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.

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.

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.

Key safety tips to driving safely in the fog

November 28, 2018 | 6:00 am


‘Tis the season … for fog.

Throughout the Central Valley, winter brings with it the tule fog that seems to swallow up cars and stop signs, and sometimes even lines on the road. The fog creates such a driving hazard that local school districts several times a year decide to delay the start of classes, called “fog delays,” when roads are too foggy and unsafe to travel. School buses are grounded for 2-3 hours for the safety of students, and others on the roadways.

In fact, fog is one of the most dangerous driving hazards as it plays a large factor in traffic collisions each year. One of the worst incidents in the Central Valley involving fog took place in November 2007, when the heavy fog cut visibility to about 200 feet and caused a massive pile-up of cars on Highway 99 between Fowler and Fresno. More than 100 cars and 18 big-rig trucks were involved in the accident, which caused two fatalities and 39 injuries.

Whether you are heading to work or taking your children to school during this foggy season, please keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • If possible, avoid driving in the fog altogether.
  • Before leaving, check road conditions. Use the “Caltrans Quickmap” app on your smart phone, which is a useful navigational tool that will inform you of up to date roadway closures, traffic collisions and other traffic hazards.
  • Reduce your speed. Many collisions are a direct result of driving too fast. The moisture from the fog creates wetness on the roadway. It’s a matter of physics — your vehicle cannot stop as fast or turn as accurately on a wet road.
  • Travel with your vehicles headlights on low beam. Low beams direct the light down onto the roadway and allow other drivers to see you. Never use your high beam headlights. This will cause your lights to be directed up into the fog, making it difficult for you to see.
  • Be mindful of the solid painted white “fog line.” This line is located on the right edge of the road as in place to guide motorists when roadway visibility becomes compromised. Always maintain a high visual horizon. This will give you the ability to observe potential hazards in the road or vehicles braking suddenly.
  • Use your windshield wipers and turn on your defroster to help eliminate condensation on windows.
  • When fog visibility becomes less than 500 feet, California Highway Patrol officers will begin to pace traffic. Pacing efforts are conducted to insure motorists travel at a speed appropriate for traffic and roadway conditions. If you find yourself traveling behind a patrol vehicle with its emergency lights activated while conducting a pace, maintain a safe distance between you and the patrol car as officers may be required to apply their brakes or make sudden turns.
  • If you experience mechanical trouble while driving this winter, attempt to exit the freeway. Never stop in the middle of the road. If you cannot exit the freeway, pull completely off of the right side of the road, turn off of your headlights and activate your hazards lights so others can see you. Remain seat belted in your vehicle and call for help on your mobile phone.

The Bakersfield Californian has also provided a neat infographic regarding safe driving in the fog. You can view it by clicking here.

Lastly, as always, drive safely, share the road, and be courteous to one, especially while driving in adverse weather conditions.

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If you or someone you know is involved in an accident at the fault of someone else this foggy season, please contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com to submit a contact form.

Grants galore! Local agencies receive hundreds of thousands to combat unsafe driving in Kern County

November 21, 2018 | 6:00 am


Drivers beware: Local authorities have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to combat unsafe driving in Kern County.

Bakersfield’s California Highway Patrol branch recently received a grant to provide enforcement and education to local motorists about aggressive driving with the goal of decreasing injuries and deaths on our roadways. The Bakersfield Police Department received two grants recently: one aimed to teach youth and adults about traffic rules, rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian and bicyclist, and a second for a year-long enforcement and public awareness program intended to educate the public on safe roadway habits and deter people from violating traffic laws or practicing other unsafe behaviors. Lastly, the Kern County Probation Department’s grant will allow the department to focus on lowering deaths and injuries due to traffic collisions due to drivers being under the influence.

“Nearly every crash can be prevented simply with safer driving. Never drive while under the influence, and don’t speed or drive recklessly,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matthew Clark. “It’s important for us all to be educated on the best driving practices, and to share the road with our fellow motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists to make our community safe for all.”

Learn more about each of the grants below:

 

AGGRESSIVE DRIVING

California Highway Patrol grant campaign, called Regulate Aggressive Driving and Reduce Speed (RADARS) III, aims to reduce the number of crashes where speed, improper turning, and driving on the wrong side of the road are the main factors.

Speed and aggressive driving are California’s two main contributors in traffic collisions, according to CHP. Speed is a factor in about 45 percent of all fatal and injury collisions in the state.

“With this grant, the Californian Highway Patrol will strive to change this dangerous behavior through increased enforcement and education,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley in a statement.

The California Office of Traffic Safety provided funding for the program through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

 

BIKE AND PEDESTRIAN SAFETY

The safety of people who use roadways to walk or ride their bike is the focus of a bicycle and pedestrian safety education program with the Bakersfield Police Department.

The $30,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety will fund the year-long program that includes 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 throughout Bakersfield, any efforts are needed to decrease the record number bicycle and pedestrian accidents.

Earlier this year, the City of Bakersfield announced a “Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan,” a partnership with California Department of Transportation to examine the city’s roadways and determine which are the most dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians. The goal was to recommend design improvements, including more bike lanes, more signage, and new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic.

Educational efforts funded by the grant will promote safe behaviors by pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, including avoiding distractions like cell phones, looking for parked cars that may be pulling out or opening a door, and making yourself visible by wearing bright clothing during the day and reflective materials at night. Educational components on bicycle and pedestrian safety will be especially geared toward children and older adults.

These are efforts Chain | Cohn | Stiles can stand behind, and are actually helping toward. Currently, Project Light up the Night hosted by the local bicycle advocacy nonprofit Bike Bakersfield aims to make Kern County’s roads a little safer for drivers and cyclists by giving out free bicycle lights, helmets, and safety lessons at various locations throughout Bakersfield and Kern County. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to support Project Light up the Night each year by providing the helmets and lights. Bike Bakersfield representatives hand out the free helmets and lights on select Thursdays in November throughout Kern County.

 

DUI & UNSAFE DRIVING

The Bakersfield Police Department has also been awarded a $405,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety intended to educate the public on safe roadway habits and deter people from violating traffic laws or practicing other unsafe behaviors that lead to injuries and fatalities. Specifically, the grant will provide:

  • DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols to take suspected alcohol/drug-impaired drivers – and those unlicensed or with a revoked/suspended license – off the road.
  • Traffic safety education presentations for youth and community members on distracted, impaired and teen driving, and bicycle/pedestrian safety.
  • Patrols at intersections with increased incidents of pedestrian and bike collisions.
  • Checking for seat belt and child safety seat compliance.
  • Motorcycle safety operations in areas with high rider volume and where higher rate of motorcycle crashes occur.
  • Speeding, red light and stop sign enforcement.
  • Compilation of DUI “Hot Sheets” identifying repeat DUI offenders.
  • Specialized DUI and drugged driving training to identify and apprehend suspected impaired drivers.

The Kern County Probation Department received a $150,000 “DUI Offender Grant” to focus on lowering deaths and injuries due to traffic collisions due to drivers being under the influence.

The grant will fund various education and enforcement activities, including:

  • Warrant service operations targeting multiple DUI offenders.
  • Compilation of DUI “Hot Sheets” identifying repeat DUI offenders.
  • Probation supervision of high-risk DUI offenders.
  • Referrals for services to address the needs of DUI offenders.
  • Alcohol monitoring and testing to identify intoxicated DUI offenders.
  • Collaborating with the court and district attorney to ensure DUI offenders are held accountable.
  • Standardized Field Sobriety Testing training to identify and apprehend impaired DUI offenders.
  • Participate in “stings” to cite DUI offenders found driving on suspended or revoked licenses.

If you or someone you know is involved in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com to submit a contact form.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Travel safely: Thanksgiving weekend is one of the most dangerous times to be on the road (with safety tips)

November 14, 2018 | 9:28 am


Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends and football, turkey and togetherness, and for millions and millions of people across the United States: driving.

In fact, more than 54 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home during the week of Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA travel association — the highest volume since 2005, and 2.5 million more travelers than last year. The travel group estimates that 48.5 million travelers will be driving between Wednesday, Nov. 21, to Sunday, Nov. 25.

And while this time of year is about giving thanks, it’s also one of the most dangerous times to be on the roads. In fact, AAA states it expects to rescue nearly 360,000 motorists along U.S. roadsides this Thanksgiving for such things as dead batteries and flat tires. For thousands of others on the roads, they will unfortunately need rescue services from first-responders.

Before you hit the road, the injury and accident attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles encourages you check out these Thanksgiving driving tips to navigate through traffic and arrive at your destination safely.

Plan Ahead

You should expect to encounter traffic, so plan to leave early if necessary to avoid stress on the road. Share travel plans with a family member or friend. Also, make sure that your vehicle is ready for long distances travel before you leave your home. Before you get on a highway, know your exit by name and number, and watch the signs as you near the off-ramp. Make sure that your windshield wipers work well, that your tires are properly inflated, and that no service lights illuminate your dashboard. Have your radiator and cooling system serviced. Lastly, have an emergency kit that includes a battery powered radio, flashlight, blanket, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable foods, maps, tire repair kit and flares.

Buckle Up

The simple act of buckling your seat belt increases your chance of surviving a crash. In 2016 alone, seat belts saved 14,668 lives. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2016 saw 341 people killed in traffic across the country. About half of those who died weren’t wearing seat belts. Most often, younger people and men are failing to buckle up. Among 13- to 15-year-olds killed in crashes in 2016, 62 percent weren’t wearing seat belts. Similarly, 59 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds killed in crashes were also not wearing seat belts. That same year slightly more than half of men killed in crashes were unbelted, compared with 40 percent of women, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The NHTSA states it simply: “Buckle Up — Every Trip, Every Time.”

Choose Alternate Travel Days

If possible, leave a day early and stay an extra day at your Thanksgiving destination to avoid traffic hassles and potential roadside headaches. Use a GPS device with real-time traffic information to keep your options open for alternate routes. Make sure that you are rested and alert to drive, and make frequent stops to give you and your passengers a break.

Watch the Weather Reports

In many parts of the country, and possibly in California, Thanksgiving weekend means the potential for hazardous weather, especially during early mornings and evenings with the cold. Watch the weather reports before you set out for the weekend and before you travel back home to make sure that the roads aren’t too treacherous to drive.

Avoid Distractions

Distracted driving is never good idea. Ignore all distractions until you are able to safely pull off the road and respond. No call or text is worth risking your life. Also, know your limitations: Don’t drive when tired, upset, or physically ill.

“Thanksgiving is about being with your family,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Caution, patience and preparedness are especially important so we all arrive safely to our loved ones.”

Finally, when you arrive at your destination, please drink responsibly if you are consuming alcohol. If you are expecting to hit the roads again, use a designated driver or plan appropriately to ensure guests make it home safely.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident over the holidays at the fault of someone else, please contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or use the chat service at the website chainlaw.com.