March 27, 2015

Distracted Teen Drivers Are Out Of Control: New AAA Study

Teen Distracted Driving Crash Graphics

Distraction a Factor in Six Out 10 Teen Crashes

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released results from its study of the causes of teen crashes this week and concluded that teen driving distraction is "even worse than we thought." Researchers reviewed 1,700 videos taken from in-vehicle event recorders that caught the moments before teens crashed. They found that distraction was a factor in 60 percent of the moderate to severe teen auto accidents -- four times previous estimates based upon police reports that relied upon drivers to admit they were distracted.

The nonprofit safety organization created a compilation of the final six seconds before teen accidents -- a must see for teens who are new to driving -- and for all drivers.

Common Teen Driver Distractions 

The AAA Foundation researchers determined that the use of an electronic mobile device -- including texting, calling and other activities -- diverted teen's eyes from the road for over four of the final six seconds immediately preceding a wreck. In addition, teens using an electronic mobile device failed to react more than 50 percent of the time to an impending rear-end collision, meaning they did not steer or brake to avoid the crash and instead ran directly into the automobile. 

Although cell phone use was high on the list of dangerous activities, teen driving also was affected by several other common distractions, including: 

  • Interacting with passengers -- 15 percent
  • Using a mobile phone -- 12 percent
  • Looking at something that is inside the car -- 10 percent
  • Looking at something that is outside the car -- nine percent
  • Dancing and singing to music -- eight percent
  • Grooming, such as brushing hair and applying makeup -- six percent
  • Reaching for an object within the car -- six percent
Texas Laws Reflects AAA Recommendations 

The AAA Foundation recommends that states enforce graduated driver licensing and distracted driving legislation to protect teens from the type of dangerous conduct found in the study. The Texas Graduated License Driver Program does, in fact, restrict the privileges of drivers younger than 18 years old, including:

  • Allowing only one non-family member passenger who is under age 21 in the car when the teen is driving
  • Limiting teen driving between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. to work, school or emergency purposes
  • Prohibiting all electronic device use, including hands-free cell phones, except for in an emergency 
What Can You Do?

Parents have the opportunity to set a good example by avoiding distractions while they drive and by talking to teens about the dangers.

If you were injured by a distracted driver, however old he or she is, you should consult with a skilled personal injury attorney. Berenson Law Firm can help you throughout what can be a difficult and complicated process. Please call our Dallas-Fort Worth auto accident injury firm at 817-885-8000 for a free claims evaluation.


March 26, 2015

Two Texas Judges Arrested For DWI

Austin Civil District Judge Arrested Last Weekend

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Triana-Judge-Gisela-booking

District Judge Gisela Triana of Austin was arrested for DWI on the night of March 20th after police stopped her for speeding in her 2013 Chevrolet Suburban. She was clocked going 47 mph in a 30 mph zone. Arresting officers report that she smelled strongly of alcohol, had glassy eyes and swayed when she walked. An empty Mike's hard lemonade bottle was lying in the center console. Judge Triana admitted to four drinks. She refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test but did perform four field sobriety tests at the scene. She has been a judge in Austin for the past 19 years and began her career as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office.

The judge said in a statement emailed to Texas Lawyer by her attorney:

I am very disappointed in myself ... Whether it is determined that I was legally intoxicated or not, the investigation itself indicates that I have not met my own standards of careful conduct.

Appellate Justice in Edinburg (South Texas) Arrested But Gets Slap On Wrist

Thumbnail image for Longoria-Justice-Nora-Booking

Even though she was driving while intoxicated, 13th Court of Appeals Justice Nora Longoria was just admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for her conduct during a DWI arrest last July. This is the lowest possible punishment she could have received. Her DWI arrest was thrown out by another judge.

The March 13th public admonishment stated that the judge violated the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct when she attempted to use her judiciary position to avoid arrest. 


Continue reading "Two Texas Judges Arrested For DWI" »

March 25, 2015

Texting While Driving Ban Being Voted On In Texas House Today

Legislation Has Bipartisan Support, But Will Our Governor Again Veto It?

A bill that would impose a statewide ban on texting while driving is coming before the Texas House this afternoon.. The House has passed anti-texting laws twice before but both were shot down. The first law was vetoed by former Gov. Rick Perry and the second law died in the Senate Transportation Committee two years later after Perry said he'd veto it again.

House Bill 80 is sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Craddick, the former Speaker of the House, and who is the leading advocate for this important cause. The House Transportation Committee approved the bill earlier this month. That session was emotional as families of victims, doctors and police officers testified to the tragic consequences of texting while driving. The bill has broad bipartisan support -- again.

House Bill 80 Anti-Texting Legislation

The House anti-texting bill currently reads:

"An operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped and is outside a lane of travel."

Exceptions are allowed for placing a telephone call, using voice-operated and hands-free technology, using a GPS, reporting illegal activity, seeking emergency assistance, reading an emergency-related text or while performing first responder duties. Violation of the law would be a misdemeanor, punishable by $25 to $99 for a first offense and $100 to $200 for subsequent offenses. 

Continue reading "Texting While Driving Ban Being Voted On In Texas House Today" »

March 24, 2015

Another Driver Shot In Terrifying Road Rage Episode in Houston

Kay Hafford

Shooter Still on the Loose

Kay Hafford was driving to work on I-45 at 7 a.m. on Friday when she honked at the driver of a sports utility vehicle who cut her off. This simple act triggered a frightening road rage incident that put the 28 year-old Hafford woman in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head. 

First responders rushed Ms. Hafford to Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, where surgeons removed several bullet fragments from the right side of her brain. Ms. Hafford (pictured here with her husband), a church singer, was stable enough to be released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon and, thankfully, is expected to make a full recovery. Police have asked the public for information about the road rage shooting.

Another Similar Shooting Happened In Houston A Few Months Ago

Harris County reserve deputy Kenneth Caplan was speeding down a Houston highway when he 

Continue reading "Another Driver Shot In Terrifying Road Rage Episode in Houston" »

March 23, 2015

Texas Bar Rated My Post #1 Last Week

texasbartoday_topten_badge_large.jpg
Thank you to all my readers. My blog post U.S. Senate Committee Approves Auto Safety Whistleblower Bill was rated the #1 Blog Post last week by Texas Bar Today.

I post articles like this to keep my clients and the public informed about important issues affecting motor vehicle collision cases.

March 20, 2015

Catastrophic Collision's Enormous Verdict Reversed On Appeal

Blog Dominos Pizza.jpgYesterday the Ninth Court of Appeals entered judgment dismissing Domino's Pizza from a lawsuit. This voided a huge verdict that had been awarded in a horrendous motor vehicle accident case that killed one person and ruined the life of another in Beaumont.

The crash:

In 2012 Mr. and Mrs. Christopher were crashed into by a delivery driver for MAC Pizza Management, the franchisee of a Domino's Pizza. He who drove his Ford Explorer across the center line and hit into their car head-on. The driver's car had bald tires and the roads were wet. Domino's had a corporate policy requiring that pizzas be delivered within 30 minutes, which only allowed nine minutes for a driver to get to the customer's house. This delivery was further than that distance from the restaurant.

Mrs. Christopher died that night and Mr. Christopher suffered a traumatic brain injury. The couple had been Christian missionaries for over 20 years.

The lawsuit:

The representative of the two estates filed suit, claiming that Mac and Domino's Pizza were vicariously liable for their driver's negligence pursuant to the theories of respondent superior, principal-agent, joint venture and joint enterprise. In addition, plaintiff alleged that Domino's was liable because it failed to use rules monitoring the safety of its drivers, the delivery was greater than nine minutes away from the restaurant, and the manager should have checked his vehicle and seen the tires had no tread.

The jury rendered a verdict of over $32 million dollar verdict for mental anguish, loss of companionship, funeral expenses, medical expenses, impairment and disfigurement found Domino's was 60% at fault.

The appeal:

The appellate court in Beaumont agreed that the evidence was legally insufficient to establish that Domino's owed a duty to the Christophers because the corporate owner had no right to control MAC Pizza's day-to-day operations. Domino's argued that it did not control every aspect of its franchisee's business and had no way to know that the wreck would occur.

March 19, 2015

Why Did Fort Worth Boy Die in ATV Crash at Festival?

Are ATVs Safe for Kids?

The Rednecks with Paychecks Off Road event, which is marketed as "4 days & nights of mud, rocks, music and friends," attracted 10,000 people to the small town of Saint Jo this weekend. The event, which takes place on a 1,200 acre area 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, is a wild party for off-roading fans. 

