Archive for News

Washington State’s Child Welfare Agency Settles a Flurry of Lawsuits

Recently, it was announced that the child welfare agency of Washington state has reached a far-reaching settlement agreement with numerous advocacy groups, each of which is representing children who believe they were wronged by the state’s departments. Foster youth, identified by initials to protect their identity, filed lawsuits against the state, alleging a wide variety of violations that had a significant impact on their physical and mental health. The state has struggled to keep up with the demands of its foster system recently, and children have claimed that they were often forced to sleep in hotels, offices, and even in the cars of social workers who were supposed to be looking out for them.

As a result, children alleged that they experienced frequent moves between homes, cars, and other locations, and that the frequent change has disrupted their education, medical treatment, and familial ties. After negotiating for more than a year, attorneys representing the state and the foster children have reached a settlement agreement. Importantly, it should lead to changes in the way the child welfare agency operates, providing better services for children everywhere.

The goal is to provide increased stability for children in foster care. Children in foster care are forced to contend with a wide variety of problems that can make it difficult for them to grow and develop physically, emotionally, academically, and socially. By reorganizing the placement system for foster children, children should receive the support they need. Now, the settlement agreement moves to U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein, based in Western Seattle. The agreement also requires an independent monitor to ensure the child welfare agency complies with the terms of the agreement.

Prior to the lawsuit, a number of news reports indicated that children were spending time in emergency arrangements, including sleeping in offices and cars, which only made trauma and instability worse. Eventually, it led to a lawsuit that alleged the horrid conditions led to psychiatric, behavioral, and developmental conditions, spurring the lawsuit. Numerous child advocacy groups voiced their concerns in the lawsuit, including the National Center and Youth Law and Children’s Rights. It is hoped that this agreement will improve the quality of life of children in the foster care system.

Violent Crime On the Rise In Washington as Police Staffing Plummets

A troubling report from a Washington police association states that violent crime is on the rise in the state. Police staffing is also plummeting. Washington’s police staffing was already the lowest per capita in the country, and figures in the state’s government and law enforcement organizations are taking measures to bolster the number of law enforcement officers in the state. Read on to learn more about the law enforcement staffing situation in Washington state.

Troubling Statistics

Statistics from the Washington police association report claims that violent crimes rose by more than 12% in the state in 2021. Murders were also up to an all-time high of 325. The murder rate is not quite as high as it was during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but its mark of 4 per 100,000 is still among the highest in the state’s history.

Washington’s Police Staffing is Well Below the National Average

Washington, as with many states, saw a significant drop in the number of police officers in 2021. Washington now has 10,736 officers, which is a decrease of over 400 from the previous year. This works out to a drop of over 4.4%. Meanwhile, the state’s population rose by over 100,000.

Washington now has just 1.38 officers per 1,000 residents. The national average is 2.33 officers per 1,000 residents. The shortage of police officers has led to police departments simply not responding to calls that are considered low-priority. Also, officers often have to work a great deal of overtime.

Budget Cuts & Negative Public Perception of Police are Blamed

The decline in the number of police officers comes in the midst of budget cuts to law enforcement agencies across the nation. These budget cuts were spurred by the COVID pandemic and by the negative perception of law enforcement resulting from the murder of George Floyd. Many police officers have resigned or taken retirement in response to the negative perception of their profession. Also, fewer prospective police officers are applying for law enforcement positions. Washington also passed law enforcement reform laws in the wake of the George Floyd murder that many officers found too restrictive.

What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Americans

After negotiation and passage by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act heads to the House for final approval. Many would expect this legislation to focus more closely on the skyrocketing costs of consumer goods as a result of inflation. However, inclusions focused on battling climate change and reducing the federal deficit make this package much more sweeping than a simple inflation-busting measure would be. The Inflation Reduction Act represents President Biden’s economic agenda as a whole.

The particulars of this economic package show just how ambitious it is. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act pledges $370 billion toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions to less than half of their levels in 2005. Some elements of the proposal would provide direct economic relief to Americans, however. Reform to prescription drug costs would limit Medicare recipients to paying $2,000 annually, finally allowing the government to negotiate the cost of medication directly. Not only could this mean billions of dollars of savings for the U.S. government over the next 10 years, but even Americans who don’t have Medicare may also benefit from drug price negotiations.

Other citizens will benefit from measures that prevent the increase in healthcare insurance premiums that would otherwise occur next month when a component of one of Biden’s emergency COVID-19 bills expires. Approximately 13 million Americans who purchased coverage from state or federal marketplaces will continue to qualify for savings.

