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Handling a trial for a deceased plaintiff may be one of the toughest challenges for any trial lawyer. Law360 recently sought out attorney Frank Branson for his insight into making these challenging cases resonate with juries. Below is an excerpt from the Law360 article, “How To Win A Trial With A Deceased Plaintiff.”

Even if a jury is going to find for the plaintiff on liability, convincing them to award sufficient damages in the case of a deceased plaintiff is a matter of getting the jury to connect to the decedent so deeply that they actually feel their loss, according to Frank Branson of The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson.

“You don’t have the injured party to put on the witness stand and have them tell the jury how they hurt, how severe the pain has been, what they’ve tried to do, what they can’t do,” he said. “And in effect, you have to work hard at bringing the deceased back to life, for the jury, for the short period of the trial.”

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Texas has suffered a heavy blow from Hurricane Harvey. This disaster will continue to unfold in the weeks and months ahead as Texans try to put their lives back together and rebuild. Laws pushed by the insurance industry through the years will make this process very difficult. Too often, insurance companies deny, delay, and underpay valid claims in an effort to pad their profits. Dangerous and misguided laws in Texas strengthen the hand of insurance companies even more in property damage disputes.
 
We’ve put this resource page together to generally inform Texas property owners struggling in Harvey’s wake. This “Frequently Asked Questions” resource is not legal advice. Legal matters vary on a case-by-case basis, so those with questions about their property matter should contact an attorney for legal advice.
 
This article is courtesy of Texas Watch. Texas Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, has advocated for policyholders since 1998. You can download a printable version of this resource here.
 

1) HOW SHOULD I INSPECT MY PROPERTY?

If you’ve been displaced, do not return to your property until local authorities have declared the area safe. Dangers include downed power lines, broken gas lines, hidden debris, structural damage, electrical issues, standing water, and shifting earth. If you smell gas in the air, leave the area immediately and report it to authorities. If you have suffered water damage or other damage in your roof, walls, or foundation, contact an electrician before flipping any switches.
 
Contact your local authorities at 3-1-1 to determine if it is safe to return to your area. If it is deemed safe, take pictures of any damage to the structure and your belongings, paying particular attention to valuables. If you are able to safely do so, limit further damage by applying a tarp to cover holes in your home or building.
 

2) I CAN’T RETURN HOME RIGHT NOW. HOW DO I PAY FOR THIS MOTEL?

If your home isn’t habitable after the storm, your insurance policy may provide for “Additional Living Expense” or “ALE” coverage. This could pay for temporary lodging, such as motels or hotels. Review your policy and contact your insurance company to see if you have this coverage, as well as its limits. Keep all receipts.
 

3) HOW SHOULD I COMMUNICATE WITH MY INSURANCE COMPANY?

It is best to communicate with your insurance company about claims in writing to remove any argument as to when you contacted them and what you said. This could be by email, fax, or certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep an extra hard copy of all communications sent in your personal file. Also, keep all written material received from the insurance company or agent, including envelopes showing the post marked date. For any oral communications, like phone calls or in-person conversations with the insurance agent or adjuster, note what was said and who said it in a written log. Send a follow-up email to the insurance company confirming the discussion. Build an organized paper trail so it is clear exactly what was said, who said it, and when it was said.
 

4) HOW AND WHEN SHOULD I FILE MY INSURANCE CLAIM?

You should file a property insurance claim as soon as you discover damage. Tell the insurance company that your home or business suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey and that this communication is intended to serve as notice of your claim. Include your full name, address, and insurance policy number, if you have it with you. You do not have to wait to file a claim until you have pictures of damage. The important thing is that as soon as you discover damage, put the insurance company on notice by filing your claim.
 
You should not delay in filing your claim. Our insurance laws are changing for the worse on September 1, 2017, when House Bill 1774 goes into effect (see SECTION 4 of the bill at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/html/HB01774F.htm).
 
We opposed this “Blue Tarp Bill,” which was pushed by the insurance industry, because it hurts homeowners and business owners. By filing your damage claim before September 1, 2017, you may potentially preserve an 18% interest penalty on insurance companies that drag their feet in paying valid claims. Discussions about the effective date of this legislation, the date of notice of your claim, and how this impacts your legal rights should take place between you and your lawyer.
 
