Driving safety, life-saving trends to look ahead to on our roadways in 2021

January 20, 2021 | 5:00 am


While more than 35,000 people killed each year in vehicle-related crashes in the United States, and some 3 million injured, government organizations and other safety groups work each year to save lives. Here are a few trends and initiatives drivers can watch for a glimmer of hope in 2021:

 

Pandemic Driving

It’s no surprise that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies showed a decline in roadway fatalities in the first half of 2020 due to a traffic volume decrease from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while the overall number of deaths went down, our country did see an increase in the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Why? Research showed that drivers exhibited riskier behavior while driving in 2020, putting everyone else at risk. In short, more people were speeding, in part because police stopped enforcing as many traffic stops to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Also, seatbelt use went down, and more people died in crashes with alcohol or other drugs in their system. For more on pandemic driving, click here.

In response to findings, the Governors Highway Safety Association said it will kick off a “Speed Management Pilot Program” in 2021, similar to the Click It or Ticket seatbelt program that will include tactics such as “traffic calming” by making roads narrower or adding pavement markings that encourage drivers to slow down. Radar use, “saturation patrols,” and automated traffic enforcement focusing on speeding prevention will also be used. The program will include both rural and urban roadways, although exact locations have not been announced.

In addition, relaxation of lockdowns following vaccinations, more at-home deliveries, and demand for travel in 2021 roads could mean busier roadways than ever.

 

Speed Bumps

Their effectiveness for causing drivers to slow down is unquestioned — speed bumps and speed humps, that is. It’s because of this that the City of Detroit has decided to install 4,500 speed humps across the city in 2021, or roughly three times the amount installed in 2020, according to the Detroit city website.

Detroit first started strategically installing them in 2018. This year’s installations will cost about $11.5 million, and will begin in the spring. Detroit’s residents will be able to request them in their own neighborhoods.

Do you need speed bumps in your neighborhood?

 

Impaired Driving Technology

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is the reason behind two pieces of proposed legislation that would require our country to include drunk-driving-prevention technology in all newly manufactured vehicles to prevent a vehicle from being operated by an impaired driver. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, this technology could save some 10,000 lives.

The HALT Act, as it’s called, was first introduced in 2019 in the House of Representatives as part of a transportation bill. It directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to add alcohol detection devices with an ignition interlock feature to the country’s safety standards requirements.

Similarly, the RIDE Act (which stands for Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act) calls for in-vehicle anti-drunk-driving technology, and is expected to be reintroduced in the U.S. Senate in 2021. MADD president Helen Witty calls this technology “the key” to avoiding crashes and deaths from drunk driving.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles for many years has partnered with MADD Kern County to combat DUI crashes locally, helping raise nearly $400,000 to help local victims of impaired driving crashes. For its work, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been recognized and honored on several occasions.

 

Other Driving Technology

Companies now have a plethora of technological advances to help monitor and improve driver safety, including black box and smartphone-based solutions. Gathering driving behavior data is just one element of a successful driver safety program.

In addition, development of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles continues to move forward. Automated safety features should lead to a reduction in crashes, officials say. After all, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error, according to U.S. Department of Transportation.

 

More Government Programs

President Joe Biden has said traffic and infrastructure will be priorities for the U.S. Department of Transportation, led by Pete Buttigieg. Strategies could include long-term, roadway-safety-focused transportation bills, and a national Vision Zero strategy to reduce or eliminate traffic casualties, a focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety, rural-road safety investments, and increased funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program, 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.

Lawsuit: Dangers of Highway 99 through Bakersfield should be addressed for safety

January 13, 2021 | 5:00 am


In November 2019, a big rig driver slammed into the back of a pickup truck on Highway 99 at Rosedale Highway, killing both the pickup’s driver and passenger, Kathy McNutt and Luther Harold Goldman. A year later, at nearly the same location, a 10-year-old boy died when a big rig crashed into the back of the car he was riding in.

The stretch of Highway 99 through Bakersfield has seen in its share of crashes in recent years, particularly in central Bakersfield, which is currently is under construction. Officials should take extra steps to make sure it’s safer for drivers.

That’s the message from Jimmy McNutt, son of Kathy McNutt, who died in the November 2019 crash. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the McNutt family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the big rig driver, his company, and Caltrans, and helping raise awareness of the dangerous roadway.

California Highway Patrol reported in that November 2019 crash that there was no evidence of tire friction marks from the semi, showing the driver did not attempt to brake, and leading them to believe negligence could have played a role. The driver of the pickup, Luther Harold Goleman, was Kathy McNutt’s boyfriend. Kathy McNutt was a loving grandmother, mother, daughter, and sister, Jimmy McNutt said.

“There is a big increase in accidents there, for sure,” Jimmy McNutt told KGET-17 News. McNutt works as a tow truck driver, and regularly assists and responds to accidents locally. “We respond to quite a few. It seems like if not every day, every other day.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark suggested Caltrans could increase the number of warning signage to make sure drivers are aware they are in a construction zone, or install “rumble strips” in the area to alert inattentive drivers of potential dangers, which cause a vibration and audible rumbling.

In the case of the fatal crash involving the 10-year-old in November 2020, CHP reported that traffic had come to a complete stop on the southbound lanes of Highway 99 just north of Rosedale Highway. A driver of a semi-truck was unable to stop in time and crashed into the rear of the vehicle, pushing the car into the rear of another trailer.

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New year, new state laws face California drivers, workers, families

January 6, 2021 | 5:00 am


The New Year means new rules for Californians, including for drivers.

New state laws for 2021 include those aiming to crack down even more on distracted driving, protecting crews working on the side of the road, and preventing those who break into a car to rescue a child from facing charges, among others. Read on to learn more about these new laws.

License Points for Distracted Driving (AB 47): Drivers who violate the hands-free law by using a handheld cell phone while driving for a second time within 36 months will have a point added to their driver’s record. It is currently punishable by a fine. This applies to the violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free use) and to any use of these devices while driving by a person under 18 years of age. (Begins July 1)

“Move Over, Slow Down” Amendments (AB 2285): Drivers coming up on a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights — applying to local streets and road now, and not just freeways — will be required to move to another lane if possible or slow to a reasonable speed. It also applies to tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles. This extends the state’s “Move Over, Slow Down” law that went into effect in 2020, which allows authorized emergency vehicles to use a “Hi-Lo” warning sound, different from a siren, to let the public know they need to evacuate an area in an emergency. Learn more about work zone safety awareness at bit.ly/workzoneaware. (Begins Jan. 1)

Unattended Children in Motor Vehicles (AB 2717): A person damages a vehicle while rescuing a child from a vehicle from heat, cold, lack of ventilation or other dangers will be exempt from civil or criminal liability or trespassing. The law only applies if the child is 6 years old or younger under dangerous conditions “that reasonably could cause suffering, disability, or death.” The steps that should be taken include calling 911, ensuring the vehicle is locked and there is no other way to enter the car without forced entry, and having a “good faith belief” that rescuing the child is necessary due to imminent potential harm. (Begins Jan. 1)

Real ID Deadline (AB 1480): The deadline to get a Real ID driver’s license or state ID card is Oct. 1, 2021, according to the California DMV. If you want to continue using your driver’s license or ID card to “board domestic flights within the U.S.” and “enter secure federal facilities,” it is recommended that you apply. People must complete the online application and bring required documents before visiting a field office.

 

OTHER NON-VEHICLE LAWS FOR 2021

Minimum Wage : As part of California’s continued incremental raising of the minimum wage, it will go up to $14 per hour on Jan. 1 for employers with 26 or more employees. Businesses with 25 or fewer employers must increase minimum wage to $13 per hour. Minimum wage may be higher where you live already based on local laws.

Use of Force: The law requires law enforcement policies to require officers to immediately report potential excessive force, and to intercede when present and observing an officer using excessive force. The bill would also prohibit retaliation against officers who report violations of law or regulation of another officer to a supervisor. Another law (AB 1196) prohibits police from using chokeholds and carotid holds after a number of high-profile deaths in police custody around the nation. Learn more about Kern County’s ongoing issue with excessive force at bit.ly/kernprotests.

Sheriff Oversight: This law authorizes counties to establish sheriff oversight boards and an office of inspector general and empowers them to issue subpoenas “when deemed necessary to investigate a matter within their jurisdiction.” Click here to learn more about the settlement between the California Department of Justice and Kern County Sheriff’s Office after an investigation into civil rights violations and excessive force allegations, some of which stem from Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases.

Employment Safety (AB 685): Employers must inform employees and take measures if COVID-19 exposure occurs. The employer will be required to provide written notice of exposure to employees on the worksite premises, as well as provide information about COVID-related benefits to exposed workers. The employer must also report the exposure to their local public health agency within 48 hours. Learn more about worker safety issues, and benefits available to workers who contract COVID-19 at work, by clicking here.

Family and Medical Leave (SB 1383): People who directly employ five or more employees will be required to provide unpaid family and medical leave to those who qualify. It also will allow employees to take protected leave to care for an expanded set of family members.

Prisoner Gender Identity: The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be required by law to ask all inmates for their gender identity, and to recognize and address inmates by their gender pronoun in all communications. The law also stipulates that transgender inmates must be housed at a facility matching their gender identity, unless the department can provide “a specific and articulable basis” for denying that housing due to security or management concerns. Under the law, transgender, non-binary and intersex inmates must be searched by an officer whose gender identity matches that of the inmate, or by an officer whose gender matches the designation of the facility housing the inmate if the inmate’s gender identity cannot be determined.

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Department of Justice settles with Kern County Sheriff’s Office over civil rights violations, Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases

December 30, 2020 | 5:00 am


A settlement has been reached between the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement departments after an investigation into civil rights violations and excessive force allegations, some of which stem from Chain | Cohn | Stiles cases.

The settlement agreement requires the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to enact an extensive list of reforms over the next five years aimed at ensuring the department protects citizens’ constitutional rights and treats individuals with respect and dignity, according to The Bakersfield Californian reports. To see the list, please scroll to the bottom.

The four-year investigation determined KCSO had engaged in a pattern of constitutional violations involving improper use of force, unreasonable searches and seizures and inadequate management. The Department of Justice also alleged the Sheriff’s Department violated state law in its use of deadly force and its handling of civilian complaints. The settlement requires more than a dozen changes to the Sheriff’s Office over the next five years, with an independent monitor to ensure those changes take place.

While the investigation shined yet another light on the ongoing civil rights violations by local law enforcement, it’s hard to imagine the settlement will lead to real change, Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn told media. The law firm has filed numerous wrongful death, excessive force, and civil rights lawsuits against local law enforcement department resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damages for clients.

“I don’t think it means anything,” Cohn told The Bakersfield Californian. “I don’t think it’s going to have any meaningful impact with respect to how the Kern County Sheriff’s Department handles excessive force issues within the department … Do you see any of the political leaders, do you see any of the supervisors saying to the sheriff, ‘we want meaningful reform, we are tired of paying out on these claims? It’s business as usual. Nothing is going to change.”

The local office of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation also commented as follows: “This is not going to be an overnight, ‘we’ve entered into this consent decree and now all of a sudden things are going to be better in the next year or two.’ There is going to be this long road ahead to ensure we are going to see the change we want to see.”

 

INVESTIGATIONS

More than five years The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States — unveiled its five-part series that examined the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County. Among the cases highlighted were many of those involving wrongful deathpolice misconduct, sexual misconduct and civil rights cases over the years prior handled by the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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

The Guardian’s series was part of a project called The Counted, highlighting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, “to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.” Why was this necessary? According to The Guardian, the U.S. government had no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement at the time, and still doesn’t. And this lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by fatal police shootings.

Why focus on Kern County? The series tackled the issue of how police officers in Kern County are reportedly responsible for killing more local residents per capita than in any other county in the country — about 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.

Among the cases highlighted by the publication included:

  • David Sal Silva, who was killed on the night of May 7, 2013. Silva was asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center when several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop. After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. Shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a civil rights lawsuit in connection with the wrongful death of David Silva. On May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached for $3.4 million.
  • David Garcia, who was shot to death in January 2015 by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies while leaving his house unarmed. Deputies were called to the house to assist on a suicide attempt call. A settlement was reached in 2018.
  • James Moore was beaten to death by several deputies from the Kern County Sheriff’s Department while housed in central receiving downtown Bakersfield jail. On behalf of his family, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed suit. Three deputies were prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their roles in James’ death. The case settled for $6 million.
  • The series also highlighted three deputy-involved fatal crashes. In all three, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed claims and lawsuits on behalf of their families. Ultimately, the lawsuits led to reformed driving practices on the part of KCSO deputies. Those cases include:
    • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, who were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.
    • Nancy Garrett, who was killed in September 2014 in Oildale when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.
    • Larry Maharrey, who was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The family, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and County of Kern settled the lawsuit for $3.8 million.

Then in 2016, the California Attorney General’s Office and the FBI launched investigations into Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department.

But this wasn’t the first time a Bakersfield police department had been investigated for an alleged pattern of excessive force. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice launched what would become a four-and-a-half year investigation after receiving numerous complaints of deadly and non-deadly excessive force and discriminatory policing methods. In April 2004, that department suggested policy changes in a 19-page letter to the department and Bakersfield Police Department began making those changes including some in its use-of-force and officer-involved shootings policies. In 2008, the federal department reviewed those changes and announced the BPD hadn’t stepped over any constitutional lines.

Still, claims and lawsuits against local law enforcement alleging misconduct, civil rights violations, and police brutality persist.

 

REFORMS

A list of reforms required under a settlement agreement between the California Department of Justice and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office are as follows:

  • Revise use of force policies to prohibit maneuvers that have a substantial risk of causing suffocation and require deputies to intervene when excessive use of force is taking place.
  • Modify canine policies and training from “find and bite” to “find and bark” and limit off-leash canine deployment only for armed suspects or those wanted for a serious felony.
  • Inform public about all officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody.
  • Require supervisors to investigate all uses of force.
  • Improve use of force training to include de-escalation techniques and bias.
  • Meet with community advisory panel to receive input.
  • Require deputies to state reason for an investigatory stop or detention as soon as possible.
  • Require deputies to state a valid reason under the law for a consent search and secure a supervisor’s approval for any search of a home.
  • Provide dispatchers with crisis intervention training and establish deputies who are preferred responders to individuals in a mental health crisis.
  • Ensure timely access to police services to all individuals regardless of ability to speak English.
  • Develop a recruitment plan for attracting workforce that reflects diversity in Kern County.
  • Broaden efforts to participate in community engagement efforts.
  • Conduct a biennial community survey measuring public satisfaction with policing.
  • Establish a clear definition for a civilian complaint.

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If you or someone you know is injured by law enforcement, 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

THE GUARDIAN SERIES

Nursing homes become ‘ground zero’ during COVID crisis in the United States and Kern County, Al Jazeera reports

December 9, 2020 | 5:00 am


More than 60,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19 in the United States. They account for roughly a quarter of all coronavirus fatalities in the country. So, what makes nursing homes so vulnerable to this pandemic?

A new report by media agency Al Jazeera English answers that question with the help of Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark. In its “Fault Lines” series, Al Jazeera reports on how an elder care system already in crisis imploded under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, which includes an interview with Clark, an elder abuse and neglect lawyer.

“When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, nursing homes became ground zero,” Al Jazeera reported. “By November, more than 60,000 nursing home residents had died of COVID-19, accounting for roughly a quarter of all fatalities nationwide. Yet the nursing home industry had already struggled with chronic problems before the pandemic. From allegations of systematic understaffing to toothless government oversight, ‘Fault Lines’ examines what made residents and workers so vulnerable. Fault Lines meets relatives who accuse nursing homes of neglect – and asks if some facilities put profit before patients.”

