Double-mind the blind spots in Houston

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

“What Do They Call ‘Chutzpah’ in Texas” is the title of a blog post from a week or so back over at the Social Services for Feral Children blog about a case against Texas box-truck driver Lance Bennett recently filed by a woman convicted of DUI after a crash she and Bennett were involved in. Elizabeth Shelton, the woman in question and daughter of judge Pat Shelton in Harris County, home of Houston, Texas, seems to be firing away in an attempt to see what she can get out of the trucking company, which apparently had let the insurance on Bennett’s truck lapse. Never mind that her DUI conviction showed she was driving at three times the legal limit for blood alcohol levels. What makes the case particularly noteworthy is that a passenger in her pickup, Matthew McNiece, was killed in the crash, and his family has apparently joined the suit.

And as the Social Services blogger puts it, “>Now for the benefit of my readers in Texas generally, and Houston specifically, I dunno nothing ’bout no Texas law. But one of them fancy eastern lawyers, with his silk stockings, silver buckles, and wigs, why I reckon he mighta sued Elizabeth Shelton and her family, rather than the driver Shelton rear-ended in a drunken stupor. See, back east they got this legal concept called negligence, which is an eastern way of saying that when a cowgirl ties one on and injures or kills a cowboy, why she owes that cowboy or his family damages. Matter of fact, they even got this doctrine called gross, willful and wanton negligence, which means that when a cowgirl really ties one on, I mean she makes one humdinger of a mistake, she’s gotta pay extra damages, and probably cattle besides. They call that punitive damages back east.”

The blogger went on to uncover a potential conflict of interest for the lawyer representing both the Sheltons and the McNieces in the case, and over at the blog for criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett (no relation to the truck driver), this conflict is further explicated, including the long, somewhat checkered history of lawyer, Mark Sandoval, which the Houston Chronicle didn’t report on. In any case, keep a hard eye on the traffic around you going through the Houston area. What to look for? The usual, I guess: At the time of the fatal crash, October 2006, witnesses reported the deceased had his head out of the window and was “joyfully yelling.”

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