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Attorneys on How a Change in Driving Culture Can Prevent Accidents

Houston auto accident attorneyAs part of its Out of Control series, the Houston Chronicle cites 640 deaths and 2,850 injuries on Houston-area roads in 2017. The staggering number of devastating crashes is attributed to a culture of “speed and convenience” that sees traffic accidents as an acceptable norm.

Dangerous driving behavior doesn’t always involve driving under the influence of alcohol or taking outrageous risks on the road. In most cases, it involves cumulative habits of inattentiveness and failing to comply with traffic laws often deemed trivial.

Most drivers who have developed poor habits behind the wheel are under the impression that a serious crash will never happen to them. Many of them have been driving distracted or ignoring traffic laws for years without any issues.

According to a “Traffic Safety Culture” survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) in 2017, nearly 45 percent of respondents admitted to reading text messages or emails while driving within the past 30 days. Moreover, nearly 35 percent admitted to sending text messages or emails while driving during the same time period.

It should be of no surprise that the survey also found that more than more than 21 percent of participants reported having been in a traffic accident in which at least one party had to go to the hospital. More than 11 percent were seriously injured themselves.

In 2018, the greater Houston area saw a 20 percent reduction in traffic fatalities, most notably due to programs that addressed driver awareness, quicker responses to highway accidents, and a decline in impaired driving.

In order to continue this upward trend, the Chronicle article suggests the following driving practices:

  • Paying attention to driving only
  • Reducing speed around potential hazards and blind corners
  • Maintaining a safe following distance from other vehicles
  • Looking out for pedestrians in crosswalks
  • Pulling over and taking a rest if drowsy
  • Wearing seat belts
  • Driving sober

In addition to practicing these safety habits, motorists should develop a new mindset towards driving. Rather than accept that accidents will simply happen, drivers can focus on what they can do to keep our roads safer.

Unfortunately, the message won’t reach everyone. There will always be some drivers who will continue to engage in distracted behavior, drug and alcohol impairment, and overall recklessness. That doesn’t mean you should have to pay for the negligent actions of others.

If you or a loved one sustained injures in a crash, don’t wait to act. An experienced Houston auto accident attorney at Smith & Hassler Attorneys At Law would be glad to sit down with you and discuss your legal options. To learn how we can help, contact us today.

Houston DUI Crash Kills Lyft Passenger in Clear Lake

Our attorneys break down the legal implications

Houston auto accident attorneyAt around 1 a.m. on Friday, March 1, a passenger in a Lyft vehicle was killed in a car crash that also left the Lyft driver in a coma, according to ABC 13.

The crash occurred when a motorist driving a gray Dodge truck hit the rear of another, smaller, pickup truck, kept going through an intersection and slammed into the Lyft vehicle. The passenger in the rear of the Lyft car was killed instantly – less than five miles from his home – and the driver was severely injured.

The driver of the Dodge truck was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. According to investigators, he failed a field sobriety test.

While this tragic wreck is still being investigated, it raises important questions about legal liability in complex car crashes.

In situations such as this one, the bar can be held liable

According to ABC 13, the driver who caused the accident told officers that “he was pounding tequila shots” at a bar within seven miles of the crash scene. This type of wreck is exactly why bars and restaurants are legally required to “cut off” or refuse to serve patrons who are obviously intoxicated.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code includes a “dram shop” statute; that is, a provision to hold establishments legally responsible for injuries caused by over-consumption of alcohol among their patrons. Under the dram shop statute, it must be proven that the drunk driver was obviously intoxicated to the extent they were a danger to themselves or others and were still sold alcohol. These claims are subject to comparative negligence – for example, if a jury finds that the bar was 60 percent responsible for the accident, then the bar will be held responsible for 60 percent of the damages (financial compensation) awarded in a personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Proving that an establishment failed to follow proper safety protocols in a “dram shop” case is a fairly high bar to clear. In this case, it is apparent that the bar in question has a recent history of negligence – in June 2018, its license was temporarily suspended after a Houston police officer was hit by a driver who had allegedly been over-served alcohol at the bar. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in dram shop cases. Many bars have a known history of overserving patrons but fail to make a change until it’s too late – and someone is seriously injured or killed.

The ride-share situation complicates matters in this accident

In this example, both victims were in a ride-share vehicle – the man killed was a Lyft passenger, and the Lyft driver was left in a coma. Ride-share services, because they use drivers’ personal vehicles, can become complex from an insurance perspective. Specifically, most personal auto insurance policies do not cover drivers who are “driving for profit,” which generally includes ride-share drivers.

Ride-share services, such as Lyft, carry supplemental insurance that covers drivers when they are involved in accidents not covered by their personal insurance. There is sometimes confusion over which coverage applies – for example, if an accident occurs when a driver is using the Lyft app but is not actively picking up or transporting a passenger. In this case, because a Lyft passenger was physically in the driver’s vehicle when the wreck occurred, it is likely that any applicable coverage that Lyft carries should be available to the victims.

The best course of action is to call an experienced attorney

Our hearts break for the families of the victims of this wreck. No one should have to suffer a serious injury or lose a loved one due to negligence or recklessness.

These kinds of wrecks are exactly why it’s so important to hold negligent drivers and businesses accountable. Establishments that serve alcohol have a responsibility to their patrons and the public to monitor their patrons’ level of intoxication and follow safety protocols. Texans who choose to drink alcohol have a responsibility to make safe decisions, including calling a cab or asking for a ride instead of getting behind the wheel.

Victims of wrecks caused by negligence have recourse through the civil justice system. No lawsuit can bring back a lost loved one, nor truly bring back what was lost after a severe or permanent injury. That said, recovering compensation for a deadly accident can make it easier for families to rebuild. It also sends a strong message that negligence has consequences here in Texas and helps to prevent other families from being similarly harmed.

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, Smith & Hassler, Attorneys at Law can help. We would be honored to meet with you for a free consultation.

Attorneys Offer Best Ways to Avoid Crashes Caused by Road Debris

Houston auto accident attorneyYou don’t always see it coming. Objects, small and large, laying in Houston’s roadways that simply don’t belong there. Road debris can include small metal objects that cause tire blowouts. They can also be larger objects that obstruct traffic – causing drivers to stop abruptly or swerve.

Road debris, a growing danger

ABC 113 Eyewitness News reports that road debris is a growing problem in Houston. Robert Henry, a member of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) road debris cleanup crew, says, “Daily, we pick up anywhere between 2 to 5 cubic yards of material.”

Cleanup crews have found furniture, kids’ items, household appliances, tires and tire treads. Within the last six months, several traffic accidents or near accidents were attributed to road debris.

AAA reports that from 2011-2014, road debris was a contributing factor in over 200,000 traffic accidents, with 39,000 injuries, and 500 fatalities.

In order to stay clear of road debris, TxDOT and AAA suggest that drivers:

  • Remain alert, avoid distracted driving, and keep both hands on the wheel
  • Maintain a safe following distance of at least 2-3 cars, in case debris falls off a vehicle
  • Don’t swerve or over-correct – this is the cause of almost 37% of road-debris related fatal crashes

Who can be held accountable in crashes related to road debris?

In many cases when debris is dropped on Houston roadways, the owner of the vehicle is unaware of it and continues driving. When an item falls out of the back of another vehicle, it can strike the vehicles that follow. Some objects can even pierce through the windshield and injure vehicle occupants. In this case, the vehicle and driver can be identified and held accountable for improperly loading cargo.

If debris is left on the road for a long period of time without a known source, the local or state municipality in charge of clearing debris from the road may be responsible. Municipal negligence only applies if the debris was already identified but nothing was done to clear it.

If you have been involved in an auto accident due to road debris, it’s important to speak to an experienced Houston attorney who knows how to handle complex cases such as yours. Identifying where negligence occurred may take some digging. This includes extracting evidence from a detailed police report, witness statements, and possibly surveillance camera footage.

Let the legal team at Smith & Hassler Attorneys At Law work for you. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

Our Attorneys Discuss Rear-End Accidents & Whiplash

Houston auto accident attorneyAmong the most common types of car accidents are rear-end collisions. Often, these crashes are caused by distracted driving and speeding. The resulting collision can leave victims injured. The most common injuries are whiplash, pinched nerves, and fractured vertebrae. 

The symptoms of whiplash may not appear until days after a collision. This makes it crucial to document a rear-end accident thoroughly and seek immediate medical attention, even if it appears minor. This will provide you with a record of how your crash occurred and the injuries you sustained, which can later be used to support your claim.   

What is whiplash?

Whiplash happens when the spinal cord’s normal curvature experiences a sudden change, such as the rapid backward and forward movement seen in a rear-end accident. Even in low speed collisions, this movement can damage joints, muscle tissue, and tendons. In severe accidents, whiplash can fracture bones and tear muscle tissue. Nerves are likely to get pinched between bones, causing pain to spread to other parts of the body. 

What are the symptoms?

Whiplash is experienced differently by everyone, even people in similar accidents. Multiple factors are at play, including the position the victim was sitting in, their physique, and the angle of the collision. You should visit a doctor soon after being involved in any auto accident, even if you feel fine. Signs of whiplash can potentially be delayed by weeks. Symptoms include:  

  • Tightness and spasms in the neck, back, and shoulders 
  • Dizziness (also a symptom of a concussion) 
  • Pain when moving neck and/or head 
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, and hoarseness when speaking can be symptoms of damage to the throat  
  • Burning, tingling, and other abnormal sensations 
  • Upper back pain  

Treatment options 

When visiting a doctor following a rear-end accident, there are multiple tools at their disposal to diagnose injuries. X-rays can locate bone fractures and a herniated disc or other significant ligament injuries can be found using a CT scan or MRI. With proper treatment, most cases of whiplash result in a full recovery.  

Your doctor will likely recommend one or more of the following treatments:  

  • Remaining active 
  • Temporary use of a soft cervical collar (brace)  
  • Medications to reduce pain, swelling, and muscle spasms.   
  • Physical therapy  

Not all cases of whiplash are preventable. However, wearing your seatbelt, proper headrest positioning, and correct posture can reduce your chances in the event of an accident.  

If you were involved in a rear-end accident and are suffering from whiplash, you deserve justice. Contact Smith & Hassler to fight for the compensation you deserve after your accident.

Head-On Collisions On Houston Roads: Our Attorneys Discuss

Houston auto accident attorney

When two vehicles traveling in opposite directions crash into each other, you have a head-on collision. They don’t happen often on Houston roads, but when they do, they can result in life-threatening or fatal injuries.  

Head-on collisions can often be difficult to predict and thus difficult to evade. They usually happen on undivided roadways with frequent curves, especially in rural areas. However, they can happen on busy city streets as well. 

Head-on collisions are most commonly caused by:  

  • Distracted drivers 
  • Drunk or drug-impaired drivers 
  • Drowsy drivers 
  • Tire blowouts 
  • Brake failure 
  • Loose wheels 
  • Inclement weather 
  • Negligent passing 

The higher the impact, the more severe the injuries  

According to The Car Crash Detective, severe or fatal injuries are highly likely in a head-on collision on roads with a speed limit higher than 43 mph. While your vehicle’s front end, seatbelt, and airbag may absorb much of the impact in a head-on collision, they can only do so much to protect you.  

Additionally, the damage in a head-on collision at an impact of 80 mph can be four times more devastating than one that occurs at 40 mph. That’s because your vehicle’s front-end frame and interior safety features will no longer be effective at that speed.  

Your vehicle could be crushed and you could be trapped inside. Even worse, a high-impact head-on collision could cause you to be ejected from your vehicle. If you survive, you’re likely to sustain:  

  • Broken bones 
  • Severe head injuries 
  • Cuts, bruises and lacerations 
  • Severe internal organ damage 
  • Permanent nerve damage 
  • Severe spinal injuries 
  • Damage to limbs 
  • Paralysis 
  • Mental and emotional trauma 

The aftermath of a head-on collision 

Recovering from a head-on collision can be a lengthy, costly and emotionally exhausting process. You will most likely endure months of physical therapy, pain medication and surgery. The damage can be so severe that you may never be the same again.  

When filing a crash claim, you will need the help of an experienced Houston auto accident attorney. That’s because determining which party was at fault in a head-on collision can be very difficult.  

The driver who struck you may have been distracted, driving recklessly, or driving impaired. Perhaps the other driver was side-swiped by another vehicle in a multi-lane road. Or a vehicle defect caused your head-on collision.  

The attorneys at Smith & Hassler will work tirelessly to investigate your crash and use crucial evidence to support your claim. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation. 

Can Reducing the Speed Limit In Houston Prevent Fatal Accidents?

Houston auto accident attorneyIn greater Houston, we have posted speed limits for a reason –  to protect the safety of all road users. However, some drivers fail to uphold their duty of care. Even if speeding drivers are skilled and attentive behind the wheel, their actions can put countless lives at risk.  

Accident victims are often faced with lengthy recovery times, expensive medical bills, and lost wages. In more extreme cases, innocent drivers can be fatally injured.  