The investigation focuses on Bakersfield’s own Kingston Healthcare Center, which is listed by the federal government as a “special focus” facility, one that officials monitor due to serious concerns about the quality of care. The report also highlights the shady business practices and structures of nursing homes, and the impact on real local families with loves ones in these facilities, as well as employees who feel they are being put in danger.

You can watch the full segment here:

 

As Al Jazeera reports, patients and their families have filed 192 formal complaints against it, compared with the state average of 21.

In America, the vast majority of long-term care facilities are private enterprises that rely on state funding, creating incentives that put profits over people, Al Jazeera reports. Operators receive government money on a per-patient basis, with the government doling out more money for some patients than others. In the most egregious circumstances, officials have accused nursing homes of a practice known as “dumping,” ejecting one person and replacing them with more billable patients.

As COVID numbers continue to rise, nursing homes will likely once again become hotspots this winter. Another expert in the report called nursing homes during this period “this country’s killing fields.”

Earlier this year, local media reported on the COVID-19 outbreak affecting staff and residents at Kingston, and subsequent takeover by the California Department of Public Health.

Matthew Clark shared with 23ABC News that families with loved ones in the Kingston facility have reached out to the law firm about the quality of care since the COVID pandemic. He says over the last three years his firm has had around a half dozen cases against the facility.

“… Any case we’ve had against Kingston or any other elder care facility for that matter, it almost results from inadequate staffing. It’s an inadequate amount of staffing that leads to poor patient care. Poor patient care leads to poor patient outcomes. Poor patient outcomes especially in the elder care world often times leads to death,” Clark said in an interview with 23ABC.

Clark shared with viewers that the best way for people to review nursing home conduct and reports is my visiting Medicare.gov. Users can research any skilled nursing facility, and check ratings and staffing ratios.

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If you or someone you know experiences elder abuse or neglect, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s specialized website focused on elder abuse at bakersfieldelderabuse.com.

To report cases of abuse locally, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services or 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

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Kern County juvenile hall sex abuse cases resolve after appeals court win

December 2, 2020 | 5:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has resolved several lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual assault by a Kern County Juvenile Corrections officer while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall.

Settlements of $200,000, $250,000, and $400,000 were reached with the County of Kern on behalf off the victims, respectively. The final settlement was reached recently after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the victim, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles plaintiff, who had alleged that in 2015 corrections officer George Anderson made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, propositioned her for sex and watched her shower. The appeals court found that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California erred in its 2016 decision and reversed it.

“These young ladies had a right to privacy, as we all do. The fact that we had three victims who alleged sexual misconduct by a corrections officer pointed to a systemic problem in the facility. Simply, this was an abuse of power and authority,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We’re glad these women received justice, and will be able to move forward with their lives.”

One victim alleged that corrections officer George Anderson sexually abused her and watched her shower. He allegedly made sexual comments, groomed victims for sexual abuse, and propositioned for sex. Specifically, one victim alleged Anderson made comments about her butt, told her about a sexually explicit dream he had about her, touched her face and shoulders and watched from a staff desk as she showered on several occasions. The department had received previous complaints about Anderson watching girls shower, it’s alleged.

In addition to seeking damages, the victims alleged they were failed by the deficient oversight, training, and practices at Kern’s juvenile hall, which provided the perpetrator with opportunities that he was able to exploit.

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PAST MEDIA COVERAGE

Fatal crashes, risky driving on the rise during pandemic, study shows

November 18, 2020 | 3:49 pm


One would think that during this pandemic, driving would be much safer due to fewer people being on our roadways. However, research is showing that drivers are exhibiting riskier behavior while driving, put everyone else at risk.

Roads in the United States are noticeably more dangerous in the COVID era than they were before, according to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It states that while fewer cars are on the road during coronavirus shutdowns, more people are speeding, in part because police stopped enforcing as many traffic stops to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Also, seatbelt use has gone down, and more people have died in crashes with alcohol or other drugs in their system, according to an analysis of trauma centers.

Here are more findings form the recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report:

  • Fatality rates increased 30% in the second quarter, reversing a three-year downward trend in road fatalities.
  • The fatality rate during the second quarter of the year was 1.42 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, sharply higher than the first quarter rate of 1.10, which was in line with historical trends.
  • The study revealed a higher prevalence of alcohol, cannabinoids, and opioids in crash victims during the quarter compared to the months prior to the pandemic.

Research suggests that increased stress, more idle time, increased consumption of drugs and alcohol and greater opportunities for speeding and stunt driving would lead to more accidents rather than less, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine.

“These are troubling reports. Now more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “More open roads are no excuse for speeding. Risky driving not only endangers your own life, but also the lives of others.”

In more positive news, the second quarter of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 public health emergency, showed a continued decline in overall traffic fatalities, the NHTSA studies found.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles reminds drivers to please slow down, never drive while under the influence, and always wear seat belts. And if you are involved in a car accident, follow these three steps:

1) Obtain the name, address, insurance information, vehicle identification number (VIN) and driver’s license number of any and all persons involved in the accident, as well as the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all witnesses.

2) Make sure that a report is filed with the police, sheriff, or highway patrol, but do not talk to anyone else, especially insurance adjusters, about the accident or sign anything without first consulting an attorney.

3) Seek medical attention immediately and explain to your physician or surgeon all of the symptoms and complaints you have been feeling since the accident occurred.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles ranked in 2021 U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Law Firms’

November 11, 2020 | 5:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been selected for inclusion in the 2021 “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.”

A law firm must have at least one attorney who has received high enough peer reviews to be recognized in the current “Best Lawyers in America” program, which is the oldest and among the most respected attorney ranking services in the world. In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has two attorneys selected as “Best Lawyers.” David K. Cohn, managing partner at the law firm, was selected into the personal injury litigation category of Best Lawyers in America, while James A. Yoro, senior partner at the firm, was selected into the workers’ compensation law listings. They join the top 5 percent of practicing attorneys in the United States in being selected.

The “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in their field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process. Clients are asked to provide feedback on firm practice groups, addressing expertise, responsiveness, understanding of a business and its needs, cost-effectiveness, civility, and whether they would refer another client to the firm. Some clients chose to write comments about their experiences with the law firms. Law firms were asked to provide us with general demographic and background information on the law firm and attorneys and other data that speaks to the strengths of a law firm’s practice areas.

“U.S. News has more than three decades of experience evaluating key institutions in society and their service to consumers,” said Tim Smart, executive editor at U.S. News. “Law firms perform a vital role, and ranking them is a key extension of our overall mission to help individuals and companies alike make important decisions.”

This year’s rankings were based on the highest lawyer and firm participation on record, incorporating 8.3 million evaluations of more than 110,000 individual leading lawyers from more than 22,000 firms.

“For the 2021 ‘Best Law Firms’ publication, the evaluation process has remained just as rigorous and discerning as it did when we first started 11 years ago,” said Phil Greer, CEO of Best Lawyers. “We are proud that the ‘Best Law Firms’ rankings continue to act as an indicator of excellence throughout the legal industry.”

The “Best Law Firms” rankings can be seen in their entirety by visiting bestlawfirms.usnews.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is an established and highly regarded personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm based in downtown Bakersfield, 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. 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 Clark, Chad Boyles, Beatriz Trejo, Tanya Alsheikh, and Doug Fitz-Simmons. To learn more about each attorney, visit chainlaw.com.

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How dangerous is drowsy driving? As risky as operating a vehicle while under the influence

November 4, 2020 | 10:18 am


How dangerous is drowsy driving?

Driving on less than 5 hours of sleep is similar to driving over the legal limit for alcohol. In fact, you are 3 times more likely to be in a vehicle crash if you are fatigued, which is why drowsy driving is responsible for some 300,000 crashes every year in the United States, and up to 6,400 deaths per year, according to National Sleep Foundation.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles — for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week — is raising awareness of the dangers of driving while drowsy, and educating drivers on sleep safety in an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes and to ultimately save lives.

And with the end of Daylight Saving Time, the time change can disrupt sleep patterns causing people to feel drowsy.

“Driving while you are tired or drowsy is risky and can have the same dangerous consequences. These are facts: it impairs driving performance and reaction time,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney and senior partner Matthew Clark. “Please make sleep a priority, and only drive when alert. Think of your safety and your passengers, but also of the safety of others on the road.”

Some groups have been identified as most vulnerable to drowsy driving including commercial drivers, particularly tractor trailer, tour bus and public transit drivers; people who work long hours or late-night shifts; people with sleep disorders; new parents or caregivers of infants and young children; young and newer drivers; and college and high school students. For example, drowsy driving contributed to 91,000 police-reported crashes and nearly 800 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Busy interstates accounted for the most sleep-related driving deaths compared to other roadways. Utility vehicles were involved in the highest percentage of fatal sleepy-driver accidents with pickup trucks and vans next on the list. Dawn light and foggy skies contributed the most to fatal sleep-related accidents, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

A study by SleepJunkie, a website focused on improving sleeping habits, found that drowsy driving-related roadway fatalities spike in the early morning hours, with 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., marking the deadliest span. The hours just before and after — 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. — were the second and third most fatal times.

Before you drive, consider if you are:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk.
  • Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia) or poor quality sleep.
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks.
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep.
  • Taking sedating medications such as antidepressants, cold tablets or antihistamines.
  • Working more than 60 hours a week. This increases your risk of crashing by 40 percent.
  • Working more than one job and your main job involves shift work.
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol.
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road.

The warning signs of drowsy driving include repeated yawning, struggling to keep one’s eyes open and focused, forgetting the last few miles driven, tailgating or missing traffic signals, and swerving or drifting between lanes of traffic.

Here is what you can do to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get enough sleep before you drive. It’s recommended adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per day.
  • If you’re planning a long road trip, make sure you plan properly for rest stops — a break every 100 miles or every two hours on the road is suggested.
  • Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties.
  • Also, try to travel during times you are normally awake.
  • If you have been up for 24 hours or more, do not drive. Period.
  • Drink caffeine if you feel sleepy, and see how you feel first before getting behind the wheel.
  • Avoid alcohol and medication that may cause drowsiness or have side effects.
  • If you feel too sleepy, find someplace safe to take a nap or sleep, or stay the night somewhere. After, you’ll feel energized and ready to drive!

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death lawsuit in which a driver fell asleep at wheel after working a 12-hour shift, jumped a curb and struck a jogger as he ran on the sidewalk. The jogger was also a husband and father of a little girl. That case settled for $6 million.

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McFarland basketball coach sentenced in sexual misconduct case; Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil case for victim is ongoing

October 28, 2020 | 5:00 am


A former McFarland High basketball coach has been sentenced to state prison after he promised a 15-year-old boy a spot on the varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the victim in his sexual misconduct civil case.

Fernando Pruneda was sentenced to two years in prison for the charge of contacting a minor to commit a sexual offense after pleading no contest. He must also register as a sex offender.

An investigation into the high school coach was launched after a McFarland High School sophomore reported inappropriate sexual contact with the coach. According to court documents, Pruneda repeatedly contacted the boy via text message.

Pruneda offered to take him to a basketball tournament in Nevada. Pruneda told the boy not to say anything to anyone, and to inform his parents that the whole team is going. He also informed the boy that they would have to share a bed. He would also tell the boy to erase the messages between the two. According to court documents, Pruneda began to offer the boy massages after practice. Pruneda called the boy out of class to give him a massage.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office detectives became involved after meeting with the victim and his mother, and texted Pruneda in place of the victim to arrange a meeting. They arrested him at the meeting location.

The civil case is ongoing.

 

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT LAWSUITS

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

  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the Wasco Union High School District on behalf of a student who was the victim of sexual misconduct by an assistant football coach at the high school. Miguel Nicholas Saldana pleaded no contest to sending sexually explicit messages to the student, was sentenced to six months in jail, must perform 720 hours of community service and register as a sex offender.
  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who was sexually abused at juvenile hall. The lawsuit was settled recently for $250,000.
  • 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.

A new law in California allows 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.

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.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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MEDIA COVERAGE