SEATTLE - Attorneys from around the state are meeting in Seattle this week for updates on the hottest legal topics heading into the new year. Some stem from the sweeping changes to the Washington workers compensation system that go into effect Jan. 1.
According to Tacoma attorney Kathryn Comfort, the Washington Legislature, perhaps unintentionally, made the law more complicated - and the state has not yet released new rules about how it will work.
"We have concerns about people short-changing themselves. There has been a lot of talk about how much money this is going to save. There's only one place that money's going to come from, and that's from the pockets of injured workers, settling their cases for less than they otherwise would have gotten."
Comfort says the new law encourages injured workers to settle claims with a lump-sum payment. She's concerned that if a person is laid up and not working, they'll feel pressure to take whatever is offered - whether or not it is adequate. The state says the system will reduce costs and keep 'workers comp' rates low for employers.
Internet crimes are another hot legal topic. They are on the rise, from cyber-stalking and harassment to privacy violations and pornography. Seattle attorney Becky Roe says current federal law gives Internet service providers immunity when an online user commits a crime, although a rash of lawsuits now in the courts might eventually change that. In the meantime, she says, attorneys can use state laws to fight cyber-crimes.
"Washington actually has about five statutes that are sort of a hybrid of criminal harassment, malicious harassment, cyber-stalking, computer trespass, all of those - but there is a civil remedy component."
Roe says some of the Washington laws provide for damages of $10,000 per incident, making them very effective at stopping most types of harassment. These crimes have always been problems, she adds, but they have more serious consequences online because the hurtful or damaging information can spread so quickly.
Both Roe and Comfort are presenting workshops for their fellow legal professionals at the Washington State Association for Justice Winter Conference, Dec. 8 and 9 at the Washington State Convention Center, Seattle.