Column: Don’t Make ‘The Worst Legal Mistake Of Your Life’. Why It’s Important To Hire A Local Lawyer

January 11, 2022 | 2:46 pm


When a reader suggested for syndicated columnist and lawyer Dennis Beaver to write an article about why it’s a good idea to hire a local lawyer — as opposed to those salesy TV lawyers — Beaver reached out to Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David K. Cohn to explain the importance. Below is a column by Beaver answering the reader’s question, as published in the Santa Maria Times.

===

“Two of my employees were involved in an auto accident that was not their fault. They were about to hire an out-of-town law firm that advertises heavily on television because the attorney in the commercials is a big fan of the same football team they are!

“I told them that’s not a sound basis to retain a lawyer, and to stay local, as our town has many good attorneys. Also, I had them read your December, 2020 article, “Could Your Lawyer Have Cheated You on Your Bill,” which described illegal charges by a TV-advertising, personal injury law firm hundreds of miles away from where your reader lived.

“But they would not listen me, hired them despite horrible Yelp reviews, and now have large unpaid medical bills! Dennis, an article explaining why it is a good idea to hire a lawyer who actually lives in your town would help a lot of people.”

“Fight for You Rights” TV Commercials

We’ve all seen television ads for personal injury and workers compensation law firms that say things like, “We fight for your rights!” What they do not tell you is that hiring one could be the worst legal mistake of your life.

The California State Bar is investigating the fraudulent billing practices of the law firm in my December 2020 article – and they are one of many law firms I am aware of who illegally charge for expenses that the lawyers never incur.

So, Why Stay Local?

I spoke with Bakersfield attorney David Cohn, in practice over 40 years, and considered one of the most accomplished personal injury trial attorneys in the United States. He outlined the risks in hiring a lawyer based on snazzy television commercials.

“In so many instances, the TV ads make it look like the lawyer is local, but that’s deceiving. Many are personal injury mills with a local phone number, and even a local office address. But drop in and you will never find an attorney. You will almost never meet the lawyer in person, only office staff.

“So, you see their commercial, phone, overcomes an investigator who signs you up, and immediately they send you to their out-of-town doctors just to build up huge, unnecessary medical bills in the hopes of a large settlement which seldom occurs. And, you could be left with unpaid bills. I see this often.” Cohn points out, adding:

“When their dissatisfied clients come to us, we often find medical bills that are 10 times what is normal! Clients have no idea what they have gotten themselves into.”

One of the dirty little secrets of these personal injury mills – who spend millions on television advertising – is something clients are also unaware of: “They do not have your best interest in mind and do not ‘fight’ for top dollar! All they want is a quick settlement.”

The TV ads give the impression that the lawyer you see in the commercial —who you will likely never meet — is handling your case. But Cohn notes:

“In reality, it’s an administrative assistant, not an attorney! They take any accident case and hope for one with significant injuries which they broker to a trial lawyer–for a large referral fee — because the lawyers who run these firms don’t try cases!”

Will Your Lawyer Actually Go Court?

In spite of what we see on television and in the movies, few lawyers go to court. Very few personal injury lawyers have ever tried a case. But, does it really matter? And, if it is true that most personal injury cases settle before trial, should it matter at all where my lawyer is located?

You bet it does!

Cohn explains why it is so critical – even for what may seem to be a ‘simple’ case that you would never expect to wind up in court – to be represented by local counsel who are real trial attorneys – who will try a case.

“Insurance companies know which lawyers will go to court and ‘TV’ lawyers who just settle a case without going the extra mile for the client. This allows the company to settle your case for far less — often thousands of dollars less — than what is fair.”

And if your case has to go to trial?

“You want a local law firm that tries cases, knows and is known by the judges in your community, not someone the TV law firm found because they aren’t able to provide their clients with competent professional service,” Cohn underscores.

And Before You Hire the Attorney …

Cohn lists these five important steps before retaining a lawyer.

(1) Research and find out as much as you can about the attorney.

(2) Is that lawyer local?

(3) Does that lawyer try cases in court?

(4) What is their success rate?

(5) Go to your State Bar’s website to find out of that lawyer has had any disciplinary issues.

Concluding our interview, I asked, “What has given you the greatest satisfaction from your long career in law?”

“It is doing the best I can to make my clients as whole as possible. That’s my job, but, Dennis, as corny as this sounds, it’s really more than a job. It is a calling.”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to [email protected] Also, visit dennisbeaver.com.

