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.

Big rig explosion, elder neglect, wrongful death lawsuits among Chain | Cohn | Stiles active cases

January 23, 2019 | 9:08 am


The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are involved in some of the most significant cases in the Central Valley, ranging from police misconduct cases/civil rights to industrial accident cases, big rig, wrongful death, product liability cases, and more. And while every case handled by Chain | Cohn | Stiles is an important one for the lawyers, paralegals, and staff, the cases that follow represent just some of the diverse cases we’re working on currently.

For more on these cases, go to chainlaw.com/current-cases.

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McGowan v. County of Kern

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.

The filing of the lawsuit came on the heels of the release of the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report regarding the crash that occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The report found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Nancy left behind a son, Mark, and a daughter, Deborah, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

Doe Big Rig Tank Explosion

A big rig truck driver was filling his tank with fuel at a Valero gas station west of Bakersfield when a tank ruptured in a catastrophic release of pressure. The explosion severely injured the driver, and collapsed the gas station.

Kern County Fire Department responded with a Hazmat team, as did Kern County Public Health Services.  Crews secured the utilities by operating all emergency fuel shutoffs, and rescue efforts focused on the truck driver who was treated on scene, and transported to a local hospital, according to media reports.

The investigation into the explosion continues.

 

Ojeda v. Animal Health International, Inc.

On the morning of Aug. 26, 2015, Steven Ojeda was driving to Wasco State Prison, where he worked as an associate warden, when a cloud of dust enveloped the roadway on Kimberlina Road, obscuring the vision of Ojeda and other drivers around him.

Just a few miles from his work, cars suddenly slowed as the area was covered in dust from people working in the fields. Ojeda crashed into the back of a vehicle, and was subsequently rear-ended by another vehicle. Tragically, Ojeda was killed in the crash.

“It is an extremely hard loss for our instruction and for our staff. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” Wasco State Prison officials said in a statement at the time of the crash.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Ojeda’s family.

 

Acosta v. Sunny Gem

The plaintiff, a truck driver, was eastbound on Kimberlina Road near Wasco when the defendant, also a truck driver, heading northbound on Wildwood Road ran a stop sign, causing the plaintiff to collide with the defendant truck trailer, resulting in substantial injuries.

Garcia v. City of Delano

On April 17, 2018, Fernando Garcia, a maintenance worker for the city of Delano, was helping move boxes to a storage room. As he was moving the second set of boxes in the storage room, he collapsed.

He was taken to the hospital, and died three days later. He was married to his wife Elizabeth for 12 years, and he left behind three children.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Garcia family in their workers’ compensation death benefits case.

 

Avalos Lopez v. Jaguar Contracting

Francisco Avalos Lopez was a first assistant foreman, which included the supervision of a crew of about 50 people, and was responsible for the production and output of his crew. The physical job required him to provide water, shade, and clean the portable toilets for his crew before the start of the workday.

On July 28, 2017, the crew was having an early morning meeting when Avalos collapsed holding his chest, and said, “heart.”

He left behind a wife and had three children. Days before his death, he had told his wife that he wanted to leave the job at the end of the season due to stress.

 

Jane Doe v. Domino’s Pizza

A juvenile girl working at Domino’s Pizza in Bakersfield was struck by gunfire during an altercation at the restaurant.

A 20-year-old was taken into custody in connection with the shooting, facing multiple charges including robbery, burglary and negligent discharge of a gun. Bakersfield Police Department reported that the man argued with employees, began to forcibly take food, began assaulting employees and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, police say a gun possessed by the man fell to the floor and discharged, striking the girl.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the worker in her workers’ compensation case.

 

Owens v. Brookdale Senior Living

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an elder abuse and neglect lawsuit against a Bakersfield senior rehabilitation center that resulted in the death of an 80-year-old man, longtime teacher, U.S. Army veteran, and husband of 57 years.

The elder abuse, elder neglect, wrongful death, and fraud complaint was on behalf of the widow of John Paul Owens against Brookdale Senior Living, Silvercrest Manor, and Wade Budney of “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services.”

