How to avoid fire, injury on Fourth of July

June 27, 2014 | 8:46 am


It’s time to celebrate the red, white and blue — with fireworks, of course.

It’s a tradition — in Bakersfield and Kern County at least — to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks. But safety officials here warn that if not set off properly, the results could be devastating. In fact, more U.S. fires are reported on Independence Day than on any other day, and fireworks account for two out of five of those fires, more than any other cause of fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Here are several safety tips to bring in Independence Day without a hitch, courtesy of the Bakersfield Fire Department and the Kern County Fire Department:

  • Purchase only California State Fire Marshal approved fireworks labeled “Safe and Sane.”
  • Supervise children around fireworks at all times. Only adults should use fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outside and never light near dry grass or other flammable materials.
  •  Always read the directions and warning labels on fireworks. If a firework is not marked with the contents, direction and a warning label, do not light it.
  • Light fireworks one at a time and never modify, point, or throw them. Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Never re-ignite malfunctioning fireworks or light ones that have loose fuses or leaking powder.
  • Make sure to have a bucket of water and a hose or fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Do not dispose of fireworks until they are completely cool.
  • Call 9-1-1 in an emergency.

In the last several years, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with fire safety officials during the Fourth of July holiday period to enforce fireworks laws, issuing administrative citations for the following violations:

  • Use of legal fireworks outside of permitted times: $500
  • Illegal fireworks or modified legal fireworks: $1,500.
  • No fireworks are permitted in mountainous or wildland urban interface areas.

The local fire departments are asking for your help in tracking down those who use illegal fireworks. You can report those people by calling a tip-line: 661-868-6070.

The Bakersfield personal injury attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also advise homeowners to be aware of the liability dangers for any illegal fireworks set off on their property, even if someone else set them off. It’s also important to keep in mind injuries that could happen when using fireworks.

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks that include devastating burns, fires and even death. For example, In 2011, fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires in the United States, including 1,200 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires resulted in an estimated eight reported deaths, 40 injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.

In 2012, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 8,700 people for fireworks related injuries — 55 percent of 2012 emergency room fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities and 31 percent were to the head, according to the association. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for young people ages 15 to 24, followed by children under 10.

If you are injured in a fireworks accident, visit these Frequently Asked Questions and answers for advice.

Last but not least, it’s important to keep in mind the safety of any pets around fireworks, which can be stressful and scary for our furry friends. The loud noises and flashing lights can cause pets a great deal of anxiety. Here are some more tips:

  • Do not take your pet to fireworks displays.
  • Do not leave your pet in the car. With only hot air to breathe inside a car, your pet can suffer serious health effects, even death, in a few short minutes. It is also against the law.
  • Keep your pets at home, indoors, in a sheltered, quiet area. Some animals can become destructive when frightened, so be sure that you have removed any items that your pet could destroy or that would be harmful to your pet if chewed or ingested. Leave a television or radio playing at normal volume to keep him/her company while you are away.
  • If you know that your pet is seriously distressed by loud noises, consult with your veterinarian before the holiday for ways to help alleviate the fear and anxiety he/she will experience during the fireworks display.
  • Never leave pets outside unattended, even in a fenced yard or on a chain. In their fear, pets who normally wouldn’t leave the yard, may escape and become lost, or become entangled in their chain, risking injury or even death.
  • Make sure your pets are wearing identification tags so that if they do become lost, they can be reunited promptly.
  • If you plan to go away for the holiday, make sure your pet is properly cared for by a neighbor, relative, or close friend. Make sure that your pet-sitter is aware of these precautions for the holiday as well.
  • If a pet is lost during the Fourth, owners can visit Kern County Animal Control or log onto the website for more information.

The staff and lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles wishes everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July.

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  • For a list of “Safe and Sane” fireworks on sale in Bakersfield and Kern County, including reviews, go here.
  • To find a fireworks show nearest to you, visit Kern Events here.
  • To find out more information on Bakersfield’s annual fireworks show, go here.

Cool down safely: Kern River, water safety advice

June 20, 2014 | 9:32 am


Earlier this week, Kern County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team were called out to the Kern River to assist with four people who became stranded.

Two adult women and two children, ages 4 and 5, were rafting down the Kern River on rafts that were tied together. The children were knocked off their rafts by the dangerous Kern River current and the group lost their rafts, media reported according to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Luckily, the children wore life vests, and the group made it to shore of the river, but they became stranded in an area where they could not get safely out of the river with the small children. That’s when the group called the attention of a worker nearby, who called rescue officials, who brought all four back to safety. Most importantly, none of them required medical attention.

The news related to the Kern River isn’t always as positive. In fact, the search is currently ongoing for a 19-year-old who was last seen swimming in the Kern River, Bakersfield and Kern Valley media reported. (Update on this case below)

Recently, Kern County Search and Rescue held a ceremony to change the number on the sign at the mouth of the Kern Canyon to represent two lives lost last year on the river. Total fatalities lost from the Kern River since 1968 is now at 269.

It’s important to keep this number and other safety measures in mind when visiting the Kern River during the summer — which officially begins June 21 this year — as well as when enjoying the cool water at home, or around Bakersfield and Kern County.

Safety officials recommend you stay out of the river, but if you do decide to go in and around the Kern River, here are safety tips to consider:

  • The Kern River may seem cool, calm and inviting, but underneath the water can lie a bed of traps that could suck you in.
  • Always wear a life vest every time you get in the river.
  • Don’t drink alcohol while in the river, as it can hinder judgment and can cause you to become disoriented or lethargic.
  • Do not use flotation devices, like inner tubes, because they can pop or slip away.
  • If you are swept away by the water, do not cling onto anything or try to fight the current because you will likely get tired and you will drown.
  • If you do get swept by the water, keep your feet above water and flatten your body to float. And resist trying to touch the bottom of the river with your feet.

Many of the safety measures applied to the Kern River can be considered for water safety around town, and around the house, too. Here are a few water safety tips courtesy of the Bakersfield personal injury attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

  • Supervision is the key word when it comes to pool safety. Never leave children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment. Don’t be distracted by doorbells, phone calls, chores or conversation. If you must leave the pool area, take the children with you, making sure the pool gate latches securely when it closes.
  • Always keep your eyes on the children. Designate a child watcher, whether you or someone else, when you attend a party or have friends or family over.
  • You must put up a fence to separate your house from the pool. Most young children who drown in pools wander out of the house and fall into the pool. Install a fence at least 4 feet high around all 4 sides of the pool. This fence will completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard. Use gates that self-close and self-latch, with latches higher than your children’s reach.
  • Keep rescue equipment (such as a shepherd’s hook or life preserver) and a telephone by the pool.
  • Do not let your child use air-filled “swimming aids” because they are not a substitute for approved life vests and can be dangerous.
  • Children under the age of 3 and children who cannot swim must wear a life jacket or personal floatation device.
  • Anyone watching young children around a pool should learn CPR and be able to rescue a child if needed. Stay within an arm’s length of your child.
  • Remove all toys from the pool after use so children are not tempted to reach for them.
  • After the children are done swimming, secure the pool so they can’t get back into it.
  • Send children to swimming and water safety lessons.
  • Talk with babysitters about pool safety, supervision and drowning prevention.
  • Post rules such as “no running,” “no pushing,”, “no dunking,” and “never swim alone”. Enforce the rules.
  • Don’t assume that drowning or a drowning incident couldn’t happen to you or your family.
  • Empty wading pools immediately after use and turn them over.
  • Remember, teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in water.

And throughout Kern County, cooling centers are open and available to help local residents cope with the punishing heat wave. Young children and the elderly are encouraged to take advantage of the center, as they are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat, according Kern County Department of Public Health.

The cooling centers are open from 1 to 8 p.m. when the temperature is forecast by the National Weather Service to reach the following temperatures:

  • 105 degrees in the San Joaquin and Kern River valleys
  • 95 degrees in Frazier Park
  • 108 degrees in desert locations

The centers are scattered across various areas of the county, including two in Bakersfield. Residents of greater Bakersfield who need transportation to a cooling center should contact Get-a-Lift at 869-6363. Those in outlying areas can contact Kern Regional Transit Network at 800-560-1733. Residents of California City should call Dial A Ride at 760-373-8665.

For more information, including cooling center opening times and days, go to www.co.kern.ca.us.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles wishes everyone a fun and safe summer, and a happy Fourth of July. For more water and summer safety tips, go to chainlaw.com, or read our summer safety tips at bloggingforjustice.com.

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UPDATE: The body of Roberto Dominguez III was recovered on Thursday, June 26, after a more than four-hour effort by volunteers, media reported. His body was stuck in rocks near a waterfall in what the Kern County Sheriff’s Office described as a dangerous portion of the river. A family member had initially seen the body on Wednesday.

Auto accidents are No. 1 cause of death of American teenagers, new study finds

June 9, 2014 | 10:17 am


It’s a sobering statistic: Auto accidents are the No. 1 killer of American teenagers, according to a new study released recently called “Teens in Cars.”

The study found that car accidents kill almost as many drivers as passengers, and kills more children than homicide or suicide.

The study — paid for by the General Motors Foundation, Safe Kids and based on a national survey of 1,000 teenagers between 13 and 19 — also found the following:

  • In half of fatalities, the teenager was not wearing a seat belt. One in four teenagers said they don’t use a seat belt on every ride. Top reasons included that they forgot, weren’t driving far, and that seat belts were uncomfortable.
  • Also, teens who didn’t wear seat belts were more likely to say they texted while driving than who wore seat belts.
  • The odds of a crash or near-crash in newly-licensed teen drivers was more than eight times greater when dialing a cell phone.
  • 49 percent of teens reported feeling unsafe when riding with a teen driver.
  • When someone was driving dangerously, four in 10 teens said they asked the driver to stop, but almost the same number said they did nothing.

In 2012, nearly 2,400 teen drivers died in motor vehicle accidents. A little more than half of the teenagers killed, 56 percent, were driving at the time of the fatal crashes; 44 percent of the victims were passengers. Only 10 percent of respondents said they’d been in cars driven by teenagers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This isn’t the first study to highlight such findings. A recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also put auto accidents as the No. 1 killer of teenagers.

There is some good news, however. A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study reported noted that fatalities for 2012 had dropped 7 percent from 2011. Similarly, the Safe Kids study said teenage auto deaths had dropped 56 percent from their peak in 2002, when nearly 5,500 children between the ages of 13 and 19 died.