But local residents question the safety of the festival because young children are permitted to operate all-terrain vehicles. And most of the event-goers drink alcohol --  and of course a lot of them get intoxicated.

Sadly, the festival turned tragic on Saturday when 10 year-old Nicholas Torres was killed in a an ATV collision on event grounds. The boy was driving an ATV by himself when he drove into the side of a pickup truck. He was taken to a Fort Worth hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

ATVs Are Vehicles And Must Be Regulated

ATVs are vehicles, but are often treated like they are toys. Some all-terrain vehicles can reach speeds of up to 70 mph and weigh hundreds of pounds. As with a motorcycle, the vehicles lack important safety features like passenger enclosures, seat belts and airbags, ncreasing the risk of ejection and rollover injuries. The rough, uneven, unpredictable terrain of off-roading obviously increases its dangers. Yet untrained, unsupervised kids are often allowed to get behind the wheel many years before they are allowed to drive a car -- and only after taking driver's ed classes and being supervised by their parents.

In a 30-year study of ATV safety, experts found that close to 12,000 people died in ATV crashes, one-fourth of whom were children younger than 16 years old. During the 10-year period between 2001 and 2011, one-third of all ATV-related injuries that required emergency room treatment were to children younger than 16.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that ATV use is inappropriate for children who are 16 or younger. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission explains that "children under 16 years old lack the developmental skills to safely drive adult ATVs."

ATV Safety

You can take precautions to reduce the risks of driving an ATV, including the following:

  • Only permit teens older than 16 years old to operate an ATV
  • Learn to drive the vehicle through an official certification class
  • Operate a model of ATV appropriate to your age and size
  • Always wear a helmet and eye protection while operating an ATV
  • Wear safety gear, such as long sleeves, long pants, gloves and boats
  • Remain on designated ATV trails
  • Do not ride in the dark when visibility is compromised
  • Never drive an ATV after drinking alcohol

March 18, 2015

SUV Crashes Into School Bus in East Fort Worth - WTH?

An SUV collided with a Fort Worth ISD school bus Wednesday morning at the intersection of South Riverside Drive and East Maddox Avenue. Thank goodness that the driver of the bus and the student on it only suffered minor injuries. The driver had just made his first pickup of the morning or more children would have been on the bus.

According to police, the SUV ran a red light and hit the school bus. On impact the bus was knocked into a parking lot where it knocked over concrete pylons and hit a building.

The driver of the SUV was seriously injured. He had to be extricated from the vehicle by firefighters and was transported to the hospital by Medstar Ambulance.

Drivers: Be Careful Around School Buses

School is back in full swing after spring break in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Drivers are always rushing to get to work -- and don't even get me started about people who drive and text, or are so absorbed in their phone call they zone out. But our children are precious and there is no way you can't see a red light -- or a giant yellow school bus.

Continue reading "SUV Crashes Into School Bus in East Fort Worth - WTH?" »

March 16, 2015

U.S. Senate Committee Approves Auto Safety Whistleblower Bill

Senator Nelson of Florida

Response to High Number of Recalls in 2014

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill that allows whistleblowers who report auto safety hazards to receive a percentage of fines and judgments against the offending companies. 

The law was introduced in response to the record numbers of recalls in 2014, many of which occurred only after manufacturers were forced to do so. General Motors knew of its faulty ignition switch for more than a decade before issuing its first recall. In the meantime, hundreds of accidents in G.M. vehicles resulted in unnecessary deaths and injuries. In addition, Takata was well aware that shards of metal could shoot into the passenger compartment during airbag deployment, yet did nothing to rectify the problem until dozens of people were killed and maimed. Both companies took pains to hide the defects to avoid financial liability.

The proposed whistleblower legislation is designed to encourage individuals with knowledge about safety violations to step forward.

Continue reading "U.S. Senate Committee Approves Auto Safety Whistleblower Bill" »

March 13, 2015

Who Won Big Insurance Company v. Hospital Case in 5th Circuit?

Thumbnail image for Gavel

Houston Area Hospital's Decision to Discount Charges to Out-of-Network Patients Gets Mixed Decision On Appeal 

The U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit reversed part of a Houston district court's granting of summary judgment on Tuesday in a closely-watched case with $40 million at stake. Other major insurance carriers and providers of medical services also awaited guidance from the court on how to proceed.

In North Cypress Operating Centers et. al. v. CIGNA et al. a unanimous decision written by Judge Patrick Higginbotham, District Judge Keith Ferguson's dismissal of the majority of the hospital's claims against the carrier was upheld. However, its claims for ERISA violations and breach of contract were remanded, so this battle that has raged for four years will continue.

Background:

This case centers on the subject of coinsurance payments, i.e. how much the insured has to pay under his plan.  Newer and more aggressive providers have enticed patients from out-of-network providers by reducing or even waiving those payments. To combat this practice, some carriers refused to pay these claims. 


Continue reading "Who Won Big Insurance Company v. Hospital Case in 5th Circuit?" »

March 11, 2015

Fort Worth Officer Arrested for Second Alcohol Related Incident

Evan Geraghty Wincovitch, Fort Worth Police OfficerHow Can Police Who Break the Law Enforce the Law?

Police arrested their colleague last week on a DWI charge, the second alcohol related arrest for the Fort Worth police officer in the past five years.

Evan Wincovitch was involved in a minor, single-vehicle fender-bender last Tuesday early on 2:30 AM in the 8300 block of Randol Mill Road. Fort Worth officers arrested Mr. Wincovitch, whom they suspected of driving while intoxicated.

The Fort Worth Police Department has placed Mr. Wincovitch on restricted duty status and confiscated his badge and gun. He was released on bail Tuesday night.

Officer Got Off Easy in 2010 Arrest

Mr. Wincovitch joined the Fort Worth Police Department in 2008. He was arrested in 2010 for public intoxication. Howevera more appropriate charge in that incident would have been DWI.

Saginaw police saw Officer Wincovitch walking along the side of the road with apparent injuries to his face and body. They noticed he smelled of alcohol and had numerous cuts. The Saginaw officers then found his 1995 Chevrolet Suburban abandoned on train tracks at Railhead Road in the 4800 block. Mr. Wincovitch's SUV contained several empty bottles of beer, his cellphone and his citation book.

He admitted to internal investigators that he drank about seven and one-half alcoholic beverages, including a liquor shot, during the six hours prior to crashing his vehicle.

He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to 30 days of deferred disposition, which allowed his charge to be dismissed once he paid a traffic ticket and avoided further problems during that short period. He completed an anti-alcohol class sponsored by the department and served a three-day suspension from the force. He subsequently returned to duty. 

The then-Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead announced that the department was cracking down on the increasing problem of officers' alcohol-related arrests.

Continue reading "Fort Worth Officer Arrested for Second Alcohol Related Incident" »

March 10, 2015

Alvarado Family Killed by Drunk Driver in Wrong Way Crash


Drunk Driver in Hospital Awaiting Charges

Another DWI wrong-way crash, this one tragically taking the lives of a young mother and her two children early Sunday. 22-year-old Maranda Abshire had just left her grandfather's house moments before when the fatal crash occurred a half mile away on County Road 810.

Leonard Abshire was watching his grandchildren 5-year-old Adrian and 2-year-old Cruz, as he did five nights a week so the single mother could work her shift at a local Chili's restaurant. Maranda picked up her children and her 13 year-old sister Lindsey and started toward home at close to 1:30 a.m. The driver of a pick-up truck was travelling in the wrong direction on U.S. Highway 67 near County Road 810 and Baker Lane and slammed head first into Maranda's Mustang. Miranda and her two children died at the scene. Lindsey survived and was flown to the hospital with injuries that appear to be non-life threatening. The drunk driver also survived, but is currently hospitalized with serious injuries. He had to be extricated from his vehicle.

Police suspect the pick-up driver was intoxicated and are waiting for toxicology results before bringing charges, presumably DWI, intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault. His name has not yet been released.

Deaths Devastate Family

Friends remember Maranda as a devoted mother to her two kids and a hard working, friendly hostess. She was also studying to be a legal assistant in addition to motherhood and a full-time job. 

In an instant, a drunk driver took the life of a woman with a bright future and her beloved children and shattered the lives of everybody who loved them.

