Unsafe Passing of Bikes & Pedestrians

So I just got a new case!: My client was riding his bike, when a motorcycle illegally passed him on the right, hit him, and dragged him down the street before he was able to stop his motorcycle. A nasty, needless injury. So obviously I’ve been learning more about illegal passing, in doing so I learned about the tragic story of Ann Weatherill, a middle school teacher who was killed by an oncoming vehicle which was passing a cattle truck while riding with friends on Mother’s Day 2004. In 2005, the Ann Law was passed in Washington State, making it illegal for motorists to pass while an oncoming cyclist is approaching, but the law doesn’t go far enough to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists have a zone of safety, and that the driving public knows how far away they should stay while passing a cyclist.

BUT, here’s the good news!.
The Washington Legislature is currently considering a bill (Senate Bill 5564) to amend the Rules of the Road to require a 3′ passing distance between motorists and people or bikes, that’s good news!

Please write to the Senate Transportation Committee today and ask them to vote for this bill.

Feel free to rip off this email:
I write today to urge you to vote yes on SENATE BILL 5564 to amend RCW 46.61.100 to provide for the safe passing of bicycles and pedestrians by a “safe distance of at least three feet”. Unsafe passing of pedestrians and cyclists is a far more endemic problem that you probably realize, and every year kids, moms, dads, brothers, and sisters are killed from unsafe passing. Passing this bill would inform motorists of how far away they need to stay from people and bikes to pass safely. Please amend this bill to do your part to make our roads safer for everyone. Thank you.

The members of the Senate Transportation Committee are:
John.Smith@leg.wa.gov, curtis.king@leg.wa.gov, Tracey.Eide@leg.wa.gov, Don.Benton@leg.wa.gov, Steve.Hobbs@leg.wa.gov, Joe.Fain@leg.wa.gov, Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov, sharon.brown@leg.wa.gov, mike.carrell@leg.wa.gov, doug@senatorericksen.com, Nick.Harper@leg.wa.gov, Steve.litzow@leg.wa.gov, mark.mullet@leg.wa.gov, Christine.Rolfes@leg.wa.gov, Nathan.Schlicher@leg.wa.gov, tim.sheldon@leg.wa.gov

They are voting today, so don’t delay.
Here’s a link to the bill being considered:
(Click Me: A Copy of the Senate Bill being considered.).

Here’s a link to an annual bike ride honoring the memory of Ann Weatherill:
(Click Me: An annual bike ride honoring the memory of Ann Wetherill).

Stay Safe, Be Smart, Do Your Part….


Crocs – A Special Danger

My son loves his Crocs! If he had his way he would live in them; even in the snow. But Crocs have a special danger, and the company has been sued multiple times for defective design causing injuries to kids. Watch this news report:

What do you teach your kids to do on an escalator? -Hold onto the hand rail, right? Well young kids arms are short, so holding onto the handrail places them closer to the edge of the escalator, where the rubberized side of their Crocs can ‘grab’ the side of the escalator, and the shoe gets sucked into the escalator…

Of course Crocs doesn’t agree that their shoes are a ‘causal factor’ in causing these incidents, then again I’ve never known a manufacturer in a products liability case to agree that their product is dangerous – they always deny. But Crocs admits that they are aware of 186 accidents with their shoes and they are beginning an investigation.

The Japanese government has actually requested that Crocs make their shoes safer for the public. Take a look at what a Japanese safety team found with Crocs on an escalator:

But the problem is not limited to just escalators, which is why some schools have banned Crocs, look at what happens to this little girl on the playground slide (Happy ending):

Here’s another one. Watch the video and pause it at 5 seconds. You can clearly see that the shoe has ‘grabbed’ the slide and stopped the little boy’s sliding, but his body’s momentum has carried him over the shoe, then his leg forces his body out and over the slide edge. What caused the accident was the ability of the Croc to ‘grab’ the slide. A normal pair of tennis shoes wouldn’t have done that. (Happy ending):

The plain fact is that Crocs have their place. Around the water, beach, pool, boat, or the gym shower, Crocs are a great design, they are a rubberized waterproof shoe that gives you good traction in a wet slippery environment. In a wet environment they are probably better than flip flops. But take a Croc out of the environment it was designed for, and put it in the real world, and that same high traction design, will contribute, and even in some cases, cause, injuries that otherwise wouldn’t happen…

