Do Self-Driving Cars Need Driver’s Ed?

I’ve been following the stories of self-driving cars.  As a personal injury lawyer who sees the devastation of car wrecks, I’m interested in technology that can help my clients be more safe.  On the other hand, knowing all the calculations that go into safe driving — watching for other cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, and other risks — I’ve wondered how technology would be able to handle all of those risks.

Well, it looks like we might still have a ways to go.  Google and other companies have been testing nearly 50 self-driving cars around California.  Reports earlier this week confirmed that, since September, the self-driving cars had been involved in four accidents.  While that might not sound like a lot, if four out of every 50 cars on the roads were involved in wrecks during that same period, it would be catastrophic.

The companies aren’t releasing many details of the wrecks, but reports indicate that two of the wrecks occurred while the cars were in self-driving mode and two occurred while the drivers controlled the cars.

We’ll see how this technology develops going forward.

Posted on: May 12, 2015 | Tagged

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.

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.’s Rating of Best Auto Insurance Companies

This week,, 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 EIGHT: Thinking That You Are “Fully Covered”

I often ask clients who have been victims of car wrecks what type of coverage they have.  Most respond that they are “fully covered.”

What does that mean?  Too often, people who tell me that they are “fully covered” aren’t fully covered.  They usually only have the minimum liability limits required by law.  But they think they’re “fully covered” because some agent told them that without explaining to them what it really means.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, when buying liability insurance to protect yourself from a claim made against you when you cause a wreck, you need to make sure you have adequate liability insurance.  For most people, that means more than the $30,000.00 required by law.

Additionally, you need to buy personal injury protection and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to make sure that you’re protected when you or your family is injured in a wreck caused by someone else.

In my mind, you’re not “fully covered” until you have these types of insurance in sufficient amounts to cover a likely claim size given your circumstances.

Don’t just let the agent tell you you’re “fully covered.”  Make the agent explain what the mean and how you’re being protected.

Car Wrecks: Could You Be Liable For Sending A Text To A Driver?

texting-while-driving.bmp” alt=”” /> It’s no secret that texting while driving is dangerous.

We’ve probably all seen the driver who can’t stay in his lane or who is driving dangerously slow all so the driver can text while driving.

But it’s dangerous.  It’s so dangerous that study after study finds that it’s significantly more dangerous than even driving while intoxicated. (And heaven knows we see too many clients injured in wrecks caused by texting and driving.)

Thus, we can all understand (I hope) that if someone is texting while driving and causes a wreck, then the law ought to hold that person accountable for the harms the person causes others.

But what about the person who sends a text to someone that person knows is driving?  Should the person sending a text to a known driver be potentially liable if the driver is in a wreck while reading or responding to the text?

That’s now a possibility in New Jersey.  Earlier this month, a state appellate court ruled that third-party texters could bear responsibility in texting-related car wrecks.  In reaching the opinion, the court wrote, “when a texter knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving, the texter has a duty to users of the public road to refrain from sending the driver a text at that time.”  However, the Court specifically said that they are not holding that someone who texts to a person driving is liable for that person’s negligent actions.

Could this happen in Texas?

It’s doubtful.  Our legislature and court systems are extremely conservative, and I have a hard time believing that they would reach the same conclusion.

But we should still heed the warning.  If you know a friend or family member is driving, don’t text them.  Wait until they’re somewhere safe to read your message.


Car Wrecks: Take Care With Car Seats

A big part of our summer has been the addition of a new nephew.  In August, my youngest brother had his first child, an adorable baby boy.

As we were sitting at the hospital, I was thinking back to my daughter’s birth.  As young, inexperienced parents, we were trying to make sure that we did everything right to keep our daughter safe, including making sure that we had the best car seats to protect her while we were driving.

But car seats are like anything else —- they’re only as good as the operator.  And about a month after our daughter was born, we figured out that we had been strapping her into her car seat wrong.

We’re not alone., a respected public service website, reports that 7 out of 10 kids in child safety seats are not properly buckled in.

That’s a problem. Studies unanimously find that motor vehicle crashes are the number 1 killer of kids, and a lot of that can be attributed to lack of use or improper use of child safety seats.  That’s a particular problem for us in Texas, where we are usually neck and neck with California for the most number of child deaths from car wrecks.

Not surprising, child safety seats are remarkably effective at protecting kids.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that proper use of child safety seats can reduce the risk of fatality in infants by 71 percent and in toddlers by 54 percent.  It’s so important, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has started recommending that doctors discuss car seat safety with parents at each visit.

If you have any questions about whether you’re using a car seat properly, find a free check in your area.  A study in Pediatrics magazine   found that this type of hands-on instruction can increase proper usage significantly.

Veterans At Higher Risk For Motor Vehicle Crashes

In an odd phenomenon, recent studies have shown that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are at a much higher risk for car wrecks than the general population.  The studies have found:

  • Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal motor vehicle accidents than do civilians (with a large portion of these being from motorcycle wrecks).
  • Veterans are much more likely to be in a wreck in the six months after deployment than the six months before deployment.
  • The more combat tours the veterans had completed the higher risk that they become involved in an accident.

These numbers are startling, but there are some explanations.

Some theorize that troops come back with driving habits that help them while deployed (rushing through intersections, etc.) that help survive overseas but contribute to higher wrecks back at home.

Others theorize that post traumatic stress disorder, which is becoming all too common in returning troops, causes aggressive driving.

