Free Legal Assistance for Wildfire Victims

Gerhard Letzing, Executive Director of the The Washington State Association for Justice, has put out a call for support for the firefighters and victims of the wildfires in Washington:  

North Central Washington has been devastated by wildfires and three firefighters have died in the line of duty near Twsip. It is critically important that we provide resources to support the men and women working tirelessly on the front lines to fight the wildfires, provide emergency shelters as well as food.

Please stand with the communities and families in need and I urge you to do what you can to support relief efforts. Please go to the North Central  Community Foundation website to make a donation.

WSAJ has also activated its pro bono Disaster Relief Team of volunteer lawyers to assistant communities in North Central Washington. Volunteer lawyers are now offering legal assistance to those affected by the 2015 wildfires in Washington State. Victims can consult with the attorneys, without charge, about insurance claims, property losses, government benefits, or other matters arising from the recent wildfires. No fees of any kind will be charged for legal questions.

Please see the list of current volunteer lawyers on the WSAJ site. 


Image Credit:  Garland Potts/The Seattle Times

Is Tesla going to start its own Uber competitor with self-driving electric cars?

Today’s post was shared from www.treehugger.com. This might help Uber out of the controversy surrounding their drivers – are they employees, or are they independent contractors? – if there are no drivers, there is no controversy (or, workers’ compensation premiums to pay).

Tesla Uber self-driving car autopilot

Or will the two companies do it in partnership?

It is well known that both Tesla and Uber are very interested in self-driving car (Tesla calls it ‘Autopilot’, no doubt to evoke the familiar airplane technology). Elon Musk has publicly stated that he thinks entirely automated self-driving cars will be ready in about 5 years and that they’ll eventually be orders of magnitude safer than human-driven cars, which makes sense when you really think about it. Computers can react instantaneously, sensors can be positioned all around the vehicle (like having eyes behind your head) and they never blink or get tired, they can even see through fog (radar, ultrasonics), they don’t get drunk, can coordinate wirelessly, etc.

An Uber would clearly love to have a fleet of self-driving vehicles out there that can be hired via its app. While drivers might object to the very idea of driverless cars, the rest of us could see benefits from lower car ownership; rather than almost everyone owning a car and letting it parked 95% of the time, a single shared car could drive around dozens and dozens of people around the clock. And if it’s electric, powered by clean energy, the benefit would be compounded further.

Elon Musk

The question that arises for the next few years is: Will Tesla and Uber get together in some way or other to push self-driving cars forward? Or will Tesla decide that it has everything it needs to start its own transportations service and launch its own equivalent to Uber, powered by its…

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California Law Agencies Get $34.9M to Fight Workers’ Comp Fraud

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.insurancejournal.com

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has awarded $34.9 million in grants to 37 district attorney offices representing 42 counties in California to combat workers’ compensation insurance fraud.

The grants are funded through employer assessments, and they support law enforcement efforts in investigating and prosecuting workers’ comp fraud.

“These grants will assist district attorneys across the state in uncovering workers’ compensation fraud schemes and prosecuting those who take advantage of the system,” Jones said in a statement.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

Workers’ comp insurance fraud includes medical provider fraud, employer premium fraud, employer defrauding employee, insider fraud, claimant fraud and the willfully uninsured operating within the underground economy.

Grant funding is based on assessments from California employers. California District Attorneys apply for workers’ comp fraud grant funds.

The commissioner’s grant review panel reviews the applications and makes funding recommendations to the Jones based on multiple criteria, including past performance, the county’s problem statement and their program strategy for the upcoming year.

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Seattle Employer Fined $424,850 for Safety and Health Violations

Inadequate emergency response plan for fuel spills one of many concerns

A marine terminal operator in Seattle is facing more than $400,000 in fines from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in connection with multiple serious safety and health violations at its facility on Harbor Island.

L&I recently cited Seattle Bulk Shipping for more than 50 workplace safety and health violations. The state began investigating the company after a worker was hospitalized with injuries when he fell into an underground grain storage pit in December 2014.

Seattle Bulk Shipping performs several operations at its facility including transferring large quantities of ethanol fuel from rail cars to tanker trucks, loading grain on rail cars and transferring it between trucks, and trailer and forklift repair.

L&I inspectors found several noticeable serious hazards during an initial visit to the location which prompted a comprehensive safety and health inspections of the entire worksite.

During the inspection, L&I placed an immediate restraint order on the company’s ethanol transfer operation because of inadequate emergency response planning. The department was concerned about the possibility of a catastrophic release of the highly flammable fuel, and the potential impact on workers and the traveling public on the West Seattle Bridge above the facility.

L&I worked with the Seattle Fire Marshal’s office and the employer to ensure that the most serious gaps in emergency response training were addressed before the hazardous material transfer operations were allowed to resume.

During several visits to the site, L&I safety and health compliance officers found that employees were routinely exposed to multiple hazards that could cause death or serious injuries or illnesses. The employer had been cited on multiple prior occasions for many of the same violations or issues.

In total, the company was cited for five “willful” and 33 “serious” violations, as well as two “failure to abate” for failing to correct previous violations, and 19 general violations. A violation is considered willful when an employer knowingly violates a rule or is plainly indifferent to employee safety and health, while a serious violation is one where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

The $424,850 fine is among the largest L&I penalties of a business in recent years.

The violations and penalties include: 

  • Not ensuring personal protective equipment was available to use during an emergency response to a possible ethanol fuel release, $21,000.
  • Not establishing an employee alarm system to provide warning time for a safe escape in an emergency such as an ethanol fuel release, $63,000. This violation was previously cited in 2010 and had not been corrected.
  • Not developing an emergency response plan to address a possible ethanol fuel spill, $63,000. This violation was previously cited in 2010 and had not been corrected.
  • Using chain slings to lift loads beyond their rated capacity, $45,500.
  • Modifying a powered-industrial truck, or PIT, (such as an industrial forklift) to increase its load capacity by strapping concrete blocks onto the back end of the machine, $45,500.
  • Not ensuring that all operators were trained to safely operate PITs, $45,500.
  • Not ensuring that all PITs were maintained in safe working order, $45,500.

Among the 33 serious violations the employer was cited for were multiple “confined space” violations. Working around or inside a “confined space,” such as grain pits, without safety precautions can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers.

As a result of these violations, Seattle Bulk Shipping Inc., has been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

The company has appealed the safety violations and has until Aug. 6 to appeal the health violations. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Medical marijuana a growing workers comp challenge

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.businessinsurance.com

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana poses challenges for the workers compensation industry, but some experts and recent research say it could be an alterative to long-term opioid use.

There’s a growing consensus among workers comp payers and doctors that “any treatment that could reduce opioid dependency is something to look into, or something to keep an eye on,” said Tom Atchison, associate attorney at Heacox, Hartman, Koshmrl, Cosgriff & Johnson P.A. in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Long-term opioid use can be unsafe for injured workers and costly for payers, Mr. Atchison said.

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry adopted a rule establishing criteria for long-term opioid treatment that also said medical marijuana is not an “illegal substance” for injured workers under state law.

It remains illegal under federal law, however.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for any medical condition, so it’s difficult to compare its effects with other drugs used in workers comp, such as opioids, said Dr. Damon Raskin, a Pacific Palisades, California, internist who specializes in treating addiction and substance abuse. However, “the risk of death and other severe addiction issues with opiates make looking at (medical marijuana) more palatable,” he said.

“Until I see good scientific evidence that this is something that works (for pain), it’s going to be hard to endorse,” Dr. Raskin said. “But if there’s a choice…

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Egregious Safety Lapses Have Consequences, High or Low

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

Recently in Texas, two men were seriously injured on the job. In some ways, their circumstances looked very different. They were in different cities, working for different employers. One was repairing a roof, high above the ground. The other was in a trench, about eight feet down. But in both cases, their employers neglected to provide basic, commonsense protections – a harness for the man on the roof, or a safe means of egress for the man in the trench. As a result, both men wound up in the hospital with preventable injuries.

Egregious Safety Lapses Have Consequences, High or Low

The Fall and the Collapse

Falls kill workers, but they are completely preventable. In the first case we announced today, a temporary worker was sent to a work on a roof without fall protection – even though he’d requested a safety harness. When he fell through the roof, he fractured both arms and got severe contusions. By law, employers are required to report such incidents within 24 hours. Neither his employer, Cotton Commercial USA Inc., nor Gardia Construction, the company that supplied Cotton with laborers, did so. In fact, Cotton waited three days to report the injury, one of seven violations for which the company was cited today.

Trench cave-ins are also preventable. In fact, the ancient Greeks had advice on preventing deadly trench collapses more than 2,500 years ago. But Hassell Construction Co. Inc. sent its workers into dangerous trenches without providing sufficient protections. In the second case we announced today [link to…

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Seattle Employer Fined More Than $215,000 for Serious Safety Violations

A Seattle employer has been cited for multiple serious workplace health violations after a worker became entangled in a rotating shaft while working inside a confined space. In connection with the citation, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) fined Industrial Container Services $215,250 for exposing workers to serious harm or even death. L&I cited the company previously for many of these hazards, but they had not been corrected.

Industrial Container Services refurbishes metal drums and other industrial containers. The company operates a “drum shot-blaster unit,” a 24-foot long tunnel with a series of rotating shafts that move metal drums through as they’re being shot-blasted to remove paint and coatings.

L&I began its investigation in January 2015 after a worker was hospitalized after being injured while working inside a drum shot-blaster. The investigation found that workers were regularly entering the equipment to perform maintenance and repair without the necessary safety precautions.

Working inside a “confined space” area, such as the drum shot-blaster unit, without safety precautions can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers. Confined space hazards can include suffocation, toxic atmospheres, engulfment, entrapment and other dangerous conditions. These incidents are fully preventable.

When a confined space has hazardous characteristics that could harm workers, it’s considered a “permit-required” confined space. That means employers must control access to the area and use a permit system to prevent unauthorized entry. Anyone working in or around a permit-required confined space must be trained and there must be safety measures and rescue procedures in place.

L&I cited the company for seven “failure to abate” serious violations related to the confined space hazards, and for not ensuring that moving parts were de-energized to prevent workers from becoming caught in machinery. These violations were originally cited in October 2013 and had not been corrected. Each of the violations carries a penalty of $22,750.

L&I also cited the company for four “repeat-serious” violations and four “serious” violations related to confined-space procedures and energy control measures (lockout/tagout), with penalties ranging from $11,700 to $4,550.

As a result of these safety issues, Industrial Container Solutions has been identified as a severe violator and could be subject to increased scrutiny at all its locations nationwide.

The company has appealed the citation. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For media information or a copy of the citation, contactElaine Fischer, L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.  


Photo credit: XcBiker / Foter / CC BY-SA


Roofing Company Owner Faces Felony Charge for Not Paying Workers’ Comp

A Mason County, WA roofing contractor faces a criminal charge for allegedly failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance for his employees while they were on the job.

The Washington State Attorney General’s office has charged Peter Daniel Yeaman, 55, with unregistered contracting and doing business when his workers’ comp coverage was revoked.

The latter charge is a felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Yeaman is scheduled for arraignment in Kitsap County Superior Court today, July 23.

The case resulted from a Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation into Yeaman and his company, Southgate Roofing, of Belfair.


Unfair business advantage

“When contractors skip out on workers’ comp, it’s illegal and it’s incredibly unfair to legitimate contractors who pay their fair share and get underbid by these lawbreakers,” said Annette Taylor, deputy assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. 

“Workers’ comp premiums for roofers are among the highest in building construction and the trades, based largely on the safety risks those workers face.”

State law requires employers to provide their employees with workers’ compensation insurance. The coverage provides medical care and other financial support if employees are injured on the job.

Construction contractors also must register with L&I. The department confirms they have liability insurance and a bond and that, if they employ workers, they’ve paid their workers’ comp premiums.


At least six roofing employees

L&I suspended Southgate Roofing’s contractor registration in November 2012 for failing to pay workers’ comp premiums, and later officially revoked the company’s workers’ comp coverage.

Nonetheless, according to the charges, L&I found two consumers in Silverdale who had work done by the company in May 2014 and in August 2014.

During the August job, six workers told an L&I inspector they worked for Southgate Roofing. Yeaman himself told the inspector he needed to pay a bill before he could register as a contractor, charging papers said.


Eight previous infractions

In addition, the charges say that between October 2013 and September 2014, the company bought roofing materials numerous times from a Bremerton supplier and made numerous trips to a Bremerton disposal site.

Apart from the criminal charges, L&I has cited Yeaman with six unregistered contracting and two permit-related infractions since 2013, and several safety violations in 2013. L&I currently lists him as ineligible to bid or work on public works projects. He owes the department more than $28,000 for the unpaid fines and more than $131,000 for unpaid workers’ comp premiums, penalties and interest.

Photo credit: davidwilson1949 / Foter / CC BY 


Tragic Cannery And Construction Site Deaths Highlight Need For Safety Enforcement

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

I was horrified when I recently read about a worker for a tuna company who was killed when he was cooked to death at the company’s California canning factory. According to the New York Daily News, the worker, Jose Melena, was performing maintenance in the 35-foot oven when a co-worker failed to notice he was still in the oven and turned it on to begin the steaming process of the tuna. The co-worker assumed Melena had gone to the bathroom. 

While there apparently was an effort to locate the worker, his body was not found until two hours later when the steamer was opened after it completed its cooking cycle. As an attorney, my clinical instinct shifts my focus to the mechanics of the accident and to fault. There are so many unanswered questions.  Why didn’t anyone check the machine before it was turned on? Why wasn’t the machine immediately shut down when they realized the worker was missing? As a person with feelings and emotions, I think of the horror and pain he must have gone through and the loss experienced by his family and friends as a result of his death. It is almost too awful to imagine. 

While this terrible tragedy occurred in 2012, it appears the reason that the story is currently newsworthy is that the managers were only recently charged by prosecutors in the worker’s death for violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rules. Closer to home, more recent and just as unfortunate were the cases of the construction worker in Brooklyn who fell six stories from a scaffold while doing concrete work and a restaurant worker who was killed in Manhattan when a gas explosion destroyed the building he was working in. 

These stories highlight why safety procedures are so important. In some cases, there are no proper safety precautions in place. In others, there are safety measures in place but they may not have been followed. In rarer cases, crimes are committed that result in workplace fatalities. The failure to follow or implement proper safety procedures was a calculated risk, a terrible misstep, or a downright criminal act. In the case of the worker who died when he fell from a scaffold, there has been speculation that he may not have been attached properly to his safety harness. In the tuna factory death, the managers were charged with violating safety regulations; they face fines as well as jail time for their acts. In the gas explosion, there are allegations that the explosion was caused by workers’ illegally tapping into the restaurant gas line to provide heat for upstairs tenants. Prosecutors were trying to determine criminality; whatever the final outcomes, it appears that in these three instances the deaths were preventable. 

According to OSHA rules, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. They must provide their employees with a workplace free of serious hazards and follow all safety and health standards. They must provide training, keep accurate records, and as of January 1, 2015, notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related impatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.  

While this may seem like a small step, anything that results in creating higher standards for employers or encouraging them to keep safety a priority is always a good thing. These three examples are only a small percentage of the workplace deaths that occur each year. While not every death is preventable, everyone is entitled to go to work and expect to leave safely at the end of their shifts.  

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.


NYT Report: Woman Burned by McDonald’s Hot Coffee, Then the News Media

Most people don’t remember her name, but we regularly hear reference to the injury event, even after 20+ years.  This report from the New York Times shatters the myth of a “windfall” settlement. WATCH THE VIDEO – – WOW. – kc


In 1992, Stella Liebeck spilled scalding McDonald’s coffee in her lap and later sued the company, attracting a flood of negative attention. It turns out there was more to the story. 

More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, N.M. She spilled the coffee, was burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers and even political pundits. But cleverness may have come at the expense of context, as this Retro Report video illustrates. A consumer affairs reporter for The Times reflects on how the world has changed since the lawsuit.  

Read the story here.


Photo Credit – New York Times

Published by Causey Law Firm