Watch Out For Distracted Driving/Texting-While-Driving School Zone Car Wrecks This Year

School started back up this week, and the Austin Police Department and others are again stressing the importance of avoiding distracted driving in school zones. Last night, KXAN reporter Doug Shupe ran a great story on the problem.  Sadly, the crossing guards he interviewed said that the worst problem was around Casis Elementary, my son’s school.  From the story:

The potentially dangerous violations include drivers not stopping at crosswalks, talking and texting on cell phones, and even driving on the wrong side of the road.

During crossing guard training classes, Chris Moore, coordinator for the City of Austin’s Child Safety Program, hears the frustrations from those who try to keep kids safe on the way to and from school.

“We literally have to reach over and pull a child back or push them back out of the way because cars are coming through and the crossing guards are frightened,” said Moore.

 Distracted driving is a problem that is becoming more and more common in my cases.  Despite more and more publicity about the dangers of distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, people seem unwilling to keep their focus on the road.  And far too often, that has serious consequences for others.

If you read this site, you know that I’ve had many posts about the dangers of distracted driving and texting-while-driving. To read those, use our handy search feature on this page.

You can watch the full KXAN story below.

Austin has highest school zone fines: kxan.com

If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck caused by distracted driving, please feel free to call us at (512)476-4944 or request our free book through this website.

Texas Tops The List For Auto-Train Collisions

Tuesday morning, the Austin Police Department conducted an unusual sting — one designed to catch drivers who disregard traffic signals at rail road crossings.

Sadly, Texas is at the top of the list for train wrecks, and the problem is increasing in Austin as the commuter trains move into downtown.  Last year there were 16 vehicle/train collisions and 10 pedestrian/train collisions. 

In the undercover sting, Police Chief Art Acevedo noted that two of the bigger problems were drivers trying to beat trains and pedestrians walking on tracks (often with music playing on headphones and blocking out sounds).

While many train collisions are caused by faulty motorists or pedestrians, a number of train wrecks are caused by the railroad companies.  These can be caused by improper maintenance, improper railroad equipment, unsafe railroard conditions, bad decisions by engineers, and more.  I can speak to this personally as my dad was once hit by a train when the crossing arms and signals weren’t working.  Thankfully, he was not seriously hurt in the incident.

You can watch a story from Fox 7 about the APD sting below.

APD Conducts Train Sting : MyFoxAUSTIN.com

Protect Your Child From Concussions Or Head Injuries With A Proper Football Helmet

Football season….it reminds me of the Christmas Song…”It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”

While each football season brings excitement, camaraderie, and fun, it also brings new cases of head injuries or concussions. 

And for some reason, football related head injuries and concussions have been in the news lately.  Just this week, several former NFL players, including Jim McMahon, sued the NFL and others about the link between concussions and football.  And just a couple of months ago, I wrote a post about new studies showing a link between football-related brain injuries and dementia

The one thing about all these stories is that it makes parents and players aware — and that awareness is good.  While you’ll never be able to eliminate the risk of head injuries and concussions in football, there are some precautions that you can do to minimize the risk.  For example, Virginia Tech University has been doing excellent research on the safety of football helmets.  They have recently released a website showing the findings of those studies, including listing the helmets that they think best minimize the risk of football-related head injuries.

If you have a child participating in football, take a few minutes to look at these and other resources that can help inform you about the risks of concussions.  Those few minutes, and the resulting action, could help your child for years into the future.

Posted on: August 22, 2011 | Tagged

APD Seeks To Reduce The Risks Of Distracted Driving

If you’ve read the blog regularly at all, you know that one of my pet topics is distracted driving.  We see distracted drivers causing unnecessary car wrecks and trucking wrecks and personal injuries on an almost weekly basis.  And police officers aren’t immune to the problem — in fact, the potential problem is worse for police officers.  They have access to many more on-dash computers and other distractions that typical drivers don’t face.  I’ve previously written about the Austin Police Department taking some steps to reduce the risk, but now they’re hoping to do more. 

Last night, Shannon Wolfson of KXAN News ran a story that talked about APD’s efforts to reduce those risks by changing the equipment in APD vehicles, including making more of the equipment voice activated.  You should watch her story below.  And, it contains a short interview with me.

APD looks to keep cops’ eyes on road: kxan.com

What Is Mediation?

A mediation is a settlement conference led by a neutral third-party, the mediator. The mediator is often, but not always, a lawyer.  In Texas, most courts require you to go through a mediation before you can get a trial in your case.

Generally, the mediation starts with an opening session where all the parties are present. In many cases, when the defendant has insurance, the defendant will not appear, but an insurance adjuster (who is really deciding the amounts to be offered) appears on the defendant’s behalf.

The mediator will start the opening session with his introductory remarks. Those remarks will describe the mediation process and will often include a discussion of some of the advantages of mediation. Depending on the mediator, the remarks may include statements similar to the following:

Mediation is your chance to have input on the resolution of the case without putting it into the hands of 12 (or 6) strangers.

A good settlement is one where both parties end up upset. That means the defendant paid more than it wanted, and the plaintiff accepted less than it wanted.

Don’t underestimate the emotional value of resolving the case. If you settle the case, then tomorrow can be the first morning in months (or years) that you wake up and don’t have to worry about this lawsuit.

After the mediator finishes his remarks, the parties will have an opportunity to make their statements. Generally, the plaintiff’s attorney will go first, and the defense lawyer second. Many times, these sessions become posturing sessions so, no matter what side you’re on, you will hear statements from the other side that will make you mad.  When the parties start posturing, it seems to push the parties further away from resolution than towards it.  Therefore, in our cases, we generally try to keep our remarks short and try not to make any unnecessary inflammatory remarks.  Additionally, in many cases, we request that the mediator not even have the opening session in an effort to prevent this problem from occurring.