———

What Not To Do In 2022: Traffic Safety Changes On California’s Roadways In The New Year

December 29, 2021 | 11:02 am


Watch what you do in 2022 … on our roadways, that is.

For the New Year, several new laws will affect roadway safety, including new penalties for street racing “sideshows”, changes in speed limit rules, license points for distracted drivers, rules for riding an equestrian animal on paved roads, and the extension of cocktails to go. The laws are relevant for the Law Offices of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, as the attorneys focus on accident and injury case, including motor vehicle accident cases. Learn more about the new laws below:

 

‘SIDESHOW’ STREET RACING PENALTIES (AB 3)

Assembly Bill 3 is designed to curb illegal street racing locally and statewide. The bill, which was authored by Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) applies penalties used against illegal speed racing and implement them against exhibitions of speed as well. Such exhibitions include the burning out of tires, revving of engines, performing stunts, and other activity intended for an audience or “sideshow” that ultimately leads to a speed contest. Specifically, the vehicle code will define “sideshow” as an “event in which two or more persons block or impede traffic on a highway for the purpose of performing motor vehicle stunts, motor vehicle speed contests, motor vehicle exhibitions of speed, or reckless driving for spectators.

The bill passed with “overwhelming bipartisan support,” The Bakersfield Californian reported.

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

As for penalties, courts will be permitted to suspend a driver’s license between 90 days and six months. (effective July 1, 2025). The courts will be required to consider a defendant’s medical, personal, or family hardship that requires a person to have a driver’s license before determining whether to suspend a person’s driver’s license.

The issue hits close to home for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which is representing one of the children who suffered major injuries in that November 2019 crash that killed 58-year-old Maria Blaney Navarro. And attorney Matt Clark has been featured in local news interviews on the issue.

 

DISTRACTED DRIVER POINTS (AB 47)

Assembly Bill 47 states that a driver convicted of using a mobile phone without a hands-free device for a second time within a 36-month period will have a point added to his or her license. The first violation 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.

 

SPEED LIMITS (AB 43)

Assembly Bill 43 authorizes local authorities to reduce speed limits to protect the safety of vulnerable groups such as pedestrians and cyclists. This law gives California cities more control to set speeds based on safety. Currently, the state largely has authority over speed limits and sets them based on the movement speed of 85% of traffic on any given street. AB 43 would allow cities to reduce speeds by increments of 5 mph by letting local officials factor the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when conducting the speed traffic surveys California uses to determine streets’ speed limits. The bill requires that cities take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, seniors, the unhoused and persons with disabilities when setting speed limits, and would permit cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a track record of traffic safety issues, including school zones, according to Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

HELMETS AND EQUESTRIAN ANIMALS (AB 974)

Assembly Bill 974 requires anyone under 18 years old who rides an equestrian animal — horses, mules and donkeys — on a paved highway to “wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet.” The legislation is intended to enforce the same requirements for youths who ride bikes, non-motorized scooters, skateboards, in-line and roller skates. The new law also requires a person of any age to wear reflective gear or a lamp while riding equestrian animals after dark on paved highways. Fines for first-time violators are $25 per infraction. However, anyone using an equestrian animal in a parade or festival is exempt from the helmet and gear provisions, according to the legislation.

 

VEHICLES ON RESERVATIONS (AB 798)

Assembly Bill 798 removes restrictions previously imposed on federally recognized Native American tribes operating emergency vehicles on their reservations. There are 109 designated tribes statewide, one of which is in Kern County (Tejon Indian Tribe). The bill specifically permits all the tribes to acquire and deploy ambulances, as well as firefighting and other emergency vehicles, without the state requiring that the vehicles be inspected by the CHP, and without those individuals who may legally operate them having to go through the Department of Motor Vehicles for special licenses. Previously, the state treated tribal emergency vehicles the same as privately operated ones, mandating rigorous inspection and licensing. However, the legislation recognized that the tribes are sovereign and self-governing, and that imposing a lengthy approval process was unjustified.

 

COCKTAILS TO-GO (SB 389)

Senate Bill 389 allows restaurants to continue selling cocktails and wine to go until Dec. 31, 2026. However, the delivery of cocktails ended Dec. 31, 2021. To-go alcohol began after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, never take a sip while in your vehicle. Please, always drive sober!

———

Holiday Travel Expected To Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels. Here’s How To Get To Your Destination Safely.

December 1, 2021 | 5:00 am


Holiday travel is back in full force.

