Washington Legal News
Brett Murphy attorney Paula McCandlis was recently interviewed on South Fork Law. The interview was fun and fascinating!
Paula was interviewed by former Bellingham attorney Jill Berstein, and was joined by Bellingham attorneys Doug Hyldahl and David Nelson. Paula talked about her unique legal background, and about her transition from solo family law practice to personal injury and wrongful death law practice with Brett Murphy. Paula recalls some major life experiences and lessons that brought her to her current place with a succesful law practice.
Hear the full interview at the South Fork Law site.
Paula's background in the Pacific Northwest, her years putting herself through college and law school, and her early days as a new family law attorney trying to learn her true role as she tried to help her struggling divorce clients, make for a fascinating interview. Her insights into the most effective methods to truly help her clients will be valuable to any attorney in any practice area.
Learn more about Paula and her experience at her biography page. Paula also maintains a blog, called Paula's Page, where she keeps us all up to date on her travels, social functions, and work as the Whatcom County Bar Association President 2014.
If you have questions about a personal injury claim or have been injured and need information, contact Brett Murphy today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our easy contact form.
I have been practicing law and handling personal injury claims in Seattle for 26 years. Recently, I have seen a huge upswing in advertising by predatory pre-litigation loan companies offering high-interest rate loans to injured people who are desperate for immediate funds to pay mounting medical bills, to replace damaged vehicles, or to live off of while they are unable to work due to their injuries.
I have also seen the financial disaster that can result when a client signs up for one of these loans. Let me describe a recent experience that illustrates what can happen when a client takes a pre-litigation loan.
I had a client who borrowed $6,000 in a pre-litigation loan, prior to my becoming his attorney. By the time I got his case, he owed that predatory lender $54,000. The result to my client was that, even though I was able to get that loan balance reduced, most of his net settlement went to the predatory lender to pay off the balance of that loan, instead of to my client. He had signed a written contract which was legally enforceable.”
I was left with an unhappy client in considerable financial difficulty. This is never the desired outcome for any case.
Since a $10,000 pre-litigation loan can grow to a $30,000, $40,000 or even higher debt, the loan can create a huge financial burden that eats up any settlement money his clients obtain, money that should go towards long-term healing and financial recovery.
A little research into the advertising messages of these loan companies offers insight into why these loans sound so attractive to someone in the middle of a legal claim. One company describes its services as “the safe, easy alternative to the lawsuit loan: cash advances for injured people!” Another company says that “you can get the cash you need today and the breathing room you need to wait for a fair, and often higher settlement.” They suggest that the loan will allow the borrower to feel less pressure to settle a case for less than its full value.
Another claim from these companies is that the loan will not have to be repaid if the client does not get a settlement or verdict on his claim, a client who “loses” his or her case.
But this part of the offer is misleading. Since these loan companies investigate the potential value of each case prior to offering a loan on it, they only give loans to clients with cases that have a high chance of settling, although the amount of the settlement or verdict cannot always be accurately predicted in advance. This is one of the major dangers of the pre-litigation loan, since the client is forced to guess what the eventual settlement or verdict amount might be and gamble a high-interest loan against it.
These loans are extremely expensive, and the loan companies prey on the desperation of injured clients who feel they have no other options left. The interest rates of the loans are not clearly defined on the company websites, and potential borrowers are urged to call immediately, to be hit with a high-pressure sales pitch that offers an immediate solution to the borrower’s financial worries. It turns out that the interest rates are exorbitant, and they can create huge problems down the road.
But there are other options available, and EVERY option should be considered prior to taking a pre-litigation loan. For example, many doctors will accept a “Letter of Protection” from an attorney, which essentially states that the attorney will guarantee to pay the doctor out of the proceeds of the client’s net settlement, in exchange for the doctor providing treatment and waiting to be paid until the case has been concluded. Some doctors will treat “on a lien” which means they file a lien to protect their fees, and once it is filed they will agree to treat and then be paid at the conclusion of the case.
Other options include borrowing money from a bank or credit union, or even taking a line of credit on your home to pay medical treatment bills. These loans do charge interest of course, but at reasonable rates. Some people are able to borrow money from family or friends, too, and pay them interest for that privilege.
