‘Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan’ aims to decrease accidents, deaths in Bakersfield

February 21, 2018 | 10:13 am


Pedestrian and bicycle accidents and fatalities have been climbing year after year in Kern County, with 42 deaths reported in the county in 2017, according to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

In Bakersfield alone, the Bakersfield Police Department has investigated 49 fatal and injury collisions involving pedestrians during the past three years, and saw an astonishing 21 pedestrian deaths and three bicycle accident fatalities in 2017, according to the City of Bakersfield.

The fact of the matter is that one pedestrian or bicycle accident is one too many, and likely preventable. For this reason, the Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is glad to see the City of Bakersfield’s recent announcement that it is moving forward in developing a plan that aims to reduce injuries and fatalities of bicyclists and pedestrians.

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

For years, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has advocated and fought to raise awareness of bicycle, pedestrian and driver safety throughout the streets Bakersfield and Kern County. For example, each fall, Chain | Cohn | Stiles partners with Bike Bakersfield to give away hundreds of free bicycle lights and over 100 safety helmets throughout Kern County.

A national study revealed that pedestrians and drivers do not obey laws and signals consistently and many of them often use cell phones, text or listen to music while walking or driving. In fact, only 60 percent of pedestrians said they expected drivers to stop when they were in crosswalks, even though they have the right-of-way.

In Bakersfield, law enforcement officials have increased pedestrian safety enforcement operations, patrolling in “trouble spots,” cracking down on drivers and pedestrians who violate traffic laws meant to protect all roadway users. Special attention has been directed toward drivers speeding, making illegal turns, failing to stop for signs and signals, failing to yield to pedestrians in cross walks or any other dangerous violation. Additionally, officers are also targeting pedestrians who cross the street illegally or fail to yield to drivers who have the right of way.

Here are some safety tips that pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers can use to decrease accidents, and potentially save lives:

Drivers

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

Pedestrians

  • Be predictable. Follow the rules of the road, cross at crosswalks or intersections, and obey signs and signals.
  • Walk facing traffic, and if there is no sidewalk, walk as far from traffic as possible.
  • Pay attention to the traffic moving around you. This is not the time to be texting or talking on a cell phone.
  • Make eye contact with drivers as they approach. Never assume a driver sees you.
  • Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.
  • Look left, right, and then left again before crossing a street.

Bicyclists

  • Know the rules of the road. Bicycles and motorcycles are considered vehicles on the road with all the rights and responsibilities of automobiles.
  • Be predictable. Ride in a straight line, use signal turns, and signal lane changes.
  • Dress “bright and tight,” which means being seen, and not getting tangled up in your bike.
  • Anticipate what other motorists will do next, whether it’s turning, braking or accelerating.
  • Ride ready. Make sure everything on your bicycle is in working condition.
  • Never ride or drive distracted.
  • Always wear a helmet when on a bicycle or motorcycle, and a seat belt when in a vehicle. A U.S. Department of Transportation certified helmet is recommended for riders. Cyclists should consider a horn or bell to get others’ attention, as well as reflectors. Motorcyclists should make sure headlights and taillights are in working order, too.
  • Never get behind the wheel (or wheels) under the influence of any substance.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a bicycle or pedestrian 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.

Infographic: 12 steps of the workers’ compensation legal process

February 14, 2018 | 10:34 am


To many, a job can mean making sure you and your family live comfortably day to day. So, when a work injury occurs, you want to make sure you and your family will be taken care of if you are not able to work.

To assist those who have been injured on the job and are trying to figure out how to maneuver the confusing workers’ compensation legal system, the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has produced an infographic that outlines 12-steps in the workers’ compensation process.