Travel experts are predicting more people will travel for the holidays this year than before pre-pandemic levels, as people feel more comfortable and more confident in traveling again. In fact, AAA predicts a 18% jump nationally compared to last year, and air travel will rise 80% to a level that matches pre-pandemic totals. A majority — 76% — plan to travel by car.

That means more drivers on our highways, and more people in airports and railways. Experts are saying we should brace for backups and crowded rest stops, and should prepare with parking reservations and extra time to catch flights.

But safety should also remain a priority. A recent survey found that more than a third of travelers are as concerned about road safety as they are about contracting COVID-19. Local law enforcement is expected to be on patrol during the holiday season, looking for unsafe driving practices, including seat belt violations, speeding, distracted driving, and signs of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

But the holidays don’t have to be a dangerous time to travel. Chain | Cohn | Stiles joins travel and safety experts this holiday season to provide various tips to make sure you and your loved ones make it to your destination safely. Read on to learn more.

 

BEFORE YOU GO

  • If driving, get your vehicle’s battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels checked to prevent breakdowns. Make sure you have properly functioning wiper blades. Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle with a safety cone, carjack, flashlight, and jumper cables. Include first aid essentials and extras like a blanket to stay warm if you break down in the cold.
  • If flying, check with your airline about coronavirus vaccination or testing requirements for your destination, as they will be enforced before you board. Masks are still required on airplanes, trains, buses and other transit systems, as well as in airports, train and subway stations, bus terminals, and other public transportation hubs.
  • Pack protective gear, hand sanitizer and food, and try to minimize interaction during stops.
  • Get plenty of rest and go at your own pace. The holidays can be exhausting, and your wellbeing is most important.
  • Plan the drive ahead of time, and know alternate routes. Proper planning ensures that you’re prepared for whatever might happen during your trip. If you want to avoid traffic, time your travel to put you on busy roads before or after peak traffic times.
  • Give someone close to you a copy of your trip itinerary and photocopies of important documents. This way it will be easy to reach you in case of an emergency.

 

ON THE ROAD

  • Drivers should avoid distractions, including cell phones. Keep your focus on the road and be aware of the other vehicles and drivers around you.
  • But carry a cell phone and charger in case you need to call for help, get a tow, or arrange alternative transportation.
  • Follow the rules of the road and use caution in work zones.
  • Buckle up, slow down and don’t drive impaired.
  • Make frequent stops to rest or just stretch your legs. During long trips, rotate drivers. If you’re too tired to drive, stop and get some rest.  Stopping for even a few minutes every couple hours can do wonders for keeping your energy high.
  • If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible.
  • If you find yourself driving in bad weather and visibility is an issue, pay attention to road markings to keep yourself oriented to the roadway. If you have no visibility, pull over.
  • Stay hydrated. Not having enough water during a long drive could mean fatigue or decreased alertness, which is dangerous on the road.

———

What Benefits Are Available for Injured Or Sick Workers?

November 17, 2021 | 6:00 am


California adopted workers’ compensation laws to help and protect workers if they become ill or injured as a direct result of their jobs. But many people don’t realize the different benefits available to them today.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles work injury lawyer Beatriz Trejo highlights in a new video the five basic benefits available to injured workers. These five benefits are spelled out below.

But first, it’s important to note that workers’ comp. is based on a no-fault system, which means that an injured or ill employee does not need to prove that the injury or illness was someone else’s fault in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits. And employers in California are required by law to pay for workers’ compensation benefits.

For more detailed information, please see the “Workers’ Compensation in California” guidebook, which is meant to help workers with job injuries understand their basic legal rights, the steps to take to request workers’ compensation benefits, and where to seek further information and help if necessary. And if you believe you have a case, please contact the work injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for a free consultation.

===

1) Temporary Disability

Temporary disability benefits are payments you get if you lose wages because your injury prevents you from doing your usual job while recovering. It pays two-thirds of your pre-tax wages you lose while you are recovering from a job injury. These payments begin when your doctor says you can’t do your usual work for more than three days or you get hospitalized overnight. Generally, temporary disability stops when you return to work, or when the doctor releases you for work, or says your injury has improved as much as it’s going to. If you can do some work while recovering and your employer offers you this type of work, you can receive temporary partial disability payments if your wages while recovering are below a maximum limit set by law.

