KIDS GET FREE BIKE HELMETS

Saturday was our fourth appearance at the “Rainier Summer in the Streets” festival, southeast Seattle’s annual community festival. Things got off to a rousing start with a parade that included several drill teams, a line of “muscle” cars, Seattle mayoral candidates kissing babies, clowns and an “octocycle” (google it to find out what is an octocycle).
 
We go because there are kids to make laugh and helmets to give away. Each year we come with child safety brochures (in seven languages), our duck pond, rubber duckies and bike helmets.
 
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The kids pull a duck out of the pond and hand it to me. The duck “tells” me a question it has for the participant (one dad called me “the duck whisperer) and I translate the child’s answer for the duck. Here I am “listening” to a duck:
 
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Questions range from: “the duck wants to know if you read any books this summer?” to “how often do you burp at the dinner table?” Depending on the answer (and there are no wrong answers), the participant gets to stick his or her hand in the surprise box and pull out a treat (or 3 or 4). It’s a great time, with parents and kids hooting it up.
 
While I am enjoying myself at the duck pond, my assistant (the ever charming Mrs. Sitcov) helps parents fill out raffle cards to enter their child in our helmet give-a-way. This year there will be six winners. Next year? Hopefully more.

MULTI-MODAL what?

Yesterday Cascade Bicycle Club held it’s annual fundraising breakfast. Almost 1,000 people showed up at 7:00am to hear outgoing director Chuck Ayres, Mayor Mike McGinn, and keynote speaker Governor Jay Inslee address the annual meeting. As you can imagine there was a lot of spandex in the house.
 
On the lighter note, I learned that the American Bicycle League once again rated Washington as the #1 bike friendly state in the country. On a more serious note, paradoxically, only 1% of our transportation budget is spent making our infrastructure safer for bicycles and pedestrians.
 
Governor Inslee confronted this issue head-on, emphasizing the issue of bike safety which requires separating the different modes of transportation, awareness of the other modes of transporation and in light of the recent tragedies, serious criminal repercussions for repeat drunk drivers.
 
Governor Inslee also recognized that a 21st century transportation plan must promote a safe and healthy lifestyle (for example, by reducing childhood obesity rates through the development of safe bike routes to school), promote job growth, and contribute towards energy sustainability. The governor is quite a biker himself and a serious proponent in energy solutions. He was quick to tell the crowd that not only do bicycles decrease carbon emission and increase cyclists’ health, they are the most efficient form of transportation known. His best line of the day: more carbon in our [bike] frames, less carbon in our atmosphere.
 
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Governor Inslee showed his political fortitude by urging support for construction of the Columbia River Crossing, a new bridge to replace the I-5 bridge from Vancouver to Portland. I didn’t know that the footings of some of the current pilings were place in 1917! Cascade Bicycle Club has not yet revealed its position on this topic. Nonetheless, Governor Inslee politely but firmly let it be known that this is a project CBC needs to get behind and that delay may lead to the loss of light rail, bicycle and pedestrian components.
 
Throughout his speech the Governor stressed the the importance of multi-modal forms of transportation. Governor Inslee, and out going director, Chuck Ayres, urged the audience accept all forms of transportation – whether they be moving by car, bike or foot. As a runner who commutes to work in sneakers, I wonder if I am considered a part of the multi-modal transportation system?
 

Anatomy of a (Loss) (Victory) – You Choose

I have been trying cases since 1980. Most recently I tried a case for a lovely sixty-seven year old retired Boeing employee who was hurt when a seventeen year old girl driving an old Cadillac smashed into her Ford 250 pickup truck. Barbara was not catastrophically injured, but she was limited in her ability to enjoy important facets in her life such as gardening and volunteering at her church.
 
Before trial, the teenager’s insurance company made a final offer which I thought was too low. My client agreed and we went ahead and tried the case. We lost. I don’t mean that we actually lost the case, as in my client got zero. My client received a verdict that was about $1,500.00 less than the insurance company’s final offer. And yet, after all of the calculations, reductions, setoffs and reimbursements were applied, my client actually ended up with about $800.00 more than if we had settled before trial.
 
Nonetheless, I consider this case a loss because the jury awarded my client less than what was offered by the insurance company. That had never happened to me before. In every other victory, the jury’s verdict has always been many multiples more than what the insurance company offered before trial.
 
As the jury files in, I always get a lump in my throat. I can feel my carotid arteries pulsing. The courtroom is very quiet. And when the jury tells me my client’s injuries were not worth the same amount of money as I did? Terrible. There are few “tells” that I think are valid. One of them is that a jury which deliberates for a just short period of time is deciding against the Plaintiff (injured party). That was true in Barbara’s case.
 
There are thousands of reasons which contributed to this result loss victory. Lying awake at night, I think I have analyzed most all of them. The top three are:
 
1. Jury Number One. During the jury selection process, I was concerned about Juror Number One. However, had I excused her, I felt that the jurors who would have taken her place would have been worse. Perhaps I was wrong, I don’t know. I do know that ‘Juror Number One’ ended up being staunchly against my case.
 
2. Failing to dig deep when talking about gardening. My client loved to garden. After the accident she was still able, although she could only do it in smaller chunks of time and frequently had to change position. In addition, she could no longer carry wheelbarrows full of peat moss and other gardening supplies. While we spent a good deal of time talking about her love of gardening and her inability to do it like she had before the crash, I don’t think that I teased out enough information as to why the loss of gardening for my client was so painful.
 
3. I failed to ask the lay witnesses if they had any medical issues that could interfere with their ability to testify. Just before trial I spent approximately three hours with an important lay witness. During this preparation, he had an excellent command of dates and events, the harms and losses, challenges and difficulties that my client had been experiencing over the last two years. When it came time to testify however, he was pleasant, charming and engaging but unable to recall specifics about events and dates. Several of the jurors interviewed after the trial stated that he hurt the client’s case.
 
After the verdict, I was conferring with my client and learned that this witness suffered from diabetes and, given the time of day and whatever was going on metabolically with him, he was unable to be crystal clear in his testimony. You can be certain I will always ask all of my witnesses before they testify if they have any health concerns or issues that may interfere with their ability to testify.
 
Years ago, an old trial lawyer told me that if you don’t lose cases, you don’t try any cases. Looking on the web for a personal injury lawyer, you would think that every P.I. lawyer is a brilliant strategist, eloquent story teller, and a zealous advocate who hits a home run every time they come up to bat.
 
My guess is that most of the lawyers whose websites announce victory after victory rarely try their clients’ cases. They settle them. Thus, the insurance company knows that it can get a “good deal” because the lawyer rarely if ever actually sees the inside of a courtroom. Settling a personal injury claim may be the right thing to do, but it’s not the right thing to do every time with every one of the lawyer’s cases. In addition to my client getting a little more money by trying the case rather then by settling it, the insurance company, its law firm and I know that I will try a case if I am not satisfied with the settlement offer, which benefits my future clients
 
Plus, the insurance company had to spend considerably more money because it had to pay its high priced doctor to testify at trial.

DOES YOUR CHILD PLAY FOOTBALL? JURY FINDS HELMET MAKER RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES

I like watching football. I was one of the 108 million people who watched the 2013 Super Bowl. But I have become increasingly concerned about the toll the game takes on the players. From one of my colleagues who walks with a slight limp due to an “old football injury” to the retired NFL players who suffer from Traumatic Concussive Encephalopathy (TCE), something has to change.
 
Over the weekend a jury in Colorado ruled that Riddell, the country’s largest helmet manufacturer was at fault for failing to adequately warn players wearing their football helmets about the dangers of potential concussions. The case was brought on behalf of a high school student who sustained a head injury and was paralyzed on the left side of his body during a football drill in 2008.
 
This type of case is known as a product liability case. The jury must answer one of two questions with a “Yes”: was the product designed “in a reasonably safe manner” OR did the maker adequately warn the user of all the risks/dangers? In this case, the jury concluded Riddell failed to warn the users of the dangers of concussive injury that can occur while playing football.
 
The jury rejected the claim that Riddell helmets were defectively designed. I have not seen the jury instructions in this case, but most likely the jury relied on the evidence presented Riddell followed the safety standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. The problem is that these industry-supported associations do not set more rigorous safety standards because there are inherent conflicts of interest between them and the manufacturers.
 
The next chapter of this will be written in the class action lawsuit brought by more than 4,000 retired NFL players and their spouses. They have sued the league claiming that the league knew about the long-term health risks associated with repeated concussions and head trauma. In the meantime, parents may want to think about re-directing their child’s interest into another athletic direction.

BUCKYBALLS – Retailers Do The Right Thing When Manufacturer Won’t


 

You may have seen this “game” at someone’s home or office. 

Buckyballs consist of a package containing hundreds of powerful little magnets.  Apparently they are designed to let your mind wander as you playfully let gravity and your fingers manipulate them into unusual shapes.

 
Children, particularly little children, apparently felt Buckyballs resembled something edible.  Or at least worthy of tasting.  So when little Mikey swallows a handful, small enough to slide down his throat, because they were magnetized, they would stick together, forming a metallic mass in his digestive tract.

 

Little magnetized steel balls clinging together in a child’s colon is a medical emergency. Despite more than 50 reported cases of kids having to undergo medical intervention to get Buckyballs out of their bodies, Maxfield & Oberton, the company that made them refused to recall them.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission took the unusual step of initiating an administrative complaint against the manufacturer. Yet Maxfield and Oberton still refuses to recall them.

 

Fortunately, the CPSC announced yesterday that Barnes and Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Brookstone, Hallmark, Marbles the Brain Store and ThinkGeek all agreed to voluntarily recall these high powered magnets, despite the manufacturer’s refusal.    The recall notice outlines steps you can take to remedy the situation.  If you have any Buckyballs, or know someone who does, pass this on to them.

Harborview Medical Center Gets Free Bike Helmets from Injury Lawyer Steve Sitcov

Our free helmet program is continuing to extend its reach in different parts of our community.  Last month I was happy to deliver a dozen helmets to Harborview Medical Center’s Pediatric Clinic.

 

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I was also taken on a tour of the facility by Debra Schwartz, the acting manager of the clinic.  I was mightily impressed. Contrary to the way movies and television portray large teaching hospitals, Harborview’s Pediatrics Clinic is bright and inviting.  Fifty years ago my pediatrician’s office had a fish tank, twenty years ago my kids’ pediatrician had a fish tank.  I guess fish tanks, like stethoscopes are required, because Harborview’s Pediatric Clinic has one as well:

 

HMC fish tank

Harborview’s pediatric clinic treats almost 3,000 individual patients, whose linguistic, ethnic, cultural and racial profile is very diverse.  The one uniform element is the economic picture of all the patients’ families.  The median household annual income falls between $15,000.00 and $25,000.00.  In addition to offering the most advanced medical teams and equipment, the Clinic also provides social work services as many of its young patients have lived through war, refugee camps, loss and stress.  The range of problems goes far beyond treating a cut or the flu.

During the course of a routine medical exam, the patient is asked a series of questions designed to measure the types and levels of risk the kids face in their daily lives.  One of the questions is whether they ride a bike.  The next question is, “Do you have a helmet?”   If the answer is “No”, the young patient will walk out of the doctor’s office with a brand new helmet – for free.

 

Bike Helmet final

This is why we sponsor Cascade Bicycle Club’s free helmet program.  We are hoping Harborview goes through the first dozen quickly and need a refill.  Injury free children is our goal.

MULTI CAR PILE UP on I-5. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT?

Given the congestion on our roads, it is not uncommon for one of my clients to be injured in a multi-car crash.  Nor is it unusual to represent someone hurt in  multiple crashes that occur over a period of weeks, months or even years.   If you are involved in a similar crash and have been injured, it is important to talk with an attorney as there are complex rules that control which party is responsible for what injuries.  In the law we refer to this as “Proportional Liability”.  This post will examine the problems  facing a person hurt in a multi-car crash.

 

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Scenario 1:  Assume I was driving the green car on I-5 during rush hour and traffic suddenly comes to a stop.  I am able to bring my car to a stop safely but within seconds I am slammed against my seatback as the car behind me skids into my rear bumper.  I look in my rearview mirror to see what happened and I am rear-ended a second time.  Another car has slammed into the rear of the car that just hit me, forcing it to strike my car again.  In this second impact, I again feel my back slammed into my seat and my right hand strikes the dashboard.

 

Later, while standing around the crash site, I feel my neck and back getting stiff and sore. To top it off, my right wrist is now swollen.

 

Under this set of facts, both following cars would probably be equally responsible for my neck and back injuries but only the second car would be liable for the injury to my hand. Even in this relatively straightforward example, the insurance companies would blame the other in an attempt to minimize their proportional liability for my neck and back injuries.  A lawsuit would probably have to be started to have a fair opportunity to recover the full measure of my injuries.

 

Scenario 2:  Changing the facts slightly, assume that my seventeen year old son was driving on I-5, I was driving behind him and another car was driving behind me.  Assuming the same injuries as in the first case, my son would never be able to be fairly compensated.  There is no question the driver of car number three would be 100% responsible for all of the injuries to my son’s wrist.  Unfortunately, my son would only recover some percentage of the value of his neck and back injuries.  This is due to the application of “proportional liability”.  In this state, a child cannot sue his or her parent for negligence, so I am “immunized” for running into the back of my son’s car.  While there are good policy reasons for “parental immunity”, in this case my son could not recover money damages for his injuries I caused. However, the driver of the third car is allowed blame me as being partly responsible for running into my son and he would not be able to recover whatever percentage of responsibility the jury assigned to me.

