Archive for May, 2011

Two children die in intersection collision on Beltway 8 feeder – Centerpoint cut power to traffic lights

2 children died riding in this Suburban carrying 16 people after an intersection collision. Centerpoint Energy cut power to the traffic signal before the wreck.

8 month old Laura Abrego and 3 year old Valeria Mendoza were killed in intersection collision in Harris County when the Suburban they were riding in collided with a Chevrolet pickup truck, causing the two children to be thrown from the Suburban. The Suburban was driven by 27-year old Brenda Mendoza and a total of 16 people occupied the Suburban at the time, 12 of them were children. The Suburban was headed northbound on the Beltway 8 feeder road when the collision happened with the Chevrolet pickup that was heading eastbound on Garrett.

Two other children in the Suburban had to be flown to Memorial Hermann Hospital. No charges were pending against either driver for the accident. Deputies reported that the traffic lights were out at the intersection at the time of the deadly crash. Investigators said CenterPoint Energy was doing work in the area and cut power to the intersection’s traffic lights at 12:37PM Sunday: the collision had occurred by 1:40PM, within an hour of the power being cut. When KPRC Local 2 contacted CenterPoint about the incident, officials said they were looking into it. News Channel 2’s story is online here.

If you have questions about how to handle your automobile accident you can speak to a personal injury attorney at Smith & Hassler for a no cost consultation. Just give our office a call or submit your case through our web site at

HPD officer and father of 3 Kevin Will killed by drunk driver on Houston’s North Loop

Houston Police Department is mourning the loss of one its officers after a fatal drunk driving collision on Houston’s North Loop early Sunday May 29, 2011.  Officer Kevin Will was investigating a motor vehicle accident on the 610 Loop near Yale when he was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by 26-year old Johoan Rodriguez. Rodriguez is in jail and has been charged with intoxication manslaughter of a police officer, evading arrest and possession of a controlled substance. Every loss of life due to drunk driving is a tragedy, but especially so when the victim has a family: Officer Kevin Will is married with two children ages six and ten and his wife is six months pregnant with the couple’s third child.

Officer Will joined HPD in 2009 and had been with the vehicular crime unit for almost a year. At the time of the crash Officer Will was interviewing a witness to a hit-and-run accident when Rodriguez’ Volkswagen came around a barricade and hit Officer Will at around 3:15am. Officer Will yelled to the witness when the vehicle was looming: the witness jumped over the concrete barrier dividing the freeway and the witness said he heard the impact before he even reached the ground.

Our prayers are with Officer’s Will’s widow, his children and his colleagues. It is hard to imagine the heart-breaking task of explaining to Officer Wills’ children that their father will not be coming home. The Houston 100 Club frequently seeks donations after the on-duty death of a police officer or fireman: please consider making a donation to help Officer Wills’ family.

The Houston Chronicle’s story is here. News Channel 2’s story is here. Fox News’ story is here. Channel 13 Eyewitness News’ story is here. KHOU’s story is here.

HPD Officer Kevin Will, killed by a drunk driver on Houston's North 610 Loop. Officer Will has two young children, his wife is pregnant with their third child.

Sheila Lindsey identified as toll booth worker killed by drunk driver of Camaro

48-year old Sheila Lindsey has been identified by the Houston Chronicle as the victim of the latest Harris County drunk driving incident resulting in a fatality. Ms. Lindsey worked as a custodian for the Harris County Toll Road Authority and was performing her job duties late Wednesday May 25th, 2011 when a Chevrolet Camaro driven by a 38-year old bartender named Julie Little crashed into a concrete barrier, went airborne and struck Ms. Lindsey, presumably killing her instantly. Ms. Lindsey is the first Harris County Toll Road Authority employee to be killed while on the job. The Houston Chronicle’s story sets out a glowing picture of Ms. Lindsey whose coworkers say she was very well liked, friendly, caring, always ready to help others out and was known to always have a big, bright smile. Ms. Lindsey was assigned to the North Sam Houston Tollway toll plaza.

The driver of the Camaro, Julie Little, was arrested around 1:00pm on Thursday May 26th by Harris County Constables at a home in Montgomery County. A blood draw was taken from Little after the crash because investigating officers could smell alcohol on her. It was subsequently determined that Little’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was .165 which is more than twice Texas’ legal limit for intoxication, which is .08. It was also determined that Ms. Little had no less than 3 narcotics in her system also.

The Precinct 4 Contable’s office has said that investigators are going to examine the 2011 Camaro’s black box to download crash data and determine how fast the Camaro was traveling at the time of the deadly crash. Little had bought the Camaro only three days before the crash. Indications are that the Camaro was traveling at a very high rate of speed and that Little made no attempt to brake. Assistant Chief Mark Herman with Precinct 4 Constables said that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) was also assisting in the investigation because Little is supposedly a bartender in Harris County, and if Little were intoxicated while she was on the job that would be illegal. If the TABC investigation were to reveal that Little was intoxicated while working at a bar prior to the accident, there may be liability on the bar for Ms. Lindsey’s death.

This incident is a prime example of the tragic consequence that can result from a person’s selfish decision to drive while intoxicated. Our condolences to Ms. Lindsey’s friends, family and co-workers for their loss.

Camaro crash kills toll booth worker on Sam Houston Tollway

A toll booth worker died yesterday evening in a single vehicle car accident according to a Channel 13 Eyewitness News report when the driver of a black Camaro heading westbound on the Sam Houston Tollway crashed his sports car. The accident happened at around 11:00pm. Apparently the Camaro driver crashed into a heavy concrete barrier designed to protect the toll booth and the Camaro went airborne and then crashed down onto the toll employee who was standing next the booth in a closed toll lane. The employee was knocked 50 yards by the impact and was pronounced dead at the scene: the Camaro slid to a stop and came to rest on its roof. The Camaro driver was taken to the hospital in stable condition and tests will be performed to see if he had alcohol in his system at the time of the wreck.

Toll booth areas tend to be open area that are usually very well lit at night time and signs approaching toll booths tell drivers to slow down as they approach. It is difficult to see how a driver paying proper attention to the road ahead and traveling at an appropriate speed could be involved in an accident such as this. Precinct 4 Constables are investigating the cause of the accident and the Toll Road Authority is working to repair a wrecked toll booth. A report by Channel 2 News identifies the driver of the Camaro as being female, not male, and states the Camaro was speeding prior to the deadly crash.

Photographing your injuries from an automobile accident

If you have been injured in an automobile accident and will be making an injury claim under the other driver’s automobile insurance policy, there is a simple step you can take that will help document your claim. If you have sustained bruising, a laceration, have had stitches (including from a surgery) or as is with common with motorcycle accidents, road rash, or have other obvious injuries you can and should take photographs to document these injuries. Bruises heal fairly rapidly so you should document them before they fade away.

Here’s an example of how documenting injuries can help. “Dashboard knee” is an injury that car accident victims may experience, sometimes causing damage to their Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL), a ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint. Meniscus injuries in the  knee can also be caused by direct trauma to the knee. By photographing bruising to the knee area an injured person has documented evidence of direct trauma to the knee that is consistent with internal damage to the knee.  If a test such as an MRI later shows an internal knee injury, the photographs of the bruising are further support that the knee injury was a result of the car accident.

If you were taken to the emergency room or saw a doctor close in time to your car accident, you may think that the photographs are unnecessary because your bruises will be documented in your medical records. Unfortunately that is not always the case: just because you complain about pain to a part of your body does not necessarily mean your complaints will be recorded in your medical records. Likewise one part of your body may hurt much more than others, and your complaints may be focussed on the most painful part. Also bruises do not always show themselves right away but might appear after you have been discharged from the emergency room.

If you do take pictures to document injuries, you will probably be using a digital camera. A digital photographs costs you nothing, so take plenty of pictures. Make sure the pictures are well-lit but also make sure that if you are using a flash, the flash does not white-out the details, bruises, etc. Make sure a few pictures are taken showing the injured person’s face and injured body part in the same shot to avoid any accusations that the bruised knee could be anybody’s.