 

2) Medical Treatment

California workers’ compensation law requires claims administrators to authorize and pay for medical care that is reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of the injury. The doctors who treat you must follow treatment guidelines referred to as the medical treatment utilization schedule. If it’s an emergency, your employer must make sure that you have access to emergency treatment right away. For non-emergency care, the claims administrator is required to authorize treatment within one working day after you file a claim form. While investigating your claim, he or she must authorize necessary treatment up to $10,000

 

3) Permanent Disability

Most workers recover from their job injuries, but some workers continue to have health problems. If your treating doctor says you will never recover completely or will always be limited in the work you can do, you may have a permanent disability, and this means that you may be eligible for permanent disability benefits. And you don’t have to lose your job to be eligible for these benefits. When you reach a point where your medical condition is not improving and not getting worse, your condition is called “permanent and stationary”. This is referred to as the point in time when you have reached maximal medical improvement. Click here to learn more about “P&S”.

 

4) Job Displacement Voucher

A claims administrator must offer you a supplemental job displacement benefit if your injury causes permanent partial disability, or your employer does not offer you regular, modified, or alternative work within 60 days after the claims administrator receives a voucher report. A supplemental job displacement benefit is a voucher that promises to help pay for educational retraining or skill enhancement, or both, at eligible schools. You can use the voucher to pay for tuition, fees, books, tools, or other expenses required by the school for retraining or skill enhancement, and for licensing or professional certification fees, related examination fees, and examination preparation course fees. Up to $600 of the voucher money may be used to pay for services of a licensed placement agency, a vocational or return-to-work counselor (a person who helps injured workers develop their goals and plans for returning to work), and resume preparation. Up to $1,000 may be used to purchase computer equipment. Up to $500 of the voucher money may be used upon request for miscellaneous expenses without receipts or other documentation. Learn more about the voucher system here.

 

5) Death Benefits

Death benefits are payments to a spouse, children or other dependents if an employee dies from a work-related injury or illness. This includes burial expenses. The amount of the death benefit depends on the number of total and/or partial dependents. In the case of one or more totally dependent minors, death benefits will continue until youngest minor’s 18th birthday. Learn more about death benefits, including amount limits, by clicking here.

———

What Red Flags Should You Watch Out For Before Choosing A Lawyer To Handle Your Case?

October 20, 2021 | 6:00 am


There are countless personal injury law firms out there, but not all of them are reputable. Some of them advertise themselves to be “local,” but they are not. Some of them never actually work on your case once hired, or speak to clients about their cases. And some of them have no real expertise in your type of case.

Here, attorney Matt Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles answers the question: What red flags you should know when choosing a lawyer to handle your case? There are four red flags you need to know when choosing an accident or injury lawyer:

 

1) You’re not meeting with a lawyer from the first meeting.

If you’re not meeting with your attorney from day one, the likelihood of you actually talking to your lawyer throughout your case is essentially zero.

During your first meeting, your attorney should listen to the details of your case and provide you with some important information, and after your initial consultation, you should be able to determine the following:

  • Whether you have a valid claim: The initial consultation should include a discussion of the facts and potential legal claims surrounding your issue. The lawyer should be able to tell you, based on the law and the information you provide, whether you have a legitimate case from a legal standpoint.
  • Whether you need a lawyer: The attorney should be able to tell you whether you need the services of an attorney or whether you’re better off resolving the case on your own. This decision often involves weighing the potential damages you can recover against the financial cost of hiring an attorney.
  • Whether the attorney can help you: The attorney should be able to tell you whether they handle your type of case or whether you need to seek out a different type of attorney. In some cases, the attorney may provide you with a specific reference to another attorney who can better meet your needs.
  • What their services will cost: An initial consultation should include a discussion of the fees that the attorney may charge. In addition to providing some idea of overall cost, the attorney should explain the fee arrangement, such as contingency fee, flat fee, or hourly fee.

If, at the end of your initial consultation, both you and the attorney want to form an attorney-client relationship, the attorney will provide you with an agreement to sign, or take your contact information and send you an engagement agreement to sign later. Once the agreement is signed by you and the attorney, an attorney-client relationship is formed.

 

2) You only speak to the lawyer on the phone.

Same as the first red flag: It’s not likely you’ll ever meet your lawyer in person, and it may be possible the attorney isn’t actually licensed. Be sure you are able to meet your attorney in person if you deem necessary. Additionally, if a lawyer doesn’t have time to meet with you in person about your case, how will the attorney have time to actually fight your case?

 

3) They’re an out-of-town law firm, but advertise themselves to be local.

In these cases, the odds of you ever meeting your attorney face-to-face are very, very low. When searching for a lawyer, take note of the actual address for the lawyer. Many times, lawyers from big cities and surrounding areas will purchase “virtual” offices in other areas, which will show Google and other online map systems they have offices in other areas. In fact, the attorneys almost never show their faces in these offices. Such is the case with several law firms who advertise heavily in the Bakersfield area, and hold virtual offices at 4900 California Avenue and 1430 Truxtun Avenue. If you can’t trust them to be honest about where their offices actually are, or if they’ll be available to meet with you in your city, how could you trust them to do a good job on your case?

 

4) They say they “do it all.”

If you want a lawyer who is an expert in your type of case, you want an attorney who only handles your type of case. That is, if you want a lawyer to handle your accident and injury cases, you don’t want a lawyer who also handles family law or bankruptcy law. Accident and injury cases are extremely complicated cases that require years of focus and experience to develop expertise, and be able to really serve clients appropriately.

 

In summary, make sure you hire a lawyer who is an expert in your case, has vast experience, meets with you in person during your first consultation and throughout your case, and has an actual office in your area.

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

New California traffic safety bills would allow cities to lower speed limits, close streets for recreation, decriminalize jaywalking, more

September 22, 2021 | 12:27 pm


Our roadways will perhaps be a little safer after California lawmakers passed several bills recently that make safety on our roadways for drivers, pedestrians, passengers, and bicyclists a priority.

Five bills in particular now await a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom to become laws. You can learn more about each one of the new California traffic safety bills below.

“We all want to know we’ll make it home safe when we hit the road, whether it’s on foot, bicycle, or in a vehicle,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We hope these bills and potential laws make our streets a little safer for all.”

 

AB 43 – SPEED LIMIT REFORM

This bill gives California cities more control to set speeds based on safety. Currently, the state largely has authority over speed limits and sets them based on the movement speed of 85% of traffic on any given street. AB 43 would allow cities to reduce speeds by increments of 5 mph by letting local officials factor the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when conducting the speed traffic surveys California uses to determine streets’ speed limits. The bill requires that cities take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, seniors, the unhoused and persons with disabilities when setting speed limits, and would permit cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a track record of traffic safety issues, including school zones, according to Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

AB 1238 – JAYWALKING REFORM

This bill would eliminate fines for crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, better known as jaywalking. It follows other states striking jaywalking as a primary offense in which police can no longer stop pedestrians specifically for jaywalking. The crime of jaywalking historically has often a pretext to stop and search people of color. Data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act shows Black people in California are over five times more likely to be stopped for a walking infraction than white people. AB 1238 still requires pedestrians to use due care for their safety and the safety of other road users, and those who cross the street when it’s not safe can still be cited. The bill merely decriminalizes safe crossing when there is no immediate hazard. It would be a pilot through 2028, and law enforcement will collect data on pedestrian-involved crashes until then.

UPDATE: Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, stating he was committed to working on legislation “that addresses the unequal enforcement of jaywalking laws in a manner that does not risk worsening California’s pedestrian safety.”

 

AB 773 – CITY ‘SLOW STREETS’

The goal of this bill is to make it easier for cities to make the “slow streets” created during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent, and turn streets into safe outdoor spaces for transportation and recreation. Several cities during the COVID crisis have instituted local variations of “slow streets” programs, including barricades to slow traffic or prohibit cut-through traffic to create safe places for people to exercise, recreate, move or just be outside. AB 773 adds more to those specific circumstances under which a street closure is allowed, and could allow one to be permanent if cities determine “that closure or traffic restriction is necessary for the safety and protection of persons using the closed or restricted portion of the street.” In short, it would make it easier for cities to lower speed limits and even do permanent closure of local streets if the closure would make streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized road users.

 

AB 122 – BIKES YIELD

This bill allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs when it’s safe to do so. In fact, AB 122 would specifically require people riding bicycles to yield at stops signs if the intersection is clear. This practice, though extremely common, has been technically illegal. Other vehicles would have to yield the right of way to the bicyclist if they had already yielded. Traffic officers would still be allowed to cite people biking if they blow through stop signs in a way that endangers others.

“Research and common sense make clear that complete stops at all stop sign-controlled intersections make bike trips slower and require more energy from the rider,” stated author Assemblyman Boerner Horvath of Encinitas. “Studies on cyclists’ stopping behavior also find that these full stops do nothing to improve, and can even reduce, rider safety — attributed mainly to the increased time cyclists spend in the intersection after a full stop compared to the safe yielding alternative.”

AB 122 would only be a six year pilot program with an end date of Jan. 1, 2028 with a report on the program due that year and would also not affect driver liability if there is an accident.

UPDATE: Gov. Newsome vetoed the bill, stating he feared that the legislation intended to increase bicyclist safety would have “the opposite effect.”

 

AB 917 – AUTOMATED BUS LANE ENFORCEMENT

This bill would allow buses to install cameras that can take and use images of bus-lane and parking violations to enforce them. This is building on a program already in place in San Francisco County. AB 917 argues that drivers who park in bus lanes delay essential workers who take transit. And blocked up bus lanes cost transit agencies money by keeping bus drivers tied up in traffic, which drains local and state transit funding. Transit agencies will have to broadly announce a new bus lane enforcement program and only issue warnings for 60 days. Consistent automated enforcement will keep bus lanes free of parkers in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and the public, according to authors.

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

Back to School: Tips for getting your students to campus safely

September 8, 2021 | 10:52 am


As students return to school, parents have a lot of concerns about potential dangers on their children’s campuses, but it’s important to pay attention to potential dangers on the way to school, too.

“As parents, it’s critical for us to really teach our kids to be safe, not only on campus, but also in getting to school, too, whether it’s on foot, bicycle, bus, or in a vehicle,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Drivers are not always going to see them, so it’s vital kids make sure they are keeping safety at the top of mind, all the time.”

Below are several safety tips for students and parents alike on how to get to school safe. But first, let’s talk about the problems we have in Kern County regarding driver and pedestrian safety:

No child should ever lose their life walking to or from school, but every year, these tragedies happen. In fact, more than 6,000 pedestrians die in motor vehicle collisions in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. That means that every 88 minutes, a pedestrian loses their life. A fatal accident is the worst-case scenario, but even when pedestrians survive, they may sustain severe, life-changing injuries.

A recent nationwide study — The “Dangerous by Design” study by Smart Growth America — lists Bakersfield as the No. 2 most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States to be a pedestrian. What makes Bakersfield so bad? The short answer is that our streets are designed primarily for the convenience of drivers, and not the safety of pedestrians. Learn more about Kern County’s pedestrian safety problem here.

Recently, the Bakersfield City Council approved pedestrian countdown timers for intersections several local intersections to help keep pedestrians safe when crossing the street. The timers will be added to 15 more intersections throughout Bakersfield which completes a 9-year project. They will go near high-volume areas, including schools and shopping centers. Once complete, a total of 436 intersections will have that safety feature. The timers will replace the existing “Walk-Don’t Walk” signals with a countdown timer, allowing pedestrians to better determine if they have enough time to safely cross the street.

===

Here are some more safety tips to protect your children and make sure they remain safe through the school year, courtesy of California Office of Traffic Safety and other local safety agencies.

PREPARE

  • Always be on the lookout for children when traveling around schools, especially during pick-up and drop-off times.
  • Map out a safe way for your children to walk to school or to the bus stop. Work with other parents in the neighborhood to ensure that children in the neighborhood are supervised closely to and from school
  • Work with your neighbors and your child on identifying “safe houses,” or homes of neighbors who your child is familiar with if your child is scared or needs help on the way to and from school.
  • Point out places they should avoid, such as vacant lots, alleyways, and construction areas.
  • Encourage your children to use the “buddy system.”
  • Teach your children to always be aware of their surroundings. Be aware of slow moving vehicles or parked vehicles that appear to be occupied. Choose a different route or walk on the opposite side of the street.

TO AND FROM SCHOOL

    • Avoid distractions while driving like texting, talking on the phone, and eating.
    • If your child takes the bus, remind them to line up away from the curb and look both ways when getting on or off the bus. Children need to pay attention to traffic signals and use crosswalks with a crossing guard if available.
    • Know what to do around buses. Flashing yellow lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop and flashing red lights means stop. California law requires drivers in both directions to stop until the red lights are no longer flashing.
    • Teach your children to make sure the bus driver can see them before walking in front of the bus, and to never walk behind a bus.
    • If seat belts are available on the bus, buckle up. Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver, and stay in your seat. Don’t put your head, arms or hands out the window.
    • For bicyclists, always wear a helmet that is fitted and secured properly. Use hand signals when turning, and stay in the bike lane whenever possible.

DRIVERS

  • When school bus red lights are flashing, there is no passing. Children are either entering or exiting the school bus when the red lights are flashing. You must stop from either direction until the children have safely crossed the street and the lights stop flashing.
  • Yellow flashing lights on a school bus warn you to slow down and prepare to stop.
  • Be alert and don’t be distracted when children are standing at a school bus stop. Children are often unpredictable and may dart out in front of traffic, not recognizing traffic hazards or risk.
  • Slow down and use extra caution when pedestrians are present – especially in school zones, and before and after school.

