Head Injuries Change How We Watch Sports

Several weeks ago, former Formula One Champion Michael Schumacher was moved from a hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland to the family’s home on Lake Geneva. Schumacher spent nearly the past 250 days in the hospital following a tragic ski accident. His injury occurring while wearing a helmet has garnered increased attention and debate as to head injuries and the safety of helmets.

In December of last year, The New York Times reported about the debate among experts regarding the nearly 70 percent of all snow-sports participants wearing helmets — nearly triple the number from 2003 — and why a correlated reduction in snow-sports-related injuries have not occurred. This is according to The National Ski Areas Association and a recent 2012 study from Western Michigan University.[1]

Some have hypothesized that helmets have given athletes a false sense of personal limits and created a sort of moral hazard. While others have blamed the increase in photography and video capturing devices for snow-sports, such as the use of GoPro for pushing the envelope.

But it is not just extreme sports that have received attention from onlookers regarding brain injuries. Just over a month ago, Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was sent back in the game having just absorbed an extraordinary tackle and possible head injury. Michigan fans were outraged and later called for U of M Athletic Director Dave Brandon to resign.

These recent stories are also coming at a time of growing discussion about the safety of the NFL as well. The NFL’s former players and family of players are now “opting-out in large numbers” from a class action settlement where players are or may be diagnosed with various cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.

For an excellent documentary about sports-related head injuries and the incredible toll they can have on a person and a family, see The Crash Reel: The Ride of a Lifetime.

[1] See Also Skiing and Snowboarding-related Head Injuries in the United States: A retrospective Analysis from 2004-2010, Sebastian, Wills et al. published in the 2012 Annual Scientific Conference.

Legislature Asked To Revise Driving-Texting Law

Texting while driving and other forms of “distracted-driving” is a national issue. An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012 alone. This is according to the Distraction.gov, a PSA website to inform drivers.

Yet, states are slow to revise their laws to prohibit driving-texting laws because of the difficulty in drafting language and enforcement. As Washington’s law is written now, an officer would typically need to visibly see a driver manipulating their device. Yet, according to a recent article in The Olympian, Washington Traffic Safety Commission has sought stricter language to the law from the state legislature.

Due to the difficulty in enforcing these laws, the responsibility rests on the driver. This is the message and theme of Werner Herzog’s recent documentary on the aftermath of distracted driving accidents. The film is a notable departure from more “shock PSA’s.”

Philadelphia trial lawyer, Joel Feldman sadly knows the grim reality of distracted driving, having lost his daughter to a distracted driver. Below is a presentation he gave to high school students on the three types of distracted driving; manual, visual, and cognitive.

Tips To Protect Yourself When Hiring A Mover

First Step: Get a copy of UTC’s “Moving in Washington State Guide.” Before hiring a mover, a consumer should first read Washington State’s guide to hiring a mover. This guide will include the initial step of determining if your mover has the proper permits (search here for a current list).

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has a variety of resources available to use when choosing a mover. Consumers should be aware of some of the major regulations under the WAC 480-15. These include the requirement that movers operating in Washington must provide a copy of Your Guide to Moving in Washington State. In addition, a consumer should understand the different types of “estimates” under the WAC. These include a binding estimate, a non-binding estimate, and a supplemental estimate. Separate and apart from liability and property damage issues, a mover may not “pay more than one hundred twenty-five percent of the estimate regardless of the total cost unless the carrier issues and the customer accepts a supplemental estimate.”¹

Washington State has historically recognized the vulnerable position individuals and families are in. If you have questions regarding whether your mover is complying with the law, you should contact an attorney or contact the Transportation Commission to launch a formal complaint.

¹WAC 480-15-630 (6)(d)(iv).

Sorry Kid, No Overtime for Movie Projectionists

Last week, the #1 article from Sunday's edition of The New York Times was an Op-Ed piece highlighting the antiquated Federal Labor Laws that exclude millions of workers from receiving potential overtime.

Movie Projectionists are excluded from overtime under RCW 49.46.130“Sorry kid,” movie projectionists are excluded from overtime under RCW 49.46.130

Under Federal law, employees holding perceived white-collar positions like supervisor, manager, even vice president may be exempt from overtime requirements, even though their gross hourly rate is less than $12 an hour. Even in Washington State, a forum recognized for its strong labor laws, there contains noted exceptions for “administrative” and “executive” positions. As a result, an hourly manager at McDonald's may not be entitled to overtime and other protections under the Washington State Minimum Wage Act “MWA”. Parallel exclusions under the Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) include country elevator workers, newspaper delivery persons, sugar processing employees, and radio station employees. Yes, even movie projectionists are exempt from the 40-hour overtime requirements. These and other provisions of the WMA are ripe to be updated to reflect the dramatic changes to today’s workforce.

