Articles Posted in Personal injury laws

9kThe Texas legislature ended its biennial session this week without harming the rights of injured Texans. They even helped them, which is a rarity lately. That’s music to the ears of an injury lawyer.

If you’re wondering what new laws will affect you as you drive and which will hopefully reduce the shocking number of car accidents we have, here’s a quick rundown:

This bill was passed by the legislature but has not been signed by Governor Abbott yet:

Texting while driving: 

Finally our state leaders voted to outlaw this dangerous and common practice that has sent our crash rates soaring. But there are loopholes, of course, and it is not guaranteed that our governor will sign the bill. If he does, the new law was weakened to the point that police officers will have an almost impossible job of enforcing it. But hopefully drivers will be afraid of receiving a ticket and will stop texting while driving, so it’s a start to making our highways safer.

Two bills signed by the governor become law on September 1st:

  1. Mediation of often enormous hospital bills will be expanded. Often after someone is discharged from an emergency room, he or she is billed in full or for the remaining balance due to complexities in the health insurance and medical systems. It is a big victory for Texas consumers whose unpaid bills are often turned over to aggressive collection agents and attorneys to file and collect on lawsuits. More info is here.

     2. Telemedicine will be permitted for the first time. It may not be necessary to drive to a doctor to have your pain-relieving medicines refilled or be referred to a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon.

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cell-phoneMore good news from our state legislature

Injured or sick people who can’t get off work, away from taking care of children, or don’t have a way to go get to a doctor will be able to see one on their cell phones or computers.
The new law will be signed by the governor in the next week. More information on how this cutting-edge technology will work is here.
Companies headquartered in Texas, including Teladoc, have been fighting the Texas Medical Board for many years to allow us the freedom to have our prescriptions refilled without lengthy trips and waits in doctors offices. Teladoc had won several lawsuits against the board.
Senate Bill 1107 was written by Dr. Charles Schwertner and will allow the board to maintain disciplinary control over doctors and health care providers.Doctors will be required to review a patient’s medical records before talking to them remotely.
Texas is state 50 out of 50 to allow this long overdue practice. This follows on the heels of the legislature’s approval of the texting while driving law, where we were the 46th state to limit this dangerous practice.

How Does This Affect People Hurt In Car Collisions?

Fortunately, most people injured in car wrecks do not sustain major injuries. The majority experience soft tissue injuries or strains and sprains of their necks and backs, sometimes referred to as whiplash. This is especially true in low speed collisions and rear end accidents or when the passengers are in a truck or sports utility vehicle (which more than 50% of Texans are in).

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IMG_4564-300x154After a car wreck, you are often rushed by ambulance to an emergency room for immediate treatment.  Before the ambulance arrives or later as you lay in the ER bed, you assume that your Aetna or Blue Cross will pay for all of your bills, right?

No, not necessarily. It’s a complicated system that is extremely anti-patient for these reasons:

  • If your health insurance plan should decide to pay the bills, it usually files a lien and demands full reimbursement from your car wreck settlement or verdict.
  • Your hospital may be out of network,
  • Your Aetna plan may say that it is secondary to the at-fault driver’s primary auto insurance policy and refuse to pay anything, and/or
  • You may not have met your annual deductible or have a large co-pay.

You won’t know this until later. Much later. What happens then?

You are stuck paying for $10,000 and often more of medical bills. You take it for granted that the other driver’s insurance company will reimburse you in full, and still give you plenty of extra money for your lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.

Good luck if you don’t have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side.

And to make matters worse, the emergency room department will also generate a separate bill which runs from $500 to $3,000 or more. This may also not get paid for the above reasons.

The hospital will file a lien so they get paid in full — or has the lien reduced by your attorney. Take a look at horrible story in today’s paper about a Good Samaritan who just had a $151,000 hospital lien filed on her after she had to have her legs amputated.

And a new bill has been approved by the Texas Senate that unfortunately allows emergency room physicians to also file a lien for their bills that must be paid from the proceeds and clarifies that any ER admission qualifies for the payment. SB 2066 will further reduce the amount of money an injured person will receive for his damages and I hope it does not get passed by the Texas House of Representatives and signed into law.

But at least there’s a little good news. State lawmakers just passed a bill that gives patients some recourse. The bill does not go as far as I would like but it is a good start to resolving this ludicrous system that hurts Texans. I urge Gov. Abbott to sign SB 507 so it becomes law.

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Document. . . But TTexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_June2016exas Is Trying To Ban Them

The Dallas City Council voted to renew the city’s contract for red light cameras last week just after the Texas Senate voted to eliminate them. At least 40 cameras, a lot less than the 66 first authorized when the program began 10 years ago, will be in place at dangerous intersections.

Although some Dallas residents objected for various reasons, council members pointed to a 47 percent decrease in car accidents at the camera-enforced intersections to back their decision.

Texas Lawmakers Want to Put the Brakes on Red Light Cameras

These cameras have been controversial since they made their appearance in Texas a decade ago. Some towns have gone so far as to pass referendums, including in Arlington where residents voted to remove them.

Two years ago the Texas House passed a bill to end red light cameras but it died in the Senate. So the practice of ticketing people through the mail continues across the state.

A new bill has been filed in the Texas Senate to ban red light cameras across the state, excepting on toll roads. Another bill filed would prevent counties from refusing registration of a vehicle based upon too many red light tickets, which is the policy in Dallas. The Senate bill now moves to the House for approval. Continue reading

dreamstime_xs_11188653Since tomorrow is the deadline to pay income taxes, if you received a personal injury settlement last year, you might be wondering if you need to report that amount to the IRS as income.

Most of the time, your damages for your medical bills and pain and suffering are not considered income and are not taxable. This can save you a bundle of money. But this sometimes depends upon how those damages are categorized.

The damages for your personal injuries are not taxable, except for any related medical expenses you deducted in prior years and for which you already received a tax benefit. You cannot also deduct these medical bills on your 1040. Damages you received for emotional distress and anguish are treated the same way.

More good news: Texas does not assess its 8.25% sales tax on settlements, allowing an injured person to receive even more money.

On the other hand, lost wages or lost business profits resulting from your accident injuries have to be reported. They replace your earnings, which would have been taxed had you not been injured. The IRS also taxes punitive damages.

With the lack of income, payroll, and state sales taxes, the injury award can be worth many thousands of dollars more.

More information is here.
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dreamstime_xs_4915045-300x214Cost Of Getting To Trial Should Be Affordable

In a personal injury trial, the plaintiff has to prove his or her damages. If the defendant challenges this evidence, the judge rules on its admissibility. The jury then listens to both sides and decides liability and damages.

The system is designed to provide an efficient evidence-gathering process for both sides. As an injury lawyer, I am concerned about a proposed law, House Bill 2301, that could have major repercussions on the civil justice system and skew the scales of justice in favor of defendants.

This bill is designed to make the streamlined procedure to prove routine medical records and bills more difficult and expensive for injured persons.

Before trial, the plaintiff submits evidence of the necessity and cost of medical services to treat his injuries. This is usually done by an affidavit signed by his doctor or custodian of medical records. Unless the defendant refutes the need for medical treatment or the fair cost of the amount charged, the affidavit is deemed to be sufficient evidence for the jury to consider damages.

The present system works. As we say here in Texas, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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IMG_0958It was just revealed by NBC5  that the Dallas school district has settled 680 personal injury claims and paid $2.3 million in settlements over the past few years.

Most are fortunately small injuries, so the recoveries are just a few thousand dollars each. But sometimes the injuries were substantial — and the settlements were not proportionately large.

The Phillips family, whose daughter suffered a ruptured spleen when a bus collided with the family’s car, told the reporter how the money did not cover their damages.

Due to laws governing the maximum amounts that can be paid by state, county, city, and branches of local governments like the school district here, the total amounts are limited.

How do those caps affect injury claims against governmental branches and units?

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dreamstime_xs_33224968Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) recently tried to trick Texans into giving up their constitutional right to a trial by jury.

The consumer watchdog of the Dallas Morning News, David Lieber, recently wrote about this outrageous attempt where in exchange for a 10% to 25% so-called discount, a customer would have given up his or her right to file a lawsuit. Instead, he would have to go to mediation and then arbitration if he disputed TFB’s appraisal of his damages.

But the mediator/arbitrator would be paid for/controlled by TFB. Care to guess who was going to win that dispute?

Texas Supreme Court (1)New Case To Make Often Exams Commonplace?

The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a trial court abused its discretion when it denied a defense medical examination (DME) of the plaintiff in a personal injury case. It may have opened the doors to a flood of DME requests.

In Re H.E.B. Grocery Company, L.P., Relator was a mandamus proceeding. The plaintiff, Daniel Rodriguez,  filed suit after he tripped over a loose metal plate in the parking lot of a H.E.B. grocery store.  He injured his spinal cord, neck, face, shoulder, arm and knee and underwent two spinal surgeries. Complicating the case, the plaintiff later filed a lawsuit after a Sam’s club employee dropped an artificial turf roll on his head and further injured his neck and head.

H.E.B. retained an orthopedic surgeon as its expert. After conducting a records review, the doctor opined that Rodriguez’s injuries were preexisting and that the MRI taken one month after the fall (and relied upon by the plaintiff’s surgeon) was inconclusive. H.E.B then moved the court to allow the expert to examine Rodriguez. The court denied the motion without explanation, which was affirmed on appeal.
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Seat belt -- woman buckling up

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last year that a defendant could use the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt as evidence against him if this conduct caused or was a cause of his injuries. Nabors v. Romero overruled the court’s prior decision set 40 years ago.

On Monday, the Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals in El Paso issued a complicated opinion in this significant case that affects the outcome of automobile and truck collision lawsuits.
On remand, the justices concluded that the trial court had abused its discretion when it excluded the defendant’s expert’s opinion that seat belts reduce the risk of ejections in serious rollovers. However the court affirmed the trial court’s exclusion of the defendant’s expert who blamed injuries to four of the minor plaintiffs on the adult occupants on other grounds.

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