The survey also provides some strategies for parents and families to stay safe while riding as a passenger and a driver.

  • Make using a seat belt for every ride a habit, starting when kids are young.
  • Be a safety role model by observing speed limits, putting phones away while driving, and following the rules of the road.
  • Talk to teens and kids about ways to speak up if a driver of any age isn’t driving safely.

The Bakersfield personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also have some advice in the case you or your teen are involved in an auto accident. Remember to take the following 3 steps if you have been involved in an automobile accident or motor vehicle accident:

  • Obtain the name, address, insurance information, vehicle identification number (VIN) and driver’s license number of any and all persons involved in the accident, as well as the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all witnesses.
  • Make sure that a report is filed with the police, sheriff, or highway patrol, but DO NOT talk to anyone else (especially insurance adjusters) about the accident or sign anything without first consulting an attorney.
  • Seek medical attention immediately and explain to your physician or surgeon all of the symptoms and complaints you have been feeling since the accident occurred.

For more tips and answers to frequently asked questions related to vehicle-related accidents, go to chainlaw.com, or visit our specialized site dedicated to helping those who have been involved in car accidents — www.bakersfieldcaraccidentlaw.com.

Kern County safety tips to remember this summer

June 2, 2014 | 8:46 am


School is out, and the weather is hot. It can only mean one thing — summertime is here.

And with summer comes summertime recreation: swimming and other outdoor fun. It’s important to take proper safety precautions  more than ever during this time of year.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office has released a series of water-safety tips, warning people to be safe during summertime recreation. Kern County had 11 accidental drownings last year, something the sheriff’s office says it hopes to avoid if people adhere to this advice.

Swimming pools

  • Avoid swimming alone.
  • Designate adults to watch children when having a swimming party.
  • Never leave children alone or unattended near a swimming pool, even for a second.
  • When supervising a child who is swimming, adults need to always maintain “touch supervision swimming,” meaning the adult can reach out and touch or assist that child at any moment if needed.
  • When supervising a child who is swimming, an adult should never be distracted or engaged in any other activity.
  • Install a fence around your pool, and lock the gate to the pool when not in use.
  • Remove all toys from the swimming pool when not in use. Toys attract children.
  • Consider installing a pool alarm, which will sound if a person enters the pool area.
  • Teach children to swim at an early age.
  • Take the time to learn CPR.
  • Install a phone outside near the pool.
  • If you have an above-ground pool, remove the ladder when not in use.
  • If a child is missing, always check the pool first. The majority of children who survive non-fatal submersions are discovered within two minutes.

Around the House

  • Do not leave water standing in buckets.
  • Never leave water standing in the bathtub.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a bathtub, and always maintain touch supervision with a child in the bath.
  • Always close the lid to the toilet. Consider installing safety locks on toilet lids.
  • Empty wading pools immediately after use.
  • Outdoor spas should have protective barriers, such as fencing or covers.
  • Cover outdoor ponds with a fixed grill.

Outdoors

  • Use the buddy system when swimming in lakes or rivers.
  • Adults need to maintain touch supervision with children near water or in campground areas with access to water.
  • Never swim in a lake or river after you have been drinking alcohol.
  • When around recreational water or water sports, everyone should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest.
  • Make sure all life vests are fitted properly.
  • Do not make the assumption that because water looks calm or inviting a life vest is not needed. The Kern River can look deceivingly calm on the surface, yet dangerous underwater currents and debris can cause even a strong adult swimmer to be pulled under.
  • Never operate a boat after drinking alcohol or under the influence of drugs, and do not allow passengers on the boat if they are under the influence.
  • Learn to recognize when a person is in trouble in the water. People often do not yell for help, and it may appear as if they are splashing or waving when they are actually trying to keep their head above water.

To the point of staying safe in the Kern River, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office also recently updated the sign at the mouth of the Kern River Canyon to reflect the current number of lives lost in the Kern River since 1968. The sign is updated each year during the month of May to include the number of lives lost in the Kern River during the previous twelve months. This year the sign was updated from 267 lives lost to 269 lives lost.

The Bakersfield personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles wish everyone a fun and safe summer. For more water safety tips, go to chainlaw.com.

Bike race, sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, to roll through streets of Bakersfield

May 16, 2014 | 11:37 am


As mentioned in a previous blog post, May is National Bike Month, as well as National Bike Safety Month.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we believe in bicycle safety, and several of the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers and employees at the law firm are bike enthusiasts and practice safety measures each time they hop on their bicycles. It’s also important for a community business, like ours, to support community programs and events.

Combining bike safety with community support, Chain | Cohn | Stiles is sponsoring the De VleesHuis race on Saturday, May 17, as well as the 2014 Downtown Criterium on Sunday, May 18.

Saturday’s De VleesHuis, slugged as “a road race for the strong,” will be a 30-mile loop through Bakersfield, with easy flats, a long stead climb and some puncher climbs in between the flats and back to the finish, according to even organizers. It will reach an elevation of nearly 2,500 feet. To see the route, go HERE.

The Downtown Criterium will be held on Sunday, and will feature Formula One style bike racing on Bakersfield’s city streets. The four-corner rectangle course will deliver a fun, exciting race around a downtown Bakersfield park venue. The course is .8 miles.