In addition, sometimes an attorney can help find insurance coverage to pay for some or all of treatment costs. In some cases, more than one insurance policy is in effect and provides coverage. If all else fails, there may be temporary public assistance available to pay for needed treatment. It is true that clients have to re-pay public assistance when they settle their claims. But again, that is reasonable and much cheaper than paying the outrageous interest of a pre-litigation loan.
- Steve Knapp
If you have been injured, are dealing with insurance adjusters and growing medical bills and you need information about your rights and options, contact Brett Murphy today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our easy contact form.
Our own Brett Murphy attorney Rand Jack recently wrote an article for a wonderful Pacific Northwest magazine called Adventures NW. This publication is one of the region’s leading source of outdoors information for a number of years. With a focus on hiking, climbing, running, cycling, paddling, sailing, surfing, skiing, boarding, and snowshoeing, the magazine offers valuable information for enthusiasts of these sports and hobbies. Go to this link to view the Winter 2013 edition, which includes Rand's article on page 10.
Rand's article is about Bud Anderson, founder of the nonprofit organization called Falcon Research Group, dedicated to the support of field research, public education, and the conservation of raptors. Learn more about the Falcon Research Group by going to their website.
Bud Anderson teaches raptor classes to educate the public about these wonderful creatures. To see the upcoming class schedule and to register, please go to http://www.frg.org/classes.htm.
While Rand Jack has spent his professional life as an attorney and a Professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, he has spent his private life engaging in his hobbies that include birding. To that end, he has traveled the world observing birds of all species, and has gained extraordinarily deep knowledge of all types of birds. Rand has turned his passion into a unique art form. In his home studio, he creates custom life-sized bird carvings, available of any bird species, carved from a variety of natural woods. Go to http://www.birdsbyrandjack.com/ to see Rand's work and learn more about his art.
We are very pleased to announce that Brett Murphy attorney Paula McCandlis elected as Whatcom County Bar Association President for 2014!
On December 4, 2013, the Whatcom County Bar Association unanimously voted Paula as the incoming 2014 President.
The Whatcom County Bar Association promotes the needs of the legal community and the community at large, to cultivate goodwill among its members and local citizens, to participate in charity events, to offer no-cost legal services, and to support the continuing education goals of its members.
Paula McCandlis intends to run efficient monthly meetings to coordinate the bar association activities, orchestrate the twice yearly swearing-in events for new attorneys, organize the Whatcom Skagit Island County Golf Tournament, and to create opportunities for attorneys to meet, to make contacts, and to access continuing education. She plans on being a point of contact for attorneys new to Whatcom County, and is looking forward to re-introducing herself to local attorneys.
As President of the Whatcom County Bar Association, Paula becomes a Board Member of Legal Assistance of Whatcom (LAW) Advocates. LAW Advocates provides free legal help – including advice, representation, and other assistance – for low-income individuals and families facing urgent non-criminal legal problems. This vital work is accomplished through the generosity of 230 local volunteer attorneys, paralegals, students, and community members. Paula is very pleased for the chance to work closely with this dedicated group. To learn more about their mission and programs, call (360) 671-6079 or go to www.lawadvocates.org.
In her professional life, Paula McCandlis is a partner at Brett Murphy Coats Knapp McCandlis & Brown, a personal injury law firm with offices in Bellingham, Seattle, and across Washington State. She dedicates her work to helping seriously injured people get their lives back on track. Her goal is to secure her clients' financial futures so they can recover.
If you have been injured in an accident and need information on your rights and options, contact Brett Murphy today. You can call us at 1-800-925-1875 or complete our contact form. We will get right back to you.
Another One Bites the Dust – U.S. Supreme Court Rules that ERISA Plans May Chase Funds Outside the Control of a Beneficiary - by David Brown
On November 12, the United States State Supreme Court denied cert in ACS Recovery Services, Inc., v. Griffin 723 F.3d 518 (5th Cir. 2013), preserving a 5th Circuit Court ruling which closed the door on another means of avoiding reimbursement of ERISA plans when a catastrophically injured beneficiary is not made whole.
