Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

I am here to help you.

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The Seattle Personal Injury Blog

When can an Employer be Held Liable for Employee Negligence?

Posted Friday, May 4, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Are there circumstances in which a third party can be held liable for a negligent actor’s conduct?

There is a legal principle called respondeat superior, or vicarious liability, that sometimes holds an employer responsible for an employee’s negligent conduct. The general rule in Washington is that employers are only liable if the employee was acting within the scope of employment. But there are a few exceptions.

Understanding Respondeat Superior

According to the Washington Supreme Court, there are two elements that personal injury plaintiffs must prove in order to establish that an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s actions:

  • The employee actually works for the employer, and
  • The employee’s negligence was committed within the scope of employment.

For example, a trucking company can be held responsible if one of its drivers causes an accident. The plaintiff must prove that the driver was on duty at the time. There are cases where drivers make unauthorized detours, and under those circumstances the company might not be liable. Other situations in which employees have been found not acting within the scope of employment include:

  • Leaving work in their own vehicle, turning around to retrieve a forgotten item from their place of employment, and causing an accident when the trip back to the office was not at the employer’s request; and
  • Assaulting a customer (unless an exception, explained below, applies).

Note that the state Supreme Court has said that social functions that “enhance employee relations” are within the scope of employment for vicarious liability purposes. Also, the fact that an employee has violated a workplace safety rule is not necessarily a defense to vicarious liability. (But, of course, that does not mean employers should forgo safety rules. There are instances where it could be a successful defense, and safety rules are both wise and necessary for other reasons.)

Exceptions to the General Rule

There are exceptions to the general rule that employers can only be held vicariously liable for employee conduct that is within the scope of employment. Specifically, the Washington Supreme Court said in a 1997 case:

“Even where an employee is acting outside the scope of employment, the relationship between employer and employee gives rise to a limited duty, owed by an employer to foreseeable victims, to prevent the tasks, premises, or instrumentalities entrusted to an employee from endangering others. This duty gives rise to causes of action for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.”

In other words, an employer who knows that an employee has dangerous propensities can be held responsible when that employee injures someone, even if the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you were injured by a negligent employee. Our experienced attorneys will examine the facts of your case and help determine who can be held liable for your injuries, whether it is the employee, employer, or both. We will then help recover the compensation that you deserve, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.

Personal Injury Caused by “Reproductive Negligence”

Posted Friday, April 27, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Most personal injury claims seem to fit into a certain mold - car accident, slip-and-fall, defective product, and the list goes on. Not all cases fall into such traditional categories.

*Lawsuit Filed by Washington Woman*A 36-year-old woman named Kelli Rowlette who lives in Washington learned some disturbing news about her family history after taking a DNA test. It turned out that a man living in Idaho Falls, and not the dad she grew up with, is her biological father.

This news also disturbed her mother, Sally Ashby, who had no idea that the doctor was Kelli’s biological father. However, Sally did know that Kelli’s dad was not her actual dad. Sally and her then-husband struggled to get pregnant, and they ended up using a sperm donor. Dr. Gerald Mortimer handled their case, and told them he had found an anonymous college student to donate. Sally was surprised to learn that Mortimer actually used his own sperm during the artificial insemination process.

Kelli and her parents recently filed a lawsuit against the retired obstetrician gynecologist, alleging medical negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. While this lawsuit was filed in federal court in Idaho, it is unfortunately easy to imagine a similar case ending up in court here in Washington.

*Is “Reproductive Negligence” a Tort?*According to Above the Law, “reproductive negligence” cases are become all-too common, and some legal experts want courts to recognize it as a tort. (A tort is a wrongful act, like negligence, that leads to civil liability.) Do actions like Mortimer’s actually constitute negligence?

One legal scholar says that it is deliberate and intentional when a doctor uses his own sperm in a donor’s place. He describes two types of tort claims that could arise in this situation:

When a parent is deprived of parenthood because his genetic material was not used.When the child the parents wanted is not what they expected because different genetic material was used.

The scholar also described a reproductive negligence situation in which a couple conceives because of a failed vasectomy.

