How personal injury and workers’ compensation systems work together

March 25, 2020 | 6:00 am


Note: Veteran workers’ compensation attorney James Yoro recently spoke at the Kern County Paralegal Association luncheon about the relationship between workers’ compensation law and personal injury law. Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm focuses on only personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. Below is a portion of Yoro’s presentation.

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If you have been injured due to the fault of both your employer as well as a third party, then you may be entitled to further compensation from the third party. Since Chain | Cohn | Stiles practices law in both areas, the lawyers and staff are uniquely situated to handle both aspects of these cases.

To explain a little further:

  • A personal injury claim is a civil lawsuit that is pursued and processed through superior, appellate and supreme courts, and is a part of the civil justice system, which allows a person to sue another person or party for damages as a result of negligent conduct that caused certain damages to that person. The outcome and any potential recovery is determined at the end of the case by way of dispute resolution (settlement, mediation, or arbitration) or through litigation (trial). Damages can include:
    • Cost of medical treatment provided and potential future medical needs.
    • Loss of earnings and future earning capacity.
    • Potential loss of consortium.
    • Non-economic damages (typically referred as pain and suffering). Recovery is a fluid process up until a jury verdict is returned and upheld on appeal.
  • A workers’ compensation claim is an administrative claim that is pursued through an administrative process governed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and if legal disputes arise, the appellate and supreme courts. It is categorized as an administrative process because the workers’ compensation system was created by statute and designed to be a benefit delivery system. If disputes arise, they are adjudicated by a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and the system can become adversarial. A case can be resolved at any point in the process or it can remain unresolved for many years. A case can be resolved and yet remain open for the provision of certain benefits for the person’s lifetime. If there are no disputed issues as to the legitimacy of a claim, benefits as defined by statute are to be provided without delay. A workers’ compensation formula is applied for employer negligence calculation as applied to total damages, not including recovery. The benefits include:
    • Medical treatment and associated benefits.
    • Monetary benefits.
    • Vocational rehabilitation (that are set and defined by statute)
    • Temporary total disability.
    • Permanent disability.

One rule to note: A workers compensation insurance carrier that has provided benefits to an injured worker who has a personal injury case is not entitled to a recovery of their lien or application of the credit to the extent of their percentage of fault if the employers conduct contributed to the cause of the injury.

To illustrate a couple of examples of how personal injury and workers’ compensation cases work together, here are a few hypothetical scenarios.

 

SCENARIO 1

Ann is a UPS delivery driver, and one day while driving down a Main Street on the way to deliver a package, she is broadsided by a Chevron tanker truck that has gone through a stop sign. Ann suffers serious personal injuries and requires medical treatment including hospitalization, surgery and time off from work to recover.

Ann files a workers’ compensation claim with her employer who is insured for worker’s compensation by Cal. Comp. Ann hires an attorney to pursue a personal injury against Chevron. Cal. Comp. hires an attorney to pursue its subrogation interests and files a complaint in intervention in Ann’s personal injury lawsuit.

At the mandatory settlement conference in the personal injury case, Chevron settles with all parties for $1 million. As of the date of the settlement conference, Cal. Comp. has paid out $150,000 in both medical and monetary benefits to Ann. Because of her level of permanent disability percentage, Cal. Comp. still owes an additional $60,000 and may have to provide her with another surgery that could cost $40,000 in her unresolved workers’ comp. case. Ann nets $550,000 from her personal injury case.

A few questions arise:

  • Who got what and why?
  • Is Ann entitled to get the additional $60,000 that Cal. Comp. owes her and get them to pay for her surgery? Why or why not?
  • What if Cal. Comp. did not hire an attorney and did not file a complaint in intervention and only served a lien on Ann’s personal injury attorney? Then what would Cal. Comp. get? What would Ann get?

 

SCENARIO 2

Ann is a UPS delivery driver. One day while driving down a Main Street on the way to deliver a package, she is broadsided by a converted taco truck that has blown a stop sign. Ann suffers serious personal injuries and requires medical treatment including hospitalization, surgery and time off from work in order to recover.

The owner of the Taco truck is Don Quixote who has a $100,000 auto policy with GEICO. Ann files a workers’ compensation claim with her employer who is insured for workers’ compensation by Cal. Comp. Ann hires an attorney to pursue a personal injury claim against Don Quixote. Cal. Comp. does not hire a subrogation attorney and only sends Ann’s attorney a lien.

Upon presentation of the current medicals on GEICO by Ann’s personal injury attorney, GEICO decides to tender their policy. At the time of the tender, Cal. Comp. has paid out $100,000 in medical and temporary total disability. Its future obligation to Ann is estimated to be another $200,000 with $60,000 to $70,000 estimated for her permanent disability benefit. Cal. Comp. notifies Ann’s personal injury attorney that it wants payment of its lien.

