New Car Wreck Danger: Distracted Pedestrians

I’ve often written of the problems of distracted driving, but today’s Austin American Statesman had an Associated Press article highlighting an increasing problem, distracted pedestrians.

We’ve all seen them (and admittedly, probably been them) — the person walking down the street while texting, checking email, or listening to music oblivious to the rest of the world.  And they’re causing more problems.

Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms has quadrupled in the past seven years, and that number is almost certainly underestimated because there is no system in place to ask patients if they were injured while using electronics.

There are also a number of anecdotal stories of problems on the internet, including video of some poor guy in Los Angeles who was texting a message to his boss and almost strolled into the path of a black bear.

Researchers aren’t surprised by the increasing problems.  While all of us think we’re good at multi-tasking, science proves different.  For example, recent studies show we’re worse walkers (we veer off course or miss a target) when walking while talking on the phone and while texting.

This isn’t a convenience issue, it’s a safety issue.  Frankly, drivers are a big enough danger to pedestrians.  We don’t have to be dangers to ourselves.

Also, this isn’t an entirely new concept.  In fact, I wrote about the problem of “killer headphones” and distracted pedestrians here.







Auto Accidents: Another Austin Work Zone Fatality

Yesterday, a person was killed in a multi-vehicleauto accident in a Travis County construction zone.

This isn’t terribly surprising.  Work zones are often the most dangerous part of any roadway — for both passengers and workers.  That’s particularly true in Texas.  For various reasons, we have a disproportionate number of work zone injuries and fatalities.  And almost all of these injuries and fatalities could have been prevented.

I’ve written about the problems before, but motorists have to do a better job of paying attention in construction zones.  Obey flaggers and posted speed limits; pay extra attention to other drivers and to construction workers; expect the unexpected; perhaps most importantly, don’t lose your cool during expected delays

Some of my prior posts on the subject are:

If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction zone or work zone auto accident, you may contact our firm by calling (512)476-4944 or using the “submit a case” forms throughout this website.

Austin American Statesman Covers Confusing World Of Hospital Costs

One of the most frustrating issues for our personal injury clients is dealing with hospitals and hospital charges that don’t seem to make any sense.

Yesterday, Austin American Statesman writer Mary Ann Roser had a great story that looks at the mysterious world of emergency room and hospital charges.  She took the time to research the costs of various procedures at different facilities, and her results are stunning.

For example, she found that the cost of treatment for a stroke could range anywhere from $68,188 to $7.990 depending on which hospital provided the care.  Similar disparities existed for all other kinds of treatment.

This generally isn’t a problem for those who have health insurance because the insurance companies have negotiated rates (usually MUCH lower than these rates) with the various hospital systems, but it is a huge problem for those who don’t have insurance.  The uninsured are left to try and negotiate reductions for themselves, and without the leverage of a large health insurance company behind them, most of those negotiations are unsuccessful.

It’s even worse for injury victims.  Hospitals who provide emergency care to injury victims are entitled by law to file a lien against the victim’s recovery in any future personal injury case.  That lien removes what little negotiating power the patient has, and injury victims are often exploited for a large portion of these made up charges.

One of my favorite examples of these abuses is a relatively new “Trauma Activation Fee” that Brackenridge Hospital is trying to add to many patients’ bills.  If you’re unlucky enough to be taken to Brackenridge and they activate a trauma team (regardless of whether you need it), they charge a trauma activation fee ($14,247.50 for a Trauma II charge; I don’t know the charge for Trauma I).  You get charged this fee even though you didn’t request and often when you don’t need it.  And yet, if you’re uninsured, you have little leverage to negotiate it down.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is supposed to help prevent these abusive practices, but we’re still not seeing those results yet.  Often, when I talk to hospital representatives to negotiate bills and inform them of the law, the representatives have never heard of it before.

It is a problem, and I appreciate the Statesman bringing it to light


Posted on: July 23, 2012 |

How Does The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) Affect Injury Claims?

Most readers would be surprised to learn that the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act might have a big affect on injury claims.

Right now, hospitals typically have at least two tiers of rates that they charge.   They have a list price that they charge uninsured people.  And then they have “real rates” that they have negotiated with health insurance companies, Medicare, etc.

