Austin Dog Bites Are Increasing

Beware of dog sign.Last week, the Austin American Statesman reported that dog attacks are increasing in Austin.  The number of dog attacks has increased every year since 2007.  This year is no exception.  Austin has experienced over 1,000 attacks so far, on pace to break last year’s record.

These are not good statistics.  I’ve represented a number of victims of dog attacks, ranging from the run-of-the-mill attacks to a horrific case where a dog attacked and killed a young child.

These are often terrible cases for those involved.  With aggressive dogs, there is usually significant pain and trauma relating to the original attack.  Many serious attacks have long-term physical consequences, including physical limitations and scarring.  And almost all involve permanent psychological scarring.

Legally, there are a number of different avenues of claims that may be made.  The obvious claim stemming from a dog attack is against the dog owner.  In Texas, dog owners have various responsibilities to help protect the public from unsafe dogs.

If the dog owner was a renter, there may be a claim against the home or apartment owner, depending on the specific facts of the attack.  Additionally, if the dog owner was a renter and a property management company was involved, the property management company also has duties and responsibilities that it must follow.

The more difficult situation in these cases is finding funds for a recovery.  Traditionally, homeowners’ insurance companies have provided coverage for these claims.  Now, as insurance companies are becoming more aware of how serious these claims are, many companies are starting to exclude coverage for dog attack claims.  This is important information to know not only for the victim of attack, but also for dog owners.  If you own a dog, talk to your insurance company and make sure that you’re covered should something go wrong.


If you or a loved one has been injured in a dog attack, please call us for help at (512)476-4944.


VA Misses Mark In Brain Injury Research

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of helping a number of clients who have suffered from brain injuries.  And as I’ve written before, I hoped that one small benefit of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was that the Veterans Administration and others would use the opportunity to conduct meaningful research on brain injuries that could help both our military and the rest of society.

Unfortunately, I might have had my hopes too high.  Over the weekend, the Austin American Statesman ran a wonderful project by Jeremy Schwartz that outlined many of the problems facing researchers who tried to launch an expensive brain injury research program in Waco.

If you’re interested at all in brain injuries and brain injury research, I urge you to spend some time with the resources at the project.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in brain injuries, I think the project is still a good example of what journalism could be.  In addition to his written articles, which also appeared in the paper, the project includes video stories and links to the actual documents used to substantiate the article.  It is extremely well done.

Kids Safety: Kids and Sports – How much is too much?

This morning’s Austin American Statesman ran a great story entitled Kids and Sports: How much is too much?

The premise of the article, which was written by a Dallas doctor,  is that kids and parents’ increasing focus on some sports is dangerous for our kids.

There are a number of issues.  Kids now are much more likely to play one sport year-round, leading to over-use injuries.  Kids now engage in weight-training that is far superior to anything a few years ago, which leads to kids being bigger, stronger and faster, but also over-taxing their bodies, particularly their weaker growth plates.  And, the doctor argues, more and more parents and kids are trying to force themselves back into action before the kids are fully healed.

The doctor also focuses on two things that have been an emphasis for us.  One is the rise of competitive cheerleading.  The United States Sports Academy finds that cheerleading is responsible for the most catastrophic female sports injuries in the US (second only to football overall).  The USAA reports that many cheerleading injuries and falls do more damage than being tackled by a professional football player.

The second issue is the rise in head injuries.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost half a million kids visit emergency rooms each year for traumatic brain injuries — many from sports.  The doctor said that in the week before writing the article, she had treated a volleyball player with a head injury and two dancers who sustained head injuries as a result of a head-to-head collision.

We are unwittingly hurting our kids, and that shouldn’t be acceptable.

Even worse, we may be destroying their love of the various games.  The doctor cites a study that finds that by age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports.  As the doctor says, “What could have been a lifelong source of exercise or fun competition is discarded due to injuries, stress and burnout.”

The article hits home with me.  I have a 13 year old daughter who is passionate about her dance team, and I have a 10 year old son who loves to play baseball.  I hope to take the article to heart and make sure that we’re not making the same mistakes as others.


