Let Our Award Winning Attorneys Fight for You

text direct call us
Your last will and testament is important, don't leave your family without.

Is Death Funny? Can Death Be Funny? – Part One

Your last will and testament is important, don't leave your family without.Can Death be funny? Is it something that is okay to laugh about? We are all going to die. Nobody questions the fact that we will die, but nobody really wants to talk about it.

I wanted to make it a topic that seemed more approachable so I went to the most creative person I know, my cousin Leana. I asked, “Is there anything funny about death? I want to start a conversation with clients and past clients about death so that they are prepared if something awful does happen.” This was her response, “So that is hard because comedy itself is hard. So funny death stuff, I keep going back to cartoons and how shows like the roadrunner are funny because they have a million lives and never really die.”

As much as I loved her response because it shows how we are grasping I realized, death just isn’t funny. Nothing about loss is funny for any of us. We can speak in retrospect about what a loved one did that was funny, that is funny. We can try to recapture a moment or a time a happenstance when we all laughed a deep belly laugh with our past loved one, that is funny to the one who holds the memory, but death just isn’t funny.

As a trial lawyer mainly focused on vulnerable road users for the past 16 years my outlook sometimes, especially when the time changes, gets a bit darker. Recent catastrophic injury and death cases have been weighing on our practice, and part of that is the suffering a family that is unprepared for death (as though anyone is really prepared) takes on. The additional sufferings, sometimes distractions, for good or ill such as probate and dealing with guardianship and other unintended consequences of the deceased’s unplanned death are hard on anyone grieving.

So, here is what I am on about. For our clients we wanted to add a service, a sliding scale service to clients who have not yet planned for what could happen. If you have children, you need to plan for what happens if you are not here. No one wants to think about that but as parents we have to. Guardianship is perhaps the most important consideration for sudden loss of life. Who would raise that child or children, and in the very unlikely event that the person whom you first select were to be disabled or also die, who is next in line for that honor and that you trust?

And if you don’t have children, do you want your family to be in probate court over your assets? And, you say you have no assets, but even the smallest of accounts and debts have judicial procedures that follow your death unless you have created a will or living trust.

We realize this is a very unpleasant, not funny topic and no one really wants to have it; consider this, if you die intestate (without a will) you forgo the chance you had while you were still alive, this is the chance you have to take care of your kids, or your parents, or spouse, and leave your affairs in order so they are not sitting Shiva in my office and hanging out with Judge Herman in our probate court.

We are now offering sliding scale services for those in need of simple estate planning and guardianship papers. No we are not becoming your grandfather’s law practice or mine. We are simply seeing a need and filling a gap for our clients who are unusually vulnerable for a variety of reasons.

Through this link you can fill out the necessary information that will help us get started on preparing the documents you need. Services and prices will vary but in ALL circumstances we will work within your budget.

Read Part Two

City of Austin and Bike Lanes — Particularly Mesa Drive

bikelane-300x225-300x225In 2007, the City of Austin Bike Plan (click to download document) began with these words, “The aim of the Austin Bicycle Plan is to increase bicycle use and safety.” Per the adopted Austin Bicycle Plan, “On-street automobile parking and bicycle lanes are incompatible because the parked cars essentially prevent use of the lane. Parking should not be allowed in bicycle lanes.” Through the Bicycle Program and other programs, the City of Austin strives to increase bicycle use and safety to protect cyclists from the impact of automobiles.

In 2009, the bike plan began with a forward letter from then Mayor Will Wynn. The document reveals what was to be done when improving infrastructure for the goal of becoming the most bicycle-friendly major city in Texas and a world class bicycle-friendly city. Page forty-five of this master plan shows the studies and feedback provided as well as illustrates the stake the City had in increasing contiguous routes not just for commuters but for recreational and athletic users of bike lanes.

In 2014, the plan grew seemingly even stronger. “A change in focus” leads the charge on the city website for the master bike plan.. The change is touted as going from “To Create and Promote the best environment for the friendly coexistence of bicycle riders and other transportation users in Austin” to “To maximize the contribution of bicycling to Austin’s quality of life”.

