Chain | Cohn | Stiles matches donation to MADD Kern County by mother of Tehachapi teenager who died after being struck, killed by DUI driver

August 23, 2017 | 8:44 am


The mother of Leslie Balderrama, a Tehachapi teenager who was struck and killed by a DUI driver in 2015, has donated $2,500 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, following the settlement of her wrongful death lawsuit.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the law firm that represented mother Denise Natividad, matched the donation. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

“When we became victims of a DUI crime, MADD Kern County became our advocate and worked hard to make sure we had a voice, and treated our family with compassion,” said Denise Natividad, mother of Leslie Balderrama. “We’re able to give back now and help another local family who unfortunately will have to deal with the aftermath of the actions of a drunk or drugged driver.”

Added Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the Natividad family:

“The crash that claimed the life of Leslie Baldarrama was incredibly tragic and 100 percent avoidable like all DUI crashes. Our law firm is honored to continue to help MADD Kern County, and it’s touching to know that Leslie’s family feels the same way.”

The $5,000 will go toward the fourth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, MADD Kern County’s annual event that raises funds to help innocent victims of local DUI crashes, raises awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs, including the court advocate program that helped the Natividad family through the criminal trial. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is serving as a presenting sponsor for the event.

“Our wish is to get to a point where MADD Kern County’s services aren’t needed,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist with MADD Kern County. “Until then, we’re grateful for the support from Denise Natividad, which helps us continue to advocate for victims, and fight to end drunk and drugged driving in Kern County forever.”

The 2017 Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash will be held the morning of Sept. 23 at Park at River Walk. You can help by signing up to walk, run (free kid’s fun run, 5K or 10K), joining as a team captain, donating or volunteering. The family of Leslie Balderrama has formed a team, and will be in attendance. For more information, go to walklikemadd.org/bakersfield.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, with 4,056 DUI arrests in 2016, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. That’s more than 11 DUI arrests per day. Sadly, many impaired drivers weren’t stopped in time, and instead caused major damage to innocent lives.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash at the fault of someone else, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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5 notable case results from 2016 include motorcycle accident, civil rights, car accident cases

January 18, 2017 | 10:16 am


With 2017 just beginning, we wanted to take a look back at some noteworthy case results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

 

$10 million — Motorcycle Accident 

In June 2014, 27-year-old John Doe was riding his motorcycle in the Oildale area. At that same moment, Doe Defendant was driving a mobile crane while in the course and scope of his employment with Doe Crane Company. He pulled out of a driveway and directly into the path of John Doe’s motorcycle, who was unable to avoid the collision. As a result, John Doe suffered catastrophic injuries, and after undergoing surgical procedures, he lost his right leg. Later, the plaintiff complained of impaired memory, concentration and behavioral alterations, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, pain, weakness and numbness in all extremities, and phantom leg pain.

David K. Cohn of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented John Doe.

The law firm argued that the crane company negligently entrusted, supervised, and trained the driver, and also did not properly maintain the property, which created a dangerous condition that blocked views of employees from exiting the facility. Additionally, the company failed to terminate the driver, who had a blood alcohol level of .02 or above.

In early 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled the motorcyclist accident case for $10 million.

 

$3.4 million — Civil Rights / Wrongful Death

On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013. Attorneys Neil Gehlawat and David Cohn represented the family.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached by Silva’s family for $3.4 million. To read a full chronology of events from the case, click here.

 

$2.25 million — Car Accident 

Ms. Vargas was riding as a passenger in a car when a 2004 Ford Escape rear-ended her vehicle while stopped at a stop sign in Porterville, and suffered severe injuries as a result. The driver of the Ford Escape was in the course and scope of her employment with defendant VNZ Payroll Services.

Matthew Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Vargas, who suffered severe personal injuries including fractured acetabulum, facial lacerations and scars, neck and back pain and a traumatic brain injury, confirmed by CT and MRI studies.

In July, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled Vargas’ car accident case for $2.25 million.

 

$1.5 million — Rear-End / Car Accident 

Ms. Contreras was on her way home from a family function when she stopped at a red light at 24th Street approaching Buck Owens Boulevard. At that time, she was rear-ended by Stephen Domingue, who was in Bakersfield on business for Mason Specialty Tools, LLC.

The force of the impact was sufficient to push Contreras’ vehicle in the rear end of the vehicle in front of her. Domingue was found to be at fault by the Bakersfield Police Department for unsafe speed for prevailing conditions. As a result of the collision, Contreras suffered personal injuries, including traumatic disc herniation, and retained Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The accident exacerbated Contreras’ lumbar spine disease and hastened the need for surgery and the need for early medical retirement. Doctors advised she would have some pain and limitations for the rest of her life. In 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved her personal injury case for $1.5 million.

 

$1 million — Police Misconduct / Sexual Abuse  

This case arises out of the sexual assault of plaintiff Jane Doe in her Tehachapi home by Defendant Gabriel Lopez while in the course and scope of his employment with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the County of Kern. Lopez is currently serving time in prison for the acts committed against plaintiff (and another victim).

As a result of the sexual assault, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She did not feel comfortable discussing the incident for approximately one year after the incident due to feelings of embarrassment and repression. Plaintiff’s expert psychologist has diagnosed her with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, based on her interviews with Plaintiff and psychological testing conducted.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented the sexual assault victim, and in 2016 resolved her case for $1 million.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

‘Community Voices’ article calls for end of non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases

August 10, 2016 | 9:37 am


The partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims. The article was printed Sunday, Aug. 7, in The Bakersfield Californian, which you can read in the newspaper version here as well, or read below.

For media coverage on relevant and recent sexual assault cases represented by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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County’s non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases need to end

By the Partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the concept of transparency in government. Unfortunately, for years the County of Kern has attempted to cover up instances of sexual assault and misconduct by County law enforcement personnel.

Government transparency promotes accountability and transforms citizens into public watchdogs. For there to be effective public oversight of government, our citizens must be able to freely access information about the decisions their government makes. This includes the right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, especially when that money is being used to compensate victims of sexual assault.

Kern County’s pattern and practice of insisting on confidential settlements with victims of sexual assault flies in the face of transparency in government. If a County law enforcement official sexually assaults an innocent victim, then we as taxpayers have an absolute right to know about it. We have a right to know how it happened, why it happened, and what, if anything, is being done to ensure that it never happens again. Confidentiality does nothing to prevent sexual assault from occurring again; it is adverse to public policy and can allow the wrongful conduct to continue. But when the public is made aware of these wrongful acts, and the settlements that follow, it has the effect of exposing sexual predators and lax departmental policies, with the hope that curbing future wrongful conduct will become an obvious priority for the County.

The only part of a settlement in sexual assault cases that should remain confidential is the identity of the victim. Protecting their identities encourages victims to come forward without fear of retaliation or humiliation.  Making the settlement terms publicly known while keeping the identity of victims confidential strikes the right balance between open government and protecting the dignity of victims.

The County’s well-documented practice of paying “hush money” to victims, however, is far from dignified. Even though County officials in news stories have described this practice as “nothing unusual,” and defended it as a “common practice throughout the United States,” it is far from common and it is neither morally nor ethically sound. The payment program is an acceptable practice in the context of resolving small claims for property damage, but is far from appropriate in the context of fairly compensating victims of sexual assault. To even suggest that the two are somehow equivalent is dehumanizing and demeaning to victims of sexual assault.

Approaching unrepresented victims of sexual misconduct with small stacks of cash at their homes shortly after they have been sexually assaulted is wrong, particularly where the perpetrator and fixer both hail from the same public entity. Perhaps more importantly, this practice runs afoul of our commitment to transparency and accountability, because it has the effect of sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug, without the public ever knowing about it.

One county official insisted to local media that confidential settlements have “nothing to do with transparency,” and criticized our law firm for being guardians of the public trust. We don’t take that as a criticism – we embrace it as our commitment to our community.

It’s time for the County to put an end to this abhorrent practice.

— Chain | Cohn | Stiles is a Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm. The partners include David Cohn, James Yoro, Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat.

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RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE

 

OTHER CHAIN | COHN | STILES SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles settles K-9 dog bite case against County of Kern for record $2 million

January 13, 2016 | 8:49 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has settled a lawsuit on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what is the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database.

On July 21, 2013, Erin Casey (21 years old at the time) was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg.

Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the County of Kern shortly after the incident on behalf of Casey.  The parties recently agreed on a settlement for $2 million, a record amount against a public entity in California for a dog bite case, VerdictSearch records show.

Casey was represented by attorneys Matt Clark and Neil Gehlawat from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Law enforcement K-9s are capable of inflicting serious injuries, including death, which is why it is imperative that they only be released when necessary, and in accordance with departmental protocols,” said Clark, lead attorney on the case. “Also, when they are released, they must be under the control of their handler. In this instance, everyone agreed that the K-9 should not have been released, and once it latched onto Ms. Casey, the deputy failed to control his dog. As a result of this mistake, Ms. Casey sustained severe, life-altering injuries.

Clark added: “We believe this settlement fairly compensates Ms. Casey for her loss.”

If you or someone you know has been attacked by a dog, contact the dog bite attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Wrongful death, auto accident cases headline million-dollar results in 2015

January 6, 2016 | 11:31 am


As the New Year begins, let’s take a look back at 2015 at several real results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

$6 Million – Wrongful Death

Jesse Rios was going for his routine morning jog when he was struck and killed an employee of West Coast Casing, LLC. The driver was driving a company truck home from work when he fell asleep at the wheel in a residential neighborhood, allowing his truck to veer up onto the sidewalk, where he struck Jesse.

Jesse left behind a young daughter, a new wife, and his devastated mother. Before his death, Jesse had worked two jobs to help care and support his family.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his family’s behalf, claiming that Eliseo Soto was negligent when he fell asleep at the wheel.

During the lawsuit, it was discovered the driver had previously had an accident due to falling asleep at the wheel. Also, he admitted that he was tired on the morning of the accident and that he should have pulled over to the side of the road and slept. In addition to proving that both the driver and West Coast Casing, LLC, were liable for the accident, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to prove that Jesse, a cook and dishwasher at two chain restaurants, would have financially supported his young family for many years to come.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained vocational and economic experts to prove the value of Jesse’s financial contribution to the family. The case settled at mediation for $6 million less than seven months after the accident.

$3.5 million – Big Rig Accident

The plaintiff was driving in his work truck as he was returning to Bakersfield, having performed a job in Lancaster, Calif. As the plaintiff was traveling on the high-way, a dust storm caused visibility to drop to almost zero. The plaintiff came to a stop, as vehicles in front of him stopped. At that time, the defendant, who was driving a tractor trailer for Market Transport, failed to see traffic stopped ahead of him, and he rear-ended the plaintiff.

The plaintiff did not seek immediate medical care after the accident. Instead, his employer drove him back to Bakersfield, and he sought urgent care treatment later that same day. Upon retaining Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the lawyers suggested that the plaintiff seek additional emergency medical care. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a brain bleed.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against the defendant and his employer, Market Transport, for negligence in the big rig accident.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, recognizing the significance of the plaintiff’s injuries, asked that he be evaluated by a neurologist. Ultimately, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. Chain | Cohn | Stiles retained experts in neurology, psychology, neuropsychology, endocrinology, vocational rehabilitation and economics to offer opinions regarding the plaintiff’s future needs.

The case ultimately settled at second mediation for $3.5 million.

$2.35 million – Auto Accident

The plaintiff was driving a 20016 GMC Denali safely northbound in Tehachapi. At the same time and place, a driver of a 2007 Sterling truck was going northbound on the same road while in the course and scope of employment for Shred-It USA Inc.

The defendant carelessly and unlawfully maintained and operated the vehicle so as to cause a crash and rear-end the plaintiff’s vehicle, which caused serious and permanent injuries to his body. As a result, the plaintiff suffered a disability and was unable to resume his pre-injury occupation as a correctional officer.

The case settled in 2015 for $2.35 million.

$2.15 million – Industrial Accident

Plaintiff John Doe was a tractor trailer driver assigned to pick up a load of pipe from Doe Pipe Manufacturer, loaded by the company, and deliver it to a customer in Colorado. The plaintiff’s only involvement in loading the pipe was throwing straps over the load to secure it. When he arrived in Colorado, he began unstrapping the load, when a large piece of pipe rolled, striking plaintiff’s foot. He suffered a broken foot, and eventually developed Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit against Doe Pipe Manufacturer, alleging they negligently loaded the pipe. Specifically, the firm alleged the defendant failed to place anti-roll blocking or chalks around the piece of pipe. The defendant claimed they were not responsible, citing federal safety regulations that state truck drivers are responsible for the safety and securement of loads.

In addition to its trucking expert, Chain | Cohn | Stiles hired a computer graphics expert to create a simulation of the load on the plaintiff’s truck, which proved the plaintiff could not see the top of his load to ensure that the pipe on top was properly chalked into place, and the defendant prohibited him from climbing on top of his load to check. Chain | Cohn | Stiles also retained medical experts to assist in determining what future medical care the plaintiff would require.

The case settled before the court for $2.15 million.

$2 Million – Dog Bite

The plaintiff called the Kern County Sheriff’s Office for assistance with domestic violence. Her child’s father was being abusive.

When Sheriff’s department officers arrived, the plaintiff began walking toward the deputy’s patrol car, and the K-9 inside of the patrol car was released, and began attacking the plaintiff. The department claimed the K-9 was released accidentally.

The dog bite case settled with the County of Kern for $2 million.

$1 million – Wrongful Death

John Doe was a resident in a residential care facility that specialized in the care of adults with severe developmental disabilities.

While in the home, John Doe got into an argument with one of the home’s staff members. John Doe punched the staff member in the face, which resulted in several additional staff members physically restraining John Doe, face down, on the home’s floor. John Doe was restrained for a period of approximately 14 minutes, during which time he stopped breathing. No one from the home attempted to resuscitate John Doe, and he was not provided with any medical care until law enforcement and paramedics arrived on scene.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of John Doe’s mother.

Throughout litigation, the group home contended that it was not at fault for John Doe’s death, and that instead his death was due to his poor health. Moreover, the group home contended that John Doe started the altercation, by punching the staff member. Chain | Cohn | Stiles  was successful in proving that the group home should have provided special training to its staff, including training for how to safely restrain someone such as John Doe.

The case settled for insurance policy limits of $1 million.

$810,000 – Workers’ Compensation

The plaintiff was injured when a drill fell on his shoulder, causing severe injuries to his neck, upper back, shoulder and chest. The client and his family came to Chain | Cohn | Stiles because they needed help dealing with the complicated nature of the injuries and the consequences it was having on all of them.

The total guaranteed payout to the client came out to $810,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Media covers record-breaking Chain | Cohn | Stiles settlement

March 5, 2014 | 4:30 pm


Late last week, Chain | Cohn | Stiles announced a wrongful death settlement between the County of Kern and the families of two people killed by a speeding Kern County Sheriff’s deputy.

That $8.8 million settlement is believed to be record-breaking for an automobile accident case against the County of Kern. But the toughest part of a wrongful death case like this, Chain | Cohn | Stiles Managing Partner David K. Cohn says, is placing the value on a human life.

Cohn discussed the case and settlement with The Bakersfield Californian’s CEO Richard Been on “First Look with Scott Cox” live news show. (Watch the video of the show above)

Cohn represented Daniel Hiler’s fiancee and two young sons. The 24-year-old was struck and killed along with Chrystal Jolley, 30, in late 2011 by Kern County Sherriff’s Deputy John Swearengin.

Both were crossing a road in Oildale when Swearengin’s patrol vehicle struck and killed them. Swearengin was driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone before hitting Hiler and Jolley. He was responding to a call of a stolen vehicle; however, his emergency lights and siren were not turned on.

Law enforcement officers can travel in excess of the posted speed limit so long as their forward facing overhead lights are activated to warn others that they are responding to an emergency, but Swearengin didn’t do that, Cohn said. In fact, the deputy violated several policies and procedures.

The Hiler family will receive $4.8 million from the settlement.

“You try to convey that loss of love, society, comfort and protection they (Hiler’s kids) will not have,” Cohn said Tuesday on the show. “And that’s when you ask the jury to consider and put a number on that loss.”

Cohn’s appearance on the live streamed-radio news show was the latest press on the case. Following Friday’s announcement, media from throughout Bakersfield, Kern County, the state and even Associated Press mentioned the civil case’s culmination. The criminal case is ongoing.

Local media coverage included (click the links for news coverage on the case):

The Bakersfield Californian

KGET-17 (NBC)

KBAK 29, KBFX 58 (Fox, BakersfieldNow.com)

KERO-23 (ABC)

And several other news outlets ran the Associated Press story on the Chain | Cohn | Stiles settlement, such as this one here.

While the civil case is settled, the criminal case against Swearengin continues. He is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and he has plead not guilty.

Cohn also discussed other Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases involving Sheriff’s deputies, including a claim brought by a young woman who was sexually assaulted by a deputy at her home in Tehachapi. The Sheriff’s deputy involved in the sexual assault is currently being prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. For more current cases involving Chain | Cohn | Stiles, go to Chainlaw.com.

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UPDATE: Below is media coverage regarding the criminal case against the Kern County Sheriff’s deputy involved in the crash. Local and national media covered the case: