New year, new laws for California drivers, bicyclist, scooter riders

January 2, 2019 | 11:10 am


As usual, the New Year brings about new laws to California. And for 2019, several new laws involve measures that affect most of us in the state: driving safety, civil rights, sexual harassment in the workplace, and more. Here are short descriptions of some of these new laws, many of which are a focus for us at Chain | Cohn | Stiles:

 

TRAFFIC SAFETY

DUI Devices (SB 1046): Drivers who have been convicted of two DUIs will have to install breathalyzers, or ignition interlock devices, in order to start their vehicles. This allows drivers to keep their driving privileges instead of having their licenses suspended. Industry experts say ignition interlocks show a 74 percent reduction in repeat DUIs.

Motor Scooters (AB 2989): Helmets are no longer required for motorized scooter riders over 18 or older. Motorized scooters are also allowed on Class IV and Class II bike paths. It is still illegal to ride a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. The law also allows scooters to ride on roads with speed limits up to 35 mph. Learn more about scooter safety by clicking here.

Bike Hit & Run (AB 1755): Hit-and-run laws will be expanded to include bicyclists on bike paths. That means, if a bicyclist hits a person, resulting in a death or injury, the bicyclist must stay at the scene. The bicyclist can be held accountable, CHP said. Learn more about bicycle safety here.

Helmet Safety (AB 3077): Anyone younger than 18 not wearing a helmet on a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or skates will be issued a “fix-it” citation. If the minor can show they took a bicycle safety course and has a helmet that meets safety standards within 120 days, the citation will be non-punishable.

Loud Vehicles (AB 1824): Drivers in a vehicle or motorcycle with an excessively loud exhaust will be fined. Previously, they would have been cited with a “fix-it” ticket.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS & POLICE TRANSPARENCY

Body Cameras (AB 748): Requires that body camera footage be released within 45 days of a police shooting, or when an officer’s use of force causes death or great bodily harm.

Police Records (SB 1421): Allows public access to police records in use-of-force cases, as well as investigations that confirmed on-the-job dishonesty or sexual misconduct.

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW & SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Reporting Harassment (AB 2770): Protects employees who report sexual harassment allegations without malice from liability for defamation of the people they accuse. Also, allows employers to indicate during reference checks whether an individual has been determined to have engaged in sexual harassment.

Nondisclosure (SB 820): Bans nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment, assault and discrimination cases that were signed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Settlement Agreements (AB 3109): The law invalidates any provision in a contract or settlement agreement that waives a person’s right to testify in an administrative, legislative or judicial proceeding concerning alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment.

Harassment Protections (SB 224): Expands employee harassment protections to include those who are not only employers but who could help establish a business, service or professional relationship. This could include doctors, lawyers, landlords, elected officials and more.

Burden of Proof (SB 1300): Expands liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA. It lowers the burden of proof to establish harassment and provides stricter guidance on what is or isn’t unlawful harassment. It also expands protections from harassment by contractors, rather than just sexual harassment. Defendants can’t be awarded attorney’s costs unless the action was frivolous. It prohibits release of claims under FEHA in exchange for a raise, a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Harassment Training (SB 1343): Requires employers with five or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of sexual harassment training to nonsupervisory employees by Jan. 1, 2020. Training should take place every two years after that. Employers also need to make the training available in multiple languages.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident in an accident at the fault of a DUI driver, sexually assaulted, or had their civil rights violated, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files wrongful death claim on behalf of family of man who died while in Lemoore police custody

March 29, 2017 | 9:12 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

The family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers, announced the filing of a wrongful death claim against the City of Lemoore.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Hill family in their  wrongful death claim.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

Hill’s family has many unanswered questions about the death of their loved one, which they believe to have been avoidable and preventable. They don’t understand why Hill couldn’t have been taken safely into custody without killing him.