Rather than increasing taxes for everyday citizens, large corporations will foot much of the bill through tax hikes. Because the Inflation Reduction Act aims to close tax loopholes that have allowed these billion-dollar companies to escape paying their fair share, some companies may finally have to contribute to the economy from which they have long benefited.

Although the Senate Majority leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called the Inflation Reduction Act “one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in a decade,” Democrats had to make compromises to get the bill passed in the Senate. The original proposal included free pre-k education and paid family and medical leave for American workers. Republican lawmakers also removed verbiage that would lower the price of insulin. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has criticized the modified bill as he argued for expanded Medicare coverage for dental and vision healthcare.

PFAS Lawsuits Flood Courts and Billions in Possible Damages Could Be On the Line

Since 2005, more than 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits have been filed. This type of heavy litigation presents a huge threat to companies that use PFAS, including E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., as well as 3M Co., Chemguard Inc., Kidde-Fenwal Inc., National Foam Inc., and Dynax Corp.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, shortened to PFAS, are durable and water-repellant. Some of the most common types of PFAS that are sold on the market today are Teflon and Scotchguard. These products have been around since the 1950s, and gained in popularity due to their durability and water-repellant properties. Unfortunately, despite being mainstays in many homes for decades, it has become apparent that PFAS can cause health problems and environmental damage due to the chemicals that the products contained.

Starting in 2005, lawsuits started being filed, primarily against E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., due to these health issues and environmental damage. However, in the last few years we have seen more and more lawsuits being filed against other companies that manufacture PFAS products. Individuals are suing these companies for the health issues their products may have caused, while city governments, including the City of Anaheim, California, is suing for damage done to the environment by these products.

Some estimates state that the liabilities for PFAS could reach in excess of $30 billion dollars. Obviously, this would be a worst-case scenario. but based on the large amount of damage that has been done and the sheer number of cases and companies involved, there could be major financial repercussions, which could lead to major companies being unable to survive and going out of business.

As the lawsuits make their way through the courts, it is becoming apparent that the courts are starting cases off based on the role that companies had in manufacturing PFAS products. For example, some of them only made surfactants, while others were finished product manufacturers. Companies that had a role in both parts, such as 3M, are expected to get hit the hardest in the lawsuits.

Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding PFAS lawsuits, but as they make their way through the courts, it will be interesting to see if damages are awarded and how companies manage to survive.

What Is the Average Whiplash and Concussion Settlement?

A car accident can leave victims with painful injuries that affect their lives in almost every way. It also means they face extensive medical bills and long treatment times that keep them from working. Two of these common car accident injuries are whiplash and concussions.

If you’re one of the millions of people who are suffering from whiplash or concussion after a car wreck, you’re probably wondering how much a legal claim may be worth. Here’s what you need to know about claim settlements for these types of injuries.

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a common injury after a motor vehicle collision that results from the neck being snapped forward and then backward quickly and forcefully. It affects the muscles, nerves, and spinal joints in the neck—causing pain and numbness. Common symptoms include:

  • Shoulder and back pain
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Arm numbness and tingling

What is a concussion?

A concussion occurs when there is an impact that causes a sudden back and forth movement of the head and brain. The brain will often bounce against the skull, causing a brain injury known as a concussion.

Concussions are considered to be a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and can cause:

  • Pressure in the head
  • Dizziness and balance issues
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling sluggish or confused
  • Memory or concentration issues

What is the average car accident whiplash or concussion settlement?

Whiplash and concussion settlements can vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury and the impact it has on the victim’s life. On average, a minor car accident whiplash claim can settle anywhere from $10,000 to upwards of $100,000.

However, a more catastrophic case of whiplash or concussion can settle for $1 million or more. Again, it varies based on how the injury affects the victim and for how long.

What factors affect the settlement amount?

Several factors can affect an injury settlement amount that fairly represents the accident victim’s losses. You may be able to claim compensation for the following damages after suffering whiplash or a concussion:

  • Medical bills
  • Property damage
  • Surgical and treatment expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Future medical care
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent impairment

The more severe the injury, the more you can expect in a legal settlement. This also applies to the pain and suffering you’ve endured as a result of the accident. Typically, pain and suffering compensation is commensurate with actual financial losses.

Speak with an experienced car accident attorney to see if you qualify to take legal action for your whiplash or concussion injuries after an accident.