Due to lack of preparation and planning by the City of Austin, last night’s meeting devolved into a group of people arguing their opinions in anger, or into what I think of as the “angry face phenomenon.”

In a book I once read this illustration was provided:

Jarvis Masters, who is a prisoner on death row, wrote a book, called Finding Freedom. In a chapter called “Angry Faces,” Jarvis has his TV on in his cell but he doesn’t have the sound on because he’s using the light of the TV to read. And every once in a while, he looks up at the screen, then yells to people down the cell block to ask what’s happening.

The first time, someone yells back, “It’s the Ku Klux Klan, Jarvis, and they’re all yelling and complaining about how it’s the blacks and the Jews who are responsible for all these problems.” About half an hour later, he yells again, “Hey, what’s happening now?” And a voice calls back, “That’s the Greenpeace folks. They’re demonstrating about the fact that the rivers are being polluted and the trees are being cut down and the animals are being hurt and our Earth is being destroyed.” Some time later, he calls out again. “Now what’s going on?” And someone says, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s the U.S. Senate and that guy who’s up there now talking, he’s blaming the other guys, the other side, the other political party, for all the financial difficulty this country is in.”

Jarvis starts laughing and he calls down, “I’ve learned something here tonight. Sometimes they’re wearing Klan outfits, sometimes they’re wearing Greenpeace outfits, sometimes they’re wearing suits and ties, but they all have the same angry faces.” Pema Chodron, (1997) When Things Fall Apart.

Last night’s meeting literally fell apart. People who don’t regularly advocate came to the meeting hoping to have a voice, but the City was unorganized and threatened by its own meeting or lack of procedure or perhaps unprepared for the passion in the voices that were there. There was a lack of moderation, a quelling of speech, and palpable fear from prepared speakers wanting to present factual information. No facts were ever presented save for a few slides I had prepared that were shouted about by those assuming the direction of the slide.

What happened last night was a gathering, a coming together of a group of caring people, of community members, all of whom share a similar goal. The resounding need in the room, both spoken and unspoken, by everyone who attended was this: “Help calm this street, it is moving too fast, it is dangerous for those trying to leave their driveways, it is dangerous for children riding their bikes though the route is designated as a safe route to schools, and homeowners want on street parking. Help keep us safe, help us keep ourselves and our families and our neighbors safe.”

Various arguments were made that began with, “I have a circular driveway and a long driveway” I need on-street parking. “I want my grandmother to be able to park in front of my house on the street when she comes to visit,” this last seeming to assume that there is no room in the driveway when in fact the street-to-door length in this area is actually greater than driveway-to-door in most instances. People wanting bike lanes were arguing for their life and the lives of those they love who use the bike lanes and fear being pushed into faster-moving traffic.

The City has neither posted nor provided actual studies of what is wrong with the current situation or how to fix it; instead, they created a forum in which many disparate opinions were shared in the absence of facts, in which neighbors shouted down neighbors in an emotional effort to be heard. . The City of Austin so far has only presented goals involving striping and nothing that demonstrably would improve calming conditions which is what everyone is seeking. There is no scenario, though, where facts have been provided that show that removing bike lanes creates safer streets for our most vulnerable road users.

The Austin Vulnerable Road User Ordinance code provides that cars must maintain a distance of three feet from people on bikes and other vulnerable road users and six feet if the motorist is a large truck.

Not one person or City staffer addressed how any of the proposals would work with this law. A discussion that I tried to initiate, but the city shut down due to last-minute time constraints and a fear of my prepared slides.

I came to the meeting to show the various hazards presented by the proposed options. I was met at the beginning of the meeting by City of Austin representative and proposal leader, Laura Dierenfeld, the Active Transportation Program Manager. She stated that she did not want me to show slides because it was using “technology”. She stressed that she did not want me to make any presentation despite the fact that I live off of Mesa and have a child and a home in the area. In other words, free speech was not being afforded. Laura and Nathan Wilkes of the same department dealt with this by disclaiming at the beginning of the meeting “a person wants to show a powerpoint and we want to let you know we do not approve”. They decided to limit each person’s time to speak to three minutes. So, a line was formed and folks that had something to say lined up, took the microphone and spoke until they were told their time was up.