The family-friendly event will feature music, a kid’s race, food and “the fastest race in Kern County,” event organizers said. It is being sponsored and hosted by Bike Bakersfield, USA Cycling and, of course, Chain | Cohn | Stiles, among others.

For more on the events, visit SamBarn Promotions, which is putting on the event, or Bike Bakersfield, a local nonprofit bicycle advocacy group.

If you are planning to ride your bicycle throughout Bakersfield this weekend, please keep in mind these bicycle safety tips, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Ride and drive focused, never distracted.
  • Ride and drive prepared; always expect the unexpected.
  • Put safety first; we never know when a crash will occur, regardless of skill level or age; always wear a bicycle helmet when on a bicycle and a seat belt when in a car.
  • Follow the rules of the road; a bicyclist is considered a vehicle on the road with all the rights on the roadway and responsibilities of motorized traffic.
  • Expect law enforcement officers to monitor and address unsafe behaviors between motorists and bicyclists that put bicyclists at risk.
  • Share the road; both vehicle drivers (motorist and bicyclist) should look out for one another and show mutual respect.

For more resources related to bicycle safety and what to do in case of an bicycle accident, including Frequently Asked Questions, go HERE.

Cycle safe in May, National Bike Month

May 12, 2014 | 9:38 am


The weather is beautiful. Gas prices are sky high. It’s all the more reason to get out in May and celebrate National Bike Month in Bakersfield. But before you hit the road, keep in mind that May is also Bicycle Safety Month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has kicked off the “Be a Roll Model” campaign, aimed to encourage everyone to model safe behaviors to enhance the safety of all road users, including those who bicycle. The message: we can all play a part in being a “Roll Model” to decrease the risks of traffic crashes and preventable injuries and deaths.

The safety administration is inviting everyone to adopt this campaign to do the right (safe) thing when riding or driving around bicycles. Being a Role Model means:

  • Riding and driving focused, never distracted.
  • Riding and driving prepared; always expect the unexpected.
  • Putting safety first; we never know when a crash will occur, regardless of skill level or age; always wear a bicycle helmet when on a bicycle and a seat belt when in a car.
  • Following the rules of the road; a bicyclist is considered a vehicle on the road with all the rights on the roadway and responsibilities of motorized traffic.
  • Expecting law enforcement officers to monitor and address unsafe behaviors between motorists and bicyclists that put bicyclists at risk.
  • Sharing the road; both vehicle drivers (motorist and bicyclist) should look out for one another and show mutual respect.

National Bike Month is sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities from coast to coast, including in Bakersfield and Kern County. Established in 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling, and encourage others to giving biking a try.

The campaign is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride, whether it’s biking to work or school, riding to save money or time, pumping those pedals to preserve your health or the environment, or simply to explore your community.

Closer to home, the California Highway Patrol is aiming to educate motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians about the rules of the road in an effort to reduce bicycle-involved collisions.

As of Sept. 16, California drivers will be required to give bicyclists three feet of clearance or slow down and pass when it would not endanger a bicyclist’s safety. The campaign suggests bicyclists wear a helmet and drivers wear a seat belt.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 142 bicyclists killed in California in 2011 and they accounted for five percent of the total collision fatalities in the state, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

And in March, according to The Californian, the California Household Travel Survey found that the number of California residents walking, biking or using public transportation in a typical day has more than doubled since 2000.

Also, Bike Bakersfield, a Bakersfield nonprofit bicycle advocacy group — whose mission it is to promote bicycling as a safe, fun and environmentally friendly means of everyday transportation — is hosting a number of events during Bike Month. For a list, go HERE.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we believe in bicycle safety. In fact, several of the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers and employees at the law firm practice safety measures each time they hop on their bicycles.

Sadly, accidents still happen even after taking proper safety measures. We’ve developed a list of questions and answers related to bicycle accidents. If you are ever in a bicycle accident, be sure to keep these answers and tips in mind. And for more resources related to bicycle accidents, including more questions and answers, see our Frequently Asked Questions section HERE.

If I am injured while riding my bicycle, can I sue the driver that hit me?

Yes, as long as you can establish that the driver was at fault.

Can I still bring a lawsuit against the driver if I was doing something I was not supposed to, such as riding on the wrong side of the street, not wearing a helmet or not having proper lights or reflectors at night?

Yes. You can bring a lawsuit as long as you can prove that the driver or some other person or entity was at fault. The bicyclist has the same duties and responsibilities on roadways as a motor vehicle driver. Further, there are some additional special requirements for bicyclists. Adult bicyclists are not required by law to wear helmets, although a jury can still find you negligent for not wearing a helmet even if you are an adult. Further, not following the law by riding on the wrong side of the road or not having proper gear to ride at night can, and often will be found to be negligent behavior on your part. However, a bicyclist’s negligence does not eliminate their ability to sue another party; it simply reduces the recovery by the percentage of their fault.

 My child was injured or killed while riding his bicycle. What are our rights?

Children, particularly young children, are not held to the same standard of care for their own safety as adults. Thus, drivers must be more cautious when they know that children riding bicycles are in the area. Even if your child was negligent, you may be able to recover against anyone responsible for causing the accident, including the driver of the vehicle that hit your child.

 I was riding my bicycle when I rode over a pothole which threw me off my bike and caused a serious head injury. Do I have a case?

