Work injury lawyer James Yoro provides insight for cancer cases involving former refinery workers

September 11, 2019 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation lawyer James Yoro provided advice and legal insight in the local cases involving the Mohawk Refinery in Bakersfield, and workers who may have been exposed to cancer causing materials. Trusts have been set up to distribute fund to those who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer.

Below is the article published in The Bakersfield Californian, followed by a news video interview by KBFX Eyewitness News:

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Decades can pass before cancer from asbestos exposure becomes evident, and by that time, who’s to say exactly who or what is to blame?

It almost doesn’t matter: Lawyers say that if documentation can be found showing a cancer patient spent enough time working somewhere asbestos was present — and the cancer is consistent with exposure to the carcinogen — then there’s a chance that financial compensation may be available to the person or the person’s heir.

Such is the case with the former Mohawk Refinery on Rosedale Highway.

People who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer could be eligible for compensation.

People who qualify may be entitled to thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, from any of several trusts set up to disburse money to victims of asbestos exposure.

Though no longer in wide use, asbestos used to be a common material in refineries and other industrial sites. As a result of exposure, workers who inhaled or ingested its microfibers may, over time, develop mesothelioma or lung, esophageal, laryngeal, pharyngeal, stomach, colon or rectal cancer.

The National Cancer Institute says 10 to 40 years can pass before asbestos-related cancers begin to appear.

The refinery has been declared a “qualified site.” That means instead of suing for compensation, qualified victims or their heirs need only prove how long the person was employed there — five years may be enough to qualify — and turn over medical records showing the cancer diagnosis.

Liability for paying such claims does not rest with the refinery or its former owners. Instead, payments would come from five asbestos trusts set up to cover injury claims.

The Bakersfield refinery was owned by Mohawk Petroleum Corp. when it first opened in 1932. It changed hands many times over the years, merging along the way with neighboring operations, and is now owned by Delek US. It is closed and has not operated for 12 consecutive months since 2012.

 

FINDING DOCUMENTATION

In the case of a qualified asbestos site, the process of filing and collecting on a claim does not typically involve a lawsuit. Even so, the process is not always easy; the difficult part can be collecting pathology reports, doctor’s reports and employment records.

Filing a claim has no effect on a person’s pension or Social Security benefits.

Lawyer James A. Yoro, an equity partner in the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, said a statute of limitations limits the window of opportunity for filing a claim against an asbestos trust. But because the window only opens when a person becomes aware of the cancer diagnosis, he said, the statute doesn’t usually become a barrier to payment.

While asbestos claims are not unheard of in Kern, Yoro said, those related to valley fever are more common here.

He noted that someone making an asbestos claim may have been exposed to the carcinogen at different times at various locations. This diversity of exposures does not generally affect a person’s chances of collecting payment from an asbestos trust.

 

ANOTHER AVENUE

Yoro also pointed out another option available to people exposed to asbestos while at work in California. It’s called the Asbestos Workers’ Account and it is part of a fund in the state Treasury.

How long and difficult the process of collecting on an asbestos claim often depends on the documentation a claimant provides, Yoro said. The more records available, he said, the better.

He advised that anyone with a possible claim consider filing one.

“If somebody does have a potential claim, they should definitely try it out,” he said. “There’s nothing to lose by trying it.”

 

ASBESTOS TRUSTS

Dozens of trusts exist to pay out asbestos-related medical claims. In the case of the former Mohawk Refinery along Rosedale Highway, these five trusts have money that can be claimed by people who used to work there and contracted cancer, or whose antecedents did.

The trusts were established to pay out future claims against these companies:

  • Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), which used asbestos as insulation in boilers
  • Halliburton, manufacturer of asbestos-containing turbines, pumps and compressors
  • J.T. Thorpe, which used asbestos to make refractory materials
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corp., maker of pipe-insulating products with asbestos in them
  • Fibreboard, manufacturer of fiberglass insulation and other materials that contain asbestos

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If you or someone you know is hurt on the job, or hurt in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

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

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MEDIA COVERAGE

What you need to know about Valley Fever in Kern County

August 21, 2019 | 6:00 am


Last year, California experienced 2,200 new cases of Valley Fever, and most were reported in the southern Central Valley regions of Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties. In fact, Kern County residents were affected the most with 890 cases. In all, about 30 percent of all Valley Fever cases nationwide occur in the Central Valley each year.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles along with California health officials are warning people about Valley Fever, not only for Valley Fever Awareness Month, but year-round. Breathing the Central Valley’s dusty air can put you at risk for this potentially fatal disease. Here’s what you need to know about Valley Fever, whose most at risk, what you can do to prevent the spread, and what to do if you or your loved ones are affected.

