April 23, 2015

Controversial Red-Light Cameras To Be Outlawed

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New Law Likely to Pass State Legislature Soon

The $75 traffic citation arrives in the mail. You might rack your brain as you try to remember if you ran a red light. Or you might reluctantly admit that you did. You might even concede that our roads have been safer since red-light cameras were introduced into the Texas roads landscape in the early 2000s.  Now these annoying but potentially life-saving cameras will become a thing of the past.

The Texas Senate voted yesterday to ban red-light cameras across the state. The new law, SB 714, will eliminate them in two phases. First, the law would prohibit installation of new cameras, then they would slowly be removed as the contracts between municipalities and camera operators expire. So don't get too excited; the cameras will be on our streets for years to come.

Sen. Bob Hall introduced the bill because he believes that the cameras "trample on constitutional rights" while doing little to improve public safety. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure on a 23-7 vote. The bill has now been sent to the House, where it also has substantial support and will pass.

Several Texas cities have already voted to prohibit the use of red-light cameras. But on the other hand, the Fort Worth City Council recently voted to continue the program due to its efficacy, and many other cities believe that they have reduced crashes at intersections. 

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April 22, 2015

What is the Leading Cause of Teen Deaths? Hint: i

New Study Identifies Increased Risks of Distracted Teen Drivers 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), auto accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that the fatal crash rate for drivers ages 16 to 19 is three times higher than for drivers who are 20 years or older. 

Unfortunately, teens continue to represent a high percentage of auto accident fatalities and injuries year after year. Inexperience, speeding, failure to use seat belts and propensity for risk-taking contribute to the higher rate of crashes. And now, a study of 3,000 teenage drivers in four states conducted by Oregon State University researchers found that teen drivers are increasingly more distracted while behind the wheel, a fact that significantly adds to the risks.

Any Distraction is Dangerous 

Most teens understand the dangers of texting while driving, even if they continue to do it. However, the study found that teens did not recognize the dangers involved in other distractions, such as eating, drinking, reading a GPS, changing the music selection, talking on the phone or reaching in the back seat for an item. More than one-fourth of the teens in the OSU study admitted to changing clothes or shoes as they drove. Some actually did homework while behind the wheel. These activities are distracting and dangerous.

Experts recommend teens engage in classroom simulations of various distractions to raise awareness about distracted driving. The interactive programing may work better than the traditional teacher instruction so teens think twice before engaging in distracting activities while driving. 

Texas Laws Against Texting While Driving

Drivers who are younger than 18 years old and novice drivers -- those with a driver's license for less than six months -- are prohibited from using a cell phone and texting while driving in Texas. All drivers are prohibited from using electronic devices in school zones. Upon expiration of the ban period, many teens may incorrectly believe that because it is not illegal, using an electronic device while driving must be ok. 

Several legislative bills creating a statewide ban have been introduced and have either failed or were vetoed. An anti-texting bill is currently before the Texas legislature in the 2015 session and has been tentatively approved. In the meantime, some cities are taking action through local ordinances. One of the latest is Austin, which enacted a ban on all handheld devices while driving a vehicle or riding a bicycle. And among the other 40 Texas municipalities with local bans are Arlington, Bedford, Denton and Grand Prairie here in the Metroplex and major cities including Corpus Christi, El Paso, and San Antonio.

Berenson Law Firm Supports A Statewide Ban

We represents victims of auto and truck wrecks and have seen the heartbreak a family suffers when a teen is seriously injured or killed in a car crash. Banning texting while driving is a simple solution to help curtail a tragic problem. That is why we advocate for a statewide ban and urge our governor to sign the law that prohibits cell phone use and texting while driving. 

Related Posts

Texting While Driving Ban Is Before Our Legislature -- Again
Texting While Driving Ban Wins Bipartisan Support At State Legislature
Texting and Driving Outlawed In Bedford; Which TX City Is Next?

April 21, 2015

Mesquite Police Officers Rescue Driver From Burning SUV

Dramatic Scene Caught on Police Dash Camera 

Two Mesquite police officers heroically rescued a 25 year-old man from a burning vehicle on Sunday. The dramatic scene was caught on the police vehicle's dash cam. 

