Posts in: October

28Oct 2021

Texas is a unique state in that on certain stretches of road, you may encounter your typical array of commuter vehicles like sedans and SUVs, but on other stretches, you may encounter a large truck hauling livestock. Texas attorneys assert that every year, thousands of accidents involving animals occur on Texas highways and result in damage, injuries, and even death. To better understand this context, it helps to be familiar with Texas’s history as an open range state, stock law exemptions, stock law considerations, highway exemptions, and legal liability considerations when pursuing legal advice related to automotive accidents caused by animals in Texas.

Open Range State

It may be hard to imagine, but just 150 years ago, Texas was a massive land without fences. Both animals and people could roam from the Gulf Coast through the Great Plains to the Basin with very little standing in their way. Driving down any roadway today, however, passengers will see that the Lone Star State boasts thousands of miles of barbed wire fences. Despite cattle being behind these fences, it is important to note that Texas has largely stayed true to its former self and has evolved to what is considered an open-range state.
Where open-range laws exist, the burden to put up a fence usually falls on the person or property owner who wants to keep animals off of their property. The Texas Supreme Court kept the state’s fence-free legacy intact for the first time more than a century ago. In fact, just 20 years ago, in 1999, the state supreme court refused to adopt a common law requiring livestock owners to keep livestock off of all roadways. While the open-range doctrine was reaffirmed by the Texas Supreme Court just 20 years ago, there are exceptions to this rule. Notably, the two major exceptions in Texas are local stock laws and highways with state or federal designations.

“Stock Law” Exception

In 1876, the Texas Legislature realized that it was impractical to have open range everywhere. As a result, they passed a law that granted counties to hold local stock law elections. A stock law is a specific law that forbids certain kinds of livestock from running through a county or designated area of a county. Stock laws typically serve the purpose of changing an area from open range to closed range. The Texas Agriculture Code permits local governments to hold elections aimed at preventing animals from running at large. Typically, local stock laws will prohibit the following animals from running at large:

  • Horses
  • Mules
  • Donkeys
  • Sheep
  • Goats
  • Jennets
  • Cattle

Stock Law Considerations

Because stock laws can be enacted countywide or in certain precincts or towns, Texas is a patchwork of open-range and closed range laws. In addition, there is no central database of where stock laws have been enacted. If you are driving in unfamiliar territory, you may be unsure of your rights in the event of a livestock crash. One way to find out is to contact a county clerk. Additionally, in some cases stock laws are unenforceable. The Texas Agriculture Code provides very specific rules on how stock laws can appear on a ballot. The code separates livestock animals into different subsections. When a local government enacts stock laws, it must ensure that the animals in different subsections are not combined on the ballot. In order for a stock law to be valid, the livestock on a ballot should come from the same subchapter in the Texas Agriculture code.

Highway Exemption

People who live in urban areas may not have a clue that Texas is an open-range state. In fact, many people don’t think to watch out for livestock while driving on high-speed Texas highways, which are more traveled and carry a much higher speed than farm-to-market roads. As such, requiring a person to control their livestock if their property is adjacent to a highway is in the interest of public safety. By law, owners have a responsibility to keep livestock from roaming on state and federal highways. Otherwise, owners may face a small fine. Further, when livestock owners fail to meet this duty, they open themselves up to liability claims when a person suffers an injury. The law prohibits the following animals from roaming freely along highways:

  • Horses
  • Mules
  • Donkeys
  • Cows
  • Bulls
  • Steer
  • Hogs
  • Sheep
  • Goats
Because of the state and federal highway and local stock law exemptions, landowners have a responsibility to keep cattle confined when the circumstances require it. The Texas Agriculture code states that a “person who owns or has responsibility for the control” of livestock “may not knowingly permit the animal to traverse or roam at large, unattended on the right-of-way of a highway.” Texas courts define that a landowner may act knowingly when:
  • The landowner was aware that the fences were unable to withstand inclement weather.
  • The landowner knew that cattle escaped through weak fences many times before.
  • Police previously informed the property owner of their loose cattle on the roadway.
  • The landowner failed to inspect fences.

Determining Liability

Determining whether livestock owners are liable for injuries from accidents caused by livestock can be challenging. While legal precedent on the issue may exist in some jurisdictions, other areas do not have court rulings making it possible for car accident attorneys to prove liability. A fine line of liability may exist given state laws and local ordinances which are often very fact-specific. Given the complexity of the application of laws and ordinances, Texas attorneys agree that anyone injured in an accident involving livestock should seek the services of car accident lawyers who are familiar with open range and stock laws. These two laws vary by county and dictate liability if an accident occurs. Who is responsible for the injuries sustained and the damage to the vehicle? That all depends where the accident occurred and which laws or statutes were in force at that location.

  1. If the location of the accident was a farm-to-market (FM) road where no stock laws were in existence, the open range rule of common law would mean that the owner of the animal would not be subject to any liability in the accident.
  2. If the location of the accident was a state or federal highway, it’s possible the animal owner could be held liable if it is determined they knowingly permitted the animal to run free on the roadway. It wouldn’t matter if there was a local stock law in effect or not.
  3. If the accident took place on a farm-to-market road where there was a stock law in effect, the stock law would determine whether there was any liability on the part of the livestock owner. Since there are differences in each local stock law, there would be a need to review the exact provisions that apply in the location where the accident happened.

Attorney Assistance

Texas has more than 80,000 miles of highway, and nearly 30,000 of that is US and state highways. It is important to understand that you have rights after any kind of crash—including those involving livestock. A qualified roaming livestock crash attorney can help you determine the following questions:

  • Does a stock law exist in the area of my crash?
  • What animals are covered by the local stock law?
  • Does the property permit the animals to run at large?
If you suffered injuries or a loved one was killed after a livestock crash, contact a qualified attorney to help you determine your rights. The Hadi Law Firm has extensive experience fighting for justice and protecting your rights. We can help you determine the next step in your recovery and get you the compensation you deserve.

28Oct 2021

The collateral source rule is a legal doctrine that prohibits the admission of any evidence of a plaintiff receiving compensation from another source besides the defendant from whom damages are being sought. Simply put, any compensation that an injured person has received from a source other than the person who is legally responsible for the injuries (the defendant) will not reduce the amount of damages recoverable from the defendant. In other words, the rule prevents payments from an independent source from reducing the amount that the defendant is “on the hook” for in a lawsuit. The “collateral source rule” is thus a powerful negotiating tool you can leverage to help maximize your recovery after an injury which was not your fault. Here we discuss insurance incentives and tort reform, legal precedents shaping the doctrine, a case study of the rule, the notion of reasonable value and its limitations along with exceptions and considerations.

Incentives and Reforms

In states like Texas that follow the collateral source rule, any compensation to an injured party from a source other than the injured party does not get deducted from the total amount of damages. The general idea behind the collateral source rule is that a defendant should not benefit from a victim receiving insurance payments from the victim’s own providers. The collateral source rule, in effect, encourages people to purchase their own private insurance policies in order to receive compensation regardless of personal injury actions. Other than insurance, collateral sources include worker’s compensation, Social Security or Medicaid, and services performed gratuitously that help the injured person. Some so-called “tort reform” advocates have complained about the collateral source rule because they feel it is unfair to make a defendant (the person who commits a tortious act) pay damages for which the victim has already been compensated. The other side of the argument is that the cost of negligent behavior should be imposed on the defendant as the at-fault party, in order to reinforce the standard of reasonable care that all members of a society should adhere to. And an injured person should not receive reduced compensation for injuries because he or she was prudent enough to purchase insurance prior to the injury.

Legal Precedents

In 2003, the Texas Legislature enacted Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.0105, which establishes that recovery of medical or health care expenses is limited to the amount actually paid or incurred by or on behalf of the claimant. The Supreme Court of Texas stated in Brown v. American Transfer & Storage Co., “The theory behind the collateral source rule is that a wrongdoer should not have the benefit of insurance independently procured by the injured party, and to which the wrongdoer was not privy.” The Supreme Court of Texas, however, clarified how Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.0105 interacts with the collateral source rule in its decisions in Haygood v. De Escabedo, 356 S.W.3d 390 (Tex. 2011) and Daughters of Charity Health Services of Waco v. Linnstaedter, 226 S.W.3d 409, 412 (Tex. 2007). Consistent with its views in Daughters of Charity, the Supreme Court held in Haygood that the common law collateral source rule does not allow damages recovery of medical expenses a health care provider is not entitled to charge. As a result of Haygood, many people avoid submitting medical expenses prior to resolving their personal injury cases.

Case Study

Although collateral source compensation may not be introduced at trial for the purpose of reducing the total amount of damages, the defendant is generally permitted to investigate the source and amount of collateral compensation. Generally speaking, the collateral source rule states that in the event your case goes to trial, you are allowed to ask the jury to award you damages for your medical bills based on the amount the care provider billed you for the services, and not the discounted rate the care provider allowed your insurance carrier to pay. Consider the application of the collateral source rule in the context of a person who has Medicaid, and who is injured in an accident. Assume the medical bills are $700,000. In such a case, it is not unreasonable to learn that the Medicaid pay rate on those services is $250,000. If this case goes to trial in a state which has adopted the collateral source rule, this person would be allowed to present the jury with $700,000 of bills for their injuries, as opposed to $250,000 which the care providers actually accepted as full payment for their services.

Reasonable Value

As per the previous example, obviously there is a large difference between paying out $250,000 for medical bills, versus paying out $700,000 for medical bills. If you are the injured person in this example, and you are in a state where the collateral source rule applies, you can offer evidence of $700,000 of medical bills at trial. If the collateral source rule does not apply, you are going to be limited to offering evidence of $250,000 of medical bills. The law in every jurisdiction allows plaintiffs to recover the “reasonable value” of medical services to address such situations. Defining “reasonable medical expense” has become less clear, more contentious, and the subject of increased litigation and legislation. In limited situations, the collateral source rule may not apply. For example, if a third party covers your injury but you do not seek medical treatment or continue working after recovering from your injury, the rule may not apply. Another instance in which the rule might not apply is if there are damage restrictions, often referred to as “caps,” on the amount of money you can ultimately recover for a claim.

Exceptions and Considerations

One major exception to the collateral source rule is often an insurance company’s subrogation rights. Subrogation allows an insurer who pays to cover a victim’s medical bills to either sue the defendant or their own insurance company for those costs or from the victim themselves after they receive an award. Further exceptions can exist when victims do not receive medical treatment for their injuries or continue to work after suffering their injuries. Additionally, possible reductions that an injury victim could face concern any liens that were placed on their awards by creditors such as hospitals or other medical care providers. A lienholder may have a valid right to compensation in these cases, but resolving a lien can be negotiable. It is easy to see how you and your attorney can use the collateral source rule as leverage to induce the at-fault person’s insurance company to settle outside of trial for a larger amount of damages when you are in a state the applies the collateral source rule, than if you are in a state where the collateral source rule does not apply. Having an attorney who is familiar with the collateral source rule can pay off huge dividends for you when it comes time to negotiate a settlement of your case. The Hadi Law Firm is committed to helping injured people in Houston and the surrounding areas in Texas. Our lawyers are ready to review your case and answer all of your legal questions when you call our Houston car accident and personal injury lawyers or contact us online to receive a free consultation.

22Oct 2021

When it comes to personal injury cases or Texas car accident claims, there are several categories of damages that a victim can seek in an insurance claim. When proving a claim for personal injury damages relating to medical bills, the first thing you must do is get a copy of the medical bill from the medical provider. On the bill, you will find a few important items: (1) the total amount of the billed charges, (2) a listing of any payments that have been made, (3) a listing of any write-offs or adjustments, and (4) the total balance owed. What you will not find is that the Texas Supreme Court holds that a personal injury claimant may only make a claim for medical bills that have actually been “paid or incurred,” which means that if you do not owe a portion of a medical bill, you cannot make a claim for that portion of the bill because it is not owed. Understanding the basis of this legal framework, its progression through the courts, the types of claims it can possibly affect as well as the relationship between plaintiffs and insurance companies can help you better navigate the legal system with the right personal injury attorney.

Payment Recovery

Many clients expect that since the accident was clearly not their fault, they should just get the money. Although that is quite often how it works, you have to “prove up” your damages, either during the claims process with the insurance company or by introducing admissible evidence of damages in court once a case has been filed.
Under a densely worded Texas law passed in 2003, victims seeking payments for losses after injury due to someone’s negligence face a challenge: the murky concept of only “paid and incurred medical expenses” being admissible at trial. But what are paid and incurred medical expenses, and how does that apply to you?
The answer begins with a review of the 2003 law in question: Texas Civil Practice & Remedies CODE §41.0105. It held that, in an injury lawsuit, plaintiffs’ or claimants’ recovery or payments for medical care costs “is limited to the amount actually paid or incurred by or on behalf of the claimant.” The trouble is, that can fail to take into account the often vast difference between a hospital’s full rate and its actual, discounted rate.

Legal Precedent

In many cases, there are two different costs for medical care: there is the list price and the price that the medical provider accepts as full and final payment for the bill. While it can come up in a number of different situations, the typical situation involves health insurance. One of the benefits of your health insurance is that the insurance company has negotiated reduced rates with various medical providers.
Before the 2003 law, injured people got the benefit of their insurance. When the jury was asked to award medical expenses, that usually meant awarding the entire $10,000.00. But then the law was passed, and because it was worded so poorly, there was a great debate about what it meant. Finally, the Supreme Court issued a case in July of 2011 clarifying the meaning. That case was Haygood v. de Escabedo, 356 S.W.3d 390, 392.
It involved Aaron Haygood suing Margarita Escabedo for injuries he suffered in a car crash. His health care providers billed $110,069.12 for their services, though that was adjusted to $27,739.43 due to a Medicare agreement. In 2011, the Texas Supreme Court put out its opinion in the case of Haygood v. de Escabedo, 356 S.W.3d 390, 392 (Tex. 2011). The Escobedo case, in short, holds that a personal injury claimant may only make a claim for medical bills that have actually been “paid or incurred”. This means that if you do not owe a portion of a medical bill, you cannot make a claim for that portion of the bill because it is not owed. Where this really becomes complicated is when health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid is involved.

Reasonableness of Charges

Since those rulings, cases brought before courts of appeals have addressed the 2003 law’s ambiguity, caused by errors in its wording. It is believed that the Haygood v. de Escabedo ruling on the paid and incurred medical expenses law will spur additional motions and discovery in recovering past medical expenses, via claims made in appellate courts. When dealing with the ‘paid or incurred’ amounts in a Texas personal injury claim, another common issue arises when there is a dispute as to the reasonableness of a medical bill. Common personal injury claims that may be affected include requests for out of pocket expenses, medical bills, destroyed or damaged personal property, pain and suffering and mental anguish.

  • Medical Expenses

    Medical expenses are the most common costs you have as the result of a personal injury. The plaintiff may recover actual medical costs incurred because of the accident. You may also be owed the costs of any future expenses that may be incurred because of the accident.

  • Physical Pain and Suffering

    If you suffered a serious injury, you may be compensated for any future pain and suffering you might experience due to the negligent conduct of the person or company responsible. The treating physician’s testimony and records are powerful evidence for your case.

  • Mental Anguish

    Although you may have suffered anger, embarrassment, fear and disappointment, mental anguish is a subjective term. Your attorney will gather the evidence to prove that you suffered mental anguish due to the crash.

  • Lost Wages and Loss of Earnings Capacity

    You can recover any wages lost due to being unable to work because of the injury. You also may have loss of earning capacity compensation if the injury caused you to have a lowered ability to earn money.

  • Physical Impairment or Disfigurement

    If you have been permanently disabled or disfigured, you may have compensation for this loss of enjoyment of life. Personal injury claims are often resolved through negotiation with the insurance company. Your lawyer will review the details, gather important information and documentation and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.

Plaintiffs vs Insurance

Charges for health care, once based on the provider’s costs and profit margin, have more recently been driven by government regulation and negotiations with private insurers. A two-tiered structure has evolved: “list” or “full” rates sometimes charged to uninsured patients, but frequently uncollected, and reimbursement rates for patients covered by government and private insurance.
A hospital may charge its full rate for services, as when a patient lacks health insurance or may charge a discounted rate, as when contracts with providers or coverage from Medicare or private insurance is involved. Due to the 2003 “paid and incurred” law and later Texas court decisions, when plaintiffs seek payments for medical costs which have already been paid, the basis of their claim and the amount which can be recovered cannot be a hospital’s full charge, but rather only the costs already paid or incurred. This means that in some cases only the actual payments or legal obligations to pay hospitals are admissible at trial. Submitting evidence of the full rate of a hospital’s charge is only admissible if the bill has not been paid and is due in full.
Eliminating hospitals’ full charges at trial works against plaintiffs and benefits only insurance companies. Their exposure can be reduced at trial by allowing in evidence only the costs actually due or paid to a hospital and not the greater initial value of such costs — that is, a hospital’s full charges. To put it simply: plaintiffs’ lawyers believe the law’s “paid or incurred” language should include any amount billed by a hospital or medical provider. Defense lawyers hold that “paid or incurred” means only the amount actually due or paid to such hospitals or medical providers. In view of these circumstances, it’s vital that you engage a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury lawyer for your claim — an advocate such as “The Texas Torch” who can work to ensure that the “paid and incurred” law is properly interpreted and applied in court.

22Oct 2021

Unfortunately, truck accidents are more common than you’d expect and the financial impact can be tremendous for victims. It’s important to know your rights after a truck accident and the ways insurance companies try to avoid liability. The simple answer is trucking companies in Texas are required to have insurance coverage. The term “full coverage” does not exist. Instead, full coverage refers to a combination of coverages to protect a motor vehicle. The answer becomes more complicated because Texas trucking companies must abide by state and/or federal insurance laws. The questions to consider involve minimum coverage requirements, intrastate and interstate transport, commercial insurance coverage, insurance payouts and the recent House 19 Bill involving commercial motor vehicles.

Learn about Truck Accident Risk Management and Safety Tips here.

Minimum Coverage

Trucking companies, known as motor carriers, are required by Texas law to file proof of commercial automobile liability insurance for each registered vehicle. The insurance requirements for truck drivers and trucking companies ensure they are covered in the event of a serious accident or injury. In Texas, trucking insurance providers will ask three key questions to help determine the most appropriate truck insurance and liability limits:

  • How much does the truck weigh?
  • Where will the truck travel?
  • What will the truck transport?

All drivers, including commercial drivers, must carry at least the following coverage:

  • $30,000 bodily injury coverage per injured person
  • $60,000 bodily injury coverage total per accident
  • $25,000 property damage liability coverage

If the operator fails to provide proper proof of insurance, an investigation could follow. This investigation can include:

  • Inspection of the all company trucks
  • Inspection of all company vehicles
  • Audit of all vehicle and driving records

Intrastate and Interstate Transport

The amount of truck insurance for intrastate is set by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). It sets the minimum amount of commercial insurance coverage at $500,000. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets the laws regarding how much coverage is needed by a Texas trucking company. The amount of coverage depends on the weight of the commercial truck and type of materials they transport.

  • $750,000 in coverage when carrying nonhazardous materials and weighing more than 10,001 pounds.
  • $1 million for trucks transporting oil, hopper-type vehicles or cargo from or to Texas to another state.
  • $5 million for trucks carrying hazardous materials.
FMCSA requires that all commercial trucks under its auspices prove financial responsibility by one of the following methods:

  • Purchase liability insurance

  • Purchase a surety bond

FMCSA also requires that proof of insurance be kept in two places; in the vehicle itself and in the carrier’s office. These documents can serve as proof of insurance:
  • Form MCS-90 – Proof of insurance issued by the carrier

  • Form MCS–82 – Proof of an existing surety bond

Commercial Insurance Coverage

In addition to the minimum insurance a trucking company must carry, it can obtain additional insurance coverage. The four main types of commercial insurance coverage are:

  1. General Liability Insurance:

    The minimum coverage requirement.

  2. Extended Liability Insurance:

    Offers more than the minimum coverage.

  3. Eroding Policy:

    Allows trucking companies to subtract cost of defense from coverage.

  4. Self-Insured Retention Policy:

    Adds $250,000 to trucking company insurance policy.

Trucking companies must also have accidental insurance coverage or workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. Coverage must be at least:
  • $300,000 for medical expenses for a minimum of 104 weeks
  • $100,000 for accidental death and dismemberment, including 70 percent of an employee’s pre-injury income for at least 104 weeks when compensating for loss of income
  • $500 maximum weekly benefit

Insurance Payouts

Negligence is the legal term to describe who was responsible for a truck accident. This means proving the trucking company or its driver failed to act as a responsible person would and cause the accident. Proving negligence, or fault, requires your attorney showing you were a victim, how the accident occurred and why you deserve money. In Texas, several elements are used to help prove your case:

  • The driver or trucking company owed you a legal duty. This legal duty was to protect you from harm. This means they were legally responsible for ensuring your safety while the truck was on the road.
  • The driver or trucking company breached their legal duty by causing the truck accident.
  • The actions or inactions of the driver or trucking company led to your injuries that occurred in the accident.
  • You deserve money to cover your bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

House Bill 19

The Texas legislature has passed House Bill 19, a law that will impact lawsuits involving commercial motor vehicles commenced after September 1, 2021. The bill defines “commercial motor vehicles” as vehicles being used “for commercial purposes in interstate or intrastate commerce to transport property or passengers . . . .” The bill applies not only to 18-wheelers, but also to Uber and Lyft vehicles, delivery trucks and any other vehicle being used for commercial purposes.
Under the law, an owner or operator may move to bifurcate (or separate) the trial of claims against an employer defendant relating to a commercial motor vehicle accident predicated upon the liability of the employee (i.e., negligent entrustment) and otherwise concerning a demand for both compensatory and exemplary damages.
Overall, the law provides commercial motor carriers and their counsel a multitude of new procedures and considerations to limit the admissibility of highly prejudicial evidence and causes of action at the time of trial. This makes it more important to work with an experienced attorney familiar with the tactics of commercial carriers and insurance companies to deny your rightful reimbursement.

Your Texas Truck Accident Attorney

Trucking companies must have insurance for their vehicle to be on the roadways. That does not mean they are willing to pay if they are responsible for injuring you. Contact the Texas truck accident attorney about your case. We offer a free case evaluation. You have the right to receive money for your injuries regardless of the type of insurance coverage the trucking company has.