 

WHAT IS VALLEY FEVER?

Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungal spore that is found in soils in the southwest United States, and in some areas of Central and South America. People get infected by breathing in spores contained in dust that gets into the air when it’s windy or when the soil is disturbed during activities such as digging, gardening and construction.

In many cases, Valley fever does not make people ill, but some get flu-like symptoms that can last a month or more. Most who have flu symptoms recover fully, but others can develop severe disease, including pneumonia and infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin and other organs. Anyone who thinks they might have Valley Fever should see a doctor. A blood test can determine the disease, and doctors should be suspicious of Valley Fever in patients who live in the valley or have traveled through the area who have a cough that doesn’t go away after more than several weeks.

Valley fever does not spread from person to person, and many people who are exposed to the fungus never have symptoms. Other people may have flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and rashes on the upper body or legs. Serious illness can occur, resulting in hospitalization, long-term disability, or even death.

Healthcare providers prescribe antifungal medication for some people to try to reduce symptoms or prevent the infection from getting worse. People who have severe lung infections or infections that have spread to other parts of the body always need antifungal treatment and may need to stay in the hospital.

 

KERN COUNTY AT RISK

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where the fungus lives in the environment can get Valley Fever, and it can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults age 60 and older. Additionally, certain groups of people may be at higher risk for developing the severe forms of Valley Fever, such as people who have weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women, people who have diabetes, and people who are black or Filipino.

The best way to reduce the risk of Valley fever is to avoid breathing dust by:

  • Minimize soil disturbance.
  • Stay indoors on dusty days.
  • Roll up windows in cars and use recirculating air conditioning when driving through dusty areas.
  • If outdoors in dusty areas, consider wearing a N95 mask or respirator.

In areas where Valley Fever is common, like Kern County, it’s difficult to completely avoid exposure to the fungus because it is in the environment. And there is no vaccine to prevent infection. That’s why knowing about Valley Fever is one of the most important ways to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. People who have Valley Fever symptoms and live in or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley Fever. Healthcare providers should be aware that Valley Fever symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and should consider testing in patients with flu-like symptoms who live in or have traveled to an area where Coccidioides lives.

 

WORK SAFETY

Employers in affected areas can take steps to protect workers from breathing in the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever. These include controlling dust, providing worker training, and suspending outdoor work during heavy winds.

It’s important for employers of outdoor workers to post resources for preventing work-related Valley Fever. Each year, more than 1,000 Californians receive hospital treatment for Valley Fever, and about eight of every 100 people hospitalized die from the infection annually.

Workers who dig or otherwise disturb soil containing the fungus are at risk for getting the illness. The fungus lives in the soil in parts of California, particularly the Central Valley. When people inhale the fungal spores released when the soil is disturbed, they may get Valley Fever.

Some workers at higher risk for Valley Fever include wildland firefighters, construction workers, archaeologists, military personnel, and workers in mining, gas, and oil extraction jobs.

Here are some steps employers and employees can take to prevent the spread of Valley Fever:

  • Determine if your worksite is in an endemic area.
  • Adopt site plans and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure, which may include minimizing the area of soil disturbed; using water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust; stabilizing all spoils piles by tarping or other methods; providing air conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate heavy dust and make sure workers keep windows and vents closed; suspending work during heavy winds; placing any onsite sleeping quarters, if provided, away from sources of dust.
  • Employers must develop and implement a respiratory protection program in accordance with Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Take measures to reduce transporting spores offsite, such as cleaning tools, equipment, and vehicles before transporting offsite; providing coveralls and change rooms, and showers where possible if workers’ clothing is likely to be heavily contaminated with dust.
  • Train workers and supervisors about the risk of Valley Fever, the work activities that may increase the risk, and the measures used onsite to reduce exposure. Also train on how to recognize Valley Fever symptoms.
  • Encourage workers to report Valley Fever symptoms promptly to a supervisor.