  • What strategies can be employed for Ann’s benefit?

 

SCENARIO 3

Ann is a UPS delivery driver. One day while driving down a Main Street on the way to deliver a package, she is broadsided by a Chevron tanker truck that has blown a stop sign. When the CHP officer interviews Ann, she tells him that as she approached the intersection she saw the Chevron truck out of the corner of her eye, and thought that the truck was going too fast to stop, so she started to apply her brakes but she couldn’t stop in time. Upon inspection, the CHP officer notes that the UPS truck’s brakes are badly worn. Ann suffers serious personal injuries and requires medical treatment including hospitalization, surgery and time off from work in order to recover.

Ann files a workers’ compensation claim with her employer who is insured for workers’ compensation by Cal. Comp. Ann hires an attorney to pursue a personal injury claim against Chevron. Chevron’s attorney obtains the UPS trucks maintenance records and discovers that UPS failed to bring this
particular truck in for its last routine maintenance inspection which was scheduled two months before the accident. Chevron hires an accident reconstruction expert who says that Ann would have had enough time to avoid the accident had the brakes been working properly. Ann’s attorney hires an accident reconstruction expert, who says that it is too speculative to say that Ann would have had enough time to avoid the accident.

As of the date of the mandatory settlement conference for the personal injury case, Cal. Comp has paid out $150,000 in both medical and monetary benefits to Ann. Because of her level of permanent disability percentage, Cal. Comp still owes an additional $60,000 and may have to provide her with another surgery that could cost $40,000 in her unresolved workers’ compensation case. The full damage value of the case is about $1 million. The case settles for $850,000, and Ann nets $540,000.

  • What if anything is Cal. Comp. entitled to recover?
  • Would it make a difference if Cal. Comp. had an attorney?
  • What strategies can Ann’s attorneys use to get the best result for Ann?

 

SCENARIO 4

Ann is a UPS delivery driver. One day while driving down a main street on the way to deliver a package, she is broadsided by a converted Taco truck that has blown a stop sign. Ann suffers serious personal injuries and requires medical treatment including hospitalization, surgery and time off from work in order to recover.

The owner of the Taco truck is Don Quixote who has a $100,000 auto policy with GEICO. Ann files a workers’ compensation claim with her employer who is insured for workers’ compensation by Cal. Comp. Ann hires an attorney to pursue a personal injury claim against Don Quixote. Cal. Comp. does not hire a subrogation attorney and only sends Ann’s attorney a lien.

Upon presentation of the current medicals on GEICO by Ann’s personal injury attorney, GEICO decides to tender their policy. At the time of the tender, Cal. Comp. has paid out $100,000 in Medical and temporary total disability. Its future obligation to Ann is estimated to be another $200,000, with $60,000 to $70,000 estimated for her permanent disability benefit.

Ann’s personal injury attorney discovers that UPS has an Uninsured / Underinsured policy on all of its trucks for $1 million. Cal. Comp. notifies Ann’s personal injury attorney that it wants payment of its lien and credit for any and all recovery that Ann obtains.

  • Is Cal. Comp. entitled to recover its lien and get credit?
  • For how much?
  • What strategies can be employed for Ann’s benefit?

 

While these are hypothetical situations in which personal injury and workers’ compensation law intersect, similar cases are very real. And each case presents its own questions and challenges, ones which the workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles has confronted time and time again.

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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*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.

Coronavirus and the workplace: Benefits available to help impacted workers in California

March 18, 2020 | 6:00 am


The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to affect all aspects of everyday life in our country, including workplaces.

Businesses across the United States are temporarily closing or asking employees to work from home to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. In Kern County, many are still being asked to go to work, while other workers are having to choose between staying home or going to work to get a pay check.

But what if you become ill or contract coronavirus due to work conditions? What benefits are available should you be out of work from illness associated with the virus?

Read below to learn what responsibility employers have to keep workers safe, benefits available to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and steps you can take in the case you contract coronavirus from work.

 

Employer responsibility 

Workplace safety and health regulations in California require employers to protect workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. Cal/OSHA has posted guidance to help employers comply with these safety requirements and to provide workers information on how to protect themselves.

Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (Section 5199) also requires protection for employees working at health care facilities, and other services and operations, including:

  • Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, medical offices, outpatient medical facilities, home health care, long-term health care facilities, hospices, medical outreach services, medical transport and emergency medical services.
  • Certain laboratories, public health services and police services that are reasonably anticipated to expose employees to an aerosol transmissible disease.
  • Correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment programs.

