Wrongful deaths on the rise: car accidents in Clark County

Fatal car accidents in Clark County are skyrocketing at an alarming rate, according to an article in the Columbian.

The disturbing trend goes like this. In 2012, 19 people died in traffic accidents in Clark County. In 2013, 18 people died in traffic accidents in Clark County. This year, in contrast, 24 people have already died in traffic accidents in Clark County.

When asked for any possible explanation, law enforcement can conceive of none.

“There are no common themes,” said Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Pritchard, who supervises the deputies that investigate traffic fatalities. “We’ve got them in every corner of the county.”

While these numbers speak for themselves, it is easy to lose sight of the human impact that each and every Clark County car accident – fatal or not – has on the people involved. I see this every day as a Clark County personal injury and car accident lawyer. Even “smaller injuries” – let alone catastrophic injuries and fatalities – can exact a huge toll on the injured person.

I encourage everyone to do everything within their control to avoid car accidents: use defensive driving, keep your phone out of arm’s reach, and be smart. For those of you who drive safe and are injured by someone else, my advice? Call us. 

Car accidents in Vancouver: Make sure you are covered

I probably get five calls a week from people in Clark County who have been injured in a car accident and who lack the financial resources to recover from the collision. Medical bills, wage loss, property damage, rental cars – these things add up quickly. Indeed, as a personal injury lawyer in Vancouver, Washington, I am daily reminded that a) car accidents are expensive and b) people often lack the money they need to get lives back on track after a collision.

My advice – across the board, 100 percent of the time – is to make sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage in case someone else hits you with their car. No, it does not matter how good of a driver you are. Let me explain why.

Insurance is a service that allows all drivers to equally share the risk of driving. Since everyone who drives faces the same amount of risk, the logic goes, we should share the risk of driving. That is why almost every state (except for Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia) requires all drivers to have liability insurance. For Washington, see RCW 46.30.020.

Under liability insurance, you pay a monthly premium to your insurer. When you cause someone else injury or death with your car, or if you damage another person’s property with your car, your insurance company pays for your liability in that situation.

Seems simple, right? Well, it gets more complicated. Your insurance company pays for your liability only up to your policy limits. A policy limit is the maximum amount of money that your insurance company will pay under your insurance policy.  In Washington, every driver must have policy limits of at least $25,000 for bodily injury liability (with a total of $50,000 in case two people are injured). See RCW 46.29.090.  These laws, when taken together, means that every driver in Washington should be automatically ready to pay for $25,000 for injuring another person with a motor vehicle.

There are two main problems with the scheme. First, not everyone buys liability insurance. In fact, Washington has fairly high level of uninsured motorists, with anywhere from 16-30 percent of motorists failing to purchase sufficient coverage. Second, car accidents routinely cause more bodily injury than $25,000. If this happens, and if you’re the at-fault party, you’re probably on the hook for the excess judgment. Believe me, you would be surprised to know how often a person lacks sufficient coverage to cover the damage and injury they cause with their motor vehicle. 

If you are not the at-fault party, luckily, liability coverage is not the only kind of coverage. All motorists  can (and should – that’s my advice 100 percent of the time!) buy uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage (frequently referred to as “UIM” coverage). You buy these policies from your own insurance company in addition to your liability coverage. With this coverage, if you get injured by a person who lacks sufficient insurance coverage, your own insurance company covers whatever that driver cannot (up to the policy limits, of course). Additionally, personal injury protection or “PIP” coverage must be offered by all insurers, and provides easy access to quick money for some costs associated with a motor vehicle collision, including medical expenses, lost wages, etc. For more information on these policies, see Bill Robison’s post from last year, which can be seen here.

In the end, my message is simple: make sure you have full insurance coverage! If you get hit by an uninsured or undersinsured driver, you will need it.  Money – easy, quick access to it – can give you the flexibility to lessen the impact that a motor vehicle collision has on your life.


After a Clark County car accident, you might see a drone in the sky

Watch the skies above Clark County, for risk-busting, profit-maximizing drones, sent by an insurance company to investigate the immediate aftermath of motor vehicle collisions. It could happen soon. And it’s not my idea; it’s theirs. 

In 2012, there were 3,800 reported car accidents in Clark County. That’s a lot of spying to do. With that much air traffic, I hope they are insured.


Distracted Drivers

It is hard to believe that the publicity surrounding the effects of distracted driving has made no apparent dent in this dangerous practice. Leaving my office each evening I count numerous drivers on the phone as they hit the streets. Stopping at a street corner every driver seems to have a phone pressed to their ear as they roll through the crosswalk without looking, narrowly missing pedestrians and sometimes other cars.
Within days one motorcyclist was killed and another injured by a distracted driver in our county. The increase in high speed rear end collisions is largely due to drivers who do not even brake, they have no clue traffic ahead has stopped.
Driving while talking on a cell phone is equivalent to driving after several drinks. Texting while driving is even worse, yet we see drivers doing both everywhere we go.
How can this practice be stopped? Major penalties are one way. Making sure juries hear about it is another. The best way is personal responsibility. Don’t answer or attempt to initiate a phone call while driving. Your life depends on it.

Distracted Driver Cover Up

We hear a great deal about distracted driving these days. Texting, talking, recording, even posting to social network cites have all been blamed for serious injury crashes in the past several months. It seems like a new study of the carnage caused by distracted drivers appears every month. The New York Times is even running a series on the topic. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/technology/series/driven_to_distraction/ It seems like an epidemic has been loosed on the highways and biways of our country and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Making distracted drivers face full personal responsibility is one place to start. The facts about what causes crashes must be admissible in every case. One role of jurors in our courts is to enforce safety rules that protect everyone from danger. In the area of distracted driving the courts are failing to give jurors information they need to complete their mission. We are seeing more and more cases where courts rule that, when the defendant in a case admits fault, the facts supporting the admission are not told to the jury. In other words, the defendant can hide his own conduct from the jury. The defendant is still free to attack the injured victim of that conduct while pretending to accept fault. Acceptance of fault however has two parts, accepting what you did is wrong and doing everything you can to make it right. The tactic of hiding the basis of fault switches the focus of the case from the misconduct of the defendant to any form of character assassination the defense (read insurance company) can dream up to turn on the injured victim. Defense tactics include stalking injured persons with video cameras in an attempt to record a minute of activity that the company’s hired gun doctors can claim is inconsistent with the injuries diagnosed. This is then put before jurors in a vacuum in which trust is shifted to the defendant who is “doing the right thing” by admitting fault. The whole story is never told, the safety rules are weakened and the body count piles up.




Work Place Wrongful Death Caused by Cutting Corners

An average of 13 workers were killed on the job each day in 2011. Statistics for more recent years are not available but the toll of personal injuries and wrongful deaths continues to mount. Most of these injuries and untimely deaths are preventable if safety rules are followed.  April 28th is Workers Memorial Day in the United States, take a moment to reflect on how your work place can be made more safe for you and other workers as well as visitors and customers.

Linked below is yet another in a long list of stories telling us about workers losing their lives on the job because someone decided to cut corners. It seems we hear about these things daily. Deficient lighting caused a bus driver to run down a co-worker who was walking to her own bus. Signs in a loading area directed pedestrians into the path of trucks entering at unsafe speeds at a work site. Faulty tie down straps and other safety equipment allowed a large piece of equipment to fall on workers attempting to load a semi truck in Vancouver. A long investigation has disclosed that Tesoro was responsible for the death of 7 workers at its refinery in Anacortes Washington. Of course fault was denied and usually the worker was blamed in all of these cases.

When the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes was rocked by a huge blast in 2010 seven workers died. The Seattle PI reports that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has issued its long delayed report on the tragic blast. The finding is that this and other blasts across the country are preventable.

Washington on the job injuries and wrongful deaths require careful investigation by an experienced personal injury law firm.

Bicycle Brake Recall

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a recall of SRAM hydraulic bicycle brakes. http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2014/SRAM-Recalls-Hydraulic-Bicycle-Brakes/

The brakes are unsafe and might fail suddenly causing serious bicycle accidents. No fix is offered on the website, “replace” is the only option listed. Ten manufacturers that incorporated the hydraulic braking systems are listed in the recall.  Both rim brakes and disc brakes are included in the recall.

If you are the type of bicycling enthusiast who invests in top of the line brakes for you bike this recall may affect you.

CCRS lawyer Bruce Colven is an experienced Vancouver bicycle accident lawyer who specializes in representing clients who have been injured in bicycle accidents.

Sexual Harassment Claims

Employees in Washington are  legally entitled to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace.  This means they should not be forced to work in an environment which subjects them to unwanted touching, requests for sexual favors or required to listen to graphic and inappropriate jokes or other content of a sexual nature.  If you are employed in a place and are subject to sexual harassment, you may be able to make a legal claim for damages.

It is very important to follow internal grievance procedures to make the employer aware of the sexual harassment, especially in the harasser is a co-employee.  Under the law, an employer is required to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of a complaint –and in certain conditions, if the employer is unaware of the harassment, it can escape legal liability.  One exception is when the harasser is the owner or manager of the business, in which case there can be automatic or strict liability for such conduct.

If you have been subject to harassment, it is wise to speak with an experienced attorney to learn your rights.

Store Liability for Accidents

Store owners can be liable for accidents caused by dangerous conditions. One of the prime pieces of evidence are video surveillance tapes. It is crucial to notify the store of an accident to see if such surveillance can be preserved. I have handled a number of cases where the accident is shown on video. In many cases, the falls occur because of liquid on the floor which the store employees should have cleaned. Under Washington law, in order to prove liability for a fall on a foreign substance (like water or spilled produce), it is necessary to prove that the employees knew or should have known that the substance was there and they failed to either warn or clean.
Proving that the employees knew a danger was present is usually very difficult, but if evidence (such as video surveillance) shows that it was there for a significant period and no one either inspected or cleaned, then a claim can be strengthened. Often these types of accidents can cause serious injuries, and it is crucial to get prompt legal advice from an experienced lawyer.

But officer, I was in the Crosswalk!

This is meant to follow up on the recent studies focused on trying to figure out why drivers run down pedestrians in crosswalks during right or left hand turns. Trucks are particularly notorious for doing this due to their many blind spots.

A recent newspaper article brought to mind my experiences with what I refer to as “the pedestrian as an immovable object” problem. Basic physics dictate that in a collision “mass wins”. This means the big object, in these cases the car or truck, wins in the collision. As a result pedestrians struck in crosswalks are RARELY if ever still in the crosswalk after they are hit.

In some cases the pedestrian is knocked out of his or her shoes. Unfortunately, in many cases all we know is that the pedestrian had no shoes when admitted to the hospital. In one case the “witnesses” were critical of the victim because “she was outside with no shoes on”.  None of them thought that perhaps she was literally knocked out of her shoes, as she was.

A common phenomenon is that “witnesses” hear the collision or the screech of brakes. Only then do they look. What they see is the pedestrian lying in the street sometimes far from the crosswalk. The natural conclusion is the pedestrian was jay walking. Of course the fact that the car is stopped mid-crosswalk or just past it, is over looked. In these cases the police report claims the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk. That conclusion is false. It is impossible for a pedestrian to stop a car or truck. Physics won’t allow it.

When the point of impact is within the crosswalk, even at low speeds, it is virtually impossible for the pedestrian to remain in the crosswalk. In one case no fewer than four “eye witnesses” told the officer the pedestrian was running across the street outside the crosswalk. Interviews showed not a single one had actually seen the pedestrian prior to hearing the impact, they then saw her flying through the air. The jeep that hit her was stopped with its over half its length still in the crosswalk.

These cases can be very difficult. The authorities cannot be counted on to perform a complete investigation. They simply don’t have time and their job is to determine if a prosecutable crime was committed. That means proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases the standard is “more likely than not”. The longer the time between the accident and beginning a real investigation the harder it can be to determine the actual point of impact.

It is amazing how few people understand the physics of a collision. To get past this problem hiring an experienced personal injury attorney, SOON after the collision is essential. Nothing can be taken for granted. Just as in motorcycle cases, the eye witness testimony cannot be trusted and a careful and prompt investigation is essential.

Often pedestrian cases will either be rejected by attorneys based on the police conclusion the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk or will be considered a “slam dunk” when the police get it right. As a result evidence is not documented and witnesses not located and interviewed until, “surprise” liability is denied.

Next, “Was the pedestrian dragged?”