Parking Lot Accidents

I’ve written this before, but few things cause me as much stress as walking in a parking lot with my kids.  I am scared to death that a car backing out of a parking space won’t be able to see them.  They’re 12 and 9 now so they’re getting older and bigger, but even for them, there are still a number of large trucks or SUVs that are designed so that their drivers, when looking out the back window, can’t see my kids, much less younger kids.

Unfortunately, it’s often a deadly problem.

Today, Yahoo had a cover story about the issue.  The story centers on the tragic case of Judy Nieman, who accidentally backed up in a bank parking lot and ran over her 9 year old daughter, killing her.  Sadly, Ms. Nieman isn’t alone.  Every year, there are an estimated 228 fatal backing crashes every year with another 17,000 other injuries.

That’s too many.

The government has passed laws mandating that new vehicles have backup cameras, which are generally effective at reducing these wrecks (when the cameras are actually used — that’s another problem).  Unfortunately, federal regulators have repeatedly pushed back the deadlines for the effective date of the laws.

That means its up to us to protect our kids.  We have to be vigilant about watching for backing up cars and walking next to our children so that at least we’re visible to drivers.  And when we’re driving, we need to be cautious about backing up ourselves.

Because for now, our vigilance is the only thing that will prevent future backing crashes in parking lots.

Auto Accidents: Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Frequently Asked Questions

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is a type of insurance that you may buy when you purchase your own car insurance.  It is designed to protect you when you are involved in an accident caused by a driver who doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to fully compensate you for all of your injuries.  If you purchased it, it provides coverage for you or anyone in your car when your car is involved in a wreck.  It also covers you in almost unlimited circumstances as long as you are injured by an uninsured/underinsured driver — it can apply when you are in someone else’s car, while you’re a pedestrian, while you’re riding a bike, or while you’re sitting on your front porch.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about uninsured/underinsured motorist claims:

Car Wrecks — Auto Insurance Basics

Many times, how we proceed in a case and the value of the case are governed by the amount and type of insurance available.  Thus, it’s important to know some basic information about auto insurance so you can understand how those decisions are being made.

Keep in mind that this is basic information.  There are a number of complex issues within each one of these areas.  For example, I’ve spoken around the state to lawyers regarding issues with uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, one of the areas below.  Lawyers could listen to day long seminars (maybe even staying awake) on each of these areas because there are so many intricacies that affect claims.  If you have questions, ask your lawyer about it.

WHO IS COVERED:

When you’re hit by someone, you need to know whether the person driving the car is covered by the insurance on the car.

Generally, a person’s automobile insurance covers that person, regardless of whether they are driving their car or someone else’s car, and anyone who is using that person’s car with that person’s permission.  For example, if Mr. Smith has an insurance policy covering his Ford Fiesta, the insurance would protect Mr. Smith while he was driving the Fiesta or any other car.  It would also cover anyone else driving the Fiesta as long as they have Mr. Smith’s permission to drive the car.

There are some policies that exclude particular people from coverage.  For example, if Mr. Smith had a son that had a bad driving record, the policy could specifically provide that the insurance was not covering Mr. Smith’s son.  These types of provisions can be especially troublesome when the other driver in your wreck has a low-cost policy, many of which have long lists of people who might normally be covered but who are excluded under the particular policy.

These coverage questions are particularly important when the driver of the car isn’t the owner.  One potential benefit in such a situation is that it might open up the possibility of two policy limits (one for the policy covering the owner of the car and one for the policy that the driver bought to cover his/her own car).  The importance of policy limits are explained below.

POLICY LIMITS:

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.

PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION (PIP)/MEDICAL PAYMENTS (MED-PAY):

These are two coverages that you might have purchased on your own auto insurance.

PIP can cover you two ways.  If you are in a car whose policy has PIP, then you are eligible for the PIP benefits if you’re in a wreck while in that car.  Similarly, if you own a car and your insurance has PIP coverage, then you qualify for those benefits whenever you’re in a wreck no matter whose vehicle you are in.

PIP will pay for your medical expenses and 80% of your lost wages up to the policy limits of the policy.

One benefit of PIP is that, unlike health insurance or many other types of insurance, you don’t have to reimburse the insurance company if you make a recovery from the person who hit you or some other third party.

Med-Pay is a poor substitute for PIP.  It only covers medical expenses (and not lost wages), and you do have to pay your insurance company back for your Med-Pay benefits if you make a recovery from someone else.