To protect workers and prevent exposure to viruses, employers must develop and maintain the required programs and plans for their facility or operation. More resources from Cal/OSHA to protect workers can be found by clicking here.

 

Coronavirus and workers’ compensation 

The workers’ compensation system in California is a no-fault system, meaning that an employee claiming a work-related injury does not need to prove negligence on the part of the employer. Instead, the employee need only prove that the injury occurred at work and was proximately caused by their employment.

But since the virus is not an “injury” per say, it is categorized as an “occupational disease.” To be an occupational disease, an employee must generally show two things:

  • The illness or disease must be “occupational,” meaning that it arose out of and was in the course of employment.
  • The illness or disease must arise out of, or be caused by, conditions peculiar to the work and creates a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and in a different manner than in the public generally.

Special consideration is given to health care workers and first responders, as these employees will likely enjoy a presumption that any communicable disease was contracted as the result of employment. This would also include nurses and physicians who are exposed to the virus while at the worksite.

For other categories of employees, benefits for a workers’ compensation claim will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The key point will be whether the employee contracted the virus at work and whether the contraction of the disease was “peculiar” to their employment. Even if the employer takes all of the right steps to protect the employees from exposure, a benefits claim may be determined where the worker can show that they contracted the virus after an exposure, the exposure was distinctive to the work, and there are no alternative means of exposure demonstrated.

As of now, an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a coronavirus infection will have to provide medical evidence to support the claim.

Finally, states are taking action on this specific issue. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries changed its policies for health care workers and first responders to “provide benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.” Other states may follow.

 

Benefits available to infected workers

As discussed, if you are unable to do your usual job because you were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 during the regular course of your work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Those benefits include temporary disability (TD) payments, which begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you are hospitalized overnight, according to California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency. You may be entitled to TD for up to 104 weeks. Those disability payments stops when either you return to work, your doctor releases you for work, or your doctor says your illness has improved as much as it’s going to. This generally pays two-thirds of the gross wages you lose while you are recovering from a work-related illness or injury, up to maximum weekly amount set by law.

In addition, eligible employees are entitled to medical treatment and additional payments if a doctor determines you suffered a permanent disability because of the illness.

 

Other work benefits 

If you get sick or are quarantined, here’s what you can do: First, California’s paid sick leave law provides time off to many workers. You are entitled to use whatever sick leave you have accumulated. But in the event of a particularly long illness, you may be eligible for disability benefits, provided your illness is certified by a medical professional.

California’s Employment Development Department will now waive the one-week waiting period for people who are disabled as a result of COVID-19, according to an executive order. The Employment Development Department also provides a variety of support services to individuals affected.

  • Caregiving: If you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.
  • Childcare: If you have child care concerns as a result of coronavirus, the California EDD says you may be eligible for benefits. If your child’s school is closed, and you have to miss work to be there for them, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Eligibility considerations include if you have no other care options and if you are unable to continue working your normal hours remotely. File an Unemployment Insurance claim and our EDD representatives will decide if you are eligible.
  • Reduced Hours: If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.
  • Exposed to Coronavirus: If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.

 

Message to our clients

Like all of you, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, and especially in our own community.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles remains dedicated to helping injured clients from throughout Kern County.

Our law firm prides itself on giving people direct access to the attorneys and staff who are working on their cases, and this will continue. Should you need to speak with our attorneys for any reason, we are available any time by phone, email, and chat on our website.

As for those who we’re currently helping with cases, we are still here for you. We ask that you call or email us with any questions you may have on your case. If we can respond to your questions or concerns over the telephone, or by way of email, we will make every effort to do so. In accordance with CDC recommendation we are trying to minimize in-person meetings, when possible. However, should you desire to meet with your attorney or other staff member in person, we will make every effort to accommodate that meeting.

As always, you can reach out to us at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the meantime, please take care of yourself and your family.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, contract an illness at work, 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

New state Assembly Bill targets street racing, increasing penalties for dangerous activity

March 11, 2020 | 10:34 am


Outrage had been building in Bakersfield over widespread incidents of street racing, and it reached a boiling point after an alleged street racing crash killed a Bakersfield woman and injured two children riding with her in a minivan.

The issue hits close to home for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which is representing one of the children who suffered major injuries in that November 2019 crash that killed 58-year-old Maria Blaney Navarro. Reckless driving is a nuisance in our neighborhoods at the very least, but it injures and kills too many innocent people each year.

