The Failure of Tort Reform

Steve Cohen has an interesting article, On Tort Reform, It’s Time To Declare Victory and Withdraw, detailing the failings of tort reform in the medical malpractice context.  In his article, Steve outlines some of the things we’ve learned since tort reform started passing in waves, including in Texas:

1) Tort reform hasn’t decreased healthcare costs.  The theory was that doctors afraid of getting sued were prescribing all kinds of unnecessary tests.  In fact, studies have shown that doctors in states that have enacted tort reform measures prescribe tests at the same rate as those that haven’t had tort reform measures.

2) Runaway juries aren’t a real problem.  Indeed, the data suggests that the average jury awards in medical malpractice cases are significantly lower than the average awards handed down by judges.  If anything, juries are conservative on these cases.

3) Tort reform hasn’t significantly decreased the cost of insurance for doctors, though in states with tort reform measures the increases in rates have been slightly lower than the increases in states without tort reform.

What has happened since tort reform?  Insurance company profits have skyrocketed.  That’s who has really benefited from tort reform.

Unfortunately, in Texas and other states, while trying to craft tort reform for medical malpractice cases, the reforms have bled into other areas of claims, and have hurt the rights of most injured persons and businesses.

With tort reform proven to be a failure, it’s time to make sure it stops.

I’ve Been Injured In A Water Park Or An Amusement Park? Can I Sue Or Make A Claim?

Roller Coaster2 It’s that time a year again.  Almost like clockwork, as soon as school is out, I get inquiries from people like you asking whether you can make a claim against a water park or an amusement park after you get injured.

And the answer is generally yes.  If you’re injured at a water park or an amusement park there are typically several times of claims that you can make.  First, you can make a regular negligence claim arguing that the park’s conduct fell below the standard of care.  In other words, you’re arguing that you were hurt because the park did something it wasn’t supposed to do or that it didn’t do something that it should have done.  There are literally thousands of different variations on this that could lead to claims.

You may also have a products liability claim against the park.  These claims occur when you’re hurt because something with the ride itself goes wrong.  Again, there could be thousands of different possibilities here.  A safety device might not work, the ride might not run as it was designed to do, etc.

There are other claims that might arise based on your particular situation.

And even if you don’t have a claim, many parks have medical payments insurance.  This medical payments coverage pays for medical bills incurred as a result of an incident at the park even if the incident wasn’t the park’s fault.  The limits on these claims are smaller — often around $2,500.00 — but those funds can be helpful when you’re paying out of pocket for medical care.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a water park or amusement park incident, feel free to call us at (512)476-4944.

Drivers Aren’t Being Smart With Their Smart Phones

Avoid-texting-while-drivingAT&T released the results of a scary study this week finding that smart phones are allowing people to drive while distracted in new and “creative” ways.

According to the study:

  • 61% of drivers surveyed admitted that they text and drive
  • 33% admitted emailing while driving
  • 28% admitted surfing the internet while driving
  • 27% admitted using Facebook while driving
  • 17% admitted snapping a photo or selfie while driving
  • 14% admitted using Twitter while driving
  • 14% admitted using Instagram while driving
  • 12% admitted shooting video while driving
  • 11% admitted using Snapchat while driving
  • 10% admitted using video chat while driving

This is obviously a concerning trend.  As we find more and more uses for smartphones, it appears that we’re also creating more and more ways to drive in a distracted manner.

That’s bad news for all of us.

 

 

What Will It Take To Get A State-Wide Ban On Texting While Driving?

Earlier this week, families who have been destroyed by texting while driving wrecks came to Austin to urge state lawmakers to adopt a state-wide texting while driving ban.  Unfortunately, they’re not alone.  Stories like those shared by these families have been repeated over and over and over.

There is no dispute that texting while driving is dangerous.  Studies have even shown that it’s more dangerous than drinking while driving.  You would think that a state-wide ban would be a no-brainer.

But apparently it’s not.  Some legislators argue that a ban would be an unnecessary invasion into people’s rights.  Are you kidding me?  Is the speed limit an unnecessary invasion?  Are laws against DWI an unnecessary invasion?  Texting while driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, and we need to be doing what we can to protect our kids and families.  Will a ban stop texting while driving?  No.  But it will help, and that’s better than nothing.

You should watch the stories of these families below.

 

New Baseball Study Shows Even When Brain Injured People Appear “Normal”, They’re Not

baseball2I recently saw a study that is near and dear to my heart on two subjects — baseball and concussions.

