Turn 15 at the Ridge Motorsports Park on 7/13/2019 “The Perfect Day”

Life at Lean

August 6th, 2019
By Brett Wieburg

I was recently asked to explain why I ride.  Usually, the unstated part of this question has to do with the dangers associated with riding. I have crashed – both on the street and at the racetrack – and clearly, these were not great experiences.  The sound of a bike that you have lovingly cared for being destroyed as it slides across the pavement is truly awful.  The injury and pain – thankfully mine have been “relatively” minor- following a crash is even worse.  However, the person was genuinely curious, and it provoked some self-analysis.

I have always been fascinated with motorcycles.  Growing up, I always envied my friends who had minibikes.  I was pretty accident prone back then – the emergency room staff knew my parents by name – and looking back, it was probably a good idea to limit my travel options to the human-powered variety.  The interest, however, never left.  In college, I used to walk past a new 1986 Honda VFR750F Interceptor parked at my dorm every day. This bike checked so many boxes.  It was beautify and looked like it was going 100 miles per hour just sitting on the side stand.

My first dream bike

I drooled over that bike, but as a struggling college athlete – I played football at Western Illinois University – riding was again, out of the question.  Years passed and Tawan and I were busy raising two incredible kids and pursing our respective careers.  Through our daughter’s AAU basketball team, we met other parents who rode.  They would show up riding their Harley Davidsons and one day we got to talking. I was a world of questions and before we knew it, we were at a dealership looking at motorcycles.  Because I have always been a racing fan, I was particularly interested in sport bikes.

My first motorcycle was a 2008 Ducati Monster.  When I completed the basic rider course and obtained my endorsement, I assumed I would ride recreationally and only on nice summer days. I was so very wrong about this.  In short order, I quickly discovered that there were many parallels between riding and my other passions, football and litigation.   As with those activities, when you master one technique, you discover several others you need to master. It is literally a never-ending journey, but one that offers so many rewards.

In short order, I got bit by the riding bug bad.  Very bad.  I found myself riding every day, year-round no matter what the weather. I’ve ridden in the desert heat, pouring rain, and though certainly not planned, in snow.  I regularly ride to depositions and court hearings.  While on my old Ducati, I discovered the benefits of good weatherproof gear.   I still remember the look of horror in the receptionist’s eyes as I stood before her soaking wet while a steadily increasing puddle of water spread out at me feet.  Even this wasn’t enough to deter me.  Like so many other experiences, it was a lesson that I needed to learn before I could move on to the next level.

Given my love of racing, I suppose it was natural that I found myself at the racetrack.  I attended my first track school in 2009 and was amazed at how much there was to learn and how much technique was involved.  A lot of new riders think that if they can drive a car, they can ride a motorcycle.  This is a dangerous assumption.  Exploring your limits on a motorcycle – unless you’re destined for sponsorship and a professional racing – is a lot closer to flying than it is driving.

Before my first track day, I assumed that track riders where intense, hyper-competitive, take no prisoners folks.  What I found was a group of incredibly friendly, laid back people who are passionate about riding.  I was immediately hooked.

I’ve completed more track days in the years since than I can remember. I have also had a lot of excellent coaching along the way.  I’ve become an annual student at Keith Code’s California Superbike School.  If you ride and want to get better, I can’t recommend this school enough.  At this year’s school, Keith debriefed me after each track session. If your unfamiliar with Keith’s resume, this is a bit like having Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan teach you to play basketball.

Ever so often, I have “football dreams” and “trial dreams”.  They’re pretty intense and occasionally I wake up in mid-flight across the bed diving to make an interception or sitting ready to make my closing argument.  Now, I also have “riding dreams” where my setup for a given turn – usually either turn two at Pacific Raceways or turns 1-6 at the Ridge Motorsports Complex – is perfect.  I put the bike on its side as I follow the perfect line through a technical corner.  In reality, when you get it right, your sense of time slows dramatically.  You see things before they happen and have complete confidence in your ability to put the bike anywhere you want it. That feeling is identical to the “zone” I experienced playing football and trying cases before juries.  It’s pure bliss and once you find it, you never want to let it go. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the “zone”.  It isn’t something that just happens though.  It takes a lot of hard work, years of practice, attention to minute detail, and a total commitment to always improving your skillset.

