All posts by Kit Case

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Distracted Driving Awareness Month is observed each April to bring national attention to the hazards of distracted driving. The dangers of distracted driving are serious and the results can be severe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2016, distracted drivers caused 3,450 fatalities and 391,000 injuries on America’s roads and highways. That’s at least 9 people killed and 1,000 injured every day. Washington State Traffic Safety Council data shows that distracted driving causes 30% of fatalities and 23% of serious injuries in crashes in the State of Washington.

Operating a motor vehicle requires full attention to the road, but it’s easy to become distracted when you are driving and at the same time using a mobile device, changing radio channels, using a calculator, applying cosmetics, smoking, eating or drinking. Looking at billboards, buildings and people also causes major distractions. Texting is among the most dangerous distractions. Typing or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the entire 120-yard length of a football field with your eyes shut. Driving while texting also increases your crash risk like driving with a blood alcohol content of 1.9.

It’s the Law

In 2017, Washington State passed a distracted driving law into the rules of the road. Getting ticketed for distracted driving is expensive. Fines start at $136 and can go up to $234 on repeat offenses. The citations stay on your driving record and increase your vehicle insurance rates. Federal law also prohibits texting by interstate truck drivers and forbids companies from requiring their drivers to text while behind the wheel. In addition to disqualification, civil penalties for truck drivers can reach up to $2,750 for multiple offenses, and $11,000 for companies requiring or allowing drivers to text while driving. Over 150 law enforcement agencies across Washington State participate in the Distracted Driving Awareness Month prevention effort.

The best strategy to prevent a roadway incident is an easy one. Never take your mind off driving and always keep your eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel. Put away your cell phones and other handheld gadgets and objects until you are safely parked out of the flow of traffic.

Trucking companies should implement a cell phone policy in their safety program that prohibits drivers from using their cell phones while driving. Drivers also should not handle dispatching devices, maps, or food while driving.

Visit the following links to get more information and resources for distracted driving prevention:

Washington State traffic law:

Using a personal electronic device while driving

Dangerously distracted driving

Keep Trucking Safe:

Smart and safe cell phone use poster

Washington State Traffic Safety Council:

Distracted driving data, training resources and programs

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Rule limiting the use of wireless communication devices

Distracted driving tips and training tools

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Distracted driving website

National Safety Council:

Distracted Driving Awareness Month website

Distracted driving safety topics website

 

Photo by BC Gov Photos on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Contact an Attorney Early in Your Case for the Best Chance at a Fair Outcome

Injured worker contacts us for assistance with a mess of a case, one where decisions were made along the way – without the benefit of legal counsel – that now tie our hands and limit our ability to obtain what we otherwise would have thought to be an appropriate outcome. We do the best we can, but we wish they had reached out to us for advice earlier. This is a common occurrence for our firm, a frustrating scenario that I will dissect for you.  Here is a sample scenario, not derived from one person’s claim but a ficticious case to present common issues that arise in many complex claims:

