Archive for August, 2010

How do I get a copy of the police report for my Houston car accident?

A “crash report” is a form filled out by the Houston Police Department officer who investigated your collision.  The report contains a lot of information, including the insurance company and policy number for the other driver (assuming the other driver was insured). The report will also include the officer’s opinion of what caused or contributed to the collision, and who got a citation (if anyone).  Police crash reports are filed with the central records division of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in Austin, TX. Police officers are required to complete a report when there appears to be more than $1,000 in damage to one or more person’s property. Accident reports typically require 5-8 days processing time from the date of the collision until they are ready. A copy of the report can be purchased for $6.00 from the HPD records division or can be bought online from for $7.50. Information on requesting a report from the records division is available on HPD’s web site here. If you are making a claim under another person’s automobile insurance policy, having a copy of the police report is extremely important: the other driver’s insurance company will have a copy, and you may be at a disadvantage if you don’t.

As part of representing injured clients, Smith & Hassler orders police accident reports for clients’ automobile accidents. If you have a question either about your accident or about the police crash report for your accident, you are welcome to call Smith & Hassler for a free consultation or visit us online at

Teenager riding bike hit by car

Sunday August 15, 2010: A teenager riding a bicycle near Westpark Drive and the Southwest Freeway in Houston was injured and hospitalized after being hit by a car. After exiting the freeway the car crossed a median and hit the teenager who was transported to Ben Taub in critical condition. The driver of the car was also hurt and the cause of the accident is under investigation.

Texas law on seat belt use

Texas Transportation Code Section 545.413 sets out the law in Texas regarding the use of safety belts in motor vehicles. It is an offense for a person over the age of 15 to ride in a motor vehicle in a seat that has a safety belt available, but the person does not use the safety belt. In this situation the passenger who is not buckled would receive the citation.

It is also an offense for a driver of a motor vehicle to allow a person under the age of 17 (who is not required to ride in a child safety seat) to ride in a seat that is equipped with a safety belt, but is not wearing the belt. In this situation the driver of the vehicle would receive a ticket.

There are a few limited defenses to this law, e.g. if you have a doctor’s note excusing you from wearing a seat belt, or you are a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.  Smith & Hassler encourages everyone driving in Houston (or anywhere else) to wear their safety belt.  In a car accident a safety belt can mean the difference between a car accident that results in minor injury that quickly heals, versus severe, life-changing injuries or even loss of life.

Crashed Metro bus removed from building in Houston

A Houston Metro bus crashed into a building on Monday August 9th at Jefferson and Caroline streets in Houston. The bus was pulled out of the building Tuesday.  A Metro representative has said that the bus driver swerved to avoid colliding with an SUV that ran a red light. The building that the bus hit housed a daycare center but fortunately was vacant at the time of the car accident.  Engineers were brought in to shore up the building before the bus was removed to prevent a possible collapse. The driver of the bus and the SUV’s driver were both taken to hospital with injuries.  Click2Houston’s report is available here.

Houston red light camera program under attack.

August 9, 2010: Opponents of Houston’s red light camera program turned in 30,000 signatures on a petition backing a proposed charter amendment to have the cameras banned.  Mayor Annise Parker is questioning whether there is sufficient time for the city secretary to verify the signatures are from Houston voters before an upcoming August 24th election deadline. Opponents of the cameras claim the program has more to do with generating revenues than it does with promoting safe driving and reducing car accidents in Houston.  The Chronicle’s story is available here.

The truth about the “McDonald’s Coffee Case”

Strike up a conversation with someone about personal injury lawsuits and more often than not the so-called “McDonalds coffee case” is brought up.  The case is usually brought up by people who will tell you they are opposed to personal injury lawsuits, they generally don’t care for people who bring injury claims and they really don’t like personal injury lawyers. Often these people take the position that the lawsuit was frivolous, that the injured lady is responsible for her own injuries and that the jury way over-compensated her.  This opinion is usually based on knowing few of the specifics of that particular case.  Wikipedia has a very good write-up of the case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, that is well worth reading.  You can view it by clicking here.  Here’s a few of the high points of things you may not know about the case:

* Stella Liebeck, a 79-year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, sustained third degree burns to her groin area and spent 8-days in hospital undergoing skin grafts.

* Stella offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000 which would include reimbursement of her $11,000 in medical costs.  In response McDonald’s offered Stella $800.

* During the lawsuit Stella’s attorneys discovered that McDonald’s required its franchisees to serve coffee at 180 to 190 degrees. At that temperature the coffee would cause a third degree burn in two to seven seconds. From 1982 to 1992 McDonald’s received 700 reports of people burned by McDonald’s coffee to varying degrees of severity.