One of the biggest frustrations of people with head injuries is that even though they look normal to their friends and family members, something is off.  Now, a new study involving professional baseball players provides a strong example of how people are impaired even though they look (and even feel) normal.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and summarized in the New York Times, followed Major League Baseball position players (non-pitchers) who returned to action following concussions.  What the researchers found was stunning.  These batters, even though they themselves felt they were no longer impaired, performed significantly worse in the weeks following their return to play.

The study looked at 66 players over several years who had concussions.  In the two weeks before their concussions, they players had an average batting average of .249, an on-base percentage of .315, and a slugging percentage of .393.  For the two weeks after their return from the injury, the batting average had dropped to .227, on-base percentage had fallen to .287, and slugging percentage had fallen to .347.

Despite these players feeling that they were fine and back to normal, their batting averages and on-base percentages had each fallen by almost 9%, and their slugging percentages had fallen by almost 12%.

In order to rule out the idea that the drop off was just from the players being away from the game, the researchers also studied players who had taken a similar amount of time off for bereavement or paternity leave.  For those players, the batting averages, on-base average, and slugging percentages all INCREASED after their breaks.

This study is strong evidence for two things:

1) even though victims of brain injuries may appear normal to the outside world, they may still be impaired; and

2) that victims of concussions and head injuries are likely impaired in all types of ways for far longer than even the injured persons suspect.

Vanishing Lawsuits and Jury Trials

Warrior Award 2015The statistics from the Texas State Office of Court Administration are startling.  In the last ten years, the number of lawsuits having been filed has dropped 17%.  At the same time, the number of civil jury trials have dropped 34%.

What’s that mean for you?

It makes a difference when you’re hiring a lawyer.

The reality is that while the number of “litigation” lawyers or “trial lawyers” have been on the rise, the actual number of lawyers who have actually participated in a jury trial has been plummeting.  Lawyers calling themselves “litigators” may file lawsuits and do discovery and go through alternative dispute resolution and settle cases, but most rarely, if ever, see a jury.

A recent Texas Bar Journal reported on a survey of lawyers who called themselves litigators.  Of those with ten years of experience, 30 percent had NEVER tried a case to a jury.  And perhaps even more remarkable, only 36 had tried two or more cases to a jury.  That means that almost one third of the lawyers calling themselves litigators had never had a jury trial and another third had only had one trial.

Unfortunately, when you’re hiring a lawyer, you may never know whether the lawyer has ever tried a case or whether the lawyer has ultimate plans to just settle your claims.  This can often affect the ultimate recovery that you make.

Some of us are trying to do something about it.  I’m proud to be an active member of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers’ Association (I’m the immediate past president).  We have started giving out a “Warrior Award” to our members who take cases to jury trials.  This is a way of acknowledging those of us who have actually tried cases, and a way to encourage other lawyers to take their cases to trial.  We have also started a system where lawyers help one another with voir dire or other parts of the case to make trying cases a little easier.

I certainly don’t think our system will change the face of the state’s lawsuits, but I do hope it can help provide better representation for injured persons throughout Central Texas.

 

Painful Lessons

broken armIn our injury cases, we spend a lot of time really trying to understand our clients’ injuries.

As I tell clients, it’s one thing to say that an injury causes you pain or causes you to be limited in your daily activities.

But it’s another thing entirely to hear anecdotes about your pain or your limitations. Those anecdotes paint a much better picture of how an injury really affects you.

Unfortunately, my family and I have a recent reminder of that lesson.

In February, my twelve year old son was taking part in an activity in his Sports and History class at school (and yes, they have better classes than we had). While doing the activity, my son fell and broke his arm.

The last month has been a real reminder on how injuries truly affect a person’s every day life.

For one, I’ve been reminded of the limitations that an injured person experiences — in ways that many of us take for granted.

But in addition to that, I have had a number of conversations with people about my son, the injury, and how he’s doing. And I’ve again been reminded how the anecdotes really tell the story.

For example, it’s one thing to tell people that my son has been limited by the injury. But people have a different reaction when I explain that his cast over his hand prevents him from wearing any pants with buttons or that because of his cast, I have to help him wash his hair every night.

I hope that he’s at the end of the road with his recovery, but that the lessons will stay with me.

 

 

Auto Accident: New Study Shows Stoned Drivers Are Safer Than Drunk Drivers

drunkdriveA new National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study has found that driving while drunk is more dangerous than driving under the influence of other drugs.    Under the data, positive test results for several types of drugs found only small increases in the risk of a crash, but being under the influence of alcohol caused an almost 600% increase in the risk of being in a wreck.

The study makes for a good headline, but it certainly doesn’t make for good science.  You see, the findings don’t mean that driving under the influence of other drugs is safe.  Far from it.  But what the study does highlight is the need to find better tests to determine when the driver is under the influence of drugs.