  • Significant injury or combination of injuries/comditions, perhaps a knee injury that led to a total knee replacement procedure.
  • Difficulties recovering from surgery, such as the described total knee replacement procedure, lead to permanent limitations in mobility and function. There may be a potential argument about the level of rated permanent impairment and the amount of an impairment award to be paid at the conclusion of the claim.
  • Worker is unable to return to their job of injury, so undergoes a vocational assessment to determine if they can return to work in a physically-appropriate job with their current skill set or if vocational retraining is needed. Often, in significant injury claims, vocational retraining benefits are granted.
  • Worker is of a relatively advanced age, perhaps has a singular work history in physically-demanding line of work, and for a varitety of reasons may not want to pursue the offered retraining plan. Perhaps they don’t feel that college is a good fit for them, or they may not want to work in the intended job goal (often, “General Office Clerk” is seen as a recommended plan). The worker may have a disability pension option through their employment, and/or retirement savings, and will opt to go that route rather than participate in a retraining plan that they feel is inappropriate. Or, they think they can get back to work in a more appropriate field, even if only part-time, if they go forward on their own.
  • Their vocational counselor discusses the options before them once a retraining plan is offered: participate in the plan, receiving time loss compensation throughout; or, b) Opt out of retraining and, in exchange, receive a package that includes school vouchers equivalent to the current cost of a two-year retraining plan for their own use, a closed period of monetary benefits called a “vocational award” and equal to time loss compensation, but with payment made regardless of any return to work made, and a variety of other associated, standard benefits.
  • The worker chooses to “opt out” of retraining.  However, they do not have a full picture of their potential benefits available, because a vocational counselor can only discuss vocational options while there are other potential legal paths that can be discussed with a lawyer. Once the option selection has been made, though, many, if not all, of those legal paths disappear, even though the worker did not know of the existence of the full spectrum of options available under the law.
  • The worker then contacts a law firm for assistance, with many questions about what’s next for them, what their rights are under the law. In some cases, the options available are significantly limited by the time we get this call. Options such as a Structured Settlement Agreement (CRSSA), or an argument that a specific retraining plan is not, in fact, appropriate under the specific circumstances, or that a total disability pension is the more appropriate outcome from vocational evaluation. This analysis of options outside of the scope of a retraining plan or return-to-work outcome will not be discussed by a vocational counselor; it is outside of the scope of their assignment under your claim.

Whenever an injured worker receives advice from their doctor, their vocational counselor, their friends, co-workers or family members, they are getting only opinions, not legal advice. The giver of the advice may have the best of intentions and may have experiences that guide the forming of their opinion, but in almost all cases they do not have legal training or experience.  Workers deserve to have the benefit of legal consultation before making decisions with long-term consequences, often for not only the worker but also their spouse or family.

We have found that having contact with an injured worker early in the process gives us the opportunity to discuss the path that lies ahead, potential pitfalls, options and likely outcomes. If we can be involved with a worker during the vocational process, we can provide guidance when questions and options come up and help the injured worker make the decisions that best benefit them, taking into consideration the individual facts of their case and the legal remedies available with each possible choice.

Like most law firms that handle workers’ compensation cases, our firm offers a free consultation and case analysis. This may or may not lead to representation, but it can provide a road map for the case ahead and form the foundation of representation should it become necessary in the future. Everyone in your case has their own specialty and/or perspective – your doctor, vocational counselor, employer or other party that may be involved. You deserve to have a professional to discuss your case with to form your own plan and perspective on your claim.

Workers’ compensation claims can be very complex. Feel free to contact us today for a conversation about your case.

Photo by getoutski on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Coverage Crossroads – What Type of Claim Do You Have?

Most injuries that occur in the course of one’s employment are covered by the workers’ compensation system in place in the state where the worker lives and works. The rules of that state govern the benefits the worker will receive.  On the edge of these well-defined boundaries, however, the question of which system should cover an injured worker can get interesting.

As an example, a worker in the fishing industry who suffers an injury may be covered under one of several possible types of claims, depending on the circumstances of their individual case. If the worker is injured on a vessel while at sea, their benefits may be governed by the Jones Act as a maritime claim. Or, if they are involved in the loading and unloading of a vessel while it is in port as the primary duties of their land-based job, the worker may have a claim under the Longshore and Harborworkers Act. Some workers are involved in fish processing aboard a vessel but that vessel is tied to land, it is moored, while this work is performed. This may be a state workers’ compensation claim. We often speak with workers whose claims are in Alaska’s jurisdiction and make referrals to Alaska attorneys for these cases. There are situations, though, where a worker in the fishing industry, even if the injury did not occur within the boudaries of Washington State, still has a Washington workers’ compensation claim.  It all depends on the individual circumstances of each case.

If you have questions about your injury claim, feel free to contact our office.  We can be of assistance with a Washington workers’ compensation case, a Longshore claim, or a maritime case.  If we cannot assist you, we will do our best to make a recommendation for where you can get the help you need.

