Car Wrecks: Good News/Bad News On Car Wreck Deaths

Late last week, Austin American Statesman writer Ben Wear had a great story on auto accident fatalities.

The good news: a Texas Department of Transportation report found that traffic fatalities in Texas have decreased by almost 15 percent since 2006.

The bad news: Texas is still significantly more dangerous than the United States as a whole.

There’s also a catch.  The improvement numbers are based on number of deaths per miles driven.  In 2010, Texas saw 3,028 traffic deaths, equating to 1.29 deaths per 100 million miles driven.  In 2006, the death rate was 1.5 deaths per 100 million miles driven.  I haven’t been able to find raw data on the actual number of traffic fatalities in 2006, but given the states’ increased population growth and increasing miles driven, I am guessing that the actual number of deaths were pretty similar for both years.

The other bad news:  There wasn’t a decline in highway deaths 2011.  The number of US highway traffic fatalities decreased for much of the country, but the numbers for Texas stayed flat.

Generally, the number of deaths should be decreasing.  Vehicly safety has improved significantly; people are getting better about wearing seat belts; there is increased awareness about drunk driving and distracted driving.

One reason that Texas may not be improving as much as the rest of the country is the trucking industry.   With I35 being a huge trucking corridor and the increased number of trucks in the South Texas area due to the resurgence of the oil and gas industry in Eagle Ford shale areas, Texas has a disproportionate number of trucks and big rigs on the road, increasing the likelihood of fatal accidents.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a traffic accident, please allow us the opportunity to help by calling (512)476-4944 or submitting a case using the forms on this site.

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.







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.

Former football player with Traumatic Brain Injury Related Dementia Takes his Own Life

Traumatic brain injury is often misunderstood because it is not seen. Only the symptoms indicate there is a problem.

The difficulty with traumatic brain injury is that many in the sports world still laugh about having their ‘bell rung.’ Many also pick up and get on with their game, not wanting to look less than macho on the field or ice. While macho might be fine for them, they are taking a huge risk with their mental and physical health. If you want to get up close and personal with a hockey player’s long journey to recovery from traumatic brain injury, search for information on Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Traumatic brain injury doesn’t just happen in hockey, as the story about Ray Easterling points out.

Just recently, defensive back Ray Easterling, best known for playing with the Atlanta Falcons in the late 70s, took his own life at the age of 62. On the field he took no prisoners and played hard; a real football hero with the right mix of aggression and intuition to make his sport seem effortless to others. He was watched with awe and envy by others wanting to be him when they grew up and went to college.

Easterling got banged up during his football years and suffered consecutive concussions that eventually led to mental difficulties for him. In 2011, he and six other former National Football League players filed a class-action lawsuit, suggesting the league withheld their knowledge of what frequent concussions would do to players.

Easterling, diagnosed with dementia last year, could not live with the changes he faced on a daily basis. He had struggled to deal with it, made changes to his life to work with it, and did the best he could to just be. He lost that battle one day, but his memory and his legacy lives on.

If anyone does not believe in the dramatic effect that serial concussions has on a person playing sports, you only have to read the stories of those dealing with the side effects now. While many currently involved in sports think that nothing like this could happen to them, they are wrong. It can happen to anyone, and the most frightening thing is that some concussions do not produce symptoms, but that does not mean internal brain damage has not been done.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of traumatic brain injury while playing sports, discuss your case with a qualified Austin personal injury lawyer. You need to know what options you have available, and how to move forward with your life. Be aware that traumatic brain injury happens in many other ways as well, such as motorcycle, bicycle, slip and fall accidents and exposure to concussive shock waves from explosions. If you are not sure if you have a case, contact a seasoned Austin personal injury lawyer and find out the lay of the land.

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

Eagle Ford Shale and Trucking Accidents

The past two weekends, I’ve had to make working trips to the Texas coast (and I didn’t even see the beach on either trip).  The one thing that struck me on the drives was the increase in traffic, especially trucking traffic.

That’s why it didn’t surprise me to see the headline in Sunday’s Corpus Christi Caller Times describing the increased number of commercial vehicle wrecks resulting from the South Texas oil boom.  Generally, from 2008 to 2011, the number of wrecks in the state of Texas decreased.  But in the 11 Eagle Ford Shale counties, commercial vehicle wrecks (trucking accidents) more than doubled.

Three counties have been hit particularly hard.  In  McMullen County, they had four commercial vehicle wrecks in 2008, and 48 in 2011.  Karnes County went from five wrecks to 77 during the same time, and LaSalle County went from 60 to 187.

These eleven counties are also seeing an increasing number of traffic fatalities.

While a lot of the responsibility lies at the feet of the truckers, drivers in these areas have to be safe too.  You need to be aware of these risks, be patient — don’t pass in no passing zones, and drive defensively.  That’s the only way we’ll all be safer.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a commercial vehicle wreck, let us help.  Contact us by calling (512)476-4944 or by submitting a case on the submit a case forms throughout the website.

Motorcycle Accidents: ROT Rally Motorcycle Fatalities

Austin’s annual Republic of Texas (ROT) Rally has come and gone, and again we’ve had too many motorcycle fatalities.   This year, three motorcyclists were killed during the weekend.

In the first incident, a rider crashed into a guardrail on the Highway 290 flyover and fell off the flyover.

In the second incident, the rider was attempting a turn on Koenig Lane but crashed because his kickstand was down.

In the third, a rider was traveling on MLK Blvd when a Lexus turned in front of him.

Sadly, this makes some progress.  At first glance, only the third incident appears to have been caused by other motorists  (though police are still investigating what caused the first motorcyclist to hit the guardrail).  In years’ past, there seemed to have been more fatalities caused by other drivers.

There could be several reasons for that, but I suspect it’s because Austin drivers are becoming more aware of motorcyclists during ROT Rally weekend.   As Austin continues to host the Rally, people naturally become more aware of it.  But public officials are also pitching in. It appeared to me that there were more signs warning drivers to look out for motorcycles.

Let’s hope that these improvements continue and that we see fewer and fewer motorcycle accidents on ROT weekend and throughout the rest of the year.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, please let us to help.  You may call us at (512)476-4944 or submit a case using the forms on this site.

Personal Injury Claim: What If The Victim Dies Before Bringing A Lawsuit?

If a person is injured and later dies as a result of a car wreck or other type of accident, then the nature of the claim is changed.  In such a situation, there are two types of claims.  The person’s family members may bring a wrongful death lawsuit to seek a recovery for the damages that they suffered.  The personal representative of the deceased’s estate may also bring a survival claim on behalf of the deceased.  The survival claim covers the pain and mental anguish that the deceased endured from the time of accident until the death, the cost of medical expenses, and the funeral expenses.

For more information on wrongful death and survival claims, click here.  You can also do a search in the search box for wrongful death and/or survival and it lead you to even more information.

If you have specific questions about a potential wrongful death or survival claim, feel free to call our office at (512)476-4944 or submit a case using the online forms.


A Video Game To Help Head Injuries And Brain Injuries?

I’m a huge fan of TED, the Technology, Entertainment, & Design conference.  It’s an annual event that asks some of the world’s most brilliant people to give short speeches on a wide-range of topics.  People pay thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to attend live, but most of the talks are presented on the TED website.

This weekend, I was listening to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour Podcast, and I heard the story about Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk.  Ms. McGonigal is a video game designer, and the thesis of her talk was how video games can be used to solve some of the world’s problems.

But the amazing thing about her story is that she has proven it herself.  You see, in 2009, she suffered a traumatic brain injury.  She was on the brink of suicide when she decided to try to develop a video game that could help her recover.   And it did.   Within months of being on the verge of suicide, she was not only able to improve her condition and cope with her limitations, but she was able to develop and present her TED talk.

That game, Superbetter, is now available to all.  It was released in March of this year and is being used by people all over the world to help them deal with their ailments.  You can watch a video of Ms. McGonigal discussing the game here.

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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