 

HELP AVAILABLE

Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical aims is to increase education and awareness for the public, patients and health care providers, and provide the patient care and promote research that includes epidemiology, clinical drug development, prevention, immunology and immunizations. Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently joined the Valley Fever Institute at the annual Valley Fever Walk aimed at raising awareness of Valley Fever.

The Valley Fever Americas Foundation aims to promote awareness and raise funds to support promising academic and medical research on the fungus which causes Valley Fever, in efforts to produce a vaccine or a cure. There is currently no cure for the disease.

“Understanding the conditions in which Valley Fever is most likely to be contracted can prevent further suffering and loss throughout our community, and being familiar with its symptoms empowers victims of this disease to be diagnosed early and increase their chances of making a full recovery,” according to the foundation.

More resources on Valley Fever can be found at the Valley Fever Institute and Valley Fever Americas Foundation.

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MORE INFORMATION

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If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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

Keeping safe at work in Kern County’s summer sun and adverse air quality

June 19, 2019 | 10:23 am


The month of June is National Safety Month, and in Bakersfield, we know June as the start of triple digit weather forecasts and stocking up on sunscreen.

For those working outdoors in Kern County, June and the summer months are also a time protection from the California sun, and adverse air quality. In fact, more injuries occur during the summer months in workplaces than at other times of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The industry sector experiencing the largest number of preventable fatal injuries is construction, followed by transportation and warehousing. Agriculture, forestry, transportation and warehousing sectors experience the highest fatality rates per 100,000 workers, according to the bureau. Taking preventative action can spare workers needless pain and suffering. For example, high temperatures can be dangerous to people at work and can lead to injuries, illnesses, and even death, the majority of which are preventable.

Read ahead to learn more about common threats to workers in the summer months, and how to prevent injuries.

 

Working in the heat

Every year, many workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some are fatally injured. These illnesses and fatalities are preventable.

Many people are exposed to heat on the job, in both indoor and outdoor environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness.

Indoor workplaces with hot conditions may include iron and steel foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, material handling and distribution warehouses, and many other environments. Outdoor workplaces with work in hot weather and direct sun, such as farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, landscaping, emergency response operations, and hazardous waste site activities, also increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.

When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature through sweating. When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. If the person is not cooled down, fainting and even death could result.

Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention. Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.

Workers exposed to hot indoor environments or hot and humid conditions outdoors are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.

Heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Important ways to reduce heat exposure and the risk of heat-related illness include air conditioning and ventilation and work practices such as work-rest cycles, and staying hydrated. Employers should include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do because acting quickly can save lives.

 

Air Quality & Valley Fever

Although not all workers who deal with the summer heat work outdoors, those who work outdoors are susceptible to many factors contributed to by bad air quality.  The workers in the fields have to be especially mindful of the side effects of the air they are breathing, but anyone outside could get unlucky.

Some illness or infections from breathing in bacteria and pollution are:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • valley fever
  • respiratory disease

Valley Fever and respiratory diseases have taken many lives in Kern County.  Those at a greater risk of getting valley fever and respiratory disease are workers in the fields. At any given month, workers have to contend with dust storms and breathing in soil ridden amounts of air.

What is valley fever? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, valley fever — scientifically called coccidioidomycosis — is a fungal infection in the lungs from breathing in spores in the air.  The spores are microscopic fungi found in soil and it cannot be passed from person to person. The initial state of coccidioidomycosis can cause these symptoms that make it hard to diagnose:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Rash on upper body or legs

According to the Kern County Public Health Services Department, 2937 cases of Valley Fever were reported last year. However, it unknown how many cases go unreported because the symptoms are similar to the common cold. It is advised to be aware of these symptoms because this initial state could worsen into acute and chronic coccidioidomycosis. These stages can then lead to missing months of work or death.

The Environmental Health News stated that 23,634 deaths occurred between 2013-2016 in Kern Country from Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD).  Included in these diseases are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension.  There are no cures for these diseases, but treatment can prevent them from worsening.

Workers have to be careful and knowing of these illnesses in order to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate medical care if the symptoms listed above persist.

 

Lastly, workers can take a safety pledge to never compromise their own safety or the safety of co-workers to get the job done, actively look for hazards, promptly report them, and take appropriate action to warn others.

— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report. 

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If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com

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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Beatriz Trejo named to 2019 Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” list

June 5, 2019 | 11:12 am


Beatriz A. Trejo, an associate attorney with the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles who focuses on workers’ compensation law, has been named to the 2019  Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” list by Southern California Super Lawyers Magazine, the publication announced recently.

This is Trejo’s first year of earning the “Rising Stars” distinction, which is granted to just 2.5 percent of lawyers under the age of 40 in the Southern California region. In addition, Trejo was also chosen to the “The Top Women Attorneys in Southern California — Rising Stars” list.

“My goal is to always represent injured workers to the best of my ability, and give each person the voice that he or she deserves,” said Trejo. “I am honored to be recognized by Super Lawyers Magazine as a ‘Rising Star,’ and will continue to advocate rigorously and compassionately for injured workers through my work at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.”

Each year, the Super Lawyers selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.  According to the program, Super Lawyers selects attorneys using a multi-phase selection process where each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The objective of the recognition program is “to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used to resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel.”

As part of the honor, those selected are highlighted in issues of Southern California Super Lawyers Magazine alongside other awarded legal professionals. They also receive profiles on superlawyers.com, which you can see by clicking here.

To see Trejo’s official Super Lawyers awards for 2019, click here.

Other Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys chosen for the Super Lawyers distinction include law firm law partners David Cohn, James Yoro and Matthew Clark. The general Super Lawyers honor, for those over 40 years old, is awarded to no more than 5 percent of lawyers in the Southern California region based on a high-degree of peer recognition and personal achievement. Non-Rising Stars Super Lawyers awardees are announced each January.

With all three partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles selected as Southern California Super Lawyers in 2018, the law firm received a resolution from the California Legislature for the honor.

As for Trejo, she is a Certified Legal Specialist in Workers’ Compensation, a past recipient of the “Workers’ Compensation Young Lawyer of the Year” award in California, and she has also been recognized by her peers in the “Top Attorneys” poll voted on by local lawyers.  She is past president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA), Bakersfield Chapter and has been named as one of the 20 Under 40 People to Watch by Bakersfield Life Magazine.

Trejo is an active member of CAAA’s Latino Caucus, and serves on the panels of the Immigration Justice collaborative, which aim to educate immigrants on their constitutional rights.  She is a frequent speaker for Kern Country Small Business Academies and serves on the CSU Bakersfield Pre-Law Advisory Committee.

Outside of the office, Trejo is involved in Latina Leaders of Kern County, Kern Country Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Foundation of Community Wellness.

— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report. 

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If you or someone you know is hurt on the job, or hurt in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

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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 up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles se junta con la program ‘Despierta Bakersfield’ para educar nuetra comunidad sobre cuestiones legales

May 22, 2019 | 10:00 am


La firma de abogados Chain | Cohn | Stiles se ha asociado con Univision Bakersfield, la estación de televisión en español, para educar a los Latinos locales sobre cuestiones legales, incluido qué hacer si estás en un accidente con algiuen con poco o sin seguro, los peligros de la fiebre del valle en el lugar de trabajo, y la importancia de contratar con abogados de compensación al trabajador que son certificados por el estado.

KABE Univision 39 es la estación de televisión en español más vista en Bakersfield, donde viven casi medio millón de Latinos, lo que representan el 57% de la población total. Para servir a nuestra comunidad, Univision Bakersfield organiza programas de asuntos públicos, como “Te Informa” y “Despierta Bakersfield”, que se centran en temas corrientes como la inmigración, la salud, las leyes, y la educación.

En la promgrama “Despierta América”, abogada asociada de Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Beatriz Trejo, se unió con la anfitriona Ofelia Aguirre para discutir los siguientes temas. Puede ver todos los segmentos a continuación, o en la página de YouTube de Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, la firma de abogados de accidentes, lesiones y compensación al trabajador, tiene dos abogados que están certificados por el estado como especialistas en la ley de compensación al trabajador — Beatriz Trejo y Jim Yoro. La certificación es dado a profesionales legales que han logrado extra los requisitos de licencia. El programa fue el primero de su tipo en los Estados Unidos y ha servido como modelo para otros programas estatales para certificar a especialistas legales en todo el país.

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ENGLISH

Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has partnered with Spanish language television station Univision Bakersfield to educate viewers on various legal issues, including what to do if you’re involved in an accident with little or no insurance, valley fever dangers in the workplace, and the importance of hiring a certified workers’ compensation lawyers in the event of a work injury.

