On behalf of Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP

Pedestrian risks in Texas

People in Texas should be able to trust that they are safe when crossing a street, walking from their parked car through a parking lot, or going out for their daily run or dog walk. Sadly, these very basic activities of a person’s daily life may find them in one of the most dangerous positions as they must navigate a sea of vehicles. 

State sees surge in pedestrian deaths 

Records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the number of pedestrian deaths in Texas increased during the decade spanning from 2009 to 2018. In 2009, there were 350 recorded pedestrian fatalities, representing just over 11% of the total vehicular deaths that year. In 2018, there were 612 pedestrian fatalities, representing almost 17% of the total vehicular deaths that year. 

Travis county rate of pedestrian deaths greater than state 

In Travis county, the reality on the streets for pedestrians appears to be even more grim that it does across the state as a whole. In 2014, the county experienced 12 pedestrian deaths, representing 12.6% of all vehicular fatalities. In 2017, 24 people on foot were killed in vehicular accidents, accounting for 20% of the county’s accident deaths. The next year saw 36 pedestrians lose their lives in accidents, representing more than 30% of all people killed in motor vehicle crashes. 

If you would like to learn more about how you or someone in your family may get the assistance needed after being hit on foot by a car, truck or SUV, please feel free to visit the pedestrian injury and crash page of our Texas personal injury and motor vehicle accident website. 

Slow driving can be dangerous

Slow driving can pose a danger on Texas highways and roads. While people may think first of how excessive speed contributes to severe car crashes, drivers operating their vehicles too slowly can also cause accidents, road rage incidents and other threats. There are a number of reasons why slow driving is dangerous. In the first place, it is safer and often required by law for cars to pass on the left. On a multi-lane road, a slow driver blocking the left lane may send many cars to pass on the right, significantly elevating the risk of a catastrophic accident.

In other cases, drivers may turn the corner and expect to drive at a reasonable rate of speed, only to catch up quickly to a slow driver. They may be unable to stop in time in case of an emergency ahead, which could potentially cause a domino effect of rear-end collisions. Just like speeding, driving too slowly is often illegal. People who drive under the minimum speed limit specified for a stretch of road may face a ticket if stopped by the police.

There are several factors that can contribute to excessively slow driving. The danger posed by distracted driving is well-known, but slow driving may be another issue. People who are surfing the internet or texting behind the wheel may fall out of sync with traffic, lingering on the road and creating traffic jams. Senior drivers with visual problems may be likely to drive at a dangerously slow speed, as may new teen drivers who are still uncertain.

Driving too slowly is a form of negligence that can cause serious injuries if it leads to a motor vehicle accident. A personal injury lawyer may help people hurt in a crash to seek compensation for their losses.

When can I be sued by someone hurt on my property?

Premises liability in Texas relies upon the idea that there are two types of people who enter your property — those who have a legal right to be there and those who do not. Property owners have an obligation to protect the safety of the former, but state law relieves them of this obligation in many cases when it comes to trespassers. 

The degree of care you must show visitors is proportional to the right of the person to be on your property. 

Duties to visitors  

Owners are typically responsible to warn guests, invitees and licensees of any dangers of which they should reasonably be aware. For example, a property owner with construction underway must alert guests of potential dangers like exposed nails or hazardous equipment. Similarly, the owner of a dangerous dog should warn visitors of the risk and employ measures to protect them. 

When it comes to trespassers, this responsibility relaxes. While property owners can sometimes be liable for trespassers’ injuries, they generally do not have the duty to keep their property safe for those entering without permission. Property owners should still take measures to maintain reasonable safety — particularly when it comes to land that may be attractive to children — in order to avoid litigation. In other words, it is a good idea to place a fence or sign around areas where you could reasonably predict an injury. While you may not be liable for an incident, taking this extra precaution can sometimes go a long way to exonerate you in court. 

Agricultural and recreational lands 

If your property qualifies as agricultural or recreational land, the law offers further protections from liability. According to state law, these landowners do “not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land,” and further, do not owe any guest or invitee “a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser.” This means that in many cases, owners of agricultural and recreational property are not liable for injuries. The burden of responsibility typically rests on the visitor to practice caution and use discretion in their actions while visiting. 

Remember that no property owner can intentionally injure a visitor or trespasser — nor can they exercise gross negligence without liability. 

Even drivers who are not drunk can be dangerous

woman in brown leather jacket giving a police officer her licenseIn Texas, like most other states, the legal blood alcohol limit when driving is .08. However, alcohol is still a factor in many car crashes even when there is not a driver who is legally drunk. Lower amounts of alcohol can still inhibit a person’s reflexes and elevate the risk of an accident. The risk is even more pronounced when dealing with younger drivers.

Some states are beginning to change their laws in order to lower the legal blood alcohol level. Utah was one of the first states to make this change, dropping the blood alcohol limit down to .05. Other states are beginning to follow suit, and the results are that the number of alcohol-related crashes in those states has declined. Drivers who have had anything to drink are a risk to other drivers on the road. In fact, 15% of road fatalities in this country over a 15-year period resulted from accidents where the driver was not legally drunk, but alcohol was a factor nonetheless.

Even if a driver has had one drink and is involved in an accident, they may still be legally responsible for that accident because the alcohol caused them to be negligent in some way. The alcohol can be a determining factor of who is responsible for the accident and might lead to compensation for you if you have been involved in an accident with a driver who was drinking but not drunk.

If you have been involved in an accident with a driver who made a mistake behind the wheel, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries. You may want to ask a personal injury attorney to advise you of your legal rights. They might then help you file a claim for compensation and negotiate a settlement if it is possible. If no agreement can be reached, the attorney may take your case to court and litigate.

PG&E guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Camp Fire

On November 8, 2018, sparks from a failed Pacific Gas and Electric transmission line caused a fire that quickly grew and raged across Northern California, destroying the towns of Paradise, Magalia, and Concow and killing 85 people. Texas residents should know what PG&E has faced in the aftermath of this incident, which is now known as the Camp Fire.

PG&E, California’s largest utility, declared bankruptcy in 2018 as the families of the victims and those who lost their homes and businesses in the fire filed claims seeking billions of dollars in damages. On March 23, 2020, the company entered into a plea agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s office. It pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully starting a fire.

As a result, it will be paying out $4 million in fines: the maximum amount possible. As the Camp Fire destroyed a canal and has left residents without access to water, the company also agreed to fund efforts to restore this access. There is some question, though, why PG&E did not plead guilty to 85 counts of involuntary manslaughter, seeing how it was 85 people who died.

While the company did not intentionally start the wildfire, still, it was held liable because of negligence on its part. Those who lost a loved one in the fire have filed a lawsuit under wrongful death law, and those who are successful may be reimbursed for pre-death medical bills, if applicable; funeral and burial expenses; loss of support and consortium; and more.

Those who lost a loved one here in Texas, even if the circumstances were not so overwhelming as a wildfire, may do well to request legal assistance. A lawyer may help build up the case and negotiate for a settlement out of court.