Opinion followed opinion. Again, similar cries for safer streets. Except for the one guy who argued, he needed a wide shoulder in front of his house with a circular and long driveway because traffic is too heavy, even though he does not concern himself with traffic because “I drive a big truck with a big bumper and I make my way”. Dangerous much?

An engineer from the City attended but was not asked to address any of the issues brought to the table. Council Member Sherri Gallo could not be bothered to attend, according to a representative from her office, due to more important issues in “another neighborhood.”

Nobody addressed the lack of studies on what can be done with a forty foot street for traffic calming, maintaining marked and contiguous bike lanes and creating some relief for those in need of parking. I note that there has been no demonstrated need for parking, only a loud cry from a very few for want of parking.

The only “study” was the parked car count conducted only four times during different times of day. Attendees at the meeting reported completely different independent observations just this past week.

Basically what this comes down to is there is not enough information, no formal studies, and a blatant attempt to prevent free flow of actual facts. Apparently a community meeting is only for opinion, what could go wrong there?

I left last night’s meeting wondering what unintended consequences will follow from what I perceive to be a lack of integrity on the part of the City, which seems to prioritize a knee-jerk reaction to a few homeowners over a thoughtful solution which would protect thousands of people who ride bikes along this corridor daily.

The majority of voices heard asked resoundingly for street humps, or turnabouts, or even narrower car lanes to reduce the traffic pace and create a calmer environment. These concerns remain without acknowledgement or answer from the City of Austin.

What I do know is that there was an amazing turn-out of concerned citizens; some who live in our neighborhood and some who use the bike lanes regularly and whose voices are those the City of Austin Bike Plan is allegedly addressing.

Regardless of the decision the City of Austin reaches in this situation, it will walk away, wash its hands of any liability for future consequences, no matter how foreseeable, and any and all unintended consequences. Under no circumstances should any changes be made without the appropriate studies of what each the proposals presented may produce in terms of traffic and the risks associated or how these proposals work with existing goals, policy, and plans.

Facts to be considered relating to ten foot shoulders with no designated bike lane:

  • The average truck width is six and a half feet.
  • The average door opens three feet.
  • The average space a person riding a bike needs to pass a vehicle safely is three feet if it is a small vehicle and six feet if it is a larger vehicle.
  • Cars or trucks parked on a shoulder rarely park directly against the curb, that may leave less than two feet of space for a person on a bike to pass.
  • If a person is exiting the vehicle there is the door zone of three feet and the human factor zone to be considered of several feet for ingress or egress of the vehicle.
  • Ten feet of shared space for parked cars is dangerous and we have seen the results on Shoal Creek.
  • Shoal Creek has this configuration of on street parking with shared bike path. There are regular battles of wills and might from autos to people riding bikes.

Benefits of bike lanes…well, there are too many to enumerate, so please reference what People for Bikes has to say on the matter.

A simple online search will demonstrate the multiple options not even being suggested by the City of Austin to create safer cycling and traffic calming on Mesa.

Let’s get serious about safety. Frankly, no one’s opinion matters as much as learned answers following deliberate efforts to find safe solutions.

Catastrophic Injuries, Finding the Policy to Cover The Costs of All of the Harms and Losses

When a client of ours suffers a catastrophic injury there is always a search for insurance coverage to manage the extensive harms and losses experienced by the injured and their loved ones. A tree of inquiry is to be followed and it naturally begins with the driver’s insurance policies. Texas has a glut of uninsured drivers—the Department of Transportation shows as of 2014, 1 in 6 drivers is using our roads without maintaining financial responsibility.

Inadequate coverage by the owner or driver leads to an inquiry of the injured party—did they have uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage (UIM)? Many people overlook the importance of purchasing this additional bit of insurance. To every driver we recommend purchasing this layer of insurance.

