November 21, 2014

Five Terrell Family Members Die in Crash On Way to Disney World

In a heart-breaking one vehicle collision, five members of a Terrell family who were driving to Disney World were killed late Wednesday night in northern Louisiana.

Terrell Family Killed Car Wreck Flipped Louisiana.jpgThe accident happened around last night when the family's Chevy Tahoe rolled over on Interstate 20 near Calhoun, Louisiana.

Louisiana State Trooper Michael Reichardt said the 16-year-old who was driving fell asleep, veered to the left, and then over-corrected to the right when he woke up. The car rolled over, ejecting six people who were not wearing seat belts.

Five of the family members died at the scene,including the mother, father, and three children, ages 4, 7 and 15. The driver and two other passengers were transported to an area hospital with less severe injuries.

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November 20, 2014

Real Life Atticus Finch's Daughter Dies at Age 103

To Kill A Mockingbird Was Based On A Similar Case Her Father Had Defended

The sister of the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. died on Monday. Who was this extraordinary woman and why am I blogging about her? 

Alice Lee was a a trailblazing Alabama lawyer who was one of the only women to practice law in the state during the first half of the 20th century. She later became the oldest person still practicing law in Alabama in 2012 and didn't retire until she turned 100.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was originally entitled Atticus, took Harper Lee several years to write, and was published in 1960. It has now sold more than 30 million copies, been translated into over 40 languages, and is required reading in many schools.

Atticus Finch Was Based on Their Father

To Kill a Mockingbird recounts the brave actions of the highly principled lawyer Atticus Finch, who is appointed to represent a black defendant accused of raping a young white woman in racist Alabama during the Depression. Despite flimsy evidence, the all-white, all-male jury easily convicts Tom Robinson, who is later shot by an angry mob as he tries to escape from prison.

This heroic character is based in part upon Harper Lee's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, who represented two black men accused of killing a white store clerk in a nearby town when Harper Lee was 10 years old  Mr. Lee fought for his clients in a celebrated case but, like Atticus Finch, lost and his clients were given the death penalty.

The equally memorable 1962 film adaptation was nominated for eight Oscars and won three, including the distinguished Gregory Peck's only best actor award. A noted civil rights advocate, he said this was his favorite role and noted that

I put everything I had into it - all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity.

Atticus was an extraordinary figure filled with compassion, intelligence, courage and integrity. Here is his famous closing argument from his brilliant but impossible to win case:

Impact of the Book and Movie

Generations of attorneys - including me - consider Atticus Finch a role model.The beloved character represents everything a lawyer should strive to be: ethical, zealous. diligent, and fair.

Atticus taught us about bravery, about fighting for our clients, and about doing the right thing. As he told his children (presumably Harper and Alice Lee in real life):

 "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

The book is one of 100 Books that Shaped Work in America published by the U.S. Department of Labor. It was added to the list by the Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, who observed that many leading lawyers and judges, including the civil rights advocate Morris Dees, author Scott Turor, and the Oklahoma federal court judge who presided over the Timothy McVeigh trial were deeply influenced by the book.

Alice Lee's Influence Over Harper Lee And The Novel

Despite the spectacular reception of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee remained a mystery, granting few interviews and publishing no other novels. Alice Lee became her sister's voice and her attorney who protected her sister when predators tried to take advantage of her declining health to earn profits from her novel and reputation. 

When asked about her secret to longevity in a 2011 interview, Alice explained: "A good life to me is one that has been happy, one that has been productive. Things I have done have been good for other people. I've tried to be a good citizen in my community."

Alice Lee's life was truly inspirational, just like her fictional father. May she rest in peace.

November 18, 2014

Late Night Hit-and-Run Collision By FL State Star Hushed Up

FSU cornerback P. J. Williams P. J. Williams Only Receives Minor Traffic Citations

Leaving the scene of an automobile accident and driving on a suspended driver's license are obviously against the law. Somehow star Florida State University cornerback P.J. Williams was not charged with either offense on October 5 when he fled the scene of an accident he caused while driving on a suspended license. The evidence also indicates that Mr. Williams may have been driving while intoxicated at the time of the car accident, typical of hit-and-run cases. 

