Will Austin Ban Use of Cell Phones While Driving?

A lot of momentum seems to be developing for the idea that Austin will ban drivers from using hand-held devices while driving.  In February, the Austin City Council appointed a Distracted Driving Study Group to look at the problem of distracted driving.  On Monday, the study group released a memo recommending that the city council outlaw the use of handheld devices while driving.  There seem to be two main reasons for this.  One, using a hand held cell phone while driving can be distracting and dangerous.  Two, making it illegal to use hand held devices would make it easier to enforce the ban on texting whiile driving (now it’s difficult to tell is someone is texting or dialing a phone number).

I’ll keep you posted on the story as details emerge.  In the meantime, KXAN has done a nice story on the issue.  You can watch it below.

 

I Waited Two Months To Go To The Doctor. Do I Still Have A Case?

I received this question the other day, and I thought others might be interested in the answer as well.

The short answer is “yes.”  Just because you didn’t immediately go to the doctor does not mean that you were not hurt and that you don’t have a case.

But those types of delay do make presenting your personal injury claim much more difficult.  Insurance companies are looking for any small excuse they can find to not pay your claim.  And a “gap in treatment” (as described in the question) is one of the key factors they rely on to defeat claims.

That’s not to say that I agree with insurance companies or that a gap kills your case.  I know a number of people who just don’t like to go to the doctor.  They’ll suffer an injury and try to wait on the problem to resolve to see if they can avoid going to the doctor.  Others simply can’t go to the doctor as soon as they would like.  Perhaps they can’t afford a doctor’s visit, don’t have time to go to the doctor, etc.

So while this type of gap doesn’t mean you no longer have a claim, it can make your claim much more difficult.

National Safe Boating Week: The Statistics

Why is Safe Boating Week important?  Here are the statistics from the Safe Boating Council.

All figures are from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2012 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, the latest official record of reported recreational boating accidents. The full report is available online at: www.USCGBoating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.aspx.

  • Drowning was reported as the cause of death in almost three-fourths of all fatalities.
  • Approximately 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
  • In 2012, the Coast Guard counted 4,515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and approximately $38 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
  • Approximately 14 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed are the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of the deaths.
  • Twenty-four children under age thirteen lost their lives while boating in 2012. Forty-two percent of the children who died in 2012 did so from drowning.
  • The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (19%) and cabin motorboats (15%).

National Recreational Boating Statistics

  • Fatalities: 651
  • Drownings: 459
  • Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 3,000
  • Boating Accidents: 4,515
  • Property Damage: $38,011,601
  • Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 12,101,936

Unfortunately, Texas is the number 3 state for boating deaths and the number 4 state for boating accidents.

Remember to be safe.  Don’t let you or your family become another statistic.

 

 

National Safe Boating Week Is Here

ski boatThis year, May 17-23 is National Safe Boating Week.  Having represented those involved in boating and water based accidents, I know the importance of these safety measures.

Over the course of the week, I’ll have a few posts detailing the dangers and safety measures related to safe boating.  For today, I’ll give you the big overview of what you should do to make your trips out on our waterways just a little safer.

1. Avoid drinking and driving. This should go without saying, but a significant percentage of boating accidents involve alcohol.  Even worse, being on the water magnifies the effects of alcohol.  I’ve heard that one drink on the water is equal to four drinks on land.  I’m not sure that’s completely accurate, but it’s probably close.

2. Use your lights. Austin Lake Police have indicated that one of the biggest risks of danger is night time collisions.

3. Wear your life vest. The law requires you to have one life jacket on the boat for each person.  But if something goes wrong, you might not have the opportunity to grab a life jacket from storage.  Be safe and wear it instead.

4. Look out for others. As the lake crowds increase, make sure you are cognizant of other skiiers, tubers and wakeboarders. And always remember that as you follow, they could fall in an instant. On the other hand, when you voluntarily stop to get in and out of the water, make sure that you are doing so in as safe a place as possible.

Insure.com’s Rating of Best Auto Insurance Companies

This week, Insure.com, the self-proclaimed independent consumer insurance website, released its list of Best Insurance Companies based on customer satisfaction rankings.  The company surveyed 3,835 customers of 15 large insurers in auto, home, and health insurance, and 14 in life insurance.

