Thursday, September 30, 2010

Texting Laws May Be Backfiring

It's too early to really question the effectiveness of texting-while-driving bans, but certainly not too early for the insurance industry to speculate. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety apparently demonstrates that states with texting bans do not see a reduction in crashes. In three states crashes actually increased. An Institute spokesman claims this may be a result of drivers moving their phones down and out of view to avoid being spotted by police, thereby taking their eyes off the road longer.

Keep in mind, these laws have only been in effect for a few years, so there is little data to study, and it is more difficult to distinguish other factors and trends.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Police Training and Accountability Follow Up

Just this morning the Seattle Times posted an article about the questions surrounding police tactics and training after the death of John T. Williams. The article emphasizes the numerous alternatives to shooting a man holding a legal knife and questions the adequacy of training of police officers to use alternate methods.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Citizens' Handbook on Police?

Police officers are trained for dozens of hours over several months in how to deal with citizens in various situations. If the news is any indication, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to know how to deal with them. Perhaps we should all have a handbook.

I first thought of this topic when I saw another physical assault by a police impersonator in Spokane. Anybody who knows how to use probably understands how easy it is to get your hands on authentic-looking police attire--the picture to the right is for a uniform sold on the site. Consequently, police impersonation is not an uncommon crime. In fact, the danger posed by police impersonators is so serious that the Oregon government thought it prudent to advise citizens on how to spot and avoid becoming a victim of police impersonators. The advice in some cases is uncooperative enough to have been unfathomable several years ago. For example, Oregon tells you to try to stop in a well-lit area with people around, lock your door, and keep your car and flashers on. One would hope that Oregon officers are also trained to understand such actions as safety measures rather than defiance and "contempt of cop."

In addition, Washington has had more than it's fair share of repercussions for non-defiant suspects recently. The infamous stomping-epithet incident comes to mind. More recently, a Seattle police officer shot a man to death when he did not comply precisely and immediately with the officer's orders. John T. Williams, a Native American man, was a wood carver. The officer told Mr. Williams to stop after spotting him with a wood carving knife in one hand and a piece of wood in the other. He was partially deaf and did not hear the officer at first. When Mr. Williams finally turned to face the officer, the officer unloaded four shots, killing him. It is still unclear whether or how Mr. Williams' turning to face the officer was an act of aggression. Two articles are here and here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eggs-actly: manure floods in laying houses too darn nitpicky

An enormous surprise to all, the farmers responsible for infecting 1,600 people with salmonella from contaminated eggs, and then the largest egg recall in U.S. history, are (1) contrite puppy dogs before Congress, (2) repeat offenders, and (3) circle back through (1) and (2) next time (though hopefully not).

As reported by the Seattle Times, the DeCoster farm has apparently been cited numerous times for sanitation violations. The DeCosters insisted they had taken steps to clean up facilities, but offered no explanation as to why problems kept coming up.

Here is a good reason why: the post-recall FDA inspection revealed rodent holes, liquid manure streaming through holes, and dead birds and maggots in the laying houses. In several cases the manure built up so much as to push open the door. Peter DeCoster described the FDA's inspection as nitpicking, and noted that only four doors were opened by manure overflow, out of 292.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cyberbullying--So Hot Right Now

I admit, when I first heard the term "cyberbullying," I was skeptical. For one thing, it seems like more fluffy words have been invented in the last ten years than in the last two hundred. Nouns become verbs (Google to "to Google"), words change meaning (become friends or "friend" on Facebook), and the word "cyber" or "electronic" or "web" is tacked on to the front or back end of old words to make new technology sound familiar. More than that, however, things like cybercrime or cyberstalking always seemed a little bit less scary than "real" crime or stalking, which makes me think of being held at gunpoint. The internet provides a buffer of physical protection, even isolation.

In the case of cyberbullying, that isolation is actually more harmful. First, unlike high school hallway insults, victims don't get to see the bully face to face, so they can't "stick up for themselves" to maintain some dignity. Second, they may not know who the bully is, rendering them powerless to stop the bullying and deter it in the future. Third, victims may not know who "witnesses" the bullying. They may suffer even more embarrassment as a result, wondering and worrying about who knows what and their reaction. Facebook posts, instant messages, and texts can be widely distributed on an ongoing basis. They become "viral," and their distribution is out of any one person's control. This can generate a feeling of helplessness, which, as Dr. Gupta explains in the above article, can lead to depression.

As an extension of the phantom bully, it is laughably easy to impersonate someone on the internet via almost any communication tool. Osborn Machler represented a young man who was impersonated on Twitter. The impostor Tweeted offensive and racist comments to another teenager, which resulted in threats to our client. In the case of an impersonator, there are two victims: the person impersonated and the bullied recipient of the online communications. Once the damage is done, it is extremely difficult to deescalate and set the record straight. It may be near impossible if you cannot determine the identity of the impostor. Unless the police jump in, this could require a lawsuit and several subpoenas.

The good news is that most online social media sites are receptive to concerns of impersonation. Twitter, for example, has an impersonation policy. Facebook has a "Report This Person" button on every Facebook profile. By clicking it you can report impostors.

Similac Formula Recall... for what??

Abbott Labs is recalling 5 million containers of Similac powdered infant formula due to contamination with, wait for it... beetles and their larvae. The FDA believes the formula poses no immediate health risks other than stomach aches, so the recall is more of a precaution. See the NPR article here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Phantom Tylenol Recall

CNN reports that lawmakers and drug regulators released documents on Thursday that indicate Johnson and Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, may have known about problems with the drug months before the actual recall. To add insult to injury, Johnson and Johnson attempted a "phantom recall" of more than 88,000 Motrin tablets in June of 2009. The company hired a subcontractor to buy the products off of store shelves rather than take the products back and notify the public.

You don't need to look very far to see similar corporate tactics: According to internal timelines, Toyota knew of the accelerator defects in 2006. Now they spend millions on public relations to correct not just the product defect but the deceit behind it.

I would be curious to see a study on the long term cost-benefit analysis of a swift recall and taking responsibility early on vs. waiting. I suspect a swift recall would prevent injuries and save dollars on litigation, temper the media storm, and shorten the length of time the company's shortfalls fill the public domain. This would theoretically allow the company to return revenues to normal more quickly.

One thing I do know is that almost all major corporations regain public trust and revenue eventually--how many of us are still boycotting Exxon, or even BP for that matter? But the people killed by defective products and delay tactics of executives do not get to return to their families.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

UW Ranked 23rd Best College in the World

Rankings can be helpful, deceiving, or sometimes outright silly, but it's awfully nice when they're in your favor.

The London Times ranked the best universities in the world, and the University of Washington ranked 23rd. Harvard ranked first. UW ranked fourth among American public colleges, with Berkeley receiving top honors in that category.

Rankings involved five categories: teaching, research, citations, industry income and international mix.

This makes me almost as proud as when Oregon was voted as having the best college football uniforms in the country.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Void of Oversight at Adult Homes

Many of us have probably visited a loved one in a hospital, hospice, or nursing home. As depressing as nursing homes can be for us, patients themselves would do just about anything to avoid them. The intermediate and preferred step between a home-home and a nursing home is called an "adult home" or an "adult family home." Unfortunately, the gap between adult home and nursing home is a nebulous and largely unregulated void. DSHS licenses homeowners to give long term care for up to six seniors, but there is no requirement that the home have a licensed caregiver.

A recent article in the Seattle Times explores the statistics and evidence of mistreatment and negligence in adult homes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seahawks Sunday

Today was a blast. About 12 minutes into the first quarter of football I texted my friend Jaffer, "At least we'll get Jake Locker in the first round of the draft." By the second quarter I was running around the house screaming, jumping, and tossing Louis into the air. It's not just the win, and it's not just the score. I think it's the first time in two years we've won with skilled play and not simply the other team's snafus.

Later on we went to my sister's house, had some delicious enchiladas, and played with my adorable nephews. Ellis can't say Andrew yet so for now I am "Uncle Aaron."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tenants Have Rights Too

When I was a Rule 9 intern at UW Student Legal Services, my favorite thing in the world was to go after sleazy landlords. Many landlords and rental agencies do some pretty terrible things because they can get away with it. Tenants often don't know their rights. Even if they do, it's ordinarily not worth it to pay a lawyer $200/hr to get a $500 deposit back.

The good news is, knowledge is power, and the internet is knowledge. Below are some resources to learn about the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) and what you can do to protect your money.

RLTA: The Act itself. As statutes go, it's pretty easy to grasp.
WSBA: This is a WSBA "pamphlet" on landlord-tenant rights.
Washington Law Help: Find pro bono services.
Housing Justice Project of King County: Pro bono help from volunteers.
UW Student Legal Services: Inexpensive and attentive representation if you are a UW Seattle Campus Student.
A good pamphlet: Explanation of tenants' rights.

If you need guidance, I'm happy to talk to you. Did I mention I love going after sleazy landlords?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Felix Deserves the Cy Young

This is my campaign on a very important issue to me: Felix Hernandez deserves the A.L. Cy Young Award. He leads in every major category but wins and has no run support compared to CC Sabathia. The Mariners have scored 300 fewer runs than the Yankees this year. Felix has better numbers against the A.L. east, a much tougher division, than CC has against the arguably weaker hitting A.L. west. All other things being equal, Felix crushes every other contender. Don't punish Felix for the anemic Mariners lineup. Look at this article and I dare you to disagree.

