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Brian Smalley is one of our workers’ compensation paralegals.

What did you learn on the job that everyone should know?
For the job, or life in general, “The Four Agreements”, a short book by Miguel Ruiz, offers practical goals that I can strive to achieve each day, 1) Be impeccable with your word; 2) Don’t take anything personally; 3)Don’t make assumptions; 4)Always do your best.

What’s the most interesting case you’ve worked on?
Every case is interesting because every case has a story. To the injured worker their injury may be a life changing event. The injured worker deserves not just great legal guidance but compassion, respect and dignity. I often tell our clients that this can be a difficult process but you don’t have to do it alone and together we”ll get through it.

What legal wisdom do you give your friends and family?
I always recommend using the right tool for the job and if the job requires an attorney get one and listen to them.

Palace Law Community Builders adopted a family for the holidays! We put new clothes and toys under the tree (complete with two brand new bicycles!) for a single mother and her 4 kids. In partnering with The Salvation Army, we expanded a Christmas tradition that helps give a Christmas to over 1 million children who would normally go without.

Top 3 Bicycle Safety Must-Knows

I have ridden many miles in challenging conditions in the United States and foreign countries. This article provides some of the lessons I’ve learned. I’ll start with the most important rule I’ve learned and one that I use every time I ride. It was given to me by a man in India who spoke very little English. When I stopped in a small village after fighting through chaotic city traffic all day, I mentioned that there were no rules of the road in India. He held up a single finger, “One rule. Biggest vehicle wins.” Bicycle safety became a whole lot simpler for me that day.

I’ll explore three areas of bicycle safety, since all safety issues cannot be covered in one article: bicycle maintenance and fit, proper clothing, and effective technique and rider judgement.

Bicycle Maintenance
Maintaining a bicycle so that it performs as it is designed is the basis for all of the other safety suggestions. It’s obvious that if the brakes don’t work the bicycle won’t be safe. However, there are other issues related to bicycle maintenance that are also important. Proper derailleur adjustment, screw and bolt tightness, tire pressure, spoke tension, and tire condition should be monitored and adjusted as necessary to ensure the bicycle responds to your controls in a reliable and safe way. For instance, having the chain come off when shifting gears on a steep climb can be extremely dangerous in traffic. Also, the constant vibration of riding causes screws and bolts to loosen over time. Check them regularly. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way when my rear rack came off and nearly tore out all of the spokes in my rear wheel.

The bicycle must also be the proper size for the rider. A bicycle that is too large or too small can be difficult to control. Seat height, seat position, handlebar height, brake position, frame size, and pedal position are important features of a properly adjusted bicycle. You can ensure the bicycle is a proper fit by consulting with a trained bicycle mechanic. A bicycle can only be used safely for the type of cycling it was designed for.  You wouldn’t take a lightweight racing bike onto a mountain trail for instance. Finally don’t forget to equip the bike with flashing front and rear lights. These are inexpensive yet do an excellent job of drawing attention to the bicycle and increasing visibility.

Bicycle Clothing
Bicycle clothing may not seem to have much effect on safety, however, it is a key component of a safe ride. A high visibility bicycling jacket or even a road worker’s high visibility vest is strongly suggested at all times. Wearing a helmet shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but I see many riders without one. A helmet is an absolute must. What about those spandex shorts though? How do they provide safety? The answer is the chamois liner provides vital protection to sensitive areas of the body. Saddle sores are no joke and are easily infected. If you don’t like the spandex shorts you can buy just the chamois liners to wear underneath your regular shorts. Bicycling shorts are generally made with a gusseted crotch which is a design that provides better range of motion and proper placement of sewing seams. Feeling comfortable in the saddle allows for more attention to your riding and safety. Cycling gloves also have a purpose beyond comfort. Anyone that has been in a bicycle accident without gloves will realize their importance. Picking the gravel out of the palms of your hands after catching yourself during a fall is a quick lesson in why gloves are needed. They also provide a firm grip on the handlebar. Don’t forget to keep loose pant legs out of the chain and gears by using clips or leg straps.

