insurance company or Medicare would pay for the same services, hospitals often forego payment from these sources and then file the lien hoping to get the inflated prices from the injured victims. 

In the health insurance context, the Texas legislature has tried to fix the law, passing a statute that requires hospitals to submit claims to available health insurance companies when the coverage is available.  However, there is a bit of a debate about whether that law applies to Medicare or other similar proceeds.  As a result, hospitals are refusing to bill Medicare and similar providers in this context to try to get the higher amounts from you.

We need the legislature to again step in and clarify that the lien is not valid if the hospital fails to submit the claims to Medicare.  Until then, our only course of action is to sue the hospital for a declaration that the charges are unreasonable.  This causes all the parties to incur unnecessary attorneys’ fees and just causes unnecessary stress for injured victims, but it’s the only mechanism for resolution we currently have.

I do encourage you to read the article.  They have more time to write about the problem, and they share stories that really show how it affects you as victims.  Also,  representatives of one of Austin’s most aggressive lien filers make some very questionable statements in the article about their practices.  In some, but not all, of those cases, the author of the article calls them on it. 

I’m just thankful that this problem has reached the popular press.  Maybe the publicity will cause some changes.

“Independent” Medical Exams In Personal Injury Cases

A favorite insurance company ploy in personal injury cases is to request that an order from the Court that the plaintiff be required to undergo an “independent” medical exam — an exam by a doctor hired by the insurance company.

Despite the implications of the name, these are not indpendent.  The doctors are hired by insurance companies and these exams are filled with fraud.

Back in 2009, the New York Times ran a long story exposing many of these exams for the fraud that they are.  Among other things, the report found doctors reporting on tests that were never done, given written reports saying the patient had no injuries when the videotaped tests and exams proved otherwise, and doing cursory exams. 

At the time, I wrote a long blog post that summarized the article, The New York Times Tells The Story Behind “Independent” Medical Exams, and you can read that post for more information. 

But many times, pictures (and videos), tell a story better than words.  And I recently saw a tongue-in-cheek video that was an example of an “independent” medical exam.  It would be a lot more funny if it wasn’t so darn true.

Don’t Settle A Car Wreck Or Personal Injury Claim Without Legal Advice

Today, my friend Mike Bryant, a personal injury lawyer in St. Cloud, Minn, had a post on his blog entitled A Settlement Without Legal Advice: Don’t Let It Happen To You or Your Friends

Mike’s post is a good reminder about a far too common occurrence — insurance adjusters convincing victims to settle car wreck or other personal injury claims for inadequate amounts. 

Mike’s nice about it.  He suggests that anyone injured and looking at a potential settlement ought to take the time to have the offer reviewed in a free consultation by a personal injury lawyer.  I’m not sure all lawyers do it this way, but my firm (and I’m sure Mike’s as well) will be honest with you; if you have an offer, and we don’t think you’ll do better by hiring us, we’ll tell you so you can settle the case without having to incur fees.  But if the offer is too low, we’ll tell you that also to help you avoid being the victim of an unscrupulous adjuster.

Like I said, Mike’s nice in his post.  I’m not always that nice.  One of the things that really burns me up is what I call “swoop and settle” — where the insurance adjuster comes in and triees to settle the case before the injured person really understands the true extent of his or her injuries.  I think this tactic is almost tantamount to fraud.  I won’t re-write all my complaints here, but I’ve had several posts on the subject:

I just reiterate what Mike says about knowing what your rights are before you sign a settlement agreement that ends your case.  And even if you don’t want to talk to a lawyer, order our Free Book  HOLDING WRONGDOERS ACCOUNTABLE: AVOIDING MISTAKES THAT CAN RUIN YOUR TEXAS ACCIDENT CLAIM.    It has information in it that can minimize the risks that you make this and other mistakes.

IH 35 Wrong Way Driver Kills A San Antonio Police Officer

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that we closely follow stories about wrong way drivers because this is a phenomenon that seems like it should never happen, and yet it’s becoming routine.

This morning, a San Antonio police officer, Officer Stephanie Brown, was tragically killed along I35 when a wrong way driver slammed his SUV into her patrol car.   

This wreck fits the pattern of most wrong way driver incidents — the wreck happened early in the morning and the wrong way driver was potentially drunk.  Most of these wrong way driving cases are late night accidents involving drunk drivers or are caused by elderly drivers.

This case is an example of one of my biggest concerns about these kinds of wrecks — there’s almost nothing you can do to avoid being in a wreck with a wrong way driver.  And here, the victim was a police officer, someone who likely had special training to avoid auto accidents, and she couldn’t avoid this tragic situation.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Brown and her family and friends, but sadly, Officer Brown won’t be the last victim of a wrong way collision.  As more and more complex highways and interstate interchanges are being built in the Central Texas area, stories about wrong way drivers are becoming more and more prevalent. 

Some of my previous posts on wrong way drivers are: 

Texas Looks To Take On Texting While Driving

Today, the House Transportation Committee will hold hearings on a possible statewide ban on texting while driving.  

The testimony will likely include testimony from the parents of Alex Brown, who was a promising teen-ager killed while she was texting and driving. (I’ve previously written on her tragic story and the amazing things her family is doing trying to warn others.)

