‘Drive like you work here’: Use extra caution to protect road workers and others

April 17, 2019 | 6:00 am


Each spring, “National Work Zone Awareness” reminds drivers to use extra caution in construction zones. And with the various construction projects taking place throughout Bakersfield and Kern County, the message of safety is that much more important.

While you’re driving through these zones, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants you to remember this year’s safety slogan: “Drive like you work here” to keep yourself and others safe.

“The people working to improve our roadways are just like you and I. We all want to get home to our families after a hard day’s work,” said David Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Let’s make sure we always slow down and be extra alert in construction zones.”

Since 2000, Federal Highway Administration has worked with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety and mobility issues in work zones through National Work Zone Awareness. In Bakersfield, construction has been ongoing as workers continue working on the Centennial Corridor, a four-phase freeway project that eventually will connect the Westside Parkway to Highway 99, and the Highway 58 and Highway 99 connector ramps. Construction of “Phase 4” is expected to begin this summer, and the entire Centennial Corridor Project is expected to be finished in 2022, according to local media reports.

Unfortunately, many dangers lurk for road workers, which include crashes that result in injuries and even death. In 2017, the most recent year with complete statistics available, the United States saw 132 worker fatalities in road construction sites, 222 fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks and buses, and 203 fatal work crashes where speeding was a factor, according to the federal department of transportation.

In fact, speed is a contributing factor in almost 29 percent of 2017 fatal work zone crashes, according to the department of transportation. Speeding drivers are less likely to safely navigate the roadway conditions, lane closures, lane shifts, rough surfaces, and other conditions that are common in work zones. Distracted driving is also a big concern.

In California alone since 1921, 189 Caltrans employees have been killed on the job. In 2017, 46 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured from crashes that happened in construction zones, according to data from the California Highway Patrol. California’s “Move Over Law,” which went into effect in 2007, requires drivers approaching Caltrans vehicles, tow trucks or emergency vehicles with flashing lights to move over a lane if safe to do so.

When traveling through work zones, drivers should practice the following work zone safety tips:

  • Plan ahead. Expect delays, plan for them, and leave early to reach your destination on time. When you can, avoid work zones altogether by using alternate routes.
  • Obey road crews and signs. When approaching a work zone, watch for cones, barrels, signs, large vehicles, or workers in bright-colored vests to warn you and direct you where to go.
  • Slow down. Look for signs indicating the speed limit through the work zone. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you and follow the posted speed limit.
  • Move over. California has move-over laws when passing work crews and official vehicles parked on the shoulder with flashing warning lights.
  • Avoid distractions. Keep your eyes on the road and off your phone. Just drive.
  • Watch for sudden stoppages. In 2017, 25 percent of fatal work zone crashes involved rear-end collisions.
  • Watch for large vehicles. Don’t make sudden lane changes in front of trucks that are trying to slow down. In 2017, 50 percent of fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks or buses occurred on rural roadways. Between 2013 and 2017, fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks increased by 43 percent.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a work zone accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles donates $10,000 for Bakersfield Homeless Center jobs program

April 3, 2019 | 11:41 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has donated $10,000 to the Bakersfield Homeless Center in an effort to combat our community’s homeless epidemic.

The donation will go toward the homeless center’s job skills training program and street cleaning team focusing on downtown Bakersfield. In short, the program helps homeless center residents move forward with their lives while making a difference in our community. The program is designed to be a transitional program, where participants gain real-world skills, build confidence, and develop experience to find long-term employment.

The donation comes on the heels of a Kern County Homeless Collaborative report that found a 50 percent increase in the local homeless population over last year’s count, with over 1,330 people locally experiencing homelessness. Large efforts by City of Bakersfield and Kern County to tackle the issue are underway.

“Sadly, we see the effects of homelessness every day on the streets in downtown Bakersfield and outside our own office,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the law firm. “If there is something we can all do to help homeless center residents out of homelessness, while at the same time making sure our city is presented as the jewel that it is, then we should all help. All downtown businesses are impacted by homelessness, and I would encourage others to step forward, and help support a solution.”

Added Louis Gill, executive director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center: “The dedication of Chain | Cohn | Stiles to invest in our community and the lives of everyone who lives in it is on full display as they lead the way with support for our Downtown Street Ambassador program.  We are grateful for their partnership in this program which provides employment opportunities for people seeking to improve their lives, beautifies areas around downtown businesses, and reaches out to homeless individuals through compassion and resources.”

