How to identify, report elder abuse and neglect, and raise awareness to end these tragic cases

June 9, 2021 | 9:03 am


It’s hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm an elderly person — senior citizens, after all, are some of our frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Yet, elder abuse and neglect is a widespread problem.

California sees more than 175,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported.

For Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to draw attention to this problem and provide facts, prevention tips, vital resources, and other information to help reduce neglect and abuse (World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year takes place June 15). The law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse and neglect in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Read below to learn more about elder abuse and neglect, and how we can work together to bring these cases to an end.

 

WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE / NEGLECT

Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person financially, including scams targeting seniors. In other cases, it’s simple negligence: Caregivers don’t provide the basic necessities, like nutritious food, appropriate medication, safety, or assistance with hygiene. Abuse can include physical, emotional, financial, abandonment, isolation, and neglect.

Here are five facts about elder abuse:

  1. Elder abuse instances happen mostly in the home where the senior lives.
  2. One in every 10 elder adults experience some form of abuse in their lifetime.
  3. The most common form of abuse is financial exploitation and extortion.
  4. In around 90% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.
  5. Only one of every six instances of elder abuse and neglect is reported.

The purpose of elder abuse awareness is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed neglect and abuse tragedies in elder care and nursing home throughout the United States, including in Kern County. Local skilled nursing facilities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks that affected staff and residents alike. During the pandemic, Kern County Department of Public Health requested immediate help with staffing shortages at Kingston Health Care Facility in Bakersfield, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility.

A report by media agency Al Jazeera English highlighted how an elder care system already in crisis imploded under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. The coverage included an interview with Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark, an elder abuse and neglect lawyer.

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Know the symptoms of abuse: Bedsores, bruises, or chafing could indicate that your loved one is being restrained to a bed or wheelchair, or otherwise physically abused. If he or she has recently lost weight, malnutrition or dehydration could be at play, while poor hygiene is also an indicator of possible abuse. Watch, too, for changes in the person’s mood; if they seem depressed, anxious, agitated, or listless, see if you can discover why. In short, any changes to an elder’s behavior, disposition or physical condition could be cause for concern.

If you suspect something, say something: If you do detect signs of abuse, document them. Take pictures of bruises or injuries, get a statement from the victim or any witnesses, and keep a log of any suspicious behavior or circumstances. You can then address your concerns with the manager or director of the long-term care facility or home care provider; if they do not take action, contact the police or an elder abuse attorney.

Spread the word with social media: There really is no better way to get the word out and foster awareness than through social platforms. Share informational articles and use the hashtag #WEAAD.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

June is for summer, sunshine, and safety

June 2, 2021 | 11:14 am


With June comes summer, sun, and, we hope, safety.

June is National Safety Month, an opportunity to help prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths at work, on the roads, and in our homes and communities. With the United States is seeing the highest number of workplace deaths since 2007 – more than 5,000 fatal workplace injuries in 2019 – this observance is more important than ever. Additionally, more than 42,000 people estimated to have died on the roads in 2020, the highest number of motor vehicle deaths since 2007, according to National Safety Council.

“Dangerous circumstances can present themselves everywhere during the summer days,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for each of us to do our part to keep ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones as safe as possible in June for National Safety Month, and beyond.”

National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health and the National Safety Council highlights weekly work-focused themes of emergency preparedness, wellness, falls and driving. You can find more information on these themes below, with some tips courtesy of Chain | Cohn | Stiles:

 

Emergency Preparedness

The message here is, “prevent incidents before they start.” Emergency situations can happen at any time, making it a priority to be prepared for the unexpected before it happens.

  • Research and prepare for natural disasters that may occur, like an earthquake.
  • Create an emergency kit for both your home and car.
  • Create a home emergency plan with your family and learn how to shut off your utilities.
  • Be a good participant in emergency drills at work and school by following instructions and paying attention to lessons learned.
  • Store important phone numbers, including those of family members, with other important documents in a fire-proof safe or safety deposit box.
  • Learn first aid and CPR for children and adults.
  • Stock your emergency kits.

In the workplace, emergency situations can happen at any time including natural disasters, fires, active shooter situations or chemical or gas releases. Actively participate in workplace drills.

 

Wellness

As the pandemic continues, employers play an important role in expanding operations and returning remote workers to physical workspaces, building trust around vaccines, supporting mental health and much more.

Additionally, getting enough sleep is important to do your job safely. Sleep plays a more vital role in ensuring the safety and health of workers and the people they serve. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep every day is key.

High stress levels, especially for prolonged periods of time, can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. Work-related stress can lead to risk of injury and depression, which contributes to absenteeism, presenteeism (workers going to work when they are sick), disability, and unemployment. Providing training for supervisors on approaches to reducing stressful working conditions can improve employee health, reduce turnover, and increase employee retention.

 

Falls

Falls remain a persistent but preventable problem in the workplace. In fact, falls are the No. 1 cause of construction-worker fatalities, accounting for one-third of on-the-job deaths in the industry.

The highest number of nonfatal fall injuries continue to be associated with the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. Overall falls are the third leading cause of unintentional-injury-related deaths for all ages and the No. 1 cause of death for those 65 and older, according to Injury Facts.

 

Driving

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the U.S. All workers are at risk of crashes, whether driving light or heavy vehicles, or whether driving is a main or incidental job duty. Up to 94 percent of motor vehicle crashes involve human error. There are simple actions you can take to stay safe while driving:

  • Buckle up every trip. It only takes a second to save a life.
  • Do not drive drowsy. Stop and take breaks as needed.
  • Focus on driving and stay alert. Other drivers on the road may be impaired, fatigued or distracted.
  • Avoid impaired driving, whether by alcohol, lack of sleep or drugs, including over the counter and prescription medication.
  • Avoid cell phone distracted driving, including hands-free.
  • Make sure all occupants are properly secured in age-appropriate restraints.
  • Never leave a child alone in a car and always keep your car locked when not in use.
  • Regularly check your vehicle for recalls at CheckToProtect.org and stay up to date on the safety features in your car by visiting MyCarDoesWhat.org.
  • Educate teens and all inexperienced drivers about the safety features present in the vehicle and how they work.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

‘Look Twice And Save A Life’. Sharing The Road Is Vital For Motorcycle Safety

May 19, 2021 | 6:00 am


Preliminary state data shows that more than 500 people were killed in motorcycle-involved crashes in 2020, and more than 11,500 people were injured in California, according to the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System.

In all, California has more than 1.4 million licensed motorcycle riders, and Kern County riders certainly make up a large percentage. So, with May being Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reminds us all to make sure motorcyclists and drivers stay safe on the road, by sharing the road.

“Motorcyclists are some of the most vulnerable people on our roadways, which is why it’s vital for us all to be mindful of all riders, as we are drivers,” said Matt Clark, senior partner at accident attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “For drivers, taking the time to look twice for motorcyclists can save a life.”

Accidents involving motorcycles account for nearly 15 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States, but motorcyclists make up just 3 percent of all registered vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One way to make sure motorcyclists stay fresh on riding safety is to enroll in the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, which trains about 55,000 motorcyclists each year. To find a training site near you, visit motorcyclesafetyca.com.

To help drivers and motorcyclists alike on the road, here are some tips to prevent motorcycle-related collisions.

DRIVERS

  • Always us a turn signal when changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • If you see a motorcycle with a signal on, be careful. Motorcycle signals are often non-canceling and could have been forgotten. Always ensure that the motorcycle is turning before proceeding.
  • Stay alert. Check all mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • Follow at a safe distance when behind a motorcycle. This gives them more time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
  • Never drive distracted or impaired.
  • Motorcyclists can increase their safety by following these steps:

MOTORCYCLISTS

  • Wear a DOT-compliant helmet and other protective gear.
  • Ride safely when lane sharing and always proceed at safe speeds.
  • Get properly licensed, and obey all traffic laws.
  • Use turn signals at every lane change or turn.
  • Wear brightly colored clothes and reflective tape to increase visibility.
  • Ride safely when lane sharing and always proceed at safe speeds.
  • Never ride distracted or impaired.

 

MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT Q&As

In times of tragedy, clients often have a number of questions regarding their case. To better accommodate our clients’ needs, we have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions and answers for many of the practice areas that the firm specializes in, including motorcycle accidents. Here are a few of the questions and answers:

Is an investigation of my motorcycle accident case important?

It is critical. Since there is almost a presumption in the general public that motorcyclists assume the risk for their own injuries and they are usually at fault for causing accidents, it is essential that a quick and thorough investigation is performed to establish fault on other responsible people or entities and to establish that the motorcyclist did little or nothing to contribute to the accident.

Investigation should consist of an examination of the scene, an examination of the instrumentalities that were involved in the accident, obtaining statements from witnesses and obtaining the reports from investigating agencies. Of prime importance is maintaining the motorcycle and helmet in the exact condition they were in at the moment when the motorcyclist came to rest after an accident.

How long do I have after my accident to file my motorcycle injury case?

A motorcycle accident or wrongful death action, under California law, must be brought within two years of the date of the accident.

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 a 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.

Is it important to retain an attorney for my motorcycle accident case?

Yes, if the motorcycle accident has resulted in a serious injury or death. Without an attorney, there will always be an assumption that the motorcyclist was at fault and evidence will be gathered by the other side to support that contention. You need to hire an attorney to perform investigation and retain the right experts to prove your case and your injuries. Further, through the litigation, an attorney will be able to cross-examine witnesses against you and hopefully turn their testimony to your favor.

 

KERN COUNTY CASES

The attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have successfully represented people who have been seriously injured in motorcycle accidents. In fact, we have obtained more multi-million dollar personal injury case results on behalf of our clients than any other law firm in Kern County.

In one recent case, the defendant entered the roadway and did not allow enough room for the plaintiff on a motorcycle to enter with traffic approaching, causing him to be hit by crane. The plaintiff in that case lost his right leg, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles helped resolve the lawsuit for $10 million.

In another case, the plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when the defendant in a truck that was parked on the side of the road pulled out in front of the motorcyclist. The crash caused the plaintiff to be thrown 50 yards down the road, and suffered severe injuries. That case resolved for $4.5 million.

And on July 14, 2015, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road, when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the deputy’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The deputy violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light. Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death claim against the County of Kern on behalf of Maharrey’s wife, Paula, and other family members. A settlement was reached in April 2018 for $3.8 million.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Arrest Made In Fatal Hit-And-Run Crash Following 9-Month Investigation, Chain | Cohn | Stiles Reward Offer

May 12, 2021 | 5:00 am


A 42-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of causing the fatal hit-and-run crash last year that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau, a case in which Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Geneau family offered a reward.

Stephanie Heninger was arrested and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run charges connected to the July 22 crash near CSU Bakersfield. The family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles had offered a reward to $7,500 for the person who helped identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that was suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into the bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It had driver’s side damage.

Police learned through GPS location data that Heninger had been at the scene of the crash, according to a probable cause declaration reported by KGET-17. Police also obtained a statement from Heninger confirming she was the driver who left the scene, according to reports.

The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. While police received several tips, police investigations ultimately led to the arrest. The court case is ongoing.

“On behalf of the Geneau family, I want to extend their sincerest thank you to Bakersfield Police Department, and especially Officer Chad Ott,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Matt Clark, the Geneau family’s attorney. “It is a direct result of Officer Ott’s persistence and tenaciousness that a suspect has been brought to justice.”

After Bakersfield Police Department completed its report into the crash, which was 165-pages long, officers recommended felony charges against the driver, including hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, and unsafe lane change. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash. Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

Bakersfield Police Department released a video of surveillance camera angles. The angles included traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash.

At a previous press conference in July 2020 at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles Selected in 2021 ‘Best of Kern County’ Poll (Best Lawyer / Best Law Firm / Best Business)

April 28, 2021 | 5:00 am


As we all experienced, the past year was incredibly tough, especially for local businesses.

Still, Chain | Cohn | Stiles remained open during the pandemic as local residents in Kern County still needed legal help. This included current clients with active cases at the law firm, as well as those who suffered injuries in accidents and were new to hiring our law firm.

Those circumstances make this year’s “Best of Kern County” Readers’ Choice Poll results in Bakersfield Life Magazine extra special, as Chain | Cohn | Stiles was chosen in in the top three in these categories:

  • Best Law Firm
  • Best Lawyer (David Cohn)
  • Best Medium-Large Business

This is the ninth year in a row that the law firm has been selected into the “Best Law Firm” category, each year since the category was introduced. Attorney David Cohn has been selected into the category multiple times. This is the first year the poll has made available “Best Medium-Large Business” as category.

“The annual Best of Readers’ Choice Poll showcases the best of the best — from food and shopping to entertainment and services — as decided by those who call Bakersfield home,” editors of Bakersfield Life Magazine said. “Even though 2020 saw many changes locally and the pandemic impacted all types of businesses, readers still showed up to honor their favorites around town.”

Law firm managing partner David Cohn added: “We are committed to helping our injured neighbors day in and day out, no matter what is going on in our world. We are incredibly grateful, and will continue to work on behalf of the amazing people of Kern County.”

For more than 25 years, The Bakersfield Californian has conducted the Best of Readers’ Choice Poll to showcase the people, places and things that make Kern County truly unique. In 2019, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was inducted in the inaugural “Best of Kern County Hall of Fame,” awarded to honorees with a long history of excellence in their respective fields, and who also give back to our community.

See the full 2021 results, and the full issue of Bakersfield Life Magazine in the links at the bottom of this article.

Nationally, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was selected for inclusion in the 2020 “Best Law Firms” list by U.S. News & World Report. Law firms included in “Best Law Firms” list are recognized for “professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers,” according to U.S. News & World Report. Achieving a ranking “signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is an established and highly regarded personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm based in downtown Bakersfield since 1934, and today focuses on advocating for injured clients in the Central Valley and throughout California. Over the years, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has obtained more multi-million dollar awards and settlements than any other law firm in Kern County. It’s also the oldest personal injury law firm in the area, and dedicated to giving back to its community in various ways. In all, the law firm has received more than half a billion dollars in the firm’s history on behalf of clients.

The law firm includes attorneys David Cohn, Jim Yoro, Matt ClarkChad BoylesBeatriz TrejoTanya Alsheikh, and Doug Fitz-Simmons. To learn more about each attorney, visit chainlaw.com.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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Crashes Caused By Speeding Have Spiked. Can New Automated Cameras Help Slow Drivers?

April 21, 2021 | 5:00 am


As the year of pandemic lockdowns and stay-at-home orders comes to an end, Americans are returning to deadlier streets.

Traffic deaths in the United States increased in 2020, even as people drove less because of the COVID-19 pandemic. National Safety Council estimates that 4.8 million people were injured in crashes last year and more than 42,000 people died in vehicle crashes, the latter of which is an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years. In addition, the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven spiked 24%, the largest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

The reason: More people were speeding as roadways emptied, and police stopped enforcing as many traffic stops to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Those who ventured out found open lanes that invited reckless driving, leading to a sharp increase in traffic-crash deaths across the country, experts say.

Of the reckless behaviors, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show speed to be the top factor, and the high number of speeding drivers is continuing even as traffic is starting to return to pre-pandemic levels. In California, citations issued by the state highway patrol for speeding over 100 mph roughly doubled to 31,600 during the pandemic’s first year.

As an aside, seatbelt use has gone down, and more people have died in crashes with alcohol or other drugs in their system, according to a National Safety Council analysis of trauma centers.

“We need to address traffic violence on our streets,” said David Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We are seeing risk-taking driving leading to dramatic numbers of injuries and deaths that are 100 percent preventable. It’s terrifying what we’re seeing on our roads.”

Lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills to lower speed limits, set up speed camera programs and promote pedestrian safety.

 

SPEED LIMITS

Different states are addressing the speeding issue in various ways:
  • Some states want to boost the authority of localities to regulate traffic in their communities, such as giving cities and counties more control over speed limits, as legislators have proposed in Michigan, Nebraska and other states.
  • Some want to let communities use speed cameras, which is under consideration in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida and elsewhere.
  • Connecticut is considering a pedestrian safety bill that incorporates multiple concepts, including giving localities greater authority to lower speeds, and letting some municipalities test speed cameras around schools, hospitals and work zones.

California uses something called the “85th percentile” method, a decades-old federal standard. Here’s how it works:

Every 10 years, state engineers survey a stretch of road to see how fast people are driving. Then they base the speed limit on the 85th percentile of that speed, or how fast 85% of drivers are going. a federal report found the 85th percentile rule similarly inadequate to set speeds.

In addition to lowering speed limits, lawmakers also want to better enforce them. In California, two bills would reverse the state’s ban on automated speed enforcement by allowing cities to start speed camera pilot programs in places such as work zones, on particularly dangerous streets and around schools.

 

SPEED CAMERAS

California cities could soon set up automated cameras to catch and ticket speeders on their most dangerous streets. Also known as automated speed enforcement, the cameras measure the speeds of passing cars and snap photos of those going a certain mph over the limit, then mail a ticket to the owner. The cameras can be particularly effective on high-speed streets where serious crashes are common, some experts say. Drivers would be less likely to blast through an area they know has cameras, and while speeders wouldn’t be stopped in the moment, getting a ticket in the mail would make them slowdown in the future.

Assembly member David Chiu of San Francisco, who authored Assembly Bill 550 on automated cameras, says the measure includes safeguards to make the speed camera program fair. It would cap fees at $125, with a sliding scale for low-income drivers, and make violations civil offenses, not criminal.

Several California cities have for years used cameras to catch people who run red lights. But state law as it is currently written doesn’t authorize automated cameras to enforce speed limits. The legislation would authorize local transportation departments and Caltrans to use the cameras in pilot programs, and set up a state work group to create policies for the technology.

While conventional speeding tickets in California often cost hundreds of dollars and add “points” that could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, fines generated by the cameras under the new bill would not generate points and would be capped at a total cost, fees included, of no more than $125.

Chiu’s bill also limits who can access photos, bans the use of facial-recognition technology in the cameras and requires programs to provide a diversion option for less-wealthy drivers who can’t afford to pay their fines.

“This has been about changing driver behavior,” Chiu told the San Jose Mercury News. “This is about saving lives and improving safety.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Dog Bite Prevention: Mental State of Dogs Vital in Post-Pandemic World

April 14, 2021 | 10:55 am


Each year, millions of people are bitten or attacked by dogs. Sadly, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Last year nearly 18,000 dog bite injury claims were made in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California had the most claims, and Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia and New Jersey rounding out the top 10.

In commemoration of National Dog Bite Prevention, the focus this year is on the mental state of our dogs, and transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. Last March at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, State Farm reported its highest month for the number and amount paid for dog bite claims. Experts said they believe pets may have picked up on their owners’ stress and anxiety.

As pet owners return to the workplace or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for the record amount of dogs adopted during the pandemic.

“By owning a dog, you are responsible if it bites or injures another person,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “And since we know all dogs can bite, and they can bite for many different reasons, owners are responsible for keeping us humans and pets safe in difficult situations.”

 

DOG BITE PREVENTION

So, what can we do to prevent dog bites?

The three most important things as a dog owner, education, training and responsibility, experts share. Educate yourself on dog body language. Take this commemoration as an opportunity to educate your friends, families, and neighbors that any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. Teach the people around you that even well-trained dogs are capable of biting, especially if you disturb them while eating or sleeping, or if they are caught off guard, like by a postal carrier. Learn how to be a responsible dog owner. Schedule regular veterinary-care check-ups, teach children to treat dogs with respect, give your dog some mental and physical exercise, use a leash in public, and keep your dog away or locked in a room if it tends to be aggressive towards strangers and someone visits your house.

Socializing your pet helps your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog. Also educate yourself and your children about how to approach a dog. Lastly, it’s important to know how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs.

You should avoid petting a dog in these scenarios:

  • If the dog is not with its owner
  • If the dog is with its owner, but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog
  • If the dog is on the other side of a fence—​don’t reach through or over a fence to pet a dog
  • If a dog is sleeping or eating
  • If a dog is sick or injured
  • If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence
  • If a dog is playing with a toy
  • If a dog is growling or barking
  • If a dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone

Reading a dog’s body language also can be helpful. Just like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalizations to express themselves and communicate. Dogs can give us helpful clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened.

 

K-9 STUDY & LAWSUITS

The Washington Post recently highlighted the dozens of video-recorded K-9 attacks that have surfaced over the past few years across the country, many showing people under attack even though they are unarmed, have surrendered to police, are already handcuffed or are innocent bystanders

An estimated 40,000 people were treated for K-9 attacks in hospital emergency rooms from 2009 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although deaths are rare, the nonprofit Marshall Project news organization found at least three people had died of injuries from police dog bites since 2011.

Today, about 15,000 police dogs are now working in the United States.

Some psychologists say the premise behind the use of police dogs — to subdue and get a suspect to become motionless — is faulty at its core. Humans are hard-wired to actively fight an attack that might lead to serious injuries or death. Many Black suspects also have frightening personal histories of ancestors being hunted by canines.

In some cases, the people who were bitten have received financial settlements through civil lawsuits, including clients of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The law firm resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what was the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California at the time, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database. In this case, a 21-year-old was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg. Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Most recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a claim on behalf of the family of a second-grade student who was bitten on the face by a dog while in her classroom. Leilani, 8, suffered severe lacerations and tearing to her face when she was attacked by one of two large dogs visiting her classroom at Wayside Elementary School (Bakersfield City School District) in south Bakersfield. The dogs belonged to a volunteer reader from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

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If you or someone you know is bitten or attacked by a dog, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Distracted driving injures 400,000 people and kills 4,000 each year. Here’s how to avoid driving distracted, and save lives.

April 7, 2021 | 12:21 pm


We all know to buckle up when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, because we know seat belts save lives. But did you know another step could save thousands of more lives?

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining law enforcement and safety officials in asking drivers to give it a rest — your phone, that is. Stashing away your phone while driving can help you avoid distractions, and avoid crashes.

In fact, each year more than 400,000 people are injured and more than 3,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, making up nearly 10% of all fatal crashes, according to the latest figures from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In California, nearly 20,000 crashes took place that involved distracted driving, which resulted in more than 100 deaths and 13,500 injuries, according to CHP.

Distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes off the road. This includes adjusting mirrors, eating or drinking, using the audio or multimedia system, and adjusting the heating and cooling systems in a car.

But phones, by far, are the biggest distractions.

“Any distraction can cause a crash. We strongly urge drivers to focus on what’s most important, and that’s the road in front of them,” said David Cohn, managing partner and car accident attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “When you are driving, give the phone a rest. Together, we can save lives and eliminate this dangerous behavior on our roadways.”

 

IT’S THE LAW

Law enforcement officials this month specifically are hoping to raise awareness and increase enforcement of distracted driving violations. CHP is teaming up with the California Office of Traffic Safety and “Impact Teen Drivers” for Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

A new law that will take effect in July 2021 in California, violating the hands-free law for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver’s record. This applies to the violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free use). Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use a phone for any reason, including hands-free.

A 2020 California public opinion survey found that more than 75% of surveyed drivers listed “distracted driving because of texting” as their biggest safety concern.

CHP will conduct several distracted driving enforcement operations through September 30. Funding for distracted driving enforcement operations are provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

 

HOW TO AVOID DISTRACTED DRIVING

Did you know the time it would take to write a text going 55 miles per hour, you travel about the length of a football field? Texting also increases the risk of a crash 23 times, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Scary, right?

Here are a few ways to avoid distractions while driving:

  • Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation, perhaps in the trunk, glove box, or back seat.
  • If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.
  • If you must call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while driving.
  • If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.
  • Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.
  • Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.
  • Activate “Do Not Disturb.” Setting up this feature on iPhone or Android device will prevent calls from coming in while you’re driving.
  • Just as drivers need to pay attention, so do pedestrians and bicyclists. Never call, text or play games while walking or cycling.
  • Properly secure your kids or pets. Make sure everyone is properly buckled in and retrained.
  • Avoid grooming, reading and applying makeup while driving.
  • Drowsy driving is distracted driving, so never drive when you’re too tired.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in the choking death of 21-year-old at local for-profit care facility

March 31, 2021 | 8:44 am


Ryan Kowal, 21, had severe autism and required one-on-one care “at all times” when he was placed in the care of SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home in Bakersfield. That care was most important during meal times, as Ryan required a soft food-only diet due to his risk for choking.

Supervisors at SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home, a vendor of Kern County Regional Center and Golden Gate Regional Center, signed care plans confirming such knowledge. So, it was alarming to the Kowal family when Ryan choked while eating a corn dog, causing Ryan to lose consciousness and go into cardiac arrest. He had to be revived by emergency personnel, and spent days in the hospital recovering.

But it was a preventable tragedy when, 7 months later on Jan. 23, Ryan was left alone again with easy access to food that posed a choking hazard. While Ryan was left alone with no supervision, he accessed what is believed to be crackers, ate a large amount of the crackers, choked and died.

The Kowal family, along with attorney Matt Clark at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, say this is a warning to families of special-needs children and adults everywhere to beware of for-profit care facilities who sacrifice appropriate support and care, which they are contractually obligated to provide, to increase profit margins.

“SAILS Westbrook knew Ryan’s needs and care requirements, accepted him as a resident in its home, being paid by taxpayers to provide him the appropriate supervision and provide for his needs,” states the lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the Kowal family. “A lack of oversight from both regional centers, and SAILS Westbrook’s desire for profit, caused Ryan’s tragic death.”

Ryan’s parents Treena and John Kowal, along with their attorney Matt Clark, spoke with local media to discuss Ryan’s tragic death, their wrongful death lawsuit, and the state of for-profit care facilities. To see the media interviews and coverage, click the links at the listing below.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Why Bakersfield ranks No. 2 most dangerous city in the United States for pedestrians, and what we can do to fix this ‘preventable crises’

March 23, 2021 | 9:52 am


Bakersfield is not safe for pedestrians.

That sharp message, but hard truth, comes from a new nationwide study that lists Bakersfield as the No. 2 most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States to be a pedestrian. The “Dangerous by Design” study by Smart Growth America analyzed government data from 2010 to 2019 to create a Pedestrian Danger Index. In that time period, 260 pedestrians died in Bakersfield. The Orlando, Florida area ranked No. 1 for most dangerous. The only other California city ranked in the top 20 was Stockton.

Additionally, new data released by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a shocking 20% increase in the pedestrian fatality rate.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of pedestrian accidents, dives into this new study, why we are seeing high numbers of pedestrian accidents locally and nationally, and what can be done to fix this preventable crises.

 

WHY BAKERSFIELD

So, what makes Bakersfield so bad? The short answer is that our streets are designed primarily for the convenience of drivers, and not the safety of pedestrians, as The Bakersfield Californian highlights.

Many places still lack the safest infrastructure for walking, the study found. For example, crosswalks, if they exist at all, are often spaced so far apart as to be impractical, or don’t provide enough time for some adults to safely cross. Wide lanes also encourage high speeds, and many streets are designed with wide turning lanes that allow cars to make right turns through crosswalks at high speed.

And the Bakersfield region has been getting worse, not better, according to Smart Growth America. Bakersfield’s previous rank in the Smart Growth America study was No. 7 deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians. The fatality rate for people walking in the lowest income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle income census tracts and almost three times that of neighborhoods at higher levels of income. Several incidents occurred on Union Avenue, a low-income area where crosswalks are spread apart, motorists drive fast and pedestrians regularly be seen.

To add to the problem in Bakersfield, 24/7 Wall St. ranked Bakersfield as the No. 35 worst cities to drive. Their study created an index composed of several driving-related measures to identify the worst metropolitan statistical areas for drivers, which include average commute time, regional gas prices, drunk driving death rates, overall driving fatality rates, time and money lost due to congestion, and auto theft rates.

 

A NATIONAL PROBLEM, TOO

Pedestrian deaths increased 45% in a decade. During this 10-year period, 53,435 people were hit and killed by drivers. In 2019, the 6,237 people struck and killed is the equivalent of more than 17 deaths per day.

And new data by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows a shocking 20% increase in the pedestrian fatality rate per billion vehicle miles traveled during the first six months of 2020.

The author of “Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America” explains why the problem is so bad: America’s road infrastructure, automotive industry and car culture collectively create dangerous conditions for walkers and bicyclists.

  • America’s roads and car culture typically treat pedestrians as a nuisance.
  • Multiple studies have demonstrate that SUVs are much more likely than passenger cars to kill pedestrians when collisions occur That reality, combined with the significant increase in sales of SUVs over the last several years, is contributing to the crisis.
  • While experts widely agree that distracted driving is likely a factor in increased pedestrian deaths, data proving this thesis is hard to come by, in part because of insufficient police reporting.
  • Less than 5% of pedestrians die when struck by a vehicle traveling less than 20 miles per hour. But for those struck by vehicles traveling 40 mph or more, the risk of death is 65%.
  • Multiple studies have concluded that drivers typically don’t stop for pedestrians who are attempting to cross intersections with no traffic lights or stop signs.
  • Traffic engineers generally program lights to provide enough time for people to cross at a pace of 3.5 feet per second. But the AARP, the nation’s retiree interest group, has reported that “many older people walk closer to three feet per second.”

 

SOLUTIONS

So what can be done? Officials call this a “preventable crisis” that could be halted by policy interventions at the federal, state and local levels, according to research released this week.

“Our federal government needs to take the lead on prioritizing safer streets,” the study’s authors write. “Federal funds, policies, and guidance have a significant role to play in fixing these streets and in designing the streets we’ll build tomorrow.”

To its credit, the city of Bakersfield, the county of Kern, and others have been working at reducing the number of pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured on local roadways. Improving and creating more crosswalks — including a lighted crosswalk on 24th Street — educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road and citing speeding drivers are just some efforts officials have used to help reduce pedestrian deaths.

However, researchers say that until the design of our roadways undergoes significant change, fatalities and life-altering injuries will continue. The report recommended that state and local lawmakers “prioritize projects that bring the greatest benefits to those who are suffering disproportionately,” including low-income communities and people of color.

Locally, here are a few efforts taking place:

  • Walk Kern, a Kern County Public Works Department project, continues to be devoted to providing safe pedestrian and bicycle paths around Kern County.
  • A “Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan” — a partnership with California Department of Transportation — also aimed to examine the city’s roadways to determine which are the most dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians and recommend design improvements, including more bike lanes, more signage, and new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic. Improving and creating more crosswalks, and educating pedestrians and drivers on the rules of the road are just some efforts officials hope will help reduce pedestrian deaths.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles, too, for years has been doing its part to raise awareness and promote bicycle and pedestrian safety. Noting a lack of lighting throughout Bakersfield at night, the law firm teams up with local bicycle advocacy nonprofit Bike Bakersfield each year to give away hundreds of free bike lights and safety helmets in a project called Project Light up the Night.

Lawmakers, the reports states, should also reassess funding and infrastructure policies to ensure that “departments of transportation…consistently plan for and construct projects for all people who use the street, including the most vulnerable.”

 

HOW TO STAY SAFE

Here are some safety tips that pedestrians and drivers can use to decrease accidents, and potentially save lives:

Drivers

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

Pedestrians

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

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.