Of course, Florida State was #1 last year and is again #1 in the polls. And you'll remember the Jameis Winston debacle. At least Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent was prosecuted and convicted when he was DWI and killed his best friend in that horrible DWI wreck two years ago.

Police and University Cover-Up

Tallahassee police issued two traffic citations to Mr. Williams, but never began to question whether the football star had been drinking at a time when bars had just closed or why he fled the car crash. FSU police intervened, even though they had no jurisdiction in that area.

Tallahassee Police then deleted Williams's case from its online data reporting and have delayed a court date so that any other legal action will take place after the national championship game.

This preferential treatment puts all drivers at risk and sends out terrible signals to others, especially young people.

Both Cars Totaled in Hit-and-Run Accident

Mr. Williams turned his Buick Century into the path of 18-year college student Ian Keith. Mr. Keith's Honda S.U.V. spun out of control, the car crumpled and its airbags deployed. Both vehicles were totaled. Shaken, Mr. Keith waited for police to arrive. Only then did he realize the occupants of the Buick, including another cornerback, were gone. The law enforcement officers began a hit-and-run investigation.

But then Mr. Williams and his friends returned to the scene approximately 20 to 30 minutes later. Other football players, the director of player development for the FSU football program, and FSU campus police also showed up. In the end, the officers cited Mr. Williams with traffic infractions for improper turn and for "unknowingly" driving on a suspended license, but did not charge him with a crime. The incident did not even appear on the public online database as is the norm for police calls.

Hit-and-Run Football Player May Have Been Guilty of DUI

Mr. Williams' auto accident occurred at 2.37am on a Sunday morning, right after the bars in Tallahassee had shut down and a numerous drunk drivers likely filed out onto the road. Not everybody driving at this hour had been drinking. The hard working Mr. Keith was on his way home from his job at the Olive Garden when Mr. Williams ran into him. However, police should surely be aware that drunk driving increases after last call on a Saturday night. When a driver flees the scene at this hour, police usually base their investigation on the presumption that the driver was drunk. But not here.

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November 17, 2014

Employee Texting While Driving To Be Blocked By New App

9k=.pngResearchers are launching a new program to help businesses end the epidemic of distracted driving and the suffering and loss of life that can result. The University of California San Diego Medical School is behind the new application.

The program, funded through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the newest component of "Just Drive - Take Action against Distraction." It will offer no-cost technical assistance to employers who are interested in crafting or strengthening bans on their employees using cell phones while driving.

"The idea that you can multi-task safely while driving is a myth," said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, professor of family and preventive medicine and director of Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety (TREDS). "When drivers use a cell phone, they may take their eyes off the road, or take their hands off the steering wheel."

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November 13, 2014

Fewer DWI Crashes In Tarrant and Dallas Counties Over Holidays?

Brooks photo.pngNo Refusal Policy in Effect 

Dallas and Tarrant Counties have just announced plans to increase enforcement of Texas drunk driving laws during the upcoming holiday season. As part of that initiative, law enforcement agencies have adopted a no refusal policy.

I applaud Texas's initiative in deterring the drunk driving that is the appallingly common aftermath of many holiday celebrations. By getting drunk drivers off the road, law enforcement will spare families the agony of losing a loved one on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. I recently concluded the cases of these two fine people who were hit by a drunk driver and would not wish their ordeal on any one.

What Does No Refusal Mean?

In Texas, a driver is presumed impaired when she or he registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. The Breathalyzer tests the concentration of alcohol in a person's blood. Typically, a police officer asks a driver who is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving to give a breath sample in the Breathalyzer machine. However, a drunk driver can often deter law enforcement from gathering essential evidence in the DUI investigation by refusing to submit to the Breathalyzer test. In most cases, that is the end of the story. The refusal results in automatic driver's license suspension, but can improve the defendant's chances of acquittal in the criminal case.

According to an article in today's Dallas Morning News, drivers in Dallas and Tarrant County will again not have the option to refuse this holiday season. Instead, a police officer will seek a search warrant to compel a suspected drunk driver to submit breath or blood samples for testing. A judge may hold a driver who still refuses to comply in contempt of court, in addition to the DUI charges. Prosecutors, judges, nurses and lab technicians have been assigned to work around the clock to effectively implement the no refusal policy and increase enforcement of DUI laws.

For the first time, Tarrant County added the Halloween weekend to its list of No Refusal periods, and over 50 people were arrested as a result. I hope that one day Texas will implement a year-round no refusal program to discourage intoxicated driving.

Woman Paralyzed in DUI Accident Shares Her Story

In a poignant moment, Tonya Winchester addressed the attendees at the news conference announcing the counties' plans to ramp up holiday DUI law enforcement. Ms. Winchester was celebrating her high school graduation when she handed her keys to a friend because she was too drunk to drive. Tragically, her friend was too drunk as well, but she drove anyway. Her friend ran a red light and drove into the path of an 18-wheeler. Ms. Winchester was paralyzed from the chest down in the DUI accident. This inspirational woman calls herself an offender as well as a victim and she recognizes that her actions have had serious consequences on her loved ones who care for her everyday.

The article announcing the crackdown talked about the horrendous affluenza" case, in which I represented the family of a teen who was injured during a horrific DWI accident. My 15 year-old client was a friend of Ethan Couch and was a passenger in his car when Mr. Couch ran drove with a BAC of .24 percent and killed four people. Couch's apparent affluenza defense made national headlines. But the real story here is that a young promising teen suffered severe brain damage that requires constant lifelong care. Like Ms. Winchester, he is fortunate to have a loving family willing to devote their lives to providing the level of care he needs, but his crash never should have happened.

Hold the Drunk Driver Accountable

If you were injured in a DWI or DUI crash, Bill Berenson Injury Law can help you hold the drunk driver accountable. Call our office at 817-885-8000 or toll-free at 1-888-801-8585 to schedule a free case evaluation.

November 12, 2014

Ban On Texting While Driving Filed In Texas Legislature - Again

On the first day bills could be filed for the upcoming state legislature, former House speaker Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, filed for a statewide a ban on texting (TWD) for all drivers.

Craddick spearheaded this critical bill in 2011 and it was approved by the legislature. However Governor Perry vetoed it. This was a huge mistake. Here's why.

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November 11, 2014

G.M. Ignition Switch Trial Date Set

GM LogoFirst Trial Scheduled to Begin on January 11, 2016

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York set the trial date for the first General Motors ignition switch lawsuit for January 11, 2016 -- more than two years after the public learned of the ignition switch failure. The plaintiffs asked the judge to start the bellwether case's trial on October 2015 and G.M. requested a June 2016 date for this bellwether case.

What Does This Mean To A Driver Injured By The Switch?

To date, more than 130 lawsuits have been filed against G.M. alleging that a defective ignition switch resulted in personal injuries and wrongful deaths. The cases have been consolidated into multi district litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. 

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November 10, 2014

Three Arlington and Dallas DWI Crashes Take Lives of Five People

Another blog Arl map.pngweekend in DFW and more deadly DFW wrecks occurred, with no end in sight.

Three people died in intoxicated driving collisions in Arlington within only a few hours of each other. (Updated: one of the passengers who was initially reported killed is now listed as being in critical condition at an area hospital.)

Another crash took the lives of two men in Dallas in the early morning hours Sunday.

The first wreck happened in Arlington around 9:30 p.m. when an intoxicated 26-young-man from Killeen was speeding on Calender Road and drove his truck into a tree, causing him to lose his life. Two boys, ages 4 and 5, were also hurt.

Then nearby in Arlington about 2:00 a.m., a drunk 38 year old man was driving south on Matlock Road, hit another car with four people inside, and rammed it into a traffic light pole. Three women were tragically killed. The drunk driver was arrested and charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter.

And in southwest Dallas a few hours later, a 23-year-old man crashed into a tractor-trailer, killing him and his 44-year-old passenger.

My prayers go out to all of the deceased and injured persons and their families.

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November 7, 2014

Chronic Car Cover-ups Crippling Consumers

Takata Destroyed Incriminating Evidence Over A Decade Ago

It was just revealed by The New York Times that the major Japanese airbag maker Takata knew 10 years ago that one of its airbags had ruptured and shot metal debris at an Alabama driver, seriously injuring him. After trying to fix the problem, company officials instead ordered lab technicians to destroy the testing data and damning evidence.

Since that time, exploding airbags have killed at least four people and seriously injured at least 139 drivers.. A man was killed last year in a Los Angeles parking lot when his shrapnel shot out from the airbag inside his Acura. The case was quietly settled out of court for a confidential sum.

Takata finally started recalling its defective airbags in 2008 and 14 million of them have been recalled by 11 carmakers since then. The Japanese company has said that high humidity is the culprit, but The Times found that forklifts had fallen over and damaged crates, Mexican manufacturing plants had employed substandard techniques, and defective airbags were knowingly sold to carmakers.

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November 6, 2014

More Drivers Killed As One Million Await Ignition Switch Repairs; GM Tells Court It Is Not Liable For Pre-Bankruptcy Deaths

Auto Ignition KeyGeneral Motors issued the biggest recall in auto history nine months ago. What caused this extraordinary event? A design flaw that GM knew about for 10 years that caused the engine, steering, brakes and airbags to suddenly shut down, leaving drivers vulnerable to horrific crashes. Despite the serious risks, G.M. dealers are turning away drivers who are forced to wait for months for repairs to the deadly defect.

Another Woman Killed Because G.M Dealers Refused to Make Repairs

25 year-old Brittany Alfarone tried twice to have the ignition switch of her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt repaired, but dealers refused. The first certified G.M. dealer claimed the car was ineligible for repairs because she bought it from a towing company following a crash. The second certified G.M. dealer told her the car had already been repaired before she bought it and was safe to drive. Tragically, she believed him.

Continue reading "More Drivers Killed As One Million Await Ignition Switch Repairs; GM Tells Court It Is Not Liable For Pre-Bankruptcy Deaths " »

November 5, 2014

Federal Safety Agency Ignored Trinity Guardrail Defects

Evidence indicates that Federal Highway Administration officials ignored complaints about Trinity Industry, Inc. guardrail dangers. While these U.S. safety officials publicly  and vigorously defended the guardrail system's crashworthiness, they secretly transmitted internal emails that indicated that they had grave concerns that they were killing and maiming motorists on American highways.

The FHWA is responsible for ensuring the public's safety on the roadways across the nation. States rely upon the agency's certifications to determine which products are safe to use. In fact, the federal programs reimburse states for highway expenses only if they use those products certified by the Department of Transportation to be crashworthy. When the FHWA removes or revokes certification, states typically stop using that product, and so giving the federal agency tremendous power to affect safety measures in every state in the country. In addition, the American public trusts the agency to look out for our interests. FHWA officials violated that sacred trust with tragic results.

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November 4, 2014

Dallas County Homeowner's Case Crushed By Supreme Court

house damage.jpg

Texas Supreme Court Hands Out A Halloween Treat To Insurance Carriers

On Friday the Texas Supreme Court granted National Lloyds Insurance Company relief from a discovery mandate ordered by a Dallas trial court. Its decision in In re National Lloyds Insurance Company, No. 13-0761limits the rights of policyholders to obtain information about other claims handled by their insurance carrier in order to evaluate their damages. The Court's opinion curtails plaintiff's discovery requests in first party claims -- and possibly third party cases in the future.

The Facts of the Case

Mary Erving's home was damaged during severe storms that hit Cedar Hill in September 2011 and again in June 2012. Ms. Erving filed claims for the damages with her homeowner's insurance company. Two independent adjusting companies inspected her residence and her homeowner's company paid her a limited amount of money. (This is not a photograph of Ms. Erving's house.)

Ms. Erving believed the insurance company had undervalued her claim and filed a lawsuit against her carrier. She alleged breach of contract, bad faith, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and Texas Insurance Code.

The Plaintiff's Request for Information

During discovery, the plaintiff requested six years of claims files from the adjusters, the past year's claim files pertaining to properties located in Dallas and Tarrant Counties handled by the adjustment companies,and identifying information associated with the requested files. She needed to use this information to compare related claims with the assessment made of her own property damage in order to support her argument that her claims were undervalued.

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November 3, 2014

MADD Event On Saturday Could Not Stop Earlier Dallas DWI Death

WLM-Logo2012-thumb-200x161-88728-thumb-200x161-88730.jpgFort Worth's Walk Like MADD followed this tragedy by only a few hours.

On Saturday morning, I was proud to again sponsor the Fort Worth Walk Like MADD and I was honored to be asked to speak to the families of area victims of drunk driving crashes. Of course, MADD tries to try to prevent stories just like this horrible Dallas collision from happening.

I told the audience of walkers that it is a shame that we had to be standing there. I pointed out how shameful it is that Texas leads the country in the number of deaths due to drunk drivers. I bemoaned that we arrest 90,000 people each year for DWI's -- enough to fill up the vast stadium where the Cowboys play.

Just a few hours before that, at 2:38 a.m., a driver named Emmanuel Gonzelez, 20, had drun four shots of vodka, drove extremely fast, and crashed his car into a utility pole on Webb Chapel Road.

Tragically, a young woman, who was only 18, died. A19 year man was seriously injured with broken ribs and a broken pelvis. My prayers and thoughts go out to the family of the young woman and the man who will hopefully recover from his injuries.

A breath analysis showed that the driver was over the legal limit of .08%. He has been charged with intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault. I hope that he gets the justice that he deserves in Dallas's criminal courts and is not put back on the streets so he can do this again.

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November 1, 2014

Here's a Real Horror Show: Auto Safety

Post Halloween note: the federal agency that regulates vehicle safety has ordered the giant airbag supplier Takata to produce its internal documents. Why? Its airbags explode even without an impact and shoot metal shards into the faces and bodies of drivers. Sounds like a nightmare on Elm Street.

Company officials will also have to give sworn testimony about its production, quality control, and knowledge of the defect. This promises to be a bonanza for plaintiff's attorneys who have -- and will -- sue the company for producing this deadly product that ironically is designed to protect drivers. My law firm is investigating these cases.

This is good news -- unless the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration backs down again.

Five years ago, NHTSA asked Takata and Honda -- the car maker with the most airbags from this supplier -- to produce information about the defect. Then, suddenly, the government shut down its investigation and the airbags continued to be installed.

Over 14 million cars -- most in the U.S. -- have been recalled, starting in 2008.

To demonstrate the power of airbags, and in deference to Halloween last night, here is a video of an airbag exploding inside a pumpkin.

But the government has known about this catastrophe since 2000. Multiple lawsuits have been filed after drivers were killed or seriously injured.

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October 31, 2014

Scary Story: Texas Polo Player Guilty of DWI Manslaughter - Again

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Just in Time for Halloween: Justice Finally Served After Horrific Crash Five Years Ago

A Florida jury has convicted John Goodman of DUI manslaughter -- for the second time. The first conviction for the drunk driving crash was reversed because of juror misconduct. 

Ultra-wealthy Goodman faces up to 16 years in prison for causing the drunk driving accident that tragically took the life of 23 year-old Scott Patrick Wilson.

The 51 year-old Goodman has repeatedly avoided accountability for the gruesome collision where he ran a stop sign in his Bentley convertible and plowed into Mr. Wilson's Hyundai Sonata. Mr. Wilson's car flipped over into an adjacent canal where the recent engineering graduate drowned. 

Goodman then fled the scene, leaving the young man to die at the scene. He did not call 911 until an hour later. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than twice the legal limit in Florida when he was tested three hours after the fatal DWI auto accident.

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