So here’s the rule in our family. My son’s crocs live in his pool bag. He wears them at the pool and in the pool shower. But they are not allowed out in the ‘real’ world of escalators, playgrounds, and school. In the real world he needs to have a real shoe. Simple as that…

Response by the Crocs Company:
Because of these injuries, and the resulting pressure from parents, the media, and even the Japanese government, in 2008, Crocs responded by launching an “Escalator Safety Awareness Initiative”. This “initiative” consists of putting ‘hang tags’ on new Crocs that:
“reminds consumers to use care when riding escalators and moving walkways, while providing these specific tips:”.
• Stand facing forward in the center of the step
• Step on and off carefully
• Do not touch sides below handrail
• Avoid the sides of the steps where shoe entrapment can occur
• Supervise children at all times

Of course ‘hang tags’ are promptly removed by consumers… And notably Crocs has not redesigned the shoe. Nor have they embedded a permanent safety message in the shoe itself. Something along the lines of “Warning: Beware of foot entrapment dangers when riding escalators, stand in the center of the escalator step, don’t touch the shoe to the side panel of a moving escalator, as serious injury may result.”. The sum total of Crocs response to these injuries appears to be to put ‘hang tags’ on the shoe, post one page on their website, and, of course, to settle the lawsuits…

My personal opinion is that their response is inadequate given that kids are getting mangled wearing their shoes, but I suppose you could just call me a jaded lawyer dad… (Crocs’ “Elevator Safety Initiative Website”).

The Lawsuits

Because of this problem with Crocs and escalators, the company that owns Crocs, has been sued multiple times. The settlements have been with non-disclosure requirements, so we don’t know how much they are for, but interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be enough to get Crocs to decide to change the design, or embed a safety warning…

(Knoxville News Report).
(ABA Journal on Crocs suit).

I hope this helps you keep your kids safe,

Stay Safe, Get Smart, Take Care,


seanthelawyer.com, Legal Information That Will Change & Save Your Life…

Other Croc safety videos: Crocs Youtube Safety Videos List).


Playgrounds: Obvious Fun – Hidden Dangers…

Every parent wants a neighborhood playground, but some are dangerous…

Swing sets, slides, monkey bars, are often what an active kid needs to unwind and burn off that ‘drive the parents crazy’ energy…. But what most of us don’t know, is that playgrounds, are often silent killers – 15 kids this year will be killed from falls in a playground. Every year 200,000 kids are injured, 90,000 seriously, and 15 die, from injuries at playgrounds, the overwhelming majority caused by falls.

Looks Like a Good Playground… Watch Out It’s Really Dangerous!

And this is not a problem confined to poor neighborhoods, or school districts without much money. Dangerously defective, and negligently maintained, playgrounds can be found everywhere, even in the richest areas in the country.

Recently my family went on vacation in California, staying with friends in Tustin, Orange County. This is an affluent area full of soccer moms and professionals. Red Hill Elementary is an award wining K-5 school, where our friends play soccer, the school has it’s own website, an active PTA, and even a fine arts program. Their playground is also dangerously, negligently, maintained…


PARENT STEP #1. Check to See That Falls Are Cushioned.

Nearly 70 percent of all playground injuries are related to falls to the surface. Acceptable surfaces include hardwood fiber/mulch, pea gravel, sand and synthetic materials such as poured-in-place, rubber mats or tiles. Playground surfaces should not be concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, packed dirt or rocks.  (NPPS Site).

At least 5″ of missing cushioning!

All loose fill material compacts; rubber the least, wet wood chips the most. For most playgrounds, with the common equipment, they should have about 9″ of loose fill material, because of compaction, they should be filled about 12″. Good design should have marks on the equipment that shows where the minimum fill line is, and it should be regularly checked and maintained to make sure that the minimum fill is present. Red Hill playground is missing about 5″ inches!

Parent Tip: It’s not possible to have too much loose fill material, but it’s dangerous to have too little. Advocate for more!

PARENT STEP #2. Check to See Equipment is Safe & Well Maintained.

Exposed Concrete Footing! -A Skull Cracker!