Intoxication Leading Cause of Wrong-Way Crashes

According to a National Transportation Safety Board Special Investigation Report on Wrong Way Crashes, alcohol is a leading factor in these types of accidents. In fact, seven of nine wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 percent or higher and 60 percent of wrong-way drivers who caused fatal collisions had been drinking. Frighteningly, nine percent of wrong way drivers had a DWI conviction within the previous three years of the wrong way accident. 

The NTSB recommends installation of ignition interlock devices to stop drunk drivers. MADD has been recommending this same solution for years and I have personally supported the efforts to pass legislation in Texas to require installation of ignition interlock devices after a first DWI conviction.

If you were the victim of a drunk driver, we can help you recover. Call top-ranked Berenson Law Firm at 817-885-8000 to set up your free initial case evaluation.

March 9, 2015

Intoxication Manslaughter In Plano Collision - 14 Year Jail Sentence

Chensky

Wylie Man Was High on Prescription Pills When He Killed 18 Year-Old Woman

50 year-old Christopher Chensky pleaded guilty to intoxicated manslaughter in the Collin County Court on Monday. The judge sentenced the Wylie man to 14 years in prison for causing the accident that killed an 18 year-old woman. Had Mr. Chensky taken his case to trial, he would have faced up to 20 years of incarceration. He also was sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine.

Mr. Chensky was heading from Wylie to his home, at the time of the auto accident, in Grand Rapids on July 1, 2009 in the early morning hours. He became disoriented and ended up on the Central Expressway in Plano near the Parker Road exit. While driving 63 mph, he slammed into the back of the victim's car, which was travelling northbound on the expressway. The collision caused her to lose control of her vehicle and she slid sideways into a steel beam on U.S. Highway 75. Mr. Chensky veered into Zenna's Bar and Grill and hit two parked vehicles before coming to a stop against a telephone pole.

The victim sustained severe head trauma in the auto accident and remained unable to walk or talk for 18 months, at which time she succumbed to her brain injuries.

March 5, 2015

Why The Surge in Wrong-Way Crashes In Texas?

Wrong Way Crash Fort Worth.jpg
Drugs and Alcohol Often To Blame

Last June, Efraim Carmona was so drunk that he didn't notice he was entering the ramp to Sam Houston Tollway going in the wrong direction. Moments later he rammed head-on into the Guzman family's pick-up truck. Five members of the family were killed in the fiery crash, including a 3 year-old boy and 11 year-old and 13 year-old girls and their parents. A 15 year-old girl who survived sustained severe head trauma, burns and spinal cord damage that has left her partially paralyzed.

34 year-old Carmona's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .23 percent, nearly three times the legal limit in Texas. He was charged with He five counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault.

251 Wrong-Way Wrecks in Texas in 2014

Although the head-on collision that killed the Guzman family is one of the worst, wrong-way crashes are surprisingly common on Texas roads. 

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), 251 wrong-way crashes occurred in 2014, resulting in 102 injuries and fatalities. TxDOT reported an average of 165 wrong-way crashes each year from 2010 to 2013, which caused 55 to 64 injuries and deaths each year. What has caused this enormous 50 percent increase in wrong-way wrecks from the previous four years?

Intoxication is a primary factor in the most horrific wrong-way collisions. Whereas only 20 percent of wrong-way crashes involve drugs and alcohol, impaired drivers caused most of the deaths and severe injuries. Drunk drivers are not able to react upon discovering they are headed the wrong way as a lucid driver might be able to do.


Continue reading "Why The Surge in Wrong-Way Crashes In Texas?" »

March 4, 2015

Compelling Road Rage PSA Stars A Guy You Don't Want To Hit

We Have Too Much Road Rage In North Texas 

Driving on DFW's congested highways can make anybody feel stressed, but even in the most annoying of circumstances, nothing is worth losing our tempers behind the wheel. 

Who better to make this point than World Champion boxer Evander Holyfield? In this road rage PSA, a black SUV backs out of a driveway in front of a white pickup truck, forcing the driver to brake. The pickup truck driver pulls around and in front of the SUV and stops. The angry driver gets out of his truck yelling and cursing and stomps toward the SUV. The door of the SUV slowly opens and a very calm Evander Holyfield emerges. The message is powerful.


Continue reading "Compelling Road Rage PSA Stars A Guy You Don't Want To Hit" »