“Donald, or ‘Donnie’ as he was affectionately known, was a young and vibrant man who had much of his life ahead of him,” his family said in a statement. “Donnie was blessed with a warm smile and calm, easy-going spirit. Those who knew him best would tell you he always treated people with love and respect. He cared for his family and friends very deeply, and was a constant fixture in the lives of his mother, brothers, nieces, nephews and many close friends. His sudden loss hurts us all to the core. We’ve all been left with an empty feeling since his passing and the events surrounding his death make it harder to move on.”

Added Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat during a March 23 press conference in front of Lemoore City Hall after the filing the claim: “Officers went to the scene of the home on Pine Court and Mr. Hill was restrained by officers with the Lemoore Police Department. And as a result of being restrained and having a spit mask put on his face and being handcuffed, he ultimately died. The question in our mind is what caused the heart to stop beating . And we have a strong suspicion that the conduct that led up to Mr. Hill’s passing is what caused his heart to stop.

He continued: “The purpose of us filing this claim and the purpose of us filing this lawsuit is the search for the truth.”

Prior to working for the Navy, Hill served as a Coast Guard civilian for two years in Alaska. Hill was a member of the Lemoore High School football and baseball teams, and also played squadron sports while working for the Navy and Coast Guard.

Kings County Sheriff’s Office and Kings County Multi-Agency Critical Incident Team is continuing their investigation. The claim is being filed on behalf of the mother of Donald Hill, Diane Hill, who is represented by Gehlawat of Chain | Cohn | Stiles as well as Thomas C. Seabaugh of The Law Office of Thomas C. Seabaugh.

These attorneys represented the family of David Silva, who died in police custody under similar circumstances in Bakersfield.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

5 notable case results from 2016 include motorcycle accident, civil rights, car accident cases

January 18, 2017 | 10:16 am


With 2017 just beginning, we wanted to take a look back at some noteworthy case results Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained for the people of Kern County in their accident, wrongful death and workers’ compensation* cases.

 

$10 million — Motorcycle Accident 

In June 2014, 27-year-old John Doe was riding his motorcycle in the Oildale area. At that same moment, Doe Defendant was driving a mobile crane while in the course and scope of his employment with Doe Crane Company. He pulled out of a driveway and directly into the path of John Doe’s motorcycle, who was unable to avoid the collision. As a result, John Doe suffered catastrophic injuries, and after undergoing surgical procedures, he lost his right leg. Later, the plaintiff complained of impaired memory, concentration and behavioral alterations, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, pain, weakness and numbness in all extremities, and phantom leg pain.

David K. Cohn of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented John Doe.

The law firm argued that the crane company negligently entrusted, supervised, and trained the driver, and also did not properly maintain the property, which created a dangerous condition that blocked views of employees from exiting the facility. Additionally, the company failed to terminate the driver, who had a blood alcohol level of .02 or above.

In early 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled the motorcyclist accident case for $10 million.

 

$3.4 million — Civil Rights / Wrongful Death

On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013. Attorney David Cohn represented the family.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached by Silva’s family for $3.4 million. To read a full chronology of events from the case, click here.

 

$2.25 million — Car Accident 

Ms. Vargas was riding as a passenger in a car when a 2004 Ford Escape rear-ended her vehicle while stopped at a stop sign in Porterville, and suffered severe injuries as a result. The driver of the Ford Escape was in the course and scope of her employment with defendant VNZ Payroll Services.

Matthew Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Vargas, who suffered severe personal injuries including fractured acetabulum, facial lacerations and scars, neck and back pain and a traumatic brain injury, confirmed by CT and MRI studies.

In July, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled Vargas’ car accident case for $2.25 million.

 

$1.5 million — Rear-End / Car Accident 

Ms. Contreras was on her way home from a family function when she stopped at a red light at 24th Street approaching Buck Owens Boulevard. At that time, she was rear-ended by Stephen Domingue, who was in Bakersfield on business for Mason Specialty Tools, LLC.

