Personal Injury

Jury Awards Injured Electronics Technician and his Wife $3.876,139

Today, a jury at Gray Harbor County Courthouse arrived at a $3,876,139 verdict for a Toutle, WA man’s painful and disabling injuries as the result of the defendants’ negligence at an Oakville, WA mill. Attorneys Ray Kahler and Keith Kessler of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan along with Craig Weston of Reitsch, Weston & Blondin represented the plaintiffs, Verl and Marsha Lee.

The Drive at Willis Enterprises mill was ruined after its employee recklessly hit the fan component with a screwdriver

The Drive at Willis Enterprises mill was ruined after its employee recklessly hit the fan component with a screwdriver

From infancy, most of us are taught that serious harm and injury can result if you stick something in an electrical outlet. But Daniel Fletcher, an employee of Willis Enterprises, failed to grasp this basic safety concept:  When Verl Lee, an electronics technician contractor was dispatched to address a malfunctioning Variable Frequency Drive at Willis Enterprises’ mill, Mr. Fletcher decided–out of the blue–to stick a screwdriver into the Drive. The Drive generates 480 volts of electricity.  By comparison a household outlet is 120 volts.

When Mr. Fletcher stuck the screwdriver into the Drive, he was fully aware that the Drive was energized. As Mr. Fletcher stuck the screwdriver into the Drive, there was an immediate explosion.  Mr. Fletcher’s action triggered an electrical arc fault, which caused an intense, bright flash of light, a very loud noise, high heat, and a pressure wave.  Mr. Fletcher closed his eyes because of the bright flash of light and for a time thought he had lost his sight.

From the loud noise of the explosion, Verl Lee experienced a “terrible ringing” in his head, as well as an intense pain behind his eyes. He heard a clicking and swooshing sound every time he or someone else spoke. The mill manager arrived and found the Drive had been destroyed. Verl told the manager that he would call his supervisor and have a new drive shipped overnight, but that he would not be back the next day to install it because he knew that he had to see a doctor for the ringing in his head.

After numerous medical appointments, Verl was ultimately diagnosed with tinnitus and hyperacusis. Tinnitus is likened to a phantom limb pain, when one loses an arm/leg to an injury, but sensations of pain from the affected extremity no longer exist. This is due to the damaged nerve endings, which are sending signals to the brain. The brain is trying to figure out what to do with them, and it interprets it as pain. Tinnitus is very similar in that the hearing parts of the brain are getting that abnormal nerve signals and trying to figure out what to do with them, so the brain interprets it as sound. Verl hears seven tones in his head, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

!Lee AFTER

Verl Lee must wear headphones and a hearing device to lessen the constant ringing and clanging in his ears

To understand what Verl must live with, imagine putting in earbuds, and then playing a high pitched whine on your iPod, one that Verl Lee describes as that of a “jet engine with all the high pitch whines”, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the rest of your life. Try having a conversation, try listening to music, try just thinking with that irritating sound going on and on and on. That is what Verl’s tinnitus is like.

Hyperacusis is an abnormal sound sensitivity. Imagine that the clanking of dishes being unloaded from a dishwasher makes you cringe and jump. This is what Verl must endure. He cannot use a lawnmower, power tools, or a hammer because noises louder than normal conversation cause pain.

Along with the injuries to his hearing system, the chronic pain behind his eyes makes Verl unemployable.

Seattle full of aggressive drivers. Really?

According to a recent story by Linda Byron of King5, Seattle is full of aggressive drivers. This dispels the myth that drivers in the city are too slow or spacey. At least this is what Seattle Police believes is the reason behind the rising number of collisions. Despite the claim that we have less

The Aggressive Driver Response Team utilizes Dodge Chargers. (Photo: SPD website)

The Aggressive Driver Response Team utilizes Dodge Chargers. (Photo: SPD website)

crowded streets than three years ago (according to the King5.com article), we are seeing more car accidents.

One officer whom Byron interviewed claimed that driving the speed limit was more the exception than the norm. “It’s rare to find anybody actually traveling the speed limit,” Officer Louie Olivarez claimed, as he patrolled a West Seattle road recently. “I’d say 99 percent of people are exceeding the speed limit.”

Officer Olivarez is part of a four-officer SPD “Aggressive Driver Response Team,” which was established about seven years ago and deactivated in 2011.  Guess what? It’s been back in action as of 2013.