Speed kills

Excessive speeding was a factor in a recent fatal accident in Harris County. The accident happened when one driver sped through a red light and struck another driver making a turn. Both the at-fault driver and the driver of the vehicle that was struck died in the crash. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2016 had approximately 10,111 speed-related deaths, which accounted for 27 percent of all traffic fatalities for that year.  

Exceeding the posted speed limit can be especially dangerous because:  

  • Drivers are more likely to lose control of their vehicles 
  • Stopping to avoid a crash requires more distance 
  • Crash severity increases with speed 

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) suggests that cities across the U.S. should reduce their speed limits in order to prevent accidents.  

The study’s focal point was on Boston, which reduced its speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph on municipal roads and dense areas in 2017. In comparison to similar roads in Providence, RI (which did not reduce its speed limit) the study found that drivers in Boston: 

  • Were 29.3% less likely to exceed 35 mph 
  • Were 8.5% less likely to exceed 30 mph 
  • Were 2.9% less likely to exceed 25 mph 

Finding solutions

As part of the Vision Zero program, some cities have already reduced their speed limits. In 2017, Texas legislators filed House Bill 1368, which would reduce the default speed limit in cities across the state from 30 mph to 25 mph. However, the bill is still pending in committee. 

Similarly, transportation experts in Houston are considering taking a variable stance on posted speed limits on Houston highways. According to Beverly Kuhn, a senior research engineer at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute, safety experts have proposed having adjustable speed limits on Houston highways using electric signs. This means the speed limit would increase or decrease depending on the road conditions or the amount of traffic congestion.  

If you or a loved one was injured in a crash caused by excessive speeding, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering. An experienced Houston auto accident attorney can vigorously fight to hold negligent drivers accountable, so you and your family can recover.  

Contact Smith & Hassler Attorneys At Law today to schedule a free, confidential case evaluation.

How the Roads of Houston Can Be Made Safer By Wrong-Way Driving Prevention Measures

Houston auto accident attorneyTechnology is being used in many new and exciting ways to make the roads of America safer for drivers, passengers, and other road users. New vehicles are being equipped with crash avoidance technology such as lane drift alerts, lane assist technology, cross-traffic cameras, and other warning sensors.

Now, technology is being used to identify and alert wrong-way drivers in order to reduce the risk that they will cause a collision.

The Causes of Wrong-way Driving Accidents

Wrong-way driving is “first and foremost a driver behavior issue,” according to one official at the Arizona Department of Transportation who spoke with ITS International. This official also reported that more than two out of every three wrong-way driving accidents in Arizona are caused by impaired drivers.

Often, the driver’s blood alcohol content is twice the legal limit or more. This is a driving behavior that must be addressed independently. Luckily, the good work of powerful advocacy organizations and government traffic safety agencies has been effective at addressing the problem of impaired driving across America. This must continue if the number of wrong-way accidents caused by impaired drivers is to be effectively reduced.

Other driver behaviors can also lead to wrong-way accidents. Here in Houston, one driver intentionally traveled the wrong way while fleeing from the police. The Houston Chronicle reports that the driver had caused a rollover accident before fleeing from the scene and leading police on a high-speed pursuit. She drove the wrong way on Highway 59, where speeds reached 100 miles per hour. She was eventually stopped before anyone could be injured. This was an incredibly lucky outcome in a situation that “could have been so much worse,” according to the Patton Village police chief. The driver was arrested on charges of both DUI with a prior conviction and fleeing from police.

This bad situation could easily have caused injury or death to other drivers in the area. In addition to the initial decision to drink and drive, the driver also chose to further endanger the public by leading police on a wrong-way, high-speed pursuit. This is the kind of driving behavior that cannot go unpunished.

In addition to criminal charges and administrative consequences (such as fines, fees, or a driver’s license suspension), it is important that victims hold negligent drivers accountable for their conduct through the civil court process. This can consist of filing a personal injury claim with the driver’s insurance company or filing a civil lawsuit against the impaired driver. Both of these processes provide important financial consequences to deter dangerous driving behaviors in the future.

Our Houston auto accident attorneys know just how devastating a wrong-way accident can be. It is important that victims protect their right to be compensated for all injuries and losses incurred as the result of a wrong-way accident. It is also important to hold negligent drivers accountable for their dangerous conduct (even if they were not impaired) in order to prevent future injuries to other innocent victims.

Recovering Damages in Houston Hit-and-Run Accidents

Houston auto accident attorneyTexas is among the most dangerous in the nation when it comes to hit-and-run accident deaths.