Yes. You have a potential case. If you can establish that public or private property was in a dangerous condition and that it was foreseeable that someone would be riding a bicycle over that property, you will be able to bring a case. However, to win the case you must prove that the possessor or owner of the property created, knew, or should have known, about the dangerous condition on the property and failed to repair or warn of the danger.

What damages are recoverable in bicycle accident cases?

A Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and if it is deemed that conduct is bad enough, punitive damages (i.e., punishment damages against the defendant). If the bicyclist dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the bicyclist’s death as well as emotional distress damages which stem from the loss of society, care and comfort of the decedent. If the survivors can prove that the bicyclist lived for a period of time between the negligent act and death, they can also bring an action for punitive damages.

How soon do I need to bring a case after a bicycle accident?

A Bicycle Accidents and/or wrongful death action, under California law, must be brought within two years of the date of the accident, if the accident occurred on or after January 1, 2003; and one year from the date of the accident if the accident occurred prior to January 1, 2003.

In cases against public entities, a claim must be filed against the public entity within six months from the date of the accident. If the plaintiff is a minor, a minor has until their 19th birthday to bring case unless there is a government claim in which a minor should bring the claim within six months of the accident, or one year at the latest.

Will my bicycle accident case settle and does it make a difference if I hire an attorney?

It is always a good idea to consult or retain an attorney in a bicycle accident case because there usually will be some questions of comparative fault. In addition, expert witnesses may need to be retained to reconstruct the accident and help determine responsibility for the accident.

Tips: Celebrate with safety this Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2014 | 9:30 am


Bakersfield is rich with culture, especially within our Hispanic community. This Cinco de Mayo (May 5) will undoubtedly bring celebration citywide.

It’s important, however, to keep safety in mind today whether you are celebrating around town, or are traveling through local streets during this holiday. The popularity of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, especially among young people, has brought about some problems — alcohol-involved crashes.

Bakersfield Police Department and other local law enforcement has traditionally bumped up enforcement around this holiday.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives some sobering stats:

  • From 2008 to 2012, 233 people were killed in drunken driving crashes on Cinco de Mayo. 
  • In 2012, almost half (45 percent) of all traffic crash deaths on Cinco de Mayo involved drunk driving.

To increase your chances of enjoying a safe Cinco de Mayo celebration, the safety administration recommends that you plan ahead, and:

  • Designate your sober driver before the festivities begin.
  • If you’ve been drinking, call a friend or taxi, or use public transportation to get home.
  • Contact your local police if you see a drunk driver on the road. 
  • If you know people who are about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them find a safe ride home.

As the statistics show, DUI crashes and incidents are still bound to happen. The Bakersfield accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles also have some tips in the unfortunate case you are the victim in an accident.

The attorneys at CCS are passionate about keeping our streets as safe as possible. In fact, the law firm has partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County in the first Bakersfield “Walk (Run) Like MADD” fundraiser, which will be held this September.

Below are several “Frequently Asked Questions” and answers from the Bakersfield law firm’s website related to DUI accidents, and what you should do if you are ever a victim. And remember, if you are ever involved in an accident, call the firm at 661-323-4000.

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Does the law differentiate between people who are killed or seriously injured by drunk drivers as opposed to people who are injured or killed by people driving under the influence of street drugs or prescription drugs?

No. The law makes no distinction between driving under the influence of alcohol, street drugs or prescription drugs. That is why the term “DUI,” which means “driving under the influence” is used to describe the crime rather than “drunk driving.”

Who can sue in a DUI case?

Any person who is injured by the wrongful conduct of a person driving under the influence, or the survivors of someone who was killed by a defendant who was driving under the influence, can bring a lawsuit against the defendant driver and any other person or entity who was responsible for the accident.

Is it easier to prove a drunk driving case than a case in which a person is driving under the influence of drugs?

Yes. The relationship between a high blood alcohol level and driver impairment is well known and well established. The same relationship between prescription and street drugs has been far less studied and is not within the common knowledge of most drivers and jurors. Thus, drunk driving cases are easier to prove.

What if the person who injured me was found to be driving under the influence, but I feel like I also was probably at fault. Can I bring a lawsuit?

Yes. California is a comparative negligence State. This means that you can sue any responsible party even if you are partially at fault in the accident. However, your damage award will be reduced by the percentage of your own negligence.

How impaired must a defendant be for there to be a presumption under the law that the defendant was negligent?

A defendant will be presumed to be negligent for causing an accident if you can establish that the driver’s physical or mental abilities were so impaired by the drug or alcohol use that they could not drive with the caution or ability of a person of ordinary prudence and skill in similar circumstances. Thus, a person can have a few drinks or drive under the influence of prescription drugs without being presumed to be negligent.

Will expert testimony be necessary for me to establish that the other driver was under the influence?

Probably. Usually a toxicologist will have to be called at trial to establish the level of alcohol and/or drugs in a person’s body. In addition, a human factors expert may be necessary to testify to the relationship between the blood alcohol or drug level and driver impairment

What damages can I recover in a wrongful death or serious Drunk Driving Accidents case stemming from the negligence of a defendant who was driving under the influence?

The injured person is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical treatment, past and future wage loss, damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Further, plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages. If the injured person dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the injured person’s death, as well as monetary damages which stem from the loss of society, care, and comfort of the decedent.

What do I need to establish to prove punitive damages in a case in which the defendant was driving under the influence?