It’s true, our firm sees a lot of catastrophic automobile/motor vehicle accidents. Often, aggressive driving caused a deadly or serious collision resulting in profound injuries. So, remember that there is a way to report an aggressive driver. Call SPD’s Traffic Section at (206) 684-8757 or call SPD’s non-emergency number at (206) 625-5011. You can also send a tips via the department’s website.

 

Sen. Becker pushes to rid huge ally of WA State consumers

For about 13 years the citizens of Washington State have had a huge ally in requiring insurance companies to play fair.  The insurance commissioner’s job is not

Sen Becker (R) wants to end the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in Washington. Photo credit: John Stang

Sen Becker (R) wants to end the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in Washington. Photo credit: John Stang

an easy one, given the power that insurance companies wield in this multi-billion dollar industry.  The likes of Liberty Mutual, State Farm, and Allstate all have systematic methods that frequently result in denying coverage and low-balling settlement offers.  Nevertheless, Mike Kreidler and his staff of over 200 have done a remarkable job. Hence, Kriedler has been re-elected three times by healthy margins.  For lawyers who fight on behalf of consumers, such as Stritmatter Kessler, we know the value of this office in bad faith insurance and coverage dispute battles.

But Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, is pushing for a board to replace the Office of Insurance Commissioner for the state. Her recommendation would replace the single elected office with a number of board members. Anyone who understands the unwieldiness of boards versus a tested, single official understands why Becker’s idea is horrible at best.

If you care about preserving the rights of consumers in this state in an industry heavily tilted towards behemoths like Geico and Liberty Mutual, let your state senator know.  Take this action now and preserve the important office of our state’s insurance commissioner.

 See Crosscut‘s latest article about this issue. It mentions Kreidler’s argument against Becker’s bill, which is

…tailor-made for the insurance industry to have its way with consumer protections at the expense of the public…This bill creates an insurance board made up of members nominated by members of the Legislature and appointed by the Governor. The public loses its right to select its own advocate. Washington is one of 11 states with an elected insurance commissioner. If the public are not satisfied with the job they’re doing, there’s a referendum on their performance every four years through our democratic process.

 

Ski Helmet Won’t Help Avoid Brain Injury

With ski season upon us, skiers should keep in mind that wearing a helmet won’t necessarily help them avoid serious brain injuries.

Last month, celebrated Formula One driver Michael Schumacher sustained a traumatic brain injury after falling and crashing his head onto a rock. Schumacher was skiing off trail at a French resort. Yes, he was wearing a helmet, but it didn’t help him. Now he is in a medically induced coma, clinging to life.

Helmet didn't help Schumacher when skiing at high speed in off piste area - Photo credit: Reuters

Helmet didn’t help Schumacher when skiing at high speed in off piste area – Photo credit: Reuters

With Schumacher’s ski accident, many are taking a closer look at statistics related to wearing ski helmets versus serious brain injuries and fatalities. One NY Times article points out that the numbers are surprising: Despite roughly 70% increase in helmet use on the slopes since 2003, which is triple the number, there is no decrease in the number of serious brain injuries and deaths. So,what gives?

The researchers say that it’s because of a growing number of skiers, who have embraced the culture of extreme sports and death-defying risk. These skiers are typically younger males who also like to drive fast and who are willing to push the limits by skiing off trail, faster and higher. Moreover, skiing and snowboarding equipment has developed to the point where their capabilities are far more than what any human can control or handle.

This isn’t to say that wearing a ski helmet is a bad idea. After all, studies also show that the minor head injuries, such as scalp lacerations, are down by almost 30-50%. So, when you’re headed to the slopes, keep in mind that the helmet on your head will not make you invincible

Travis Jameson Awarded Avvo 2013 Clients’ Choice Award

Avvo.com, an online legal forum and directory that provides listings and reviews from previous clients about legal professionals across the entire country, has presented Seattle attorney at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, Travis Jameson with the 2013 Clients’ Choice Award for his work with car accident victims in Washington state.

SKW's Travis Jameson receives Avvo 2013 Clients' Choice Award

SKW’s Travis Jameson receives Avvo 2013 Clients’ Choice Award

Each year, Avvo.com presents attorneys across the country with the Clients’ Choice Award based on both the quantity and quality of client reviews that the attorney receives on his or her online profile.“I am honored to have been recognized with the Clients’ Choice Award this year. It is a reflection of the top notch legal service that Stritmatter Kessler provides to our clients,” said Jameson, an award winning trial lawyer who has practiced since 2002.

