The Seattle Personal Injury Blog
Posted Saturday, March 25, 2017 by
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed two bills that could affect personal injury litigants if also passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017
One is the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017, which requires federal judges to impose penalties on plaintiffs who bring frivolous lawsuits. While it doesn’t change the standard that judges use to determine whether a lawsuit is frivolous, it eliminates the plaintiff’s ability to avoid sanctions by voluntarily withdrawing his or claim within 21 days.
A lawsuit is considered frivolous if it was filed with the intention of harassing the party against whom the lawsuit is filed. It may also be considered frivolous if the plaintiff knows there was little or no chance that the lawsuit will succeed.
While proponents of the bill argue that reducing frivolous litigation will eliminate the overburdened federal judiciary, opponents contend that the bill isn’t necessary.
If the bill becomes law, it will not affect litigation in state courts. But Seattle residents pursuing personal injury claims might bring their claims in federal court, particularly if they are claims are against an out-of-state resident. It is imperative that any person pursuing a personal injury lawsuit consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that they are bringing a viable and not a frivolous claim.
The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017
The second bill is the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, which would make it more difficult for plaintiffs to file class actions in federal court. Any individual who wants to join the class action would have to prove that he or she suffered the same type and the same extent of personal injury or economic group that the lead plaintiff suffered.
Opponents argue that the bill violates the constitutional separation of powers by impeding on courts’ ability to determine their own rules and procedures. They also argue that the bill erodes the fairness of the class action process.
If this bill becomes law, it could affect personal injury class lawsuits, which often arise when something happens that injures multiple people at the same time (like a defective product). Making all class action members prove that they’ve effectively suffered the same injury would make it difficult for everyone to receive the compensation that they deserve. If the bill becomes law, it might be more difficult for class action lawsuits to succeed and would-be class members might have to bring individual personal injury lawsuits.
Contact Us Today
If you are pursuing a personal injury claim, the last thing you need to worry about is legal procedure. The Pivotal Law Group stays abreast of the latest developments in judicial rules and procedures and will ensure that you file a viable personal injury claim that won’t get you into trouble. (We will also make sure that your claim is filed in the proper court.) Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation.
Permalink to this entry
Posted Sunday, March 19, 2017 by
Laws Specific to Motorcyclists
Motorcyclists lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, which is why riders are more likely to suffer injuries or die when involved in an accident. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 4,693 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2015. In fact, motorcycle deaths accounted for 13 percent of all motor vehicle accident fatalities. There were also 88,000 motorcyclists injured, down from 92,000 in 2014.
Motorcycle Accidents in Seattle
There are unfortunately numerous examples of motorcycle accidents that have resulted in fatalities and serious injuries. Recently, a motorcyclist died in a crash along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated highway in Seattle.
In August 2016, a motorcyclist was killed when his bike crashed on the 1st Avenue Bridge near State Route 9 in South Seattle. He missed the turn onto an off ramp, crashing into the guardrail and falling to the street below. A witness to the accident said that the man was driving too fast to safely navigate the “treacherous” corner.
In March 2016, two motorcyclists crashed into each other on Airport Way near 8th Avenue South. A man was killed, and a woman sustained life-threatening injuries.
(Note that wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the risk of injury in motorcycle accidents. Washington is one of 20 states (and the District of Columbia) that requires all motorcyclists to wear helmets.)
Pedestrians are also in danger of being injured by a motorcyclist. For example, in December 2016 a motorcyclist severely injured a pedestrian in North Seattle. The woman was walking in a designated crosswalk when a motorcycle hit her at full speed. A surveillance video captured the incident, in which the motorcyclist failed to brake and the woman was lifted into the air by the force of the impact.
Special Laws for Motorcyclists
The state of Washington has specific laws designed to keep motorcyclists safe (or as safe as possible). If a driver doesn’t adhere to one of these laws, he or she could injure himself or someone else. Moreover, violating one of these laws might make it harder for a driver injured in an accident to recover damages from another responsible party. (Washington is a comparative fault state. If you are partially at fault for your injuries then any damages awarded to you will be reduced by your percentage of fault.)
Other than the helmet law mentioned above, here are a few other laws specific to motorcyclists:
Contact Us Today
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, you might be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and other damages. Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys for a free consultation.
Permalink to this entry
Posted Saturday, March 11, 2017 by
Starbucks is a familiar presence in Seattle, which, after all, is where the company opened its first store in 1971. The coffee chain still calls Seattle home.
Today there are more than 25,000 Starbucks stores worldwide, hundreds of which are in the state of Washington. Unfortunately, Starbucks, like any restaurant, coffee shop or retail store, is a consumer-driven business that risks exposing its consumers to hazardous conditions. Slippery floors are one common example of a hazardous condition that is dangerous to consumers.
Slip-and-Fall Incidents at Two Starbucks Locations
In 2008, a California man fell inside a Starbucks located in Vista (which is in San Diego County). He and his wife filed a lawsuit against the company after he slipped and hit his head on a cash register. The area where he slipped had just been mopped. The man alleged that he suffers from bad headaches, extreme fatigue and other side effects that prevented him from returning to his job as a chiropractor. The jury awarded him and his wife $7.5 million in damages.
In 2014, a Montana man visited a Starbucks while traveling in Eugene, Oregon. After ordering his coffee, he exited the Starbucks through an unmarked doorway and onto a raised concrete landing. However, he alleges that he wasn’t aware that the landing was raised and wasn’t prepared when he stepped 6 inches down onto the sidewalk, where he fell and was injured. He is suing the corporation for failing to keep its store conditions safe
Potential Slip-and-Fall Hazards at Starbucks Stores
The mopped floor at the Vista Starbucks and the elevation change between the landing and the sidewalk at the Eugene Starbucks are two examples of hazardous conditions that could cause a consumer to slip and fall. Other examples include:
Spilled food and beverages;Overflowing sinks and/or toilets in the bathroom;Uneven surfaces in outdoor seating areas, like gravel; andWeather conditions like snow, ice or rain that can make outdoor areas slick.
A crowded store can magnify these hazards, potentially making it more difficult for consumers to avoid or see a slippery or uneven surface.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Washington
There are a few things to keep in mind if you are filing a personal injury lawsuit in the state of Washington. First, the statute of limitations – the time limit – for filing your claim is three years from the date of your injury. If you file the lawsuit after this three-year period then your claim will likely be dismissed.
Second, Washington is a comparative fault state. If you are partially at fault for your injuries then any damages awarded to you will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if the jury determines that you are 20 percent at fault then you can only recover 80 percent of the damages.
Third, Washington does not place a cap on the amount of damages you can receive.
Contact Us Today
If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident at a Starbucks, restaurant or other retail establishment, contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys for a free consultation.
Permalink to this entry
Posted Friday, October 21, 2016 by
Most cases end in settlement rather than go to trial. There are many reasons to settle a personal injury case, even if the settlement number is less than the potential of your reward at trial. The purpose of a settlement, however, is an exchange. It is a guarantee of compensation and in return for you giving up your right to sue (or continue your suit) against that defendant for liability and your injuries.
Process from Injury to Trial
After your accident and you seek treatment for your injuries, you should obtain any police, accident or incident report. Bring the report with you when you meet your personal injury attorney so he or she can provide you with a clear assessment of your case.
Filing a Complaint
Once it becomes clear that you have a case, your personal injury attorney will file a complaint in civil court. The purpose of a complaint is to detail the actions taken by the person, or persons and/or entities, who injured you (the “defendant”), and the injuries sustained by you, (the “plaintiff”). It will also include a line or two about the amount of damages sought. This puts the other party (and his or her insurance company) on notice of the suit.
Once the complaint is filed, the defendant is expected to file an Answer to the claims. This must be done within a specified amount of time.
“Discovery” is a word that describes the investigative stage in the process. During the discovery process, the lawyers for both sides gather information from the other side. This will include things like police reports, accident or incident reports, and eyewitness statements, if any. It will also include your medical records from the hospital, your treating physician, your physical therapist, and/or chiropractor. You will be “deposed.” This means you will meet with lawyers for the defendant and be subject to questioning. Your lawyer will be with you. Prior to the deposition, your lawyer will spend considerable time meeting with you in advance of the deposition to make sure you are well prepared, and familiar with what the deposition will feel like. Similarly, the person who injured you will be deposed by your lawyer. You have the right to be present for this deposition as well. The most important rule about being deposed is, “Don’t guess.” If you don’t recall the answer to a question, say you don’t remember.
Once your lawyer and the lawyer for the other side have gathered all the information they feel is necessary to re-evaluate the case, they will engage in a case assessment. Your lawyer will evaluate any defenses asserted by the respondent. The defense attorney may argue you contributed to your own injuries, by your own negligence. Alternatively, the defense attorney may argue the defendant was not responsible for the accident, your injuries were pre-existing and/or the accident did not cause your injuries. There are any number of different defenses that may be asserted. Your lawyer will carefully review the response, keeping in mind case law and the statutes of the state of Washington. Your lawyer will also evaluate the claims for credibility and truthfulness. Finally, your lawyer will be looking for inconsistencies (or consistencies) in evaluating the strength or weakness of the other side’s response.