Currently, there are more than 80 people participating in the homeless center’s jobs program. The Downtown Street Ambassadors program was first implemented by the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corporation in partnership with Bakersfield Homeless Center, Garden Pathways, The Mission at Kern County and Keep Bakersfield Beautiful.

The donation also falls on the 85-year anniversary for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which has been housed consistently in downtown Bakersfield during its history – from the Haberfelde Building, to the Sill Building, Bank of America, and its current home today.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Bakersfield ranked 7th deadliest city in the nation for pedestrians

March 27, 2019 | 1:11 pm


In recent years, Kern County has seen the number of pedestrian accidents rise to an alarming rate. In fact, a new study ranks Bakersfield as the seventh deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians.

Between 2008 to 2017, Bakersfield saw a total of 247 pedestrian deaths, bringing the annual pedestrian fatality rate to 2.83 per 100,000 residents, according to the report titled “Dangerous By Design” by Smart Growth America, an advocacy group that studies metropolitan expansion. While the number of pedestrians has only increased by a mere 1 percent during the past decade, Bakersfield saw fatalities of pedestrians rise an alarming 35.4 percent.

“It is crucial that we hold pedestrian safety to the highest degree or these statistics will only continue to get worse,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of motor vehicle accidents, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

 

Deadliest cities for pedestrians

Bakersfield is the only California city ranked in the top 23 worst cities for pedestrians, according to the study that looked at pedestrian safety in cities of different sizes, density, and rates of walking.

Part of the problem, according to the study, is that road designs continue to be tailored to drivers only, and are not taking pedestrian safety into account. Unnecessarily wide lanes with high speed limits and few sidewalks are also to blame.

Many pedestrian deaths in Bakersfield occurred on Union Avenue and in areas east of Highway 99, according to an interactive map.

“Dangerous by Design” calls upon the federal government to do something about this problem since federal regulations and dollars helped create unsafe conditions to begin with. It calls on U.S. Congress to adopt policies to make it mandatory to consider everyone’s use or our streets, and not only drivers. The report also asks over 1,400 communities to adopt policies to focus on applying ideas to help make a safer reality for all, as well as talking to locally elected officials, and raising awareness for the problem.

 

Local pedestrian safety

Several local efforts are underway with pedestrian safety in mind.

Walk Kern, a Kern County Public Works Department project devoted to providing safe pedestrian and bicycle paths around Kern County, has completed over 60 pedestrian and bicycle trails including “Walk Rexland,” “Walk Rosamond, and “Walk Lamont” to name a few. Future trails include Walk Belle Terrace, Walk South Chester, and Walk Lake Isabella.

The “Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan” — a partnership with California Department of Transportation — also aims to examine the city’s roadways to determine which are the most dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians and recommend design improvements, including more bike lanes, more signage, and new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic. Improving and creating more crosswalks, and educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road are just some efforts officials hope will help reduce pedestrian deaths.

A $30,000 grant for Bakersfield Police Department from the California Office of Traffic Safety is funding a variety of educational activities like bike rodeos, classroom presentations and community events aimed at teaching youth and adults about traffic rules, rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian and bicyclist.

And the Bakersfield-based injury and accident law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles for years has been doing its part to raise awareness and promote bicycle and pedestrian safety. Noting a lack of lighting throughout Bakersfield at night, the law firm teams up with local bicycle advocacy nonprofit Bike Bakersfield each year to give away hundreds of free bike lights and safety helmets in a project called Project Light up the Night.

 

How to stay safe

It’s up to pedestrians and drivers alike to make sure everyone gets home safe. Take these safety tips into account no matter if you’re behind the wheel, or taking a stroll:

Drivers:

  • Look out for pedestrians, especially in hard-to-see conditions such as at night or in bad weather.
  • Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or entering a crosswalk where pedestrians are likely to be.
  • Stop at the crosswalk stop line to give drivers in other lanes an opportunity to see and yield to the pedestrians, too.
  • Be cautious when backing up; pedestrians, especially young children, can move across your path.