Photo Credit: Kit Case, Fishing boats in Cowitchan Bay, BC

Highway 99 Tunnel Subcontractor Owes Workers More Than $370,000 in Unpaid Wages

A company hired to dispose of dirt from the Highway 99 tunnel project through Seattle has been cited by the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for underpaying workers by more than $370,000.

Glacier Northwest contracted with Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the public project’s prime contractor, for an estimated $28 million. Glacier disposed of dirt and other materials excavated by Bertha, the tunnel-boring machine. Glacier and STP recently appealed the citation.

This was the only project that the Glacier Northwest disposal site was accepting dirt from, so L&I was able to identify the specific workers and hours worked. Because the tunnel is a public works project, those workers are entitled to prevailing wages, which they did not get.

“Many workers aren’t aware of the specific wages they must be paid when working on public projects like this one,” said Jim Christensen, L&I’s Prevailing Wage Program manager. “The law is clear in this case: The use of public funds means Glacier has the responsibility of paying proper prevailing wages.”

L&I enforces the state’s prevailing wage law, which protects workers by setting wages for specific work. The law helps ensure that contractors have a level playing field when bidding on public projects.

Some workers owed thousands
The L&I investigation found that Glacier Northwest owes 46 employees approximately $370,600 for their work spreading an estimated 2.2 million tons of dirt at the former Mats Mats Quarry near Port Ludlow. They were paid $27.69–$31.34 per hour but should have received $49.48 per hour running cranes, skid loaders, dump trucks, dozers, and excavators.

The amount owed to individual workers depends on how long they worked; it ranges from nearly $90 to more than $30,500.

Work at the disposal site involved setting and operating two floating cranes to offload hundreds of barges, all carrying dirt from the Highway 99 tunnel project. The dirt was then moved to the quarry using conveyors, trucks and other equipment. The contract precluded dirt from any other project to be dumped at the location.

In 2018, L&I industrial relations agents investigated and closed 300 cases involving the payment of prevailing wages and returned $1,461,452 to workers.

Photo by State Library of Queensland, Australia on Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

Port of Seattle Seeks Partnership for New Cruise Facility at Terminal 46

Port to start process, issue principles for cruise business development

(SEATTLE) The Port of Seattle Commission took steps toward securing a partner to develop and operate a new, single berth cruise facility at Terminal 46 by issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Commissioners also adopted principles to ensure that a growing cruise business increases local economic benefit and maintains the Port’s leadership as the most environmentally progressive cruise homeport in North America.

“The intangible asset of Alaska cruises creates opportunities for Washington businesses of all sizes, from farmers and wine producers in Eastern Washington to museums, hotels, and restaurants around King County,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Stephanie Bowman. “Our principles ensure that this new cruise terminal will expand local economic benefit, and with the addition of our third shore power berth will make Seattle the national leader in promoting clean, electric shore power for our Alaska-bound cruises.”

two cruise ships

The cruise terminal RFQ is the first step in a partnership selection process that will support the completion of a new facility for the 2022 cruise season. Early estimates are that a cruise terminal could be constructed for around $200 million. A public-private-partnership approach to build the terminal will have the Port contributing half that cost. Responses to the RFQ are due April 18.

The opportunity to explore using 29 acres at the north end of Terminal 46 for a new cruise terminal and single berth has come forward now as the Northwest Seaport Alliance works to realize its strategic plan of realigning international maritime cargo operations at Terminal 5 near West Seattle and Terminal 18 on Harbor Island. The cruise terminal project is contingent on the successful authorization of a new lease at Terminal 5 which is scheduled for review at the Northwest Seaport Alliance’s March 19 meeting.

…Read the rest of the news release here.

Are Safety Incentive Programs Counter-Productive?

Most companies care about their employees’ safety and sometimes use games like Safety Bingo or signage that reports safety records, like days without an accident, to encourage safe behavior. However, these well-intentioned incentives don’t always improve safety. In fact, using incentive-based prizes that reward employees for working safely may unintentionally lead employees to suppress injury and illness reporting. Underreporting to win prizes has two harmful side effects:

1.Underreporting can slow down hazard identification and resultin misinformed decisions about workplace safety programs andpractices – putting your workplace at risk. A successful safetyprogram may even have a high number of incidents reported.This allows management to target resources and training where itwill do the most good.

2.Discouraging workers from reporting injuries and gettingtreatment early can cause more serious injuries that require timeaway from work to heal. This results in higher workers’ compcosts, injuries that may permanently impact the worker’s return towork and the high cost of turnover.Design a safety program that rewards worker participation and encourages injury and illness reporting.

The following tips may help:

  • Reward employees who identify hazards orparticipate in investigations of injuries, incidents or close calls.
  • Revise your incentive program if any part of it is deterring injury and illness reporting.
  • Create a policy that prohibits retaliation against employees who report injuries and illnesses.
  • Provide gifts to workers serving on safety and health committees.
  • Play games that test employee knowledge of job hazards and safety practices.
  • Offer modest rewards for employee suggestions that strengthen the safety and health program.
  • Throw a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training.

The Trucking Injury Reduction Emphasis (TIRES) project was developed by the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program of Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries.  

The Trucking Injury Reduction Emphasis (TIRES) project team and the TIRES steering committee are working with the Washington State trucking industry to identify causes for the most frequent injuries to develop effective strategies for preventing them. Free safety training materials are available at KeepTruckingSafe.org.

The TIRES steering committee is made up of a diverse group of professionals that includes: drivers, safety people from large and small trucking companies, labor and business associations, insurers and a representative from a publicly funded truck driving school.

Funded in part by a grant from CDC NIOSH 5 U60 OH 008487. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC/NIOSH.

Washington Service Corps Volunteers to Stipend Increase Next Year

Washington Service Corps volunteers to see nearly 11 percent stipend increase next year

Volunteers serving in the Washington Service Corps next year will receive the second highest living allowance of all AmeriCorps members in the state.

Increased funding from both the Employment Security Department, which administers the Service Corps program, and from community organizations which host the volunteers will bring member stipends to $1,450 per month.

“The cost of living has increased significantly in the last few years, and we were looking for ways to respond,” said James Trujillo, director of the Washington Service Corps, a program under the national AmeriCorps umbrella. “We want community service to be viable for everyone, no matter their economic background. This increase is an improvement, but we recognize we have to do more.”

The only other AmeriCorps program in Washington with a higher stipend is the Washington Conservation Corps, which gives its members about $1,840 per month.

Stipend levels for AmeriCorps volunteers vary across the country. The federal Corporation for National and Community Service funds 80 percent. The state as well as local public and private organizations that host volunteers make up the difference. They also pay for other member expenses and operational costs.

“This stipend increase helps to support the outstanding efforts of our Washington Service Corps members,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “Our volunteers help meet crucial needs in under-resourced communities across the state. The impact of their service should not be underestimated.”

The announcement about the stipend increase was announced in time to celebrate the nationwide AmeriCorps Week March 10-16.

Next year’s increase will be the biggest, but not the first in Washington Service Corps history. From 2015 to 2017, the Service Corps stipend totaled $12,548 for 10 ½ months of service, if the member completes the full term. In 2017, the stipend went up to $12,630 and in 2018 to $13,732. For the 2019-2020 program year, the total stipend will be $15,225.

In addition to this increase, members anywhere in the state could see an additional raise next year if their service organizations choose a contract option allowing them to pay more to all members serving at their sites. The total amount of the increase would go directly to members, Trujillo said.

Photo by ldifranza on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Tips and Service Charges – Rules for Payment to Workers

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has released the final version of the tips, gratuities, and service charges policy. You can find it on the Workplace Rights/Employment Standards Administrative Policies webpage. This policy includes updates based on feedback received on two draft versions last fall.

I-1433 created new requirements in the Washington Minimum Wage Act (RCW 49.46.020(3)) for employers to pay tips, gratuities, and service charges to their employees. During the rulemaking process for I-1433, L&I committed to developing administrative policies like this one and providing opportunities for input. These policies are intended to help employers understand how to interpret and apply the law.

The final policy language defines tips, tip pools and service charges and outlines requirements for payment to workers.  The policy also adds the requirement that facilities that add a mandatory tip or service charge disclose to their customers the amount of the charge that will be shared with the worker, if any.  This information must be presented in a restaurant menu and/or on an invoice or receipt. 

Examples of appropriate disclosure statements:

Restaurant menu

  • A service charge of ___% / $___ will be added to your bill. ___% of this service charge is paid to the employee or employees who served you today.

OR

  • A service charge of ___% / $___ will be added to your bill. 100% of this service charge is retained by [Business Name].

OR

  • A mandatory gratuity of ___% / $___ will be added to your bill for parties of ___ or more. ___% of this service charge is paid to the employee or employees who served you today.

OR

  • A mandatory gratuity of ___% / $___ will be added to your bill. 100% of this mandatory gratuity is retained by [Business Name].

Photo by Alan Light on Foter.com / CC BY

 

Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel to be Filled

As part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Removal Program, the Battery Street Tunnel will be decommisioned and filled to effect the permanent closure of the tunnel. With the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed, SR 99 no longer runs through the Battery Street Tunnel. Like the viaduct, the tunnel was built in the 1950s and is seismically vulnerable. Any new or continued use of the tunnel would require prohibitively expensive renovations. Closing the Battery Street Tunnel also allows WSDOT to rebuild the three-block stretch of Aurora Avenue at the tunnel’s north end, improving east-west mobility in that neighborhood.

Contractor Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., began demolishing the Alaskan Way Viaduct on Feb. 15. Over the course of approximately six months, they will use large machinery to crunch, munch and cut the structure into pieces to be hauled away by truck. When the viaduct is gone, the City of Seattle will begin work on a new surface street and public open space along the waterfront.

The work of filling and sealing the Battery Street Tunnel began on on Feb. 12, 2019 and is scheduled to be complete in late 2020. The major elements of this work are:

  • Decommissioning and removing the tunnel’s utility and mechanical systems.
  • Removing hazardous materials from the tunnel.
  • Filling the tunnel and sealing its entrances.
  • Street restoration along Battery Street, including sidewalk improvements, new curb ramps, street lighting and other pedestrian improvements.

The tunnel will be filled in two phases, with material brought into the tunnel both from its south entrance and through grates along Battery Street above. Crews will partially fill the tunnel with viaduct removal rubble and then will pump in low-density cellular concrete from above to complete the fill.

Questions? Call the 24/7 program hotline at 1-888-AWV-LINE (298-5463) or send an email to viaduct@wsdot.wa.gov.

What is Ahead for the Colman Dock Project

One way to beat the snowy cold weather is to dream of balmy days on the waterfront. Here’s a look ahead at mid-2019 when the project will reach some major milestones, like opening a portion of the new terminal building and the new passenger-only ferry facility! There’s still a lot of work to go on this complex project that will be complete in early 2023. While there continues to be changes throughout the project, full ferry service will be maintained during construction.

Inside design rendering of the passenger-only ferry facility

Starting in early summer, the new passenger-only ferry facility will open at the south side of the dock, complete with a new weather-protected queueing area. The King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Transit Fast Ferry will run their service out of this new facility.

Map layout of Colman Dock this summerLater on in the sunshine season, the ferry service will move into part of the new terminal building and demolish the existing building. Temporary elevated walkways will connect the Marion Street Bridge to the new building.

Photo/Image credits: Washington State Department of Transportation