Check to make sure the equipment is anchored safely in the ground, all equipment pieces are in good working order, S-hooks are entirely closed, bolts are not protruding, there are no exposed footings, etc. (NPPS Site).

Look at this concrete footing. Imagine if your child fell, even if they landed on their feet, but they fell backwards and hit their head on this. That could be a fatal injury! This footing should be redone, and perhaps a permanent flexible absorbent mat attached to it, then buried in the loose fill cushioning.

Parent Tip: Don’t tolerate exposed concrete footings, they can kill a child!

PARENT STEP #3. Check the Swings.

Swings are a special danger. The current standards say that you should have double the swing height in free space (the use zone) before and after the swing. So if the swing bar (what the chain hooks too) is 6′ high, there should be a 12′ use zone in front and 12′ behind the swing.

Under the swing, the standards say that the best design should have a flexible mat, buried in the cushioning loose fill material. Swing ‘scoop outs’ should be raked back and the material ‘fluffed up’.

1″ Landscaping Rock Mixed With Bark Under the Swings – Click Photo

This is a dangerous swing area….

Pay Attention to the Drainage Layer. Notice how the bark has been scooped out by play? This has exposed and broken through the landscape fabric and worked into the layer of crushed drainage rock below. Crushed rock is now spread all over the area and mixed in with the wood chips. A better design would have been to use pea gravel for drainage because pea gravel is an approved surface cushioning material, so if the kids broke through the landscape fabric because of poor maintenance, then the underlying drainage layer would still be a safe surface. Of course this doesn’t excuse their negligent maintenance of the playground…

Parent Tip: Pay Special Attention to the Swing set areas, their use zone if often too small, and the ‘scoup outs’ are usually pretty bad. Get these fixed because kids coming off swings are moving at a high speed!

Video from NPPS on fall surfacing:

Keep Aware of the Danger’s! Kids are Dying!
Media Coverage of the Massive Problem in the LA parks system, including coverage of an 8yr old who died…

PARENT STEP #4. Read the Standards – Get Educated!

As part of your mission to improve your local park or school playground, get educated about the standards. Reading the handbook and digging through the website will take you 1-2 hrs, and prepare you to take on the school principal or the parks department.

When you read the standards, particularly the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook you will see there are Templates, Gauges, and Testing Tools you can make to test your local playground equipment. Try to enlist a handy friend, maybe in your PTA, to make a durable set, but almost anyone can make a set from some cardboard. Before you make a set of the templates, put together a small set of tools to inspect your local playground: Tape Measure, Ruler, Shovel, Rake, Notepad, Digital Camera; these tools will help you do 90% of the work inspecting your local playground.

Parent Tip: It’s pretty easy to check out the local playground, print the checklists, take your basic tools, and make some notes…Sean’s Combined Checklist

PARENT STEP #5. Write Letters

The most important word in the law is – Notice, so write letters to the responsible people, don’t call, write letters, because as we lawyers like to say – Paper doesn’t lie! Writing to the school principal, parks department, city mayor, and local newspaper, puts the school/park on notice that the problem exists, and should force them to fix it. If they don’t fix it, then they have actual notice (actual notice is a legal standard that says that the party has been informed that the problem exists and there is really no question that they will be liable for any injuries that happen as a result. In short, be the squeaky wheel, keep writing your letters, and get your playground fixed. Read the letter that I wrote to the school district, and principal of Red Hill Elementary: Ltr to Red Hill Elementary

In this letter I do 8 things.

  1. I put the school on notice of the violations
  2. I provide them with specific instances of violations found on their property
  3. I refer them to the appropriate safety standards
  4. I inform them that they must make the repairs necessary
  5. I inform them that they must maintain the property adequately
  6. I inform them that they will be liable for any injuries that result from their continued negligence.
  7. I demand that they index the letter as a public record
  8. I request written acknowledgment of the letter

With this letter they now have ACTUAL NOTICE of their violation of the safety standards. This is important because if a claim happens after this date, the school district will not be able to say they didn’t know about the problem, the standards, or the dangers. When you write your letters, follow the same format. If you speak orally with a school official follow up every conversation with a letter stating what the conversation was about. Follow this outlined letter to write about your playground: Sean’s Playground Ltr Outline

PARENT STEP #6. Take a rake and shovel to the playground every time.

