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

April 17, 2019 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bakersfield ranked 7th deadliest city in the nation for pedestrians

March 27, 2019 | 1:11 pm


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

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

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

 

Deadliest cities for pedestrians

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

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

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

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

 

Local pedestrian safety

Several local efforts are underway with pedestrian safety in mind.

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

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

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

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

 

How to stay safe

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

Drivers:

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

Pedestrians:

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

— Martin Esteves contributed to this report.

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

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

March 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about workers’ compensation and work fatalities here:

 

The Standard of Proof 

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

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

 

Mysterious Circumstances 

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

 

Benefits

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

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

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

 

Dependents

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

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

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

 

Additional Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

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

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

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

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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