Gas station lies about selling booze and jury returns 15 million dollar verdict in wrongful death case

Sometimes it is the little things in life that, once discovered, change the outcome of a trial.

This particular case took seven years to finally offer the family some sense of closure over the death of their 13-year-old son. The young boy was killed in a car wreck, as the drunken driver of the vehicle lost control and slammed into a tree. The car was full of teens that had been partying and everyone was inebriated. In fact, the group of friends had been going back and forth to a local convenience store that fateful night, buying booze.
They didn’t buy booze just once. They ultimately came to the gas bar and convenience store three times that night, stocking up on more alcohol each time. In short, the gas bar was selling liquor to underage minors. However, it wasn’t until the last few years that they finally admitted they had sold the kids booze. For years they denied the sales had ever happened.

When the case got to trial, the jury was angry that the former owners of the store had blatantly lied about the role they played in the deadly accident. It appeared they did not want to admit they had illegally sold alcohol to minors and that in doing so had precipitated the death of a young boy and created the perfect storm of events that would seriously injure three other teens. The jury handed down a $15 million verdict.

Although the young boy’s family was relieved to have the case finally resolved, they didn’t care that much about the jury award. The main reason they went to court was to try and ensure that others would get the message that it is dangerous to sell alcohol to minors. Nothing would bring the young boy back, but perhaps the fact that the former owners were held responsible for his death would demonstrate that such actions are illegal, immoral and unethical, and that eventually, those who sell to minors or over-serve those already drunk will be held responsible for their negligence.

Wrongful death lawsuits are usually not about revenge. They are a vehicle to make a point and get a message heard. They are one way for a grieving family to achieve some form of closure. If you have been in a situation similar to this one, make contact with an experienced Austin personal injury lawyer. You need to know what your legal rights are and what to expect should your case go to trial.

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

Brain Injury Basics: Neuropsychological Testing

If you have suffered a brain injury, you might be referred to a neuropsychologist, who will often recommend neuropsychological testing.

A neuropsychologist is a psychiatrist with a specialty in the science of brain-behavior relationships.  In other words, they deal with how brain function affects your behavior.   The neuropsychologist uses a number of methods, including neuropsychological testing, to evaluate your injury.

Neuropsychological exams usually consist of a series of questions about your condition.  Some tests may be brief, but some may be much more detailed, taking up to a full day.

The test results are used for a number of different purposes.   Depending on the need, the purposes may include (1) diagnosis of an injury; (2) patient care and planning; (3) treatment; (4) evaluation of treatment; (5) research; and (6) forensic neuropsychology — for use in litigation and lawsuits.

For personal injury purposes, we’re interested in all of those categories.  We’re interested in 1-4 to make sure you get better and get the care you need, and we also seek a forensic evaluation for your case.  In the litigation context, the neuropsychologist can help confirm you have a brain injury, document the extent of your injury, evaluate your future course of treatment, and provide opinions about your recovery, both in terms of your daily activities and your work life.

Construction Injuries: Construction Industry Booming, But It’s Often Costly For Workers

As the Texas economy booms, so does the construction industry.  But recently, that’s coming at a high cost to workers.  Recently, the University of Texas and the Worker’s Defense Project released a study showing the costs — primarily in on-the-job injuries and wage theft — to workers.

An NPR story describing the report notes in part:

“Like almost everything in the Texas, the construction industry in the Lone Star State is big. One in every 13 workers here is employed in the state’s $54 billion-per-year construction industry.”

“…Years of illegal immigration have pushed wages down, and accidents and wage fraud are common. Of the nearly 1 million workers laboring in construction here, approximately half are undocumented.”

“…working Texas construction is a good way to die while not making a good living. More construction workers die in Texas than in any other state, the WDP-UT study finds. Within 2010, construction workers in the lightly regulated Lone Star State died at twice the rate as those in California.”

“According to the study, 1 in every 5 Texas construction workers will require hospitalization because of injuries on the job. Texas is the only state in the nation without mandatory workers’ compensation, meaning hospitals and taxpayers usually end up shouldering the cost when uncove red construction workers are hurt.”

You can read the full report here 

If you or a loved one has been injured in an on-the-job or construction injury, give us a call at (512)476-4944.  We’d be happy to talk to you to see if we can help.

Tragic Texting While Driving Story

In an effort to reduce texting while driving deaths, a mother and father are releasing photos of the text message their son was typing at the time he lost control of his car and died.

Watch this tragic story from the Today Show.


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Should Facebook be used during a wrongful death trial?