Officers Ryan Nielson and Autumn Soto responded to a call regarding a single-vehicle crash on Interstate 30 early Sunday morning. They arrived to find the SUV in flames with the unconscious driver trapped inside. With no time to spare, the officers jumped into action. The video shows them bolt to the burning vehicle and pull the man to safety as flames shoot from the hood and cabin of the SUV. 

The officers' quick thinking saved Hector Valles's life; his clothes had already caught fire when they reached him. Mr. Valles's family said he is currently being treated for burns and multiple fractures. 

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April 20, 2015

Will Supreme Court Stop Crash Victims from Sharing Safety Info?

GM Claims to Protect Trade Secrets; Victims Fight to Protect Consumers 

IMG_5421.jpgThe Texas Supreme Court decided almost 30 years ago that attorneys could share information gathered in automobile defect cases. The issue has come before the court several times when large corporations sought to restrict the rights of plaintiffs' legal teams to share information. However, in each case, the case has settled before the Texas Supreme Court could affirm the precedent case law. The issue is likely to be before the court in the near future, according to an article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. Which way will the court rule?

GM Defect Lead To Original Precedent

The case law was established in a 1987 ruling regarding another GM defect. In that case, Manuel Garcia sued GM for an auto defect responsible for the deaths of his wife and son. A car rear-ended their GM Buick, which then burst into flames. Garcia alleged that the Buick's fuel system was defective.

Garcia's attorneys realized that the information they received through discovery would be useful to other lawyers who were pursuing similar claims. GM won the right to bar sharing of the information at the lower court level, a decision the Texas Supreme Court overturned.
Under the ruling, plaintiffs' attorneys are permitted to share information while protecting the corporation's trade secrets. This allowed attorneys to cut costs and to discuss strategies, and thereby help to equal the playing field when litigating against huge corporations.

GM Again Attempts to Restrict Information Sharing 

In 2010, Elias Bolaños and his coworker were driving back from a job site in a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. The driver fell asleep at the wheel while travelling 80 mph and lost control of the vehicle. The pickup truck rolled several times and came to rest on its roof. The cab's roof was caved in to the level of the truck's hood; His autopsy revealed that Bolaños suffocated to death but had not suffered any other life-threatening injuries. 

Bolaños's family sued GM, alleging that a defect in the pick-up truck's design was to blame for the roof collapse. During discovery, plaintiffs' attorneys sought the design data. The automaker claimed this information was proprietary and attempted to impose restrictions, including the return of the documents to GM and prohibition against sharing the data with other lawyers. GM was poised to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, but settled when their motives were questioned amidst growing safety controversies. 

Why the Right to Share Information is Important 

Corporations often rely upon trade secret law to avoid disclosing incriminating information to plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the current atmosphere of the court is to protect trade secrets at a high cost to plaintiffs. 

Under the existing law, attorneys can compare notes, which forces the corporation to comply with discovery rules. The cost of pursuing justice is reduced for plaintiffs who would otherwise have difficulty engaging in expensive litigation related to corporate negligence and product defects.

Will the Supreme Court decide to hear a case like this on appeal and if so, what will be the results? The original ruling was made when all nine members of the Supreme Court were Democrats; now they are Republicans with  long records of deciding cases in favor of big businesses and insurance companies. The court has indicated that it is ready to hear an appeal and the timing is right for corporate giants to finally get their way, to the detriment of car wreck victims and the public at large.

April 16, 2015

Judge Rules G.M. Is Shielded from Defective Switch Lawsuits

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Huge Win for Corporate Negligence; Major Loss for Accident Victims' Rights

It is clear that General Motors not only knew about its defective ignition switches for more than a decade, but took great pains to hide the problem. As a result, at least 84 people died and dozens were severely injured as a result of the mega corporation's despicable actions. To save a few bucks, G.M. cost many of its customers their lives and countless enormous medical bills, lost wages, and joften life-changing injuries.