The survey asked about:

  1. customer service
  2. claims satisfaction
  3. value for price paid
  4. percent who plan to renew
  5. percent who would recommend the company

Based on their responses, the top auto insurance companies were:

  1. USAA
  2. State Farm
  3. Farmers
  4. GEICO
  5. Auto Club of Southern California
  6. Nationwide
  7. Liberty Mutual
  8. Allstate
  9. American Family
  10. The Hartford
  11. Erie Insurance Group
  12. Progressive
  13. MetLife
  14. Travelers
  15. Mercury General

It’s important to note, having sued drivers covered by most of these companies, I would have a different ranking.  My ranking would largely be focused on what company is most reasonable in willing to admit when their drivers caused a problem, and who are willing to protect their customers by making fair settlement offers when their customers do something wrong.

Using my criteria, I’d put USAA, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, and Hartford in a top group.  I’d put MetLife, Nationwide, Travelers and State Farm in a middle group.  I’d put Farmers, Allstate, Progressive, and Mercury in a bottom group.

My criteria is certainly different than that used in the survey, but I also think it’s an important perspective when you’re buying insurance.  Heaven forbid, if you do cause a wreck, you want to make sure your company protects you.  When the company doesn’t offer enough and forces a lawsuit to be filed against you, then that’s likely the insurance company not doing its job.

Auto Accidents: Top 9 Mistakes When Buying Your Auto Insurance MISTAKE FOUR: Looking Solely To Price And Not Knowing What You Are Buying

You see or hear many insurance companies saying that you can save money simply by switching insurance coverages.  But prospective buyers shouldn’t just look at the price.

Usually, the price is lower because you’re not comparing the same products.  The new insurance company may be offering lower limits, not selling you the same coverages, or excluding drivers who you may need covered.

You certainly don’t want to spend more than you have to, but you need to make sure you understand why the price differences exist.

Auto Accidents: Top 9 Mistakes When Buying Your Auto Insurance MISTAKE THREE: Getting Burned By “Excluded Drivers”

Generally, when you buy auto insurance, the policy will cover you, your family, or anyone else who has permission to drive your vehicle.  Thus, if you or your child or your best friend are driving and cause a wreck, the insurance will protect all of you. This is a big benefit.  You never know when you might let someone borrow your car for something.
But today, many insurance companies are starting to offer policies that exclude drivers.  It’s not unusual to see low cost companies have a long list of people who they don’t cover.  Indeed, some new policies only provide coverage to those people specifically identified.

These kind of policies don’t provide near the protection that standard policies provide.  And they affect you in ways that you might not imagine.

Recently, we represented a woman who was estranged from her husband.  After they got back together, they were driving on a road trip.  Because she was getting tired, she let her husband driver her car.  While the husband was driving, they were in a serious wreck caused by an underinsured driver.

We settled the claim against the other driver and then pursued a claim against her underinsured driver coverage.  But the UIM carrier denied the claim because the husband, who was estranged when the policy was purchased, was specifically excluded under the policy.  Even though who was driving made no difference in whether the wreck would occur or how it occurred, the fact that the driver was excluded deprived my client of her needed benefits.

When you’re purchasing your insurance, make sure you understand the true implications of potentially excluded drivers.

Auto Accidents: Top 9 Mistakes When Buying Your Auto Insurance MISTAKE ONE: Purchasing Minimum Insurance

Most people think they only need to purchase the minimum insurance required by Texas law.  This is a huge mistake.

Generally, the more assets you have, the higher insurance you should purchase to make sure you’re protecting you and your assets.  But most people should consider purchasing significantly more than the minimum limits.

For property damage, the minimum required by the law is $25,000.00.  But today, the average new car costs over $30,000.00, and the prices go much higher than that.  If you are just purchasing the minimum limits, you are still leaving yourself exposed to significant liability should something happen.

Similarly, for personal injury claims, the minimum coverage is $30,000.00.  That might sound like a lot.  But when considering the cost of health care, that’s a small amount.  Whether you’re talking about liability insurance, protecting you against someone else’s claim, or uninsured/underinsured, protecting you and your family, a simple hospital visit might exceed that cost.  In that instance, by purchasing the minimum limits, you will have done a good job protecting the hospital or your health insurance company, but you won’t have done a good job protecting yourself.

People’s situations differ, but I generally recommend people purchase at least $100,000/$300,000 for personal injury claims and $50,000 for property damage claims for both liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.  However, many people will be in a position where I’ll recommend much higher amounts.

Serious Personal Injury May Happen While Texting And Walking

No doubt you have seen the video of the woman texting and falling into a fountain at a shopping mall. While the video was funny and no one was serioiusly hurt, the ramifications for texting and walking have the potential to be fatal.

It used to be that everyone got to where they were going by just walking there. If they had anything to say to the person when they arrived, that was when the conversation took place. Cell phones had not yet been invented, and no one seemed to miss being out of touch with others. It was just the way life was back then. Now, with the advent of cell phones that do just about everything, staying in touch is not only easy, it may also kill.

Many people do not see the harm in texting while walking. After all, they are safe on the sidewalk, mall or wherever they happen to be headed. But, are they? Consider the case of the young teen who was texting her boyfriend about their planned date, when she walked out between two parked cars, right into the path of an 18-wheeler. The cell phone survived the impact. The young girl did not. Was her life worth texting dangerously?

What about the case of the young man who was walking down the stairs at work and texting his buddy about their weekend plans? Because he was not paying attention to where he was walking, he missed the last two steps, fell hard and hit his head on a cement floor. His cell phone survived the impact. He sustained traumatic brain injury. Was his forever altered life worth texting dangerously?

If you do not think texting and walking is a big deal, because maybe, nothing has ever happened to you, consider the emergency room statistics across the U.S. that show over 1,000 pedestrians have needed emergency medical care because of texting and walking accidents. Each year, the numbers go up, not down. While texting and walking is not a smart thing to do, texting and driving is markedly worse, as you can kill someone else by negligently not paying attention to the road. Be smart and above all, be safe.

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

Another Austin Wrong-Way Driver Wreck

Last night, two people were killed in a collision when a driver was driving down Mopac the wrong way.

Just before 1:00 a.m., APD received calls of a driver driving southbound in the northbound lanes of Mopac.  The APD dispatched several police cars and even a police helicopter to try and intervene, but they couldn’t get there fast enough.  The driver of the wrong-way car, reportedly a 26 year old woman, collided head on with another vehicle near Duval Road.  The driver of the wrong-way car was pronounced dead at the scene. The other driver, Robert Murphy, was taken to St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, where he later passed away.

It seems like these types of wrecks — where someone is driving down a highway the wrong way — should never happen.

But they’re a lot more frequent than we’d like to think.  I’ve been writing about wrong way wrecks in Austin for at least the last four years.  And in 2010, Austin had two wrong way car wreck fatalities within a couple of weeks of one another.

Sergeant Darrell Burnham, one of the officers working the scene of this morning’s crash, said he can think of three incidents on Mopac that occurred fairly recently.

Most of these wrecks have several characteristics in common:

  • Most occur at night  (today’s occurred at 1:00 a.m.);
  • Most of the wrong way drivers are either impaired by alcohol or drugs or, to a lesser extent, are elderly drivers (alcohol is suspected in today’s wreck); and
  • Many occur on roadways with confusing entrance/exit designs.

These wrong way wrecks are particularly problematic for several reasons.  They often involve fatal or serious injuries.  Due to the nature of the wreck, most of these are head-on collisions, which bring a tremendous amount of force.

They are also hard to avoid.  When an innocent victim is traveling in the proper direction, they are usually at the mercy of the wrong way driver.  And since statistics show that wrong way drivers are often impaired, making it hard for a person traveling the proper direction to really anticipate the wrong way driver’s next move.

Finally, these wrecks are going to become an increasing problem.  They often occur on highways that have confusing entrance and exit ramps.  As Austin grows, we have more and more large highway intersections that are potentially confusing and offer opportunities for wrong way drivers to enter roads the wrong way.

For more information on wrong way drivers, you can read some of my prior posts on the problem:

You can also read the Texas Transportation Institute’s worksheet: Wrong Way Driving on Freeways in Texas:  Problems, Issues & Countermeasures.

 

 

Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP 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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