TEXAS LAW ALERT
WINTER 2007/2008 ISSUE
SWIMMING POOL ACCIDENTS
On a hot summer day in Texas, nothing beats a refreshing dip in your own swimming pool. Because of the summer heat and mild winters, many Texans can and do use their pools almost year round. However, the number of backyard swimming pools gives rise to a significant danger--serious personal injuries and deaths.
Every year, hundreds of children drown in swimming pools, and thousands more are treated for injuries caused by near-drowning. Pools can cause other injuries, such as paralysis resulting from a swimmer diving into water that is too shallow, as well as injuries caused by slipping on a wet pool deck.
Pool-related injuries are not always caused by the inherent dangers that a pool presents. Many injuries are the result of dangerous or defective pool equipment. For example, the pool's gas heater could blow up, the cover on the pool's drain could catch the foot of an unsuspecting swimmer, or the pool's slide could collapse.
Other injuries are attributable to the carelessness of an owner, such as when the owner does not replace loose pool tiles that cause someone to trip, or the owner leaves the gate open, allowing a child to fall in and drown. Many injuries that could be prevented occur because of lack of planning, such as when the owner of a pool does not have sufficient rescue equipment or does not take the time to learn basic lifesaving techniques.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a pool accident, you may have a legal claim for damages. However, the type of case you have and the kind of damages you can recover depend both on who the responsible party is and how the injury occurred.
For example, if a child drowns because the pool owner left the pool gate open, there may be a premises liability claim. If a child drowns as the result of careless horseplay, there may be a claim for negligence. Claims against those who make or sell a dangerous pool product are generally product liability claims. Each of these claims requires different legal strategies to win your case. You will need an experienced lawyer to help you first to determine who is responsible for the injury and then to prove it. Call us.
SWIMMING POOL SAFETY
How can you protect people from drowning in your swimming pool? As with any safety issue, the best response is a "layered" approach:
* Most importantly, surround the pool with a child-proof fence, which will keep children away from the pool entirely. A properly designed and installed fence cannot be climbed and should have a self-latching gate that can be locked, with a handle that is too high for small children to reach.
* A second layer of protection is to have a pool alarm. Pool alarms float in the water and make noise when they detect an object (such as a child) that has fallen into the pool.
* Pool owners should take the time to learn CPR. Even the best safety systems sometimes fail, and knowing CPR can save the lives of both young children and adult guests who fall into a pool.
UNINSURED AND UNDERINSURED COVERAGE
Texas law requires drivers to have automobile liability insurance, which is the insurance that pays for the other person's expenses if you cause an accident. Minimum liability coverage in Texas is $20,000 per injured person, with up to a maximum of $40,000 for all injured persons in the same accident, and $15,000 for property damage. The shorthand for this coverage is 20/40/15, although minimum coverage requirements will increase to 25/50/25 ($25,000/$50,000/$25,000) in 2008 and 30/60/30 in 2011.
In theory, every driver on Texas highways is covered by liability insurance to protect other drivers. In reality, some people drive without insurance, or they hit and run, or, even if they have the minimum coverage required by law, it is not enough to cover the other driver's damages. This is where uninsured coverage and underinsured coverage come in.
An uninsured driver is someone who either has no insurance or who hits and runs. An underinsured driver is one who does have liability insurance, but in an amount that is not enough to cover the other driver's damages in a particular situation. For example, a negligent driver might have 20/40/15 minimum coverage but be found liable for $40,000 in damages to you individually. If you have underinsured coverage, it would pay the $20,000 difference.
Texas law gives you the opportunity to buy insurance coverage to protect yourself against both uninsured and underinsured motorists. This coverage is optional, but your insurer must offer you the opportunity to purchase it, and your refusal to purchase it must be in writing. This coverage protects you, your family members, passengers in your vehicle, and anybody driving your vehicle with your permission. It pays your medical and funeral expenses, car repairs, car rental, the replacement of damaged contents, lost wages, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and permanent or partial disability up to the dollar limits that you have purchased.
You can buy uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage in the minimum amount or in a larger amount up to the dollar limits of your liability policy. If you are not sure what choice you made when you were offered the opportunity to buy this coverage, talk to your insurance agent.
Your liability coverage protects you from having to pay damages to someone if you cause an accident. Your liability policy will not pay your expenses resulting from an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Uninsured motorists often have few assets, and you could face significant financial hardship if you do not have this coverage and you are injured by such a driver.
Even if the other driver has liability insurance, it may be only the minimum amount, and this coverage can quickly be exhausted. Medical care is expensive. The replacement cost of even a single vehicle easily can be $30,000 or more. Your underinsured coverage kicks in to pick up all or part of the difference once the other person's liability limits are exhausted.
Purchase at least the minimum amount of both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. If possible, have as much uninsured and underinsured coverage as you have liability coverage. This may be your only protection against uninsured and underinsured motorists.
WE PREFER YOU TO REFER!
The period of time following an accident is one of confusion and uncertainty. There are many things to take care of. Hiring a good lawyer is one of them.
Many times, people don't know where to go when they need legal help. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, call us. We will vigorously represent you and make sure that you are justly compensated for your injuries. That's our job.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG SAFETY
Although our doctors and our pharmacists make every effort to ensure that the drugs we are prescribed are safe, some basic information will help you to help them keep you safe.
Inform Your Doctor
When you go to the doctor, make sure that he knows all of the medicines you are taking, whether prescription medicines or over-the-counter medicines. The number one medical problem associated with prescriptions is adverse drug interactions, and knowing the drugs you take can help the doctor prescribe the appropriate medicine.
Make certain that the medicine you get from the pharmacist matches what the doctor prescribed. The handwriting of doctors is often hard to read, and mistakes can happen. Determine the medicine that the doctor prescribed, and then make sure that you are, in fact, given that medicine. If the prescription names do not match, ask questions.
Ask how many times each day to take each pill, whether it should be taken with meals or between meals, and so on, and make sure that you understand the instructions before leaving the pharmacy. If you look at many prescription labels, you will see that doctors and pharmacists often use old-fashioned Latin abbreviations in their directions and, unless you happen to know that "p.r.n." is an abbreviation meaning "take as needed" or that "b.i.d." means "take twice each day," it is easy to become confused.
Keep your medicines away from children (child-proof caps are a good idea), and keep track of the medicines you have been given. If you are taking multiple medications, a chart or a "day-by-day" pill box might be useful to ensure that you take the pills only as often as you are supposed to. DO NOT ignore the directions for use--take medicines exactly as prescribed, no more and no less. If you believe that the medication is not working as it is supposed to, call the prescribing doctor.
Finally, if you feel that you are having an adverse or abnormal reaction to a medicine that you are taking, call your doctor or an ambulance, depending on the severity of the symptoms. There are so many medicines available today, all of which interact with one another and all of which affect different people in different ways, that an adverse or abnormal reaction may be the first sign of a serious medical problem.
CASE BY CASE
Asthmatic Wins Disability Suit
If you are disabled, the law may require your employer to make "reasonable accommodations" for your disability, accommodations that allow you to continue to do your job. A recent case from Texas demonstrates that the definition of a "disability" can be broader than you might think.
The case involved a woman who worked in a prison as a drug counselor. The woman suffered from asthma so severe that an asthma attack made her turn blue for lack of oxygen and could send her to the hospital.
The prison began to use air fresheners that triggered the employee's asthma attacks, but, once the prison realized that the air fresheners were causing the asthma attacks, they were removed. However, the prison then installed automatic air fresheners and refused to remove them despite the employee's protests. The prison then compounded its error when it refused to allow her to come to work unless she provided a signed assurance from her doctor that the air fresheners would not affect her and, when such assurance was not forthcoming, she was fired.
At trial, the jury found that the woman's asthma was so severe that it constituted a disability, and it went on to find that the prison failed to make a reasonable accommodation for the woman by removing the air fresheners. The woman was awarded $1.5 million in damages.
SCAFFOLD ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES
Construction workers have one of the most dangerous occupations, with thousands of people killed on jobsites every year and many more injured. Some of the most common construction accidents involve scaffolds or other types of lifts. These accidents can be very serious and usually result either from falls due to defective scaffolding or from objects plummeting from scaffolding that injure a worker below.
Unfortunately, suits involving injured construction workers are often more difficult to handle than other kinds of injury cases. An injury or death at a construction site involves the acts of many workers employed by different companies, each of whom is pointing at someone else as the party responsible. The question of liability can depend on whether a party is the property owner, the general contractor, the subcontractor, or someone else. Pictures of the accident site are sometimes vital evidence to show the negligence of others.
Because of these complexities, it is vital to have a lawyer involved in a construction injury case ASAP. If you or a loved one has been injured on a construction site, contact our office and let us go to work for you.