Sometimes there are third-party policies that may provide coverage in a catastrophic injury cases. In Texas, these policies are referred to as Umbrella Policies and usually only exist when the primary policy exceeds $300,000.00. These policies are on top of regular auto policies and must be separately searched for using databases built to find this specific layer of insurance. These excess or umbrella policies are usually meant to cover events that are not typically covered by standard policies and the policies must be read to verify applicability.

The next query is to seek the possibility of other negligent parties such as employer liability for cases involving commercial vehicles such as delivery trucks, semi trucks, 18 wheelers, construction vehicles and vehicles driven for the benefit of an employer, or in the course and scope of employment. Commercial policies, often referred to as CGL (commercial general liability), are specifically for vicarious liability issues. Knowing how to read the policies for exclusions and coverage is key to knowing what money is on the table to cover the catastrophic losses.

Trucking accidents can have layered coverage for the driver, owner, operator, and company. Typically there are layers of insurance that cover separately the owner, operator, and the company, depending on the way the driver is employed. The Motor Carrier Safety Act sets standards for insurance and endorsements on drivers and big rigs.

If you have suffered a catastrophic injury and are trying to dig through the layers of coverage and/or find coverage for your harms and losses, let us help navigate the claim so you and your family can focus on gaining quality of life and living back.

The Ashley Madison breach is causing ripples through the legal world

Ashley Madison, Texas’s New “Revenge Porn” Law, & a Box of Popcorn

The Ashley Madison breach is causing ripples through the legal worldCome September 1, 2015 Texas will join 24 other states to enact SB 1135 dubbed the “Revenge Porn Law”. The timing is coinciding, appropriately enough, with the Ashely Madison data hack and subsequent data dump that was carried out by the anonymous group going by the name Team Impact. This security breach has all the makings of a soap opera and while our first reaction may be to pop some popcorn and watch some well-known “family men” and public figures fall from grace, it also serves as a scary reminder of the perils of this new world we live in. This story holds such a strange mixture of roles; the victims are cheaters, the leakers have painted themselves to be the heroes of the internet, and Ashley–well Ashley Madison is left standing with egg all over her proverbial face. In fact—to date—no one from Ashley Madison has issued a statement regarding the data dump, aside from a smallish post on the news portion of the AM site assuring their clientele that in fact—none of their credit card information was susceptible— which I’m sure is exactly what their clients biggest, number one fear is right now (not). With two apparent suicides already potentially tied to the data dump, you don’t have to look far or scratch the surface very deep to see the human tragedy that this data breach has brought to so many disgraced spouses.

“They got what they deserved” seems to be a common sentiment expressed on various comment sections of various AM articles but this illustrates how short-sighted some people are being about the breach. Understandably there are many different levels of involvement on the site ranging from innocent curiosity—those signing on for a quick peek and a lark, all the way to outright betrayal and everything in between. Somehow though, there are those that wish to tar everyone with the same brush, which is a mistake.

As much as Ashley Madison is centered around the premise of infidelity, this incident is far more complex than just a bunch of cheating spouses and in light of all of the questions, drama, and surely more revelations and data yet to come, we wanted to look at this from the perspective of the new SB 1135 “Revenge Porn” law and what the potential correlations were. According to Section 21.16 b:
A person commits an offense if without the effective consent of the depicted person, the person intentionally discloses VISUAL material depicting another person engaged in SEXUAL CONDUCT; the visual material was obtained by the person or created under the circumstances in which the depicted person had a reasonable expectation that the visual material would remain private; the disclosure of the visual material causes harm to the depicted person; and the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner: any accompanying or subsequent information or material related to the visual material; and information or material provided by a third party in response to the person’s disclosure of the visual material.

This story and it’s relation to SB 1135 raises so many questions that we don’t yet have the answers to.

Is Team Impact liable for Revenge Porn charges if they haven’t disclosed any of the photos that we know they have?

“…and the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner: any accompanying or subsequent information or material related to the visual material; material provided by a third party (Ashley Madison) in response to the person’s disclosure of the visual material.”