Whatever the semantics or the legal elements of a “reproductive negligence” claim, the point is that families who are deceived in this way should have legal recourse against the wrongdoer.

*Potential Damages in a “Reproductive Negligence” Case*It is easy to imagine the type of damages that a “reproductive negligence” victim might seek.

First, remember that Washington is a comparative fault state, which means that if you were partially at fault for your injuries, any damages awarded to you will be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Washington also does not place a cap on the amount of damages that you can receive. This includes compensation for economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are easily quantifiable, like medical expenses, while noneconomic damages are more subjective, like pain and suffering. A “reproductive negligence” victim might have a viable claim for both economic and noneconomic damages.

*Contact Us Today*Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you were injured by any kind of medical negligence. Our experienced attorneys will examine the facts of your case and help recover the compensation that you deserve.

Understanding Proximate and Superseding Causes

Posted Friday, April 20, 2018 by Chris Thayer

In July 2011, a Washington neurosurgeon named Michael Thomas performed spinal surgery on a scoliosis patient. The patient filed a lawsuit in 2015, claiming that the doctor failed to provide adequate post-operative care and that she was in chronic pain for three years until another surgeon corrected the issue. In July 2017, a Washington jury found that Thomas’s negligence was the proximate cause of the patient’s injuries and awarded her $1.2 million in damages.

*What is Proximate Cause?*Proving that the defendant’s negligence actually caused your injuries is an important step toward winning your medical malpractice or personal injury lawsuit. This is called “proximate cause.” According to Washington’s pattern jury instructions, proximate cause means “a cause which in a direct sequence [unbroken by any superseding cause,] produces the [injury] [event] complained of and without which such [injury] [event] would not have happened.”

There are two elements of proximate cause - cause in fact and legal causation.

Cause in fact refers to the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury. In other words, “cause in fact” means that the injury would not have happened “but for” the defendant’s conduct. Legal causation asks whether the defendant should be held responsible for his injurious conduct. In most cases in which the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care (for example, drivers owe a duty to other drivers and to pedestrians to follow traffic laws), the answer to that question is yes.

Note that there can be more than one proximate cause, which can complicate a personal injury lawsuit.

*What if There is a Superseding Cause?*Remember that proximate cause requires conduct “unbroken by any superseding cause.” A superseding, or intervening, cause only breaks the chain of causation if it was unforeseeable. For example, imagine that a city fails to fill in a pothole and a car’s tire is damaged after driving over it. That driver pulls over on the side of the road and is struck by another vehicle. This is a foreseeable scenario that would not break the chain of causation.

However, now imagine that the driver pulls over on the side of the road and another car pulls up beside him. The driver of the second car pulls out a gun and shoots the first driver. That is an unforeseeable intervening cause, and the city would not be responsible for the damages caused by the second driver.

*Filing a Personal Injury Claim in Washington*The statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Washington is three years from the date of the act (or failure to act) that caused the injury. This includes medical malpractice claims. Contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible; the sooner you file your claim the less likely it is that crucial evidence will become lost.

*Contact Us Today*Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you were injured by someone else’s negligence. Our experienced attorneys will examine the facts of your case and help prove that this negligence was the proximate cause of your injuries.

The Opioid Epidemic and Product Liability Claims

Posted Friday, April 13, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Numerous cities and counties in Washington, and the state itself, have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers for their role in fueling the statewide opioid epidemic. In fact, a King County judge recently made a decision in the state’s lawsuit against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, rejecting the company’s motion to dismiss and allowing the state’s claims to proceed.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit on the state’s behalf. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the drug manufacturer downplayed addiction risks and deceived both doctors and the public about OxyContin’s effectiveness in treating chronic pain. This is a type of “product liability claim” that may be brought under Washington law. Note that individual consumers who have been harmed by OxyContin, opioids, or other pharmaceutical products may also have a viable product liability claim.

*Other Lawsuits*The City of Seattle filed its own lawsuit against Purdue, as well as other opioid manufacturers, in September of 2017. According to the Office of the Attorney General, “Purdue’s illegal conduct contributed to excessive prescriptions and addiction, causing many addicted patients to look for other ways, including illegal means, to get more pills or to get heroin.”