Click here to view and download the infographic, and you can read the 12 steps below:

  1. Worker suffers an illness or injury while on the job.
  2. The employer must be notified of the injury or illness immediately.
  3. The employer will give the employee a Workers’ Compensation Claim Form (DWC-1), which the employee must fill out and bring back to the employer within 30 days.
  4. The employer’s insurance must authorize medical treatment within 1 day and submit a comp claim to your insurer within 5 days.
  5. Within 14 days, the insurer will send your employer a notice notify you whether your workers’ comp claim has been denied, delayed, or accepted.
  6. If denied, all benefits will stop. If delayed, the insurer will have up to 90 days to investigate, and medical treatment will continue. If accepted, you’ll receive workers’ compensation indemnity benefits and medical treatment.
  7. If denied, contact a workers’ compensation attorney.
  8. If accepted or delayed, both parties start medical discovery and take depositions. Contact a workers’ compensation lawyer to guide you through the process.
  9. If denied, the parties must try the issue for the denial before the case can proceed.
  10. Once medical discovery is complete, the parties start settlement negotiations. If settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, the parties will have a Mandatory Settlement Conference.
  11. If the parties cannot settle at the Mandatory Settlement Conference, the case proceeds to trial.
  12. A workers’ compensation case can settle by either a lump sum amount or weekly payments with lifetime medical care.

Workers’ Compensation Claim Filing Process

Similarly, the workers’ compensation claim filing process can be daunting and complicated. That’s why it’s always good to have a dedicated workers’ compensation legal team on your side to help you through the many different complications associated with any form of claim filing process.

Here are the three essential steps of the workers’ compensation process, as outlined in the Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation website:

Step One: File An Injury Report

The very first step in the workers’ compensation claim filing process is to file an injury report with your employer. Without filing an injury report, there is no legal record of your work injury. This should always be the first step in the claim process because otherwise, there will be no official record of the injury and proceeding with the case will be exceptionally difficult. Never wait to file your report, either. Always get the paperwork done as close to the date of the injury as possible.

Step Two: File Your Compensation Claim

After you have filed your injury report with your employer, you must file a workers’ compensation claim. Be very descriptive in your claim. Include in your claim things like names of witnesses to the injury, medical records and any other details that pertain to your injury and case. The more detailed you are in your report, the more weight your case will likely carry.

Step Three: Get A Medical Exam

Often, the employer and/or their insurance provider will require that you, the injured party, to undergo a medical examination. This is so that they can determine whether or not your injury claim is valid. If eligible, the insurance company should allocate benefits. Generally, after this initial medical examination, it is a good idea to seek a second opinion. Unfortunately, there have been situations where the medical examiner chosen by the employer and/or their insurance company has been extremely biased. Getting a second professional medical examination helps to keep that from happening.

Lastly, it’s important to contact a workers’ compensation lawyer. If any of the steps above seem confusing, or if benefits are not being provided, don’t worry — our legal team can help guide you through the paperwork and legal terminology.

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If you or a someone you know needs assistance with a potential accident, injury or workers’ compensation case, call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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

FAQ: How long does a personal injury or workers’ compensation case take to finish?

February 7, 2018 | 9:37 am


For many people who come to see Chain | Cohn | Stiles, it is their first time ever hiring an attorney. The legal process is simply foreign for them.

And for this reason, many are surprised to learn how long it takes for a personal injury or workers’ compensation case to resolve from start to finish.

To discuss this issue, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark has recorded a short video focusing on the length of an average case, and why they typically take as long as they do to resolve.

You can learn more about this topic, and learn the answer, below. And if you have other questions related to a personal injury, accident or workers’ compensation legal issue, visit Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ Frequently Asked Questions page.

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One of the questions we get asked almost every time by new clients is how long will this case take to finish? In my years of experience, other lawyers don’t do a good job of explaining the legal process in injury claim. I’ll address it here. On average, a personal injury claim takes somewhere between 12 to 24 months to resolve. That being said, some are resolved quicker and some take more than 2 years. But average, cases take between 1 to 2 years.

You might ask why? Let me address that. From the day we meet with clients, there may be instances where we file a lawsuit right away, and others not right away. In Kern County, which has an efficient legal system, it takes 12 to 18 months to get a trial date. And that date is the light at the end of your tunnel for your case. During those 12-18 months, a lot of things can happen. We go through a process called “discovery,” where we exchange information. That seems simple, but it’s actually a lengthy process where we requests documents, interrogatories, admissions, subpoenas and take depositions, which is a statement by witnesses and you under oath. The exchange of all the information takes many months. It’s also important to note, the filing of a lawsuit doesn’t always mean it will end in a trial. We do handle every case as if it’s going to trial. It ensures that we are prepared for trial, and makes certain that defense attorneys know we are ready. And that goes a long way to settle your case for the highest amount, or toward a successful verdict.