Washington Divorce Laws and Regulations

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Title 26, governs divorce law, known as dissolution of marriage. A person who wants to pursue dissolution of marriage in Washington is likely to have questions about divorce, child custody, or domestic violence protection orders.

What are the Grounds for a Divorce in Washington?

The sole grounds for a divorce in the State of Washington is “irreconcilable differences.” Washington is a no-fault state, so one spouse needs only to state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” to start the divorce.

What are the Grounds of Jurisdiction for Divorce?

The RCW, Chapter 26.09.030 allows a spouse who is a resident of Washington, who is married to a resident of Washington or who is a member of the military and stationed in Washington for 90 days prior to the filing of the case to seek a divorce. A Court of Appeals case upheld the subject matter jurisdiction statute.

How Do I Obtain Custody of Minor Children?

Either party to the dissolution of marriage may seek custody of minor children. The RCW 26.09.270 requires that a party “seeking a temporary custody order or a temporary parenting plan or modification of a custody decree or parenting plan” submit an affidavit with their motion.

The affidavit needs to state facts supporting the order or modification. The party also provides notice to other parties of the divorce proceedings.

What does the Court Consider When Making Orders Related to Children?

The objectives of a permanent parenting plan are to provide for physical care of children, for maintaining their emotional stability and to provide for the changing needs of children. The court sets forth the responsibilities and authority of each parent and encourages parents to abide by their responsibilities set forth in the permanent parenting plan.

What Financial Orders Does the Court Make in a Divorce Case?

The court makes financial orders related to the disposition of property and liability, communal or separate, in an equitable manner. One exception is that property acquired by inheritance or gift remains solely with the person given the property.

The primary parent of the minor children usually retains the matrimonial home.

The court may order either parent to pay child support.

How does the Court Protect Domestic Violence Victims?

Either party has the right to ask the court for a temporary restraining order under RCW 26.09.060. The court may issue orders restraining a person from transferring, removing or destroying property, or from entering the home, school or workplace of the other party or minor children.

The court may issue domestic violence protection or anti-harassment orders.

Gas Field Specialists Inc (GFS) Pays $184,000 to Ill Employee Fired for Increased COVID-19 Risk

A case involving Gas Field Specialists Inc (GFS),  EEOC v. Gas Field Specialists Inc, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, No. 4:21-cv-01615, settled earlier this week. The case, filed in 2021 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, alleged that GFS, a Pennsylvania gas well service company, fired an employee with cancer because his cancer made him more vulnerable to COVID-19. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, the company agreed to pay a $184,000 settlement to a longtime employee. The company denied any wrongdoing.

The employee who was fired, Marlin Houghtaling, told the EEOC that an owner of the company, GFS, told Mr. Houghtaling that the company had to lay off individuals who had pre-existing health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19. The reason given to Mr. Houghtaling was that the company did not want these individuals to get sick. The company stated that Mr. Houghtaling’s diagnosis of cancer placed him at greater risk from COVID-19, and thus, he was let go.

Marlin Houghtaling was let go from GFS in May 2020. At the time, he was working as a rig hand and mechanic and had no restrictions in place due to his health. He had been working with the company for 15 years. The EEOC accused GFS of discriminating against Mr. Houghtaling specifically due to his illness, thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC also made it clear that letting an employee go specifically because they were at higher risk for catching COVID-19 and suffering more severe symptoms was not a basis for firing an employee and amounted to disability bias.

The $184,000 settlement covered $174,000 in lost wages due to Mr. Houghtaling, as well as $10,000 in compensatory damages. As part of the settlement, GFS also had to agree not to lay off or fire employees who may be at a higher risk of COVID-19. EEOC also required the company to document its specific reasons for not recalling workers who may have been subjected to seasonal layoffs.

While GFS did not have to admit to any wrongdoing, the EEOC was pleased with the outcome. It helped to show that employers do not have the ability to make personal decisions for their workers in regard to their medical history. The EEOC said, “an intent to protect them from what it perceives as a risk of illness from COVID-19 does not excuse an action that is otherwise unlawful discrimination.” The outcome of this case helped to prove that point.

 

There’s No Summer Break For New Laws! Many New Employment Laws Go Into Effect in July

Traditionally, employment laws have gone into effect on January 1. As such, employers really only had to pay attention to employment law changes coming their way toward the end of the year. However, more and more states are making changes mid-year, and as such, you are seeing many more employment and labor laws taking place starting in July, rather than waiting and starting in January. As this trend continues, employers need to be aware of new labor laws that go into effect in the summer months.