I still have much to learn and there are so many men and women out there whose skill sets are vastly superior.  That doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  I’m having an absolute blast learning and passing on my knowledge to others. I get to do this in the courtroom, discussing motorcycle-related legislation with our state representatives, and most recently I’ve found the opportunity to pass on my riding knowledge teaching the basic riding course with the Evergreen Safety Foundation.    The old saying, “if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life” may be a bit cliché, but it is also so very true.

Keep the rubber side down, and if you find yourself with legal issues – especially if they relate to motorcycles – give us a call!

See you out there!

Joint and Several Liability: My accident was caused by more than one person, who do I sue and who do I settle with?

May 14th, 2019
By Brett Wieburg

Typically, where more than one party is responsible for causing or contributing to another’s injuries and damages, the trier of fact, be that a judge or jury, will determine the percentage of total fault which is attributable to every entity which caused the claimant’s damages. The sum of the percentages of the total fault attributed to at-fault entities shall equal one hundred percent.  RCW 4.22.070.  Judgment is therefore, entered in an amount which represents a party’s proportional share of the injured party’s total damages.

However, there is a very large and critical exception to the foregoing rule.  If the trier of fact determines that the injured party was not at fault, the defendants against whom judgment is entered will be held “jointly and severally liable” for the sum of their proportionate shares of the claimant’s total damages.  RCW 4.22.070(1)(b).   This means that if one of the defendants is uninsured, underinsured, or does not have enough assets to pay his or her proportionate share of the damages, the other defendant or defendants would be responsible for paying the entire judgment.  In other words, a defendant who is determined to be only one percent at fault could be on the hook for paying the entire judgment if his fellow defendant or defendants do not have enough insurance coverage or funds to pay their proportionate share.

For example, let’s assume that Amy was a passenger in her friend, Bob’s, car.  Bob, after stopping at a red light, starts to make a right turn.  Bob is a generally careful driver, but if he had been paying a bit more attention, he would have seen Charlie, who was traveling well in excess of the speed limit, zipping through the intersection.  Charlie collides with Amy and Bob’s car and Amy is injured.  Amy, a passenger is clearly fault free.  At trial, a jury decides that Bob was one-percent at fault and Charlie is ninety-nine percent at fault.    Unfortunately, Charlie has no insurance coverage and no assets.  Who pays for Amy’s injuries?

Because Amy did not cause or contribute to her own injuries and is therefore “fault free”, and because there are two or more defendants against whom judgment can be entered, both Bob and Charlie are equally on the hook for the entire judgment.  This is known as joint and several liability.   Because Charlie has no ability to compensate Amy, Bob, even though he played only a small role in causing the collision, must pay the entire judgment.

Some people – especially those in Bob’s shoes – question whether the foregoing outcome is fair or just.  However, without the rule of joint and several liability, Amy would be doubly injured.  Without joint and several liability, she would not only go without compensation for her pain and suffering, but she would also have to pay virtually all of her own medical bills.  Depending on Amy’s financial situation, this could be devastating.  Therefore, Washington State adopted joint and several liability.  In Washington State, an innocent victim’s compensation matters more than limiting the damages either negligent party pays.

People who have been seriously injured in an accident that is caused by more than one person or entity, must answer important legal questions about the share of damages that may be apportioned to each negligent party.  Generally, the most important thing to do is to preserve joint and several liability to make sure that an injured person is fully compensated.

Let’s revisit the example above.   Let’s assume that Amy is in financial distress and needs funds quickly.    If Amy negotiates a nominal settlement with Charlie leaving Bob the sole defendant in her lawsuit, she would lose joint and several liability. By settling with Charlie, Amy removes him as a party against whom judgment could be entered.  This means that Amy’s sole source of compensation is Bob who was found to be only one-percent at fault.   By settling with Charlie, Amy has now limited her available compensation to one-percent of her total damages.

There are many important decisions which should be addressed by an experienced and competent attorney.  It is very easy to make a mistake, and as the foregoing example illustrates, the consequences of getting it wrong can be devastating.   We have over twenty-five years of experience successfully navigating issues like these and would be happy to help you.

Lessons From a Quick Motorcycle Trip Home

April 19th, 2019
By Brett Wieburg

Sometimes a quick trip home from the office can lead you down a road you’d rather not travel. This at least was my experience riding my favorite motorcycle home from work weeks ago.

Riding motorcycles year-round may seem insane or may sound routine depending on your perspective. For the past ten years, I have commuted on a motorcycle. In addition to being a lot of fun, I have found riding to be a very cost effective means of transportation. In addition to getting the benefit of access to the quicker moving HOV or car pool lanes, parking is far less expensive. Putting on waterproof gear when it rains can be a pain, but I’ve always found that the fun and savings more than makes up for the hassle.   You must be far more careful riding in winter conditions, but this is something that I routinely do anytime of the year.

With the foregoing in mind, I set out to ride from our Issaquah, WA office to our home in Sammamish. I’ve taken this route countless times and am intimately familiar with the roads and traffic patterns. Unfortunately, familiarity can lead to complacency and it certainly did in my case. The weather was clear and dry although at 38 degrees, it was certainly cold.  Riding at night, I didn’t notice a very fine layer of black ice had formed and while riding through a curve, my front wheel catastrophically lost traction.   I found myself on the ground watching and listening to the sickening sound of my favorite bike, a GSXR1000, sliding into a curb. Fortunately, my injuries consisted of a few scrapes and a back that was sore for a week. My GSXR, unfortunately sustained frame damage when it struck the curb and was a total loss.

Being familiar with prosecuting and defending property damages claims, I was able to quickly negotiate a favorable settlement which paid for not only my motorcycle, but also my gear and helmet. It has now been two weeks since my crash – the first in ten years – and I’m now sporting new gear and have a new ride – a BMW S1000RR. If like me, you find yourself in the dreaded position of having to file an accident claim and need representation, or if you just have some simple questions, we’re here to help. We’ve “been there and done that” and are here to help you.

Mandatory Arbitration in Washington State

Washington enacted legislation in 1979 requiring mandatory arbitration (MAR) of a civil action having an amount in controversy of no more than $15,000 upon demand of either party under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 7.06. Since 1979, the MAR limit has been increased several times but, for the past several years, the MAR maximum has remained at $50,000. On March 13, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law revised RCW 7.06, increasing the MAR maximum to $100,000 and raising the fee for requesting a trial de novo from $250 to $450 effective September 1, 2018.

Washington’s MAR system is separate from private contractual arbitration. Unlike private arbitration, MAR is governed by a set of MAR rules having the purpose “primarily to alleviate the court congestion and reduce the delay in hearing civil cases.” Christie-Lambert Van & Storage Co. v. McLeod, 39 Wn. App. 298, 302, 693 P.2d 161 (1984). To that end, the MAR rules curtail or streamline discovery and relax the evidence rules. A MAR case is adjudicated by an arbitrator drawn from a pool of Washington attorneys with licensure of at least five years who have volunteered for inclusion in the arbitrator pool. The constitutional right to a jury trial is preserved in MAR by allowing a party dissatisfied with the arbitrated outcome to request a jury trial.  This is commonly called a request for trial de novo which is Latin for “new trial”.  In Washington, the decision to request a trial de novo comes with some important considerations.   If a party – either the plaintiff or defendant – requests a trial de novo, but does not obtain a better result, they must pay the other sides actual attorney fees and costs from the date of the de novo request.  These costs are often tens of thousands of dollars.

Once a party requests a trial de novo, the court clerk places the arbitration award under seal.  The jury trial is then conducted as though no arbitration proceeding had occurred. Malted Mousse, Inc. v. Steinmetz, 150 Wn.2d 518, 528, 79 P.3d 1154 (2003). This includes that no “pleading, brief, or statement (written or oral) during the trial may refer to the arbitration proceeding.” Id.
Since the enactment of MAR legislation attorneys on both sides of the bar have offered heated legislative testimony about its efficacy and fairness. Plaintiffs’ bar has argued that MAR promotes access to justice for small cases. The defense bar has often argued that MAR raises defense costs by imposing an additional hurdle to a jury trial and by imposing a biased tribunal that is heavily populated by plaintiff-leaning arbitrators wherein the defense has limited access to discovery. Since 1979, the plaintiffs’ bar has lobbied to successively ratchet up the MAR limit. In 2003, MAR had a limit of $35,000 and, at present, the MAR limit is $50,000, where it will remain until September 1, 2018, when it is raised to $100,000. This arbitration limit applies to each claimant in MAR; thus, when there are two or more claimants in one lawsuit, each claimant is entitled to claim the maximum MAR amount. See Twitchell v. Kerrigan, 175 Wn. App. 454, 463, P.3d 1025 (2013). MAR is, therefore, not strictly limited to low-value cases. Increasingly, attorneys are joining multiple claimants in a single action, thereby raising the amount for determination by an arbitrator in MAR.
Although MAR does substantially curtail discovery and creates an additional hurdle to securing a trial by jury, MAR tends to be an efficient and relatively speedy way to resolve claims.  If necessary, attorneys can often ameliorate the restrictions of MAR discovery by using MAR arbitration motions to secure additional discovery and by using expert testimony early in the case. Removal to federal court also remains an option in cases where the amount in controversy exceeds the removal minimum of $75,000 and the parties are residents of different states. Under the amended MAR legislation, MAR remains inapplicable to claims other than for monetary damages.

I have arbitrated numerous matters to favorable outcomes in MAR for both plaintiff’s and defendants.  I’m also frequently asked to serve as an arbitrator in many Western Washington counties.  If you have questions about your claim or the Mandatory Arbitration Rules, please contact us at your convince.

What You Should Know about Your Insurance Coverage

It is important that every driver knows and understands what type of auto insurance he or she has and what is covered in the event of an accident. While liability insurance covers the others, who may be injured by your negligence, there are several clauses in an insurance policy that apply if you have been injured:

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

This pays your medical bills and lost earnings, up to a certain limit. This coverage applies regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Just because you make use of PIP, your auto insurance premiums should not go up. Although PIP compensates injured parties for their medical bills and lost wages, claims cannot be made for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, inconvenience, or loss of life’s enjoyment. Your insurance company may also be entitled to reimbursement from any verdict or settlement. This is called subrogation.

Bodily Injury Liability

If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence, that party’s Bodily Injury Liability coverage should compensate you for all losses sustained as a result of your injuries. This usually covers all economic and non-economic damages.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

This is coverage you buy to cover yourself and your passengers if you are injured by a driver who has no auto insurance or who does not have sufficient coverage to fully compensate you for your losses.

How Should I Document the Evidence?

The importance of documenting and preserving the evidence cannot be overlooked if you have been hurt in a car accident. Failing to document and preserve evidence is often the biggest mistake car accident victims make. Here are a few important pointers on what you can do to bolster your personal injury claim:

  • To help prepare your claim, write down notes from the accident scene including location, time, and the circumstances when everything is still fresh in your memory. Be sure to provide copies of these to your attorney.
  • Take good photographs of the collision scene, vehicles, and your injuries. Make sure they are kept in a safe place as they are critical evidence.
  • Report all of your medical symptoms to your medical providers.
  • Keep track of work days missed.
  • Maintain a journal of your symptoms and their impact on your everyday life.
  • Maintain a log of your doctor office visits
  • Keep a log of your physical therapy appointments
  • Itemize all your expenses

Contacting an Attorney

If you have been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, you should know that there is no magic formula to determine what compensation you are entitled to recover. Because Wieburg Law Offices, PLLC represents both injured parties and parties who have been sued, we are intimately familiar with all aspects of the claims process. When you open a claim with another insurance company, they will do their best to settle the claim as quickly as possible based on the information you provide. However, this does not mean that their settlement offer or offers are fair and comprehensive. You will also be dealing with professionals who have vast experience defending claims such as yours. They have ethical obligations to protect their insured. Who is looking out for your best interests? Who is making sure that you get fairly and fully compensated for all your losses? Anyone who has been hurt in a car accident would benefit from a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer who will thoroughly and honestly evaluate the case.