Avvo was founded in Seattle in 2007 by Mark Britton and according to the website contains listings and ratings for more than 90 percent of all licensed attorneys in a number of practice areas throughout the United States. Travis’ Avvo profile can be viewed by visiting the Avvo.com website.

Mr. Jameson has been recognized by his peers and the community as a tireless advocate in his representation of personal injury clients throughout Washington State and beyond. He is also passionate about empowering accident victims who often have limited understanding of  the legal system and the insurance process. Travis attracts clients who realize that insurance companies often take advantage of uninformed and unrepresented consumers.

Drivers Who Kill Cyclists — Getting Away With Murder?

Cars vs. Bikes: Car drivers are generally favored when involved in a bike accident.

Cars vs. Bikes: Are car drivers who cause bike accidents getting off too easily?

Our law firm continues to see an increasing number of clients injured in serious bike-car crashes. When rushing to switch lanes or to pull into a parking spot, too many drivers are still not conditioned to look for cyclists. Is this because the prevailing attitude is one of greater forgiveness to those driving cars rather than those riding bikes? This is a question that Daniel Duane ponders in a recent NY Times Opinion piece.

Duane mentions meager penalties against drivers, including a teenager who ran down a 49 year old cyclist John Przychodzen and killed him. The teenager only received a $42 citation for an “unsafe lane change.” After all, the young driver was not driving while under the influence nor was he deemed to be driving recklessly.

Sadly, however, the story about the Seattle cyclist fatality is not rare and is found throughout the country in virtually every city.  Duane points out the fact that the laws and societal norms have not caught up with the statistics: Cycling is the second most popular outdoor activity in the U.S. next to running. We are a country with 57 million cyclists and a growing number who commute regularly. Yet, people have mixed feelings about cyclists who attempt to share the road with drivers. Contributing to drivers’ resentment is the fact that many cyclists flout the rules of the road.  So, while cyclists’ violations are not usually enforced (but see the last blog post), the offending drivers’ are also let off with slaps on the wrist.

Each of us can do our part to keep the statistics of injured or killed cyclists on the road from growing, while we advocate for laws to encourage safer cycling. With the days getting shorter and wetter in the fall, please remain mindful that there are likely others around you on two wheels.

Kids Break Bike Helmet Laws Too Often

Each year in this country bike accidents involving head injuries lead to at least 150,000 emergency department visits and almost 400 deaths. This is based on a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  According to the CDC, approximately 33 million children ride bicycles for nearly 10 billion hours each year.KidsandBikeSafety-1

Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida presented an abstract with compelling data: Despite a California bike helmet mandate, only 11 percent of Los Angeles County children treated for bike-related injuries were wearing a helmet. Specifically, children older than age 12, and low-income and minority children were less likely to wear a bike helmet.

“Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs…” said study author Veronica F. Sullins, MD.

Regional studies highlighting racial or ethnic and socioeconomic differences may help identify at-risk populations within specific communities, allowing these communities to more effectively use resources, explained Dr. Sullins.

“Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs,” Dr. Sullins said.

The Impact of Obamacare on Personal Injury Claims

The new Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act will likely have a large impact on many personal injury claims.

Obamacare may help many personal injury claimants

Obamacare may help many personal injury claimants

Before Obamacare is fully implemented, hospitals use different tiers for their charges. One tier has been for the uninsured patients and the other tier is negotiated rates with health insurance companies and Medicare. Why does this matter? Well, in real life instances a medical procedure can cost $50,000 but the patient’s health insurance company is charged $10,000. The uninsured patient is out of luck, as she will have to foot the $50,000 charge rather than benefit from any already negotiated rate.

Often enough, a hospital does not want to settle for the reduced rate, refusing to submit the bills to the health insurance company to obtain the full, much higher amount from the patient.

On my reading, the new Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act will probably limit that problem in many cases.  A provision of the Act, 26 USC section 501(r)(5) will apply and help many personal injury clients.  Section 501(r)(5) requires any hospital that seeks 501(c)(3) non-profit status to limit the amounts it charges to patients eligible for assistance under the hospital’s financial assistance policy  to no more than the amounts the hospital “generally billed to individuals who have insurance covering such care.”

The new Affordable Care Act will protect injured patients, allowing them to keep a larger portion of the funds that they receive for their claims.

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