Simple Questions to Reduce Employer Wage Liability

There has been a widely reported increase in wage and hour litigation in Washington State and employers have cried foul at the cost of this litigation.[1] However, Washington employers should not be overwhelmed with the complexity of wage and hour laws as Washington has played a historic role in protecting hourly workers.[2]

When Washington employers take on the responsibility of an employee, they have an affirmative duty to understand the changing wage and hour laws and how they affect their policies and rights of their employees. Nevertheless, employers could greatly reduce their liability for wage litigation by regularly asking themselves these five simple questions:

  1. Are we paying employees the current minimum wage?
  2. Are we paying employees all of straight time earnings for hours worked under 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  3. Are we paying employees one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  4. Are we giving employees a 10-minute break or intermittent breaks at the end of the third hour of work and are we giving employees a 30-minute unpaid meal period for working more than 5 hours? (Alternatively, are you compensating employees who work during these periods?)
  5. Are we paying employees at least once a month?

These simple questions do not attempt to capture the detail of exemptions, administrative codes, statutes, and case law. Nonetheless, as an attorney who regularly represents employees against employers for wage claims, these simple questions asked regularly would dramatically reduce employee-employer wage litigation.

[1] Washington-based Federal Justice Center reported 8,126 federal wage-and-hour lawsuits were filed between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, See also More Workers Are Claiming Wage Theft, New York Times, Greenhouse, Steven published August 31, 2014 available here.

[2] See Parrish v. West Coast Hotel Co., 185 Wash. 581, 55 P.2d 1083 (1936), Washington Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a Washington minimum wage law for women and children. See Also Court in Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037 (1918); Spokane Hotel Co. v. Younger, 113 Wash. 359, 194 P. 595 (1920). Parrish was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 57 S. Ct. 578 (1937), overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, 43 S. Ct. 394 (1923), which struck down a similar District of Columbia law on substantive due process grounds.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the “Hot Coffee” Case

1) 79-year-old Liebeck was hospitalized for 8 days, suffered third-degree burns to her pelvic region, followed by two years of medical treatment.

2) Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000.

3) The trial judge reduced the award to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount.

4) McDonald’s admitted at trial that its coffee was “not fit for consumption” immediately after sold at 180 to 190 degrees Farenheit.

5) Coffee served at 180-190 degrees Farenheit will cause third-degree burns in 2-3 seconds

A 2011 documentary titled “Hot Coffee” explored the plaintiff perspective and misinformation about the case.

First Uber, Now Lyft: Insurance Issues

San Francisco News outlets reported yesterday of Lyft-operated vehicle who allegedly struck a pedestrian in the Nob Hill neighborhood.  The pedestrian was later taken to a hospital for a leg injury and is not believed to have suffered life-threatening injuries.

The accident comes just two weeks after a fatal car accident in San Francisco involving an Uber driver.  Ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have gained increasing attention in recent weeks for public safety and adequacy of insurance coverage for accident victims.

Uber Woes…Not Just Legal

The New York Times reports this week of the recent challenges facing ride-share operator Uber. In the last few months, Uber has drawn critics from celebrities such as Salman Rushdie and Jessica Seinfeld for exorbitant pricing during peak times. New Year’s Eve 2013 also marked the tragedy of a fatal car accident with an alleged Uber-contracted driver, killing a 6-year-old girl. Uber is also being sued by its own drivers over tips drivers reportedly never received.

The article appearing in the New York Times Technology section highlights the many problems a tech startup can face in transitioning an industry-disrupting idea into reality.

Labor Report says Employers Steal More Than Bank Robbers

The Economic Policy Center (“EPI”) reports this week that more employers fail to provide full wages to employees.  When comparing 2008 U.S. Department of Labor statistics report of back wages to U.S. Census Bureau Data on bank robbery statistics, EPI reports wage theft amounts to triple the amounts stolen in bank robberies. The report is more anecdotal than statistically significant, however the broader report draws attention to the seriousness of wage theft. Read the entire report here.