BUS PASSENGERS / CHILDREN

  • Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes early and stand 10 feet away from the road.
  • Do not let your child play running games, or push, or shove at the bus stop.
  • If your child drops something near the bus, warn them to never, ever, pick it up. Instead, your child should tell the bus driver and wait for assistance to pick-up the dropped object.  If a child bends over to pick up a dropped object, they might not be seen by the bus driver and could be hurt.
  • Remind children to look to the right before they step off the bus. Drivers sometimes try to pass buses on the right.
  • If children must cross the street to get to the bus, remind them to wait for the bus driver to signal it is safe to cross. Do not get on or off the school bus until the bus driver says it is safe to do so.  If you miss the bus, do not run after it.
  • When walking, practice good pedestrian behavior and walk on the sidewalk, if there is one. If there is no sidewalk, walk single file, facing traffic, and stay on the shoulder as far off the road as possible.
  • Before crossing the street: Stop, look left, right and then left again. Cross at corners, crosswalks, or intersections wherever possible. This is where drivers expect to see pedestrians.

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

Roadways more dangerous during summer days thanks to risky driving behavior, teenagers

August 11, 2021 | 10:57 am


Our roadways are more dangerous than ever during this time of year due to riskier driving behaviors, according to safety officials.

In the last 10 years in the United States, an average of seven people per day have died in motor vehicle crashes during these summer months, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This time period — from Memorial Day to Labor Day — is known as the “100 Deadliest Days”. Specifically, new teen drivers are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash during this time. In fact, within the last 10 years of available data, AAA says nearly 200 people died from car accidents that involved a teen driver during these three months, compared to 320 people that died in the non-summer months.

At the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is sounding the warning about speeding and reckless driving in this pandemic era. The latest data shows the number of highway deaths in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles during the pandemic. And the bad driving is continuing with businesses and schools resuming.

Learn more about these dangerous trends below, and what we can all do to help.

 

‘100 DEADLIEST DAYS’

There are more deaths in crashes involving teen drivers during the summer months — “100 Deadliest Days” — than the rest of the year, and the reasons include distracted driving, not buckling up, and speeding.

In fact, distraction plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The top distractions for teens include talking to other passengers in the vehicle and interacting with a smartphone.

As for buckling up, research shows 60% of teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt. Teens who buckle up significantly reduce their risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash. And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019, 47% were not wearing seat belts.

Lastly, speeding is a factor in nearly 30% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers.

So what can you do to help?

  • Talk to your teen about the rules and responsibilities involved in driving. Share some stories and statistics related to teen drivers and distracted driving. Remind your teen often that driving is a skill that requires the driver’s full attention. Texts and phone calls can wait until arriving at his or her destination.
  • Set consequences for distracted driving. If your teen breaks a distraction rule you’ve set, consider suspending your teen’s driving privileges, further limiting the hours during which they can drive, or limiting the places where they can drive. Parents could also consider limiting a teen’s access to their cell phone—a punishment that in today’s world could be seen by teens as a serious consequence.
  • Set the example by keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel while driving. Be consistent between the message you tell your teen and your own driving behaviors. Novice teen drivers most often learn from watching their parents.
  • AAA provides a free four-page guide — “Coaching Your New Driver – An In-Car Guide for Parents” — to help parents coach their teens on driving safely. Experts urge parents to talk with new teen drivers about how to avoid dangerous driving situations, like speeding, impaired driving, or distracted driving.

 

DANGEROUS PANDEMIC DRIVING

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, and safety officials are worried about the final stretch of summer travel as roads get busy.

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.

Tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100mph were nearly double pre-pandemic levels, and the number of tickets for reckless driving citations grew, as well, officials said.

In the end, traffic deaths nationwide in 2020 grew about 7.2% to 38,680 even though there was a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the NHTSA estimates. It was the deadliest year on highways since 2007.

“These statistics are startling,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Just as we get accustomed to safe COVID practices, we should be keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors safe with safe driving practices.”

 

IN A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT?

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.

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

Nearly one-third of nation’s Valley Fever cases are in the Central Valley. What you should know about the fungal disease, and how to stay safe.

August 4, 2021 | 6:00 am


About 10,000 cases of Valley Fever are reported every year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with about 30% of cases occurring in the Central Valley.