It’s why Chain | Cohn | Stiles is in full support of a new state Assembly Bill 2565 introduced by Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, and co-authored by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale, that would bring additional penalties to those who publicly exhibit street racing behaviors.

“I authored this bill in response to what our local law enforcement officials have conveyed as a troubling and problematic trend in our neighborhoods,” Fong said in the statement. “We need to increase the penalties for illegal street racing activities to send a message that this activity will not be tolerated.”

Under AB 2565, acts such as engine-revving and burning out vehicle tires in front of a group of spectators could lead to suspension of a driver’s license. The bill would provide an additional tool for law enforcement as officials look to curtail street racing in Kern County and throughout the state.

Bakersfield Police arrested 50-year-old Ronald Dean Pierce in connection with the death of Navarro, and faces a second-degree murder charge, as well as suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving causing an injury, and participating in an illegal speed contest. Police said he was racing a Mustang against another vehicle in southwest Bakersfield when he lost control of the vehicle and struck the van not involved in the race. The impact caused the van to spin out of control into oncoming traffic, where it was then hit by a crane truck, killing Navarro and injuring two grandchildren.

For years, residents in southwest Bakersfield had complained to police about the prevalence of street racing and parking-lot gatherings. After the fatal crash, police responded with overtime traffic enforcement targeting street racers.

Currently, street racing in California is a misdemeanor with penalties including a jail sentence, fine between $355 and $1,000, community service, suspension of your driver’s license, and impounding of vehicles. However, prior convictions for street racing or if someone is injured in the race could face “enhanced” penalties including more jail sentence, fines, and suspensions.

The Assembly Bill is pending referral to a policy committee for a hearing in the coming weeks.

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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.

Pedestrian deaths reach 30-year high in the U.S. with California, Kern County seeing alarming accident rates

March 4, 2020 | 10:56 am


Pedestrian deaths in the United States have hit a 30-year high, according to new data, and California is seeing a jump in death rates that are well above national averages.

In fact, pedestrian deaths in California jumped 12% in the first half of last year, well above the national average increase of 3%, according to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a non-profit that works to improve roadway safety. In all, more than 6,500 pedestrians were killed in 2019 in the United States, the highest number since 1988.

Some of the reasons for this increase? SUVs, drug and alcohol use, warm weather and cellphones are to blame, officials say.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents victims of pedestrian accidents, dives into the local and state issue of pedestrian safety, why we’re seeing an increase in pedestrian accidents, and what’s being done to combat the problem.

 

STATE, LOCAL PROBLEMS

Five states — California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida — accounted for 47% of pedestrian deaths, yet these states make up 33% of the U.S. population. California had 1.31 deaths per 100,000 people. That ranked it as the ninth most dangerous state, behind New Mexico, Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada. Vermont was the safest state, with 0.18 deaths per 100,000 people.

At the same time, Bakersfield and Kern County has also seen the number of pedestrian accidents rise to an alarming rate. In a study last year, Bakersfield ranked as the seventh deadliest city in the United States for pedestrians. Between 2008 to 2017, Bakersfield saw a total of 247 pedestrian deaths, bringing the annual pedestrian fatality rate to 2.83 per 100,000 residents, according to the report titled “Dangerous By Design” by Smart Growth America. While the number of pedestrians has only increased by a mere 1 percent during the past decade, Bakersfield saw fatalities of pedestrians rise an astounding 35.4 percent.

Bakersfield was the only California city ranked in the top 23 worst cities for pedestrians, according to that study that looked at pedestrian safety in cities of different sizes, density, and rates of walking.

 

WHY?

The governors’ report noted several reasons for the uptick in pedestrian accidents and fatalities:

  • SUVs: Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to be killed as those hit by a car. Over the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian deaths involving SUVs went up 81%, well above the increase in passenger-car related deaths.
  • Speeding, alcohol use and other unsafe driving or pedestrian behavior: Alcohol impairment — by either the driver or pedestrian — was involved in nearly half the crashes that led to fatalities in 2018.
  • Unsafe road crossings: Over the past decade, nighttime pedestrian deaths went up 67%. Daytime fatalities were up 16%.

Warmer weather also encourages more nighttime outdoor activity and is associated with more drinking, which increases the risk of fatal pedestrian collisions, studies show.

Another reason includes smartphones, which have been a source of cognitive and visual distraction for all road users, pedestrian or otherwise. Additionally, road designs continue to be tailored to drivers only, and are not taking pedestrian safety into account, and wide lanes with high speed limits and few sidewalks are also to blame.

 

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

The latest report cites efforts by the state to reduce pedestrian dangers including initiatives involving classroom education, community events, presentations and workshops. These countermeasures are conducted in communities with high numbers of pedestrian-related collisions including under-served communities, older adults and school-aged children.