The award-winning KABE Univision 39 is the most watched Spanish-Language television station in Bakersfield, which is home to nearly a half million Hispanics, making up 57% of the total population. To serve our community, Univision Bakersfield hosts public affairs programs, like “Te Informa” and “Despierta Bakersfield,” focused around hot topics including immigration, health, law, and education.

For its “Despierta Bakersfield” show, Chain | Cohn | Stiles associate attorney Beatriz Trejo joined host Ofelia Aguirre to discuss the following topics. You can also watch the segments on the Chain | Cohn | Stiles YouTube Page.

The Bakersfield-based accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is home to two lawyers who are state certified as specialists in workers’ compensation law, Beatriz Trejo and James Yoro. The certification is awarded to legal professionals who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements. According to the State Bar, the program was intended to provide a method for attorneys to earn the designation of certified specialist in particular areas of law, increasing public protection and encouraging attorney competence. The program was the first of its kind in the United States, and it has served as a model for other state programs for certifying legal specialists around the nation.

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

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

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

March 6, 2019 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about workers’ compensation and work fatalities here:

 

The Standard of Proof 

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

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

 

Mysterious Circumstances 

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

 

Benefits

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

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

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

 

Dependents

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

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

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

 

Additional Benefits

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

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

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

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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles now home to two attorneys state certified as specialists in workers’ compensation

October 10, 2018 | 9:57 am


The Bakersfield-based accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is now home to two lawyers who are state certified as specialists in workers’ compensation law, awarded to legal professionals who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements.

The designation follows the passage by Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Beatriz Trejo of a wide range of criteria and examinations. Chain | Cohn | Stiles senior partner and workers’ compensation veteran attorney James Yoro had previously been state certified.

According to the State Bar, the program was intended to provide a method for attorneys to earn the designation of certified specialist in particular areas of law, increasing public protection and encouraging attorney competence. The program was the first of its kind in the United States, and it has served as a model for other state programs for certifying legal specialists around the nation.

To be state certified as a specialist, attorneys must:

  • Pass a written examination in the legal specialty area.
  • Practice law continuously for at least five years, spending at least 25 percent of the time given to occupational endeavors practicing in the specialty area
  • Complete continuing education in the specialty area greater than that required of general licensees of the bar
  • Demonstrate a broad-based and comprehensive experience in the specialty area based on completion of a variety of matters in the specialty area.
  • Earn favorable evaluations by other attorneys and judges familiar with the attorney’s work in the specialty area of law.

The State Bar’s Board of Legal Specialization must approve each attorney’s application. Once certified, specialists must maintain their certification by completing and reporting ongoing tasks and experience by every five years. They must also report 36 hours of education every three years along with their Minimum Continuing Legal Education compliance group.

The state officer specialty certification in the following areas:

  • Admiralty and Maritime Law
  • Appellate Law
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law
  • Family Law
  • Franchise and Distribution Law
  • Immigration and Nationality Law
  • Legal Malpractice Law
  • Taxation Law
  • Workers’ Compensation Law

Beatriz Trejo has practiced in front of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board since 2012. She is the 2017 recipient of the “Workers’ Compensation Young Lawyer of the Year” award in California. She is the past president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA), Bakersfield Chapter, and has been named as one of the 20 Under 40 People to Watch by Bakersfield Life Magazine. She was also selected among her peers as a “Top Attorney” in workers’ compensation law in Kern County. For more on Trejo, click here.

James Yoro is one of the most veteran and most respected workers’ compensation lawyers in the Central Valley. He is past president of Kern County Bar Association, and was recently recognized in the Best Lawyers in America program, which is the oldest and among the most respected attorney ranking services in the world. He has argued cases before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals the California Supreme Court. For nearly 40 years, he has fought day in and day out for the rights of injured workers. He, too, was selected among his peers as a “Top Attorney” in workers’ compensation law in Kern County. For more on Yoro, click here.

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If you or someone you know is injured at work, please contact the state certified workers’ compensation specialist at Chain | Cohn | Stiles to help you with your workers’ compensation case by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with an operator or fill out a contact form at chainlaw.com.

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

David Cohn, James Yoro of Chain | Cohn | Stiles selected to 2019 ‘Best Lawyers in America’ publication

August 15, 2018 | 10:17 am


Two veteran attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have been recognized in the 2019 Best Lawyers in America program, which is the oldest and among the most respected attorney ranking services in the world.

David K. Cohn, managing partner at the law firm, was selected once again into the personal injury litigation category, while James A. Yoro, senior partner at the firm, was selected into the workers’ compensation law listings. Both attorneys were selected into the 2018 program.

Attorneys named to the U.S. News & World Report’s “The Best Lawyers in America” are recognized by their peers in the legal industry for their professional excellence in specific practice areas. For the 2019 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, the 25th edition, more than 7.8 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in nearly 60,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed, and inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor.

“Best Lawyers was founded in 1981 with the purpose of highlighting the extraordinary accomplishments of those in the legal profession,” said Best Lawyers CEO Phil Greer. “After three decades, we are proud to continue to serve as the most reliable, unbiased source of legal referrals worldwide.”

David Cohn is one of the most respected lawyers in the Central Valley, having been voted into the “Best Lawyer” category of The Bakersfield Californian’s Readers Choice Poll year after year. He is a Martindale-Hubbell AV preeminent-rated trial attorney, has been named to the Southern California Super Lawyers list, and was selected to join the International Society of Barristers. Over the course of his career, which spans more than 40 years, Cohn has obtained numerous multi-million dollar results on behalf of his clients, and his cases have led to workplace, roadway and vehicle safety measures.

James Yoro is a Certified Workers’ Compensation Professional in California, and is one of the most veteran and most respected workers’ compensation lawyers in the San Joaquin Valley. He is the past president of the Kern County Bar Association. He has argued cases in front of the California Supreme Court, and for nearly 40 years has fought day in and day out for the rights of injured workers.

For more than 30 years, Best Lawyers has assisted those in need of legal services to identify the attorneys best qualified to represent them in distant jurisdictions or unfamiliar specialties. Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Its methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

Attorneys are nominated for consideration. They are divided by geographic region and practice areas, and are evaluated by their peers on the basis of professional expertise. Those who receive high peer reviews undergo an authentication process to make sure they are currently practicing and in good standing. Only then can top attorneys be included in Best Lawyers.

“Best Lawyers believes that the best lawyers know who the best lawyers are,” according to the program’s methodology. “Thus, our recognitions are based purely on the feedback we receive from lawyers already highlighted in our publication.”

Having two attorneys from the same firm selected into the “Best Lawyers” program qualifies Chain | Cohn | Stiles to be included in the program’s “Best Law Firms” listings. Best Law Firms honorees are announced in November.

You can view David Cohn’s “Best Lawyers” profile by clicking here, and you can view James Yoro’s profile by clicking here.

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

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Staying safe in the hot summer and how to prevent, ID, and treat heat exhaustion

July 11, 2018 | 10:22 am


Lots of regions throughout California are experiencing heat waves this summer, including in Kern County and record temperatures hitting Southern California in particular. In these cases, it’s important to be extra careful to avoid heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses occur when the ability to sweat fails and body temperature rises quickly, and can lead to delirium, organ damage and even death. The reason is scary: the brain and vital organs are effectively cooked as body temperatures rise to a dangerous level in a matter of minutes.

In fact, nearly 250 people died in the United States from exposure to excessive heat, according to Injury Facts 2017, a report produced by the National Safety Council. Thousands of others are affected.

There are several heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Those most at risk include infants and young children, elderly people, pets, people with long-term illnesses, athletes and people who work outdoors.

For this article, and since Chain | Cohn | Stiles focuses on accident and injury law, including work injuries and workers’ compensation, we’ll focus on what you can do to prevent heat illnesses while working outdoors, how to identify symptoms, and what to do if you or someone you know suffers a heat-related illness.

 

PREVENTION

The best way to avoid a heat-related illness is to limit exposure outdoors during hot days. Let air conditioning be your friend. But, if you must work outdoors, here are some important tips:

  • Drink more liquid than you think you need and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing, a long-sleeve shirt, and a hat.
  • Replace salt lost from sweating by drinking fruit juice or sports drinks.
  • Avoid spending time outdoors during the hottest part of the day, typically from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and re-apply every two hours; sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool itself.
  • Use buddy system to watch for symptoms

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health – also known as Cal/OSHA – has led the charge on developing stringent regulations to protect employees working outdoors in the heat. Overall, these regulations require California employers with outdoor workers to provide more than adequate water, shade, rest breaks and training. This rule applies when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Additional requirements go into effect when outdoor temperatures top 95 degrees. You can find all of the regulations under Title 8 Section 3395 – Heat Illness Prevention.

 

WARNING SINGS

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses are similar to those of the flu and can include severe thirst, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms include profuse sweating, clammy or pale skin, dizziness, rapid pulse and normal or slightly elevated body temperature, according to the CHIPS study by UC Davis.

Specifically, take note of these 10 symptoms to ID heat illness:

  1. Extremely high body temperature.
  2. Hot, dry, skin. An inability to cool the body through perspiration may cause the skin to feel dry.
  3. Increased heart and respiration rates as blood pressure drops and the heart attempts to maintain adequate circulation.
  4. Throbbing headache, nausea or vomiting due to dehydration.
  5. Weakness, fainting, or dizziness – especially in standing up quickly – due to low blood pressure from dehydration.
  6. Muscle cramps.
  7. Dark-colored urine – a sign of dehydration
  8. Confused, hostile, or seemingly intoxicated behavior
  9. Pale or bluish skin color in advanced cases due to constricted blood vessels
  10. Seizures or unconsciousness

 

WHAT TO DO

Ridding the body of excess heat is crucial for survival. Here’s what you can do if you or someone you know is experiencing a heat-related illness, courtesy of the California Department of Industrial Relations.

  • Move the person into a half-sitting position in the shade or air-conditioned area, or fan and spray with cool water. If humidity is below 75 percent, spray the victim with water and fan them vigorously; if humidity is above 75 percent, apply ice to neck, armpits or groin, or having them take a cool shower.
  • Do not give aspirin or acetaminophen.
  • Loosen or remove unnecessary clothing.
  • Give them water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages, or a sports drink.
  • Stretch affected muscles.
  • Call for emergency medical help immediately if symptoms are more severe.

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If you or someone you know has suffered an injury while at work, contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state workers’ compensation system in road to recovery

March 28, 2018 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article appeared as a Community Voices article in the Opinion section of The Bakersfield Californian on March 26, 2018. To read the article in print format or online, scroll down to the “Media Coverage” section. 

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Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state system in road to recovery

By Beatriz A Trejo

When we think of work injuries and workers’ compensation we typically think of slip-and-falls, car accidents, or perhaps back pain associated with lifting heavy objects.

What we often ignore are “progressive insidious diseases,” with cancer being one of the most aggressive and feared of these diseases. Recently, the San Francisco Fire Department reported a spike in their breast cancer rates, reporting that 15 percent of the department’s female firefighters between the ages of 40 and 50 had been diagnosed with cancer. That number is six times that of the national average. And, according to the American Cancer Society, occupational exposure to carcinogens accounts for 4 percent of all cancers in the United States.

So what is being done to help the hard working people in California? Sadly, very little.

For some professions, the California Labor Code finds cancer to be presumptively caused by work factors – these professions include firefighters and law enforcement officers. When cancer is found to have an industrial link, the disease is treated within the workers’ compensation system. But even when the cancer is found to be industrial, the injured worker is only entitled to a maximum of two years of wage replacement, which is only paid at two-thirds of their average weekly wages. At the end of the two years, an injured worker can expect payment of “permanent disability” at a maximum of $290 per week, which ends after a specified period of time.

Sadly, the worse aspect of treating cancer in the workers’ compensation system is the delay in medical treatment, which is subject to “utilization review.” In in its most basic form, utilization review allows insurance carriers to deny or delay medical treatment by having a “medical professional” review requests for treatment, and make a decision on the necessity of the request without ever seeing the patient or reviewing an entire medical file. At that point, the injured worker’s only option is to appeal the denial of treatment to an “independent medical review,” which is another blind review by another unknown “medical professional.”

By now, you should be asking yourself, “How is this legal?” And if you are not, you probably should. A work injury can happen to anyone – a day laborer, an office worker, a public servant – and it could be anything from a muscle strain to terminal cancer. In any case, when the injury is work related, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy of the injured worker, often trapping people in endless delays and denials of medical treatment and very little payout at the end.

Think about this – and our own hard working, injured firefighters and police officers in Bakersfield and Kern County – next time a Senate Bill or a proposition relating to workers’ compensation is on the ballot.

Beatriz Trejo is an associate attorney at the Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. She was named “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar, and is a volunteer for Bakersfield’s Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Foundation for Community Wellness.

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

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MEDIA COVERAGE