Chemical Linked to Kids' Cholesterol

A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics suggests that chemicals called perflorocarbons can raise bad cholesterol levels in children. High levels of perflorocarbons were found in tap water in Wood County, West Virginia, giving rise to a class action and subsequent study of the effects of the chemical in the area. Perflorocarbons at lower levels are also found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets, and waterproof fabrics, reports CNN.

Egg Victims Demand Action

Tired of hearing about eggs? We're finally getting to the good part. After a recall of 500 million eggs due to a salmonella outbreak, food safety advocates and outbreak survivors are calling for the Senate to pass legislation that has been sitting around since July of 2009. That's right, over a year ago the House passed reform legislation for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CNN reports that the bill includes "better preventive control measures by manufacturers, more frequent inspections of facilities, and greater FDA authority over recalls."

Planning for the Worst

For me, planning for catastrophe stirs up a restless twitch in my leg that inevitably leads to procrastination. I'd call it optimism, but I think I'm too cynical for that. More likely I just hate the dread that comes with thinking about catastrophes. But, you owe it to family members. If you become incapacitated, your immediate family will either (a) be able to grieve without the stress of determining your wishes and dealing with all the red tape surrounding end-of-life decisions, or (b) be inundated with time-consuming and expensive legal action while coping with the guilt and anxiety of having to make difficult decisions for you because you didn't make your wishes known, meanwhile spending thousands of dollars a month for constant medical care. But there's more: families are often torn apart by disagreements about your wishes, whether for life-sustaining treatment, control of your finances, or who gets what from your estate. Prevent the turmoil and pick option (a).

The good news is that picking (a) is easy. Here are some of the documents you will need:

Health care directive: Washington's Department of Health provides a full explanation of what a health care directive does and a template for you to use. A directive allows people who do not want their lives prolonged artificially to make their wishes known and legally recognized.

Durable power of attorney for health care: The Department of Health also provides a full explanation and template for Durables. A durable power of attorney document appoints someone you choose to make health care decisions for you when you cannot make them yourself.

Durable power of attorney for property and finances (general durable): Similar to a heath care durable, this document appoints someone to control your finances if you are deemed unable.
I can't find a free template online, so you should consult an estate planning lawyer.

There are several other documents you should be aware of, including Do Not Resuscitate Orders and Life-Sustaining Treatment Orders. Get a good description of those here, and wills here.

Remember to get witnesses' signatures and notarize your documents so they are valid in states other than Washington (each state has different requirements).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Individual Health Insurance Rate Spike Expected

The Seattle Times reports that Washington residents can expect a steep hike in the price of individual health insurance plans. While some may be quick to blame the federal overhaul of health insurance, insurance companies and sector regulators disagree. Rather, the anemic economy has undercut state support for health services, which has shifted the burden to insurance providers. Also due to the economy, healthy consumers cut insurance to meet their budget. Healthy people pay into the system but do not require much expense from the insurer. Without them, insurers cannot offset the higher costs expended by unhealthy consumers. Another factor in rising prices is that health care simply costs more than it used to. Furthermore, the health of the individually-insured pool has gotten worse over the years, as baby-boomers age and chronic disease increases.

The prevailing wisdom about the insurance industry is that chronic disease is by far the largest factor contributing to increased premiums.

Washington Cell Phone Law

For whatever reason I still see people driving like maniacs while yakking on their cell phones. I don't make a point of remembering stuff like this, but when you're driving a Honda Civic next to an Escalade that doesn't acknowledge lanes or stop signs, you tend to remember the feeling of near death and the image of an origami-looking car.

So, at the suggestion of my sister Sarah, I am posting a King 5 article on the cell phone laws that are in effect now. In a nutshell, holding a cell phone to your ear while driving is a primary offense for which you can be pulled over and ticketed to the tune of $124. I should also point out that violation of driving statute is evidence of negligence in a civil trial.

Go get yourself a headset. They're much cheaper than the cost of a ticket.

The End of the Story for the Pet Food Class Action

In case you were wondering what ever happened to the class action in Florida involving false advertising by pet food companies, here you go. In a nutshell, much of the evidence necessary to pursue the lawsuit--samples of the food--was destroyed by defendant Menu Foods. Menu Foods was also a defendant in the pet food recall litigation going on at the same time. The defendant asked the court to allow it to destroy the samples of food it had collected in the discovery phase of the recall litigation. The samples contained both recalled and non-recalled products. Storing the samples, the company argued, was an inconvenience. The court agreed over strenuous objections by consumers who needed that evidence for separate false advertising claims. Menu Foods promptly got rid of the evidence, fully aware of the other claims. This left the Blaszkowski class action, and others, with nothing to stand on. Blaszkowski was dismissed on March 30, 2009.