Coordinated efforts such as Safe Routes to School initiatives, Vision Zero campaigns and work with community-based organizations to prevent fatalities and injuries among vulnerable non-motorized road users.

Also cited in the report were California’s engineering improvements, including “using pedestrian warning signs, implementing high-visibility crosswalk markings, imposing parking restrictions to improve visibility and adjusting traffic signals at certain intersections to give pedestrians a head start before a vehicle turns.”

 

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.

‘Judicial emergency’ results in lack of justice for Kern County residents

February 26, 2020 | 10:28 am


The Central Valley’s federal district court has instituted a “judicial emergency” order due to a shortage of judges, and thousands of Kern County residents — including clients of Chain | Cohn | Stiles — are being left with a feeling of injustice.

Federal Judge Dale A. Drozd of the U.S. Eastern District Court of California, the federal judicial district that includes Bakersfield and the southern Central Valley area, stated that the judicial emergency order “will seriously hinder the administration of justice” in the district.

“These are uncharted waters for this court,” Drozd wrote in his order. “The emergency procedures … are being implemented reluctantly.”

The district, which serves 8 million Californians is supposed to have six full-time judges — three in Fresno and three in Sacramento, said Matt Clark, senior partner and personal injury lawyer with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. But in the past two months, three judges in Fresno have assumed reduced work status or inactive status. Drozd will now be presiding over some 1,050 civil actions and 625 criminal cases.

“We have one judge” in Fresno, Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “We are the single most impacted district in the country.”

For media coverage, see the links below.

The emergency is already affecting hundreds of local cases and local families, possibly thousands. They include:

Joan Johnson has penned letters to local elected officials, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, addressing the judicial emergency. Federal judges are nominated by presidents and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. No judges in the Eastern District have been appointed by President Trump, though Republicans have been the majority party in the Senate since January 2015.

Considering the history of the Eastern District, the shortfall in resources has been foreseen for years. For more than a decade the Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended that the district be authorized for up to six additional judgeships, doubling its current allocation. However, those recommendations have not been acted upon. Considering the history of the Eastern District, the shortfall in resources has been foreseen for years. For more than a decade the Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended that the district be authorized for up to six additional judgeships, doubling its current allocation. However, those recommendations have not been acted upon.

This is the case despite the fact that since the last new district judgeship was created in the Eastern District in 1978, the population of the district has grown from 2.5 million residents to more than 8 million. By contrast, the Northern District of California, which has a similar population, operates with 14 authorized district judges, Drozd said in his order.

“There are over 1,000 civil cases now on hold,” Clark said. “That’s a thousand more families going through the same thing.”

Below is a portion of a letter sent to elected officials by Joan Johnson:

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My name is Joan M. Johnson.  I am married to William “Lee” Johnson, and together we are the owners of a family trucking business that has been in existence since 1968.

In December 2018, my husband Lee was nearly killed in an explosion at a compressed natural gas fueling station.  He sustained various life-threatening injuries, including a severe traumatic brain injury.  The explosion was so powerful, it leveled the fueling station.  Although Lee ultimately survived, after months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, his injuries have taken their toll.  He still suffers daily, as does our business.

In an effort to recover for our losses, we retained an attorney.  Our attorney filed a lawsuit in Federal Court, in the Eastern District of California, in early 2019.  At the time of the initial scheduling conference, trial was set for May 4, 2021.  Although this was a long way out in the future, it was acceptable, and we had a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Recently, our attorney has informed us of the judicial emergency in the Eastern District, as a result of Congress’ inability to appoint any new judges in our district.  I have attached to this letter a copy of the Order in Light of Ongoing Judicial Emergency.  In a nutshell, there is only one judge remaining in the Eastern District, and for the foreseeable future, civil cases, like ours, will be delayed indefinitely.  Our light at the end of the tunnel, it has been extinguished.  The hope for civil justice for my husband’s life-changing injuries, and our business losses, has been delayed indefinitely.

As I understand it, our case could proceed efficiently, if everyone was in agreement with having a federal magistrate oversee the trial.  We would stipulate to a magistrate, however the defendants in our case will not.  I imagine this is true in most civil cases in our district, because why would a defendant stipulate to a magistrate, and resolve the matter more quickly, when they can simply use this judicial emergency as a reason to delay, delay, delay.

We are not a family to ask much of our government.  In fact, we are quite the opposite.  We serve our Country.  My husband’s father, he was veteran.  My husband Lee, he is a veteran.  My son, he is a veteran too (with three Purple Hearts to show for it).  We believe in giving back, and supporting the Country we love, and the government that keeps it running.  We now respectfully ask that our government help us, and that priority be given to the appointment of judges in the Eastern District of California.