Thurston County recently announced that it is joining its sister counties and cities in filing a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. The county alleges that the manufacturers’ conduct constitutes negligence and gross negligence, among other claims. (According to the Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions, gross negligence “is substantially greater than ordinary negligence” and means “failure to exercise slight care.” The term has never been explicitly defined by state statute.)

Washington’s Opioid Epidemic

The Office of the Attorney General said in a press release that prescriptions and sales of opioids increased by 500% between 1997 and 2011. Additionally, a 2017 study by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality found that Washington experienced a 60% increase in opioid-related hospital stays between 2009 and 2014, which was the fourth highest increase in the country.

Filing a Product Liability Claim in Washington

A product liability claim arises when someone has been injured by a particular product. The injury must happen because there is something wrong with the product, specifically related to its:

  • Manufacture,
  • Production,
  • Making,
  • Construction,
  • Fabrication,
  • Design,
  • Formula,
  • Preparation,
  • Assembly,
  • Installation,
  • Testing,
  • Warnings,
  • Instructions,
  • Marketing,
  • Packaging,
  • Storage, or
  • Labeling.

You may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other related damages. Keep in mind that you only have three years from the date of the injury to file your claim. (This is called the statute of limitations.)

Injuries caused by general user error, like assembling a product without reading the instructions or taking more than the recommended dosage of a medication, might not be compensable. Make sure you talk to an experienced attorney before deciding whether to file a claim.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you have suffered a product-related injury. You might have a viable product liability claim against the manufacturer, supplier, retailer, or marketer. Our experienced attorneys will examine the facts of your case and help recover compensation for your injuries.

“Car Surfing” and Negligent School Supervision in Washington

Posted Saturday, April 7, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Lupo Benson was 18 years old when he fell off the hood of his friend’s SUV in 2015. He hit his head and suffered a traumatic brain injury, dying the next day.

Benson’s parents recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kent School District, claiming that school personnel failed to supervise the parking lot the day their son died. They also claim that the school knew that students engaged in “car surfing” but failed to prevent it from happening. “Car surfing” is a dangerous activity that involves riding on the outside of a moving vehicle while someone else is driving, which is what Benson and his friend were doing when he died.

Negligent School Supervision

Washington school districts can be held liable when negligent supervision or failure to supervise student activities results in student injury or death. According to the Washington Supreme Court, “a school district owes a duty to its students to employ reasonable care and to anticipate reasonably foreseeable dangers so as to take precautions for protecting children in its custody from dangers.”

In the car surfing case, the Bensons allege that the school district had a policy “forbidding reckless driving” in their son’s high school parking lot. The district also assigned staff to watch the parking lot to make sure students complied with the policy. The fact that the district has this policy, and actively enforces this policy, suggests that the car surfacing was a reasonably foreseeable danger.

Schools and school districts are also responsible for supervising students while:

  • Playing on the playground during recess;
  • Participating in school-sanctioned activities, like sporting practices and games, theater rehearsals and performances, band practice and any club activity;
  • Attending school dances, fundraisers, field trips and other sanctioned off-campus activities; and
  • Any time during school hours and while on school grounds.

*Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington*State law allows family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit against anyone whose negligence or wrongful act results in a loved one’s death. Only certain family members are eligible to seek this compensation. Eligible survivors are:

  • The personal representative of the loved one’s estate;
  • The loved one’s spouse or registered domestic partner;
  • The loved one’s children or stepchildren; or
  • Parents or siblings, if the loved one was not married or did not have any children.

The deadline (statute of limitations) for filing a wrongful death claim in Washington is three years from the date of the death.

Eligible survivors may seek the following compensation:

  • The loved one’s final medical bills and funeral and burial expenses;
  • Lost wages that the loved one likely would have earned throughout his or her lifetime;
  • Pain and suffering that the loved one experienced;
  • Loss of care, companionship and other noneconomic (not easily quantifiable) damages; and
  • Any relevant property damage costs.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if a loved one died because of someone’s negligent actions. Our experienced attorneys will help recover compensation for your loved one’s wrongful death.