After the close of discovery, it is not uncommon for the lawyers from each side to engage in negotiations to determine whether a settlement can be entered into. This will typically involve several back and forth conversations, as both sides seek to agree upon a dollar amount that is satisfactory to both sides.
When Do Settlement Negotiations Occur?
Many people think that when a case is filed, it is likely to go to trial. This is most often not the case. Instead, most civil cases settle somewhere along the line between the filing of the suit and up to and even during the trial. In addition to the negotiations that may take place once discovery is completed, there are more formal procedures in place designed to encourage settlement.
Jury Trial Demand
Once the Answer has been filed, either party can demand a trial. The trial can be either to a jury or to a judge, which is called a court trial.
Even though your lawyer has filed a demand for a jury or court trial, the court will set a date for a settlement conference. This typically happens about 90 days before the trial setting. The settlement conference is specifically designed for the parties to come together to engage in discussions about settlement. You, as the injured party, as well as “the person with authority to consent to settlement” for the other side, will be required to attend this hearing.
Even if your lawyer and the lawyer from the other side have been unsuccessful in any attempt to resolve the matter, a confirmation hearing will be held one week before the scheduled jury trial. The purpose of this is twofold: first, to confirm both sides are ready to proceed to jury trial and second, to determine once again if an alternate resolution can be arrived at.
Couldn’t I Get More Money From Trial Than Settling?
There are many reasons to consider when deciding to settle a personal injury case prior to trial:
- No guarantee of a win: While it is true that it is possible that you could be awarded more money by a jury than you are being offered to settle, the opposite is also true. It is possible the jury would award you less money than you are being offered to settle or the jury may find in favor of the defendant.
- Time: Preparing for and the actual trial take time. Not only will you be meeting with your attorney in preparation for your testimony, including going over your testimony and doing a mock cross-examination, at home, you will also be reviewing documents to refresh your memory of the accident, injuries, and treatments you had. You will also be expected to attend every day of the trial.
- Stress: Trials are stressful. Not only do you need to be prepared to testify, but you will be subject to cross-examination and the opposing attorney will be asking questions in an almost hostile or accusatory fashion. The attorney will be looking for inconsistencies in your prior testimony and will be emphasizing any weakness in your case.
- Cost: Trials are also costly. Although it is true you do not have to pay your attorneys unless you win, and your attorneys receive a third of your gross award, if you do not win, you still need to pay any expenses. This includes expert witness reports and testimony, court fees, etc. If you do win, your net award is the gross award less attorneys fees and any expenses.
- Appeal: When a party loses at trial, that party has the right to appeal the decision. This can lead to additional months – even years, of waiting for case resolution if the party appeals. Settling the case guarantees there will be no appeal. Instead, your case will be considered resolved and closed.
Permalink to this entry
Posted Friday, October 7, 2016 by
Preparing for a jury trial involves careful consideration of many different variables. They include:
Preparing for your testimony;Preparing for getting to the courthouse;Considering what you will wear;Considering what to bring to the courthouse.By being prepared, or as prepared as you can be, you minimize your stress. This includes the stress of arriving on time to your trial, having confidence in your responses, and making a good first impression on the jury.
Preparing for Your Testimony
Your Own Preparation
To prepare for your testimony, first you must do some homework. It is unlikely that you will have in your memory easy access to every fact, every doctor’s appointment, every ache and pain. Consequently, it is important to review the documents provided to your lawyer. This will include your diary of injury, doctor’s visits, receipts, the original police reports, any witness statements, other documents you produced during discovery, and your answers to your interrogatories (list of written questions from the other party that you responded to). You should also review your deposition transcript.
Preparation with Your Attorney
You and your lawyer will meet before trial to discuss your testimony. Your lawyer may assist you by performing a mock direct and cross examination. Understand, the rules of court dictate the types of questions and how your lawyer, and the lawyer for the other party, can ask questions. When your lawyer is asking you questions your lawyer is conducting a direct examination. Those questions, generally, are structured as open ended questions, designed to allow you, the testifier, to provide the narrative. Contrast, on cross examination, the lawyer asks closed ended questions, with the lawyer providing the narrative. This means that the questions are usually minimized to yes or no answers.
A good direct and cross will look something like this:
Your lawyer: Tell us what you did on the day in question.
You: I was with my friend Jill, and we went up this hill.
Your lawyer: Why did you go up the hill?
You: To fetch a pail of water.
Your lawyer: Then what happened?
You: I fell down. And broke my crown. And then my friend Jill came tumbling after.
The other lawyer: You were with your friend Jill, is that right?
The other lawyer: You two went up the hill, correct?
The other lawyer: And you fell down, correct?
The other lawyer: That’s when you broke your crown, correct?
The other lawyer: And then your friend, Jill, fell down after you, correct?
It is important to understand the rules of questioning, as your lawyer will expect you to provide a narrative of your accident and subsequent injuries without suggesting answers to you.
You and your lawyer will go over your direct examination so you are familiar with the questions that will be asked and you are prepared to provide your answers. This becomes extremely important if you have weaknesses in your case that should be first addressed during direct examination so that such weakness is brought out in a favorable light. Likewise, your attorney will do a mock cross-examination so that you are prepared to respond to questions that may feel hostile.
Getting to the Courthouse
Believe it or not, this is a critical step. Do not underestimate the importance of arriving at the courthouse not just on time, but early. Once you get to the courthouse, you will have to find parking. You will have to go through courthouse security. You may rely on the fact that you will not be the only one attending court that day. Expect that there will be a line for security and plan accordingly. Next, you may have to find the central calendar to determine what courtroom you have been assigned.
Few things make for a worse start to a jury trial day, then arriving late, out of breath, and out of sorts. Do yourself a favor. Determine how you are going to get to the courthouse on the day of your trial, and do a practice run ahead of time. If you are going to drive to the courthouse, make the drive at the same time of day to get a feel for the traffic at that time. Your courthouse may or may not have its own parking lot. Even if your courthouse has a parking lot, take a few minutes to locate alternate parking. Presume the lot may overflow. If you are taking public transportation, you will want to similarly do a practice run, at the same time of day, on a work day, to determine how long the trip will take, and how far of a walk it will be from bus stop to courthouse.
Consider Your Attire
You want to make your best impression on the jury, starting with your appearance. Your attorney may advise you to wear business attire, usually a suit and dress shoes, not sandals or flip flops. You may consider wearing, dress pants and a button down shirt, or, for females, you may wear a dress or skirt that goes to your knees or lower. Do not wear raunchy or offensive clothing, flashy jewelry, jeans, or t-shifts with slogans. You should wear modest clothing and shoes.
Consider also covering your tattoos. Yes, they are meaningful to you. Yes, you can be proud of them. But you don’t want the jury trying to read your tattoos, or figure out the significance of that frog tattoo, when they should be listening to the testimony. Remove your piercings, with the exception of earrings. Select neutral tones, such as black, navy blue, gray, and beige.
The focus of the trial should be on the facts, not on distractions. Refrain from wearing anything flashy or expensive. Some juries may feel that if you are able to wear designer clothing and shoes and wear a Rolex, then perhaps you don’t need the money. Unfortunately, first impressions make a big impact and the jury’s first impression of you will be your appearance.
What to Bring with You to the Courthouse
The part about trials that is never shown on television is the incredible amount of down time that occurs during trials. You don’t see it on television, because it is boring. But it is also a sad fact of trials. There may be meetings between the judge and the lawyers, as they hash out legal issues. The court may have to take time to hear another matter before your case. The jurors will take breaks. There may be more than enough time for lunch.
Bring something to occupy your down time. It can be a book, a magazine, a newspaper. Don’t assume you will be allowed to bring your smartphone into the courtroom.
Just as the court may order an extended lunch break, the reverse may also be true. It’s possible there won’t be enough time for lunch out of the courthouse. Bring some money for the vending machines. Some courts will allow you to bring food into the courthouse, but not beverages. Check with your lawyer about the local rules.
Bring a notebook. Your lawyer will not appreciate you whispering commentary in their ear during testimony. It’s almost impossible to listen to testimony and whispered client comments at the same time. With your notebook, you can calmly write any comments or concerns you have, and gently pass them to your attorney, who will read your comments as time allows.
Pack your patience. Remember, trials are theater. Jurors are watching you at all times. There is no need to react visibly, even if there is testimony you disagree with. The point of discovery is to learn what information the other side is planning to present. Rarely do trials include “surprise testimony.” Your lawyer is aware of the facts and is prepared to address them.
Permalink to this entry