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Austin City Council Pushes for Ordinance Change After Fatal Hospital Crash

Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP

Previously in our blog, Howry Breen & Herman, LLP discussed the KXAN Investigates “Preventing Disaster” series that focused on a fatal hospital crash at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center in February 2024. A driver drove through the front doors of the medical center, which were not protected by traffic security measures like bollards. The crash took his life and seriously injured five people, including the entire Bernard family, who we are proudly representing in their injury claims.

Although the news investigators had already done so much to shine a light on the nationwide concern of missing or inadequate bollards at storefronts and hospital entrances, the work was not yet done. The full investigation report was sent to more than 50 lawmakers in Texas and to every member of the Austin City Council. In response, both Austin City Council Members Mackenzie Kelly and Vanessa Fuentes took steps to bring about important legislative changes.

“A Very Easy Fix”

In a meeting with the KXAN Investigates team in May, Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly called bollards a “very easy fix” that could have prevented the recent fatal accident at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. The cause of the crash is still being investigated by the police, so it isn’t known why the driver plowed through the front of the medical center. What is known, though, is that properly installed bollards more than likely would have stopped his car from ever touching the building, which might have also saved his life.

Council Member Kelly has been a volunteer firefighter and has worked in healthcare, so she knows firsthand about important safety protocols, as well as what it takes to implement them. Estimations from traffic safety measure manufacturing companies state that just $30,000 and some hours of labor was all it would have taken for St. David’s to install bollards in front of the entrance. Yet that quick and relatively low-cost fix was not implemented because the medical group was under no legal obligation to install bollards there. Although bollards were installed at that entrance after the crash, a spokesperson for St. David’s HealthCare said it would consider installing them at its other numerous medical centers if any new laws requiring it are passed. In other words, without ordinance changes, there won’t be any widespread safety changes.

Setting Sights on New Construction First

After reviewing the news journalists’ investigation, Austin City Council Member Kelly said she would plan to introduce a resolution for consideration during the upcoming July 18, 2024, council meeting. The resolution would create an ordinance that requires the installation of bollards at the entrances of any newly constructed medical facility. Typically, it is simpler to implement ordinance changes for new construction because it doesn’t force the budget of a pre-existing business or establishment. The hope is that as bollards are constructed at new facilities and people learn how effectively they are at stopping storefront car accidents, it will be easier to update the ordinance to require bollards at all medical facilities. The Austin Transportation and Public Works Department also stated its concerns that bollard requirements could impede on the public right-of-way.

However, Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes wants to improve storefront traffic protection ordinances even more. She wants bollards installed at any storefront “where there’s a lot of people moving in and out of.” She is currently looking into zoning ordinances, land development codes, and related regulations that would need to be updated to make such a wide-sweeping change a reality. Fuentes is also aiming to have any ordinance changes her Council implements act as the framework for similar legal updates across Texas, not just in Austin.

When the news investigators asked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission if it was considering a policy change that would require bollards at hospital entrances, a spokesperson said there were “no plans at this time.” The Texas Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and even Governor Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to inquiries about new policies or legislation. It seems that if legislative changes happen, it will start with the efforts of those closer to the heart of their communities; people like Austin City Council Members Mackenzie Kelly and Vanessa Fuentes, and the brave Bernard family, who are challenging St. David’s through legal action. If their lawsuit is successful—and Howry Breen & Herman, LLP is fighting every day to make it succeed—it could be a catalyst that prompts more healthcare groups and institutions to install bollards before the law makes it a requirement.

To read the latest article in the KXAN Investigates “Preventing Disasters” series, you can click here. Be sure to visit our blog for past entries about this series, and return often for any important updates. If you want our help with a personal injury claim or lawsuit in Texas, including those involving motor vehicle accidents and premises liability, call (512) 430-4844 and ask for a free case consultation.

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