Austin Car Wrecks: Let’s Reduce Traffic Fatalities This New Year

2012 is finally winding down, and sadly, it has been the deadliest year for Austin car wrecks in over a decade.  As of December 27, Austin had 77 traffic fatalities, the most since 2000.  Fortunately, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is looking to do something about it.

In a December 29 Austin American Statesman story, Acevedo outlined a number of steps the Austin Police Department planned to take to reduce traffic fatalities.  For example, Acevedo intends to increase the number of  “no refusal” weekends (alcohol has been a factor in at least one-third of this year’s fatalities), increase patrols, give out more tickets rather than warnings, and crack down on pedestrian law-breakers.  He also stated that he wants to get together with other law enforcement officials in the area.

I’m hopeful that these initiatives will work.  We see first hand the devastation caused by traffic fatalities to family and friends of those who are killed.  It’s appropriate that we do more in the new year to help reduce those losses.


Austin Pedestrian & Bike Accidents An Increasing Problem

According to this morning’s Austin American Statesman, Austin has seen a record number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities despite the fact that there are still six weeks to go in the year.

About half of the pedestrian fatalities were caused in large part by the pedestrians not being careful.  For example, a number of the deaths involved pedestrians trying to cross IH 35 or other major highways, and a significant portion were caused when the pedestrian was intoxicated.

The bicycling fatalities are different — all were caused by the drivers hitting the cyclist from behind.

These findings mirror my own practice.  I’m seeing increasing number of cases where the victim was a pedestrian or on a bicycle.  Just this year, we’ve handled cases involving a child who was run over and suffered a horrific head injury, a pedestrian who sustained severe leg fractures as he was hit while on a sidewalk, and pedestrians who were hit in parking lots (including one who now needs surgery).

The description of the bike accidents is also similar to the types of accidents we’re seeing.  Most of the bicycle accident victims we’ve represented over the years have involved drivers who have hit the cyclists from behind.  We’ve also seen a number of clients who were injured when the drivers failed to yield to them at intersections — the driver either turns into the cyclist or doesn’t yield the right of way to the cyclist.

Unfortunately, these accidents usually involve significant injuries since pedestrians and cyclists have no protection.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a pedestrian or cyclist, please call us at (512)476-4944 or submit your information via the “submit a case” boxes throughout our website.

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 Auto-Pedestrian Collisions, Part II

Last week, I wrote about the Austin American Statesman’s feature on the increasing problem of auto-pedestrian accidents.  I noted that this was a reflection of the increasing number of auto-pedestrian accidents we’re seeing in our practice. 

Today, I saw that Drew Finke, a University of Texas architecture student, had his own interpretation of the issue in a column in the University of Texas newspaper, The Daily Texan

In the article, Drew makes a great point.  In part of the column, he writes:

Though Austin has recently made a commitment to encourage dense, pedestrian-oriented development, much of the inner city’s infrastructure is designed to accommodate the car. Nearly all of Austin’s “transportation corridors” are busy streets that currently include few provisions for pedestrians. Even along Guadalupe, which already boasts high pedestrian traffic, large stretches of road without crosswalks south of MLK and north of 24th Street make crossing inconvenient for pedestrians, and encourage motorists to speed along uninterrupted stretches of roadway. At the intersection of 24th and Guadalupe streets — where thousands cross every day — narrow sidewalks and disintegrating curbs make for a dangerous situation, between turning cars and the crowds of students waiting for the light to change before crossing.

While his example involves the UT campus area, the same principles exist downtown.  For example, at lunch today, I walked down San Jacinto street to eat lunch around the corner of San Jacinto and 1st.  For much of the walk, a large sidewalk was available.  But further South, the Vince Young Steakhouse and Max’s Wine Dive had outdoor patios that took up the walkway.  Thus, there was no sidewalk, and I was forced to walk in the lanes of traffic. 

That’s a particular concern since the area around San Jacinto has a lot of pedestrian traffic from downtown office buildings and from those using the convention center for its multitude of events. 

Let’s hope that future planners do a better job of taking pedestrians into account and design with pedstrians in mind. 





Concussions, Head Injuries, Football Season & Cheerleading — they all go together

This may sound hokey, but I’m a believer in “signs.”  If we pay attention to things, someone upstairs might be trying to tell us something.