So it’s no wonder that Kern County has been at the forefront of treatment, research, and prevention efforts of Valley Fever over the years. And it’s the reason Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield has introduced a resolution declaring August 2021 as Valley Fever Awareness Month. The resolution is co-authored with Assemblyman Rudy Salas (Bakersfield), Senator Melissa Hurtado (Sanger), and Senator Shannon Grove (Bakersfield).

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, too, would like to warn local residents about Valley Fever, a respiratory disease caused by breathing in a desert fungus that grows in soil and spreads airborne from soil disruption or wind. Here’s what you need to know about Valley Fever, whose most at risk, what you can do to prevent the spread, and what to do if you or your loved ones are affected, especially while working.

 

WHAT IS VALLEY FEVER?

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

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

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

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

 

KERN COUNTY AT RISK

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where the fungus lives in the environment can get Valley Fever, and it can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults age 60 and older. Additionally, certain groups of people may be at higher risk for developing the severe forms of Valley Fever, such as people who have weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women, people who have diabetes, and people who are black or Filipino. Central Valley prison inmates have also been infected by Valley Fever at epidemic rates, contributing significantly to the state’s prison healthcare costs, and resulting in inmate deaths.

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

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

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

Recently, health officials said one way to protect yourself against Valley Fever is by wearing something that most people are accustomed to wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic — a mask, particularly an N95 mask.

 

WORK SAFETY

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HELP AVAILABLE

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

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

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

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

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

And if you or someone you know contracts Valley Fever at work, contact the Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Bakersfield drivers ranked 3rd worst in America due to accident rates, DUIs, speeding

July 28, 2021 | 5:00 am


Have you been cut-off while driving recently, or seen someone run a red light, text while behind the steering wheel, or drive way over the speed limit? If you’re in Bakersfield and answered “yes”, you’re not alone.

Based on accident rates, speeding tickets, DUIs, and citations, Bakersfield ranks third in the nation for bad driver quality, according to a new study by QuoteWizard. That is, Bakersfield ranks third for having the worst drivers in America.

The analysts at QuoteWizard each year review 2 million car insurance quotes from drivers in America’s 70 largest cities to determine which cities have the worst drivers in America, and which have the best. The cities are then evaluated on four factors to determine overall driver quality. Here’s how Bakersfield stacked against those factors:

  • Accidents: Bakersfield ranked 11th worst
  • Speeding Tickets: Bakersfield ranked 18th worst
  • DUIs: Bakersfield ranked 3rd worst
  • Citations: Bakersfield ranked 12th worst

Omaha ranked the overall worst, while Riverside ranked 2nd worst. QuoteWizard highlighted a pattern among the cities with the worst drivers. Each of the five worst driving cities also had high numbers of DUIs, while cities that ranked as the five best all had low numbers of speeding tickets and citations. On the opposite end, Birmingham, St. Louis, and Little Rock were ranked at the top, respectively, for having the best drivers in the nation.

Bakersfield appears to be getting worse. The city ranked 13th worst in the 2020 analysis.

“It’s simple: Slow down, always drive sober, and share the road with other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Taking these steps are the best ways to make sure that you, and everyone else, make it home safely.”

Last year, WalletHub named California the fourth worst state to drive in the United States based on 31 factors including cost of ownership and maintenance, traffic and infrastructure, safety, and access to vehicles and maintenance. California was found to have the highest percentage of rush hour traffic congestion, the second highest average gas prices, and the fifth highest car theft rate, according to WalletHub.

Insurance experts say the saturation of bad drivers on roadways has the ability to affect how much you pay for car insurance each month. Living in one of the worst driving cities can see your insurance rates go up, while living in one of the best driving cities can help you save money on your auto insurance.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles provides a few driving tips below to help you eliminate distracted driving, reduce traffic violations, and keep Kern County roadways as safe as possible:

  • Keep your cell phone on silent, and put in a place where you won’t be able to access it while driving.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and what other drivers around you are doing.
  • If you’re too tired to drive, find a place to stop so you can get rest before driving again.
  • If you need to eat and drink, make sure that you pull over to the side of the road.
  • Make sure that loose items in your car are secured so that they don’t startle you if they fall.
  • Never drive a vehicle if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Make sure that you have a driver who has not consumed alcohol, or use a service like Lyft or Uber who will be able to take you back to your home safely.

Lastly, if you are involved in a motor vehicle 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. Chain | Cohn | Stiles offers a free consultation.

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.

———

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, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.