The differences in these rates may be staggering.  For example, I recently resolved a case where a hospital’s list price or rack rate for the my client’s surgery was $40,515.61.  The real price, which they charged my client’s health insurance, was $6,925.00.

These disparities cause problems in a number of personal injury cases.  If a client doesn’t have insurance, then the client is stuck with the large amount.  In most routine cases, those substantial bills dwarf the amount of insurance that might be available, meaning most of the recovery goes to the hospital instead of to the injured person.

Even when the client has health insurance, some hospitals aren’t happy about getting the reduced rate so they will refuse to submit the bills to health insurance and then seek to collect the full amount from the client.

The new Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act may limit that problem in many cases.   One of the unheralded provisions of the Act is 26 USC section 501(r)(5).  This section requires any hospital that seeks 501(c)(3) non-profit status to limit the amounts it charges to patients eligible for assistance under the hospital’s financial assistance policy  to no more than the amounts the hospital “generally billed to individuals who have insurance covering such care.”

This change to the law will help keep hospitals from exploiting injured individuals and will allow injured persons to keep more of the funds received for their claims.

Car Wrecks: Dangers of Cheap Auto Insurance

I was scrolling through Yahoo News the other day and a story about the Hidden Dangers of Cheap Auto Insurance caught my eye.

The dangers listed are:

  1. 1. You’re probably not getting the coverage you need.
  2. 2. Your low-priced deductible could lead to higher costs.
  3. 3. Bad customer service is bad, even if your policy is cheap.
  4. 4. Friends may not be covered by a cheap policy.
  5. 5. You need to watch out for cheap insurance scams.

I see a couple of these issues on a daily basis.  The most common complaint I have falls under item #1 — you might not have the coverage you need.   If you are a regular reader of my website, you know that I’m a strong believer in purchasing personal injury protection and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage as part of your own auto insurance.  These coverages protect you from other drivers.  You spend a lot of money protecting others with your liability policy; don’t get cheap when it’s time to protect you and your family.  Spend the few extra dollars to purchase PIP and UM/UIM coverage.

I also see danger #3 arise.  Obviously, if you’re making a claim on your policy, you want the insurance company to treat you fairly.  But if you get in an accident, you want the insurance company to treat the other party fairly also.  After all, if you cause a wreck and your insurance company doesn’t treat the other party fairly, you’re the one who is going to be sued and forced to participate in the case, which may include being asked to participate in discovery, give a deposition, and even attend a trial.  It’s much easier to make sure you have a reputable company that’s going to treat all involved fairly.

A more prominent and problematic danger is danger #4.  In the past, insurance policies covered anyone who drove your car unless that person was specifically excluded under the policy.  That means that if a friend or family member borrowed your car and was in a wreck, the insurance company would cover the wreck as long as the person was not specifically excluded from the policy.  It was very rare to have a person excluded.

But now, many low-cost Texas insurance companies are writing policies that exclude a number of people, or worse,  only provide coverage for drivers who are specifically identified on the policy.  This may result in a cheaper policy, but it also greatly reduces the protection that you’re supposed to be getting with insurance.

Don’t be a victim of one of these dangers when you purchase your auto insurance.  Make sure that you’re informed and that you’re getting the coverage that protects you and your loved ones.

Sorry For The Lack Of Posts

I haven’t posted in a while, and there’s a reason.  I’ve been on a mission trip to Liberia and Guinea in West Africa.

In addition to my day job of being a personal injury lawyer, I also have a volunteer “job”  serving as the District Lay Leader for the 60+ United Methodist churches in the Austin area.  A team of us travelled to Liberia and Guinea to try and make steps forward in a potential partnership between our churches and United Methodist churches, a school and a health clinic in Diecke, Guinea.

We met wonderful kids and people, saw beautiful countries, and made real progress in working together in the future.  It was a wonderful trip, though I’m glad to be back home with my family.

As I’m back in the office, I’ll try to return to a more normal posting schedule.


PS  More of my photos (and from others in our group) are available at our group snapfish page  or on my personal Facebook page (just search for my name).

Posted on: July 2, 2012 |

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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