You may have suffered both wind and water damage. File a claim with every property insurance company you have. Flood insurance is sold separately from your homeowners policy. Property owners along the coast may have yet another insurance policy with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to cover windstorm damage. Locate all of your insurance policies and put every insurance company who has taken your money on notice with a written claim if you have suffered damage.
 

5) WHAT DOES THE BLUE TARP BILL DO?

House Bill 1774, better known as the “Blue Tarp Bill,” slashes penalties on property insurers that drag out payment on claims; forces many insurance cases into our backlogged and understaffed federal courts, where it takes twice as long to receive justice; imposes additional costs on property owners; and may make it harder for them to find a lawyer willing to take their case. It does nothing to ensure property claims related to weather are paid on time or in full, meaning it effectively punishes homeowners and business owners in our state. Bottom line, it is a bill that insurance industry lobbyists wanted, and the Texas Legislature and Governor Abbott gave it to them.
 

6) HOW DO I CHECK OUT CONTRACTORS?

After storms, roofers, public adjusters, and other contractors may start advertising their services in neighborhoods. It is important to ensure these contractors are reputable and established. Ask for references and call those given. Check to make sure the contractor carries insurance or a bond, and ask for evidence of this. Look them up on services like Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, or Yelp to see others’ experiences with them. Multiple written estimates — detailing the scope of work, materials, and labor needed — from reputable contractors can be helpful in determining the full extent of damage and whether your insurance company is offering a sufficient claims payment to make repairs.

 

7) HOW DO I CHECK OUT LAWYERS?

If your insurance company is giving you the run around, low balling, or stiff arming you, you may need to contact an attorney. The State Bar of Texas offers a toll-free referral hotline at 800-252-9690. You can look for lawyers at this State Bar website: www.texasbar.com/findalawyer. Ask the lawyer about their experience in handling first party insurance claims, check to see if they carry professional liability insurance, and ask for references and call those provided. It is important to know that attorney advertisements are regulated by the State Bar and solicitation of cases is strictly prohibited under the law.
 

8) SHOULD I DEPOSIT THIS INSURANCE CHECK?

If an insurance company sends you a check, read it and any paperwork very carefully before depositing. If it states “claims payment,” “claims settlement,” or “claims release” do not deposit the check unless you are satisfied with the amount.
 

9) WHAT ARE SOME OTHER INSURANCE RESOURCES?

The Texas Department of Insurance has a “Help After Harvey” page at www.tdi.texas.gov/consumer/storms/helpafterharvey.html. They can also be reached at 1-800-252-3439. The Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the state-funded policyholder advocate, can be reached at 1-877-611-6742 or www.opic.texas.gov.
 
Arm yourself with knowledge, ask questions until you understand, get it in writing, and don’t take no for an answer if your insurance company is trying to dodge its responsibilities. You paid 100 cents on the dollar in premiums and deserve full payment on your covered claim. Fair is fair.

kcstarIn the days following the tragic death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab, reporters with the Kansas City Star spoke with Frank Branson about design and safety issues that might have contributed to the tragic waterslide fatality. Key questions include the basic design of the 17-story waterslide and the decision to use Velcro restraints. Read the full story here

Another fatal bus crash in Texas involving a casino bus raises serious questions about charter bus safety and whether the gaming industry is doing enough to ensure the safety of its patrons.

Earlier in May 2016, The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson won a combined $10.9 million jury verdict after a Dallas jury agreed that the Choctaw Nation was negligent and responsible for a very similar charter bus rollover crash that occurred in Irving, Texas, in 2013. Three died in that crash and dozens more were injured.

“It’s incredible tbus seatshat we have another one of these crashes within two weeks of the verdict,” says Dallas trial lawyer Frank Branson. “Because of their rural locations, casinos like Choctaw and Kickapoo are dependent on these buses bringing in patrons. However, the casino business is driven by the bottom line, so these casinos are more concerned about whether their buses are full than they are about the safety record of the bus company and driver. These casinos have the responsibility to vet any charter bus bringing patrons to their facilities.”

