No Pokemon (ing) While Driving

Fairly typical questions we ask and investigate in car wreck cases are whether the driver was distracted by talking on the phone or texting while driving.  Now, I might have to start another series of questions after the introduction of Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is an app game that was released a few days ago, and it’s already taking over the virtual worlds of kids and young adults.

But this morning, I was alerted by a reporter acquaintance that the new game is also quickly becoming a driving hazard.  A quick twitter search confirmed his fears.

I’m inserting a few of the concerning screen shots in the post.  Needless to say, don’t play PokemonGo or engage in other distracting conduct while driving.  Keep yourself focused while driving so your ultimate time for Pokemon isn’t cut short.

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Insurance Recorded Statement: Beware This Seemingly Innocent Question



“If we get some of your bills, do we have permission to pay your medical providers directly?”

That’s a question that I’ve started seeing when GEICO takes recorded statements of some of my clients (and I can only assume that other insurance companies will follow behind).  It seems innocuous.  The client says, “yes.”  Of course, that would be great.

It’s terrible.

Agreeing to this simple request can really hurt your accident claim.  Why?

Medical expenses are funny.  For most medical providers, there are at least two numbers for medical bills.  First, there is the “rack rate” — the full price rate that the medical providers try to charge those without insurance.  Second, there is the “insurance rate” — the contractual rate that the medical provider and health insurance companies agree is a proper charge for a particular service.  (And in reality, these insurance rates can be different for every different health insurance company, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on.)

Which rate is charged, has an impact on your case.

By offering to pay the bill directly, GEICO and other carriers are trying to get permission to go to your medical providers and try to cut your case out from under you.  They’ve paid something they’re going to have to pay anyway, often at a lower rate than you would be able to recover from them, and in the process, they’re decreasing the value of your claim while decreasing their risk.  It’s all good to them.

It’s also taking money out of your pocket.  If hospital A has a $10,000 bill but is willing to accept $7,500 (and I’m making these numbers up), then if GEICO pays the hospital directly, it saves itself $2,500.  However, if the lawsuit goes forward and GEICO has to pay you, the client, the $10,000 and then you pay the hospital the $7,500, then that $2,500 savings goes to you and not the hospital.

So agreeing to this seemingly innocent request is costing you money!

There are a number of ways that an insurance company can use a recorded statement to its advantage.  While this is a relatively new tactic, it’s not the only tactic.  We always tell our clients that they shouldn’t agree to a recorded statement without having a lawyer present to help protect the clients’ rights.

If you or a loved one has been in a car wreck and have been contacted about a recorded statement, please call us at (512)476-4944 and let us help you before that statement occurs.



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.


Teaching Teen Drivers

Articles about teen drivers seem to be in the news (or maybe because I’m teaching my own teen to drive, I’m just noticing the articles more).  Regardless, there were two recent articles I saw that probably interest you if you have a teen driver.

The first reports on a study that finds that 60% of teen driver wrecks result from distractions.  This is probably not a surprise to any of us.  But the study was noteworthy for me because of the way it was conducted — the AAA Foundation watched nearly 1,700 in-car videos of teen drivers who were involved in wrecks to diagnose what the teens were doing immediately prior to the wreck.  The two biggest factors were talking to others in the car and using a cell phone, either for talking or for texting.  If you click the link, there is a video story that shows some of the video excerpts from the wrecks.  This is certainly something I’m going to make my teen driver watch.  Passing on this type of information should be of what we teach our kids.

The second article is a Wall Street Journal article entitled Better Ways To Teach Teen Drivers.  The story is based on a 2014 study that placed video cameras in parents’ cars to review what they were teaching their kids.  The analysis found that, by and large, teens are being properly taught the mechanics of driving — how to turn, how to control speed, etc.   Unfortunately, the study found that parents did not do a good job of teaching teens accident avoidance — how to recognize hazards, how to avoid those hazards, etc.

The best line in the article was discussing the fact that parents spend a lot of time on things they had trouble with, such as parallel parking.  But as the story noted, “Most people don’t get killed parallel parking.”  Instead, the article encourages parents to spend more time working on hazard recognition and judgment — making left turns into oncoming traffic, how to merge on and off highways at high speed, etc.  The article also encourages you to work with your kid in bad weather conditions, in crowded roads, and the like so that the teens’ first time experiencing these things are not while they are alone.

It pains me to give credit to an insurance company, but State Farm has a teen driving program called Road Trips on its teen driving website,, that can help you with the process.  The website also has a 3-d video tool that helps kids learn to scan for hazards as they’re driving.



Personal Injury Claims: What If My Medical Bills Exceed The Policy Limit

I received this question from a potential client the other day.

Whether you have a car wreck, on-the-job injury, slip and fall, or any other personal injury claim, your claim will usually be paid by an insurance company.  Unless you have a claim against a large commercial business (think Walmart), then you’re only going to be able to recover from the defendant’s insurance policy.Unfortunately, insurance policies don’t pay unlimited amounts.  Policies come with a “policy limits”, the maximum amount that the insurance company will be liable for in any claim.   Except in rare circumstances, that limit is the most the insurance company will ever be required to pay, no matter how bad you’re hurt.  (For a more detailed article on policy limits, click here.)