Take your small set of playground tools to your local playground: Tape Measure, Ruler, Shovel, Rake, Notepad, Digital Camera; spend a few minutes raking back the loose fill material. Maintaining this stuff doesn’t take a lawyer’s brain, but it takes persistence, so spend a few minutes helping out…

PARENT STEP #7. Read and Check Out the Sites at the end for more information:

Update! 1/4/2013
As a result of my letters, and this blog coverage, my friend reports that Red Hill Elementary in Orange county, fixed the problems I documented! So write your letters, and be the squeaky wheel, it works! :)

I hope this helps you keep your kids safe,

Stay Safe, Get Smart, Take Care,


Legal Information That Will Change & Save Your Life…

READ THESE!: Links to the Safety Standards & Checklists:

Sean’s Combined Checklist

CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook

CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook (Español)

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Safety Checklist

National Program for Playground Safety

National Program for Playground Safety Report Card (Checklist)




Drowning – Preventing drowning in children

Legal Information That Will Change & Save Your Life…

In 2010, I worked on the wrongful drowning death of a 4 year old boy.

Toys floating where the little boy died…

He died in about 3-4′ of water, but he was only about 2′ from safety. Unfortunately he didn’t have any water safety skills at all; no swimming experience, no ‘bob to shore’ experience, nothing. He just rolled down a hill, hit the water, drifted away from the edge of the pond, and died. I came away from that, motivated to make sure my young son gained those critical skills – it’s as important as ‘looking both ways’.

According to the CDC 10 people die by drowning every day, two of which are age 14 or younger. Drowning is the fifth leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.

Drowning is a danger anywhere there is water…

But most people have no idea what a drowning person really looks like. It’s not like you think from TV; there’s no shouting for help, waving of arms, etc, it’s real quiet, and most people drown very close to people who could save them. For young children its even worse, drowning can look like they are doing the dog paddle.

When a person is drowning, instinct takes over to try to get their mouth out of the water, their autonomic nervous system takes control. They don’t wave their arms, because instinct tells them to use their arms to ‘push’ down on the water to get their head up. They don’t shout, because they don’t have air to breathe let alone shout, and they arnen’t ‘thinking’ to get help, they are acting on instinct. They are literally incapable of calling for help…

So how do you learn to recognize drowning? There are some articles out there, but what works best is to see some videos; watch these videos in order, as they will walk you through what you need to know:

This is what drowning really looks like: (happy ending):

Here’s another one, but see how silent, fast, and deadly it is? At 38 seconds in the kid starts drowning. See how fast it happens? One second he is happy playing in the water, the next his head is underwater, and he’s in trouble. There is no hand waving, no cries, no splashing, nothing to warn the adults, his head is just underwater and he’s drowning! If the guy wasn’t watching the kid, there would be no indicators that this kid was dying… (happy ending):

Even when a kid can touch the bottom, they can get in trouble, and you can see that it’s real easy for them to drown right next to their mother. At 7 seconds the kid stumbles, loses his footing in the pool and goes face down into the water, you can see him struggle to get his feet under him, but he can’t, so he’s drowning. Again it’s silent, no flailing arms, he’s just face down drowning, for 5 seconds until his mom notices it and yanks him back to his feet. You really can drown in one inch of water… (Happy ending).

Signs of the Instinctive Drowning Response

  1. No “Help!”: Drowning people can’t talk, instinct has taken over, and breathing comes first, speech is secondary. Tip: They won’t be calling “Help”!
  2. No Arm Waving: Drowning people can’t wave for help, instinct drives them to put their arms out and ‘push’ the water down to get their head out of the water to breathe. Tip: Look for extended arms ‘pushing’ down on the water.
  3. No Swimming: A drowning person can’t ‘think’ and control their body because instinct is in charge. They can’t wave for help, they can’t swim, it is pure instinct. Tip: They aren’t swimming! Look for them not changing their relative position in the water, meaning they are no closer to shore – they aren’t swimming!
  4. No Kicking: They are ‘Standing’ in the water. Drowning people often only use their arms to ‘push’ the water down. Since they aren’t kicking they are mostly vertical in the water, and it doesn’t look like they are ‘kicking’. Tip: Look for them ‘standing’ vertical in the water and not kicking.
  5. Watch the mouth: A drowning victim tries to get their mouth out of the water. Since they are sinking, they typically ‘bob’ up and down in the water, getting their head up briefly before getting pulled down again, trying to breathe while their head is above the water. Tip: Look for their mouth in and out of the water.