After the parties have made their statements, then the mediator will separate the parties into different rooms. The mediator then goes back and forth between rooms and engages in shuttle diplomacy. The first few sessions may involve more in-depth discussions about the case. The mediator may ask you to evaluate your strengths & weaknesses. He may play a devil’s advocate to push and probe to make sure you’re fairly evaluating the case.

In the later sessions, there is less discussion, and the mediator is often just going back and forth trading offers.

The mediation ends when a settlement is reached or when the parties reach an impasse.

A mediation is not an arbitration. A mediator doesn’t have the authority to force parties to settle a case or to decide a case. All decisions about settlement are left up to the parties. Having said that, some mediators will provide suggestions on what a good settlement number should be, but those suggestions are not binding on the parties.

One of the benefits of mediation is its confidentiality. It’s generally confidential in two ways. First, what is said in mediation can’t be used at trial. For example, if you’re trying to resolve a case and make some concession, the other side can’t argue at trial that you conceded that point at mediation. Second, the communications you make to the mediator are confidential. The mediators should not go tell the other side anything you said unless you authorize the mediator to do so. The confidentiality isn’t 100%. There are some rarely-applicable exceptions, and some mediators don’t seem to treat their duty of confidentiality as seriously as others.

There are some rules we typically give our clients about mediation.

  1. Bring something to read or do. A lot of the mediation will be spent with the mediator visiting with the other party. You will want something to do during this time or the time will pass slowly.
  2. Dress in something comfortable, but appropriate. I generally suggest that you dress as you were going to work.
  3. Be prepared to be tired. Mediation is an emotionally draining process. At the end of the day, you will be tired even though you will have spent the entire day just sitting around.

If you want additional resources to understand the process, you may read the following (but remember that their information isn’t specific to Texas so the processes described may be a little different):

Your Case Has Settled. What Now? How Are Settlement Proceeds Distributed?

You settle your case.  What happens next?

It seems like I’ve been asked this question several times in the last week.  Because it’s popping up, I thought I’d use this space to answer the question.

Because we have to make payments out of the check  (for example, our fees & expenses, payments to health insurance companies for subrogation interests, or perhaps payments to doctors or hospitals for unpaid bills), you don’t get your check the day the settlement check comes in.  Instead, we have to go through a multi-step process.

The first step in the process is getting the check from the insurance company or the defendant.  This usually takes two to three weeks, though sometimes it is quicker and sometimes slower. 

The check is usually made out in one of two ways.  In most situations, the insurance company will make the settlement check out to you and to our firm.  In some instances, the insurance company will want to directly pay a health insurance company or a medical provider (usually a hospital).  In those cases, we’ll received two checks:  one to the hospital or health insurance company for the amount it’s owed and one to us and you for the balance.  There are also some situations where the company will agree to not put your name on the check to help us speed the process up, but that’s unusual.

When we get the check, if your name is on it, we’ll have to get your signature.  Usually, you’ll come into our office for this, but sometimes we can send a runner with the check out to meet you.

Once you sign the check and we sign the check, it is deposited in our trust account.  The State Bar of Texas requires us to keep a separate trust account to deposit funds that belong to both us and our clients (or even others). 

After we deposit the check, we give it a few days to clear, and then we can write checks for final distribution — that includes checks to you for your portion, checks to us for our portion, and checks to any third-party who need to be paid out of the proceeds. 

So what’s it all mean to you?  While the process can take a while to explain, it doesn’t usually take that long in practice.  Once we get the original settlement check, you can usually have a check for your portion of the proceeds in two to three business days. 

BUT, there are some circumstances where it takes longer.  Most of those involve us waiting around for Medicare or some other governmental entity on a subrogation claim.  If your case is going to be one of the unusual cases held up, we’ll try to let you know that as soon as possible.

Posted on: August 3, 2011 |

Joey Harrington – Even Professional Athletes Can Be Bicycle Accident Victims

  Last Sunday, former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington was seriously injured in a bicycle accident.  Apparently he was riding his bicycle when an SUV passed too close to him and struck him.  he was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed as having a broken collar bone, a  punctured lung, and other injuries.  Thankfully, he appears to be okay  (and this is obviously a relative term given the serious nature of his injuries).

I’ve represented a number of people who have suffered serious injuries in bicycle wrecks, and Mr. Harrington’s wreck can serve as a lesson in many facets of the lawsuit process.

First, you should learn to wear a helmet.  Had he not been wearing a helmet, his injuries could have been much worse.

Second, it can be a reminder of how much damage can occur in a bicycle wreck.  While Mr. Harrington is retired, he is still probably in better shape than most of us.  And he suffered very severe injuries in this wreck.  In our biking cases, I’ve represented everyone from the casual rider to the person who bikes regularly for transportation to professional athletes, and all of them suffered severe injuries.  No matter how healthy you are, you need to be careful when you’re on a bike.

Finally, it’s a lesson in potential sources of recovery.  In making a claim, a person such as Mr. Harrington will first want to figure out what insurance is available to compensate him for his injuries.  He obviously has a claim against the driver of the SUV.  If the driver of the SUV purchased enough insurance to cover all of Mr. Harrington’s claims, then he wouldn’t have to look elsewhere.

If the driver didn’t have enough insurance, then Mr. Harrington could turn to his underinsured motorist coverage  (at least in Texas).  Texas law provides that UM/UIM insurance, which you can purchase as part of your automobile insurance, will step in to help you if you’re injured in a bicycle accident.

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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