* A 12 person jury reached a verdict on August 18, 1994 and found Stella 20% responsible for her injuries and McDonald’s 80% responsible.  The jury found that although there was a warning on the coffee cup, the warning was not large enough and was not sufficient as worded.

Alleged drunk driver causes fatal car accident in Houston

August 6, 2010: On his way to pick up a car driven by a drunken driving suspect a Houston area tow truck driver was killed in an accident that allegedly also involved a drunk driver. The accident was on Jensen Road near Laura Koppe at about 1:30am in Houston, Harris County. Police say the wrecker driver Rogelio Flores, who has driven wreckers for 25-years, was cut-off by the other driver causing him to clip the car then lose control and crash into a utility pole and sign post. Flores’ employer describes him as being a hard working family man. The driver was taken into custody on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and may be charged with intoxicated manslaughter. Police officials report that the driver admitted he had been drinking and had just left a bar. View pictures of the accident here.

HPD officer fired after deadly car accident, alcohol involved.

August 5, 2010: A Houston Police Department officer, Mark Hutchins, has been fired after a deadly wreck that involved alcohol.  Officer Hutchins has been charged with intoxicated assault with a motor vehicle. Hutchins was sworn-in as a police officer in 1997 and investigators have not released details of the car accident.

Metro fires driver after fatal car accident in Houston

A fatal accident occurred  earlier this week involving a Metropolitan Transit Authority wrecker driver and a 64-year old woman whose identity has not been released.  Metro has since fired its driver Gregory Clark who failed a Federal Transit Administration– required alcohol test following the Tuesday August 3, 2010 accident. Clark’s wrecker was in service but was not hauling a bus at the time of the collision. The wrecker crashed into the female victim’s car at Scott Street and the south 610 Loop in Houston. The woman and her passenger were taken to Ben Taub General Hospital where the woman died. Metro and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are working together to determine if criminal charges will be brought against Clark. Metro has stated that Clark was suspended for three days in May because he was found off his route. The Houston Chronicle’s story is here.

Do I need a personal injury attorney for my car accident?

Ultimately the decision must be your own as to whether you decide to retain a personal injury attorney to represent you for a car accident case (or any other injury case). A good personal injury attorney will give you a free consultation and will be up front with you about what an attorney can and cannot do for you.  At the end of the consultation you should feel that you understand what is involved in presenting a personal injury or car accident claim and how the process works. You should not feel pressured to sign up with an attorney simply because they met with you and gave a free consultation.  You should be able to make an informed decision about retaining an attorney.

Something you might consider in weighing whether to have representation is who is “on the other side” of your claim. In the great majority of instances you will be dealing with representatives of an insurance company (“adjusters”) who have handled many hundreds if not thousands of claims similar to yours.  Smith & Hassler’s attorneys and support staff routinely represent clients’ interests in claims made with insurers such as Allstate, State Farm, Progressive, Farmers, Liberty Mutual, Safeco, Zurich, Fred Loya, Mercury, USAA, Texas Farm Bureau, Germania and many others.

Insurance adjusters have an advantage over you in that they are very experienced in handling injury claims.  You on the other hand have probably been in one or two automobile accidents your entire life, and find the claims process frustrating and cumbersome, largely because you are not familiar with your rights under the applicable laws.  Bias aside, insurance companies and the adjusters that work for them have a financial incentive to pay you as small a settlement as possible.  Here is a link to a special report by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on how major auto insurers such as Allstate and State Farm play hardball with people making injury claims under their policies.

Insurance companies profit when they collect insurance premiums from their policyholders.  Paying claims eats into those profits, therefore what do you think an insurance company would rather pay you on your claim: fair value or as little as they can get away with?  Having an experienced, knowledgeable personal injury attorney on your side helps keep the insurance company honest and increases the likelihood you will be fairly compensated for your injuries and losses.

A good personal injury firm will make themselves available to answer your questions during the lifespan of your injury claim and will promptly return calls.  Research has shown that clients’ number one pet peeve is unreturned calls.  Your personal injury attorney ideally will handle the administrative burdens of your claim, such as gathering your medical bills and records from your medical providers, documenting lost income and if the claim is to be settled negotiating reductions of outstanding medical bills when possible.

Most personal injury attorneys, including Smith & Hassler, work on a contingent fee arrangement where the attorneys are paid for their work only if the client recovers.  For that reason the attorney and client’s interests are truly aligned and the attorney and client are in a sense partners.  For that reason there is great value to getting recommendations from friends, family and co-workers who have retained a personal injury attorney and been satisfied.