 

If it sounds complex it is. There are various strategic approaches to minimize the unfair application of proportional liability.  That is why, whenever you are involved in a multi-car crash and have sustained injuries, it is important to speak with a experienced injury lawyer who actually tries cases.

What Happens to the Money My Child May Get For Injuries She Received in a Car Crash?

When a child is injured in a car accident (or from a defective toy or as a result of being in abused, or from bad medication, etc) the child (through a guardian) can file a lawsuit or get a settlement from the negligent party. In Washington state, any settlement a child may receive must be approved by a judge for two reasons. First, the judge will review the settlement to make sure it is fair amount of money after analyzing how the accident happened and the child’s injuries. Second, the judge will determine how the money is to be held and managed while the child is still under the age of majority – that is, less than 18.

 

 

I have represented children who are quite young when they have been hurt and I know this second function is particularly important. The child may have future medical needs and the court wants to be certain that the funds will be available to the child when they turn 18.

 

 

The child’s settlement or verdict funds will be held either in a trust fund or a blocked account at a bank. Which type of fund or account will be used depends on the amount of money received and the child’s needs. A trust provides a fair amount of flexibility but also costS money to establish and administer. If the amount of the settlement or verdict doesn’t justify a setting up a trust, a blocked account will be sufficient. With a blocked account, there are no administration fees and the money is held in a bank earning interest. The funds cannot be withdrawn until the child turns eighteen but if the child needs access to some of the money before turning 18, a court order will be needed to permit distribution.

 

 

The goal of the settlement process is to protect the child so that funds he or she may need when they are older are available. Unfortunately, even the most well thought out plan can be destroyed and the child can lose the money that was to provide for his or her future. In Alaska, a couple was recently sentenced to several years in prison for stealing money from their adopted son’s trust fund. The trust was set up to protect money the son had been awarded as a result of a lawsuit against the state of Alaska years earlier. Tragically, the trust was started with $824,000.00 but at the end there was just $15.05.

 

 

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When a child is injured and receives money, the funds must be protected. Unfortunately, despite the best intentioned plan and legal safeguards, sometimes the settlement or verdict money disappear because of the actions of unscrupulous people.

PREVENT CHILD INJURY – stop buying cheap foreign pj’s

Less than two months ago, I blogged about the value of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the federal agency responsible for keeping unsafe items out of circulation, and in particular, children’s pajamas that fail to meet the flammability standards, first developed over two decades ago.

 

Yet some manufacturers feel that the regulations do not apply to them.  Instead, they make a risk analysis that the cost of using flammable fabric, which exposes children to the possibility of burn injury or death, is less then cost of having to recall the dangerous pj’s or the cost of any lawsuit, should a child get injured while wearing one.  The pajamas recalled today sold for $15.00.

 

It is incumbent on our government agencies to police the marketplace to insure that unscrupulous manufacturers using products that can lead to child injuries are stopped at the port of entry, the retailer, or in this case, the consumer’s home.  Right now there are 700 children sleeping in these cute pj’s subject to yet another recall for failing to meet U.S federal flammability standards.  Lets hope none of these 700 children get injured.

 

The good news is that we can all help the Consumer Products Safety Commission fulfill its mission.  If you know of a product that can cause a child injury, you can notify the CPSC through its simple web portal designed just for this purpose.  It’s quick, it’s easy and it just might prevent a child injury.

BE CAREFUL WHEN HELPING YOUR SNEEZING CHILD

Your child is sneezing, her eyes are watery.  It’s allergy time.  You reach for the Zyrtec, Claritin or Benadryl.  Later on in the evening, you detect a slight fever.  Do you give her acetaminophen?  Her nose is stuffed.  Do you give her a decongestant like Sudafed that contains pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine?  It is important to realize that while you are treating separate ailments, more than one combination of related medicines may be too much.

 

Always read the drug label to learn what is the ACTIVE INGREDIENT in the medication you are giving your child. You could inadvertently be giving your child a double dose, particularly if you have given her a combination medicine that is designed to treat an allergy cough, or fever and congestion.  In addition, different ACTIVE INGREDIENTS may serve the same purpose. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen help reduce pain and fever.  There is no need to give your child both.

 

What to do? Always read the DRUG FACTS label and write down what medicines you have given your child.  Click here for a handy chart to help you remember what medicines you gave to your child and when.  For more information, read this timely publication from the FDA.