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Case Law Update: Does falling out of your car constitute a “Motor Vehicle Accident”?

Posted Friday, July 21, 2017 by Christopher L. Thayer

In a recent unpublished decision by the Court of Appeals (Division III), Ramm v. Farmers Insurance Company (No. 34542-4), the court addressed whether or not a person who falls partially out of a vehicle while parked and is injured is entitled to Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) benefits under their insurance policy.

In Ramm, Mr. Ramm was driving with his son in Spokane when he began to feel nauseous. Believing he was going to be sick, Mr. Ramm turned his vehicle to a side street and pulled over toward the side of the road. The vehicle was placed in park but the keys remained in the ignition with the engine running. Mr. Ramm then unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned out the driver’s door to vomit onto the road. But he passed out and fell forward onto the pavement, striking his head and suffering significant injuries. After falling and while still unconscious, Mr. Ramm began bleeding profusely. His head and upper body fell outside the vehicle but his legs and feet remained inside near the pedals for the accelerator and brakes. Mr. Ramm’s son drove his father to the emergency room.

The Ramms accumulated medical bills in excess of $10,000 for treatment of Mr. Ramm’s injuries. Mr. Ramm submitted a PIP claim under his personal automobile policy with Farmers. The insurance policy agreement provides Farmers “will provide the benefits described [in the policy] for bodily injury to each Insured person caused by a motor vehicle accident.”

Farmers declined coverage. Farmers contended a motor vehicle accident only occurs “when the covered motor vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle” and “a motor vehicle is not being operated as a motor vehicle when parked,” relying on Tyrrell v. Farmers Ins. Co., 140 Wn 2nd 129, 994 P.2d 833 (2000). Farmers argued Mr. Ramm sustained his injuries by falling from a parked vehicle, the events leading to those injuries could not be considered a motor vehicle accident and he was not entitled to PIP coverage. Ramms filed suit to compel coverage and the trial court sided with Farmers Insurance – dismissing their suit.

The Court of Appeals noted “[w]e have held the term motor vehicle accident unambiguously refers to an incident where one or more vehicles come in forceful contact with another vehicle or a person, causing physical injury.” Citing to the Tyrrell decision, the Court of Appeals stated:

[A] motor vehicle accident occurs when a motor vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle… A motor vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle when it is being driven or when it is stopped while being driven. For example, if a tree limb were to fall on the motor vehicle while a person was driving or had stopped while driving, that would constitute a ’motor vehicle accident.’ On the other hand, a motor vehicle is not being operated as a motor vehicle when parked.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. It should be noted this decision is “unpublished” (a bit of a misnomer), which means it has no precedential value. It may also be appealed to the Washington Supreme Court. However, it is illustrative of how another court might likely rule under these unusual circumstances. This decision is a reminder that insurance is a contract, not a “right” and your benefits are defined in the contract – your policy of insurance.

If you have any questions about a motor vehicle accident or related insurance coverage issues, feel free to contact Pivotal attorney Chris Thayer at (206) 805-1494 or CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com.

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Washington becomes fifth state to mandate paid family leave

Posted Thursday, July 6, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

Family LeaveOn Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a measure promising to cover workers’ income when taking time off for the birth of a child. Washington will become the fifth state to offer such protections.

Washington’s new law, which takes effect in 2020, is among the most generous of the five states’ laws. It covers 12 weeks of guaranteed pay, plus two more for complicated pregnancies, and it allows low-wage workers to collect at least 90 percent of their weekly income.

“This is a revolutionary bill,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of the advocacy group MomsRising, whose 40,000 Washington members spent a decade working for its passage. Late last month, the bill passed the state Senate 37-12 and the House 65-29.

While other states have appended family-leave laws to existing statutes covering temporary disability, Washington’s is the first to be built from scratch.

“It’s a real tip-of-the-arrow bill, a model that is going to break down the walls for other states. In that sense, this is a victory for families across America,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

Click here for a link to the full article or see the link below:


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Case Law Update: Killing boundary tree subjects neighbor to lawsuit for damages

Posted Wednesday, June 28, 2017 by Christopher L. Thayer

Dead TreeIn a recent case before Division II of the Washington Court of Appeals, Herring v. Pelayo (No. 48786-1-II), the court revisited the “boundary tree” doctrine established by the Happy Bunch, LLC v. Grandview case, 142 Wn. App. 81 (2007), and harmonize it with the general proposition that a land owner has the right to trim branches or roots from a tree on a neighbor’s property – to the extent the branches or roots extend onto their property.

It has been long established in Washington that a landowner has the legal right to “engage in self-help and trim the branches and roots of a neighbor’s tree that encroach on his or her property.” Mustoe v. Ma, 193 Wn. App. 161 (2016). The court in Mustoe rejected arguments by appellant that when trimming encroaching branches or roots the landowner has a duty of care to avoid damaging the neighbor’s tree.

The Court in Happy Bunch dealt with a tree directly on the boundary line between two properties and found:

[A] tree, standing directly on the line between adjoining owners, so that the line passes through it, is the common property of both parties, whether marked or not; and trespass will lie if one cuts and destroys it without the consent of the other.

Herring v. Pelayo arises out of a classic neighbor dispute. The Herrings and Pelayos are neighbors who share a common property line. On or about December 2, 2011, the Herrings hired a tree trimmer to remove some branches from a tree that was located on the common property line. The Herrings did not discuss their plan to remove branches from the tree with the Pelayos. The Pelayos believed that the manner in which the tree branches were removed caused the tree to become unbalanced and that the unbalanced tree constituted a danger to their home and their safety. On December 31, 2011, the Pelayos hired a tree trimmer to remove all the remaining branches from the boundary tree without first discussing their plan with the Herrings. The removal of all the remaining branches caused the boundary tree to die.

The Herrings sued the Pelayo under Washington’s “timber trespass” statute (RCW 64.12.030) and for general trespass under RCW 4.24.630. The matter proceeded to trial. Pelayo testified: (1) he knew the tree at issue was on the Pelayos’ and Herrings’ common property line, (2) he directed his tree trimmer to remove all of the remaining branches from the tree, (3) he did not discuss his plan to remove the remaining branches with the Herrings, (4) the tree was alive prior to the removal of the remaining branches, and (5) he believed that removing the remaining branches would kill the tree.

Moreover, as tenants in common, the Pelayos and Herrings were each entitled to use, maintain, and possess the boundary tree, but not in a manner that “interfere[d] with the coequal rights of the other cotenants.” Butler v. Craft Engineering. Therefore, unlike a landowner engaging in self-help to trim branches overhanging his or her property from a tree situated entirely on the property of another, a cotenant to a boundary tree has a duty not to destroy the common property and thereby interfere with the rights of the other cotenants. Thus, the Court of Appeals held: “where a tree stands on a common property line, the common owners of the tree may lawfully trim vegetation overhanding their property, but not in a manner that the common owner knows will kill the tree.”

With this holding, the Court of Appeals has created an interesting situation. If you have a tree on your neighbor’s property and the branches and roots extend onto your property, you have the right to trim those branches and roots on your side of the property line – even if it causes damage or kills the tree. However, if it is a “boundary tree” straddling the boundary line, the property owners co-own the tree. If in this scenario one party cuts branches and/or roots (that are wholly on their side of the property line), which causes the tree to die – you would be liable to your neighbor under these circumstances for damages.

It is unclear whether the Court of Appeals decision will stand, or whether further appeal (to the Washington Supreme Court) may be had. Certainly, the court’s decision creates some confusion and potentially inequitable results.

We recommend for all property owners to work with their neighbors before any significant cutting of branches or roots from an adjoining tree. Do your best to work out an understanding and maintain good “neighborly” relations. If you have questions or problems with a tree encroaching onto your property, please feel free to contact Chris Thayer to discuss your situation. Mr. Thayer can be reached at (206) 804-1494 or CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com.

Photo credit: Dead Tree, used under the Creative Commons license.

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Seattle ordinance requires landlords to give out voter registration info

Posted Wednesday, June 21, 2017 by Christopher L. Thayer

landlordsOn Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to require that Seattle landlords give tenants voter registration information as part of an already required information packet on housing laws.

Studies have shown that people on the move vote at lower rates, the ordinance says. While 41 percent of renters in their homes for more than five years reported voting in 2014, only 21 percent who had lived in their homes for less than one year reported voting, the ordinance says, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after Mayor Ed Murray signs it.

Click here for a link to the full article or see the link below:


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REAL ID Compliance: What Washingtonians need to know

Posted Wednesday, June 14, 2017 by Pivotal Law Group

InsleeThe REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses. Here’s the latest update residents of Washington need to know.

  • Washington’s standard driver’s license/identification card does not meet the standards required under the REAL ID Act. Washington also offers “enhanced” IDs that are compliant with this Federal law. Unlike standard IDs, enhanced IDs require proof of citizenship and contain other security features.

  • Last month, Governor Jay Inslee signs a bill seeking to bring Washington state into compliance with the REAL ID Act. Starting July 2018, the standard IDs will be marked to indicate they are not REAL ID compliant.

  • Washington residents will still be able to choose which ID they want. Those with standard IDs will eventually need to provide REAL ID complaint identification, such as a passport, for domestic air travel and other federal purposes.

  • Washington state officials have asked for an extension from enforcement of federal requirements for state driver’s licenses and ID cards through October 2020, but so far the feds have only granted an extension through July 10.

  • Washington lawmakers expect their request for an extension to October 2020 will be granted. If, however, the extension is not granted, Washington residents could be required to show REAL ID compliant identification for federal purposes as early as January 2018.

Click here for a link to the full article or see the link below:


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