Well into retirement, Paul began to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He took a fall at home in 2017 that required him to have surgery on his leg and hip. After, Paul was placed in Brookdale Senior Living for daily care.

“So he could walk again, take care of himself again, so he could go back home and live with his wife of 57 years, that was the goal,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told KGET News.

That didn’t happen. Paul developed large bed sores, pressure ulcers and received inadequate care. As an example, he was bathed just four times over a span of 35 days.

“Mr. Owens was continually denied the benefit of those interventions necessary to prevent the formation and progression of pressure ulcers,” according to the complaint.

Soon, Carol Owens was told Paul could no longer be housed at Brookdale, and needed to find another facility due to insurance issues. Brookdale contacted “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services,” ran by Wade Budney, to be discharged to Silvercrest.

“Budney puts [Owens] in his personal vehicle, this is a guy with two stage three pressure ulcers, a urinary catheter, a broken leg, hasn’t had rehab yet,” Clark told KGET.

Carol Owens added: “I was told if he wasn’t transferred that Wade would call and report me for elder abuse.”

The inadequate care continued at Silvercrest. Ultimately, the event prompted an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The department found that Brookdale failed to prevent Paul Owens from developing ulcers, prematurely discharged him, and failed to safely discharge him to another facility.

Additionally, Budney falsely and misleadingly stated that Paul Owens would receive appropriate and adequate care at Silvercrest. He also concealed the fact that he would receive monetary compensation from Silvercrest.

Shortly after being admitted to Silvercrest, Paul Owens was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. He died shortly after in January 2018.

“The main reason I’m doing this is I don’t want other people to have to go through this with loved ones, that’s the whole goal,” Carol Owens told KGET News.

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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.

New Chain | Cohn | Stiles video highlights ‘the team of lawyers you need when it matters most’

January 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


“You probably don’t need a full team of professionals all of the time, but if you get injured in an accident, you do. Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the team of lawyers you need when it matters most.”

That’s the message from the latest videos unveiled by the Bakersfield-based accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, highlighting the team of attorneys helping injury clients through each and every case. The videos are airing now throughout Kern County, and can be found at Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ YouTube channel.

“We want people to know that when they choose Chain | Cohn | Stiles in their time of need, they’re not just getting one attorney working on their case,” said David Cohn, managing partner of the law firm. “You’re getting a team of lawyers, paralegals, assistants, and others who are committed to helping you resolve your case, and ultimately help you move forward with your life.”

The video features a woman driving her vehicle into a gas station only to be bombarded with service by a pit crew donning Chain | Cohn | Stiles uniforms. She is pleasantly surprised as the pit crew gives her the full-service treatment in record speed before being hailed away. While it’s nice to be helped by a team of professionals at the gas station, the message is that it is necessary to have a team of professionals when it matters most — during an accident or injury case.

The latest video follows several other breakthrough videos showcased by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, including the following (click each title to view):

  • “Meet the Attorneys”: These 90-second interview videos are aimed to give viewers a better idea of who their hometown attorneys are, why they became lawyers, and how they could help viewers in the chance they ever needed to contact the firm. The videos were second-place winners in the 2015 “Your Honor Awards,” presented by the Legal Marketing Association – which included 170 entries in 16 categories from law firms throughout the world this year – and also won first place in the advertising category in the regional California “Your Honor Awards.”
  • “On Your Mind”: These videos conveyed the message for injured clients, “You may have a lot on your mind, but we’ll only have one thing on ours — you.” That is, we hope you are never in need of an accident or injury attorney, but in the unfortunate event that you do, we can guarantee that you and your family will be our No. 1 priority. Each video features an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles who has experience and expertise in handling cases similar to those victims highlighted in the videos: auto accident, oilfield accident, agriculture accident, elder abuse, and work injury.
  • “Move Forward”: Featuring a rewind, fast-forward theme, the video states, “We may not be able to press rewind on your accident, but our lawyers can help you move forward.”

All of the videos above were produced in partnership with Bakersfield-based Scope Studios.