Saving Someone: So now you know what drowning looks like, how fast it is, and how easily it can happen, even right next to a parent. So what do you do if you see it happening? Jump in? -Maybe not, people drown every year trying to save somebody else. Watch these, but the basic premise is, take a tool with you to keep distance between you and the victim. (More about that later).

Use a Tool: Saving someone is risky. Every year people drown trying to save someone else. The basic thing is to take 1 second and think. Is this a very small kid? Are they a young person, or an adult? Because if you can’t touch the bottom where you would be saving them, and you aren’t a lot bigger and stronger than the victim, a drowning person will literally try to climb on top of you to get out of the water. So take that second and find a tool to help you. Try to save them from the edge with a tool. If you have to get into the water take a tool with you to keep distance between you and the victim. Something that floats is best, a foam water weenie is great, but a broom, the picnic cooler, even a towel or your pants, anything that you can use to put some distance between you and the victim and you can use to tow them in. Remember a  drowning person will try to climb out of the water on top of you.

Teaching Swimming: Obviously you should teach your kids to swim, but beware that when you take your kids to a pool to learn to swim, follow up on their qualifications, because some ‘swim schools’ are staffed with people who don’t know what they are doing (tragic ending):

Warning: This video was used in a wrongful death suit where a little boy drowned in the pool at ‘swim camp’, this is security video footage of the pool while the boy drowned and died. It is instructive, but very tragic to watch. My condolences to the family…

Articles & Other Blogs:

There are several articles and blogs about this issue out there. Unfortunately most of this information is spread out all over the net.

I hope this helps keep your family safe. If your kids don’t know how to swim, get them into classes RIGHT NOW, there’s really no excuse. I’d rather not have to work on another wrongful drowning death of someone who didn’t know how to swim ever again…

Be Smart, Stay Safe,



Links to the videos used in this blog: 





-About Sean The Lawyer.com

Hi! Welcome to my blog: seanthelawyer.com 

- Legal Information That Will Change & Save Your Life!

I started this blawg (law blog), because as a practicing personal injury lawyer, I have learned lessons about how injuries happen, and I want you to know how to protect yourself, and your children, from the sorts of injuries I see in my personal injury practice.

Being a personal injury lawyer changes your perspective on the world. The joke in my family is: “I see negligence”; but it’s really true. Because I see the results of injuries and accidents everyday, and I often have to litigate the mechanics of how an accident happened, I have a different perspective from other people. I am often struck by how dangerous the world is, and how careless and negligent people are. Everywhere I go, I see careless driving, negligent maintenance of business property, and really poor product design; all of which result in people getting injured.

And in spite of the fact that I’m a personal injury lawyer, I hate seeing people get injured, especially in a situation where it was easily preventable.

As my personal injury practice has grown, I found that with each new case, my behavior would subtly change. I drive more defensively now than I used to, because I’ve seen too many clients get hit. I keep my speed down because I know from having to litigate the issue, that increased speed means more serious injuries. I drive heavy well engineered safe cars, instead of the tiny lightweight efficient cars I would prefer. I buy whole heads of lettuce because I know that the bagged lettuce has a higher risk of foodborne illness. I demand that my coffee is served at a ‘drinkable’ temperature. The list goes on and grows all the time.

Over time, I increasingly became bothered by the fact that I was learning things - and changing my behavior as a result, but I had no good way of sharing these hard learned (by my clients at least) lessons with everyone else. So this blawg was born…

I hope that what you learn here helps prevent injuries and saves lives. Feel free to leave me a note or drop me an email. And if, in spite of our best efforts to prevent it, you get injured, give me call to talk about your claim. Because while I hate to see people get hurt, pursuing client injury claims is how I feed my family…

Stay Safe, Get Smart, Take Care,


See my video intro: http://youtu.be/CDopTO7nMyc