In some circumstances, a client’s medical expenses can exceed the policy limits.  What do you do then?

Generally, there are two potential courses of action.  First, if you health insurance, then health insurance will pay most of your medical expenses.  Unfortunately, you typically have to reimburse your health insurance company for the amounts that it has paid.  When these medical expenses exceed the policy limits, we will typically negotiate the amount you have to pay back to the insurance company so that we can minimize that amount and put as much money as possible back in your pocket.

Alternatively, if you don’t have health insurance, then those bills are likely still outstanding.  In that case, we’ll negotiate directly with the medical providers.  We can usually work something out.  In these cases, the medical providers usually know, especially when the bills are high, that people don’t have the financial resources to personally pay large healthcare bills.  Thus, they know that the best way to get it is out of a settlement.  So often, we’ll be able to negotiate a resolution where the medical providers are accepting pennies on the dollar.  The medical providers know that something is better than nothing, even if that something isn’t very big.

There are, of course, other ways of solving this problem, but these answers settle most of the problems.

Posted on: September 2, 2014 | Tagged

Austin Bans Use of Hand-Held Cell Phones While Driving

Yesterday, the Austin City Council adopted a ban on drivers using hand held electronic devices, including cell phones.  The ban, to go into effect on January 1, 2015, doe contain exceptions for hands-free devices and for 911 or other emergency calls.  You can read more about the ban in this article by KXAN.

I have some mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I see these problems daily, and I preach about the dangers of distracted driving, including the curse of texting while driving, and, overall, I’m in favor of the ban.  On the other hand, I’m a bit concerned that this might be overreaching.  Talking on cell phones has become accepted, and it’s hard to legislate away such accepted conduct.

I hope the biggest effect of the ban is that we don’t have to see so many people texting while driving.  Police officers think the overall ban will make it easier to enforce existing texting while driving bans, and I certainly think that’s a good idea.

How Do I Settle A Claim With An Insurance Company Amicably?

This is another question I recently received.

A person was injured in a car wreck, they submitted a demand letter, and tried to negotiate, but the insurance company was stonewalling them.  What are they supposed to do?

There isn’t a good answer for someone in this situation.  Insurance companies may engage in stonewalling tactics that are designed to get you to accept less than the full value of your claim.

When you hire us, and this happens, our response is to file suit.  That’s the alternative and the hammer you can use to get a new adjuster, get a new perspective to the insurance company from a lawyer and to prove that you can enforce the claim.

But if you’re trying to represent yourself, you don’t have that option.  As a result, the insurance company, knowing that you don’t have a real alternative, doesn’t have an incentive to pay the full value of your claim.

This type of conduct is one of the reasons that insurance company studies find that claimants who are represented by lawyers do substantially better overall than those who try to represent themselves.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news to people in this situation.

Austin Police Chief Recognizes Austin’s Drunk Driving Problem

Austin has had a rash of drunk driving injuries in the last several months, including the huge SXSW wreck.

After Kelly Noel, a local popular blogger, was killed by a drunk driver this weekend, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is calling for a summit on drunk driving issues.  The article noted that fifty-five percent of Austin’s traffic fatalities this year involved drivers who were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

I don’t know whether a summit is the answer.  But I am encouraged by the discussion. Like alcoholism, recognizing you have a problem might be the first step in treating it.

Unfortunately, this larger problem only reflects what we’re seeing in our firm.  Over the last couple of years, we have been helping more and more clients who are being seriously injured by drunk drivers.  And while most of these cases have been late night wrecks, it seems there are more and more happening during the day.

This might be better for another article, but if you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver, and you’re looking for a lawyer to help, make sure the lawyer has ample experience in representing victims of DWI or DUI.  Most lawyers treat these as run of the mill car wreck cases.  But they aren’t.  There are a number of important steps and tactics that good attorneys utilize to help increase the value of your case.  Make sure you have a lawyer who can adequately represent you and your interests.

Auto Accidents: Understanding Texas Auto Insurance: MEDICAL PAYMENTS COVERAGE

Medical payments, or MedPay, is similar to PIP.  However, MedPay only pays for medical expenses (and not lost earnings).  The other significant difference is that MedPay does have a subrogation interest.  If you’re in a wreck and make a recovery against another party who caused the wreck, then you would have to reimburse your insurance company for any MedPay the company paid you.

All in all, MedPay is often priced very similar to PIP, but MedPay is a much inferior product.  We recommend to our friends and family members that they purchase PIP instead of MedPay.


Personal injury protection coverage (PIP) provides benefits to you, your family members, or others riding in your car when you’re in a wreck.  The coverage will pay for your medical expenses and 80% of your lost wages caused by injuries sustained in the wreck up to the limits of your policy.

Unless you specifically reject PIP coverage in writing, you will have $2,500.00 of coverage.  However, you can purchase much higher limits.

One significant benefit of personal injury protection coverage is that there is no subrogation interest.   Most insurance, such as health insurance or Medicare, has a subrogation interest.  That means that they might pay for your medical bills, but if you recover for those amounts from a third party who caused the injuries, then they will claim that you  must reimburse the health insurance company for the amounts they paid on your behalf.  However, PIP does not have a subrogation interest.  If they pay you benefits, you do not have to reimburse them if you make a recovery.

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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