To gain more background information on ACS Recovery Services v Griffin, go to this U.S. 5th Circuit Court page.
Prior to the Griffin decision, some attorneys were attempting to shield their personal injury clients’ recoveries from ERISA plans by transferring these funds to a special needs or other type of trust outside the “possession and control” of the plaintiff. The position of these plaintiffs’ attorneys was that an ERISA plan could not seek “appropriate equitable relief” if the plaintiff and beneficiary of the ERISA plan did not have possession and control over the settlements funds. This view was based primarily on a 5th Circuit case Bombardier Aerospace Emp. Welfare Benefits Plan v. Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough, 354 F.3d 348 (5th Cir. 2003).
Unfortunately, Griffin partially overruled Bombardier, holding that because the ERISA plan held a pre-existing lien by agreement, the subsequent transfer of funds to the special needs trust was essentially tainted and did not destroy the ability of the ERISA plan to assert an equitable lien.
The take away is this - there was a thought that one way to defeat ERISA reimbursement is to simply disburse the money to the client, a trust, or a structure, and this would prevent the ERISA plan from asserting its lien because the money was no longer identifiable. Unfortunately, this won’t work and risks a judgment against your firm or the client for the lien asserted by the plan.
There is one glimmer of hope contained in the 5th Circuit opinion. The court held that under section 502(a)(3)(B) of ERISA, the ERISA plan could not chase settlement monies paid to another party for their personal claims arising out of an incident resulting in payments to a beneficiary. That is, if a spouse, dependant, or other individual has a derivative claim for loss of consortium or some other basis, this money cannot be reached by the plan.
Therefore, if you are structuring a recovery, it may benefit your client’s family to earmark as much of the recovery as possible as going towards loss of consortium claims and the like, as opposed to compensating the injured party, and thus put the money out of reach of an ERISA plan seeking reimbursement.
If you have questions regarding reimbursement and subrogation, I have a collection of other articles regarding these topics on my website at http://www.washingtoninjury.com/legal_news.
- David Brown
If you have been injured and need information about your rights and options, you can contact me by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our contact form.
It used to be that Black Friday was the height of American consumerism - rabid shoppers rising at the break of day to engage in bargain hunting on a grand and aggressive scale, bent on scoring huge savings on Christmas gifts, and the retailers equally bent on providing ample opportunity for shoppers to spend themselves silly. The perfect storm of capitalism, wrapped in a shiny non-recyclable holiday bow and blessed by the Almighty Dollar. But now, even that bastion of the season’s tradition has been overturned by a new, equally heart-warming tradition, lovingly called Grey Thursday.
For the past few years, a large number of national retailers including Macy’s, Walmart, Sears, and K-Mart, will open their doors on Thanksgiving Day so that America’s shoppers can abandon the turkey, stuffing, and gravy to frantically spend their holiday dollars one day sooner. Forget about the national Thanksgiving holiday proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Forget about taking that day to spend with family and friends, to acknowledge and be thankful for the people and things in our lives. The Thanksgiving holiday seems destined for extinction, bowing to the evolutionary pressure of American consumerism.
Well, perhaps personal injury law firms should follow suit. Perhaps we should all bow to the public’s desire for constant access to goods and services, and for businesses’ desire to bring in constant income and outshine all competitors. Hmmm, I wonder what that would look like…
I know, how about this. We could keep our office open on Thanksgiving Day, so that anyone who just HAS to sue someone wouldn’t have to wait even a minute, much less a whole 24 hours. That way, we can crush our competitors who have been misguided enough to take a day off to express thankfulness for all that they have, and all that this fine system has provided them.
And to meet the needs of the public to take advantage of discounted services, we can offer a 25% discount to prospective clients who have been injured by the sale-priced, foreign-made defective products that they buy on Thanksgiving from the cheapest source possible. That way the consumer wins twice - once by getting the cheapest deal on the cheapest products from the soul-less mega retailers who will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner as usual while their poorly paid employees are forced to miss out on theirs, and once by reaping a financial settlement when the shoddy products blow up in their faces. Double bonus… a consumer’s dream.
While my tone is obviously meant to be snarky and sarcastic, I truly find this new trend disturbing. For many years I worked in the retail and restaurant industries, where I knew that I would often have to work on weekends and evenings. But at least I had my major holidays to look forward to, when even the retail industry allowed their workers a paid vacation. You know, the Big 3 – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Now, I am forced to wonder if the other two holidays are nearing extinction as well.
My hope is that all shoppers just stay home on Thanksgiving Day, cook some poultry, invite the whole family over, and celebrate our time together. I can’t think of a better way to give the big retailers a bigger message – our families and our traditions are more important than your bottom line.
Disclaimer – I was kidding about the 25% discount. That’s just crazy talk!
- Ingrid Taylor, Brett Murphy paralegal and resident snark
P.S. if you are injured in an accident with an at-fault party who should have stayed home rather than driving, contact us by calling 1-800-925-1875, or by completing our contact form. You won't find a better law firm to help you - and that's no talking turkey!
I recently read plaintiff personal injury lawyer Stephan Futeral’s review of Stanford Law School Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom’s recent study of what she calls “settlement mills.”
This much-needed analysis of the current state of personal injury law brings up these questions:
- How can a potential client identify what a settlement mill firm looks like?
- How can someone avoid having their personal injury claim settled for less than its full value by an unethical attorney?
In her in-depth analysis, Professor Engstrom defines a settlement mill as “high-volume personal injury law practices that aggressively advertise and mass produce the resolution of claims, typically with little client interaction and without initiating lawsuits, much less taking claims to trial.” She defines the characteristics of a settlement mill, completes analysis of several sample firms that meet those criteria, assesses the relationship between settlement mills and insurance companies, and concludes that the new settlement mill system can be advantageous for personal injury clients with relatively small cases but can be disadvantageous for clients with more serious injuries and larger claims.
Personal injury attorney Stephan Futeral looked closely at the Engstrom study and described his personal experience with a settlement mill, when he interviewed for a position with a large personal injury firm in Georgia. He was told that he would be expected to handle an extraordinarily high number of cases, but that he would rarely meet with clients and wouldn’t personally manage claims. He chose not to take the position because he knew he could never effectively manage such a high volume of cases, and he wasn’t willing to give his clients substandard legal services merely to increase company profits. In short, he was an ethical lawyer.
As personal injury attorneys, we all know these mills exist, places where clients are shuttled to inadequate settlements of serious injury claims, where “lawyers” maximize the fees they earn rather than maximizing the client’s recovery. Settlement mill lawyers maximize their per hour fees by settling valid claims for cents on the dollar without investing any legal effort. Ethical lawyers invest the legal time and resources it takes to maximize the injured party’s claim value.
The question then is: How do we warn injured potential clients about these “settlement mills” and give them a way to avoid such mills?
In her article, Professor Engstrom lists 10 characteristics of settlement mills, four of which are key to identifying this type of firm:
- The firm takes on a high volume of personal injury cases;
- They acquire the vast majority of their clients via aggressive advertising;
- They engage in “entrepreneurial legal practices,”, here defined as handling claims using standardized processes delegated to less-expensive non-lawyers who do no fact checking and handle important aspects of the cases including settlement negotiations.
- They rarely take cases to trial and rarely refer cases to other firms for litigation.
I suggest that lawyers who take their ethical duties seriously resolve to advise potential clients to do a thorough investigation of any plaintiff personal injury lawyer before making a hiring decision. Since potential clients have no way of knowing whether a law firm handles a high volume of cases, how much they spend on advertising, what their practices for case management are, and what their track record of settlements vs. litigation is, potential clients should:
- Look at the lawyer’s track record at trial. Lawyers who do not disclose that information on their websites probably don’t have much to brag about. Website descriptions of trial results should be complete, not just a list without sufficient detail to allow the reader to understand the case result.
- Examine well known attorney ranking sites. There are several ranking sites that provide free information to the public, to help potential clients make informed choices. Settlement mill firms and attorneys will likely not have the top rankings and reputations on these sites. These ranking sites include: AVVO.com, where the best attorneys are given a rating of 10/10; Martindale-Hubbell AV ratings, “Super Lawyer” status from Super Lawyers Magazine, and admission into selective professional organizations such as the American College of Trial Lawyers.
- Actually interview several lawyers. Whether a client can develop trust and confidence in an attorney can best be determined by face to face contact. “Settlement mill” lawyers rarely take the time to participate in such an initial interview.
- Get a referral from someone. One of the most reliable ways to find an ethical personal injury attorney is to get a referral from someone who has had a good experience with their own injury claim.
Ethical lawyers can take a stand against “settlement mills” only by helping potential clients understand that such mills exist, and by showing them how to avoid these legal scam artists. In return, the legal profession can improve its reputation while significantly strengthening the quality of service offered to clients.
- Dean Brett
If you have been seriously injured in an accident and need information about your rights and options, contact the Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our confidential contact form.
Recently, Slate.com posted an article on Kevin Trudeau’s most recent $37 million fine, and likely imprisonment for contempt of court when this notorious snake oil salesman doesn’t pay up. This article, titled “Kevin Trudeau: Quackery Promoter Jailed for Contempt,” struck a chord for me, because it highlights how the law, something that people often criticize as being predatory itself and designed to help the rich and powerful, is often the only tool that can be used to eradicate this kind of predatory greed.
As many of you probably know, Kevin Trudeau is the well-known television salesman and infomercial host who has been gracing late-night and mid-day TV screens for years. The products that he pitches include health aids, dietary supplements, treatments for baldness and addiction, memory-improvement courses, and real estate investment strategies. And through the course of this dubious yet lucrative career, he has been the defendant in several law suits, has been convicted of larceny and credit card fraud, and has had millions of dollars in fines levied against him for his sales and business practices. Most recently he was jailed for failure to pay a $37 million fine levied against him in 2010.
This current sanction comes after a string of legal actions by the Federal Trade Commission, The New York State Consumer Protection Board, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies which filed lawsuits and obtained huge fines against Trudeau and his various companies.
Since as a personal injury attorney I spend the bulk of my day protecting hurt people from being taken advantage of by corporations and insurance companies, it is gratifying to see a bad guy get his comeuppance, in this case in the form of significant jail time and the utter ruin of an empire built on fraud and deceit.
However, as a lawyer, particularly a lawyer practicing in a field (personal injury law) often criticized by the public, I was moved to write this piece because the article by author Phil Plait appeared not in a legal blog but Slate.com’s science column “Bad Astronomy”. The article ends with this statement:
“Our best weapons against nonsense are critical thinking and our loud voices. And sometimes, as it should, the law helps as well.”
This comment, in fact the entire piece brought to mind my response to those most vehement critics of the legal profession. The response is simply this - when all else fails, it is the law, and the lawyers and judges who administer it, who must fix these otherwise intractable ills of our society. In the case of Kevin Trudeau, who was allowed to defraud the public out of millions of dollars for years, it was the law that finally shut him down. His fraudulent practices, his outrageous medical claims that were reinforced by no actual science, his promises of perfect health and riches, had been going on for years and had been criticized by government agencies, watchdog organizations, medical professionals, and others, all of whom had no ability to force Trudeau to quit. It was the law that achieved this.
The law is the ultimate power against other social ills as well. Lawyers and lawsuits have been at the forefront in the successful efforts to bring an end to racial segregation, sexual harassment, and dangerous products. Legal changes have been the method to ensure safe workplaces. These are examples of social issues that reason, morality, intellectualism, science, public discourse, and the free market have failed to remedy.
As the “last house on the block,” the law is often the only solution to enact authentic and permanent social change, and to force shysters like Trudeau to end their unethical practices. The law is often the last place people have to turn to for relief from fraud, thievery, and corruption.
If you need advice about your rights and options after being injured in a car accident, contact the Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our convenient contact form.
We recently wrote about Washington State’s new marijuana regulations, adopted by the Liquor Control Board, and we received a huge response from folks regarding the issue of marijuana intoxication. Here are some of the comments we received:
- How can a consumer know if they are too stoned to drive?
- How exactly do the new regulations define marijuana intoxication and impairment?
- If someone smokes marijuana and then gets pulled over by police, how is it determined if the driver is impaired?
- What is the legal penalty for a conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana?
For the Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys, these questions are crucial as we try to understand how the new regulations will affect our car accident cases. We regularly represent clients injured in accidents involving drunk drivers, and we wonder if there will be an increase in cases involving stoned drivers. We wonder if a plaintiff who was stoned at the time of the accident will be considered negligent, even when not at fault for the crash.
So we thought it was time to do some research regarding what marijuana intoxication means for drivers, and how law enforcement will be able to accurately identify and cite a driver who is under the influence.
At first glance, the new regulations seem reasonable. Assuming that marijuana is a drug that can cause intoxication in larger doses, there should be laws against driving after using this drug. The problem is - how can the level of a driver’s marijuana intoxication be reliably measured? What does marijuana intoxication look like? What are the symptoms? And how can a law enforcement officer tell?
According to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the agency that will regulate marijuana production, distribution, and taxation, the recently passed Initiative I-502 “sets a per se DUI limit of "delta-9" THC levels at greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (5 ng/mL). State and local law enforcement agencies are tasked with enforcing the DUI limit.”
OK, that seems to be a clear measure for a DUI arrest. Unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies that must enforce this limit are given no information on exactly how to do this. At the Washington State Patrol website, no information is given to the public in terms of how the agency plans to enforce the new regulations.
Upon further research, we found on the site of local attorney Jonathan Rands this description of the training that law enforcement officers will receive, to give them tools to identify roadside if a driver is under the influence of drugs. This training will help law enforcement recognize the warning signs of intoxication, and will also give them probable cause to request a blood test that will accurately measure the drug levels.
At the Seattle.gov site, we found a more comprehensive description of what will happen to drivers in the Seattle metropolitan area who are pulled over by law enforcement. The Seattle Police Department Blotter, dated November 9, 2012, states:
“If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.”
OK, as best we can tell, this seems like the most current plan to deal with the potential for marijuana-intoxicated drivers.
However, this plan does nothing to inform drivers how to know when they are intoxicated by marijuana and should not drive. With alcohol, there is a lot of research and data showing that the human body can process one drink per hour, what the size and potency of that drink is, and that drinking more than that will result in intoxication. Of course, the effects of alcohol vary from person to person, and are affected by:
- food intake;
- sleep and illness;
- body size;
So presumably, similar variations will occur with marijuana intake and intoxication as well. However, given the range in potency amongst the different strains of marijuana, and the different rates of ingestion depending on the method used to ingest the drug, the individual effects on an individual person will vary wildly.
When we did research on the data regarding marijuana intoxication, and the results were decidedly less clear cut. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states, in regards to interpreting blood tests, that “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person's THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.” NHTSA also states that “Effects from smoking cannabis products are felt within minutes and reach their peak in 10-30 minutes. Typical marijuana smokers experience a high that lasts approximately 2 hours. Most behavioral and physiological effects return to baseline levels within 3-5 hours after drug use.”
Dr. Matthew C. Lee, a physician and pharmacologist, states that:
“The difficulty and so far the prohibitive factor in accurately establishing an absolute correlation between some measured value, i.e. blood concentration of Δ-9 THC (the primary psychoactive component in marijuana) and intoxication (where intoxication and impairment for the purpose of this article are equivalent) of a given individual is the complex pharmacology and pharmacokinetics of marijuana.”
Dr. Lee also says that “as of 2010 there is no reliable method of quantitatively determining if a person is impaired due to marijuana consumption on blood or body fluid concentrations alone…. And given the complex pharmacology of marijuana, and multitude of individual characteristics that determine the impairment or intoxication due to marijuana consumption, it will likely be a long time before we see this technology commercially available.”
There is not much long-term research on the role that marijuana usage plays in car accidents. The British Medical Journal recently reported a study that found that “driving under the influence of cannabis was associated with a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle collisions compared with unimpaired driving.” Other studies find similar data, while some studies refute these claims. The long-standing organization The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), while certainly with some bias, reviewed the results of numerous studies that found marijuana intoxication did not appear to play a significant role in car crashes.