The force of the impact was sufficient to push Contreras’ vehicle in the rear end of the vehicle in front of her. Domingue was found to be at fault by the Bakersfield Police Department for unsafe speed for prevailing conditions. As a result of the collision, Contreras suffered personal injuries, including traumatic disc herniation, and retained Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

The accident exacerbated Contreras’ lumbar spine disease and hastened the need for surgery and the need for early medical retirement. Doctors advised she would have some pain and limitations for the rest of her life. In 2016, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved her personal injury case for $1.5 million.

 

$1 million — Police Misconduct / Sexual Abuse  

This case arises out of the sexual assault of plaintiff Jane Doe in her Tehachapi home by Defendant Gabriel Lopez while in the course and scope of his employment with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the County of Kern. Lopez is currently serving time in prison for the acts committed against plaintiff (and another victim).

As a result of the sexual assault, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. She did not feel comfortable discussing the incident for approximately one year after the incident due to feelings of embarrassment and repression. Plaintiff’s expert psychologist has diagnosed her with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, based on her interviews with Plaintiff and psychological testing conducted.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented the sexual assault victim, and in 2016 resolved her case for $1 million.

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For more results and case information, visit the Chain | Cohn | Stiles website at Chainlaw.com.

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

These results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Publication highlights ‘America’s deadliest police’ of Kern County, law firm cases

December 2, 2015 | 7:35 am


The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States — unveiled its five-part series that exgeamines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

And among the cases highlighted are many of those involving wrongful death, police misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases handled by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

PART I

The first in the five-part series, “The story of America’s deadliest police,” tackles the issue of how police officers in Kern County are reportedly responsible for killing more local residents per capita than in any other county in the country — 13 people in Kern, or about 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

Reporters from The Guardian visited Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent weeks to interview clients of the law firm. Among them, for this part in the series, were family members of:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • David Garcia, who was shot to death in January 2015 by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies while leaving his house unarmed. Deputies were called to the house to assist on a suicide attempt call.

PART II

The second part of the series, “Where deputies dole out rough justice,” highlights how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

This part also highlights a few cases represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, including:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva.
  • James Moore was beaten to death by several deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department while housed in central receiving downtown Bakersfield jail. On behalf of his family, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit. Three deputies were prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their roles in James’ death. The case settled for $6 million.

PART III

The third part in the series, “Sexual assault and the price of silence,” tackles how law enforcement officers in Kern County secretly tried to “buy off” victims in sexual misconduct cases against the men sworn to protect them.

This part includes comments from Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat related to several cases of sexual assault involving Kern County Sheriff’s Department employees. They include:

  • Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy Anthony Michael Lavis. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • Jane Doe, a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
  • Lori Kaplan, a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.
  • Two claims against the County of Kern on behalf of two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Kern County Corrections officer Cesar Holguin Navejar was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Jane Doe 1. He is currently facing six felony charges including sexual battery, assault by a public officer and child molestation. Jane Doe 2, who was also housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. That suspect, George Anderson, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

PART IV

The fourth part of the series, “Partners in crime,” details how Kern County officers plan to continue policing themselves. The findings by The Guardian — that Kern County officers kill more people per capita than in any other U.S. county so far in 2015 — lend weight to claims from critics that police in Kern County are effectively policed only by themselves, the article states.

The article also highlights officer-involved crashes and the investigations that take place following the crashes. In particular, the article highlights three deputy-involved fatal crashes. In all three, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed claims and lawsuits on behalf of their families. They include:

  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, who were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
  • Nancy Garrett, who was killed in September 2014 in Oildale when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy. The civil case is ongoing.
  • Larry Maharrey, who was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The civil case is ongoing.

PART V

The fifth and final part, “A fight for answers,” focuses on what happens to the families of those who are killed by police officers.

“When someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, he leaves behind parents and children, loss and confusion,” The Guardian writes. “What’s to be done when those people sworn to protect you are the same people who pull the trigger?”

The 13-minute video follows around the family members of those killed in officer-involved shootings as they campaign for justice of their loved ones. The video also follows around officers as the conduct their difficult jobs, and includes interviews with Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

THE SERIES

The Guardian’s series is part of its project called The Counted, highlighting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.”

“The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US,” according to The Guardian.

Why is this necessary? According to The Guardian, the U.S. government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. And this lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by fatal police shootings.

To read more about the series, click the media coverage below:

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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THE GUARDIAN SERIES

LOCAL MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents victims in deputy sexual assault cases

September 9, 2015 | 8:36 am


Two years ago, three women in Tehachapi thought that when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy came to their homes, they would be safe and protected. Instead, they were subjected to traumatic experiences when they were sexually assaulted at the hands of former deputy Gabriel Lopez.

Lopez pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery. In support of two victims represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat attended Lopez’s sentencing recently where Lopez’s victims spoke.

Lopez forced one woman to disrobe, after responding to a reported burglary at her home. In another case, Lopez took the woman into a back room and sexually assaulted her, she told the court. Now, she said, she fears law enforcement and is afraid to ask for help if something goes wrong.

“Apologies are nice, but they can’t change what happened and how it affected someone’s life,” she told Judge John S. Somers before his sentencing, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

Somers said Lopez was in a position of power and trust, and therefore rendered his victims powerless against him. If they fought against him, he had the power to have them arrested.

In the end, Somers denied Lopez’s request for felony probation and sentenced him to two years in prison. He will also have to register as a sex offender when he is released.

After the sentencing, the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles spoke with local media about the sexual assault civil case.

“Today at least some justice has been served,” Neil Gehlawat told Eyewitness News after the sentencing. “And I think she can sleep better tonight knowing that this man who did these horrible things to her will be in prison now for two years.”

Attorney David K. Cohn told Bakersfield media that the client who was present at sentencing was relieved Lopez received a prison term, but thinks he deserved more than two years. At a press conference in 2013 announcing the lawsuit, Cohn described Lopez as a “predator” and a “sexual deviant.”

“How does a person like this get through the system?” he asked. “How does he become a sworn officer?”

The civil lawsuit is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represents two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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If you or someone you know has been the victim of police misconduct or sexual assault at the hands of someone in authority, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn comments on L.A. Times update of Silva wrongful death case

November 25, 2014 | 10:16 am


“This was a beat down,” Chris Silva told the Los Angeles Times in an article updating readers on his brother’s wrongful death case. “Seven deputies and two CHP officers failed at their jobs.”

The newspaper’s columnist Robin Abcarian provided an update last week on the infamous David Silva case, which is being represented by the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

In the column — which you can read by clicking here — Abcarian outlines what happened on the night of May 7, 2013, when officers approached David Silva as he lay on the grass across the street from Kern County Medical Center in east Bakersfield.

When Silva woke up, officers tried to arrest him and released a police dog on him. Over 20 minutes, six more Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived. Silva was hit with batons, bitten dozens of times, hobbled with a hog-tie-like restraint and sat on by the officers, Abcarian described.

“He vomited, then stopped breathing,” Abcarian wrote. “He was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. on May 8.”

David Silva left behind four children, and a loving family who is now advocating for an end to police brutality.

Silva had gone to the hospital that night seeking help. After he fell asleep on the grass outside of the hospital, a security guard escorted him away. Officers were called after he fell asleep again across the street.

The Sheriff’s Office stated Silva was on drugs.

“How high could he have been?” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn told The Times, who is representing the Silva family in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit. “He was sleeping. That hardly sounds like someone who is amped up on methamphetamine.”

The case received national media attention, including the aftermath when officers confiscated witness’s videos of the incident.

Nearly a year after Silva died, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green declined to file charges against the officers. And last month, the U.S. Department of Justice also refused to file criminal charges.

Still, the wrongful death lawsuit continues.

Last week, Bakersfield personal injury lawyer Neil Gehlawat, who is also assisting with the Silva case as part of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, appeared on The Groove 99.3 with Sheri Ortiz to discuss police misconduct cases, as well as the Silva case.

Click here to listen to that show.

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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To read all about the Silva case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, read the media coverage below: