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Seattle ordinance confirms it's OK to to record police officers

Posted Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Christopher L. Thayer

PolicePeople often ask the question whether it’s legal for the public to record police activity. On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted to codify that right into the Seattle Municipal Code.

The First Amendment can offer protections to members of the public when they watch and record police. And a Seattle Police Department policy adopted in 2008 says bystanders may remain nearby and record the incident as long as they don’t interfere.

So, people already were allowed to watch and record police in Seattle. But the council’s vote means the rights of police observers are now recognized in city law.

The only exceptions are when an observer hinders, delays or compromises legitimate police activity, threatens someone’s safety or attempts to incite other people to violence.

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Photo credit: Watching Them Back, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Governor signs law allowing marjuana stores to give out lock boxes

Posted Wednesday, May 10, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

MarijuanaState law places strict limits on what marijuana stores can sell or give out. Soon, that list will see an increase.

Recently, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill allowing pot stores to give out small safes. The purpose of the bill is to stop children and animals from accidentally eating the marijuana.

House Bill 1250’s sponsor Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, said Mason County health officials have been pushing for the new law because they have a “large quantity” of small safes they’re planning to supply to the county’s marijuana shops.

The freebies are sparked by reports of children eating marijuana-infused foods when people don’t keep them secure, Griffey said. While perhaps not as serious as prescription drugs, he said, it can still result in emergency room trips.

The new law also allows shops to sell safes as long as they’re not making a profit.

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Holding a cell phone while driving illegal in 2019

Posted Wednesday, April 26, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

DrivingThe Washington legislature has passed its distracted driving measure, making it illegal to hold a phone while driving. It remains to be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, which is expected to happen within the next few weeks.

“I am just thrilled that we have been able to forge a step forward on distracted driving,” Inslee said Thursday. “Pain and suffering and tragedy caused by this inattentiveness is very hard to bear.”

Under the measure passed this week, the standard traffic fine of $136 would apply to a first offense but would increase to about $235 for a second offense. The first distracted driving offense would also be reportable to insurance companies, which could raise rates like any other moving violation.

The law would go into effect in January 2019.

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Photo credit: driving while on cell phone, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Washington Supreme Court: The Boundaries of Co-employee Tort Immunity, Revisited

Posted Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

EmployeesIn October 2015, the Court of Appeals, Division I, held that the tort immunity provided by Workers’ Compensation law did not apply when one employee is injured by a co-employee, where the co-employee was not “on the clock” when the injury occurred. At the time, I reviewed that case here.

Since then, this case went up to the Washington Supreme Court, who on January 12, 2017 agreed with the Court of Appeals (Case No. 92581-0). As such, I take this opportunity to review this case anew.

Cool and Entila both worked for Boeing. After Cook finished work, he went to his car to leave. He was driving his car on a Boeing access road when he struck and injured Entila. Entila received Workers’ Compensation benefits for his injuries, and also filed suit against Cook for negligence.

Entila argued Cook must show he was doing work for Boeing at the time of the crash to receive immunity, which Cook was not. By contrast, Cook claimed immunity because he was “acting in the course of employment,” a broader definition used to determine whether an injured worker is entitled to Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ Compensation law defines “acting in the course of employment” as including “time spent going to and from work on the jobsite,” and does not require the worker to be “doing the work on which his or her compensation is based.” RCW 51.08.013(1).

The Supreme Court noted that the “acting in the course of employment” definition applies only to Entila’s eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits and Boeing’s immunity from suit as Entila’s employer – not to Cook’s immunity from suit as a co-employee. Under Workers’ Compensation law, Cook is not eligible for immunity unless he is in the “same employ” as Entila. RCW 51.24.030(1).

These two different immunities serve different purposes. A worker’s eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits (which, by extension, immunizes the employer from further suit), is meant to be analyzed in favor of the injured worker. The statutory language itself expands benefit eligibility beyond when the employee is working, also encompassing injuries occurring while going to and from work. By contrast, the law on third-party liability favors allowing third-party actions (not barring them), and thus favor interpreting immunity narrowly (not broadly).

Given this distinction, the Supreme Court held that, to show he was in the “same employ” as Entila, Cook must establish not only that he had the same employer as Entila, but that Cook was performing duties for his employer when the injuries occurred. The fact that Entila received Workers’ Compensation benefits for the same injury has no bearing on determining whether Cook was immune.

This case reaffirms the right of the injured to sue the third-party that injured him even when eligible to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits, which the Court has previously recognized as a “valuable right to the workman.” Michaels v. CH2M Hill, Inc., 171 Wn.2d 587, 599, 257 P.3d 532 (2011).

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/rob_gonyea-59290

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Distracted driving cited for spike in pedestrian deaths in 2016

Posted Wednesday, April 5, 2017 by Christopher L. Thayer

PedestriansState data released last Thursday demonstrate that pedestrian deaths are increasing at a faster rate than motorist deaths, and reached nearly 6,000 last year.

Increased driving due to an improved economy, lower gas prices and more walking for exercise and environmental factors are some of the likely reasons behind the estimated 11 percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in 2016. The figures were prepared for the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices.

But researchers say they think the biggest factor may be more drivers and walkers distracted by cellphones and other electronic devices, although that’s hard to confirm.

Walking and miles driven are up only a few percentage points, and are unlikely to account for most of the surge in pedestrian deaths, said Richard Retting, safety director for Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants and the author of the report. Meanwhile, texting and use of wireless devices have exploded, he said.

“It’s the only factor that that seems to indicate a dramatic change in how people behave,” Retting said.

This new data comes out at the same time as two companion “distracted driving” bills are being considered by the Washington legislature, one of which we wrote about last month. The first, SB 5289, has passed the Senate and is currently in House Committee. The second, HB 1371, has passed the House and is currently on second reading by Rules Committee.

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