OK then. Washington State consumers of legal marijuana find themselves on a slippery slope in terms of driving stoned. As with alcohol consumption, it is legal to drive after having consumed the drug, but only to a certain point. The decision for a driver to get behind the wheel is solely theirs, and drivers are expected to make good decisions about their capacities to drive safely under the influence, based only upon how much they think they have consumed and they are feeling at the time.
Once a driver is pulled over by law enforcement, for any reason, the officer has the right to arrest the driver for intoxication, based upon the officer’s observance of driving actions and driver behavior. Apparently the officer has the discretion to request a blood test, to check for alcohol or marijuana intoxication. It is unclear how the testing process will be handled and paid for, what will happen if the arrested driver has the option to refuse a blood test, and how that refusal will affect the charges against him.
Also unclear is how these issues will be handled within the judicial system. For example, what will be the effect of a charge of marijuana intoxication be addressed by a defense attorney? Will this charge hold up in court, given the lack of certainty and scientific evidence that the charge is just? Will appeals courts be inundated with a host of marijuana cases, similar to past experience related to the validity of breath tests for alcohol?
The ever-changing landscape of legal marijuana is fascinating to watch as it evolves. As legal professionals, we are keeping our eye on how statutes and case law are applied, and we will continue to post on these issues as they arise. As personal injury lawyers, we are closely watching to see if marijuana intoxication charges begin to show up in case law, and we wonder how that will affect our clients’ claims.
For now, it appears that users of legal marijuana need to be aware of the drug’s effects and of the potential for criminal charges if caught driving under the influence. It’s also important to know that these new regulations are in flux, changing rapidly, and will undoubtedly continue to morph as they take affect and are challenged in courts. We will continue to watch and report on the issues that arise out of Washington’s new recreational marijuana use laws.
If you have been injured in an accident and need information about your rights and options, contact the Brett Murphy personal injury lawyers today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our convenient contact form.
When Brett Murphy client Hailey French was awarded a $5.5 million verdict in her personal injury case against a drunk driver and two government agencies that were also negligent, we heard some backlash from folks who couldn’t understand why so much money should go to one person, even though that person was severely injured. Some people felt that there was no justification for giving millions of dollars to our client, even though she nearly died in the car accident, went through 13 surgeries and years of medical treatment, and will carry the scars and disability caused by her injuries for the rest of her life.
But to truly understand why a multi-million dollar verdict is appropriate in this case, you need only to watch the new video called Hailey’s Story, created by Hailey French in collaboration with the Washington Association for Justice, to learn why this verdict will perhaps only cover Hailey’s medical bills during her lifetime.
Hailey’s story begins in a dark Whatcom County highway back in 2007, when she was driving to work and was hit head-on by a drunk driver. But the whole story begins much earlier, when the same drunk driver was put on probation for a previous drunk driving arrest. One condition of her probation was to have an alcohol interlock device installed on her vehicle. The driver never complied with this condition, and the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department never complied with its requirement to ensure the interlock device was installed. Because of this negligence, the drunk driver was able to drink and drive again.
Earlier in the evening on the night of Hailey’s crash, the drunk driver had been arrested by a Washington State Patrol trooper. Instead of putting the drunk driver in jail, and instead of impounding her car, the trooper gave the drunk a ride home, gave her back the car keys, and told her not to drive until she was sober.
Instead, the drunk called a cab, went back to her parked car, and attempted to drive back home. In the process, she crossed the centerline and hit Hailey head on, nearly killing her.
Brett Murphy attorney Dean Brett took on this challenging case, knowing that there was only $25,000 in insurance coverage available from the drunk driver’s policy. After a lengthy trial, Hailey French was awarded $5.5 million, the largest jury verdict in Skagit County history.
Following this verdict, Hailey French worked with Washington State lawmakers to create Hailey’s Law, which requires law enforcement officers to impound the vehicles of drunk drivers for 12 hours, to avoid the tragedy that happened to Hailey. The new law will significantly increase safety on Washington State roads and freeways.
Read more details of the crash and the case at our page called Hailey’s Story.
If you have been seriously injured in a car accident and need information about your rights and options, contact the Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our convenient contact form.