The Harper Law Blog

The Harper Law Blog offers news, announcements, thoughts and articles on life, law and our practice areas of emphasis.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Is it necessary?

Posted Wednesday, February 28, 2007 by Ed Harper

Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage: Coverage that is a necessity

When one is injured in a collision caused by a person who does not have insurance, or is underinsured, Uninsured (UM) and Underinsured (UIM) Motorist Coverage may be the only avenue to recoup your losses.

In 2002 in the State of Washington, according to a leading insurance company in Washington, 18.2% of all motor vehicle collisions were the fault of uninsured drivers. Thus, there is almost a 20% chance the collision you or your loved one will be or may have been in will be caused by an uninsured driver. This percentage has risen through the years in Washington even though the State Legislature in 1963 made it mandatory for one to have automobile insurance.

UM or UIM coverage is important and our state legislature has written the law in a manner which supports the courts to find coverage. Any question of coverage goes with the insured person. Then, when the claim is made to the insurance carrier, the UIM carrier steps into the shoes of the at-fault driver and takes on the responsibility for compensating the injured person as if the at-fault driver was settling the claim. (The insurance carrier will have claims against the at-fault driver if they desire to re-coup the money they have to pay out.)

Further, with insurance limits of $25,000/$50,000 in Washington, the Underinsured Motorist benefits will often be necessary to provide full compensation. The UIM coverage stacks on top of the at-fault insurance policy in order to obtain complete relief for the injuries. Making these claims is often necessary as the cost of health care and costs related to personal injury claims continue to rise for the injured person.

When making a UM/UIM claim, one can recover for these medical expenses, wage loss and other expenses and the UIM coverage protects you financially for these unforeseen circumstances.

This coverage is not mandatory but highly encouraged. The amount varies depending on the coverage you would like to purchase. However, typically one has the same amount of UIM coverage as the amount of liability coverage one has on their policy.

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Personal Injury Protection Insurance: Do you need it?

Posted Saturday, February 24, 2007 by Ed Harper

Personal injury protection (pip) insurance covers you, your family members and those riding in your car for medical expenses and any wage loss. The coverage will also provide for some additional items such as loss of services and yard work too! In sum, the benefits far outweigh the expense of this coverage and I highly encourage my clients to obtain this coverage.

This coverage is important to the consumer and provides a relatively inexpensive mechanism to help you and your loved one recover following an accident. If you do not want this coverage, you must sign a written rejection provided to you by your insurance carrier. An insurance agent should advise you of the valuable nature of this benefit prior to waiving this coverage.

The standard amount of coverage is $10,000 for reasonable and necessary medical care or up to three years whichever comes first. Lost wages are covered for the standard $10,000 at $200 per week starting at the beginning of the third week after an accident. The other coverage amounts vary respectively.

One can see any physician of their own choosing. This allows many consumers to go outside of their PPO and HMO provider lists, Thus, they can see a chiropractor or massage therapist for injuries even if this health care provider is not within their plan.

The coverage applies whether or not the beneficiary is at fault. I have been able to recover wage loss and medical care for an injured person even though they were jay-walking while crossing the road. The man had sustained a nearly catastrophic leg injury and had lost 6 months of work. In certain circumstances this may be the only amount one could recover when injured in a car collision.

Further, if you are a pedestrian and struck by another vehicle, your medical care can come from the drivers insurance policy provided they have personal injury protection (pip). If the medical expenses exceed the amount of that driver’s insurance, you can also open up a pip claim with your own insurance. Or if the other driver does not have pip coverage, you can make the claim against your insurance policy.

Call me if you have any questions regarding personal injury protection or any other issues regarding your insurance.

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Are drinking fountains safe?

Posted Tuesday, February 20, 2007 by Ed Harper

Recently, I noticed a sign above the drinking fountain at my work out club. The sign said in essence “Spitting into a drinking fountain is against Washington State Law”. Now, I’ve never thought this could be an issue in our society, but have you ever had to drink water from a fountain after a young child had gurgled much of the water back into the faucet, or been behind a person and they rinsed their mouth out and spit out the remnants? Apparently this is a common occurrence.

An expert in infectious diseases from my alma mater, USC, states that you might want to think twice about drinking from a fountain which you suspect has been the subject of unsanitary practices. John Leedom, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine states “Indoor and outdoor faucets are only as safe as the water coming out of them- Spigots that stay wet, particularly on a leaking fountain, could be harboring bacteria. That is especially true if someone coughed, sneezed or spit on it recently, Avoid fountains that do not look clean, he suggests, and run the water for 15 seconds before drinking to help wash away contamination.” Leedom, quoted in USC Health magazine, Winter 2007.