As a lawyer, I think PIP is a very important insurance.  I’ve seen a number of clients who find themselves unable to work due to a wreck, and their PIP benefits are the only thing that help them pay their bills while their case progresses. It is not expensive so I urge everyone who can afford it to buy it.

UNINSURED/UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE:

This is another type of coverage that you buy when you purchase your own auto insurance.  It protects you if you’re in a wreck and the driver who causes the wreck either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance.

If you bought UM/UIM insurance for your car, it covers you and anyone in your car when a wreck happens.  It also covers you if you’re in any type of auto accident, whether you’re in your car or not.  This includes providing coverage if you’re hit by a driver while you’re a pedestrian, riding a bicycle, or even sitting on your front porch.

Like PIP, I think it’s critical that you purchase UM/UIM insurance.  Despite laws to the contrary, there are a significant number of drivers out there who don’t have any insurance at all.  And when drivers have insurance, most only carry the state minimum of $30,000.00.  If you’re hurt and need even minor surgery, that $30,000.00 won’t even be enough to reimburse your health insurance company for your medical expenses.  You pay a lot of money for insurance to protect others; you should spend the money to protect yourself also.

What To Do After A Car Wreck

Following a car wreck, people are usually in a panic about what to do.  But your actions following a car wreck can make a difference in your recovery in any future claim.  Therefore, it’s important to know what to do in the days and weeks following your wreck.

AT THE SCENE:

In some accidents, your injuries are so severe that you can’t take any action at the scene.  But in general, there are a few things you should do at the scene, if possible.

1.  Call 9-1-1.  It is important that you have a police officer at the scene to fill out the necessary paperwork.  Some insurance companies are skeptical of claims if no police officer is called.  Additionally, while the people who hit you might be nice that day, people have a way of changing their story as time goes by.  It is more difficult for the other driver to change his or her story if the officer has properly filled out the report and documented the drivers’ descriptions of the wreck.

2.  Get names and contact information for any witnesses.  Even if the police show up, most police officers do not get the names and numbers of most of the witnesses.  If you don’t get contact information for the witnesses while you are all still at the scene, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find them later.

3.  Take photos.  We all know a picture is worth a thousand words.  If possible, take pictures at the scene of the vehicles involved in the wreck, the site of the accident, any debris left in the roadway, any skidmarks, and any other evidence that you think might be useful at a later date.  Once you leave the scene and it’s cleaned up, you might not have another opportunity to obtain that type of evidence.

AFTER THE SCENE:

1.  Get medical care as needed.  If you think you might be hurt, go see a doctor.   When you see the doctor, make sure to fully explain your injuries.  Most insurance companies today use computer programs to evaluate claims, and the computer programs only use information that is contained in medical records.  Unfortunately, when people go see doctors, they are often intimidated or under stress, and the patients don’t tell the doctor about all the problems the patient is having.  In many cases, I suggest writing a list of problems and then taking that list to your doctor.  Taking a list will help make sure that you don’t forget to tell your doctor anything.

2.  Follow your doctor’s advice.  It is important to follow your doctor’s advice.  If the doctor tells you to attend physical therapy, then attend physical therapy.  If the doctor tells you to do home exercises, then do the home exercises.  If the doctor tells you to follow up at a later date, then follow up.  Following your doctor’s advice will give you the best chance of recovering from your accident.  Additionally, insurance companies and their lawyers are just looking for reasons to not pay you the full value of your claim, and they’ll use any failure to follow your doctor’s advice as an opportunity to short-change you.

3.  Document your injuries and limitations.   If you have visible injuries, such as bruising, swelling, or injuries that require a cast or brace, take pictures to help document the extent of your injuries.  Those photos can be invaluable in helping tell an insurance company or a jury about the extent of your injuries.

Additionally, document how the wreck has affected you.  In almost all cases, you will be asked to tell an adjuster or a jury how the wreck has affected you and your family.  If you document that type of information — through a diary, journal or other list — during the process, you’ll almost always do a better job than trying to remember the affects several months or years down the road.

While I don’t have any studies to support it, I am convinced that clients who document their injuries are able to achieve better recoveries than those who do not.

4.  Don’t settle your claims too early.  Many insurance companies make a practice of the “swoop and settle,”  a tactic where they try to entice you to settle your claims before you know the true extent of your injuries.  Don’t be a victim of this tactic.  Generally, you should wait to settle your claims until you have healed or your doctor has told you that you’re not going to heal, but you’ve made as much progress as you can.

5.  Don’t agree to a recorded statement.  Insurance companies always ask you for a recorded statement.  Unless you’re making a claim on your own policy for uninsured/underinsured motorist, personal injury protection, or MedPay, you don’t have to give the statement.  The statement is just another way for the insurance company to try and convince you to say something that compromises your claim.