Is using Facebook during a wrongful death trial an ethics issue or a legal issue?

This is one of those cases that make waves — not so much for the case itself, but for the presence of and use of social media during a trial by the jury foreman.

The case itself related to the wrongful death of a woman at the hands of a medical practitioner. The statement of claim filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in 2009, alleged careless and negligent treatment of their mother in 2008. The sons were under the age of 18 at the time the lawsuit was filed, and therefore the father filed on their behalf. They also asked the court for damages in excess of $25,000.

The case did go to trial in Oct 2012, and the jury found in favor of the defendants, and further awarding court costs to the plaintiffs. Many thought that would be the end of the case. It wasn’t. About a month later, the plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial. Evidently one member of the jury did not reveal, despite being questioned, that she and her deceased husband had arterial stents. There was also the matter of the court possibly erring by denying the plaintiffs five challenges to ineligible and unqualified jurors from the pool.

Those issues aside, the biggest objection, and leading reason to call for a new, fair trial, was the jury foreman’s use of social media during the course of the trial. He regularly posted on Facebook about being on the jury, made jokes about wanting booze and about how he was instrumental in getting a verdict delivered in under an hour.

On review by a judge, who commented the actions of the jury foreman were not pleasing to the court, the finding for the defendant was allowed to stand. It was allowed to stand because despite the man openly using social media to tell the whole world about his part in the trial, he did not reveal any case details, discuss any of the evidence presented in court and did not express an opinion on the case. This case may yet move forward to a higher court to determine the role of social media use in court cases and what is or is not acceptable for jurors while on duty during a trial.

While this might seem like a minor issue, because everyone uses social media these days and thinks nothing of it, it has ramifications beyond the obvious. Court cases are not to be discussed in public. Evidence is not to be openly talked about in social media settings. Opinions or thoughts relating to the trial, the facts, the deceased or the defendant are not public fodder. Talking about a trial in progress could prejudice the outcome and drastically affect the course of justice. Because those instructions, to not speak about the deliberations are so important, this case is contrary to a number of cases around the country that have resulted in new trials due to jurors’ use of social media.

Social media is far too prevalent in this day and age, and there are just some places it should not be allowed.

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

Brain Injury Basics: Brain Injuries In Children

Brain injuries are devastating in children.

Today, traumatic brain injuries remain the leading cause of both death in children.

For those children lucky enough to survive, an early brain injury can have life-long consequences.  Brain injuries often affect a child’s ability to learn even years after the injury.   Young victims are particularly vulnerable because most brain development occurs between the ages of 1 and 5.  Even as children get older, studies still suggest that the younger they are at the time of injury, the more serious problems they will face.

And even when a child has a satisfactory or normal IQ levels, emotional problems caused by the head injury set them back.  One study found that 19 of 22 children with  brain injuries showed long-term emotional issues.

These problems have a real economic value.  One study found that only 27 percent of kids who sustained brain injuries were working full-time by the time they reached age 21.

Unfortunately, auto accidents are the leading cause of brain injury-related deaths in children.  Proper use of seat belts and car seats can really help minimize these risks.

Falls still account for most brain injuries in children, including falling down stairs, falling off of playground equipment, and falling out windows.  Parents can help reduce the risk for these types of injuries by child-proofing the house and making sure that playgrounds are protected by twelve inches of soft surface material (such as mulch, gravel,  etc.)

Bicycle accidents also account for thousands of brain injuries per year.  Parents can reduce the risk of bicycle-related brain injuries by teaching their children bicycle safety and making sure that children are properly using bicycle helmets.



Brain Injury Basics: Causes of Brain Injuries

A common argument that we hear from insurance companies is that our client’s brain injury couldn’t have been caused by the accident because the client’s head didn’t hit anything.  That is a fallacy.    It is true that most head injuries are caused by a trauma to the head.  For example, in a car wreck, the victim’s head may hit the window, the steering wheel or the dash board.  However, there are a number of other common situations that lead to brain injuries where there aren’t any direct blows to the head.  Some of those are listed below.

1.  Forces applied to the brain.   You don’t have to hit your head to apply forces to the brain.  When your head moves rapidly, your brain moves inside your skull and impacts the brain.  These forces, slamming your brain around in your skull, are often hard enough to cause brain injuries.  For example, one study found that in car wrecks of 35 miles per hour, 27% of drivers and 21% of passengers who were wearing seat belts were at high risk of head injury even when their head didn’t contact anything on the interior of the car.