I have also heard that golf clubs have faced litigation for not cleaning the water cannisters where they have water stored which is provided to the golf patrons. Several clubs now serve water only in water bottles because the possibility of bacteria forming in their water coolers. The United States EPA requires water from drinking fountains to be tested regularly for evidence of contamination, but many small clubs and communities likely have not been able to get to testing all their water fountains. Additionally, the pipes and fittings inside older fountains can pose a risk of leaching metals into the water. With outdoor fountains especially, let the water run for 30 seconds to let the fountains have some time to clear out any sediment in the water, states Dr. Leedom.

So, when you are at the club, or a park, or anywhere, remember don’t spit in the fountain and avoid drinking from a fountain that you do not feel is clean. According to Dr. Leedom that if you feel a problem exists but have to have a drink, let the water run for 15 – 30 seconds to let the pipes clear.

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Sound Transit: Obayahsi Construction Company failure to abide by safety rules leads to death

Posted Monday, February 19, 2007 by Ed Harper

A recent death of a construction worker could have been prevented at a Sound Transit construction site. A state audit showed that managers at the construction site were not required to be at safety meetings as required by Washington State Law. A WAC requires attendance at weekly safety meetings for all management officials.

The construction worker was killed when a train on the tracks he was working collided with a parked train. According to the Seattle Times article last week stated

“The contractor digging Sound Transit’s Beacon Hill tunnel, where a worker died this week, failed to establish a culture of safety on the job site last year, an audit found.

The contractor, Obayashi Corp., is performing the tunnel work where a small supply train hit a parked locomotive and derailed early Wednesday morning.

A mechanic, 49-year-old Michael Merryman, died of internal injuries when he was thrown from the train or jumped outside the tunnel entrance.”

The independent audit, released Friday, further found that while the company has good safety procedures, its Beacon Hill managers were not participating in safety meetings and inspections. Those duties were left to Obayashi’s safety manager. Frequent employee turnover made it difficult to promote safety awareness, said the audit, completed last month by an independent consultant.”

This is second major train incident in Seattle at a Obayashi worksite in the last five months. In October, 2006, five workers avoided serious injury because of human error and a failure in the braking system on a supply train. Two workers had to jump from the flatbed railway car. Two supervisors for Obayashi had to serve three day suspensions for these violations.

Actual interest in safety has been lacking on this job site. Merely stating safety is a concern does not make it so. Obayashi should be ashamed of how it fails to follow-through on protecting its workers and one worker has died as a direct result.

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Chlorine Chemical leak due to worker error: Corporate blame game should not go unnoticed

Posted Saturday, February 17, 2007 by Ed Harper

According to Tacoma News Tribune, a worker at a Tacoma chemical plant released between 900 to almost 1300 pounds of chlorine gas into the air. This required emergency responders – firefighters – to cap the leak.

The company blamed the worker.

“It was more or less operator error,” said George Karscig, manager of the Pioneer Americas plant at 2001 Thorne Road. “There was no equipment failure involved in the release.” Several investigating agencies will be looking into the incident. According to the Tacoma News Tribune 2/17/07 article,

“In addition to the company’s internal investigation, state and federal officials are investigating, officials said. The state Department of Labor and Industries and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have begun looking into the accident. Labor and Industrial officials also have notified the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, officials said.”

In essence, the company has admitted to its own negligence by pointing their finger at their own worker. Through the legal principle of “respondeat superior” or “let the master answer”, defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, the employer is responsible for the mistakes of their workers. Provided the worker was working within the course and scope of his employment. Clearly, this worker was doing his duties.

Based on a 1993 EPA study, Washington had 10% of the 40 locations nationwide where chlorine is processed. Chlorine is used in variety of situations from cleaning products to wood pulp products. Environmental and safety concerns abound based on the hazardous nature of chlorine gas. If only exposed to a minor amount, recovery can be quick and complete.

However, exposure to a large amount of chlorine gas can be life-threatening. According to the study, Chlorine is a primary irritant to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and to the linings of the entire respiratory tract (Stokinger 1982). The extent of acute injury to humans depends on the concentration and duration of exposure as well as the water content of the tissue involved and the presence of underlying cardiopulmonary disease (HSDB 1994). http://www.epa.gov/chemfact/s_chlori.txt.

The safety of our citizens and our workers should be of paramount concern to us as a society. Corporate blame should focus on their own failures, rather than trying to blame their own workers in an attempt to shift their responsibility. Choices were made by this company which caused this incident to occur and justice will only be served to investigate and punish the company for their poor choices.

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