There are currently five bills pending that would regulate the use of cell phones in cars.  I haven’t had time to look at all of them, but in general, I agree with the concept of making it illegal to text while drive.  This is a common-sense issue, and you wouldn’t think that we would need laws to tell people that this is a bad idea.  But apparently we do, because people are killed or seriously injured on a regular basis from these problems.

A New Braunfels Trucking Accident Shows The Importance Of Timely Investigation

Last Friday night, there was a horrific trucking accident on I35 in New Braunfels.  The wreck involved two tractor-trailers and one pickup truck.  One of the drivers was tragically killed when his truck burst into flames.  All told, traffic was shut down for over ten hours on northbound I35  (and a mere six hours on southbound I35).

They knee-jerk reaction in looking at these types of complicated wrecks is to jump to the conclusion that you’ll never know what happened.

Except we can.

A good accident investigator can look at the vehicles involved, the roadway, any witness statements and other information obtained in an investigation and can, in essence, re-create the wreck. 

But the key is getting out there earlier.  You can bet that the trucking companies involved had their own investigators out at the scene before the traffic cleared.  This gives them access to almost all the information involved in the wreck.  Unfortunately, some of that evidence disappears with time. 

To really put yourself on equal footing with the trucking companies, you need to hire a lawyer and investigator as soon as possible.

Victims Shouldn’t Be Anonymous – A Family Fights Back From A Trucking Accident

Too often, the media is focused on the sensationalized “problems” of the tort system. And they do it by looking at the fringe frivolous cases (anyone remember the ridiculous coverage of Roy Pearson’s pants lawsuit?) without looking at the every day, usual cases where people are hurt.

We focus on those that are hurt. On a daily basis, we see people whose lives have been forever altered through no fault of their own.

They’re not anonymous. They’re people. They’re mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters. They’re teachers, priests, judges, construction workers, etc.

And they’re stories deserve to be told. People need to understand the resolve, the will, and the toughness that these people demonstrate on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the media rarely focuses on those stories. But here is one of those rare occasions.

This week, hearings are being held in Washington to limit the amount of time that truckers can drive. It’s the subject of another post, but weary and tired truck drivers is a huge problem that threatens all of us. As part of the coverage of those hearings, ABC 2 News in Baltimore, Maryland tells the story of one of those families.

If you want to understand the pain caused by catastrophic injuries, go watch the story.  You owe it to victims to really understand what’s going on.

Underride Trucking Accidents – They Don’t Have To Be Deadly

The underride trucking accident — where a car rear-ends a truck and slides underneath — is almost always serious, usually fatal.  But they don’t have to be that way.

Federal motor carrier regualtions require most trailers to have rear impact guards to prevent just this type of underride accident.  But a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that those regulations aren’t strong enough because they don’t protect drivers in even moderate wrecks. 

You need to watch the embedded video from ABC News about the study because the video showing the difference between tests involving trucks with the American standard and trucks with the more strict Canadian standard are stunning.  The Canadian standard is just much safer.

Sadly, many victims don’t understand that they have a potential claim in this situation.  But when the safety fuard doesn’t wark as designed, the occupants of the vehicle may have a claim  (even if the wreck was the fault of the car’s driver) against the trucking company and against the manufacturer of the guard.  If you or a loved one is injured in one of these types of wrecks, call us or some other attorney to investigate your rights.

Truck Versus Pedestrian Accidents Often Fatal Says Austin Personal Injury Lawyer

Due to their size, big rigs versus pedestrian accidents often have a fatal outcome. The two deaths in this case are a reminder to use caution around big trucks, whether on foot or on the road.

“Often the best way to explain a legal premise or what the law means is to highlight a case that happened to someone else. This particular case was bizarre in that two men were killed four days apart at the same location, in the same manner. Each of these deaths are examples of men who, although they were familiar with big rigs, did not pay attention to what they were doing when they got out of their trucks. Equally, other truckers were not paying attention to pedestrians,” said Brooks Schuelke, an Austin personal injury lawyer with Perlmutter & Schuelke, L.L.P.

The first truck crash happened early in January 2011. The second wreck was four days later. Both truckers on the ground were killed by other truckers who did not see them. Unfortunately, the second fatality was a hit and run and the police have not yet located the 18-wheeler who killed the Texas trucker.

Are these personal injury or wrongful death cases?

“In each case, it is likely the families of the dead truckers would want to speak to a wrongful death attorney to ask how to obtain compensation for the loss of their loved one. Sudden death like this comes as a great shock to everyone left behind. Does the question of negligence play a part in these cases? Yes, and that would likely focus on what the truckers who hit both men were doing just prior to the impact. It’s something that needs to be known to put together a wrongful death case,” Schuelke said.

Wrongful death cases are typically about compensation for those left behind to allow them to get on with their lives. “Figuring out the damages that may be collected for a wrongful death is often complicated and although the family may claim medical bills and funeral and burial expenses, the future needs to be considered. In other words, damages may address future losses, such as an estimated total of wages the person would have earned had they lived and the pain and suffering of the survivors who have lost their loved one,” Schuelke said. Often, future earning testimony will need to be given by an expert witness.

Does a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit need to be shared with all the relatives? “The answer to that is, possibly, and that entirely depends on which state’s law governs the case,” said Schuelke.

Contact Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC at http://www.civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC 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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