This risk is often made worse because multiple impacts occur.  Studies have repeatedly shown that repeated brain injuries have a cumulative effect on people, and in high impact accidents, there are often multiple injuries.  For example, in a simple rear-end case, upon impact, the head is immediately thrown forward, causing the brain to hit the front of the skull.  And then the head whips back, causing a second impact with the back of the skull.  With more complications, such as impacts with other cars or quick stops, there are additional opportunities for more impacts and more injuries, all occurring without the head ever hitting anything on the interior of the car.

Even hearing the above description, some may discount the non-impact cause of head injuries.  But remind them of shaken-baby syndrome.  Countless children are harmed or even killed from head injuries suffered by shaking — and they all occur without any impact.

2. Blast Injuries.  One legacy of the Iraq war is that we are learning more and more that people around explosions can suffer severe brain injuries without any type of impact on the head.  These same type of injuries are often found in construction-site accidents or in various types of manufacturing plant accidents.

3.  Lack of Oxygen.  Brain injuries are also often caused by anoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain.  These types of injuries often occur in near-drowning cases, but they also arise in other situations.

4.  Loss of Blood.  An injured person who loses a lot of blood may also develop a brain injury even though the head never impacted anything during the actual accident.

5.  Electrical Injuries.   Many doctors miss this, but any type of electrical injury can potentially cause a brain injury in a person.

Just because you or a loved one doesn’t have an impact on your head, don’t dismiss the possibility of a brain injury.  Recognizing the brain injury and getting prompt treatment can make a difference in your outcome.

Brain Injury Basics: Symptoms of Brain Injuries

If you think you or a loved one has sustained a head injury, it’s critical to know potential symptoms of brain injuries.

Knowing the symptoms can help you understand when a brain injury is possible so that you know to speak to your doctor about it.  A 2003 Centers For Disease Control report to Congress noted that in many instances, persons with mild traumatic brain injuries fail to timely seek medical care because they don’t recognize their symptoms. Even worse, the report notes that once care is sought, many medical providers still fail to diagnose the head injury or recognize the severity of the brain injury.  Knowing the symptoms of brain injury and looking for them in yourself or your spouse can help make sure a diagnoses is made as soon as possible.

Knowing the symptoms can also help you understand what you or your loved one is going through.  Often, a spouse or loved one will become frustrated with the way injured person’s conduct.  In those situations, it’s important to understand the symptoms of brain injuries and to know that the injured isn’t choosing to act that way.  Instead, the injured has a serious condition with serious consequences and needs to get medical care.

There are literally thousands of potential symptoms of head injuries.  If you come to our office with a potential head injury, you will be given a form that asks you about the following symptoms, which we commonly see in brain injury cases:

  • Headaches
  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Noise sensitivity (easily upset by loud noise)
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue/tiring more easily
  • Irritability
  • Feeling depressed or tearful
  • Feeling frustrated or impatient
  • Forgetfulness/poor memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Processing issues/taking longer to think
  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Double vision
  • Restlessness
  • Reading problems
  • Writing problems (writing letters out of order, etc.)
  • Word recall/inability to remember words, names or numbers

If you have a head injury, you’re not likely to have all of these symptoms.  Most people only have 2-3, and many only have one.  What is important is to know the symptoms and look out for them following a wreck or other event.

Doctors had long thought that in cases of mild injuries these symptoms would slowly disappear as the brain heals.  But new research is beginning to reveal that even mild brain injuries can have permanent damage and be related to long-lasting symptoms.  For example, in the summer of 2012, a new study of brain injured veterans (and sadly, our veterans are now suffering too many brain injuries) found that symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can last for years.   This and other studies are confirming what we see in our practice — even the most “minor” brain injuries can last a life-time.



Brain Injury Basics — New Series

Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to help a number of clients who have suffered brain injuries in various types of accidents.  After speaking to some recent clients, one of their biggest frustrations is that it’s difficult to find easy to understand information about brain injuries, brain injury treatment, and brain injury prognosis.  As a result, we’ve spent a good amount of time trying to help them find accurate, easy-to-understand information.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts that try to give some basic information.

Keep in mind, this isn’t medical advice, and patients with brain injuries, more than anyone else, should get the help they need as quick as they can.  But I maintain that people who know more about their condition and their case, make better decisions and get better results.

I also think the information is particularly important in head injury cases.  Sometimes doctors are slow to diagnose head injuries because the doctors don’t know you well enough to compare your condition after the wreck to your condition before the wreck.  Therefore, it’s important for you, your friends and family members to know the symptoms of head injuries and potential causes of head injuries to help with the diagnosis process.

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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