First of all, punitive damages are not recoverable in California in any wrongful death case. If your loved one has died, you can only claim punitive damages if they survived for at least a few moments after the collision that killed them. To recover punitive damages in an injury or a “survivor” action against a person who was driving under the influence, you must prove that:

  • That the defendant voluntarily drank or took drugs to the point of intoxication/impairment before they knew that they would be driving;
  • That the defendant was convicted of a felony under Civil Code Section 3245(d).
  • They were aware of the probable dangerous consequences of their conduct; and,
  • They willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.

Special settlement considerations in drunk driving cases?

Whether or not an insurance company wants to admit it, the jurors’ focus in a case in which the defendant was driving under the influence will be on the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct more than it will be on the extent of a plaintiff’s damages. Thus, a plaintiff should never settle a case against a person who was driving under the influence for the same amount of money that they would settle any other case. The case will always be worth more money than a typical Drunk Driving Accidents or wrongful death case, and may be worth many more times the usual value of the case, depending upon the seriousness of defendant’s misconduct.

Do I need an attorney to pursue my case against a defendant who was driving under the influence?

Yes. You will need an attorney to help you establish the degree of impairment of the defendant. Further, a skilled attorney will understand that you will receive all of the benefit of the doubt that you will need in a case against a person driving under the influence and will prepare the damage part of your case accordingly. This will help you achieve a larger settlement or verdict than you would be able to achieve on your own.

How to handle complex oilfield accident cases

May 2, 2014 | 10:06 am


On Feb. 15, 2010, an oilfield explosion in Kern County resulted in the injuries to several local men, one of whom was represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The client suffered a multitude of injuries, including an ankle fracture, and was hospitalized for 16 days at Kern Medical Center. 

The explosion occurred where a work-over rig was preparing to install a blowout preventer on the well-head.  At the time of the incident, the crew were in the process of testing the lockscrews that secured a tubing hanger into the well-head.  This needed to be done prior to the installation of the blowout preventer. 

Moments before the explosion, the crew handed over one of the lockscrews that secured the tubing hanger. The lockscrew appeared to be faulty. The engineer on scene was holding the lock screw at the time of the explosion, while knowing that the well was under pressure. The injured plaintiffs contended that the engineer either knew, or should have known, that the well-head presented a danger to all personnel on scene, once the lock screw was removed.  The engineer was in the process of showing the lockscrew to an employee of the firm that designed the well-head, in the moments preceding the explosion.  That employee also should have known about the danger, and should have exercised his stop work authority, and thus avoided the explosion.

Eventually, our oilfield accident attorneys settled the case against both the engineer and the company that manufactured the well-head for a confidential amount.

As you can see, oilfield accident cases involve a variety of complex legal issues that are often difficult to understand for clients. Our lawyers have extensive experience handling oilfield accident cases across the state of California. In fact, no other law firm in the state of California has more experience handling oilfield accident cases than our law firm. We have obtained more multi-million dollar results on behalf of oilfield accident victims than any other law firm in the state of California.

To better accommodate the needs of those who have been injured in an oilfield accident, our California oilfield accident attorneys have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions for oilfield accident cases. If after reviewing the information here you still have questions, please feel free to call the firm at 661-323-4000.

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I was injured in the oilfields. Do I have a workers’ compensation* case?
In nearly every oilfield injury case, the injured worker has a workers’ compensation* claim.  In California, if you are injured on the job, while you are on the clock, you have a workers’ compensation* claim, and you are entitled to workers’ compensation* benefits.  Workers’ compensation* will cover your medical expenses, temporary disability, and in many cases, compensation for permanent disability.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has a workers’ compensation* practice to assist you in obtaining these benefits.

If I am injured on the job in the oilfields, do I have a personal injury case against someone other than my employer? 
In many cases, the answer is yes. Often times, injuries occur in the oilfields due to the negligence of someone other than your employer.  In other words, if you were injured in an oilfield because of the actions of another contractor on the job, someone other than your employer, you may have an independent personal injury case against that contractor.  We call this a “third party case.”  In making a third party personal injury claim against a contractor other than your employer, you can claim more in damages than you may recover in your workers’ compensation* case.  For example, unlike workers’ compensation, your third party case against a contractor other than your employer may result in you recovering damages for pain and suffering, as well as all of your economic losses, such as loss of earnings and loss of future earning capacity.  If you have been injured in the oilfields, and you think someone other than your employer was at fault, please call Chain | Cohn | Stiles so we may evaluate your case.

I live outside Kern County.  Will you take my case?
Yes.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles regularly takes cases outside of Kern County, California.  Given our expertise in handling oilfield cases, we are often contacted by injured rig hands, contractors, roustabouts, welders and tool pushers throughout California.  In addition, we regularly employ experts from all over the State of California and the United States.  If you have been injured in the oilfields anywhere in California, contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles and tell us about your case.

Do you take offshore oil rig cases?
Yes.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles can help you if you have been injured on an offshore drilling platform.