Is Ashley Madison at risk for their negligence in allowing the site to be hacked (over the course of several years) due to their incredibly lax security—leaving approximately 37 million users vulnerable to exposure thus not even remotely practicing due diligence (despite the “trusted security award”, “100% discreet service”, and “SSL secure site” medals which, mockingly, still decorate their site today)?

“…the visual material was obtained by the person or created under the circumstances in which the depicted person had a reasonable expectation that the visual material would remain private; the disclosure of the visual material causes harm to the depicted person; and the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner…”

Will Ashley Madison and parent company Avid Life be able to skirt lawsuits brought against them relying on U.S.C. code?

“It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that…the actor is an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230, and the disclosure or promotion consists of visual material provided by another person.”

These and many, many more questions will be among the fall-out from this data dump and we’ll be seeing the repercussions and litigation for years to come. This is one area where the technology is way ahead of the laws and protections that we clearly need. While Team Impact is responsible for uncovering this data, it’s also clear that Ashley Madison did little to safeguard its extensive list of users and as negligence is the law, they should have known and done better.

Though help is on the way—there is a federal bill being drawn up and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is in the final stages of drafting legislation. In a statement on Friday, she said U.S. laws “haven’t yet caught up with this crime.”

“Today it’s possible to ruin someone’s life with the click of a button, by publishing another person’s private images without their consent,” Speier said in a statement emailed to the Daily Dot. “Our laws haven’t yet caught up with this crime. If you’re a celebrity, you can pay a high-priced lawyer to demand that websites take your picture down, but for an average person, the current system offers almost no recourse. We already punish the unauthorized disclosure of private information like medical records and financial identifiers. Why should personal images of one’s naked body, given in confidence, be any different?” O’Hara, M. (June 21, 2015). A Federal Revenge Porn Bill is Expected Next Month [Web-based article]. Retrieved from http://www.dailydot.com/politics/federal-revenge-porn-bill/

Will this future federal law help clear up these issues? That remains to be seen, but don’t worry, John Oliver, covering this topic on his June 21, 2015 Last Week Tonight show titled Online Harassment quipped, “And also the law would carve out exceptions for the ‘bona fide public interest’ meaning that if say a public figure like Anthony Weiner texted his penis around, we could all still enjoy that story,”. Pass the popcorn please.

-Melanie Shepard

Back-to-School Bike Safety Tips

Summer is winding down, and for many students this means that classes are about to start back up in full swing (if they haven’t already!). If you will be riding your bike to class, here are some important tips to remember to help keep you and those around you safe as you start back to school.

1. Inspect your bike. This is always a good tip, but it’s especially important if you haven’t been riding as much during the summer. Be sure to check the brakes, tires, wheel alignment, seat, handlebars, axle nuts and bearings, and your bike chain. Adjust, replace, or tighten things as necessary. If you aren’t sure how to do this, stop by Ozone or any of the other local bike shops and ask them help you.

2. Stay aware of traffic and traffic pattern changes. If you’ve been riding your bike over the summer, you may have gotten used to a different traffic pattern. Remember that traffic might be busier than normal at certain locations or times of day now that school is back in session.

3. Remember your lights. Days will be getting shorter now, and a class that starts in daylight might not end until after dark. Or maybe you’ll need to have a late-night study session. No matter why you end up out after dark, remember to make sure that your bike is equipped with lights. Also remember to bring extra batteries, brightly colored clothing, and reflective gear for those late night or early morning rides.

4. Always carry your books and other items in a bicycle carrier or backpack. Keep your hands free at all times! Remember, the hands-free ordinance applies to bicyclists too!

5. Don’t let your bike get stolen! While you’re in class, be sure to lock your bike while it’s parked. Buy a good quality lock, and lock your bike through both the frame and the wheel. While any lock can be broken with the right tools, a thief is less likely to go to more extreme efforts to break a lock in a crowded area. You can register your bike through BikeUT and the APD which can help get your bike returned if it is stolen. Also, be sure not to leave your bike parked on campus overnight.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons