Check Your Tires — Tragic Caldwell County Wreck Yesterday

Background of the tire tread Yesterday, there was a horrific car wreck on Texas 130 in Caldwell County that killed 4 adults and left 5 more children injured.

The wreck hits home as it occurred near the Texas 130/Schuelke Road intersection, and yes, Schuelke Road does refer to my family.

The investigation is just beginning, but one suggestion is that the driver lost control after the vehicle lost the tread on one of the tires.  The theory is that the tire became so hot from driving at the toll road speeds (the speed limit is 85 miles per hour) that the tread separated.

It wouldn’t be the first time such a wreck occurred on 130.  I travel it fairly frequently back and forth between Austin and Lockhart, and there are often the remnants of tire thrown across the highway.  There is also a report that a tire blow out led to a fatal crash along 130 near Manor back in April.

The lesson to learn is that you need to check your tires.  Speed limits are now higher than they’ve historically been, and you should take time to make sure the condition of your tires can handle the driving conditions you’ll be encountering.

I’m also intrigued by these types of wrecks because they bring novel legal theories.  For example, the injured or killed would obviously have a claim against the driver who lost control.  But they may also have a products liability claim against the tire manufacturer or a claim against the manufacturer of the vehicle that the vehicle wasn’t designed well enough to sustain the forces in the rollover collision (these are called crashworthiness cases).  These types of cases, with novel and not always obvious claims, are the ones where hiring the right lawyer can really make a difference in the type of recovery ultimately obtained.


Austin Police Chief: Too Many Austin Car Wrecks

Young man using smart phone in his car

Young man using smart phone in his car

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo took the unusual step this week of having a press conference to urge Austin drivers to be more safe.   Chief Acevedo was prompted to take the action because this year has already been record-setting in terms of number of traffic fatalities.

Acevedo noted that the top causes of wrecks are intoxication, speed, distraction and failure to stop.

I won’t argue with Chief Acevedo.  We see wrecks car caused by these four items every day.

Personally, we hope Austinites and others heed Chief Acevedo’s warnings so that our roadways are safer for all of us.

You can read more about his press conference here and here.

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: Neurological Disorders (Seizures, Movement, Fatigue, etc)

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.

There are a number of neurological symptoms of brain injuries that, though sometimes rare, can be extremely traumatic for the injured person.  The most common neurological injuries are as follows:

Fatigue.  Fatigue is a very common symptom of people with brain injuries.  Some studies have found that up to 73% of persons with head injuries suffer from fatigue after the injury.   Unfortunately, many of the other symptoms of brain injuries, such as depression, also have a component of fatigue, and fatigue is also a side effect of many medications used to treat other brain injury symptoms.  Thus, treatment of fatigue remains difficult.

Post-traumatic seizures and epilepsy.  Seizures and epilepsy are fairly common symptoms of brain injuries.  Traumatic brain injury accounts for about 5% of all epilepsy cases and is the leading cause of epilepsy in young adults.  The development of seizure or epilepsy symptoms are very dependent on the type of injury sustained.  Many brain injury victims will undergo EEG testing to determine whether or not the patient is having seizures.  It’s important to note that a normal EEG does not mean that you don’t have a brain injury, it only means that you’re not having seizures at the time of the test.

Tremors. Many brain injury victims will develop tremors following their injury.  The most common cause of brain injury tremors is car wrecks where the brain has a history of quick deceleration injuries.

Dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions). Dystonia is a fairly rare, but significant symptom of brain injuries.

Vision problems.  Many brain injured patients have injuries to the optic nerve so the patients experience blurry vision or other changes to their eyesight.  There are other potential causes of sight issues associated with brain injuries that are discussed elsewhere in this series.

Smell problems.  Many brain injuries end up damaging the olfactory nerve so the victim will have an impaired sense of smell.  It is obviously difficult to test for smell issues, and smell is not something you might normally be concerned with after you’re injured, but if you or a loved one mentions smell problems, be alert that it could be related to a brain injury.

Vestibulocochlear nerve problems.  This nerve works on both hearing and balance.  Thus, when it is damaged as part of a brain injury, it can cause problems with hearing and also vertigo symptoms.  Vertigo is very common following a brain injury and a number of our clients have had to undergo vestibular therapy as part of their treatment.