Valley Central reports that Texas hit-and-run-accident deaths are up 30 percent in the last two years. Nationwide, AAA reports that nearly 700,000 hit-and-run crashes have occurred each year for the last decade, with about two-thirds of those killed being either bicyclists or pedestrians.

Texas Transportation Code § 550.022 requires anyone involved in a traffic accident with property damage, regardless of whether the other driver is present, to stop. Violations in property-damage crashes may be misdemeanors, but in cases where injury is caused, a driver may face a felony charge and up to 5 years behind bars. Yet despite the law, many motorists choose to leave the scene of an accident.

Our Houston injury lawyers know how devastating these cases can be for injury victims and their families. Most result in very serious or fatal injuries. After a fatal hit-and-run, loved ones are left to wonder whether a victim suffered, or whether he or she could have survived if the at-fault driver had called 911 and stopped to render timely aid.

Drunk Drivers To Blame; Bicycle and Pedestrians Victimized

The risks in Texas are in part a consequence of a high number of drunk drivers and other risks that consistently cause our roads to rank among the most dangerous in the nation. Motorists who flee the scene of an accident are often afraid of interacting with law enforcement, perhaps because they’re driving drunk, driving a stolen vehicle, driving without a license or already have an outstanding arrest warrant.

Suing for Damages after Houston Hit-and-Run

Texas auto insurance law requires all motorists to have automobile liability insurance in minimum amounts of $30,000 injury coverage for each person and $60,000 for each accident. Even among those drivers who are carrying insurance, minimum coverage may not be adequate. As the Texas Department of Transportation notes, “[T]he minimum amounts might not be enough to pay all of the other driver’s costs if you’re at fault in an accident. Other drivers could sue you to collect the difference. Consider buying more than the minimum limits to protect yourself financially.”

However, when a driver leaves the scene and is never identified, recovery options for victims are limited. Among the best options is uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. This coverage pays bodily injury damages (include medical bills, pain and suffering and disability benefits) and property damage to the policy holder in the event of a collision with an at-fault driver who either has no insurance or has inadequate insurance – and a hit-and-run driver is uninsured by default. Benefits are extended to you, family members, passengers in your vehicle and others who are driving your vehicle with your permission. While it’s not mandatory coverage under Texas law, those who do not want it must reject it in writing.

The Insurance Information Institute reports that 1 in 8 drivers are currently uninsured. Many thousands of others are carrying minimum coverage. Texas motorists are at particularly high risk for hit-and-run collisions. Add it all up, and UM/UIM coverage, which will add at most a few hundred dollars to your annual policy premium, is among the most important protections you can buy when it comes to keeping you and your family safe on the road.

If you’ve been injured, an experienced auto accident attorney at Smith & Hassler can help guide you through the process. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

HPD Officer Nestor Garcia struck by suspected drunk driver

Please pray for 24-year old Houston Police Department Officer Nestor Garcia who was struck and seriously injured by an SUV last night on US 59 southbound at Dunlavy.

Officer Garcia, a rookie with less than 1-year on-the-job with HPD, was participating in a felony stop of a suspected stolen vehicle, when a white Toyota Highlander driven by a 79-year old male plowed through the scene at about 60 MPH. Officer Garcia sustained a head injury, abdominal injuries and some fractures and was listed in critical condition. The 79-year old driver was arrested and is expected to be charged with intoxication assault of a peace officer. Officer Garcia is not married; media reports say his family were with him at the hospital.

HPD Nestor Garcia drunk driving accident

The Toyota SUV that struck Officer Garcia

Update: the 79-year old driver has been publicly identified as Robert Zimmerman. Channel 13 interviewed Zimmerman’s neighbors and business associates, who report he used to work in real estate investing and is semi-retired. Zimmerman does not have a criminal record.

4 killed when Volkswagen struck by speeding car on US 290

Four people occupying a Volkswagen car were killed in a terrible automobile accident this morning on US 290 in Waller County. Channel 13 interviewed a DPS spokesman who explained that the Volkswagen was rear-ended by a speeding Chevy Impala sedan. That impact forced the Volkswagen off the roadway at which time the car caught fire. Firefighters did not discover the bodies of the victims inside the Volkswagen until they had extinguished the flames. The driver of the Impala was taken to a hospital in College Station in unknown condition. DPS is working on identifying the four folks who were killed.

car accident attorneys in Houston

Front end damage to the Impala

 

personal injury attorney Houston TX Smith and Hassler

The four victims were in this Volkswagen car