Today, the “signs” are saying I need to write  something about the increasing problems of head injuries and concussions that we’re seeing not only in football, but also in cheerleading.  Why do I say that?  One of the articles that caught my eye in this morning’s Austin American Statesman was a story about the increasing number of concussion and head-injury related lawsuits by former NFL players suing the NFL and helmet manufacturers, primarily Riddel. 

And then, one of the first telephone calls I received this morning was from a safety advocate in Arkansas who called me asking about head injury issues in football and cheerleading.

At this point, I’ve written fairly extensively about the dangers faced by football players and that one way to help minimize that danger is making sure your kids have a proper helmet.  You can read some of those pieces below:

However, I haven’t written as much about the dangers of cheerleading.  In fact, cheerleading is one of the leading causes of injuries to young girls.  I sent the safety advocate links to a few resources about the problem.  The articles included:

I hope this information is useful to someone and helps protect a kid or two.

The Heroic Story of Roger Chan — and What We Can Learn

Earlier this week, the Austin American Statesman ran a heart-breaking story about Roger Chan.  I can’t do the story justice, but Mr. Chan was riding his motorcycle  to help cook Thanksgiving meals for those in need when he was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash.  Despite the injuries Mr. Chan endured, there are a number of things I found heartening, and one lesson that really concerned me. 

At first glance, we should strive to be more like Mr. Chan.  Not only was Mr. Chan volunteering to help feed the hungry, he was doing it as a way to celebrate his birthday.  In a society that is often too focused on “things”, I hope my kids can learn to celebrate events in their lives like Mr. Chan — by giving to others. 

I am also heartened by those that came to Mr. Chan’s aid.  It seems that stories about bystanders ignoring those in need are becoming more and more common.  Fortunately, the witnesses in this case didn’t stand idly by.  They jumped in to help and perhaps helped save Mr. Chan’s life.

On the other end of the spectrum, this is also a story about how vulnerable motorcyclists really are.  Had Mr. Chan been in a car, this probably would have been a minor accident.  But because he was on a motorcycle, his injuries are horrific.  From Mr. Chan’s story, and from representing a number of clients who have been victims of wrecks while on motorcycle, I know that motorcycle wrecks often have dire consequences.  Thus, it’s important not only for motorcyclists to drive defensively, but also for the rest of the driving public to be extra cautious to look for motorcycles.

Posted on: December 3, 2010 | Tagged

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Sued — When Can A Person Be Sued For Providing Alcohol To Others? (An Important Question For Footall Game-Watching Parties)

  In yesterday’s Austin American Statesman, Chuck Lindell wrote an article describing a lawsuit filed against former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips.  The lawsuit alleges that Phillips and his wife allowed a party to go on at their home where minors were served alcohol and that one of the minors was killed in a one-car wreck on the way home from the party.

Because Texas football season — and hundreds of game-watching parties — starts tomorrow, the question of “When can a person be sued for providing alcohol to others?” is timely.

And there are generally two types of cases.  The type of case that is involved in the Phillips case (and would be involved in most game-watching cases) is described as “social host” liability because the cases seek to hold private individuals liable for providing alcohol to their social guests.  These types of cases are tough.  In most instances, a social host will not be liable for providing alcohol to a person who later causes an accident.

There are two exceptions to this general rule.  The first, as in the Phillips case, involves minors.   Adults (as long as they’re not the minor’s parents or guardian) can be liable for damages if they knowingly provide alcohol to the minor or allowed the minor to be served alcohol on premises the adults own or lease.  (You can read the full statute here.)

The second exception is more of a “maybe” exception because the law isn’t as settled.  But injured persons may have a claim against social hosts if the social hosts take charge of a person and then are negligent in the way that they take charge of someone.  The best example is a host who takes a driver’s keys because the driver is too drunk to drive, but then decides to put the driver in the car and let the drunk drive off.   As you might suspect, these situations are rare.

The second category of cases are called dram shop cases, and they involve claims agains commercial providers of alcohol, such as restaurants and bars.   These entites may be liable for damages caused by the drunk driver when they serve alcohol to a person when it is apparent that the person was intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself or others.  These are the most common cases against providers of alcohol.  There are a number of special details, and I may discuss those in a post next week.

(Image courtesy of on flickr)

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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