Pedestrians:

  • Be obvious and predictable, crossing at crosswalks or intersections only, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible if there is no sidewalk
  • Make eye contact with drivers; never assume a driver sees you
  • Look left-right-left before stepping into a crosswalk. Having a green light or the “WALK” signal does not mean that it is safe to cross
  • Look for cars baking up, including white backup lights or signs the vehicle is running.
  • Don’t dart out between parked cars
  • Avoid distractions. Don’t walk and use your phone at the same time
  • Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials at night
  • Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, cross at crosswalks or intersections, and obey signs and signals.
  • Walk facing traffic, and if there is no sidewalk, walk as far from traffic as possible.
  • Pay attention to the traffic moving around you. This is not the time to be texting or talking on a cell phone.
  • Make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Never assume a driver sees you.
  • Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.
  • Look left, right, and then left again before crossing a street.

— Martin Esteves contributed to this report.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a pedestrian accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Brain Injury Awareness Month: ‘Change Your Mind’ about traumatic brain injuries

March 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


This month, we should come together to de-stigmatize brain injuries, empower those who have survived, and promote the many types of support programs that are available to victims.

That’s the message by the Brain Injury Association of America during Brain Injury Awareness Month and beyond through its “Change Your Mind” campaign to provide a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injuries, and the needs of people with injuries, and their families.

Here are a few statistics and pieces of information you may not know regarding brain injuries:

  • Each year in United States, approximately 2.5 million new brain injury cases are diagnosed with 1.365 million emergency room visits, and 235,000 hospitalizations totaling between $48-56 billion.
  • About 75 percent of brain injuries that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI).
  • Sports and recreational activities contribute to about 21 percent of all TBIs among American children and adolescents.
  • Every year in America, there are between 80,000-90,000 people who experience the onset of long-term or life-long disabilities associated with a TBI and another 50,000 people will die as a result of the brain injury.
  • An estimated 2,685 of those will be children 14 years of age or younger.
  • Lastly, a fall, more common with the elderly, is the leading cause of brain injuries, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and death.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, too, wants the public to know that legal help is available for those who suffer traumatic brain injuries from accidents caused by someone else, or from accidents at work. The Bakersfield-, Kern County-based law firm has extensive experience dealing with personal injury cases involving traumatic brain injuries, and has successfully obtained millions of dollars on behalf of victims.

In general, an acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain that is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. Essentially, this type of brain injury is one that has occurred after birth. The injury results in a change to the brain’s neuronal activity, which affects the physical integrity, metabolic activity, or functional ability of nerve cells in the brain.

There are two types of acquired brain injury: traumatic and non-traumatic.

  • A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force. Traumatic impact injuries can be defined as closed (or non-penetrating) or open (penetrating). Examples include falls, assaults, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, workplace injuries, child abuse, domestic violence, and military actions.
  • A non-traumatic brain injury is an alteration in brain function or pathology caused by an internal force. Examples of this include a stroke, infectious disease, seizure, shock, tumors, toxic exposure, lack of oxygen, poisoning, and drug overdose.

Symptoms of traumatic brain injuries can have wide-ranging physical and psychological effects. Some signs or symptoms may appear immediately after the traumatic event, while others may appear days or weeks later. They include:

  • Physical symptoms: Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes, a state of being dazed, confused or disoriented, headaches, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, problems with speech, difficulty sleeping, sleeping more than usual, dizziness or loss of balance. In severe cases, loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours, persistent headache or headache that worsens, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, clear fluids draining from the nose or ears, inability to awaken from sleep, weakness or numbness in fingers and toes, loss of coordination.
  • Sensory symptoms: Blurred vision, ringing in the ears, a bad taste in the mouth or changes in the ability to smell, sensitivity to light or sound.
  • Cognitive or mental symptoms: Memory or concentration problems, mood changes or mood swings, feeling depressed or anxious. In severe cases, profound confusion, agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior, slurred speech, coma and other disorders of consciousness.

For more information on brain injuries — including resources, available assistance, and ways to spread awareness — visit the Brain Injury Association of America website at biausa.org.

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If you or someone you know suffers a traumatic brain injury, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of 3 students who were victims of sexual misconduct at local high school

March 13, 2019 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has filed claims on behalf of three students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. Local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, after speaking with victims and investigators, suspects there could be even more victims. According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women is 19 years old, and the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school.

In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive.

Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn, who is representing the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the filing of the complaints and the arrest of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

The mother of one of the victims has also spoken out.

“This sick man manipulated my daughter. She and I are very close, but she felt she was doing something wrong and was afraid to tell me about it,” said the mother of one of the victims in a statement. “My hope through this lawsuit is to prevent this from happening in the future, and to protect our students through better accountability and scrutiny of school officials.”

Added Cohn: “We want to get to the bottom of how this went on for so long.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17. “It will be interesting to listen to the district’s explanation for why they didn’t do something sooner.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

Citing similar cases that have occurred in the past few years, Cohn told local media that a message must be sent to the school district that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“A the end of the day, what really has an impact on the school district is getting hit in their pocketbook,” Cohn said.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Worker deaths could trigger a workers’ compensation claim for surviving dependents

March 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


Armando Gallegos had been working as a correctional officer for 13 years when he was attacked by 12 inmates at Kern Valley State Prison in April 2018. He suffered a broken vertebrae, a broken nose and a concussion, and spent five months trying to recover from those injuries.

Tragically, Gallegos died in September 2018 at age 56. Just recently, the Kern County Coroner’s Office released his cause of death: “congestive heart failure due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with contributing of advanced conduction disease and history of assault by inmates.”

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had recommended attempted homicide charges for inmates involved in the attack. The group said information on possible new charges was pending the results of the coroner’s autopsy.

The cause of death announcement brings to light legal issues that arise with the death of workers, and the compensation families can receive with a loved one’s passing.

Families do not often assume that a worker’s death could trigger a workers’ compensation claim on behalf of the surviving dependents. Death benefits may be due when death occurs through a single industrially-related event, or within 240 weeks of an industrial injury resulting in death. However, a new California Supreme Court case significantly broadened what can be determined an industrial death and lowers the standard of proof for such claims.

Learn more about workers’ compensation and work fatalities here:

 

The Standard of Proof 

South Coast Framing Inc. v. WCAB (Clark) completely changed burden of proof for families seeking survivor death benefits. In South Coast Framing, the Court rejected previous standards of proof, such as “significant factor” and “material factor.” Instead, the court determined that the correct standard is that “the employment be one of the contributing causes without which the injury would not have occurred.”

The court described the standard of contributing cause as little crumbs off the crust of a 12-inch pie. In other words, the contributing cause would be so miniscule that you would not notice it if were missing.

 

Mysterious Circumstances 

Oftentimes, even determining contributing cause can seem challenging to surviving dependents. Sometimes the circumstances involving the death are so inexplicable that courts have indicated that they will rely on the fundamental principal that all reasonable doubts as to whether an injury is compensable are to be resolved in favor of the employee. This standard is particularly beneficial in cases where no autopsy is performed.

 

Benefits

Death benefits are payments to a spouse, children or other dependents if an employee dies with employment being a contributing cause. This includes burial expenses of up to $10,000, and medical expenses incurred.

The amount of the death benefit depends on the number of dependents. In cases with a single adult dependent, the surviving dependent may be entitled to a benefit of $250,000. For three adult total dependents, that number goes up to $320,000. In the case of one or more totally dependent minors, payment of death benefits will continue at least until the youngest minor’s 18th birthday; disabled minors receive benefits for life. Death benefits are paid at the total temporary disability rate, which is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly earnings.

The period within which to commence proceedings for the collection of death benefits is one year from death; or within 240 weeks of an industrial injury resulting in death.

 

Dependents

The law distinguishes between total and partial dependents of the decedent. Minor children and spouses who earn $30,000 or less are conclusively considered total dependents. The Labor Code allows for two more types of dependents; those who are good-faith members of the deceased employee’s family or household, and those with specified marital, blood or adopted relationships with the decedent. These include:

  • grandchild;.
  • father or mother;.
  • father-in-law or mother-in-law;.
  • grandfather or grandmother;.
  • brother or sister;.
  • uncle or aunt;.
  • brother-in-law or sister-in-law; and.
  • nephew or niece.

In these cases, the amount of dependency must still be proven.

 

Additional Benefits

Workers’ compensation laws allow for additional benefits to the defendants of specified employees. These employees include public safety officers, firefighters, public officials, and correctional officers. The benefits range from extending survivor benefits beyond the age of eighteen for a minor dependent to scholarships for surviving minors.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at work, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is home to two state certified workers’ compensation specialist attorneys, Beatriz Trejo and James Yoro. Mr. Yoro has also been recognized in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Lawyers” listings.

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*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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney provides legal commentary following North High School sexual misconduct allegations

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


A local high school athletic equipment manager has been arrested on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students. And as yet another local school employee is arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney Matt Clark provided insight to media on the ongoing problem, and the effects on victims.

According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, who worked at North High School in north Bakersfield, was arrested on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. He faces 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.

For media coverage of this case with Clark’s legal commentary, see “Media Coverage” at the bottom of this post.

According to media reports, 10 people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction. Rodriguez allegedly sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015. One of the alleged student victims at North High estimated they had witnessed over 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving students, both male and female, according to court documents.

The arrest of Rodriguez comes after several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months. In December, former Liberty High School boys basketball coach was charged on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18. Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District. A lawsuit was recently filed against a former Highland High School assistant principal who allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old male student in 2009. And a McFarland High School basketball coach was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in October after a male student came forward to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office; the coach had allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the student, promising him a spot on the school varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Matt Clark, who has represented several victims of sexual abuse and misconduct, told local media he has seen these types of cases all too often.

“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position.”

Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.

“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” Clark said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”

Several times a year, Clark speaks at the Kern High School District “Coaches Clinic,” which trains school employees on various legal issues to watch out for.

“One of the rules that I give to the coaches during the training is do not text message a student one on one,” Clark said on KGET-17 News. “There should never be a situation where you are text messaging a student one on one.”

Clark said that while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.

“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” Clark said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”

If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘Kern Under the Influence’: Series highlights local DUI epidemic

February 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


You are more likely to die of a DUI related crime in Kern County than any other county in the state of California.

It’s with that startling fact that Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX) recently presented a five-part, in-depth investigation into Kern County’s DUI epidemic titled “Kern Under the Influence.” The series, by reporter Jeff Platt, highlights how deadly Kern County’s roads truly are, how difficult it is to keep repeat DUI drivers off our roadways, how officers try to keep our streets safe, how crash victims are affected, and how we can prevent future DUI crimes.

The series also features Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury lawyer Matt Clark, who shares his experience in representing DUI crash victims, and the suffering that they incur. Clark is a board member on MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, and his law firm serves annually as the presenting sponsor for the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, which raises funds to help innocent victims of DUI crashes, helps raise awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs.

Clark also serves as a speaker for the MADD Victim Impact Panel, a program that has victims and other DUI crime experts speak to first-time DUI offenders in an effort to prevent future and repeat DUI offenders. Clark also took part in a special Eyewitness News Victim Impact Panel segment that followed the five-part series.

To view each of the five parts in the Eyewitness News series and the special Victim Impact Panel segment, scroll down to “Media Coverage” section at the bottom of this post. Here is a breakdown of each of the parts:

 

Part I: Drunk Drivers in Kern County

Every day, drivers in Kern County are sharing the roads with drunk drivers. In fact, local officers arrested nearly 4,300 DUI drivers last year. And that’s just “a drop in the bucket” in terms of how many DUI drivers are actually driving on local streets, local officials say.

According to Eyewitness News, there are 15 DUI drivers on the road at any given moment, with a peak between midnight and 3 a.m., where are nearly 80 DUI drivers in Kern County. And each one of them is a tragedy waiting to happen.

 

Part II: Repeat offenders hardly punished

One of biggest problems involving DUI drivers is that state laws force our county to let them drive drunk over and over again.

In California, drunk drivers get a second chance, a third chance, and in many cases a fourth chance after they are caught before getting any real jail time. As Eyewitness News shows, in between those chances, they’re driving on Kern County’s roadways, and sometimes they claim lives.

Victims are left with little trust in the system, but want lawmakers to address and fix this problem.

 

Part III: Busting drunk drivers

For police, catching DUI drivers sometimes is like finding a needle in a haystack, and other times it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The worry always is how many they are not able to catch.

The fact is, drunk drivers outnumber the police and officers can’t be everywhere at once. But local police use such strategies as check points, saturation patrols, and having every officer DUI-trained to catch DUI drivers. They also hope other motorists look out for DUI drivers and report them to police to keep other drivers safe. A 9-1-1 call with a location and partial plate could be the difference between a fatal crash, or a driver under the influence ending up behind bars.

After all, DUI is a community issue, which will take a community effort to stop it.

 

Part VI: The insurance myth

There is a myth that many victims of DUI crashes get rich in court. In fact, the opposite is true.

A combination of old insurance laws, minimal enforcement of those laws, and rising costs of medical care has created a new normal where DUI crash victims who live end up smothered in debt. In cases of death, victims’ families are sometimes left with nothing.

“Defendants in drunk driving cases often times have no insurance or far too little insurance to cover an injury or God forbid a death,” attorney Matt Clark explained.

Two major issues are at play. One, insurance companies and the DMV don’t communicate, making it too easy to drive without insurance. The second issue is the minimum coverage rates in California barely cover an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Clark suggests increasing your uninsured/under-insured-driver coverage on your policy.

 

Part V: Your choice

Many of the solutions to end DUI driving would take huge government action, including stiffer penalties. But one solution is in our hands: every single one of us deciding to make the right choice and help others make the right choice, too. Impaired driving, after all, is 100-percent preventable.

 

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MEDIA COVERAGE: KERN COUNTY UNDER THE INFLUENCE

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of a DUI driver, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Sex & Education: Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney discusses recent local sex issues involving educators

February 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


In recent weeks, local media has reported on several allegations of various sexual misconduct on behalf of educators in Kern County schools, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark has provided expert insight on the legal issues.

Recently, local media reported on a local high school science teacher alleged to have appeared in pornographic videos, and a high school assistant principal alleged to have sexually abused a student.

For more on these news reports, including a radio interview with Matt Clark on the subject, see the “Media Coverage” links below.

Since Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides legal representation for victims of sexual abuse and assault at the hands teachers, law enforcement, coaches, and others in authority, local media spoke to Clark about the legal ramifications.

Teachers should have no social media or after-school contact whatsoever with their students, Clark advised.

Every year, Clark speaks to local high school coaches regarding liability in athletics. He advises them to never give out their cellphone numbers to students or interact with them on social media. And every year, he told The Bakersfield Californian, people ignore that advice. He’s had multiple cases come across his desk regarding teachers or coaches engaging in alleged inappropriate conduct with students, often starting online or through texts.

Clark said if a coach or teacher goes against his advice and does text a student or contact them online, the message shouldn’t contain anything they wouldn’t be embarrassed for their mother to see.

Any sexual contact, he said, “is clearly illegal.” In one case reported recently, a Highland High School student is suing the Kern High School District and former assistant principal claiming he sexually abused a homeless student who entered the school as part of a school-sponsored homeless assistance program. The assistant principal’s defense attorney says the allegations are false.

As for the case of the Frontier High School teacher appearing in porn videos, Clark told local media that the teacher could potentially file a wrongful termination lawsuit of the schools dismisses her, considering the allegations make no mention of sex acts involving students or occurring on school grounds.

“You’re on a really slippery slope here because obviously these are sensational circumstances, but where do you draw the line?” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.

Teachers in California are subject to a set of guidelines called “Morrison factors” developed by the California Supreme Court to determine whether a person is fit to teach. They include the effect of the notoriety, impairment of teacher-student relationships, disruption of the education process and how recently the conduct occurred.

“You analyze the totality of the circumstances,” Clark said.

The typical cases Clark handles regarding schools involve incidents where a teacher or other school employee became involved in a sexual relationship with a student. That’s clearly illegal, he said, as opposed to what the teacher is alleged to have done. Still, he said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to a teacher in such a situation for the case to have received intense media scrutiny.

“As a teacher you’re kind of a public figure, you’re considered a role model,” Clark said, “and if you put this type of material in a public forum where it can be found you’re kind of asking for trouble.”

 

What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

If you or someone you know is sexually abused or assault by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

What happens in a personal injury lawsuit?

January 30, 2019 | 10:42 am


At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we meet with clients every day who have never been involved in a lawsuit. Simply, they don’t know what to expect, or how the legal process works. The truth is, lawsuits are exceptionally complicated and involved processes.

The good news is that the attorneys and staff at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have decades and decades of legal experience.

“Our job is to take the burden of worrying about the lawsuit off your shoulders,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We want you and your family to focus on healing and leave the lawsuit to us. That being said, we want you to understand how the system works and how a lawsuit works through the legal system.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has compiled a thorough outline of a personal injury lawsuit, which we have reproduced below. For a more interactive learning experience, visit the website, chainlaw.com/steps-of-a-lawsuit.

 

Step 1: Contact a Personal Injury Attorney from Chain | Cohn | Stiles

Before anything, contact our team of Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorneys. Make sure you contact your attorney before you contact insurance companies or do any kind of negotiating with the Defendant. Once you have made contact with our law firm, your attorney will guide you on all the necessary information we need for successfully litigating a case against the defendant. During this initial gathering of information, your attorney will ask you to provide:

  • Medical records and bills
  • Records of loss of earnings and future loss of earnings
  • Police report (if there is one)
  • Insurance policy information and proof of coverage (if applicable)

In addition, your legal team, including a professional investigator employed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, will gather more important pieces of information including:

  • Taking witness statements
  • Scene and other photographs
  • Gather data from the vehicles in auto accident cases
  • Obtain expert witnesses as necessary

 

Step 2: Pre-Lawsuit and Settlement Negotiations

After your attorney gathers all of the possible and necessary information so that we can fully evaluate your case, including all of your medical and billing records.  At this stage, you have either completed your medical care and treatment, or you’ve reached a point in your care and treatment where we can reasonably anticipate what your future medical needs may be. Once we have all of this information, we will schedule a meeting with you.  The purpose of the meeting is to formulate a settlement demand, or depending on your case, we may recommend filing a lawsuit before submitting a formal settlement demand.

A Settlement is an agreement that can sometimes be made between the Plaintiff and the Defendant without having to go to Trial, or before a lawsuit is filed. Once the settlement demand is drafted, it will be delivered, in the form of a letter from Chain | Cohn | Stiles, to the Defendant’s insurance company. A settlement can be negotiated and accepted by both parties or refused by one party or the other. If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will begin to draft a formal Complaint and submit it to the appropriate court.

 

Step 3: Complaints and Answers

Once the formal Complaint has been submitted to, and reviewed by, the appropriate court, the document will be Served to the Defendant. This formal service of papers will inform the Defendant that they are being Sued and of the reasons why. After the Defendant has been Served, they will have several weeks from the date the documents were officially given to them to Answer the Complaint, or file another responsive pleading, such as a Demurrer or Motion to Strike.

 

Step 4: Discovery

After the Defendant answers the complaint, the discovery process begins. During Discovery, information will be gathered and presented in a legal setting to both parties of the suit. Information gathered will include:

  • Interrogatories
  • A Request to Produce Documents
  • Deposition
  • A Request for Admission
  • A Defense Medical Examination

It is important to understand that the discovery process can last many months.  After a party makes a request for information, it generally takes 30 days or more before they will receive a response.  These timelines are dictated by the California Code of Civil Procedure, and every case must proceed in accordance with the code.

 

Step 5: Case Management Conference

An in-between step to your lawsuit is the Case Management Conference. The purpose of this conference is primarily to set a trial date.  Your attorney will attend this conference for you – you do not need to attend.  After a trial date is assigned by the judge, your attorney will send you a letter confirming the trial date. In Kern County, it is common for the Court to assign a trial date to occur approximately 18 months after the filing of the lawsuit.  This time period can vary though. In other counties, such as Los Angeles, it is not uncommon for a Court to assign a trial date 2 years or later from the date the lawsuit was filed.

 

Step 6: Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures

Once Discovery and the Case Management Conference are complete, the court and parties to the lawsuit will likely engage in some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures. Different jurisdictions handle ADR differently. In Kern County, you are almost always ordered to attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC).  These are typically scheduled 30-days before the trial date. You are required to attend the MSC with your attorney.  At the MSC a Superior Court Judge will meet with your attorney and the defense attorney, and make an effort to settle your case (although the Judge does not have the power to make either side settle).

  • Arbitration
  • Mediation

Often times, cases will go to both mediation, and if the mediation is unsuccessful, the parties will still attend an MSC with the Court.

 

Step 7: Trial

If the Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures fail to produce a settled case, then the lawsuit will go to Trial. During a trial you can expect a Jury to decide the case.  Once the jury is selected through Voir Dire, the parties have the opportunity to give Opening Statements, present their evidence in turn, and then give their Closing Arguments. Following the Closing Arguments, the Jury will Deliberates and returns to the courtroom to announce the Verdict.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.