Testimony in the recent Choctaw trial revealed how casinos rely on these buses to bring in business. For example, Texas patrons generate 75 percent of the Choctaw Casino Resort’s revenue, and 85 percent of the bus passengers who arrive at the Choctaw Casino Resort come from Texas. According to trial testimony, the Choctaw Casino Resort expected a charter bus carrying 45 passengers to generate $15,000 to $22,500 of revenue. At trial, the Choctaw Casino Resort sought to claim that safety was solely the charter company’s responsibility, but trial testimony showed that the casino had ultimate control over the bus, the driver and the trip.

Authorities in South Texas confirm that all eight passengers who died on the charter bus in route to the Kickapoo Casino on Saturday had been ejected from the bus after the driver lost control. Seat belts and laminated safety glass – long recommended by safety experts and required on new buses sold today – may have prevented those passenger ejections from occurring and likely would have saved lives, says Branson.

For more information, contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.  

In this interview with the Phil Hulett and Friends show, Dallas sports stadium injury lawyer Frank L. Branson talks with host Phil Hulett about recent incidents involving sports fans suffering severe and fatal injuries from falls at ballparks, arenas and stadiums.

On September 13, 2015, a Denver Broncos fan fell over a railing at Sports Authority Field and suffered serious injuries. The man was reportedly intoxicated and trying to retrieve a hat. On August 29, 2015, a man died when he fell off the upper deck and died during a Atlanta Braves v NY Yankees game at Turner Field in Atlanta. Another fan died at this same ballpark after falling from the upper deck in 2008.

Other recent notable sports injuries involving fans being injured by errant balls and flying debris include:

  • Parts of a broken maple bat hit Susan Rhodes in the face on April 25, 2008 at Dodger Stadium, breaking her jaw. She sued the team and bat maker Rawlings, though eventually dropped the suit. The league put new rules in place about the use of maple bats, which were breaking about once a game in 2008.
  • A foul ball struck Wendy Whitehead, 39, in the temple during a San Angelo Colts game in 2010. She died a day later.
  • Shannon Stone, 39, died in 2011 while reaching for a foul ball during a Texas Rangers game.
  • In April, a Chicago Cubs fan was injured when rookie Addison Russell lost control of his bat. It slipped out of his hands, sending it into the stands. The fan was later taken to a hospital for treatment.

Hockey

  • Brittanie Cecil, 13, died March 18, 2002, two days after getting struck in the head with a puck when the Calgary Flames visited the Columbus Blue Jackets. Her death led to the league adding netting at both ends of the ice for another layer of protection for fans.
  • Gerald Green was hit in the head with a puck last May when the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the Minnesota Wild. 
  • Despite sitting behind a safety net, Patricia Higgins got struck in the face when the Blackhawks hosted the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2013. 

Auto racing

  • Three fans were killed after a crash in the 1998 US 500 at Michigan International Speedway. Six others sustained injuries. Exceeding 200 mph, Adrian Fernandez slammed into the wall, sending his right front wheel over the fences and into the stands.
  • Three fans were killed after a tire and other debris shot into the stands during the 1999 VisionAire 500K at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Eight others were injured. After the deaths, the race was canceled and no longer included in the Indy Racing League.
  • Seven spectators were injured during the 2009 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Carl Edwards’s car flipped into the catchfence, causing the injuries.
  • About 30 fans were injured at Daytona International Speedway in 2013 during the Nationwide Series race. Ryan Larson and his car went flying into the catchfence after Regan Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski. Among other debris that was catapulted into the stands, a tire from the car landed nine rows back.

Branson is the founder of The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson, a Dallas-based law firm with a reputation for courtroom excellence based on significant verdicts and settlements for clients in high-stakes personal injury cases and business disputes. The firm’s record verdicts and recoveries stem from cases involving trucking and transportation injuries, product liability, construction accidents, commercial plane crashes, explosions and burns caused by gas and electric power utilities, medical negligence, workplace catastrophes andprofessional negligence and business torts.

The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson representing teenager injured in fatal wreck

DALLAS – The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson in Dallas has filed a negligence lawsuit on behalf of a 19-year-old college student who was critically injured when a distracted tractor-trailer driver collided with the van carrying her and other members of a college softball team last month in Oklahoma. Four young women were killed and others were injured.

The lawsuit was filed against Nashville, Tennessee-based Quickway Transportation Inc. and truck driver Russell Wayne Staley of Saginaw, Texas, on behalf of North Central Texas College student Rachel Hitt. The legal filing says Quickway was negligent in its hiring, training and supervision of Mr. Staley prior to the Sept. 26 crash.

According to investigators, Mr. Staley claimed he was distracted by something in the cab of his 18-wheeler before veering across the center median and striking the team’s van in the southbound lane on Interstate 35 south of Oklahoma City.

“This lawsuit was filed to provide relief and support for this young woman and to make sure the public knows exactly how this tragedy occurred,” says attorney Frank L. Branson, founder of The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson. “This was a preventable crash, and we are committed to making sure that Quickway takes responsibility for the safety shortcomings that have now affected so many lives.”

The lawsuit demands that Quickway immediately preserve and disclose evidence related to the fatal crash, including Mr. Staley’s employment and safety records, drug  and alcohol test results, driving records, and internal investigations. The case filed in Tarrant County District Court is Rachel Hitt v. Quickway Transportation Inc. and Russell Wayne Staley, No. 067-274841-14.

The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson maintains a reputation for courtroom excellence based on significant verdicts and settlements for clients in high-stakes personal injury cases and business disputes. The firm’s record verdicts and recoveries stem from cases involving trucking and transportation injuries, product liability, construction accidents, commercial plane crashes, explosions and burns caused by gas and electric power utilities, medical negligence, workplace catastrophes and professional negligence and business torts. Visit http://www.flbranson.com to learn more.

For more information on the lawsuit, please contact Robert Tharp at 800-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

Firm founder Frank L. Branson is the 2014 recipient of one of the Southern Trial Lawyers Association’s highest honors. Mr. Branson received the “Tommy Malone Great American Eagle Award” during the STLA’s annual meeting in New Orleans in February. The annual award recognizes individuals who are known for helping and inspiring others and are a “powerful example of the bold pursuit of excellence and justice. Such an individual is one who inspires others and is a living symbol of integrity, strength, bravery, justice, freedom, pride, devotion, excellence, and friendship and to many a hero.”

Debbie Dudley Branson has been named one of four recipients of the 2014 Maura Women Helping Women awards, recognizing women for their achievements in leadership and improvement of the lives of women and girls in Dallas-Fort Worth. The Dallas Women’s Foundation established the Maura Award in 1978 to recognize women who achieve success and create paths of opportunity for others to follow.

A recent in-depth profile published by The Texas Lawbook set out to uncover the secrets behind Frank and Debbie Branson’s success in both marriage and business.

The article, “Partners in Life, the Law,” reveals a system that the two acclaimed attorneys developed in their marriage while simultaneously working alongside each other in high-stakes litigation at The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson in Dallas. The common themes, the newspaper reports, include mutual respect, a strong work ethic and two strong personalities who have learned to capitalize on each other’s complementary strengths. 

“We enjoy working together,” Debbie tells The Texas Lawbook. “We started out doing what would work for us as lawyers and as a family. We can work together and also pursue separate interests at the same time.”

The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson has grown while the Bransons’ marriage has thrived for more than three decades. The profile story details how the firm established a reputation for large catastrophic injury verdicts and settlements while successfully maintaining its reputation for handling complex business litigation. Recently, Debbie has served in a critically important leadership role as the chair of the Parkland Health & Hospital System Board of Managers.

Just don’t call them a “power couple,” the story continues. 

“If we have any power, it comes from both of us working hard,” Debbie says. “The truth is we have fun, whether we’re working or playing. We’re lucky.”

Click here to view the entire article.

In this ABC World News report, Dallas attorney Frank Branson discusses his investigation surrounding the death of Rosa Esparza, who was killed when she was thrown from her seat on the Texas Giant rollercoaster at Six Flags Over Texas on July 19, 2013. According to the lawsuit filed by the Branson trial team, Ms. Esparza fell from the top of the 14-story wooden coaster after safety measures on the rollercoaster failed. “The ride doesn’t have a proper restraint system,” Mr. Branson tells ABC World News.