We make it our goal at Chain | Cohn | Stiles to ensure that your case is handled as quickly and efficiently as possible. All we do is handle injury and accident cases. Whether minor or severe injuries are suffered, your circumstance can be life-changing. It’s important to be able to move on with your life as quickly as possible. So we’ll do everything we can to make sure your case is resolved, so you can move on with your life, and without delay.

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If you or someone you know has a potential personal injury or workers’ compensation case, contact the lawyers for a free consultation at (661) 323-4000 or visit the website 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.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles partners with ‘El Gallito’ radio station to help listeners with legal issues

January 31, 2018 | 9:52 am


In an effort to raise awareness throughout Kern County on how to protect you and your families in the case of an injury or accident, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has partnered with a local Spanish radio station to provide legal insight during interviews.

The 30-minute interviews will run once per month on KCHJ “El Gallito” 1010 AM and 92.1 FM, a radio station that broadcasts primarily ranchera and Norteño  oldies reaching Bakersfield, Delano and extending throughout other Central Valley areas, such as Visalia and Tulare.

It’s hosted by local radio and TV personality Pepe Reyes, who has also hosted the morning show “Despierta Bakersfield” on Univision.

The first 30-minute interview, featuring Chain | Cohn | Stiles associate workers’ compensation attorney Beatriz Trejo, will air at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 7, on KCHJ “El Gallito” 1010 AM and 92.1 FM.

The goal of the show and partnership is to assist radio station listeners who need help with their potential accident, injury or workers’ compensation* cases.

Questions answered by Trejo on the first show included:

  • What do you do if you’re injured at work, and what steps should you take?
  • What if I’m hurt and I am not a citizen?
  • How does Chain Cohn Stiles stand out compared to other law firms?

Future interviews with Pepe Reyes will continue to feature Beatriz Trejo, who will answer listeners legal questions and provide insight on legal issues of the day. The shows will also feature Chain | Cohn | Stiles director of marketing and public relations Jorge Barrientos, who will discuss the law firm’s work throughout the community that includes combating DUI crimes, and increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety, among other efforts.

Recently, you might have seen Pepe Reyes when he helped re-enact “El Grito de Dolores” Mexican Independence chant during the annual celebration in September in downtown Bakersfield, hosted by the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Trejo, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, has also become a regular of sorts on El Show De Cascabel, a Spanish language show on 96.9 FM, as well as on Radio Lazer, 106.5 FM. On those shows, as well, she discusses the law firm’s services, and answers questions from listeners.

Trejo earned her bachelor’s degree from Cal State Bakersfield and her master’s degree from Cal State Northridge. She earned her law degree from the University of Akron School of Law in Ohio. Before joining Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Trejo was a defense attorney who practiced in front of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board — she is familiar with the inner workings of insurance companies, insurance carriers, and self-insured employers. She is currently the president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA), Bakersfield Chapter. She is also the 2017 winner of the “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar Workers’ Compensation Section.

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Click the link below to listen to the interview with Beatriz Trejo on El Gallito with Pepe Reyes:

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If you or a someone you know needs assistance with a potential accident, injury or workers’ compensation case, call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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

Awards, goodwill, and a goodbye in 2017; Work for justice and safety continues in 2018

January 10, 2018 | 10:41 am


The following was sent recently to those subscribed to the Chain | Cohn | Stiles e-newsletter. If you would like to sign up to receive future notices, please click here

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A Happy New Year from our Chain | Cohn | Stiles family to yours! As Maya Angelou said, “The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.”

Before we move ahead, we wanted to share some law firm news and notes from 2017 with you:

  • It was a year of awards and achievements at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. Here are just a few:
    • Associate attorney Beatriz was named “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar.
    • The law firm received a “Kern Green Award” for going above and beyond to make a positive environmental impact in Kern County.
    • For the fifth year straight, the law firm was voted among the “Best of Kern County” in the “Best Law Firm” category, as was managing partner David K. Cohn for “Best Lawyer”.
  • Milton Younger, a former esteemed attorney and partner who spent 53 years at the law firm, died in September. We remember his legacy.
  • The fourth annual “Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash,” presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, brought together 1,000-plus and raised over $80,000 to fight against DUI crimes locally.