Learn "The New CPR"

You may have heard that experts now recommend continuous chest compression CPR. Learn how to do it or refresh your memory here. The best advice I have heard--or at least the most memorable--is to use the beat from "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dead Pets in Pet Food

Pet food is advertised as wholesome, natural, nutritious, and delicious, usually with a picture of fresh tuna or seared lamb. The reality is that, not only are many pet foods not nutritious, some actually contain inedible waste and byproducts.

As reported by, in a 2007 Florida lawsuit, "the Plaintiffs contend the food is actually made from “inedible” slaughterhouse waste products of the human food chain such as spines, heads, tails, hooves, hair, and blood. Rendering companies who process this waste have also added other inedible “waste” such as euthanized cats and dogs from veterinarian offices and animal shelters, road kill, zoo animals, rancid restaurant grease, toxic chemicals and additives. Additionally, dead animals and those declared unfit for human consumption due to disease and illness are also placed in the mix."

Brands targeted by this lawsuit include:

Pedigree®, Sheba®, Goodlife Recipe®, Royal Canine, Iams®, Eukanuba®, Science Diet®, Prescription Diet®, 9 Lives®, Amore®, Gravy Train®, Kibbles-n-Bits® and Nature’s Recipe®, Snausages®, Milk Bone®, Pup-Peroni®, Meaty Bone®, Canine’s Carry Outs®, Jerky Treats®, Wagwells®, Alpo®, Beneful®, Beggin’ Strips®, Dog, Cat, Puppy and Kitten Chow®, Fancy Feast®, Friskies®, Mighty Dog®, Deli-Cat®, Pro Plan®, Purina One®, Natural Choice® Dog and Cat Products, Max® Dog Products, Max® Cat Gourmet Classics, Natural Choice® Complete Care® for cats, Ultra™ Products for dogs, Americas Choice Preferred Pets, Authority, Award, Best Choice, Big Bet, Big Red, Cadillac, Companion, Compliments, Demoulus Market Basket, Eukanuba, Fine Feline Cat, Food Lion, Food Town, Giant Companion, Hannaford, Hill Country Fare, Hy-Vee, Iams, J.E. Mondou, Laura Lynn, Li’l Red, Loving Meals, Medi-Cal, Meijer’s Main Choice, Mighty Dog Pouch, Mixables, Natural Life, Nutriplan, Nutro Max, Nutro Max Gourmet Classics, Nutro Natural Choice, Ol’ Roy, Paws, Pet Essentials, Pet Pride, President’s Choice, Price Chopper, Priority US, Publix, Roche Brothers, Save-a-Lot Special Blend, Schnucks, Science Diet Feline Savory Cuts Cans, Sophistacat, Special Kitty, Springfield Prize, Sprout, Stop and Shop Companion, Tops Companion, Wegmans, Weis Total Pet, Western family US, White Rose, Winn Dixie, Your Pet, LIFELong™, Ol’ Roy and Special Kitty.

Learn more about the pet food industry here, and check out what to buy here.

Egg Farm Worker Says Complaints Ignored

U.S. Agriculture Department employees worked full time at the egg farms responsible for the recent salmonella outbreak and subsequent recall. However, the workers ignored complaints about the conditions on site, claiming that their duty was to grade the eggs, not to look for health problems. The Seattle Times reports:

"In response to the outbreak that has led to a recall of about 550 million eggs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration examined the Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms and noted in a report this week that inspectors found rodents, wild birds, seeping manure and maggots in the operations there."

Hyundai-Kia Announces Recall Due to Fire Hazard

See the article here.

Justice Department Sues Sheriff Over Disciminatory Practices

CNN reports that the Justice Department has sued an Arizona sheriff after the sheriff refused to hand over documents related to the office's policies and procedures on immigration. The Justice Department is investigating whether policies such as "immigration sweeps" are discriminatory under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the third lawsuit in a month filed by the Justice Department against Arizona officials related to Arizona's controversial immigration law, which allows officers to demand verification of immigration status.

Andrew Ackley Speaking on Social Media

On September 15, 2010 I will be speaking at the WSAJ CLE legal seminar, "The Power and Pitfalls of Social Media and Our Practices." My topic is Resisting and Compelling Discovery of Social Networking Materials. Please join us to learn the necessities of the law related to online social networking.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bedridden and Dependant After Deputy Tackle

This article was published recently in the Seattle Times. It details the life of Christopher Harris, represented by Osborn Machler, PLLC, after he was tackled by a King County Sheriff's Deputy in May of 2009.

Here is a KOMO 4 news video.

Recent Recalls

Honda recalls
Toyota recalls
Egg recalls