If I get hurt on a drilling, workover, or oil well service rig do I have a case against someone other than my employer?
In many cases, the answer is yes.  Rarely is work in the oilfields performed by only one contractor.  For example, there are often third party contractors working in conjunction with the drilling rig crew on a drilling operation, or production rig crew on a maintenance or workover operation.  If you are injured in part because of an action or failure by one of these third party contractors, you may have a case against someone other than your employer.  In our experience, it is more likely that an injury in the oilfields involves, at least in part, the negligence of a third party contractor, other than your employer.  These cases can be quite complicated.  In light of this, please give us a call so we can discuss the facts of your case.

How many oilfield injury cases has your firm handled?
Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been serving oilfield workers in Bakersfield, Kern County, and California for the last 80 years.  During this time our lawyers have handled hundreds of oilfield injury cases.  Remember, your oilfield injury case may involve both workers’ compensation* and a third party (someone other than your employer) claim.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has attorneys that can handle both the workers’ compensation* and third party claim, and our attorneys will work together to make certain that your rights are fully protected.

Does your firm hire experts for my case?
Yes.  As part of almost every oilfield injury case, experts are an integral piece of the case.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles regularly employs experts from throughout the United States.  These experts, be it metallurgists, steam engineers, drilling and production engineers, and pipeline engineers, are all recognized as leading authorities in their fields.  We understand that retaining the right experts is often a key to our clients’ success.  In almost every instance, it is important to retain experts, and conduct inspections, as soon as possible.  With this in mind, please contact as to discuss your case as soon as practically possible after you have been injured.

If you take my oilfield injury case, does it cost me anything upfront?
No.  At Chain | Cohn | Stiles we handle your case on a contingent fee basis.  This means you pay us nothing out of your pocket.  We only get paid if we are able to resolve your case.

I was injured in the oilfields.  Can I get help with my medical expenses?
Often times, oilfield injuries will result in a workers’ compensation* claim.  In these circumstances, we can help you obtain benefits to cover your medical expenses and temporary disability benefits.  In addition, should your case result in a claim against a contractor other than your employer, you may be entitled to greater compensation, including pain and suffering.

If I am hurt in the oilfields do I have a case against the lease owner?
At times, oilfield injury cases can be filed against the lease owner.  In other words, if you were injured in the oilfields, and the lease owner did something to contribute to your injury, you may have the basis for a lawsuit against the lease owner.  This is an area of law that is constantly evolving in California.  Recent decisions like Seabright v. U.S. Airways, Inc., (2011) 52 Cal.4th 590, and Hooker v. Department of Transportation, (2002) 27 Cal.4th 198, have changed the way an injured oilfield worker can seek damages against the lease owner.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has closely followed the changes in the law.  We have seen many successes over the years in seeking damages from lease owners, including recent successes.  If you have a potential claim against a lease owner, please contact us.

If I am injured on the job by someone other than my employer, do I have a case?
Yes.  Under these circumstances you may have both a workers’ compensation* case, because you were injured on the job, and a case against the other party who caused your injury.  The case against the other party, someone other than your employer, is called a “third party personal injury” case.  If you have been injured by a third party, please contact us to discuss the facts of your case.  A third party case often times allows you to obtain more compensation than you can recover in your workers’ compensation* claim.

I exercised my stop work authority on a job because I saw someone doing something dangerous.  Now, my employer has retaliated against me and fired me.  Do I have a case?
You may have a case for wrongful termination.  In addition to our personal injury practice, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has attorneys who can help you with your wrongful termination case.  If you feel like you have been wrongfully terminated from your employment, please contact us to discuss your case.

* Update: Chain | Cohn | Stiles is no longer accepting wrongful termination and sexual harassment cases *

I have a relative who died as a result of an oilfield injury.  Do you handle wrongful death cases?
Yes.  If you or your family have suffered the loss of a loved one due to an oilfield injury, please contact us so we can discuss the case with you.  Chain | Cohn | Stiles has 80 years of experience handling wrongful death claims.

I want an attorney who understands oilfield work.  Do you have attorneys who can understand what I do?
Yes.  We understand that oilfield work is unique, requires significant training, and, in some instances, can be dangerous.  We have attorneys who have prior experience working in the oilfields.  Additionally, we have over a hundred years of combined experience working on oilfield cases.  Our attorneys understand that oilfield work has a language unto itself, with numerous terms that are specific to oilfield work.  We know how important it is to understand these terms, so we can effectively communicate with our clients.

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Since California has become one of the top oil-producing states in the United States over the past century, the oil industry serves as a major source for employment opportunities in California. Even though safety is a concern of the oil industry, serious oilfield accidents still occur. Because oilfield accident cases often involve complex legal and factual issues, it is important that you hire an oilfield accident attorney that has both a strong grasp of the industry as well as the knowledge and resources to stand toe-to-toe with large and powerful oil companies.

The oilfield accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are amongst the most experienced in California when it comes to representing victims of oilfield accidents. Over the years, the law firm has successfully represented countless victims of oilfield accidents resulting from negligent drilling and maintenance operations, explosions, blow-ins, OSHA violations and defective equipment. If you or someone you know has been injured in an oilfield accident, please contact an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately.

*Notice:  Making a false or fraudulent worker’s compensation claim is a felony subject to up to five (5) years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000.00 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles helps families with legal questions at Delano street faire

April 24, 2014 | 10:20 am


Earlier this week, Chain | Cohn | Stiles took park in the Delano Chamber of Commerce‘s “Cinco de Mayo Fiesta and Street Faire.” It was a chance for our law firm to answer local resident’s questions, share tips and information, and give out Chain | Cohn | Stiles goodies to the families in Delano and throughout Kern County.

Several Delano parents asked us about workers’ compensation cases. One Delano resident in particular hired a Los Angeles attorney to help him with his workers’ compensation case, but that attorney had done a poor job at communicating with him, and at resolving his case, he said. We explained to him that many residents in Kern County have this problem: They seek counsel from lawyers outside of our county — after getting their information from television commercials or other loud advertisements that these outside lawyers make — and quickly realize they made a mistake.

In fact, many times, the workers’ compensation*, social security disability and personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles get calls from clients who were unsatisfied with the attorneys they hired from Los Angeles, Fresno and other areas outside of Kern County.

As for the concerned Delano resident seeking workers’ compensation assistance — who was an employee of a prison in Delano — we helped him with the next steps he should take, and he vowed to call us for assistance.

Other Delano residents remarked to us that they had seen our commercials on television, and were impressed with their quality, and by the words of the attorneys.

And many others were happy to learn that the son of a longtime and well-known Delano pediatrician was one of our associate attorneys. Dr. Dilbagh Gehlawat of Delano Pediatrics Group for decades has taken care of children and families in Delano, and many times brought along his youngest son, Neil Gehlawat, to the office — from childhood to adulthood. Several people at the street fair remarked, “Is that little Neil?,” when they noticed him in brochures we were handing out. Now, Neil Gehlawat handles personal injury cases at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, while his father continues to serve families of Delano and Kern County.

The street faire — held on Main Street between 9th and 12 avenues — also featured booths from other service providers from throughout Kern County, though Chain | Cohn | Stiles was the sole Kern County law firm in attendance. Other booths included  Sunset Waste Systems and Delano Area Rapid Transit, to name a few.

Our message to the people of Delano was essentially this: We hope you never need a personal injury attorney, but if you do happen to need one, we would hope you choose a local, professional, and caring Kern County lawyer, like the ones at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Besides at Delano events, you can also find our law firm’s and lawyer’s information at several Delano restaurants and business — including Sylvia’s Clerical Solutions and Lupe’s Restaurant, among others.

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Wondering if you’re eligible for Social Security Disability benefits? Find out here

April 21, 2014 | 2:07 pm


Have you stopped working because of a physical or mental health problem? Has the problem lasted for a year or more, or will it?

If you said “yes” to either question, Social Security Disability may be able to pay you and give you medical insurance.

So what is Social Security Disability? It’s a federal government program that provides assistance to people with disabilities. The process to apply can be long and confusing. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has developed a “fast facts” sheet to figure out if you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Slide through the pictures in this blog to read them and learn more.

The Bakersfield Social Security lawyers at CCS have also compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers related to Social Security Disability.

Q: Why should I apply for benefits? 

A: Entitlement to Social Security Disability allows you to receive monthly disability benefit checks for you and, in some cases, your family. In most cases, you will also receive a large lump sum payment for back benefits owed to you. 

You can become eligible for Medicare after two years of entitlement to disability benefits.

Even if you are getting Workers’ Compensation and/or long-term disability (LTD) benefits, your total present income may increase and you may be entitled to hundreds or thousands of dollars in back benefits.

Even though many group LTD policies offset other disability benefits, most policies do not offset Social Security’s annual cost of living increases. In addition, some policies only offset your individual benefits and not your family’s, and many policies have a minimum benefit payment that is not offset.

Your Social Security payments may be tax free depending on your other income, whereas LTD benefits are often taxable.

Q: Who is eligible for Social Security Benefits?

A: If you have worked long enough at a job where you pay Social Security taxes and have become disabled, you are probably eligible for disability benefits.

Even if you’ve never worked or haven’t earned very much money at your jobs, you may be eligible to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, that are for low-income people with disabilities.

Q: What does “Disabled” mean?

A “Disability” can be physical, emotional, mental, or a combination. The condition has to be serious enough to keep you from working and earning enough money for at least one year.

Q: I can’t do the job I used to do – am I disabled?

A: The test isn’t whether you can go back to a job you’ve lost. The test is whether you are physically and emotionally capable of doing a job that is generally available in the everyday work place.

Q: I am too old and no one will hire me – can I get disability?

A: Not necessarily.  The test isn’t whether you’ve been able to find a job recently or the chance that someone would hire you. There are some special rules called the Medical-vocational Guidelines that can help older people qualify for disability more easily. A knowledgeable attorney can help you make sense of those rules.

Q: I have a disabling condition but I’m not seeing a doctor – can I get disability?

A: You must have a doctor say that you are disabled “by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory findings.” Unfortunately, many genuinely disabled people can’t get benefits because they aren’t getting the right kind of medical treatment.

Q: I have a disabling condition and my doctor says I should be getting disability – why did I get denied benefits?

A: Unfortunately, many genuinely disabling conditions are difficult to diagnose or prove. In cases like that, it is up to your legal representative to present your doctor’s reports properly, and to convince the government that you deserve your benefits.

 

For several more Frequently Asked Questions and answers, go HERE, or visit our specialized web site dedicated to Social Security Disability.

And if you have any questions related to Social Security Disability, please call CCS. The attorneys at CCS — including Erica Scott and James Yoro — offer a free in-person consultation to discuss eligibility and there is no charge to speak to us on the phone.