Yesterday afternoon, G.M. won the right to ignore its victims fight for justice. A U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York ruled that G.M. is shielded from lawsuits arising from accidents that occurred prior to July 10, 2009. In addition, G.M. is relieved from most lawsuits seeking economic damages related to the defective G.M. automobiles. The ruling covers the bulk of the defects.

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April 14, 2015

Five Dead and 12 Injured in Fiery Fort Worth Tractor-Trailer Accident

Good Samaritans Among Victims Killed and Injured in Nine-Vehicle Crash

Veronica "Roni" Gonzalez and Ely Alba-Gonzalez were engage on Valentines Day. The happy couple celebrated this exciting milestone in their relationship with family and friends last Saturday evening. Sadly, this celebration ended in tragedy when the Roni and Ely's sister, Clarissa Banda-Castillo, stopped to lend a hand to victims in an earlier car crash on Interstate 30. Following behind in another car, Ely also stopped to help. 

As these generous women rendered aid, a semi smashed into their cars and burst into flames, killing 43 year-old Roni and 18 year-old Clarissa. Ely sustained severe injuries, including leg amputation and loss of consciousness. She does not yet know about the most devastating loss, that her long-time girlfriend and her sister are dead. Thankfully, two children who were in Roni's car during the accident were not injured.

Apparently, helping people was par for the course for both women and their siblings. Roni's niece explained, "When they see somebody who needs help, they always pull over and help them."

Mary Hernandez enjoyed a dance class and an evening out with friends Saturday night. As she headed for home, she encountered a crashed BMW on I30. She too made the fateful decision to help. The 42 year-old mother of three was also killed in the 2:30 a.m. tractor-trailer wreck

Steve and Tracey Franklin also stopped to help the victim of the initial car crash. As members of a local jeep club, they regularly assisted drivers who were stranded by winter snowstorms in North Texas. Steve was killed by the 18-wheeler and Tracey remains in serious condition. Their daughter praised Steve in a heartbreaking message on Facebook: "There are not enough words in the world to communicate what an incredible man my daddy was."

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April 10, 2015

Southlake Teen Cyclist Dies from Traffic Accident Injuries

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A Southlake teen who was injured in a tragic auto accident last Monday has died. Doctors declared James Cole Malone brain dead on Tuesday afternoon and his organs were donated to transplant patients throughout the country. This final gift represents the generosity Cole displayed throughout his short life. 

Cole was biking home from a Boy Scout's meeting Monday around 8 p.m. when a car struck him as he crossed Lilac Lane on Byron Nelson Parkway, just one mile from home. He was airlifted to Texas Health Harris Methodist in Fort Worth with severe brain injuries

The driver stopped to render aid and cooperate with police. She has not been charged in the accident as the police investigation is continuing.

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April 9, 2015

Fort Worth Church Van Crash Victim to Have Leg Amputated

Youth Sponsor Suffered Severe Injuries in Deadly Head-On Collision  

Last month, Kelli Mellema's life changed forever when a car drifted across the center line and collided head-on into the church van in which she was a passenger. Kelli suffered catastrophic injuries, including third degree burns, a broken vertebra, a broken tailbone and devastating injuries to both legs. Kelli almost died that night. But, surrounded by loved ones, the 30 year-old woman has made a miraculous recovery, especially considering the severity and extent of her injuries. 

However, doctors were not able to save her severely injured leg. Her family announced that doctors would amputate Kelli's left leg below the knee this week. Doctors are still working to save her right leg.

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April 7, 2015

Proposed Texas Law Would Extend Car Seat Use, Protect Kids

Babies to Remain in Rear-Facing Car Seats for Another Year

Texas Representative Chris Turner from here in Tarrant County has proposed a law that would extend the amount of time babies remained in rear-facing car seats by one year. House Bill 955 mandates use of the rear-facing car seats until the baby is two years old or until she or he outgrows the weight and height limits of car seats. 

In his press release, Rep. Turner explained the purpose of the new car seat legislation:

"Keeping kids safe should always be our top priority. This bill will help inform parents and others about car seat safety and the need to keep children rear-facing longer."

Law Reflects American Academy of Pediatrics Car Seat Recommendations 

The proposed legislation mirrors the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for car seat use. The AAP updated its guidelines in April 2011 to clarify common confusions. 

