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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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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Teen Driver Safety: Best Practices for Staying Safe on the Road

October 21, 2020 | 10:59 am


Your child is all grown and ready drive. You may be thinking: Where did the time go? But parents should also be thinking about safety.  Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of teen injuries and deaths. In fact, nearly six teen drivers are involved in a fatal car crash every day in the United States.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining local law enforcement and safety organizations for Teen Driver Safety Week and beyond in bringing awareness of the dangers teen drivers face, and how to better keep our children safe.

“Every parents’ highest priority is the safety of their children, and since the single greatest risk to each teenager is on the roadway, we should all be devoted to reducing the dangers,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “At driving age, our children need us more than ever. Make sure your kids know the best practices for staying safe.”

Experts say teenage drivers are inherently immature, lack experience, engage in risky behaviors, and often think of themselves as invincible. In particular, there are six dangers that are especially important for teens to understand: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers:

  • Alcohol and DrugsAll teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol. However, nationally 15% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system. But alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep teens from driving safely. Like other drugs, marijuana affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Remind teens that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences.
  • Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. The chances of surviving a traffic crash are 45% higher when properly restrained in a seat belt. Tell your teen driver they must buckle up, every ride, every time.
  • Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky — they can be deadly. The use of mobile devices while driving is a big problem, but there are other causes of teen distracted driving which pose dangers as well. They include adjusting the radio, applying makeup, eating or drinking, or distractions from other passengers in the vehicle. Explain the dangers of driving distracted by phones and texting or anything else, and that driving attentively is essential for safe driving
  • Speeding: Speeding was a factor in about one-third of all fatal teen driver crashes. Faster speeds rob inexperienced teen drivers of the extra reaction time they may need to avoid a crash. Emphasize that they must obey posted speed limits.
  • Passengers: Teen drivers transporting passengers can lead to disastrous results.  Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers. Passengers can serve as another distraction for inexperienced teen drivers. That’s why many states have graduated driver licensing restrictions, which prohibit any passengers in vehicles with teen drivers.
  • Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important — sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel. People are most likely to feel drowsy between the hours of 2 and 6 p.m., which is generally when teens are driving home from school. Explain the dangers of driving drowsy before your teen driver takes the wheel.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently awarded 11 drivers education scholarships as part of the new “Guided Partners in Safety (GPS) Scholarship” program aimed to support a new generation of teen drivers, build guided partners in safety, and help pay for student driver’s education training, while keeping safety at the forefront.

“Our goal was to help those in need, and reinforce the importance of talking to teen drivers about the responsibilities, rules, and consequences that come with getting behind the steering wheel,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles senior partner and personal injury attorney. “We hope this program will help at least a little in lowering the statistics locally.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has advice in the case you or your teen are involved in an auto accident. Remember to take the following 3 steps if you have been involved in an automobile accident or motor vehicle accident:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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‘U Drive U Text U Pay’: Officials cracking down on dangerous distracted driving

October 7, 2020 | 10:05 am


At any given moment across the United States, about 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And on a typical day, more than 700 people are injured in distracted driving crashes. Even more, nearly 3,000 people are killed and an estimated 400,000 are injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

Simply, distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roadways because distracted drivers aren’t just a threat to themselves, they’re a danger to everyone else on the road.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining national distracted driving efforts focusing on ways to change the behavior of drivers through legislation, enforcement, public awareness, and education.

“Talking on a phone, even while using a hands-free device, or texting or using an infotainment system in your vehicle diverts your attention away from driving,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner and attorney David Cohn. “Please focus on the road, and just drive.”

Locally, Bakersfield Police Department is stepping up patrols in search of distracted drivers in support of the NHTSA’s “U Drive U Text U Pay” enforcement campaign, according to the department. BPD is joining other law enforcement agencies across California in increase enforcement of distracted driving laws. In particular, officers will be looking out for drivers who break the state’s hands-free cellphone law.

Distracted driving is especially dangerous for younger drivers. In fact, drivers 15 to 19 years old are involved in more fatal crashes involving distractions than any other age group. To help, Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently awarded 11 drivers education scholarships as part of the new “Guided Partners in Safety (GPS) Scholarship” program aimed to help pay for student driver’s education training, while keeping safety at the forefront.

California law prohibits all motorists from using a cellphone while driving, except when used in hands-free mode. A first offense results in a $20 fine, and for a second or subsequent offense, the fine is $50. For violations that occur on or after July 1, 2021, the DMV will assess one point if the violation was within 36 months of a prior conviction. Emergency service professionals are exempt from the cellphone ban while operating an authorized emergency vehicle.

Here’s what you can do to eliminate distracted driving from your travels (courtesy of AARP).

  • Unplug: Keep your cell phone on silent and where you can’t see it light up for every notification you receive. If a phone call or text message is really important, it’s best to pull over into a safe location before using your phone.
  • Refuel: Drowsy driving is distracted driving, so never drive when you’re too tired.
  • Focus: When you’re behind the wheel, pay attention to what’s happening all around your vehicle. Frequently scan your mirrors and watch your speed.
  • Secure your cargo: Prevent loose items in your car from startling you in the event of sudden braking by securing your cargo. Also, never place smaller items on your lap or on the floor near the driver-side foot pedals.

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94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error; autonomous vehicles may be able to help

September 30, 2020 | 6:00 am


In 1980, generally considered to be the deadliest year on U.S. streets, over 50,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways. Fortunately, with safety features like airbags added to vehicles, stricter seat belt laws, and campaigns that stigmatized impaired driving, the rate of deaths went down significantly.

But over the last several years, we have seen a slight increase in traffic deaths again. Pedestrian fatalities also increased by 27 percent over the last decade. Experts believe the increase is due to Americans driving more, with overall vehicle-miles traveled reaching an all-time high in 2017.

One way to reduce the amount of crashes, experts say, is to reduce the number of humans behind the wheel. After all, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error, according to U.S. Department of Transportation.

Self-driving or autonomous vehicles might be able to help.

This is great news for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others on our roadways. Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles each year represents hundreds of innocent victims of motor vehicle crashes where human error is the primary cause.

 

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES & SAFETY

Autonomous vehicles could boost the global economy by $7 trillion, significantly reducing traffic accidents and saving more than 600,000 lives annually, according to a study by Intel. Additionally, experts say autonomous vehicles could virtually eliminate the need to use police resources to enforce traffic safety laws and more officers could concentrate on reducing the most serious criminal activity.

So how do autonomous vehicles work? In autonomous vehicles, multiple sensors like cameras, radar, and GPS are continually scanning, collecting and sending data to the main system to be analyzed. As the car moves, data is continuously updated with new inputs from the sensors as they feed the algorithms, or “brain,” of the system. Decisions are made almost instantaneously based on the data the system receives.

Before the vehicles launch, however, autonomous vehicles must first survive rigorous testing in complex driving environments, traversing billions of miles of multiple road conditions and weather scenarios.

 

DRIVER-RELATED CRASHES

First, it’s important to take a look at the causes of crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reviewed and separated driver-related factors that contributed to the crashes into five categories:

  • “Sensing and perceiving” errors included things like driver distraction, impeded visibility and failing to recognize hazards before it was too late.
  • “Predicting” errors occurred when drivers misjudged a gap in traffic, incorrectly estimated how fast another vehicle was going or made an incorrect assumption about what another road user was going to do.
  • “Planning and deciding” errors included driving too fast or too slow for the road conditions, driving aggressively or leaving too little following distance from the vehicle ahead.
  • “Execution and performance” errors included inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers, overcompensation and other mistakes in controlling the vehicle.
  • “Incapacitation” involved impairment due to alcohol or drug use, medical problems or falling asleep at the wheel.

The researchers also determined that some crashes were unavoidable, such as those caused by a vehicle failure like a blowout or broken axle.

 

STUDIES

Safety experts say fully autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their reliability in terms of fatalities and injuries, according to an Elsevier study called, “Driving to safety: How many miles of driving would it take to demonstrate autonomous vehicle reliability?”

Another study, by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that autonomous vehicles might prevent only around a third of all crashes if automated systems drive too much like people.

One company called Waymo logged 10 million self-driven miles, making it the leader for self-driven miles on U.S. streets. While its vehicles have been involved in dozens of crashes, none caused no serious injuries. For example, one Waymo vehicle bumped a bus while going 2 miles per hour. In accident cases with injuries, the human driver was reported to have been at fault.

In the United States anyway, people are gaining trust that self-driving vehicles will made a positive impact. Two thirds of the Americans who took part in a Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv study believe that self-driving cars are the way of the future, according to the Motional Consumer Mobility Report.

Are you ready for them?

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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.

Reward offered for information leading to the arrest in July 22 fatal hit-and-run crash

August 5, 2020 | 6:00 am


A reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest of the suspect responsible for the July 22 hit-and-run crash near CSU Bakersfield that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles and family of Deborah Ann Geneau is offering a $2,500 reward to the person who helps identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that is suspected to causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It has driver’s side damage.

Anyone with information is urged to call 326-3967 or the Kern Secret Witness line at (661) 322-4040.

“I spent yesterday at the mortuary collecting my mother’s belongings, including her crushed earrings and wedding ring. I couldn’t help but think about what the driver of the other vehicle might have been doing yesterday?” said Dawn Elliott, Deborah Ann Geneau’s daughter and only child, in a statement to media. “We really just want this person to come forward, or assistance to find the person responsible.”

Bakersfield Police Department released a new video of surveillance camera angles. The angles include traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash, police said. You can view the videos by clicking here.

“At this point, all indications are that this was an accident,” said Ray Pruitt, investigator with Chain | Cohn | Stiles, in a news conference. “But a person made a decision after being involved in a fatal accident to flee the scene. Now that person has to be held accountable.”

At the news conference for media at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in.

Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

“You see these lines on my face, they’re not from old age. They’re timelines that I’ve spent with my wife,” Rick Geneau told media. We all miss her deeply … I thought I was the strength of the family. Come to find out she was my strength.”

Our community — friends and strangers — have reached out to the family since the accident. The family is grateful for the outpouring of love, condolences, and support, Rick Geneau said. A GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for funeral expenses. Click here to access that page.

Rick Geneau, in speaking through media, said if the driver turned themselves in, he would stand beside them in court and ask for leniency.

“But if you don’t turn yourself in, I’ll be in court also and I’ll be seeking full prosecution to the max,” he said.

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

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

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

 

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

Tips for a safe summer road trip during the pandemic

July 29, 2020 | 6:00 am


Summer vacation may look different for you and your family this year. Many people are deciding on a summer road trip instead to flying to a vacation destination. In fact, U.S. air travel has dropped more than 70% compared to this time last year, according to reports.

But before you hit the road, there are some precautions you should take to make sure you and your family is safe, not only from COVID-19, but also from dangers of the road. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day has historically been known as “100 Deadliest Days,” the most dangerous days for drivers to be on our country’s roadways.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides the following tips for a safer summer trip:

 

Plan Ahead

Map out which roads, highways, or states you will pass through. There might be relevant travel advisories you need to be aware of, such as changes to toll collection and rest-area food sales. Call ahead and confirm which attractions and hotels are open. And, of course, never drink and drive.

 

Get Enough Sleep

Driving while drowsy is dangerous because it has similar effects on your body as if you were to drive drunk, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get 7-8 hours of sleep the night before your road trip. Signs to watch out for include:

  • trouble focusing
  • heavy eyelids
  • inability to remember the last stretch of road you drove
  • constant yawning
  • bobbing head
  • drifting from your lane

Drinking coffee and energy drinks are not always enough for tired drivers because the effects do not last long. Switching drivers throughout a road trip is a great way to improve alertness in each individual’s portion of the drive. If switching drivers is not possible, pull over and take a nap.

 

Bring ‘Protection’ 

You’re going to have to touch things, including gas pumps, money, doorknobs on washrooms, and other unexpected things. Carry a big bottle of sanitizer in your vehicle. And while you’re at, bring extra toilet paper in case you or your stops are out.

Don’t forget sanitizing wipes, sanitizing spray, face masks, gloves, and even a thermometer. And keep practicing good and frequent hand-washing. Pack snacks and drinks so you reduce the need to go into rest stops and expose yourself to others.

Just in case, bring any necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.

Lastly, according to AAA, it’s a good idea to store an emergency kit in your car that includes a car charger for your cell phone, first-aid kit, blanket, drinking water and snacks for everyone including pets, flashlight with extra fresh batteries, rags or paper towels, basic tools including duct tape, road flares or reflectors, ice scraper or snow brush, jumper cables, traction aid (sand, salt), tarp, raincoat, and a shovel. In the case of an emergency, a tent can provide shelter. And tents can be used just about anywhere.

 

Watch Out For Speeding

During this pandemic, law enforcement has reported a spike in speeding on the country’s highways, and overall more dangerous driving habits. Be careful of dangerous speeding while traveling. AAA suggests drivers practice a system called “R.E.A.D the Road”:

  1. Right speed for right now
  2. Eyes up, brain on
  3. Anticipate their next move
  4. Donut of space around your car (in case you need to make an emergency maneuver)

 

Stay Focused 

Distracted driving is a deadly behavior. Federal estimates suggest that distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, leading to around 5,000 deaths every year.

Have a passenger open your bottle of water or change the song on your phone. Turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function on your phone to limit distractions. Here are a few more ideas of what you can do to eliminate distracted driving from your travels (courtesy of AARP).

  • Unplug: Keep your cell phone on silent and where you can’t see it light up for every notification you receive. If a phone call or text message is really important, it’s best to pull over into a safe location before using your phone.
  • Focus: When you’re behind the wheel, pay attention to what’s happening all around your vehicle. Frequently scan your mirrors and watch your speed.
  • Secure your cargo: Prevent loose items in your car from startling you in the event of sudden braking by securing your cargo. Also, never place smaller items on your lap or on the floor near the driver-side foot pedals.

 

Roadside Safety

July is designated as National Roadside Traffic Safety Awareness Month. Here are few tips for being safer on the road in the case of a breakdown or minor accident:

  • Move to safety: Never get out of the vehicle to make a repair or examine damage on a busy highway. Get the vehicle to a safe, out-of-the-way spot, and then get out of the car if at all possible. And if a dire emergency forces you to get out of your car on a highway, do not stand at the side of the car nearest the traffic. Position yourself on the “shoulder” side of the vehicle, so that your vehicle is between you and the traffic.
  • Call for help: If your car won’t run or if it’s so badly damaged that it can’t be driven, stay in the vehicle and use a cell phone to call for help. Don’t stand outside the vehicle unless absolutely forced to do so. Even then, don’t stand near the flow of traffic.
  • Be prepared: Carry a strong flashlight, flares or reflective triangles in your vehicle so you can mark your location in the event of an emergency, even during the day. Remember to turn on your hazard lights so that other drivers have advanced warning of a problem ahead. To be safe, be seen.

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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.

Fireworks Safety: Don’t let home celebrations this Fourth of July turn to tragedy (or a fine)

July 1, 2020 | 6:00 am


As COVID-19 continues to spread locally and statewide regulations block public gatherings, officials are putting a halt to large fireworks shows this Fourth of July, leading many to celebrate at home.

And while lighting fireworks in your own yard might seem festive and fun, it’s important to celebrate our nation’s Independence safely, so your holiday doesn’t turn into tragedy.

In fact, about 11,000 people are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries each year. And in the month surrounding July 4, our nation sees about 200 fireworks injuries per day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Serious burns, eye injuries, and even death can occur. Injuries to people aside, fireworks start nearly 20,000 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires.

“The fact is anyone close to fireworks is in danger. Fireworks can be unpredictable, and injuries can happen to anyone,” said David Cohn, managing partner at personal injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Please understand the dangers, and celebrate safely.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles offers the following safety tips to make sure your Fourth of July is as fun and safe as possible. For local celebration and safety information, please see below.

  • Never give fireworks to small children, or allow them to ignite fireworks.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors in a clear area, and away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Never light them indoors.
  • Never use illegal fireworks.

If someone is injured by fireworks, here’s what you can do:

  • If an eye injury happens, don’t let the injured person touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage. Don’t flush the eye out with water or try to put any ointment on it. Cut out the bottom of a paper cup, place it around the eye, and get medical care right away — eyesight may depend on it.
  • If someone suffers a burn, remove clothing from the burned area, and call your doctor immediately.
  • If someone is injured due to the negligence of someone else, please contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately to receive legal assistance, be compensated for injuries suffered, and continue to get medical care in the future.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent years has represented victims of fireworks accidents and other burn injury cases. In 2014 attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident while attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield. The two men arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. A blast injured two people, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.

 

KERN COUNTY CELEBRATIONS

The city of Bakersfield canceled this year’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration at The Park at River Walk due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city will broadcast a special Independence Day concert by the Bakersfield Municipal Band on multiple social media platforms. Other Kern County cities — including Shafter, Delano, Tehachapi, and McFarland — have also canceled its shows. Taft and Buttonwillow are continuing its shows with drive-in viewings.

Additionally, American Pyrotechnics Association announced fireworks sellers are expecting record sales this year because Americans may likely celebrate at home as public displays are canceled.

Local departments — including Bakersfield Fire, Kern County Fire, Bakersfield Police, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office — have joined forces to combat an increase in illegal fireworks activity locally.

Bakersfield Fire Department has started establishing teams of unmarked vehicles and fire engine companies to issue $1,500 citations to those violating fireworks laws. Residents are asked to report violations to kerncountyfire.org.

For more information about firework usage and fines, visit youlightitwewriteit.com.

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

Feeling the Kern County heat? Here’s a safety guide to avoid heat-related illnesses.

June 17, 2020 | 6:00 am


The heat has arrived in Kern County, and the extreme triple digit weather is not going anywhere any time soon.

As the temperatures rise above 100 degrees, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reminds local residents to take extra care to avoid heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. In fact, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat each year, and countless others are hospitalized, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those at highest risk for heatstroke or heat exhaustion include infants and children up to 4 years old, people 65 and older, people who are overweight, and who are working or exercising outdoors. Pet owners, too, should be careful.

“Tragedy from extreme heat can happen quickly and without warning,” said David Cohn, managing partner and personal injury lawyer at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “As we move into the tough summer days, it is important for parents, seniors, workers, employers, and everyone else to minimize the chances of heat-induced illnesses, to recognize the signs of heat stress, and take proper precautions.”

 

PREVENTION

Here are some tips to avoid heat-related health problems.

  • If available, stay in an air-conditioned area during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Drink plenty of water and don’t wait until you are thirsty. Schedule hydration breaks throughout the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks.
  • Take cool showers.
  • Never leave a child, elderly person, or pet unattended in a car.
  • Keep pets cool in hot weather.
  • Avoid unnecessary hard work or activities outside during the hottest part of the day. It’s recommended that you perform outdoor or strenuous activities during the early morning or at night when the temperature are cooler.
  • If you must be outside, be sure to wear sunscreen and wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, as these reflect the heat and sunlight.
  • If outside, seek shade, wear a hat, or carry an umbrella. Place a cold towel around your neck and behind your knees, run your wrists under cold water, sit in front of a fan, or take a cool bath or shower.
  • Avoid using the oven to cook.
  • Do not use electric fans when the temperature outside is more than 95 degrees, as it could increase the risk of heat-related illness. Fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort, but do not reduce body temperature.
  • Some medications may cause you to be more susceptible to the heat. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself.

 

HEAT DISORDERS

There are four types of heat disorders to watch out for: sunburns, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. In general, signs of these ailments include extremely high body temperature (103 or higher), dizziness, nausea, confusion, and headache. If someone shows these signs, call 9-1-1 and begin cooling the individual.

Here’s how to identify and treat these illnesses specifically:

  • Heat Cramps: Signs include muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs. Take action by going to a cooler location, remove excess clothing, take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar, and get medical help if cramps last more than an hour.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Signs include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. Take action by going to an air-conditioned place and lying down, loosen or remove clothing, take a cool bath, take sips of cool sports drinks with salt and sugar, and get medical help if symptoms get worse or last more than an hour.
  • Heat Stroke: Signs include extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees) taken orally, red, hot and dry skin with no sweat, rapid strong pulse, dizziness, confusion or unconsciousness. Take action by calling 9-1-1 or getting the person to a hospital immediately. Cool down with whatever methods are available until medical help arrives.

 

WORKING OUTDOORS

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program.

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

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

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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.

Elder abuse and neglect awareness is more important now than ever

June 3, 2020 | 11:42 am


June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and there is not a more important time than now to protect and be mindful of our most vulnerable citizens.

Senior residents have been especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those in nursing and care facilities. As of June, more than 25,000 residents died and 60,000 were infected in the United States as the coronavirus swept through our country’s nursing homes, according to federal data, in which about 80 percent of the nation’s nursing homes reported data to the federal government, and statistics include cases since early May.

Unfortunately, those impacted the most are housed in facilities with a history of low marks for staffing and patient care, reports show.

“We have to be able to provide adequate care to our elder loved ones in these faculties, while at the same time protecting them from being infected,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and elder abuse and neglect attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “For them, it’s literally a matter of life and death.”

During “normal” times, California sees 176,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported. This month — during Elder Abuse Awareness Month in Kern County, with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 — Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up for those who cannot, our oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Our law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Local skilled nursing facilities are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks affecting staff and residents alike. The Kern County Department of Public Health says facilities requested immediate help with staffing shortages, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility. Recently, the Kern County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a plan to designate an accountability officer from the Kern County Emergency Services to oversee issues at the state-regulated nursing care faculties.

“… 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.

Local media reported that the California Department of Public Health cited the Kingston Health Care Facility more than a dozen times for serious violations. Several lawsuits have been filed against the facility for elder abuse and neglect and wrongful death, some by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Clark shares 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.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our state’s senior care facilities put residents in danger.  A 2019 investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that some operators of senior board-and-care homes violated labor laws and often also endangered or neglected their residents, sometimes with dire consequences. Reveal analyzed thousands of licensing records and hundreds of U.S. Department of Labor cases in California and conducted two dozen interviews with workers, residents and their family members in the first comprehensive accounting of failures in care homes whose operators preyed on vulnerable caregivers, many of them poor immigrants, and elderly residents. In California, which has the most licensed senior care homes of any state, federal data showed that operators broke minimum wage, overtime or record-keeping laws in more than 500 cases over the last decade. In 1 in 5 of these cases, operators were cited for health and safety violations that endangered residents, Reveal found.

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And 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.