There are many areas that state legislatures have targeted this year and made a priority when it comes to labor and employment law. Some of the new laws and regulations that have passed this year have to do with the contingent workforce and gig economy. Other regulations surrounding leave protections and entitlements, workplace safety and privacy protections, and wage transparency are also popular in many parts of the country.

Washington state wins the award for most active jurisdiction when it comes to implementing new laws and regulations mid-year, with over 12 new state-wide and local laws that start in early summer. Second place goes to Virginia and Colorado, with each state enacting at least eight new laws that take effect this summer.

It is important to note that for the purposes of this report, the focus was specifically on generally applicable labor and employment laws that had been enacted in states and larger municipalities. There may have been many more labor laws and regulations passed in much smaller municipalities than we look at. Also, this report does not look at the minimum wages and related wage and hour legislation that are starting to take effect across the entire country. Lastly, it is important to note that not everyone is on summer vacation quite yet. Some state legislatures are still in session, and as such, there are new laws and regulations that still may be passed and enacted. As such, new laws may still come out.

If you are an employer, it is important to pay attention to new labor laws and regulations that may be rolling out in your state during the summer months.

Everything You Need to Know About Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured and are looking for legal representation, you may be wondering where to start. How do you know a lawyer with experience in the type of injury you sustained? What should you look for when choosing one? This post will give you a roadmap for finding the right personal injury lawyer for your case.

How to Find the Best Personal Injury Lawyer

There is no definitive answer to this question. However, you can do a few things to improve your chances of finding a great lawyer who will fight for you.

1. Look for Experience

Experience is crucial when finding any professional, including a personal injury lawyer. Personal injury cases are usually quite complicated, and you’ll want someone who has navigated them. An experienced lawyer will likely better understand the law and be better equipped to deal with personal injury insurance companies.

2. Do They Work on Contingency?

Hiring a lawyer is quite expensive, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth. A lawyer who works on contingency gets paid if they win your case, so you can be sure they’ll be motivated to fight for you.

3. Look into Their Success Rate

You’ll also want to research their success rate. How many cases have they won? How much money did they get for their clients? You need a lawyer with a good track record of winning cases and getting their clients the compensation they deserve.

4. Get a Referral

If you know someone who has used a personal injury lawyer before, ask them for a referral. They may have some great recommendations for you and give you a first-hand account of their experience.

5. Professional Team and Office

Pay attention to how the lawyers and their staff treat you. Are they professional? Do they seem like they know what they’re doing? If they’re not organized and seem unprepared, it’s probably best to move on.

6. Interview Several Lawyers

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential lawyers, it’s time to interview them and see if they’re a good fit for you. Talking to multiple lawyers will also give you a better sense of the market and what you can expect.

Why do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

You can settle a personal injury case yourself, but the insurance company will likely try to lowball you since you may not know all the laws surrounding personal injury cases. A lawyer can tell you if your case is worth pursuing and can give you a better idea of how much money you may be able to get. They will also be able to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and help you get the best settlement possible.

Family Law Case Appeals in Washington

Family law cases that go before a judge often end with a decision that one or both parties do not agree with. This is why family law cases can be appealed in the state of Washington. However, you can’t appeal a case simply because you don’t like the judge’s decision. If you do have legitimate grounds for an appeal, you have to quickly decide whether you want to keep your initial attorney, then file the appeal. Read on to learn more about family law case appeals in Washington.

What Can Be Appealed

As previously mentioned, simply disagreeing with a judge’s decision does not give you valid grounds for an appeal. The initial judge must have made some sort of legal error for an appeals court to consider hearing the case. Otherwise, the appeals court will simply decline to hear your appeal and the initial ruling will stand.

It can be difficult for a layperson to determine whether they have grounds for an appeal. This is where your attorney comes in. They will be able to determine if you may have grounds for an appeal.

Appeals Must Be Filed Soon After the Initial Verdict

It is important that appeals are filed as soon as possible after the initial verdict. In fact, appeals must be filed within 30 days of the initial decision. This rule is in place partly to cut down on frivolous appeals and partly to keep families from being kept in legal limbo for an extended period.

You Can Get a New Attorney

You are allowed to terminate your relationship with your initial attorney and hire another attorney for the appeals process. In fact, there are many attorneys who specialize in appeals. If you were unhappy with the performance of your initial attorney, it is a good idea to find one who has experience with appeals. Keep in mind that you must find a new attorney quickly, as you only have one month to file a notice to appeal the initial ruling. It might take a few tries to find an attorney who feels that you have legitimate grounds for appeal upon review of your case.