Sleeping disorders.  Sleep-wake disorders and alterations in sleep patterns are very common following brain injuries.   The variety of sleep disorders include insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea.  Sleep issues need to be addressed because poor sleep can lead to other health concerns.



Brain Injury Symptoms: Behavioral and Emotional Symptoms

The human brain


As 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.

You may only realize that you or a family member has a brain injury because you notice changes in you or your family member’s behavior or emotional status.  Some of the common emotional or behavioral issues that we see from brain injuries are as follows:

Irritability.  Many survivors or friends of survivors find that the injured person is more irritable and much more easily angered.  The injured person may also have an angry response to a situation that is greatly out of proportion to what you would normally expect.

Impulsivity.  Many brain injury survivors have problems with impulse control.  They say things they wouldn’t normally say; they take physical actions they wouldn’t normally take; or they demonstrate poor judgment failing to fully think things out.

Affective instability.  Many persons with brain injuries show exaggerated displays of emotion that are way out of proportion to the situation or to the person’s pre-injury self.  As mentioned above, some persons become explosively angry at something that doesn’t seem justified.  Others may become extremely sad over something that doesn’t warrant such a response.

Apathy/Lack of Motivation.  Apathy is very common in persons with brain injuries.  One study has found that more than 60% of brain injury victims suffer some form of apathy.

Depression.  Some studies find that between 30 and 60 percent of brain injury victims have depression.  This doesn’t include the significant percentage of victims who experience some symptoms of depression, but not enough for a formal diagnoses.  Additionally, if victims had depression prior to their injury, a brain injury can make that depression much more severe.

Psychosis.  Psychosis is an infrequent (but high impact) occurrence with brain injuries.  Typical symptoms of psychosis might be delusions, hallucinations, or schizophrenia-like problems.  As I said, these are rare problems in brain injuries, but when they occur, they are very problematic for the affected person.

General Anxiety Disorder. Many brain injury victims describe feelings of anxiety.  If a person has experience anxiety before their injury, then they are much more likely to experience even worse anxiety after the injury.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  A small percentage of brain injury victims develop OCD after their injury.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  There are a number of studies finding that victims of brain injuries are also likely to experience PTSD.  This is a problem that is being highlighted by the experiences of our soldiers in the middle east conflicts.  PTSD is also problematic because it makes recovery much more difficult.

Substance Abuse.  Several studies find that victims of brain injuries are much more likely to experience substance use disorders.

Dementia.  There are substantial studies finding that brain injuries both increase the likelihood that the victim develops dementia and also may result in earlier-onset dementia for those who are already pre-disposed to developing dementia.


Brain Injury Symptoms: Cognitive Impairments

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.

The fist set of symptoms that many people notice are the cognitive symptoms.  The major cognitive issues that are associated with brain injuries are as follows:

General Intelligence.  This is difficult to quantify without proper testing, but many people suffering from brain injuries feel that they have lost intelligence compared to their pre-injury intelligence.

Memory Issues.    The memory issues associated with brain injuries take many different forms.  The most common memory issues are post-traumatic amnesia, short -term memory problems (not remembering what you’re doing, not remembering your typical tasks, etc.) and long-term memory problems.

Attention Span and Working Memory.  Many victims of brain injuries also have more difficult paying attention to things, especially for longer periods of time, and they have difficulty with working memory — the short-term memory needed to process tasks.  These deficits can be tested through tests that show the person shapes or various patterns and then ask the person to recall those same shapes and patterns a few moments later.

Reaction Time.  Numerous studies have found that persons with brain injuries have a slower reaction time to different events.  The reaction time becomes worse when the task is more difficult, the person has more information leading to information overload, or the person is fatigued.  Again, this is a symptom that is difficult to quantify without proper testing.

Spatial Cognition Issues. Brain injured persons might recognize spatial cognition issues in terms of getting lost, not remembering where objects were placed or put, and not understanding directions.

There are other cognitive issues that can arise, but these are the most popular that we see.  Unfortunately, one problem of brain injuries is that there is a well known phenomena that injured persons are often unaware of these deficits.  Therefore, it’s critically important that friends or family members pay attention for these symptoms.




What Are Symptoms Of A Concussion Or Brain Injury?

I often tell clients that they need to be on the lookout for brain injuries.   For some head injuries, the problems are obvious.  But in many cases, the problems are much more subtle.  As a result, many concussions or brain injuries go undiagnosed because a doctor doesn’t know you well and doesn’t see the symptoms.  Because of this, it’s important for you or your spouse or other family members to look for symptoms so you can convey that information to doctors.

Working on a case, I stumbled across this symptom chart from the Centers for Disease Controls that will help you identify potential brain injuries.  Hopefully, this will help you recognize problems so you can get the treatment and care you need.

Symptoms of concussion

Motor Vehicle Accidents: Do I have to provide a release of medical information to the insurance company?

We recently received an inquiry asking, “Do I have to provide a release of medical information to the insurance company?”

Generally, the answer is “no,” but for a more detailed answer, I need to know the type of case.

If you’re making a claim directly against the driver who caused the wreck, the answer is clearly “no.”  In that situation, we would almost never advise our clients to sign a blank release giving the insurance company full access to all of your medical records.  Instead, we’ll gather all of your medical records related to your wreck and forward them to the insurance company.

Now, once a lawsuit is filed, the insurance company will typically subpoena records from medical providers who you saw as a result of the wreck.  Additionally, if you have a history of a condition related to your injuries from the wreck, the insurance company might try and get your records from before the wreck.  But even in those situations, we’ll try and insist on a reasonable limit on what they obtain.

If you’re making a claim against your uninsured or underinsured motorist carrier or with your personal injury protection carrier, then you have a contractual duty to cooperate with the company.  If you don’t, you could be risking your benefits.  But even in those situations, when the insurance company asks for a release, we’ll try and work with them to provide a limited release.  For example, we might limit the release to those doctors who provided treatment from the wreck.  And if the insurance company wants past medical records, we might limit them to five years before the wreck.  The insurance companies will typically work with us to find some reasonable limits.

Again, there may be situations where you have a long-standing condition that makes things a little different, but for those most part, this is how we try and deal with requests for a medical release.

Auto Insurance Isn’t All The Same

There’s an insurance company currently running television ads here in Austin (and I assume elsewhere) encouraging you to use them because “all insurance is the same” so use them and avoid the middle man.

That’s basically fraud.  All auto insurance isn’t the same.  There are different coverages to buy, different deductibles to consider, and a whole host of other traps that a consumer probably doesn’t even know exist.  And without an agent to help consumers navigate these issues, too many consumers unwittingly end up with low-coverage insurance that comes back to bite them.  That’s a problem.

To help address the problem, I’ve written a new booklet, Understanding Texas Auto Insurance: Top 9 Mistakes When Buying Your Auto Insurance.  You can order a free, hard copy by requesting a book through the “Speak to an Attorney” box.  Alternatively, you can download an electronic version starting on this page.

But please take advantage of this opportunity for free information to help protect you.

Great News! Number of High School Athletes With Concussions Doubles

Concussions are on the rise.  New research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine finds that the number of high school athletes who have suffered a concussion has doubled between 2005 to 2012.

This is great news!


Researchers think the reality is that the number of concussions is the same, but we’re becoming much more aware about the diagnoses.  That is good news.

We’re learning more and more about the potential short and long-term consequences of concussions.  For example, we know more now about second-impact syndrome — if a person has a second head impact (even one not very severe) while the brain still suffers from a head injury, it can lead to severe disability or death.

We’re also learning that for the brain to heal, it needs to rest.  As weird as it sounds, that means no electronics, no television, and limited thinking.  A kid can’t follow these instructions if the concussion isn’t diagnosed.

Unfortunately, I know first hand how important this is.  My son suffered a baseball related concussion in February.  While he’s fine now, it was difficult to see him suffer from the consequences — the headaches, the inability to focus, etc.  Fortunately, we had it diagnosed right away, we got instruction on how to rest his brain, and he healed (after five or so weeks).

Increased awareness can help increased the likelihood of a successful outcome for others as well.


If you or a loved one has suffered a concussion in a wreck or accident, please call us at 512-476-4944 to see if we can help.

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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