In addition, last year Chain | Cohn | Stiles partnered on a video with Inclusion Films, a practical film workshop for adults with developmental disabilities. The vocational program produced a powerful dramatized 30-second video featuring attorneys at the law firm, and the work they do to help people who have been involved in life-changing accidents with the message of, “We are more than a law firm. We are family.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes pride in presenting honest video commercials to the public that highlight the hard work we do, and care we take in each client’s case.

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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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*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.

With exploding airbag recalls continuing, take these steps to protect you and your family

January 9, 2019 | 9:15 am


More than five years after federal authorities first called for a national safety recall of the Takata airbags, officials are once again issuing a recall of millions of defective airbags, this time by Ford Motor Co. and Toyota.

Ford recently issued a recall of more than 900,000 vehicles in North America, including 782,000 in the United States, and Toyota is recalling 1.7 million vehicles in North America. In all, roughly 37 million vehicles equipped with 50 million defective Takata air bags are under recall because these air bags can explode when deployed, causing serious injury or even death. At least 23 people worldwide have been killed in incidents involving Takata airbags, according to news reports. It is one of the largest recalls in history involving multiple carmakers —  and was first administered in 2013.

Takata airbags were intended to prevent or reduce injury upon impact. They use the chemical ammonium nitrate to create an explosion that causes inflation, but heat and humidity damage the integrity of the system and cause it to deteriorate and explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles urges vehicle owners to take some critical steps to protect themselves and others from this very serious threat to safety.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, consumers should be aware of three critically important details about this recall:

1) Certain 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles, 2006 Ford Ranger, and Mazda B-Series trucks are at a far higher risk for an air bag explosion that could injure or kill vehicle occupants. These are referred to as “alpha” air bags. These vehicles can and should be repaired immediately. Do not drive these vehicles with Takata air bags unless you are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired immediately.

2) The data collected and examined by federal officials shows that long-term exposure to combined high heat and humidity creates the risk that a Takata air bag will explode. Drivers in “Zone A” (hot and humid) areas are encouraged to take extra precautions. Zone A includes Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

3) Additional air bags are scheduled to be recalled by December 2019, bringing the total number of affected air bags to around 65 to 70 million. These vehicles do not currently appear affected by this recall using a VIN search. Sign up for Recall Alerts and make sure the address on your registration is current to be sure you’re notified of this or any other future recall.

So, what should you do to protect yourself?

  • Check for recalls using your vehicle identification number (VIN). The recalls involve several air bag types, not just one single type, all made by a company named Takata.
  • Get fixed. Call your local dealer. Because so many cars and trucks need to be fixed, a nationwide repair schedule has been developed to get the most dangerous air bags replaced first. All will be repaired for free.
  • Sign Up for “Recall Alerts” about any future recall affecting your vehicle.

For more information on the airbag recalls, and a comprehensive “frequently asked questions” section, click here. For a continuously updated list of other safety recalls, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles “Safety Recalls” page by clicking here.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident due to a faulty product, please contact the Products Liability attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, or chat with us, online at chainlaw.com.

New year, new laws for California drivers, bicyclist, scooter riders

January 2, 2019 | 11:10 am


As usual, the New Year brings about new laws to California. And for 2019, several new laws involve measures that affect most of us in the state: driving safety, civil rights, sexual harassment in the workplace, and more. Here are short descriptions of some of these new laws, many of which are a focus for us at Chain | Cohn | Stiles:

 

TRAFFIC SAFETY

DUI Devices (SB 1046): Drivers who have been convicted of two DUIs will have to install breathalyzers, or ignition interlock devices, in order to start their vehicles. This allows drivers to keep their driving privileges instead of having their licenses suspended. Industry experts say ignition interlocks show a 74 percent reduction in repeat DUIs.

Motor Scooters (AB 2989): Helmets are no longer required for motorized scooter riders over 18 or older. Motorized scooters are also allowed on Class IV and Class II bike paths. It is still illegal to ride a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. The law also allows scooters to ride on roads with speed limits up to 35 mph. Learn more about scooter safety by clicking here.