Technique and Judgment
The most important component of bicycle safety is the rider’s knowledge, experience, and awareness of their surroundings. No amount of safety equipment will protect you from an inattentive automobile driver or a road hazard you didn’t see to avoid. The safety of a bicyclist is the responsibility of the bicyclist, not the drivers of the cars sharing the road. You can’t rely on cars not to hit you. When riding with cars on the road it is important to make eye contact with drivers about to turn or when you are turning. This ensures they see you. This doesn’t ensure they will stop, so always be prepared to take evasive action or stop if you have to. Use hand signals to show what you plan to do. If bicyclists want to stay safe they can never feel entitled to a part of the road or the right to make a turn. Rider entitlement is an extremely unsafe attitude.

Another situation that requires good rider judgment is riding the proper speed for the conditions. For instance, riding full speed on a trail with other riders and pedestrians is not recommended. Also, be careful of dogs. Have a dog plan in advance so that when the unexpected attack or chase comes you are prepared. I usually find that a stern, “BAD DOG” in my best command voice works well. You can also get a variety of sprays and extra loud horns. Finally, when riding next to parked cars watch out for opening doors. Twenty years ago you could always see inside for someone in the driver’s seat. Now with dark shaded windows it is very difficult or impossible to see if anyone is in the car. Give yourself plenty of room and keep those hands on the brakes.

I speak to a lot of people that say they haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids. I always ask, “Did you like riding a bike?” They all say it was one of their favorite things to do. It is my experience that it is just as much fun as an adult as it was as a kid. Biking is also one of the best forms of low impact exercises available to adults. Be a kid! Ride a bike and be safe!

Palace Law is committed to serving the community and every month Palace Law Community Builders work with a new community organization. This month we joined forces with Nourish Pierce County to help provide nutritious food and supportive services to people in need, just in time for Thanksgiving. With your help we were able to donate tons of canned goods, non-perishables and money that produced over $200 of food.

Winter Driving Safety

Living in Washington State we know that rain is an inevitable part of our commute, but did you know that according to the Federal Highway Control, wet pavement and rain are the leading causes for weather related collisions?

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 46% of weather related incidents occur during rainfall, and a staggering 74% occur when the pavement is wet. In Washington State there is an auto collision roughly every 5 minutes, and sadly at least one every 20 hours involves a fatality.

Luckily there are steps we can take to help lower the risk factors, and help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and other drivers around us. Knowing some of the potential factors and being aware of what we can do, is the first step to prevention.

Hydroplaning-The term commonly used when our tires skid or slide across a wet surface (Fun Fact: In Europe they refer to Hydroplaning as Aquaplaning). It’s possible for hydroplaning to occur on any wet road like surface, and can be incredibly frightening to experience. Hydroplaning itself is the act of your tires losing their grip with the pavement and driving on top of the water. In some cases, usually at higher speeds, you can lose all contact with the pavement, and in less than a second, can lose control of your vehicle. When you experience hydroplaning DO NOT hit your brakes and DO NOT try turning your steering wheel. Hitting the brakes or turning the steering wheel can cause skidding or complete loss of control. DO- remain calm, hold tight to your steering wheel, and slowly ease your foot off the gas petal to slow the vehicle until you regain control.

Slow Down– When you find yourself commuting in the rain, or if the road is slick from recent rainfall, slow down. Posted speed limit signs are there for good reason, but are posted with the appropriate speed in mind for ideal or perfect driving conditions. So, reducing your speed is wise even when it’s not actively raining, but there is water over the roadway.

Give Yourself More Stopping Time– In perfect conditions, the rule for the appropriate distance you give to the car in front of you is referred to as the two second rule; You can watch the vehicle in front of you pass a fixed object on the side of the road, and count to two. However, under less than perfect circumstances the two second rule can be dangerous, as it takes longer to stop on wet pavement. When conditions are wet and rainy it is recommended that you give yourself an additional two to three seconds to minimize the risk of a collision.

Turn on Your Headlights– something that takes no time at all, turning on your headlights can prevent a collision. Driving in rainy wet conditions can cause a dramatic decline in ability to see the road or other vehicles. Turn on your headlights to help increase your visibility and increase the ability of other motorists to see you.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings– Remain Alert, and avoid that “auto pilot mode”. Staying aware of those around you, watching out for patches of water, increasing your following distance, turning on windshield wipers and headlights, slowing down when conditions are hazardous, and avoiding cruise control when it’s raining are all good steps to take when driving in less than perfect weather.

Snow and Sleet– Seattle is on the lighter side when it comes to snowy conditions when compared to some of our neighbors. Seattle and surrounding areas have an annual average of three days that receive snow, with less than 5 inches. When snowy conditions occur, similar safety precautions should be taken while driving. The Washington State Department of Transportation recommends the use of snow chains when encountering heavy snow.  Snow tires also provide extra traction on snow and ice, so are also a good option when encountering snowy conditions.

No matter what conditions you find yourself driving in this winter, be sure take the proper safety steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Dinner was Served!

Every month the Palace Law Community Builders give back. This month it was an evening at The Tacoma Rescue Mission: Women and Family shelter. We served dinner to a lovely bunch of people, learned about the organization, and heard stories of families who have recovered while staying in their beautiful space. We enjoy volunteering at The Rescue Mission and can’t wait for next time!

In my twenty-plus years of representing people injured in auto collisions, rarely do my clients know what their auto policies cover.  Most often I hear, “I have full coverage.”  What that means is they don’t really know.  I will briefly describe the auto coverages commonly purchased.

In Washington state, if you own a vehicle you must have minimum liability limits for bodily injury of $25,000/$50,000/$10,000.  That means that if you cause a collision, your insurance company would not pay an injured person more than $25,000.  It also means that if two or more persons are injured, your insurance company would not pay more than $50,000 combined.  Your insurance company will pay up to $10,000 for damage to property.[1]   For example, the other car, fence, or building that you ran into and damaged.  Higher limits are available.

If your car is financed, the company who loaned you the money will most likely require that you have comprehensive and collision coverage.  However, these coverages are not mandated by statute.  These coverages pay for damage to your vehicle regardless of fault.  Usually there is a deductible paid by you.  Comprehensive coverage will pay for damage to your vehicle that is not a result of a collision.  For example: a tree falls on it, a baseball or golf ball hit your car, or theft.  Collision coverage will pay for damage as a result of your vehicle hitting or being hit by another vehicle.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is a no-fault coverage.  This means the insurance company pays without first making a determination of which driver was at fault for the collision.  There is immediate coverage for you and/or your passengers.  This coverage also extends to persons injured as a pedestrian or hit on a bicycle. The minimum coverage is $10,000.[2]  PIP also has income continuation, loss of services, and funeral expense benefits.  When you buy your auto policy PIP must be offered to you. If you choose not to buy PIP, there must be a written rejection.

Uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage will compensate you for injuries that are a result of a collision with an at-fault driver that does not have liability insurance or does not have adequate limits to compensate you.  Like PIP, when you buy your auto policy this coverage must be offered to you at the same limits as your liability coverage.  If you choose not to buy this coverage or limits different than your liability limits, you must sign a rejection.[3]

Unfortunately, when budgets get tight, people often cut corners by not purchasing PIP and UM/UIM coverage.  If you are injured in a collision due to the fault of another and don’t have health insurance, you have no way to pay for medical treatment that you may need.  Also, if you are injured by an uninsured driver, you will not be compensated for the injuries or property damage.

It is very important that you understand how to read your insurance policy.  Auto insurance policies are confusing documents, and I recommend you call your insurance agent and review your policy with him/her to ensure that you have adequate coverage. 

[1] RCW 46.29.090

[2] RCW 48.22.095

[3] RCW 48.22.030

John Ledford is Palace Law’s workers’ compensation lead attorney and workers’ compensation litigation manager.

What did you learn on the job that everyone should know?

Staying positive and thinking creatively solves most problems that arise.

What’s the most interesting case you’ve worked on?

One of the most memorable cases I worked on involved a family that lost a daughter due a very preventable medical error.  It taught me how short life can be, how important it is to be thankful for every day and how our actions can have a profound effect on others.

What legal wisdom do you give your friends and family?

Know your rights.  You cannot depend on others to explain or protect your rights when they do not have your best interest in mind.  Speaking with an experienced attorney before talking about your case with anyone else can prevent many legal problems.

It is that time of year again, the beloved tax season. The time of year when people scramble to find all tax records and documents to file before the April 15th deadline. Filing taxes usually raises questions about what qualifies as taxable income. Does a settlement from a personal injury claim qualify as taxable income? How about payments from the Department of Labor and Industries? These are significant questions as most of us begin to receive tax documents like W-2s, 1098s and 1099s. The good news is that payments to compensate for bodily injury are generally not taxable forms of income.

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