Anything you can do to help alleviate the judicial emergency in the Eastern District would be greatly appreciated.  I never understood the true meaning of “justice delayed, is justice denied,” until now.  Our livelihood, and my husband’s well-being depends on an operating civil justice system.  As the Court said in its Standing Order, this judicial emergency is not “conducive to the fair administration of justice.”  I am certain that there are many families dependent on the fair administration of justice in the Eastern District.

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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

BTuff Magazine Interview: Attorney Matt Clark and the importance of Kern County’s oil industry

February 12, 2020 | 6:00 am


To say the gas and petroleum industries are important for Kern County is an understatement.

In fact, California produces more oil than all but three other states (Texas, North Dakota and Alaska), and Kern County is responsible for more than 80 percent of California’s oil production, according to a Duke University study.

So as proposed new state regulations threaten to wind down petroleum production — and in turn threaten Kern County’s economy and tax base — local oil industry representatives, elected officials, community leaders, advocates, and workers are standing up. And that includes Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Senior partner and veteran personal injury attorney Matt Clark recently sat down with Bakersfield Tuff (BTuff) Magazine to discuss the importance of the industries locally, and share how Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the local oil industry have worked together over the years. For example, the law firm has represented workers in these industries for much of its 85-year history, and cases have resulted in safer workplaces for oilfield workers.

You can watch the full interview below or on YouTube here.

A recent Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting, where the state’s oil-unfriendly policies were a focus — drew an audience of more than 1,000 industry supporters — the largest crowd convened in recent years for a government proceeding in Bakersfield, according to media reports.

Since the early 20th century, when oil was discovered in western Kern County, the area’s economy has largely centered on oil and gas production. Today, the local oil industry employs about 14,000 people directly, and 30,000 work in associated jobs, according to The Bakersfield Californian. And these industries account for over 30% of Kern County’s assessed property values, according to reports. Those funds pay for public services, including road maintenance, schools, police departments, fire departments, and much more. An industry-funded study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. found that Kern oil production generates $925 million in state and local oil revenues per year and $1.6 billion in labor income.

California officials recently invited Kern County representatives to participate in preparing for an inevitable economic transition they said would take into account the county’s dependence on oil production. In November last year, the stated cited a goal of achieving “carbon neutrality” by 2045 when it imposed extra layers of permitting scrutiny for the well-stimulation technique known as fracking and placed a temporary ban on high-pressure steam injections, according to reports.

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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.

California ranked 4th worst state to drive in the United States, according to report

February 5, 2020 | 3:37 pm


Have you had a bad driving experience lately? Well, you may not be alone.

California has been named the fourth worst state to drive in the United States, according to a new report from WalletHub, a personal finance and information website. WalletHub compared driving experiences across all 50 states to help drivers identify the states that provide the best commuting conditions. It looked at 31 factors, including four key dimensions:

  1. Cost of ownership and maintenance
  2. Traffic and infrastructure
  3. Safety
  4. Access to vehicles and maintenance.

California was found to have the highest percentage of rush hour traffic congestion, the second highest average gas prices, and the fifth highest car theft rate, according to WalletHub. On the positive side: California is reported to have the fewest days with precipitation, the most auto repair shops per capita, and the most car washes per capita.

In all, California ranked No. 47 worst state to drive. Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • Ranking of 49 for cost of ownership and maintenance.
  • Ranking of 46 for traffic and infrastructure
  • Ranking of 4 for safety
  • Ranking of 1 for access to vehicles and maintenance

According to the study, the only states worse for driving than California were Washington, Rhode Island and Hawaii. On the other hand, the best states for driving were Iowa, followed by Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas and Nebraska.

Among the data analyzed by WalletHub were from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. WalletHub also asked a panel of experts regarding the future cost of car ownership, electric and self-driving vehicles, and perhaps most importantly: safety. Among the comments made regarding safety, and how to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, the experts commented:

  • “Several infrastructure improvement and policy measures are found associated with the reduction in traffic fatalities including speed reduction and traffic calming measures (like raised intersections and middle islands), dedicated and protected bicycle lanes and safer pedestrian crossings. Indirect interventions like alcohol taxes and mode alternatives (night transit, taxis, ride-hailing) are related to drunk driving reduction. A combination of such measures along with educational campaigns for safe driving can assist States with reaching Vision Zero goals.
  • Banning the use of cell phones while driving with severe penalties for violators.
  • Reducing road use taxes for vehicles with sensors that prevent unsafe driving.

Other recent reports have highlighted other not-so-good California facts, including the fact that in Los Angeles, people spent 119 hours a year last year stuck in traffic, and Sacramento being home to some of the worst drivers in the country (according to a report by QuoteWizard) when looking at speeding tickets, accidents, DUIs and citations.

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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.

New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

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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, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, 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 launches unique scholarship to support a new generation of young drivers in Kern County

January 22, 2020 | 6:00 am


The application period for the scholarship has ended. Please tune in to chainlaw.com in January 2021 for more scholarship opportunities.

El período para aplicar para la beca ha terminado. Visite abogadosenbakersfield.com en Enero 2021 para más oportunidades de becas.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles launches unique scholarship to support a new generation of young drivers in Kern County

One-of-a-kind “GPS scholarship” aims to curb the financial burden of driver’s education, with a focus on safety

BAKERSFIELD, CALIF. – The Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which focuses on helping accident and injury victims in the Central Valley, has launched a new scholarship called the “Guided Partners in Safety (GPS) Scholarship,” which is aimed to financially support local high school students through their driver’s education training while keeping safety at the forefront.

Auto accidents are the No. 1 killer of American teenagers, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Association. In fact, six teenagers aged 16 to 19 die every day in the United States from motor vehicle crash injuries. Distracted driving, excessive speed, and lack of seatbelt use are major dangers and causes of teen driver crashes.

In addition, budget cuts have caused schools to eliminate driver’s education programs, leading students to seek third-party instruction. As a result, teens from lower-income households may not be able to fully enjoy this rite of passage. In fact, the number of teen drivers nationally is on the decline, with the cost associated to driving as one key factor, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Today, nearly half as many 16-year-olds are getting a driver’s license than 30 years ago, according to a study by the University of Michigan.

The GPS Scholarship aims to support a new generation of teen drivers, build guided partners in safety, and help pay for student driver’s education.

“The safety of our youth is a top concern,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Our goal is to help those in need, and at the same time reinforce the importance of talking to teen drivers about the responsibilities, rules, and consequences that come with getting behind the steering wheel.”

Among the qualifications, applicants must:

  • Have at least a 2.5 GPA
  • Be enrolled in a Kern County high school
  • Write a 200-word (max) creative essay answering: “Why do you want to drive?”
  • Apply by clicking here. Questions can be emailed to gpsscholarship2020@gmail.com.

The deadline to apply is March 31. Other state qualifications for driving apply. Scholarship recipients must attend and observe a Victim Impact Panel hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County.

You can view the GPS Scholarship flier by clicking here.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles lanza una beca única para apoyar a una nueva generación de conductores jóvenes en el condado de Kern

“Beca GPS” tiene como objetivo frenar la carga financiera de la educación del conductor, con un enfoque en la seguridad

El despacho de abogados Chain | Cohn | Stiles, que se enfoca en ayudar a las víctimas de accidentes y lesiones en el Valle Central, ha lanzado una nueva beca llamada “Beca de Socios Guiados en Seguridad,” que tiene como objetivo apoyar financieramente a los estudiantes locales de secundaria a través de la capacitación educativa para conductores mientras se mantiene seguridad a la vanguardia.

Los accidentes automovilísticos son el asesino número uno de los adolescentes estadounidenses, según la Asociación Nacional de Seguridad del Tráfico en Carreteras. De hecho, seis adolescentes de 16 a 19 años mueren todos los días en los Estados Unidos a causa de accidentes automovilísticos. La conducción distraída, la velocidad excesiva y la falta de uso del cinturón de seguridad son los principales peligros y causas de los choques de los conductores adolescentes.

Además, recortes de presupuesto han provocado que las escuelas eliminen los programas de clases de manejo, lo que lleva a los estudiantes a buscar instrucción de terceros. Como resultado, es posible que los adolescentes de hogares de bajos ingresos no puedan disfrutar plenamente de este rito de iniciación. De hecho, el número de conductores adolescentes a nivel nacional está disminuyendo, con el costo asociado a la conducción como un factor clave, según la Fundación AAA para la Seguridad del Tráfico. Hoy, casi la mitad de los jóvenes de 16 años obtienen una licencia de conducir que los de hace 30 años, según un estudio de la Universidad de Michigan.

La beca GPS tiene como objetivo apoyar a una nueva generación de conductores adolescentes, crear socios guiados en seguridad y ayudar a pagar la educación de los estudiantes.

“La seguridad de nuestra juventud es una preocupación principal”, dijo David Cohn, socio gerente de Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Nuestro objetivo es ayudar a los necesitados y, al mismo tiempo, reforzar la importancia de hablar con los conductores adolescentes sobre las responsabilidades, las reglas y las consecuencias que conlleva ponerse al volante”.

Entre las calificaciones, los solicitantes deben:

  • Tener un promedio de calificaciones de 2.5
  • Estar inscrito en una escuela secundaria del condado de Kern
  • Escribir un ensayo creativo de 200 palabras (máximo) respondiendo: “¿Por qué quieres conducir?”
  • Aplica aquí. Preguntas se pueden mandar a gpsscholarship2020@gmail.com.

La fecha límite para presentar la solicitud es el 31 de marzo. Se aplican otras calificaciones estatales para conducir. Los beneficiarios de la beca deben observar un Panel de Impacto de Víctimas organizado por Madres Contra Conducir Ebrio, Conado de Kern.

Puede ver el folleto de la beca GPS haciendo clic aquí.

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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.

Si usted o alguien que conoce se lastima en un accidente, llame a los abogados de Chain | Cohn | Stiles al (661) 323-4000, o visita la página chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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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.⁣

* Aviso: Hacer un reclamo falso o fraudulento de compensación para trabajadores es un crimen grave sujeto a un máximo de 5 años de prisión o una multa de hasta $150,000 o el doble del valor del fraude, el que sea mayor, o tanto por el encarcelamiento y multa.

‘Bored in Bakersfield’ show, Chain | Cohn | Stiles visit famous Wool Growers Restaurant

January 15, 2020 | 11:01 am


It’s a place where Chain | Cohn | Stiles founder Morris Chain and other attorneys at the law firm dined often. Today, Wool Growers Restaurant continues to be a Basque staple in Bakersfield.

In fact, photos of Chain and other veterans of the firm still hang on the restaurant walls, and a sandwich on the menu is named after Morris Chain. So it was only natural for Chain | Cohn | Stiles to join the Bored in Bakersfield show as they highlighted the food and history of this famous restaurant.

Watch the Bored in Bakersfield show below as longtime law firm partners and attorneys David Cohn and Jim Yoro join former Miss Bakersfield Arlene Carrillo and local radio DJ Danny Hill in a visit to Wool Growers.

To learn more about the history of Wool Growers, read below the video, and for more about Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ history and 85-year anniversary last year, go to bit.ly/chainlaw85.

HISTORY OF WOOL GROWERS

Wool Growers is a family restaurant, and as the establishment’s website explains: “Mayie met J.B. Maitia, a bartender, and married him in 1947. They had two children, Jenny and Daniel. In 1954, when Mayie was only 25 years old she and J.B. opened their own restaurant, the Wool Growers Cafe on Sumner Street. Mayie, along with her daughter, Jenny and granddaughter Christiane, is still running the restaurant today.”

The restaurant itself sits in the heart of Old Town Kern, on East 19th Street between Kern and Baker streets. It offers traditional Basque family-style dining, and is an authentic example of how hard-working shepherds dined. The Spanish shepherd community — originally from Pyrenees region of Spain — sprang up in Kern County in the late 1800s and found they could support stable industries such as grain and sheep farming, according to KCET, PBS. Today, Bakersfield has the second-largest expat Basque community in the U.S., second to Boise, Idaho.

Over the years, the family has helped those who immigrated to Bakersfield from Basque country by employing them at the restaurant, and contributes to our local community in many ways.

“The walls of local restaurants are lined with memorabilia documenting this history, and proprietors often share colorful stories as they mix up a fresh batch of drinks or deliver a bowl of piping hot cabbage soup,” according to KCET.

Wool Growers serves ample portions, beginning with an initial spread that is dubbed the “set-up,” which includes a cabbage-based soup, hearty baked beans, and a spicy tomato sauce. Fresh-baked bread, green salad, and fresh tomato salad with red onion and balsamic vinegar is also provided. Daily specials include roast lamb, roast tri-tip with spaghetti, garlic fried chicken, and roast pork loin with mashed potatoes. Fans rave about the perfectly-cooked French fries.

As for the Morris B. Chain Sandwich, it is served with tri-tip or lamb, and loaded with garlic.

“Morris had a reputation for being one of the great connoisseur of really good food,” Cohn said on the Bored in Bakersfield episode. “He loved to come to the Wool Growers and he could never get enough garlic … If you like garlic, you’ll be in garlic heaven.”

Today, it’s a place where all of Bakersfield can sit and dine together

“You really can’t beat the ambiance this establishment provides,” said attorney Jim Yoro. “Where else can you go in Bakersfield and see in one table half the judges from the superior court, and in another table half the farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and in another table a bunch of oilfield executives? And we all eat together.”

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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.