Bike Hit & Run (AB 1755): Hit-and-run laws will be expanded to include bicyclists on bike paths. That means, if a bicyclist hits a person, resulting in a death or injury, the bicyclist must stay at the scene. The bicyclist can be held accountable, CHP said. Learn more about bicycle safety here.

Helmet Safety (AB 3077): Anyone younger than 18 not wearing a helmet on a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or skates will be issued a “fix-it” citation. If the minor can show they took a bicycle safety course and has a helmet that meets safety standards within 120 days, the citation will be non-punishable.

Loud Vehicles (AB 1824): Drivers in a vehicle or motorcycle with an excessively loud exhaust will be fined. Previously, they would have been cited with a “fix-it” ticket.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS & POLICE TRANSPARENCY

Body Cameras (AB 748): Requires that body camera footage be released within 45 days of a police shooting, or when an officer’s use of force causes death or great bodily harm.

Police Records (SB 1421): Allows public access to police records in use-of-force cases, as well as investigations that confirmed on-the-job dishonesty or sexual misconduct.

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW & SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Reporting Harassment (AB 2770): Protects employees who report sexual harassment allegations without malice from liability for defamation of the people they accuse. Also, allows employers to indicate during reference checks whether an individual has been determined to have engaged in sexual harassment.

Nondisclosure (SB 820): Bans nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment, assault and discrimination cases that were signed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Settlement Agreements (AB 3109): The law invalidates any provision in a contract or settlement agreement that waives a person’s right to testify in an administrative, legislative or judicial proceeding concerning alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment.

Harassment Protections (SB 224): Expands employee harassment protections to include those who are not only employers but who could help establish a business, service or professional relationship. This could include doctors, lawyers, landlords, elected officials and more.

Burden of Proof (SB 1300): Expands liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA. It lowers the burden of proof to establish harassment and provides stricter guidance on what is or isn’t unlawful harassment. It also expands protections from harassment by contractors, rather than just sexual harassment. Defendants can’t be awarded attorney’s costs unless the action was frivolous. It prohibits release of claims under FEHA in exchange for a raise, a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Harassment Training (SB 1343): Requires employers with five or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of sexual harassment training to nonsupervisory employees by Jan. 1, 2020. Training should take place every two years after that. Employers also need to make the training available in multiple languages.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident in an accident at the fault of a DUI driver, sexually assaulted, or had their civil rights violated, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Wrongful death, civil rights, elder abuse cases among notable cases resolved by Chain | Cohn | Stiles in 2018

December 26, 2018 | 6:00 am


As 2018 comes to a close, Kern County’s leading accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes a look back at noteworthy resolved cases, some of which you may have seen in local media.

 

Wrongful Death: $3.4 Million

In April, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

In another case involving law enforcement, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved in 2018 a wrongful death case on behalf of the family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

 

Trucking Accidents: $3 Million

Jesus Garcia-Santana was travelling on Highway 101 just north of Paso Robles to his son’s home in Bakersfield when his car became inoperable. He pulled to the side of the road, exited his car, opened the hood, and called for assistance. He then sat in his car on the passenger side, and waited for help. As he waited, a Stevens Trucking tractor pulling two trailers full of carrots veered onto the shoulder and struck Garcia-Santana’s car. As a result, Garcia-Santana suffered significant life-threatening injuries.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed negligence claim, alleging that the truck driver was not paying attention, not scanning the road ahead of him, when he overreacted to a car changing lanes in front of him. In November, the case settled for $3 million.

In another big-rig accident case that settled for $3 million in 2018 (Medeiros v. Triple T Trucking, Inc.), our plaintiffs were in a pickup truck on Highway 99 that slowed to a stop due to a lane closure, and was rear-ended.

 

Motorcycle Accident: $3.4 Million

Jason Travis Harvey, 42, was riding his motorcycle near Wible and Planz Roads in southwest Bakersfield when a California Water Service pulled out in front of Harvey, and the motorcycle his the side of the pickup. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the motorcycle accident, wrongful death case for $2.4 million.

 

Premises Liability: $2.3 Million

Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July 2014 in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.

The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.

Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center.

In June 2018, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the premises liability case for $2.3 million.

 

Elder Abuse / Neglect

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved several elder abuse and neglect cases, including one case that received media attention.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility. Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

The case resolved in June for $450,000.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Check your (safety) list twice for an injury-free holiday season

December 19, 2018 | 6:00 am


As Santa checks his list, you also should be checking your list this holiday season — your safety checklist, that is.

The holidays are ripe with dangers, from roadway hazards during holiday travel, to dangers at home from keeping warm and holiday decorating. It’s important you and your family take careful steps in celebrating, and make it through the holiday season injury-free.

Take note of these important safety tips courtesy of the accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

 

Holiday Travel

California Highway Patrol is conducting a DUI “maximum enforcement period” during the holidays, and encouraging Californians to use other travel options if they choose to consume drugs and alcohol, including medications, prescription or over the counter drugs that are common during the cold season.

Bakersfield Police Department, too, is helping spread the message about the dangers of drunk and drugged driving to get impaired drivers off roads. In partnership with California Office of Traffic Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, officers are launching the high-visibility enforcement campaign “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” through January 1. During this time, more officers will be on the streets of Bakersfield conducting saturation patrols, looking for drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, driving aggressively or distracted, and making sure drivers are properly licensed.

During the Christmas and New Year’s weekends in 2017, 25 people were killed and 643 injured on California roads, according to CHP. Don’t let yourself be a statistics this year.

“Any arrest during the holidays means a family that won’t have a loved one present during the holidays — due to an arrest or worse — because of a decision made to drive while under the influence,” said Matt Clark, attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Not only are you putting your life at risk, you are putting the lives of other innocent families at risk by driving under the influence. Just don’t do it.”

If you’re traveling long distances, plan your trip ahead of time and prepare for any potential emergencies.

 

Decorating Safely 

Decorating is one of the best parts of the holidays, but it also leads to thousands of emergency room visits every season. Here are a few tips to prevent accidents and injuries:

  • Hang breakable ornaments at top of the tree. This leaves room for kids to decorate the bottom with non-breakable items.
  • Always use the proper step ladder; don’t stand on chairs or other furniture.
  • Keep harmful plants out of reach. Some popular holiday plants are poisonous to children and pets, including mistletoe and holly berries.
  • Be aware of devices with button batteries. Keep those devices out of children’s reach.

 

Staying Warm

Thousands of deaths are caused by fires, burns and other fire-related injuries every year, and 12 percent of home candle fires occur in December, according to the National Safety Council, due to increased usage of candles and fireplaces, combined with an increase in the amount of combustible, seasonal decorations in many homes. To prevent fires and burn injuries at home:

  • Water natural trees regularly. When needles are dry, they can catch fire easily.
  • Turn off decorative lights before leaving home or going to sleep. Regularly check lights for exposed or frayed wires and loose connections.
  • Keep candles and matches out of reach. Lit candles should be at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and don’t forget to blow them out when you leave the room or before you go to sleep. Store matches and lighters out of children’s reach and sight.
  • Check smoke alarms. Make sure there is a working smoke alarm on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and near sleeping areas. Review your fire escape plan with family members and guests.
  • Don’t burn trees, wreaths or wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Check and clean the chimney and fireplace area at least once a year

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com

Everything you need to know about riding Bakersfield’s electric scooters safely

December 12, 2018 | 6:00 am


The birds are soaring in Bakersfield — the electric scooters from the company “Bird,” that is.

About 200 of the Bird electric scooters, or e-scooters, have been scattered throughout Bakersfield, mostly downtown, “to help meet the town’s need for transit options that are accessible, affordable, and reliable,” according to the company. They have gained popularity across the United States and Europe in recent years. Closer to Kern County, several e-scooter companies have planted their wheels in Los Angeles.

But the e-scooters also come with controversy, due, in part, to their safety concerns.

News reports have highlighted injuries on pedestrians hit by scooters and on scooter riders themselves including chipped teeth, cut lips, broken bones, bruises, and worse. A 29-year-old San Diego man who had been drinking alcohol suffered life-threatening injuries after crashing a rented scooter into a building in Pacific Beach. He was not wearing a helmet and suffered serious head injuries, police said.

For its part, Bird states the following: “At Bird, safety is our very top priority and it drives our mission to get cars off the road to make cities safer and more livable.”

With the e-scooter ride-share launch in Kern County, the Bakersfield-based accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles wishes to provide some tips for riding the e-scooters, as well as rules for sharing the road safely.

 

Before you Bird

Here’s how the Bird scooters work:

  • The scooters work through an app downloaded onto smartphones.
  • The app will locate available electric scooters nearby and, for a per-minute fee, people ride the electric scooters to their destination, leaving the scooter wherever the trip ends.
  • It costs about a $1 to rent the scooter, plus 15 cents a minute to use.
  • A group of scooter “chargers” go out at night to pick up the scooters and recharge them, collecting a fee per scooter.

The scooters move at a maximum of 15 miles per hour, but riders must obey the rules of the road (see below). The scooters will only be available during the day. After dark, a Bird contractor gathers the scooters for recharging and maintenance, and then drops the scooters off at predetermined areas in time for the next morning’s ride.

 

Rules of the Road

Once you’re ready to ride, be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Wear a helmet: Bird offers free helmets to all active riders. Just cover shipping. You can request your helmet in the “Safety” section in the Bird app.
  • Where to ride: Care for pedestrians. No riding on sidewalks unless local law requires or permits — it endangers members of our community who want to walk freely. We’re all in this together, so let’s be good neighbors and look out for one another. Ride in bike lanes or close to the right curb.
  • Where to Park: Park e-scooters out of the public right of way — keeping walkways, driveways, access ramps, and fire hydrants clear. Park scooters close to the curb, facing the street near designated bike or scooter parking areas, trees, or street signs. Make sure your kickstand is securely in the down position so that the scooter stays upright. Avoid uneven surfaces like grass, gravel, rocks, or inclines.
  • Rules of the Road: You must be at least 18 years old with a valid driver’s license to ride. Only one rider per vehicle. Follow all traffic rules including street signs and stop signs. Use caution at crosswalks
  • Use Caution: Be aware of surrounding traffic, especially at intersections. Always be aware of surrounding traffic, especially at intersections – cars are your biggest risk. Start off slowly while you get used to the accelerator and brakes. No one-handed rides. Put down the phone and coffee cup. No headphones – listen to what’s around you. Don’t ride if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

 

Scooters Safety News

Bird launched what it calls a pledge to “Save Our Sidewalks” and has asked the CEOs of other similar companies to join, including Limebike, Ofo, Mobike and Jump. Each company would commit to reducing street clutter by putting their bikes and scooters only where they are used, to refrain from expanding unless vehicles are used three times a day, and to remitting $1 per vehicle per day to cities for bike lanes and safety programs.

In other related news, Bike Bakersfield, local bike safety and advocacy nonprofit, reportedly is working with city officials to bring electric scooters and electric bicycles to Bakersfield though a state grant. However, other U.S. cities have steered clear of the e-scooters. Miami banned them, and Nashville seized the scooters once they blocked public rights of way and caused accidents soon after the uninvited rollout. San Diego started giving out tickets to riders not wearing a helmet, and San Francisco began impounding the scooters and issuing a cease-and-desist order after the companies launched their services in the city without asking.

California Legislature introduced a bill that would allow anyone 18 and older to ride without helmets. Bird is the bill’s sponsor. Chain | Cohn | Stiles recommends you continue to use a helmet, for your safety.

Local media reported on Dec. 12 that Bakersfield city officials were working with Bird for the next 6 to 12 months through what they called a “pilot program.”

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark discussed concerns about e-scooter safety in Bakersfield on KERN Radio’s “Richard Beene Show.” Click here to listen to the segment.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a scooter accident at the fault of someone else, please contact the attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Older Driver Safety Awareness: Helpful tips for driving safely while aging well

December 5, 2018 | 9:19 am


They are our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. They are also the wisest among us.

Still, our senior citizens many times depend on us to watch out for them, and this is especially important when it comes to driving a motor vehicle. For Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, observed in December, make it a point to talk to your older loved ones about driving safety.

“Everyone should have the freedom to travel as they see fit as long as they are able to do so safely, and make sure others around them are safe as well,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Last year, California saw more than 3,400 fatal collisions in 2017, according to the California Highway Patrol. Drivers aged 65 and older were involved in nearly 14 percent of those crashes. Nationwide, the number of people 65 and older killed in traffic crashes made up 18 percent of all traffic fatalities.

With increasing age come changes in physical, mental, and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s continued ability to drive safely. Family and friends play a major role in identifying changes in driving behavior and beginning discussions about older driver safety. It is important to start these conversations early and discuss any needed changes in driving habits before it becomes a problem, allowing older drivers to be actively involved in the planning.

Getting older does not necessarily mean a person’s driving days are over. But it’s important to plan ahead and take steps to ensure the safety of your loved ones on the road.

Bringing up the subject of their driving abilities can make some drivers defensive. Answering the following questions, courtesy of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, may help you decide if you need to initiate a conversation with an older driver about driving safely:

  • Getting lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Noticing new dents or scratches to the vehicle?
  • Receiving a ticket for a driving violation?
  • Experiencing a near-miss or crash recently?
  • Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?
  • Overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?
  • Taking any medication that might affect driving safely?
  • Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?
  • Suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might need to talk with your loved one about safe driving. Read this guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help you along the way.

Now, if you’re an older driver, you can also assess how changes can affect your driving. The following questions will help you decide if physical changes have affected your driving skills. Helpful tips about coping with these changes are also provided so that you can remain a safe driver for as long as possible.

  • How is your eyesight? Do you have trouble reading signs easily; recognizing someone you know from across the street; seeing street markings, other cars, and people walking, especially at dawn, dusk and at night; handling headlight glare at night? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Make sure you always wear your glasses and that the prescription is current. 2) Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean. 3) Make sure that your headlights are working and aimed correctly. 4) Sit high enough in your seat so you can see the road at least 10 feet in front of your vehicle. 5) If you are 60 or older, see an eye doctor every year.
  • Do you have control of your vehicle? Do you have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes; moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; turning the steering wheel; walking less than a block a day; going up or down stairs because you have pain in your knees, legs or ankles? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Check with your doctor about physical therapy, medicine, stretching exercises, or a walking or fitness program. 2) Know that an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and other special equipment can make it easier for you to drive your vehicle and use the foot pedals.3) Reduce your driver’s side blind spot by moving your mirrors. 4) Watch for flashing lights of emergency vehicles. 5) Listen for sounds outside your vehicle.
  • Does driving make you feel nervous, scared or overwhelmed? Do you feel confused by traffic signs, and people and cars in traffic; take medicine that makes you sleepy; get dizzy, or have seizures or losses of consciousness; react slowly to normal driving situations? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Ask your doctor if your health or side effects from your medicine can affect your driving. 2) Take routes that you know. 3) Try to drive during the day (avoid rush hour). 4) Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you. 5) Always scan the road while you are driving so that you are ready for any problems and can plan your actions.
  • Are loved ones concerned? Sometimes other people notice things about your driving that you might have missed. Have people you know and trust said they were concerned about your driving? If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Talk with your doctor. Ask him or her to check the side effects of any medicines you are taking. 2) Think about taking a mature driving class. The AAA, AARP and driving schools offer these classes. 3) Try walking, carpooling, public transit, and other forms of transportation.

CHP also offers free, two-hour “Age Well, Drive Smart” courses throughout the year. Through this program, seniors can sharpen their driving skills, refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road, and learn how to adjust to typical age-related physical and mental changes.

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