Today, hard work continues at the law firm, including the following:

Looking ahead into 2018, please join us in the following:

  • Voting in the 2018 “Best of Kern County” poll begins Jan. 16 and runs until Jan. 28, and we’re proud to share that we’ve been nominated once again. We wholeheartedly appreciate your vote and support.
  • We’re the presenting sponsor for the 2018 Bakersfield “Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash”, which will be held Sept. 29, at Park at River Walk. Join us in the ongoing fight against DUI crimes.
  • Keep up with Chain | Cohn | Stiles activities throughout the year by following our various social media pages listed below, as well as our blog, Blogging For Justice.

Finally, we all wish you a healthy and happy 2018!

All the best,

Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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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 values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

5 new California laws in 2018 call for safer streets and workplaces

December 27, 2017 | 9:17 am


The New Year also means new laws for California.

Several laws will take effect starting Jan. 1, including several transportation-related rules and changes. They include laws related to marijuana and driving, seat belts on buses, and a new blood alcohol concentration limit for Uber drivers.

Because Chain | Cohn | Stiles focuses on motor vehicle accidents and other roadway related injury cases, we wanted to share some of these changes as we start 2018. And since the Bakersfield-based law firm also represents victims of workplace harassment, we also share one new law related to employer supervisor training.

Learn a little more about these new laws below, courtesy of the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

Marijuana Use in Vehicles (SB 65): This law prohibits using marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. This includes smoking marijuana and consuming edibles in vehicles. Similar to the “open container” laws, marijuana products must be locked away or sealed in a container. If you break this law, you’ll get a negligent operator point counts. The same goes for motorcycle riders. The new law will be implemented after officers pull motorists over for separate moving violations.

Commercial Buses and Seat Belts (SB 20): This law requires passengers on commercial buses to put on a seat belt. Kids over 8 years old but under 16 years old won’t be allowed to ride unless they are restrained by a seat belt; otherwise, parents and legal guardians will be fined $20 on the first violation, and $50 thereafter.

DUI, Passenger for Hire (AB 2687): This one begins July 1, 2018, and this law makes it illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .04 percent or higher if there is a passenger in the vehicle who has hired the driver — like Ubers or Lyfts. This is a higher standard than the current .08 BAC for all drivers. Punishment is a suspended driver’s license if convicted.

Motorcycle Training (AB 1027): This law authorizes the DMV to accept a certificate of satisfactory completion of any motorcyclist-training program approved by the California Highway Patrol in the place of a required motorcycle skills test. Applicants for an original motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement under 21 years of age are still required to complete a novice motorcyclist-training program.

Harassment Training (SB 396): Especially relevant now during the “Me Too” movement, employers with 50 or more employees — who are already legally required to conduct two hours of sexual harassment training every two years — must include training for supervisors that includes harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

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

Why you should get uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage

December 20, 2017 | 9:15 am


Do you have enough auto insurance coverage to protect you or a loved one in the case of an accident? That’s one of the most important questions you should consider before getting behind the wheel.

At the same time, you should consider the following:

  • Do you know what California’s minimum for auto insurance coverage?
  • Do you have uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance coverage?
  • And did you know that the California minimum — which is $15,000/$30,000 coverage — will cover an ambulance ride and little else?

To dive deeper into these questions, Chain | Cohn | Stiles, with the help of attorney and senior partner Matt Clark, has recorded a short video on the topic of auto insurance coverage.

Below, Clark answers the big question, “Why should I get uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage?” In short, obtaining this coverage will help protect you and your family in the case of an motor vehicle accident.

Learn more by watching the video on chainlaw.com, or read more below. And if you have other questions related to an injury or accident, visit Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ Frequently Asked Questions page.

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By California law, you’re required to purchase at minimum a $15,000/$30,000 coverage. So what exactly does that mean?

If you’re in an accident and it’s your fault, your insurance will pay up so much to those involved in that accident. That small coverage satisfies the coverage for auto insurance. People are always surprised to learn, after learning more about the law, that California requires so little insurance because that $15,000 will cover an ambulance ride to the hospital and little else.

So how do you protect yourself when there are people driving around with this limited coverage, or none at all? You can purchase uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage.

How do these coverage work? You have to purchase this as part of your policy; however, insurance companies will not give you higher coverage than your auto insurance coverage. For example, if you have $100,000 in coverage, you can purchase up to 100,000 in uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance. But a lot of companies won’t tell you this. You typically have to sign a waiver to drop down your limits. Be very careful when you purchase auto insurance, and be sure it matches your liability limits. Don’t let the insurance companies sell you something less.

Once you have the coverage, if you’re in an accident and that person is at fault, uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage will come in and pay. It covers you, but also blood relatives in your household and other passengers. For example, if your son is a passenger in his friend’s car, and they are involved in an accident, your uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage will cover your son. Also, if you’re hit by a vehicle while walking in a parking lot, or hit by a vehicle while riding a bicycle, your uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage will cover you.

If you have a $100,000 policy and the other driver at fault has only a $15,000 policy, you can collect that $15,000 and another $80,000 from your own policy for a total of $100,000, if your claim is worth that much. So this covers you if the driver at fault has little or no insurance.

This is the one of the most important coverages to protect you and your family. Far too often, people come to Chain | Cohn | Stiles with horrible injuries, and the driver at fault has little or no insurance, while they have limited coverage as well. Our sometimes attorneys have the sad task of telling people there is not much our lawyers can do to help because of limited or no insurance coverage. It’s not fair or just, but it’s reality.

This is a complicated issue. We advise you if you believe you have an injury or accident claim, call Chain | Cohn | Stiles. Meet with the lawyers and staff to learn the important steps to take.

And contact your insurance agent to learn more about uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage options available to you.

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If you or someone you know has a potential personal injury or workers’ compensation case, contact the lawyers for a free consultation at (661) 323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ attorney James Yoro highlights life of a paralegal in Kern County Bar Association’s magazine

December 13, 2017 | 9:45 am


The following “President’s Message” was published in the December 2017 issue of the Res Ipsa Loquitur, a monthly news magazine from the Kern County Bar Association. It was written by Kern County Bar Association president James Yoro, who is also a partner and workers’ compensation attorney at the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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‘With a little help from my friends’

Most lawyers would like to believe that the primary reason for the success they’ve achieved in their practice is due to their own hard work and effort. However, when asked for a realistic assessment of their situation, most lawyers will admit that a crucial part of their success depends on their support staff. Depending on the type of practice one has, a paralegal/legal assistant may play a vital role in that success. In my own practice, I depend on my legal assistant Lesleigh Johnston, to perform many essential functions that contribute to the successful outcome of my cases. In fact, I consider her to be an indispensable member of my firm, who is as valuable as the associate attorney who also works with me. Therefore, I would like to give special recognition to all of those hard-working paralegals and legal assistants that make our jobs easier by devoting my message this month to them.

There are many ways that one can become a paralegal. Depending on one’s background, training and education, a paralegal may be able to handle many aspects of the legal process or the workup of the file. For example, my legal assistant was previously employed for more than 10 years as an insurance adjuster with a major workers compensation insurance carrier before she came to work for me. Because of this experience, she was well-equipped to evaluate cases and understood the nuances of how a workers compensation file should be handled from beginning to end.

Since building an effective legal team is important in order to serve the best interests of the clients and achieve success in one’s practice, what should one look for when hiring a paralegal?  I asked this and several other questions to two of the paralegals in our firm, Barbara Hass and Donna Wilkins, and here were their answers:

 

What background, education, and/or training did you have in order to become a paralegal?

Barbara Hass:

Background: 37 years in the legal field.  I began my career as a legal secretary in 1980.  In 1985 I became a civil defense paralegal for Art Pearl and then Larry Peake.  In 1995, I began working for David Cohn as a personal injury paralegal and supervisor of his PI practice.  I also taught Personal Injury Law at CSUB – Attorney Assistant Program in the evenings for many years and wrote the text book for the class utilized by CSUB.

Education: Completion of the Attorney Assistant Program at California State University, Bakersfield.  Examination through the National Association of Legal Assistants for my certification as a California Advanced Specialist in Civil Litigation; Advanced Paralegal certifications in Trial Practices, Discovery, Wrongful Death, and Personal Injury.

Training: Under the supervision and training from the best attorneys.  Art Pearl and Larry Peake hammered in me civil procedure, while David Cohn and Matt Clark fine-tuned the art of personal injury and case management.

Comment: Education cannot replace experience.  Education is the stepping stone.  Experience is the mountain top.  All the education in the world cannot teach a paralegal how to navigate through the day-to-day encounters of an area of law.  Only experience gives you that.  That is why it is a combination of education and experience that makes for an outstanding paralegal.”

Donna Wilkins:

My background is not your typical educational background that you will find of most paralegals today.  There were no schools specializing in paralegal studies when I first started in the legal industry in 1979 when I was 19 years old; the only specialized education I could find to help assist me in advancement was a correspondence course, which I did take and complete.

My background is solely from experience. I started as a receptionist in 1979 for a small firm in San Francisco.  From the day I sat at the desk, I knew I had found my calling.  I did everything I could to learn as much as I could and kept asking questions and requesting more responsibility.  I absorbed everything I could and advanced to legal secretary in less than a year.  I moved firms about 3 times in 5 years in order to obtain knowledge in the areas of personal injury, construction defect, probate, family law and insurance defense.  Later in my career I worked in the areas of criminal law, corporate law, and civil and criminal appellate law.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and was very fortunate to find employment with attorneys and firms that encouraged my advancement and shared their knowledge with me – even allowing me to sit in on depositions, court hearings, oral argument in appellate court and civil trials.   Next year I will have 40 years in the legal field, over 25 of them as a paralegal and I have never looked back – only forward to the next challenge as a paralegal.”

 

What skills are necessary in order to be a quality paralegal?

Barbara Hass:

“At a minimum, all paralegals are required to be in compliance with Business and Professions Code Section 6450 – 6456.  In addition, it is very important for paralegals to possess excellent writing and research skills, understand the rules, procedures and mechanics that apply to their area of practice; stay up-to-date on the changing rules and procedures; possess exceptional technical skills; and possess excellent analytical and case management skills.  However, having all of these “skills” doesn’t make a great paralegal.  To be a great paralegal you must also possess the qualities of a great employee:  loyalty, work ethic, detail oriented, dedication to your craft, tenacity, and a thick skin.”

Donna Wilkins:

“In addition to skill, I believe it is absolutely imperative to have an affinity and love for what you do.  Knowledge and skills are one thing, but if you do not love what you do, you won’t be as successful as you could be.  The most important skill I believe is the ability to prioritize.  With all the work that lands on my desk, I must be able to determine what must be done now and what can wait.  A system of following up on projects is also imperative.  Organization is crucial, as you can’t get things done if you do not have a system in place to make sure that nothing is missed.  You must be able to communicate, both verbally and in writing, with the attorneys and staff, but also with clients and the courts.   Maintaining knowledge of current case law and statutes which pertain to your area of practice is also necessary.”

 

What do you do to assist the attorney you work for?

Barbara Hass:

“Development and case management from the date of intake to completion; legal research; discovery; trial preparation; Federal case management; fact gathering and retrieving information; drafting and analyzing legal documents; collecting, compiling, and utilizing technical information to make an independent analysis to the supervising attorney.”

Donna Wilkins:

“You cannot list in detail in a few short paragraphs all of the responsibilities of a paralegal.  However, I can provide the following brief description:  I manage the case files to make sure all necessary information is obtained from the clients, that the medical records and bills are obtained so that a case can move forward either to settlement or litigation.  I draft demand letters and follow-up on settlement demands and offers.

Once a case is ready to be filed with the Court, I prepare the complaint for the attorney’s review and filing with the court.  I maintain the docketing calendar so that all dates pertaining to litigation are calendared and reminders are up to date.  I prepare initial discovery and meet with clients to obtain information on discovery propounded to them, and then prepare the draft responses for the attorney’s review.  I perform the initial review of defendant’s responses to discovery and prepare a summary for the attorneys and suggest additional discovery to be propounded and which depositions should be set.  I prepare Case Management Statements for the attorney’s review and filing with the Court.  I contact expert witnesses and make sure they have the documents they need to provide their opinions.

Once a trial date is set, I manage all related dates and make sure that all pre-trial discovery is completed, depositions taken, etc.  I prepare a draft of the pre-trial documents, including expert designations, trial witness and exhibit lists, etc. I subpoena witnesses and arrange for expert testimony.  I then prepare the exhibits themselves for submission to the Court and opposing counsel to be used at trial.”

Paralegals do more than help lawyers to prepare their cases, conduct relevant research and draft legal documents for litigation; they help to manage the clients throughout a long and sometimes frustrating process and as such are an essential element of an attorney’s legal team. To all of you out there who currently employ paralegals/legal assistants, take a moment to applaud and recognize their efforts as your success depends on it.

 

If you would like to comment or respond to my message, please e-mail me at jyoro@chainlaw.com.

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If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, please contact the experienced legal team at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Older Driver Safety Awareness: Tips for the safest journey while behind the wheel

December 6, 2017 | 9:17 am


It’s a fact of life — we grow older every day. And with each year that passes comes changes in our physical, mental and sensory abilities that can be a challenge for some, especially our senior citizens.

The ability to drive safely can also be affected by changes in our physical, emotional, and cognitive health — changes that are a part of normal aging, but occur at different rates and times for people.

During “Older Driver Safety Awareness Week,” which is observed this year from Dec. 4–8, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to provide some tips and information to make driving as safe and enjoyable as possible for our older friends, neighbors and loved ones.

By 2025, a quarter of licensed drivers in the United States will be 65 or older, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Today, this age group accounts for about 20 percent, or 40 million, of all licensed drivers, according to Federal Highway Administration.

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week aims to raise awareness about the safety issues older drivers face while remaining active members of their communities. For many senior citizens, it’s important for them to remain active in the community — shopping, working or volunteering — while remaining confident that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.

During this time of year, families often come together for the holidays, and one of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a conversation with our loved ones. Consider sharing these seven suggestions for the safest journey (courtesy of DMV):

1) Your Health is No. 1

Schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor pain or stiffness in your joints. This may affect your ability to control the steering wheel or turn to look into safety mirrors. Diabetes, seizures, and other conditions could affect your safety on the road. It’s best to discuss your driving options with your doctor before operating a vehicle. Fatigue can be a problem depending on the length of your trip. If your stress levels are high, driving could aggravate any other health conditions you may have. It’s best to speak with your doctor about lowering your stress levels before you drive, especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

2) Schedule Hearing and Vision Tests

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, always have them while driving. Be aware of conditions that might be affecting your vision, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist. Recognize signs of trouble seeing at night — you may need to stick with daytime driving only. If you have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive, get a hearing aid. Keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum, and this includes music and conversations with your passengers.

3) Be Realistic About Your Limitations

It’s important to be aware of and honest about any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can be proactive about making the necessary adjustments to ensure your safety, and that of all other drivers around you. Some of these adjustments can include increasing your following distance to allow yourself more reaction time when it’s time to hit the brakes. Also, use the brakes early. When you first see that a stop sign, red light, or other obstacle is approaching, begin braking early. This will help you to avoid the need for a hard brake at the last minute. Avoid busy areas — when there’s a lot happening at once, your awareness of your surroundings will suffer. Try to find alternative routes with less traffic congestion. Lastly, try to anticipate rather than react. Scan as far down the road as possible. This will help you plan your course of action instead of having to react suddenly.

4) Check Your Medications

For each of the medications you have been prescribed, be sure to read the label carefully. If it states that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication, do not drive. If there is nothing on the label, but you feel as though your mental or physical abilities are altered when taking the medication, contact your doctor and report the effects you’re feeling.

Also, ask the pharmacist about the medication when it’s prescribed. If the medication is known to affect driving ability, the pharmacist may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend a time of day when it’s best to take them. And avoid driving if you feel drowsy or lightheaded.

5) Adjust Your Driving Position

By adjusting the position of the driver’s seat, you can make it easier to reach the steering wheel, see your side mirrors, recognize obstacles down the road, control the vehicle, and reach the gas pedal and brake.

To help, keep the steering wheel at a comfortable but significant distance from your chest. If the steering wheel is too close, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy. Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are a few inches above the steering wheel. Do this by adjusting the steering wheel itself, adjusting the height of your seat, sitting on an additional seat cushion, if necessary, moving your side mirrors to avoid blind spots, or raising or lowering the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.  Consider a pedal extension if you have difficulty reaching the accelerator or brake.

6) Avoid Dangerous Conditions

Try to avoid inclement weather, night driving and rush hour commutes. It’s more difficult to control your vehicle, and your visibility is limited in bad weather. Additionally, dark surroundings give you less time to see, process, and react to your environment. Rush hour adds an increased number of cars on the road, coupled with impatient drivers, which can be one of the most dangerous times to drive for seniors.

7) Take a Mature Driver Course

Brushing up on your driving skills and refreshing your memory as it relates to the rules of the road can boost your confidence and help you stay safe while driving. Enroll in a senior driving course to learn defensive driving techniques, state-specific laws related to safety belts, cell phones, road signs, traffic violations, and making right-of-way decisions

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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.

#MeToo: How to protect yourself from sexual harassment, assault and abuse

November 29, 2017 | 7:00 am


Recently, the United States has seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

The “Me Too” campaign has spread virally to denounce sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. Millions of people throughout the world have used the #MeToo hashtag to come forward with their own experiences.

Sadly, these types of cases are all too familiar in Kern County as well. In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has represented dozens of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, and sex assault and abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers, employment supervisors, and others in roles of power.

Earlier this year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat contributed an article to the Kern Business Journal that outlined how sexual assault and harassment victims could fight back, specifically in the workplace. That article below has been re-purposed here:

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Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, still a prevalent occurrence in the workplace.

According to a recent study conducted at the South by Southwest conference in 2016, two-thirds of women reported having experienced “unwanted sexual attention” at work. Moreover, a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is evidently more prevalent in the service industry, where a 2014 survey by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 90 percent of women feel forced to “curry favor” with their customers when working for tips.

Even worse, 70 percent of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report for fear of repercussions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a disappointing statistic, because there are laws in place both in California and in the United States to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, applies to both public and private employers and prohibits sexual harassment against employees, applicants, volunteers, unpaid interns and even contractors in the workplace. You can file a complaint online by visiting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) website, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney before making such a complaint. The statute of limitations in California requires employees to obtain a right to sue notice letter from the DFEH within one year of the alleged harassment. The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue notice letter to file a lawsuit.

Moreover, the FEHA requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. The FEHA department permits employees to submit complaints if they have reason to believe that their employer has not complied with this requirement.

Sexual harassment is also prohibited under federal law. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range from inappropriate sexual jokes, to inappropriate touching. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically protects employees from sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, in the workplace and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

I advise victims of sexual harassment to take the following steps.

  • First, tell the person harassing you to stop. You may do so in person, but you should also put your request in writing; for example, in the form of an email.
  • If this does not work, or if you are uncomfortable about taking such action, consult your employment manual. You need to follow the protocol laid out in the employment manual, if it exists.
  • If it does not exist, you should notify your human resources department or a supervisor, and inform them – in person, and in writing – about the sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, even despite taking the above steps, then you should contact an attorney immediately to weigh your options.

It is illegal under both state and federal law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for making a sexual harassment complaint. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, document your complaints in writing, take action, and always remember that the law is on your side.

— Neil Gehlawat is a partner with the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he focuses on civil rights, employment and wrongful death cases.

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If you feel that you’ve been sexually harassed or abused by an authority figure, it’s important to contact an attorney. The lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles take an aggressive approach to sexual abuse and harassment cases. You may be entitled to lost past and future wages and benefits if it’s a case of sexual harassment at work, and emotional distress damages, among others. For more information on sexual harassment and sex abuse cases, visit our specialized website here.

Contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com.