6.  Talk to a personal injury lawyer.  Most of us give free consultations.  Don’t settle your claim without knowing your rights and how a settlement might affect those rights.  We routinely see claims where unrepresented victims tried to settle their claim without using a lawyer and it ended up costing them significant sums.  Additionally, if you try to settle your claim without a lawyer, you might make a mistake that hampers your ability to make claims with any underinsured motorist policies, negotiate with subrogation carriers, etc.  At a minimum, take a free consultation so you minimize the risk that you make a mistake.

Posted on: December 13, 2012 |

Car Wreck Property Damage Video FAQs

We have done a series of videos answering frequently asked property damage questions. The links to the videos are below. If you would like to see specific questions addressed in the series, please call us and let us know.

Why Won’t The Insurance Company Pay For My Car Damage?

What Is My Car Worth?

After A Car Wreck, Am I Entitled To Compensation For The Reduced Value Of My Car?

If I’m In A Car Wreck, Will The Other Driver’s Insurance Provide A Rental?

If I’m Entitled To A Rental Car After A Car Wreck, Whose Insurance Company Will Pay For It?

If I’m In A Car Wreck, What Insurance Will Pay For My Medical Expenses?

If I’m In A Car Wreck & I Owe More Than My Car Is Worth, What Do I Do?

If I’m In A New Car During The Wreck, Does The Insurance Company Have To Provide Me Another New Car?

What If The Other Driver Doesn’t Have Enough Insurance?

Bee Cave Scaffold Collapse: Scaffolding Safety

I was walking back to my office from an appointment this afternoon, and I read about a scaffold collapse on Bee Cave Road.

I don’t know what happened, but you can almost guarantee that there were a number of safety violations that led to the problem.  I try not to usually make such generalizations, but being familiar with the construction industry and seeing my fair share of construction cases, serious injuries are almost always caused by someone cutting corners — either to save time or money or both.

Scaffolding is particularly dangerous.  I’ve written a number of posts about the dangers of scaffolds.  One of my prior posts had a pretty detailed discussion about many of the safety problems associated with the use of scaffold.  You can read that post:  Austin Scaffold Collapse – A Case Study

If you or a loved one has been injured in a scaffold collapse or other on-the-job injury, please call us at (512)476-4944 or submit your case using the forms on this website.

Safe Bicycling Tips

As the holidays approach, I know that a number of kids will receive new bikes as gifts this year.  Some will get their first bike, and some will get a new bike with more capabilities than a prior bike.  Whatever the case, it’s always good to remind our kids the dangers of biking and to make sure that they know how to bike safely.  Having represented a number of cyclists injured in various wrecks, we know the importance of good safety more than anyone.

Here are some bicycle safety tips from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration:

1.  WEAR A PROPERLY FITTED BICYCLE HELMET.  Fortunately, helmets are increasingly common these days and kids don’t feel the stigma to avoid a helmet like they used to.  But far too many kids just use any helmet they like.  To make it as safe as possible, it’s important to make sure the helmet fits.  The NHTSA has these five easy tips for making sure the helmet fits.

2. ADJUST YOUR BICYCLE TO FIT.  When you’re standing over your bike, there should be 1 to 2 inches between you and the top bar of the bike.  The seat height should also be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended.  The handlebar height should be the same as the seat.

3. SEE AND BE SEEN.  People think they should wear white in the daytime.  This is wrong.  Studies show that it’s safest to wear bright colors — with neon or fluorescent colors being most noticeable.  Also, use your lights.  Wear a blinking light or put extra reflective tape on your clothes or bike.

4. CONTROL YOUR BICYCLE.  Always ride with at least one hand on the handlebars.  My wife tells me that she passes a high school student every morning who flies down the bike lane with both hands texting on his phone and no hands on his handlebar.  Don’t let your kids be that guy.  Carry books or other items in a carrier or backpack.

5.  WATCH FOR AND AVOID ROAD HAZARDS.

6. MINIMIZE RIDING AT NIGHT.  It is far more dangerous to ride at night than during the day because it is harder for others to see you.  Make sure you have reflectors on the front and rear of your bike and that you use a light on the front of your bike.  It’s also a good idea to wear a flashing light in front and back to make sure others see you.

7. OBEY ALL TRAFFIC LAWS.

8.  BE PREDICTABLE.  Ride in a straight line.  Don’t weave in and out of cars. Signal your turns and moves to 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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