Need A New Year’s Resolution? How About Decreasing Distracted Driving?

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In an effort to help, I tried to show her a feature that allows you to speak your text message.

Her response was, “Great, now I can send texts while I’m driving.”

And my response was, “No! No! No!”

As a personal injury lawyer, I know too well the dangers of distracted driving.

Some of the distracted driving statistics are startling:

  • At a minimum,  3,000 people per year die from distracted driving  (that’s equivalent to a regional jet crash every week).
  • Almost 30% of car crashes are caused by cell phone use.
  • Texting takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds  (at 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving an entire football field blind-folded).
  • Study after study finds texting while driving to be more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

Those problems are getting worse —earlier this month, a government study found texting while driving had almost doubled this year.

Because of those dangers, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended in early December that each state ban all uses of cell phones while driving (except for emergency calls). 

I don’t think that proposal will go anywhere, but I hope it at least starts a conversation because we need a culture change.  This is an increasing problem and we all need to do our part. 

For most drivers, that means making their own change — a resolution to decrease their own distracted driving.  I’m going a step farther this year.  I’m joining up with personal injury lawyers from across the country who have pledged to help take this message into schools and to other groups of drivers.  Because if we’re going to reduce these dangers this year, we’ll all need to work together.

Big Rig Accidents Continue to Occur on Roadways

Despite the desire to reduce the number of 18-wheeler accidents on the highways, it does not seem to be happening.

Unfortunately, even with the latest push to improve big rig safety, there are still far too many devastating accidents taking lives, and often taking them in a grisly fashion. The difficulty is that many passenger vehicles do not seem to understand or appreciate that driving a huge commercial truck is not like driving a smaller car. They are far more difficult to maneuver, do not stop quickly, and cannot see you in certain blind spots.

Most commercial trucks easily weigh more than 80,000 pounds. On the other hand, passenger vehicles may weigh about 3,000 pounds. It does not take too much imagination to realize that 80,000 pounds slamming into 3,000 pounds means a disaster, often one in which someone loses their life. Their enormous weight is why it takes them longer to stop. The forward momentum of that much weigh just keeps going until the brakes kick in.

Another factor that most do not think about is that many truckers are hauling hazardous cargo such as flammable material, making how they drive much more of a safety issue. A truck loaded with gas or other highly flammable materials stands a good chance of exploding if it is involved in an accident. This may mean death in a fire or severe burns and respiratory issues.

But these wrecks are not accidents. Most are caused by decisions made months or years earlier by trucking companies trying to maximize profits. The pressure of an employer breathing down their necks is often another reason why truckers get into accidents. The truth is that many truckers drive for too long, are tired, distracted and not fully alert and aware. So they may drift off behind the wheel.

Truckers are often expected to do their deliveries as fast as they can to make the company money, skip proper maintenance checks to make their trips quicker and falsify log books to show they had the requisite number of sleep breaks, when they did not. Similarly, trucking companies often shirk their responsibility to properly train their drivers or to hire experienced drivers in efforts to save costs. These conditions virtually guarantee an accident waiting to happen.

Even with the latest move in the trucking industry to ban cell phone usage, and calling and texting while on the road, accidents caused by these very actions are still happening. Some truckers, feeling like nothing will happen to them, are still driving while distracted. This is a recipe for an accident.

Trucking accidents may become even more of a problem for residents of Austin and other Central Texas towns. The federal government recently began allowing trucks from Mexico to travel deep into the United States. Many of these trucks, which might pose an even bigger risk than domestic trucks, will be traveling through our area along I-35.

No matter what caused a truck accident that you may have been involved in and no matter where it happened, make the first phone call for legal help to a seasoned Austin personal injury attorney. With their help, you will be able to recover the compensation you need to cope with your injuries. An Austin personal injury attorney’s job is to help protect your rights and help you through the courts to get justice.

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

Don’t Let A Christmas Tree Fire Prevent You From Having A Merry Christmas

Although Christmas tree fires aren’t as big a problem as they used to be, they’re still a huge issue.  Every year, Christmas tree fires cause over $16 million dollars in property damage.  And they’re also particularly deadly.  One out of every 18 Christmas tree fires results in a death, compared to one death for every 141 total reported home fires.  Christmas tree fires are serious business.

And  I can already hear you thinking it. “If they are so dangerous, why are you warning us about Christmas tree fires on December 23rd? We’re almost at Christmas. This would have been a better warning a month ago. Did you just procrastinate on sending the warning out?”

I’m doing it today, because the timing is important.  Over forty percent of the Christmas tree fires happen in the twelve day period starting today. 

Why?  Because this is the time when our trees are starting to dry out and become more flammable. 

While making sure you have safe lights and keeping trees away from heat sources and candles are important to preventing Christmas tree fires, the single most important factor in preventing the fire and limiting the damage is the keep the tree watered.

A well-watered tree is less likely to catch fire, and if it does, will burn less quickly.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this stunning video from the National Fire Prevention Association showing the differences between a well watered tree and a dry tree. 

Don’t let this happen to you.  Keep your tree watered and safe so a Christmas tree fire doesn’t ruin your Merry Christmas.

Locker Room Caved in and Caused Wrongful Death at High School

The last thing you would expect to happen is to have a wall fall on you while you were inside a building. That happened in this reported case.

Death comes in many forms, and this bizarre case is no exception. A 14-year-old student at a local high school was unexpectedly killed in an accident when a wall fell on him. He was doing pull-ups on the wall in his locker room that had initially been built in 1990.

Even though emergency response crews got to the scene fast, the young boy’s heart stopped before he could be taken to the hospital. He was later pronounced dead.

The accident report did not indicate what possible reasons there may have been for the interior wall to cave in on the boy. The boys in the room were not fooling around or doing anything else that would have caused a wall to fall. There was one other student in the locker room at the time of the cave-in and several others rushed into the room to start removing the heavy cement blocks from the boy’s body.

The police are going to be asking a lot of questions relating to this incident, not the least of which is whether or not the walls of the locker room were regularly inspected, if there had been any leaking or shifting of the building that may have affected the interior wall, and whether there was other work happening in the building that may have affected the wall.
If any of the answers to those questions comes back that the school was aware of other issues in the building that they should have known about and/or should have known would affect supporting walls on the interior, they may well be cited as an at-fault party for their negligence in maintaining the building’s safety. Another issue the investigation will also cover is whether or not the wall was designed and built correctly in the first place with the right kind of materials, and not slapped together with shoddy cement bricks that were not up to building code requirements.

Although it is an odd case, it is considered to be a wrongful death and as such, the boy’s family may wish to consult with legal counsel about what rights they have. Even though this is a difficult thing to consider, it is a wise move for the family, as it does, in some measure, assist with closure and may serve as a lesson to others to keep their buildings maintained with safety in mind.

If you have been in similar situation, or have been injured because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, take the first step in seeking justice by calling an Austin personal injury lawyer. Accidents like this may look like one thing on the surface, but on closer inspection be something else entirely. An Austin personal injury lawyer knows this and will listen as you recount the details of how you sustained the injuries.

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

Auto Accidents: What Is A “Stowers Demand”?

If you’re one of our clients, we might send you a draft demand letter to the insurance company that tells the insurance company that the letter is intended to be a “Stowers demand.”  What does that phrase mean?

Every insurance policy has a “policy limit” — the maximum amount of coverage the policy offers.  (You can read more about that here.)

Way back in 1929, the Texas Supreme Court, in the G.A. Stowers Furniture Co. v. American Indemnity Co. case, ruled that insurance companies had a duty to their insureds to accept a reasonable settlement offer if the offer is within the policy limits.  If the insurance company rejects a reasonable settlement offer within the policy limits and the case later resulted in a verdict higher than the policy limits, then the insurance company could be liable for the full amount, even though the amount is higher than the policy limit.

The “Stowers demand” serves two purposes.

For cases with values near or above the policy limits, an offer to settle for the policy limits puts pressure on the insurance company to settle because they don’t want to be liable for an amount more than the policy.

This can sometimes result in funny phenomenon.  For example, if a car wreck case is worth between $25,000 and $35,000, an insurance company with $30,000 will likely pay the amount due to the Stowers pressure.  However, if the same case had $300,000 of insurance (instead of $30,000), the insurance company doesn’t have any pressure, and they might hold fast to paying $25,000 or less.

If your case far exceeds the policy limits, then the demand will likely result in the settlement of the claim for the limits of the policy.  Unfortunately, unless you have purchased underinsured motorist coverage, you’re likely out-of-luck in your attempts to obtain full value of the claim.  But, if the insurance company rejects the offer for some reason and a jury later finds that the case is worth more than the policy, then the Stowers demand is necessary to try and set up the claim to make a claim for the full value of the case, similar to that made in the Stowers Furniture Company case.

In short, the demand is necessary to try and settle the case, and failing that, hope that it sets you up to make a full recovery in the future.

Auto Accidents: What Does “Policy Limits” Mean?

Whether talking to clients or providing information on this website, we often talk about the other driver’s “policy limits.”  What does that phrase mean?

Every insurance policy has a maximum amount that the insurance company will be required to pay, regardless of the severity of the injuries suffered by people in the wreck.  This maximum amount is referred to as the “policy limits.” 

In most instances, you will see or hear policy limits referred to with two numbers — the per person and per occurrence limits.  For example, current law requires Texas drivers to carry insurance with limits of at least $30,000 per person and $60,000 per occurrence. 

The first part of that is fairly easy to understand — in an example like that, the most the insurance company could be required to pay any single person in a wreck is $30,000.

The second part is more tricky.  The “per occurrence” limit is that maximum that the insurance company could be required to pay in total, regardless of the number of people injured in a wreck. 

For example, if two people are injured in a wreck, the insurance company couldn’t be forced to pay either of them $30,000 and couldn’t be forced to pay a total to them of more than $60,000.

This applies regardless of the number of people hurt.  If someone with a $30,000/$60,000 policy causes a ten car pile-up that injures fifteen people, the insurance company is not required to pay more than $60,000 in total to all of the injured people.

While $30,000/$60,000 is the minimum allowed by law, those amounts may increase.  It is not unusual to find policies that are $50,000/$100,000 policies or even $100,000/$300,000 policies.  But policies much higher than that are very rare except in cases involving commercial vehicles.

We Can Learn About Head Injuries From The NHL

Like many of you, I’ve never been to a hockey game.  But despite that, we have much we can learn from the National Hockey League.

You see.  The NHL has a concussion problem.

The NHL’s most recognizable player is young star Sidney Crosby.  But last January, Sid the Kid took a high hit and sustained a concussion.  His concussion caused him to miss half the 2010-2011 season, the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the first quarter of the 2011-12 season.  He finally came back, but after eight games back, Crosby sustained another hit and symptoms of concussions and is again out indefinitely.

Crosby isn’t alone. In about a quarter of the season, 23 different NHL players have been limited by concussions.

What I take from this is that the NHL, unlike the NFL or some other sports, take concussions and head injuries seriously.  And I think it’s important for all of us to learn that.

I frequently tell people that the thing that scares me the most about our car wreck or other personal injury cases are the potential head injuries.  They are difficult to diagnose, and the consequences can be life-altering. 

So if you or a loved one is hurt in an accident, make sure you’re on the lookout for potential signs of head injuries.  Don’t dismiss those headaches, changes in temperament, feelings of confusion, nausea or vomiting, or fatigue.  Take them seriously, and seek the care you need.

Auto Accidents: Is A Ban On Using Cell Phones In Cars Ahead?

Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board urged a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving.  The Board has recommended that all states adopt a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving — including texting and emailing — except in emergency situations.  It would include a ban on using phones even with hands-free devices.  While the Board doesn’t have the authority to enact any legislation, its opinion does hold sway with federal and state regulators and legislators.

The impetus behind the suggestion is the increasing problem of distracted driving.  According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data, at least 3,092 roadway fatalities involved distracted driving, though it suspects the number is much higher.  And cell phone use is one of the sources of distraction.  At any given daylight moment, an estimated 13.5 million drivers are using their phones.

The proposal appears to have support among many Central Texas traffic enforcement officials.  In an Austin American Statesman article this morning, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman John Hurt said he thought transportation departments would support the ban.  Also, spokespersons for the Austin Police Department said they’d support a ban.

I can’t imagine such a ban passing, but I do hope that the proposal starts a discussion about the increased dangers of distracted driving.  This is a serious problem that we see every day.  One of the APD officers said in best in the Statesman article when he said that we need a culture change.  Hopefully we can start moving to that change.

The NFL Has A Way To Go On Head Injury Care

In the past, I’ve praised the NFL for leading the way in the study of the prevention and care of head injuries and brain injuries.  But last night, they took a step backward.

Fellow University of Texas alum Colt McCoy was absolutely blown up by a shot to the head by James Harrison.  After the play, Colt was slow to get up and a little wobbly.  He understandably left the game only to return a few plays later.

According to at least one report, Colt’s dad Brad (whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet at a “meet the team” greeting before a UT football game)  was livid because no in game testing was done to test Colt for potential head injuries.

If the NFL is serious about protecting its players, it can’t let players who have likely suffered head injuries return to action.  This type of behaviour makes it more likely that brain injuries are permanent and more debilitating. 

And it has to trickle down to other sports.  The NFL is a model for how other levels of sports treat players.  It needs to remind colleges and high schools that head injuries are serious business that can’t be ignored.

CAR WRECK CASES: Texting and Driving Are Getting Much Worse

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Despite all the outcry and the increasing number of laws banning texting while driving, it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better.

Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its first major study on distracted driving.  It found that at any one time, 1 in 100 drivers are using a hand-held device for texting, emailing or surfing the web, a number that was an increase of 50% over the prior year.

The study also found that twenty percent of drivers admitted to texting or emailing while driving.   That number increased to 50% of drivers when looking at the 21 to 24 year old demographic. 

Folks, this is a problem.  The study found that this type of distracted driving accounted for 3,092 deaths in 2010.  And the number of injuries were many times that.

If you read this blog, you know that this is something that I vent about all the time  (doing a quick search, I found over 40 prior posts on the dangers of texting and driving).  We need to understand the dangers being created by use of electronic devices.  There aren’t any emails or texts important enough to seriously injure or kill ourselves or others.

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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