Personally, I wonder if there’s another explanation.  Suicide amongst veterans is the leading cause of non-battle deaths.  Social scientists have long understood that suicides dramatically increase after a highly publicized suicide.  This is known as the Werther effect.  However, not only do obvious suicides increase, but fatal car accidents and even plane accidents increase significantly after a publicized suicide.  The theory is that for many people, they do not want to have appeared to have killed themselves.  Instead, they may purposefully cause a wreck or accident so it seems that they died accidentally.

Regardless, these men and women have served us, and our military owes it to them to try and help protect them from these fatal accidents, whatever the cause.



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.


Car Wrecks — Auto Insurance Basics

Many times, how we proceed in a case and the value of the case are governed by the amount and type of insurance available.  Thus, it’s important to know some basic information about auto insurance so you can understand how those decisions are being made.

Keep in mind that this is basic information.  There are a number of complex issues within each one of these areas.  For example, I’ve spoken around the state to lawyers regarding issues with uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, one of the areas below.  Lawyers could listen to day long seminars (maybe even staying awake) on each of these areas because there are so many intricacies that affect claims.  If you have questions, ask your lawyer about it.


When you’re hit by someone, you need to know whether the person driving the car is covered by the insurance on the car.

Generally, a person’s automobile insurance covers that person, regardless of whether they are driving their car or someone else’s car, and anyone who is using that person’s car with that person’s permission.  For example, if Mr. Smith has an insurance policy covering his Ford Fiesta, the insurance would protect Mr. Smith while he was driving the Fiesta or any other car.  It would also cover anyone else driving the Fiesta as long as they have Mr. Smith’s permission to drive the car.

There are some policies that exclude particular people from coverage.  For example, if Mr. Smith had a son that had a bad driving record, the policy could specifically provide that the insurance was not covering Mr. Smith’s son.  These types of provisions can be especially troublesome when the other driver in your wreck has a low-cost policy, many of which have long lists of people who might normally be covered but who are excluded under the particular policy.

These coverage questions are particularly important when the driver of the car isn’t the owner.  One potential benefit in such a situation is that it might open up the possibility of two policy limits (one for the policy covering the owner of the car and one for the policy that the driver bought to cover his/her own car).  The importance of policy limits are explained below.


Every insurance policy has a maximum amount that the insurance company will be required to pay, regardless of the severity of the injuries suffered by people in the wreck.  This maximum amount is referred to as the “policy limits.”

In most instances, you will see or hear policy limits referred to with two numbers — the per person and per occurrence limits.  For example, current law requires Texas drivers to carry insurance with limits of at least $30,000 per person and $60,000 per occurrence.

The first part of that is fairly easy to understand — in an example like that, the most the insurance company could be required to pay any single person in a wreck is $30,000.

The second part is more tricky.  The “per occurrence” limit is that maximum that the insurance company could be required to pay in total, regardless of the number of people injured in a wreck.

For example, if two people are injured in a wreck, the insurance company couldn’t be forced to pay either of them $30,000 and couldn’t be forced to pay a total to them of more than $60,000.

This applies regardless of the number of people hurt.  If someone with a $30,000/$60,000 policy causes a ten car pile-up that injures fifteen people, the insurance company is not required to pay more than $60,000 in total to all of the injured people.

While $30,000/$60,000 is the minimum allowed by law, those amounts may increase.  It is not unusual to find policies that are $50,000/$100,000 policies or even $100,000/$300,000 policies.  But policies much higher than that are very rare except in cases involving commercial vehicles.


These are two coverages that you might have purchased on your own auto insurance.

PIP can cover you two ways.  If you are in a car whose policy has PIP, then you are eligible for the PIP benefits if you’re in a wreck while in that car.  Similarly, if you own a car and your insurance has PIP coverage, then you qualify for those benefits whenever you’re in a wreck no matter whose vehicle you are in.

PIP will pay for your medical expenses and 80% of your lost wages up to the policy limits of the policy.

One benefit of PIP is that, unlike health insurance or many other types of insurance, you don’t have to reimburse the insurance company if you make a recovery from the person who hit you or some other third party.

Med-Pay is a poor substitute for PIP.  It only covers medical expenses (and not lost wages), and you do have to pay your insurance company back for your Med-Pay benefits if you make a recovery from someone else.

As a lawyer, I think PIP is a very important insurance.  I’ve seen a number of clients who find themselves unable to work due to a wreck, and their PIP benefits are the only thing that help them pay their bills while their case progresses. It is not expensive so I urge everyone who can afford it to buy it.


This is another type of coverage that you buy when you purchase your own auto insurance.  It protects you if you’re in a wreck and the driver who causes the wreck either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance.

If you bought UM/UIM insurance for your car, it covers you and anyone in your car when a wreck happens.  It also covers you if you’re in any type of auto accident, whether you’re in your car or not.  This includes providing coverage if you’re hit by a driver while you’re a pedestrian, riding a bicycle, or even sitting on your front porch.

Like PIP, I think it’s critical that you purchase UM/UIM insurance.  Despite laws to the contrary, there are a significant number of drivers out there who don’t have any insurance at all.  And when drivers have insurance, most only carry the state minimum of $30,000.00.  If you’re hurt and need even minor surgery, that $30,000.00 won’t even be enough to reimburse your health insurance company for your medical expenses.  You pay a lot of money for insurance to protect others; you should spend the money to protect yourself also.

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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