avoid auto accidents

5 Tips to Avoid Auto Accidents This Holiday Weekend

Labor Day weekend demands especially careful driving to avoid auto accidents. While not all car accidents can be avoided, you can reduce your chances of ending up a victim. The National Highway and Transportation Administration says that Labor Day weekend is among the ten most dangerous times to be driving. Even running errands can be more dangerous this weekend. If you can’t stay at home, here are some tips for safe driving.

Tip 1 – Avoid driving between midnight and 3 a.m. and be very cautious on rural roads.

The National Highway and Transportation Administration says that night driving, in general, is more dangerous than daytime driving. The most dangerous hours are those between midnight and 3 a.m. when there is a higher percentage of drivers under the influence. Ironically but logically, the safest time to be on the road is between 4 and 6 a.m.

If you are planning a camping trip or other events that include driving on country roads be particularly careful. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? We think of freeways with their crowding and high speeds as being more dangerous. Yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that fatal accidents happen 2.5 times more often on rural roads than highways. They say that drivers tend to drive faster for the conditions on rural roads and a much lower percentage of drivers wear seat belts.

Tips 2 & 3 – Make sure you are driving sober and slow down.

As you know, there will be more drivers under the influence this weekend. Thus, in addition to avoiding the peak hours for drunk drivers, it’s most important to make sure you have no drugs or alcohol in your system when you drive. That will allow you extra moments to react to reckless drivers. Slowing down also accomplishes the same result. It gives you extra time to take evasive action.

Tip 4 – Avoid distractions.

Of course, distracted driving is now illegal in Washington State. And, I know that we are all are constantly tempted. It is especially hard when we are going somewhere new and using our phones to navigate. We are certainly more likely to do that on holiday weekends. If possible, use voice navigation only. When necessary pull off the road to txt or make calls.

Yet, mobile phones aren’t the only source of distraction. Driving with children can be even more distracting. You know the routine. “Mom, make brother stop looking at me.” And then there’s escaping from seat belts and outright fighting. Make it a policy to pull over any time a distraction develops and resolve the situation before you continue traveling.

Tip 5 – Make sure your auto is in top shape.

Once again, avoiding accidents depend on quick responses. Make sure your equipment is in great shape. In addition, we’ve just had two weeks of smoke-filled air. Clean your headlights, taillights and signal lights. Also, give even your side windows a good cleaning, so you have an unimpeded view.

As Kitsap County attorneys we know all too well that there are too many ways that we all can be harmed. Please do all you can to be as safe as you can. And, if the worst happens to you, we stand ready to guide you through the legal process to better times.

If you are injured, call or message our personal injury attorneys.

Personal Injury lawyersChalmers Johnson

John Groseclose

co-parenting check-in

Time for a co-parenting check-in

Co-parenting? Midsummer is a great time for a co-parenting check-in.  Even while you and the kids are celebrating all the fun that summer brings, set aside a little time for keeping your co-parenting relationship running smoothly. This review is particularly critical if your child is moving to a new school or there are radical changes to the school schedule. Yet, even if all will remain much the same as last year, it is worth the time to touch base. This can also be an excellent time to review shared rules that evolve as a child grows older. When you talk together, you may find that your co-parent has changed circumstances and s/he may need some adjustments to the parenting plan.

Last minute surprises always put people in a bad mood. So do a little preventive maintenance for your co-parenting relationship.

Gather this information before you talk.

  • School and bus schedules
  • School holidays
  • List of sports and other activities
  • Significant new school events, such as graduations, prom, and other events both parents might want to take part in.
  • Review what worked well the past year and what problems you can prevent for the coming year.
  • Give some thought to rules changes if you have agreed to mutually enforced rules.

And don’t forget your personal schedule constraints.

  • Will there be a change in holiday plans this year such as a trip or visiting relatives that need schedule adjustments?
  • What about your work schedule? Are there times you know you will be out of town? Will it complicate the hand-off or maybe you’d like to offer extra time to the other parent?

What does your child know about the schedule that you don’t?

Your checklist is not complete until you sit down with your child and find out what they anticipate for the year.

  • Are there events not on the official schedule that they are looking forward to?
  • How about major parties?
  • What about activities? Do they want to drop an activity? Add one?

Do you need any help with getting an agreement for changes?

If your relationship with your ex or co-parent requires a more formal approach with an alteration to the parenting plan, David Jones and John Groseclose are happy to help you make those changes. They have a combined total of more than 40 years experience assisting parents to reach amicable agreements that work and going to court when necessary.

Share any other factors that co-parents need to consider before school begins in the comments below.

tax tips

2018 Tax Tips

We’re Halfway Through 2018, Have You Adjusted Your Paycheck Withholding?

by Norman Short, Partner, GSJones Law Group, P.S.

For the majority of us who earn a paycheck, last year’s tax bill made significant changes. If you didn’t take the time to make necessary adjustments in February, now is a great time to adjust your withholding to conform to the 2018 tax regulations.

As you know, it’s best to apply the Goldilocks Principle to your withholding. If the government keeps too much of your money, you can’t invest that extra money throughout the year. On the other hand, not giving the government its due throughout the year could result in a nasty penalty. So, it’s best to withhold the amount from your check that is “just right.”

However, what is just right? To determine the answer ask your employer for both a copy of your old W-4 and a blank copy. Add the same information for your spouse. Then use the calculator created by IRS to determine the amount of over- or underpayment. Once you know that information, fill out a new W-4 with information that will result in a “just right” result at the end of 2018.

There were many changes to the tax code that affect people whose financial situations are more complicated. I’m always happy to do a 30-minute look at your tax situation for just $50. Call for an appointment to see if I can save you some trouble or some money. 360-876-9221.

Norman Short has 25 years experience helping individuals and businesses with your tax planning, pass-through income, back tax representation and other tax issues.

insurance settlement negotiation

How to negotiate an insurance settlement

Should I negotiate my own insurance settlement?

If you have an insurance settlement offer you may be able to successfully negotiate a better settlement for yourself.  Your best chance is if your total damages are relatively small or your claim is with your own insurer. Here are some tips.

  • Don’t accept the first offer. Insurance companies often make low-ball offers.
  • If they believe the injury has created a financial hardship they may believe you will jump at their first offer.
    • Do what you can to cover your expenses during this time. Consistently maintaining health insurance will go a long way toward easing the financial burden of medical expenses.
    • Also, if your income has stopped or greatly reduced, consider taking advantage of any sliding scale pricing available from your medical providers. Don’t be afraid to ask.
    • Another source of financial help for medical costs are manufacturers of costly drugs. They often have special pricing available for people who can’t afford their drugs.
    • If you were in an auto accident take full advantage of any coverage you may have through your own insurance company. Check out the declarations page for coverages such as PIP (Personal Injury Protection) or underinsured motorist. They both offer coverage for your medical bills and generally are paid promptly.
  • If your claim is with your own insurance company, they will probably name your policy limits and provisions to justify their offer.
    • Make sure you know all of the provisions of your policy and ask questions of your agent if you can. In-house agents who only represent one insurance company may not be very helpful but independent agents will want to keep your business.

What is contributory fault or negligence?

Washington State has a contributory fault or contributory negligence law and the insurance adjuster may have information that leads her to believe that you were partly at fault. So, for instance, let’s say your medical bills and pain and suffering total $25,000 by their calculation. If they believe that you were 20% at fault for your injuries they will offer $20,000. All is not lost, however.

  • Ask them to document the contributory fault. That may be enough to bring the offer up.
  • If not, get your own evidence to counter their evidence. This will usually involve eyewitnesses.
    • If you are not up to the task of tracking witnesses down and questioning them about what they saw, recruit friends and family to do it for you.
    • Make sure you and the witnesses thoroughly understand what they will say to the adjuster once he asks questions. Play devil’s advocate with them.  Ask questions that probe any weaknesses or alternative interpretations of what they say. Their statements may sound great to you but once an experienced adjuster starts asking questions they may not be much help.

Put our personal injury attorneys’ 40 years of experience to work for you.

Often, however, it takes a law firm to effectively advocate for the insurance company to give you the compensation you deserve.  Call or message us for a free case review. We’ll thoroughly review the facts and if we believe we can help you get fair compensation. We stand ready to fight for you.  We know all the insurance companies’ playbook and we know how to counter them.

John Groseclose
John Groseclose, personal injury, family law attorney

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson, personal injury attorney, employment law

Litigators won $332,000 jury verdict for small businessman

litigators won

GSJones Litigators turn the tables on a corporate plaintiff suing a small business owner

GSJones Law Group litigators won a $332,000 jury verdict for Kitsap County cabinetmaker Shannon Wagner. Port Orchard Airport, Inc. filed suit against the small businessman after it evicted him from his shop. In addition they seized most of the business’ tools, materials, and unfinished projects. Sara Humphries, who has worked defending tenants in eviction actions for years joined Chalmers Johnson, who usually represents plaintiffs in lawsuits against corporations. Together they formed a winning team.

And together they turned the tables in this case, causing the hunter to become the hunted by filing counterclaims against the Corporation. It was a David vs. Goliath case. The Corporation, which had started as the unrelenting aggressor, suddenly found itself before a jury being pursued as a defendant by Johnson and Humphries. The trial lasted from Monday morning through the end of the day on Thursday. The Jury reached a verdict Friday afternoon. When reached for comment about the case, Chalmers Johnson said: “It was a long and hard-fought trial. The Jury was fantastic. Maybe the most engaged and thoughtful jury I have ever worked with.”

He added, “To the Corporate Goliaths out there, we’re watching you! Chalk one up for the Davids.”

 

Meet Kimberly Hammit, our firm’s newest attorney

Kim Hammit brings experience in business formation, estate planning, real estate law

Kimberly Hammit

“I am passionate about serving each client & love helping them overcome the challenges that bring them to see a lawyer.”

We are proud to welcome Kimberly Hammit to our firm. She comes to us from a solo practice in Port Orchard where she served small businesses and individuals in estate planning, business formation, and real estate law.

In addition, she looks forward to working with our personal injury and employment attorneys to add those foci to her practice.

Kim is a bit of a maverick. Instead of law school, she chose to study through the WSBA (Washington State Bar Association) APR 6 Law Clerk program. It is based on the venerable practice of reading for the law which predates law schools by centuries. She combined working as a law clerk and intern with studying on her own and with a tutor the same courses offered in law schools. The requirements included reading 12,000 pages of casebooks and 48 monthly exams, all overseen by the state bar association. She took the same bar exam as law school graduates.

She was admitted to the Washington State Bar in 2013.  Using the skills she gained as a law clerk, she opened her own law firm that same year.

Kim loves challenges, maintaining high integrity and a sustainable lifestyle

Kim Hammit, Legal challenges“I decided to join forces with GSJones,” Kim said, “in order to devote more time to practicing law as opposed to managing a law firm and to further develop my skills with a highly-regarded and well-rounded practice.”

Kim, her husband, and three children enjoy the Peninsula outdoor lifestyle—camping, boating and gardening. Avid DIYers, Kim and her husband enjoy teaching sustainable living skills to their three children. The family raises livestock, gardens, hunts and fishes together. And most exciting of all, they are restoring a 1965 Chevy Bel Air. They love to tackle anything they can with their own hands, no matter how great the challenge.

 

 

Attorney-client privilege: Is everything I tell my lawyer secret?

With the FBI raid on a high profile attorney in the news, you may wonder about your own attorney-client privilege.

attorney-client privilegeIs everything you share with your lawyer secret? Could she tell your family something she thinks they need to know about you? Could he be forced to testify against you or turn over your records to the authorities?

Almost always the answer is no. Laws and ethical rules protect the secrecy of your dealings with your lawyer. And, it’s very important to take advantage of those attorney-client protections to tell your attorney everything they need to know to represent you. There is nothing that will hurt your case more than allowing your attorney to be blindsided in court or negotiations by something you were too embarrassed to tell him.

And yet, sometimes the answer is yes. There are exceptions to the rule that your attorney cannot be forced to give testimony against you or cooperate with authorities.

Crime-fraud exception

You cannot expect secrecy when you consult an attorney with the intention of committing or covering up a crime or a fraud. For instance, sharing plans to take your children in contravention of a court order would lose the protection of secrecy.

Other exceptions

There are a few other situations that keep your conversation and documents from being protected. As an example, you aren’t protected if you walk up to a lawyer at a party and tell her about your case. First, talking with a lawyer with others present takes away the right to secrecy. Secondly, casual conversations are not legal consultations. Both the client and the lawyer must agree that they are in relationship.

Another example of communications that are not privileged would occur if you were consulting Norm Short about starting a new business. The discussion of the various options for business structures is privileged. The privilege ends, however, at the point where you start discussing practical tips that he’s learned over his more than two decades working with businesses. You are no longer discussing the law and its application to your business.

Ask your lawyer, if you have any question about whether a topic is privileged.

What about free consultations?

Movies often depict a lawyer who is taking on a client pro bono (at no charge) asking for a dollar to seal the deal. The implication is that money has to change hands before attorney-client privilege applies. That is not true. Feel free to discuss your case in detail during a free consultation. That is the only way that the lawyer can give you the best advice.

Violating confidentiality

The attorney-client privilege applies mainly to dealings with police, prosecutors, and courts. None of these institutions can compel your lawyer to tell them anything privileged. Yet, there are plenty of other situations in which you want your lawyer to keep your business secret. In general, your lawyer must keep your dealings confidential. The ethics rules governing this are complex, but here are some exceptions.

  • Unless you specifically forbid it, your lawyer may discuss your case with other lawyers in the firm. In law firms like ours with several lawyers with a variety of legal experience, you benefit from collaboration among our lawyers.
  • Your lawyer may reveal protected information to save you or others from death or great harm.
  • Likewise, your lawyer must reveal the fact that you are in the process of committing or about to commit a crime or fraud that will result in severe financial harm.
  • Your lawyer may consult a lawyer experienced in the rules of ethics about your case, if necessary. The consulting lawyer must also keep your information secret.
  • If your lawyer is charged with misconduct in representing you, she may reveal as much as is needed to defend herself.

Finally, if you have any concerns about confidentiality, talk frankly with your lawyer about them.

You have something in common with Stormy Daniels

Surprised? You both have arbitration agreements. We all agree to arbitration as the means of resolving disagreements dozens of times. Arbitration agreements are standard to most agreements, including all those times you click “yes” before signing for a new app.

arbitration

Photo credit: © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Why should I care?

Most arbitration agreements you sign will have no effect on your life. Arbitration clauses in employment agreements, on the other hand, may cause you problems. Moreover, most financial agreements, including your bank accounts and credit card accounts, have arbitration clauses. Perhaps more ominous is the use of arbitration clauses in nursing homes. The recent growth of the use of arbitration clauses also degrades the quality of American justice.

What’s the problem with arbitration clauses?

Some lawyers refer to arbitration courts as “secret corporate courts” for several reasons.
  • Most arbitration clauses limit you to individual hearings. It puts the brakes on class actions. While they usually result in small individual settlements, they have a much stronger impact on the way businesses operate in the future. Studies show that few people pursue small violations through arbitration. When many small legal violations are combined in a class action lawsuit, the size of the settlement sends a strong message to the business. As a result, businesses are much more likely to abandon unfair and illegal practices.
  • Indeed, in 2014 attorneys general of 14 states sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warning that “unlawful business practices” could flourish with the growth of arbitration clauses.
  • Arbitration essentially shields the wrongdoer from the public exposure that a trial in open court brings, hence the “secret corporate courts” designation. Many times the most potent tool the injured person has is the threat of exposure of the wrongdoer.
  • Arbitration rules favor businesses who can often steer cases to friendly arbitrators.

What can I do about the arbitration clauses in my life?

There are some situations in which you may be able to negotiate and different means of resolving contract issues. In addition, there are a few situations in which you can have your case heard in court. There are not many. If the money amount or the issue is significant, do explore the options with an experienced employment or personal injury attorney. At GSJones Law Group check out Chalmers Johnson and John Groseclose.

A few states are beginning to enact laws that limit the use of these clauses. If you are concerned about the creation of a separate legal system in the U.S. find out if your state has laws to address the issue and talk with your representatives about the issue.

Want to know more? Check out this excellent deep dive into what’s happening with arbitration clauses in the New York Times.

IRS tax

Time for Paycheck Checkup: IRS Calculator

by Norman Short, Tax and Business Law Attorney

IRS Withholding Calculator

You can now check your IRS paycheck deduction, using the new IRS Withholding Calculator. The new tax law has several major changes and it has been implemented on an expedited schedule. It is possible that the IRS guidelines your employer uses to calculate your withholding don’t address how the new law applies to your individual situation.

So take a few minutes to do this paycheck checkup. It could save you the shock of a big tax bill next year. Or it could guide you to lower your withholding and have more money in the bank now.

Best IRS planning for business owners and complicated tax situations

Small business owners and those with complicated tax situations: I help people like you with tax and business decisions and representation regularly since 1995. If the new tax laws affect you, I’m happy to work with you to develop the best tax plan.

Personal injury attorney sues Port Townsend for retired reporter

Chalmers Johnson, personal injury attorney, employment lawGSJones Law Group personal injury attorney Chalmers Johnson sues Port Townsend, the police department and the officer who injured his client, a retired newspaper reporter.

Port Townsend police officer threw retired reporter Stephen Patch to the sidewalk and ground his face in the concrete in December 2014. Mr. Patch ended the encounter face down in a pool of his own blood with a broken wrist. The officer was responding to a report from a third party in which Mr. Patch was the alleged victim in an argument with his disabled son. The officer, who can be heard on the police dash-cam recording, explained to Mr. Patch’s outraged son at the scene that he was only trying to protect Mr. Patch from injuring himself. He changed his justification for the attack when he later wrote a report that stated Mr. Patch, a slight 64-year-old man, was threatening the police officers.

$60,000 in Medical Costs

“Once he had broken [Patch’s] wrist and smashed his face into the concrete, Officer Fudally, still lying on top of the injured man, used one hand to grab [Patch] by the head and force [his] face into the concrete walkway and into the pool of [Patch’s] blood,” the lawsuit alleges. Mr. Patch’s treatment cost $60,000.

In response to a letter to the City,  Port Townsend’s insurer turned down the claim, insisting that the officer had done nothing wrong. Chalmers Johnson sued in Jefferson County’s Superior Court, which is seated in Port Townsend, but the City, the Department, and the officer opted to exercise their right to remove the case to Federal Court in Tacoma, avoiding the potential for a local trial with jurors exclusively from Jefferson County. It still remains to be seen whether Mr. Patch receives compensation and justice in this case.

Defendants move the case from a local court to federal court

A case may be removed from State Court to Federal Court when a case involves a federal claim. Practicing in Federal Court requires a separate license. In addition, the procedures in Federal Court are often more complicated than the State Courts. Chalmers Johnson has been admitted to the federal bar for the Western District of Washington and the Federal Appellate Court. He is one of a small percentage of attorneys to be admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. Thus, he is comfortable pursuing cases under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He litigated civil rights cases in the Federal Courts for many years.

Mr. Patch worked for several Washington newspapers, including the Port Townsend Leader.