Previously, the child safety organization advised parents to keep their children in rear-facing car seats until they reach the maximum limit for the car seat. However, in the past, the AAP also suggested parents could at minimum flip the seat to front facing once their children reach one year of age and 20 lbs. Many pediatricians and parents interpreted this recommendation as being the best time to turn the seat around as opposed to the minimum point for doing so.

The AAP now recommends parents make the switch at either two years old or upon reaching the limits of the car seat.

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April 2, 2015

DUI Driver Crashes into Fort Worth Store, Killing Young Mother

Man On Drugs Was Speeding at Up to 100 mph

While her mother and two of her children waited in the car, Sylvia Zazueta walked into the Star Food Mart to pay for gas and buy a drink for her son early on Tuesday afternoon. This ordinary act ended in tragedy when a speeding Chevrolet Avalanche truck barreled through the window of the store and landed on top of the 24 year-old Fort Worth woman. Medics rushed to pull the truck off her and she was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital. She tragically died from critical injuries to her head, chest and extremities.

Seven others were also seriously injured in the crash, including one man who was pinned beneath the vehicle. 

A passenger in the Avalanche fled on foot but returned to the scene of the crime and was treated for his injuries. 

The 19 year-old California driver of the truck, Isaac Adams, was also treated for some minor injuries. Adams was arrested on intoxicated manslaughter charges in the deadly accident and faces charges in another hit-and-run from which he was fleeing. He is also being held on outstanding warrants for speeding and driving without a license.

As always, I have to ask, what is going on out there?

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April 1, 2015

Motorcycle Riders Hit By Woman

Serious Head Injury Sustained by Motorcyclist Not Wearing Helmet 

Two motorcyclists were seriously injured in a traffic accident on Sunday afternoon in Corpus Christi when a woman driving a minivan failed to yield the right of way. The woman pulled out from a parking lot, darted across three lanes of traffic, and suddenly made a u-turn. A motorcyclist who was travelling in the center lane swerved to avoid getting hit by the minivan. The driver of the motorcycle lost control and crashed, throwing him and his female passenger off the bike. 

Both victims were transported to a local hospital. The woman, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered serious head injuries. 

This kind of collision happens far too often in North Texas.

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March 31, 2015

Deadly Arlington Crash Caused By Speeding SUV Driver

Law Enforcement Reminds Drivers to Slow Down

One person died and two people were injured in a three-car collision in Arlington on Monday morning. The crash occurred at 7:30 a.m. on Fielder Road at the intersection of Park Row Drive. The driver of an SUV was speeding in the northbound lane and swerving in and out of traffic as he approached the intersection. When the light turned red, the SUV driver failed to stop and rammed into a vehicle turning left from the southbound lane. The SUV went airborne before ramming into a second vehicle and slamming into a utility pole. 

The driver of the SUV was killed in the crash and the two other drivers suffered injuries. The crash knocked out power to the intersection for most of the day. Traffic was diverted throughout the day until power could safely be restored at what is described as one of the busiest intersections in the city.

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March 30, 2015

Wal-Mart's Low Low Litigation Tactics

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Motion to Require Injured Toddler's Presence at Marshall Trial Cancelled After Public Protest

Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world, with 2014 revenues of more than $476 billion dollars and assets worth close to $205 billion. But when its customers or drivers are injured, rather than do the right thing and pay their damages, it and many other mega corporationsoften resort to fighting them.

In Marshall last week, the Wal-Mart's legal team demanded that a severely injured toddler be present in court despite the interruption to his physical therapy and the discomfort the little boy would have to endure, according to this week's Texas Lawyer. In a trial about to begin in Marshall, a vehicle owner bought two new tires from Wal-Mart, which the mechanics knew should be installed on the back. Soon after, the driver was involved in a car crash with Cayden Hinson's family in which the improperly installed tires were to blame. Two-year-old Cayden's suffered traumatic spinal cord injuries. Wal-Mart's lawyers filed but just withdrew their motion to require the boy to attend the voir dire part of the trial (when the jury is questioned before it is seated).

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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

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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

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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. 

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