The best example was the study relating to marijuana.  There is no doubt that driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous.  The real issue is determining who is under the influence of marijuana.  Positive tests for marijuana usage could go back to usage for several days.  A driver, therefore, may test positive long after the impairment is worn off.  And that’s the problem.  A driver may test positive for marijuana while driving at a point when the driver is no longer under the influence, and someone would say that they’re a safe driver despite the positive test.  Reading the data the wrong way, it could be argued then that marijuana doesn’t impair the driver.  But that’s not the case; driving under the influence is still dangerous, but the test being used to determine marijuana usage doesn’t determine whether the person is still under the influence.

In contrast, blood alcohol tests for alcohol have a high correlation to impairment.  If a driver tests positive, that driver is still impaired, and you can easily identify the risks.

The long and short of it is that the study can’t be read to argue that drivers under the influence of drugs other than alcohol aren’t impaired.  Driving under the influence is still dangerous and regardless of the substance causes a risk to the driver and others.

 

Brain Injury Symptoms: Balance, Dizziness, Smelling, Hearing & Sight

The human brainAs I repeatedly tell clients, brain injuries often go undiagnosed following car wrecks or other accidents because doctors don’t usually know you well enough to make a pre-injury and post-injury comparison of your intelligence, emotional well-being, and general personality.  As a result, it’s often up to you or your family members to notice the symptoms of a brain injury and convey those to medical providers so you get the best care possible.  But to do that, you need to know the symptoms of brain injuries.  This series is designed to help you do that.

These are the final common symptoms on my list.  They seem unrelated, but they’re all related to a change in the senses.

Balance & Dizziness Issues.  Unfortunately, many  of you may experience balance or dizziness issues following your brain injury.  These are very common symptoms of brain injuries and sometimes they can be severe.  Some with brain injuries can feel the immediate problems, but tests can help make the diagnoses.  (With my son’s concussion, he appeared healed and ready to return to baseball until his medical provider ran balance tests on him, which revealed he was still experiencing significant problems despite seeming normal.)  For persons with severe cases of balance and dizziness issues, the person can undergo vestibular therapy that can help fight these symptoms.

Smelling & Tasting.  Oddly enough, many victims of brain injuries experience problems with their sense of smell and taste.  These can run the gamut from completely losing the ability to smell or taste, to a decreased ability to do both, to always experiencing a foul or unpleasant taste or smell.  Unfortunately, there is little that can be done in many of these cases.

Hearing.  Some studies suggest that between 48 and 74% of all people who sustain head trauma will have some type of hearing loss.  These losses could be caused by actual damage to the hearing system (ear canal, etc.) to neurologic problems that are a result of damage to the brain itself.  The treatment options obviously change based on the type and severity of the injury sustained.

Vision.  Recent studies at some VA hospitals have found that more than 74% of the patients with brain injuries had vision problems.  There can be a number of different causes of vision problems.  There can also be a number of different treatment options ranging from waiting, to patching one of your eyes, to vision therapy, to surgery.

Brain Injury Symptoms: Speech and Language Problems

The human brainAs I repeatedly tell clients, brain injuries often go undiagnosed following car wrecks or other accidents because doctors don’t usually know you well enough to make a pre-injury and post-injury comparison of your intelligence, emotional well-being, and general personality.  As a result, it’s often up to you or your family members to notice the symptoms of a brain injury and convey those to medical providers so you get the best care possible.  But to do that, you need to know the symptoms of brain injuries.  This series is designed to help you do that.

Unfortunately,  brain injuries often affect a victim’s ability to communicate.  These are not only scary problems to encounter, but they can greatly affect the victim’s quality of life going forward.  Some of these issues are as follows:

Cognitive issues.  Many victims find their communication problems resulting from cognitive issues such as problems with word recall, inability to tell stories or other thoughts in sequence, or difficulty understanding more complex thoughts or expressions.  There are often some coping strategies that can be used to help with these problems.

Slurring or other speech problems. Another common problem is slurring of speech.  Technically, brain injury patients can develop a motor speech disorder called dysarthia.  The symptoms of dysarthia may be slurred or choppy speech, slow rate of speech, inability to fully move mouth, tongue and jaw, and other changes in voice quality.  These are obviously scary problems, but they can often be treated with speech therapy.

Swallowing problems.  Though not a true communication problem, a somewhat related symptom is swallowing problems.  Many victims of head injury develop issues with swallowing.  This is obviously not a symptom that you would normally associate with brain injuries, but it is one that you can easily recognize if you’re looking for it.

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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