Property maintenance is key to avoid injuries, premises liability claims

October 11, 2017 | 9:31 am


Premises-Hazard-Blog

The following article by Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark appeared in the Kern Business Journal. To view the PDF print version of the Kern Business Journal click here

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Maintaining your property so that it is safe for your customers, employees and visitors should be a top priority for all businesses. Premises liability lawsuits are one the most common claims made against businesses.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we regularly receive calls from Kern County residents injured due to poorly maintained property. Oftentimes, these injuries lead to cases, and these cases end up in litigation, costing businesses time and money. In almost every instance, the injury, and subsequent lawsuit, could have been avoided with proper maintenance and inspection, and a basic understanding of premises liability law.

Premises liability claims typically fall into one of two major categories: standard premises liability, or premises liability against a public entity, oftentimes referred to as a “dangerous condition of public property.” In this article, we will focus on the former, which applies to all private businesses and an injury claim made by a non-employee. Also, it is important to note that an injury claimed by an employee normally falls into the worker’s compensation system, which is a “no fault” system, meaning the law relating to liability is largely inapplicable.

Premises liability claims

If someone claims to be injured on your property, he or she needs to prove four things to win their case:

  1. That you owned, leased and/or controlled the property;
  2. That you were negligent in the use or maintenance of your property;
  3. That they suffered an injury; and,
  4. That your negligence was a substantial factor in causing their injury.

Property owners are expected to use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions, and to repair or give warning of any condition that could be reasonably expected to harm others. If an injured party can ultimately prove that a dangerous condition existed on the property, that the owner knew or should have known the condition was present on the property, and that the owner failed to correct the condition, or give adequate warning, the injured party will likely prevail.

But how does it work in a practical sense?  If, for example, you fail to maintain your parking lot to the extent that it is full of potholes, uneven surfaces, or broken and cracked asphalt and someone falls, you may be liable for their injuries. If a customer spilled something inside your store and you have no protocol or procedure in place to regularly inspect the condition of the floor, and then hours later another customer slips and falls, you could be liable. If your business operates at night, and you have an area outside that is so poorly lit that things like curbs, parking bumpers, or medians are invisible and someone falls, you could be liable.

What you can do

As a best practice, your business should regularly inspect your property and keep a record of the inspections (think of inspection records inside most public restrooms, for example). If during an inspection, you come across a condition or defect that poses a danger to others, you should immediately cordon off the area, put up warnings if necessary – such as wet floor signs or warning tape – and then correct the defect as quickly possible.

Under most circumstances, businesses make timely repairs to defects they are aware of. The failure occurs when there is not a regular inspection policy in place, and defects go unnoticed.

So, if you take one bit of advice away from this brief article it should be: put a policy in place to regularly inspect your businesses’ property, do the inspections, and keep a record that you did it.

Matthew Clark is a senior partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles where he focuses on wrongful death, industrial accidents, and motor vehicle accident cases, among other injury cases for people of Kern County.

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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.

Back-to-school tips: For students and parents, getting to and from campus safely should be top priority

August 9, 2017 | 9:24 am


With the close of each summer comes the return of school, including back-to-school shopping, hectic schedules, sports, and seemingly never-ending homework.

In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently helped our local students get in the school spirit as a sponsor of Childspree, which takes hundreds of underprivileged children back-to-school shopping at Kohl’s. The annual program organized by the Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club provides students with a backpack full of school supplies and $125 for clothes. Volunteers, including Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and staff, helped the students pick out new digs.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes this time of the year to remind parents and students to keep safety at the top of mind.

“Whether its students who are walking, cycling or taking the bus to school, parents dropping off their children, or other pedestrians and drivers around school campuses, safety should always be the top priority,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner for Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We want everyone to arrive to class, and back home, safely.”

Here are a few helpful safety tips for parents and students alike:

 

STROLL TO SCHOOL

  • Map a safe way for your children to walk to school or to the bus stop. Always use sidewalks or walking paths.
  • Check for moving cars at driveways and intersections.
  • Obey all traffic signs and crossing guards.
  • Cross streets safely. Stop at the curb or edge of the street; look left, right, left and behind you for traffic; wait until no traffic is coming and begin crossing; keep looking for traffic until you have finished crossing; walk and don’t run across the street; and don’t use your phone when crossing the street.
  • Work with other parents in the neighborhood to ensure that children in the neighborhood are supervised closely to and from school. Also, identify “safe houses,” homes of neighbors who your child is familiar with if your child is scared or needs help on the way to and from school.
  • Point out places they should avoid, such as vacant lots, alleyways and construction areas.
  • Encourage your children to use the “buddy system.”
  • Teach children to always be aware of their surroundings. Be aware of slow moving vehicles or parked vehicles that appear to be occupied.
  • Parents should also make sure the child knows his or her phone number, address, how to get in touch with a parent at work, how to get in touch with another trusted adult, and how to dial 9-1-1.

 

CYCLING TO CLASS

  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Ride in the direction of traffic.
  • Watch for opening car doors.
  • Wear bright clothing to help drivers see you.
  • Install reflectors on the rear, front, pedals and spokes.
  • Install lights on the front and back of your bike.

 

WHEELS ON THE BUS

If children ride a bus to school, they should plan to get to their bus stop early and stand back from the curb while waiting for the bus to arrive. Other safety tips include:

  • Wait to board the bus until it has come to a complete stop and the driver or attendant has signaled to get on.
  • Tell children they should only board their bus, and never an alternate one.
  • Always stay in clear view of the bus driver and never walk behind the bus.
  • Cross the street at the corner, obey traffic signals and stay in the crosswalk.
  • Never dart out into the street, or cross between parked cars.

For more school bus safety information, check out this previous Blogging for Justice blog post on the subject.

 

DRIVING

If children ride in a car to get to school, they should always wear a seat belt. Younger children should use car seats or booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits properly and ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.

If a teenager is driving to school, parents should mandate that he or she use seat belts. Drivers should not use their cell phone to text or make calls, and should avoid eating or drinking while driving.

As for parents and other drivers, it’s important to remember the following:

  • Obey the traffic laws.
  • Follow the ingress and egress patterns at your school.
  • If you want to avoid an unpleasant interaction with law enforcement, leave early, follow the rules of the road and be courteous.
  • If you want to walk your child to his or her classroom, park off-site so you are not creating a traffic jam.
  • Drivers should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean and be aware that children are out walking or biking to school and slow down – especially in residential areas and school zones. Yellow flashing lights mean the bus is getting ready to stop and motorists should slow down and be prepared to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign indicate the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off. Drivers in both directions must stop their vehicles and wait until the lights go off, the stop sign is back in place, and the bus is moving before they can start driving again.
  • Pull into a passenger loading zone for drop-off. If there is no passenger loading zone or any space available, park in a legal parking space farther away.
  • Drop your child off at the curb on the school side of the street rather than crossing into incoming traffic or having your child run across the street.
  • Don’t park in the loading zone or in a school bus zone. Also, never double park; this creates an unsafe situation for children who are often difficult to see between cars.

For more school-related safety tips — including at school safety and bullying prevention advice — visit a previous Chain | Cohn | Stiles blog post here.

— Alyssa Wood for Chain | Cohn | Stiles contributed to this article

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If you or someone you know is injured to and from school at the fault of someone else, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

What cities in America have the worst drivers, and where does Bakersfield rank?

July 19, 2017 | 9:11 am


Where are the worst drivers in America?

The answer, unfortunately, appears to be in California, where a recent survey found five cities in the state listed in the top 10 cities with the worst drivers. Bakersfield ranked No. 10.

QuoteWizard, an auto insurance comparison company, analyzed 2016 statistics from the 75 most populous metro areas in the United States and calculated incident averages that included accidents, speeding tickets, DUIs, and traffic citations, like running a red light and using a cellphone while driving.

No. 1 on the list was Sacramento, while Riverside (No. 3), San Diego (No. 5) and Los Angeles (No. 6) rounded out the California cities in the top 10 cities with the worst drivers.

In December, QuoteWizard ranked the worst drivers by state, and determined California to be No. 2, behind Utah. California was No. 7 for accidents, No. 9 for speeding, No. 5 for citations, and No. 2 for DUIs.

This matters for all drivers, according to insurance experts, because the saturation of bad drivers on roadways has the ability to affect how much you pay for car insurance each month. Living in one of the worst driving cities can see your insurance rates go up, while living in one of the best driving cities can help you save money on your auto insurance.

A spokesperson for QuoteWizard stated that Southern California has a high percentage of DUI arrests, and that could very well be because of the state’s law enforcement’s strong stance against drunk driving.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been a long-time advocate for safe driving and for sharing the road — that goes for other drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists alike.

The law firm for years has been deeply involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Kern County, as well as other safety groups including Bike Bakersfield. The law firm also regularly publishes safety tips on a variety of issues on this blog, Blogging for Justice.

For this article, Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides a few driving tips below to help you eliminate distracted driving, reduce traffic violations, and keep Kern County roadways as safe as possible:

  • Keep your cell phone on silent, and put in a place where you won’t be able to access it while driving.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and what other drivers around you are doing.
  • If you’re too tired to drive, find a place to stop so you can get rest before driving again.
  • If you need to eat and drink, make sure that you pull over to the side of the road.
  • Make sure that loose items in your car are secured so that they don’t startle you if they fall.
  • Never drive a vehicle if you’re under the influence of alcohol. Make sure that you have a driver who has not consumed alcohol, or use a service like Lyft or Uber who will be able to take you back to your home safely.

— By Michael Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of another driver, please call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000 for a free consultation on your case, or visit chainlaw.com.

Tips: Safety with fireworks, sober driving for that perfect Fourth of July

June 30, 2017 | 10:07 am


Each year, the Fourth of July holiday in Kern County brings with it swimming, barbecuing and celebration with fireworks.

Independence Day bears not only fun and excitement, but unfortunately, it also can bring chaos and injury. While enjoying the holiday, individuals must remain aware of possible dangers, and helpful tips, to prevent fireworks-related injury. It’s the reason that National Fireworks Safety Month, observed each July, reminds individuals to remain safe throughout the year when handling various forms of fireworks.

Kern County’s annual Fourth of July celebration is not only full of fireworks-related injuries, but is met with many tragic motor vehicle crashes as well, due to those who make the wrong decision to drive under the influence.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles advises Kern County community members to to read various safety tips below related to fireworks and safe driving.

 

Fireworks Safety 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks were the cause of an estimated 11,900 injuries in 2015, and of those, an estimated 8,000 fireworks-related injuries (or 67 percent) were during the one-month period between, from June 19 and July 19. To prevent further injuries, the National Council on Fireworks Safety offers some helpful tips:

  • Consumers should purchase fireworks from a reputable company or fireworks stand, check local and state laws for fireworks use in your city, and check all instructions on fireworks packaging before use.
  • Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
  • A responsible adult should supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
  • Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
  • Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never re-light a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water before you discard it.
  • Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down, and place them in a metal trashcan away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  • Ensure all pets and animals are away from fireworks noise.
  • With the rise in stress-related disorders affecting American servicemen and women, pay special consideration to individuals who may be sensitive to loud noises in proximity to your fireworks show.
  • Report illegal explosives.

The personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles remain proponents of fireworks safety, and in recent years past have represented victims of fireworks accidents and other burn injury cases. In 2014, attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident.

Remain aware of local codes and ordinances in Kern County and assist others in the safety of handling fireworks to make the community a safer place, not only throughout National Fireworks Safety Month, but as a permanent preventative measure throughout the year.

For more information and tips on fireworks safety, click here, and for more information regarding illegal fireworks, click here.

The Bakersfield Californian, too, has a handy guide related to fireworks safety specific to Bakersfield and Kern County, called “Fireworks 411.”

 

Drinking and Driving

Not only should those in the community be aware of precautions when handling fireworks, all of Kern County can help make Fourth of July a safer celebration for all by planning ahead. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County urges the community to remain aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, and continuously support the goal to end driving under the influence.

To help prepare for the holiday celebration, MADD has provided various helpful tips:

  • If your plans include alcohol, whether on land or on water, designate a non-drinking driver to make sure celebrations don’t end in tragedy. Call an Uber, take a taxi or public transportation.
  • As a parent, talk to your teens about the dangers of alcohol. Set a firm house rule that there is no drinking under 21 — and that goes for their friends as well.
  • General car safety should be part of the plan: wear your seat belt, don’t speed, and for young drivers, don’t drive with too many passengers. Distractions are dangerous, too.
  • For boating, many road rules apply. The most important one concerns alcohol. If you’re going to operate a boat, don’t drink. It’s illegal; but more importantly, it’s deadly and dangerous.
  • In 2015, 146 were killed in drunk driving crashes over the Fourth of July holiday, representing 36 percent of all traffic fatalities during that period.
  • Drunk driving kills more than 10,000 people and injures 290,000 others each year in the United States, and every single crash is preventable.
  • Law enforcement will be on patrol throughout the Kern County during this holiday weekend, so make sure you, your family and friends don’t drink and drive.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles continues to support MADD Kern County in the ongoing fight against drinking and driving in our community.

 

— By Alyssa Wood for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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

How to keep your home safe to avoid common accidents, injuries

June 28, 2017 | 9:31 am


Nearly 150,000 people in the United States died from accidental deaths in 2015, and many of these tragedies happened in the home. Today, unintentional injury-related deaths are an all-time high, according to the National Safety Council. In the home, the accidents include poisonings from prescriptions drugs, falls, drownings, and burns, among others.

For the month of June, during “National Home Safety Month,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles is focusing on proper safety precautions you can take to avoid common accidents and injuries, and make sure you and your families are as safe as possible while at home.

 

Poisoning

While more and more people are being put on prescription pain medications to be treated for injuries, we are also seeing an increase in the amount of people who suffer or die because of accidental drug overdoses.

In 2011, poisonings overtook motor vehicle crashes for the first time as the leading cause of unintentional-injury-related death for all ages combined. In fact, about 2.2 million people calling poison control every single year, and more than 90 percent of all poisonings happen at home. Tragically, every day, 52 people die because of opioids.

For tips on finding where the dangers lurk at home, visit the National Safety Council’s website. And if you need help, call the National Poison Control Center number at (800) 222-1222.

 

Falls

According to Injury Facts, falls are the No.1 cause of injury-related deaths among individuals who are age 65 and older. Approximately 9,500 elderly Americans will fall this year, and among those who fracture a bone, 87 percent of them will fall again within the next 6 months. However, these falls are preventable. Here are some tips, courtesy of “Stand Up to Falls”.

  • Eliminate tripping hazards.
  • Electrical and phone cords should be secured in a non-walking area. All cabinets should be closed when they are not being used.
  • If there is spilled water or drinks in the house, make sure they are cleaned.
  • Finally, make sure you’re not carrying anything heavier than you are able to carry. Have someone help you with heavy items, or take more than one trip for multiple items, like groceries.

For more tips, visit the National Safety Council website.

 

Choking and Suffocation 

Suffocation is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury-related death over all age groups, and choking on food or other objects is a primary cause. Suffocation is also the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for people 87 and older.

If a person is coughing forcefully, encourage continued coughing to clear the object. A person who can’t cough, speak or breathe, however, needs immediate help. Ask if they are choking and let them know you will use abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver, to prevent suffocation. Learn how to do the Heimlich maneuver by clicking here.

If the victim is or becomes unresponsive, lower the person to the ground, expose the chest and start CPR.

Choking is one of the leading causes of unintentional death for infants, who require a different rescue procedure than adults. Clear the airway, and do the following only if the infant cannot cry, cough or breathe

 

Drowning

About 10 people drown every day, and drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional-injury-related death over all ages. It’s also the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, mostly due to children falling into pools or being left alone in bathtubs.

Fortunately, there are several tips available for children and adults to prevent these tragedies.

For children:

  • Always watch your child while he or she is bathing, swimming or around water
  • Gather everything needed (towel, bath toys and sunscreen) before the child enters the water; if you must leave the area, take the child with you.
  • Do not allow your child to play or swim in canals or streams
  • Install a fence with self-closing gate latches around your pool or hot tub
  • Consider installing door alarms to alert adults when a child has unexpectedly opened a door leading to a pool or hot tub
  • Keep a phone and life preserver near the pool or hot tub in case of emergency
  • Use snug-fitting life jackets instead of floaties, but remember that a child can still drown with a life jacket on if not carefully watched

For adults:

  • Always swim with a buddy
  • Never swim if you have been drinking alcohol or have taken certain medications
  • Wear a life jacket
  • Swim in designated areas with lifeguards

 

Fires and Burns 

Fire is the sixth leading cause of unintentional-injury-related death over all ages. Often, fires start at night, when family members are asleep. A working smoke alarm will cut the chances of dying in a fire in half.

The National Safety Council provides the following tips to keep your home safe from fire:

  • Install smoke alarms (ionization and photoelectric) and carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Plan and practice an escape route and agree on a meeting place outside of your home
  • Know two ways out of every room in the home
  • Learn how to use your fire extinguisher
  • If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop and roll
  • When evacuating, if door handles are hot, pick an alternate route
  • Leave your house and call for help; do not go back to help someone else

The U.S. Fire Administration offers these additional tips to keep children safe from fire and burns:

  • Keep children 3 feet away from anything hot, like candles, space heaters and stove-tops
  • Keep smoking materials locked up in a high place; never leave cigarette lighters or matches where children can reach them
  • Never play with lighters or matches when you are with your children; they may try to imitate you

For more ways to stay safe and protected from home emergencies, click here to read previous Blogging for Justice posts related to home safety.

— By Michael Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident due to the fault of someone else, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles as soon as possible at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Speak up for those who can’t during Elder Abuse Awareness Month

June 21, 2017 | 9:07 am


More than 500,000 incidents of elder abuse are reported to authorities each year in the United States. Additionally, an estimated 5 million, or 1 in 10, older Americans are abused or neglected each year, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging.

Sadly, many cases go unreported.

During June’s Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up for those who can’t — our oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. For decades, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse in Bakersfield, Kern County and beyond. For example:

Joining Chain | Cohn | Stiles in honoring the awareness month locally, the Kern County Board of Supervisors recently proclaimed June as Elder Abuse Awareness month as well.

In all, Elder Abuse Awareness Month aims to focus attention on the problem of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of elders. It also seeks to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing population, and brings together senior citizens, and their caregivers, national and local government, academics, and the private sector to exchange ideas about how best to reduce incidents of violence towards elders, increase reporting of such abuse, and to develop elder friendly policies.

A challenge, however, lies in the reporting of elder abuse and neglect. For every case known to programs and agencies, 24 are unknown; for financial abuse, only one in 44 cases is known, according to the National Center of Elder Abuse.

So why does elder abuse go unreported? Many times, elders have no family to report to. They also fear retaliation from “caregivers,” or they feel shame in regards to abuse. Another reason is they fear they will lose independence, or fear they will upset their own family members. Many times, however, victims simply lack understanding of how to report abuse.

Another issue lies is recognizing elder abuse and neglect. In fact, elder abuse can take many forms including:

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior (slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means).
  • Sexual Abuse: Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect: The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts (humiliating, intimidating, or threatening).
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect: Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

Lastly, how do you recognize elder abuse and neglect, and what are the warning signs. Here are a few of them:

  • Bruises, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.
  • If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

It’s important to alert others if you have suspicions, and to retain an attorney. In an emergency, call 9-1-1. To report cases of elder abuse, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services as part of the Kern County Aging & Adult Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

  • Adult Protective Services (APS) responds to reports from individuals, concerned citizens, social service and health providers, and law enforcement representatives about developmental disabled adults, physically and mentally disabled adults, and the elderly who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. Upon receipt of a referral, APS sends a social worker to make a home visit or contact the elder or dependent adult. Reach the 24-hour hotline at 800-277-7866 or 661-868-1006.
  • The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates elder abuse complaints in long-term care facilities and in residential care facilities for the elderly. The primary responsibility of the program is to investigate and endeavor to resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in these facilities, including nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, and assisted living facilities. The goal of the program is to advocate for the rights of all residents in long term care. You can reach them at 661-323-7884.

— By Alyssa Wood for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If someone you know is the victim of elder abuse or neglect, it’s important to retain an elder abuse lawyer right away. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been representing victims of elder abuse and neglect for decades. Reach the elder abuse law firm at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website bakersfieldelderabuse.com.

Steps to take to identify and prevent heat-related illness at work

June 7, 2017 | 8:53 am


The following article written by Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyers James Yoro and Beatriz Trejo appeared in the Kern Business Journal

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Summer is here, and with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in Kern County, employers and employees must take precautions against the summer heat.

Heat-related illnesses can cause serious injury and even death, with local agricultural and construction industries are particularly affected when temperatures rise.

Under California’s Heat Illness Prevention Act, growers and contractors are required to provide water, shade and rest breaks to workers. In addition, supervisors are required to receive training on the signs of heat illness, and fines for not adhering to these rules could reach $25,000.

In addition, employers are required to establish, implement, and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program. To successfully tailor procedures to your work activities, evaluate and consider the special conditions at your work site. An employer should consider the size of the crew, the length of the work-shift, the ambient temperature, and the presence of personal protective equipment or additional sources of heat.

If you as a worker begin to suffer any of the signs or symptoms associated with heatstroke, you should immediately notify supervisors so that remedial steps can be taken. Do not delay in reporting your situation, as heat-related medical conditions can be life-threatening if left unattended. If first aid is not sufficient to treat symptoms or complaints, and medical attention is required, the filing of a workers’ compensation claim may be necessary.

Here are some other notes to keep in mind regarding heat-related illnesses:

 

Heat exhaustion versus heatstroke

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is depleted of water and salt; in other words, the body is dehydrated. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include confusion, dark-colored urine, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, pale skin, and rapid heartbeat. If not addressed, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, the most serious of heat-related illnesses.

During a heatstroke, a person’s core body temperature reaches 105 degrees or higher, which directly affects the nervous system. Symptoms of heatstroke include fainting, throbbing headache, dizziness or light-headedness, lack of sweating, hot or dry skin, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, confusion, disorientation, staggering, seizures, and unconsciousness.

 

Prevention

There are several ways to avoid a heat-related emergency. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink fluids because thirst is not a good indicator of fluid loss. Drink plenty of water when you know you will be in a hot environment. Make sure to wear loose, light, and lightweight clothing when exposed to heat to encourage heat release. Avoid hot, heavy meals during the work day. A heavy meal will divert blood flow to aid with digestion. Make sure to take frequent breaks to rest under shade, and hydrate.

In the event of a heat-related emergency, call 9-1-1. Move the victim to a cool shaded area, and loosen and remove any heavy clothing. If the person is still conscious, have them drink cool water, and try cooling the person down by fanning them. If ice is available, place ice packs are on the person’s head, armpits and groin. Heat-related illnesses are 100 percent preventable.

 

James Yoro is senior partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he manages the law firm’s workers’ compensation practice, and has nearly 40 years of experience in his field. Beatriz Trejo is an associate attorney focusing on work injuries at 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 value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Two-wheeled transportation safety tips for bike, motorcycle month and beyond

May 31, 2017 | 10:18 am


May is National Bike Month as well as National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, where we celebrate the benefits of riding on two wheels, while remembering the dangers of doing so and measures to help keep everyone as safe as possible.

California is ranked No. 4 in the United States for percentage of commuters who bike to work, according to the 2016 Benchmarking Report by the Alliance for Walking & Biking. California was also above the state average in commuters who walk, bike or take public transit to work, and in getting 150 minutes or more of aerobic exercise.

But the increase of people enjoying life on two wheels has unfortunately led to an increase of bicycle and motorcycle accidents on our roadways.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 818 bicycle fatalities in 2015 in the United States, which was a 12 percent rise from the previous year. Nearly 40 percent of all these fatalities were influenced by alcohol. To combat this disturbing trend, California has passed legislation, including the “Move Over Law” which requires motorists to have a 3-foot space from cyclists. Read more about that law here.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we believe we should all share the road, and be extra careful when driving around motorcyclist and bicyclists.

Our law firm has been a proud partner of Bike Bakersfield, whose mission it is to promote bicycling as a safe, fun and environmentally-friendly means of everyday transportation. Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles served as a sponsor for Project Light Up The Night, where volunteers hand out hundreds of free bicycle lights in various locations throughout Bakersfield. The law firm also donated 100 safety helmets to east Bakersfield students during a Bike Bakersfield “Kidical Mass,” which featured bike repairs, safety demonstrations, and a group bike ride.

We ask you, the reader, to take responsibility in making sure our roadways are safe for cyclist and motorist alike. Here are a few tips on how we can make cycling, riding and driving in Bakersfield safer and more enjoyable:

Rules of the Road for All

  • 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.
  • Be Easily Seen: Dress “bright and tight,” which means being seen, and not getting tangled up in your bike.
  • Think Ahead: 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.
  • Ride and Drive Focused: Never ride or drive distracted.
  • Safety First: Always wear a helmet when on a bicycle or motorcycle, and a seat belt when in a vehicle. A DOT 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.
  • Alcohol and Drug-Free: Never get behind the wheel (or wheels) under the influence of any substance.

For more bicycle and motorcycle safety tips, click here to read previous Blogging for Justice posts related to two-wheel safety.

 

— Michael Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If you or someone you know has been injured in a bicycle accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles as soon as possible at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles fights to protect the rights of all injured workers in California, including immigrants

April 12, 2017 | 9:18 am


Did you know that in California, Latinos are less likely to file workers’ compensation* claims, yet have the highest rates of work-related injuries? They are also less likely to seek medical attention, have less access to medical facilities, and face the highest percentage of retaliation at work.

Undocumented workforce, in particular, suffer the most for fear of losing their jobs or facing negative reaction from their employers when they are hurt on the job.

Attorneys from the Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles have been speaking out about the rights of all injured workers in California — documented and undocumented. The message: It’s vital for lawmakers in California to implement laws that continue to strengthen the rights and protections of all its workers, including undocumented immigrants.

“Latinos are the lifeblood of many industries in California, particularly in the Central Valley, and contribute tremendously to our nation’s economy,” said Beatriz Trejo, workers’ compensation attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “They deserve equal protection under law.”

Trejo served as the moderator for a recent California Applicants’ Attorney Association (CAAA), Latino Caucus, symposium that aimed to educate on the issues affecting Latino workers in California. Trejo is the president for the Bakersfield Chapter of CAAA.

The symposium focused on these alarming statistics: Latinos account for 59.4 percent of all workplace injuries and 37.8 percent of all workplace deaths. They experience a higher rate of injuries in California because of their employment industries — agriculture, warehouse and packing, food processing plants, or truck driving to name a few.

Workers’ compensation claims are less reported among undocumented immigrants because their immigration status is used as a weapon of intimidation. Despite the passage of strong labor laws, they are rarely enforced, according to coverage from Vida en el Valle, a publication that covers news from the Latino community in the Central Valley.

Because of these concerns, Trejo has been speaking at various “community town hall” meetings throughout Kern County, including Lamont, Arvin, Delano, Taft and Bakersfield. They are hosted by the Immigration Justice Collaborative, a group of volunteer attorneys who aim to educate undocumented residents in Kern County on their basic legal rights.

During the town hall meetings, Trejo gives a brief description of the rights of injured workers under the California Labor Code, and meets briefly with those with additional questions. Under Labor Code §1019: “It is unlawful for an employer or any other person or entity to engage in, or to direct another person or entity to engage in, unfair immigration-related practices against any person for the purpose of, or with the intent of, retaliating against any person for exercising any right protected under this code or by any local ordinance applicable to employees.”

And under Labor Code §98.6, “No person shall discharge an employee or in any manner discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment” for filing work injury claims, for example.

Seventy-nine percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Latino with 2.4 million (22 percent) residing in California alone. In California’s workforce, it’s estimated that about one in ten workers is undocumented.

“It’s critical to continue to help Latino and undocumented workers with their work injury claims, to make sure they are fairly compensated and make sure their rights are protected,” Trejo said.

Seventy-nine percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Latino with 2.4 million (22 percent) residing in California alone, according to Vida en el Valle. In California, it’s estimated that about one in 10 workers are undocumented.

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If you or someone you know is injured on the job, please contact the workers’ compensation lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website, bakersfieldwclawyers.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Hands on the wheel: We can all do our part to end distracted driving

April 5, 2017 | 9:41 am


Plain and simple, distracted driving is a deadly behavior. In fact, federal estimates suggest that distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, leading to around 5,000 deaths every year.

It’s no wonder that 80 percent of drivers cite distraction as a serious problem and a behavior that makes them feel less safe on the road, according to AAA Foundation.

The good news is we can all make a difference — a drivers’ safety ultimately rests in their hands and those of their fellow motorists. And this month, during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to call on everyone to drive distraction-free, and speak up if you’re in a vehicle with a distracted driver.

“You cannot drive safely unless you’re paying full attention to the road, and on the other vehicles around you,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We can all play a part in the fight to save lives and prevent injuries by ending distracted driving, keeping our hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”

Here’s what you can do to eliminate distracted driving from your travels (courtesy of AARP).

  • Unplug: Keep your cell phone on silent and where you can’t see it light up for every notification you receive. If a phone call or text message is really important, it’s best to pull over into a safe location before using your phone.
  • Refuel: Drowsy driving is distracted driving, so never drive when you’re too tired.
  • Focus: When you’re behind the wheel, pay attention to what’s happening all around your vehicle. Frequently scan your mirrors and watch your speed.
  • Secure your cargo: Prevent loose items in your car from startling you in the event of sudden braking by securing your cargo. Also, never place smaller items on your lap or on the floor near the driver-side foot pedals.

Here in Kern County, local law enforcement agencies and community groups are partnering to help make our roads safer by highlighting the dangers of being distracted while driving.

Specifically, Bakersfield Police Department is instituting zero tolerance enforcement efforts to discourage distracted driving. Officers will have a special emphasis in April on enforcing all cell phone and distracted driving laws, according to the department, deploying extra traffic officers in city locations where higher numbers of traffic collisions occur. Starting in January, drivers no longer are allowed to hold their cellphones in their hands for any reason, including using any of a phone’s apps, such as music playlists. Fines start at $162 for first time offenders.

A recent national survey found that nearly one-third of drivers reported sending a text message or e-mail while driving, and 42 percent said had read a text or e-mail. A California Office of Traffic Safety study also determined that 1 out of 8 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road. State road safety officials estimate that some form of distracted driving is a factor in 80 percent of crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking drivers to take a pledge to drive phone-free today: never texting or talking on the phone while driving, speaking out if the driver in your car is distracted, and encouraging friends and family to drive phone-free.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of a suspected distracted driver, please call the car accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000 or visit chainlaw.com for a free consultation on your case.