If you have questions about how to handle your automobile accident injury claim you can speak to a personal injury attorney at Smith & Hassler for a no cost consultation. Just give our office a call or submit your case through our web site at

Smith and Hassler files lawsuit against Farmers insured on behalf of 73 year old veteran

In early April Smith & Hassler’s client, a disabled 73-year old Marine Corp. veteran with a heart condition, was involved in a two-vehicle collision in Harris County with another driver insured by Farmers Insurance. According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department police crash report, the Farmers insured made an unsafe lane change when he merged to his left, colliding with the client’s pickup truck.  The front passenger corner of the client’s pickup truck was damaged, as was the driver’s door area of the Farmers’ insured’s vehicle.  The Farmers insured was issued a citation by the investigating police officer for making an unsafe lane change.

Smith & Hassler’s client had liability insurance only, so the only way his 10-year old pickup truck (his only transportation) was going to be repaired was if Farmers Insurance accepted liability for the accident and paid the claim. In early May, a month after the collision, Farmers Insurance denied the claim stating their insured had “legal control” (whatever that means) over the center turn lane where the collision occurred. Unfortunately our client’s pickup truck will be sold at auction by the storage lot it was towed to in order to cover the accumulated unpaid storage and towing fees that racked up while Farmers Insurance took a month to make a decision on the claim.

Smith & Hassler has filed a lawsuit in Harris County District Court on our client’s behalf seeking damages for his medical bills, general damages and his totaled pickup truck. Farmers Insurance’s slogan is: “Farmers. Gets you back where you belong.”  Hopefully you will never be involved in an automobile accident with someone insured by Farmers and have to learn firsthand whether the slogan holds true.

Our client's pickup was totaled in an accident with a Farmers insured: Farmers denied the claim.

Houston area nun Huong Do killed by 19 year old drunk driver

Channel 2 News is reporting yet another tragic loss of life in Houston due to drunk driving. 35-year old nun Huong Do from the St. Catherine Convent in Houston was involved in a crash at approximately 5:00am Sunday May 22nd at the intersection of Main and Minnesota streets in the city of South Houston. A pickup truck driven by 19-year old Marcos Garza slammed into Huong Do’s Honda Civic, pinning her behind the wheel. Police reportedly said that Garza confessed to running a stop sign at the intersection because he was driving drunk after a night out with his friends. Do was flown to Hermann Hospital in critical condition and on Monday her family made the difficult decision to have her removed from life support. Garza has been charged with intoxicated assault with a motor vehicle and was released on $100,000 bond.

Update: KHOU is reporting today that Garza has been charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of Sister Houng Do and he appeared in court today. Apparently Garza refused the breath test, so a mandatory blood draw was performed to measure his blood alcohol content. Houng Do was a member of the Vietnamese Dominican Sisters.

Borden Milk truck wreck on Highway 90 sends three people to hospital

Channel 13 Eyewitness News is reporting a major collision involving a milk truck that sent two people to the hospital. The accident happened around 2:30am on Saturday May 21st on Highway 90 at Miller near Sheldon in northeast Harris County. Investigators say that two wreckers had stopped behind a Chevrolet car that had a flat tire on the right shoulder on Highway 90. A wrecker driver was out of his vehicle and was helping two women change a flat tire on the car. A Borden Milk truck approached from behind them in the right lane, traveling eastbound. As the milk truck traveled over the overpass the driver reached for something in the cab causing him to veer to the right, at which time the milk truck smashed into the back of the wrecker, sending it into the other wrecker and striking the wrecker driver standing beside the car. The accident continued as that wrecker was pushed into the back of the Chevrolet, knocking it down a grass embankment and onto the feeder road. The Borden Milk truck flipped on to its side. Both the wrecker driver who was struck and the passenger in the Chevrolet car were air lifted to Memorial Hermann Hospital. The other wrecker driver was sitting in her cab when the accident happened: she was taken by ambulance to an area hospital.

Smith & Hassler’s personal injury attorneys have represented hundreds of Texans injured in 18-wheeler accidents and have significant experience with the special issues in accidents involving commercial vehicles. If you or a family member have been seriously injured in an accident with an 18-wheeler, call 713 739 1250 or 1-800-WIN-WIN1 for a free consultation, or contact us online via our web site.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform article in Houston Chronicle misses the point on HB 274

Leo Linbeck, Jr., a senior chairman for lobby group Texans for Lawsuit Reform, has authored an article published in the May 19, 2011 issue of the Houston Chronicle extolling the virtues of HB 274, otherwise known as the “loser pays” bill. You can read the full article here. Part of Mr. Linbeck’s analysis of HB 274 in the article reads as follows:

HB 274 also amends Texas’ current offer of settlement law to encourage parties in a lawsuit to make reasonable settlement offers earlier in cases rather than later. Since most cases settle, it will save everyone time and money if we can encourage this to happen earlier. The idea behind the offer-of-settlement law is that if either side turns down a reasonable offer to settle, it might have to pay the other side’s litigation costs after the offer because it is at fault for keeping the lawsuit going and continuing the cost of time and money. HB 274 makes the risk of paying litigation costs for both sides equal.” (Emphasis added).

This analysis of HB 274 is flawed. The risk of paying litigation costs is not equal for both sides. In order for either side to be exposed to paying the other side’s litigation costs, the Defendant must invoke the provision of the “loser pays” statute. See, Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Sec. 42.002(c): “This chapter does not apply until a defendant files a declaration that the settlement procedure allowed by this chapter is available in the action. If there is more than one defendant, the settlement procedure allowed by this chapter is available only in relation to the defendant that filed the declaration and to the parties that make or receive offers of settlement in relation to that defendant.”

If the Defendant files a declaration and thereby invokes the statute, the Plaintiff can respond in kind and inform the Defendant that if the Plaintiff proceeds to trial and recovers greater than 120% of the settlement offer, Plaintiff can recover her litigation costs. The critical part Mr. Linbeck’s analysis misses is that under HB 274 the Plaintiff does not have the opportunity to invoke the statute when the Plaintiff wants to: the Plaintiff can only respond to the Defendant invoking the statute.

This creates a situation where the Defendant can stonewall, delay, behave unreasonably and make no genuine good faith effort to settle the lawsuit, then at the eleventh hour make a settlement offer and invoke the loser pays statute. If the Plaintiff then responds in kind and invokes the statute too, under HB 274 the Plaintiff can only recover her attorneys’ fees incurred after the Plaintiff invokes the statute. The problem with that is by then the damage has already been done: due to the Defendant’s stall tactics the Plaintiff has already incurred significant attorneys’ fees that, no matter what the outcome at trial, the Plaintiff cannot recover under HB 274.

Contrary to Mr. Linbeck’s analysis that HB 274 makes the risk of paying litigation costs for both sides equal, the Defendant has no risk of incurring any of the Plaintiff’s litigation costs unless the Defendant invokes the statute in the first place, and even if the Defendant does so, what the Plaintiff can recover for attorneys’ fees can be strategically limited by the Defendant choosing to invoke the loser pays statute late in the lawsuit.

Mr. Linbeck’s analysis also ignores that there is commonly a huge disparity between Plaintiffs and Defendants in terms of the ability to absorb the risk of incurring the other side’s litigation costs. If the Plaintiff is a private individual and the Defendant is insured by Allstate, Farmers Insurance or some other multi-billion dollars insurance company, being responsible for the Defendant’s litigation costs could financially ruin a private individual Plaintiff yet to an insurance company is not even a bump in the road. As such HB 274 sets up a tremendous inequality in risk.

Contrary to Mr. Linbeck’s analysis HB 274 does not create  equal risk for both sides. HB 274 gives yet another strategic advantage to Defendants.

Five workers burned at TXI Cement Company plant in Midlothian, Texas

Five workers have been burned in an accident at the TXI Cement Company plant in Midlothian, three of them were burned critically. The plant is in North Texas near Dallas. In a statement issued last night, TXI said it had few details about what happened but the men suffered their burns while doing maintenance work in a kiln in the main processing area of the plant. The three workers with the worst burns were air lifted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the two others were taken by ground ambulance. Channel 13 News’ story is here.

If you or a family member have been injured at work, such as in a construction site accident, call Houston-based personal injury attorneys Smith & Hassler for a free consultation regarding your legal rights. Smith & Hassler has represented hard-working Texans injured on the job for more than 20-years.