How personal injury and workers’ compensation systems work together

March 25, 2020 | 6:00 am


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

———

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

To explain a little further:

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

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

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

 

SCENARIO 1

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

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

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

A few questions arise:

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

 

SCENARIO 2

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

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

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

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

 

SCENARIO 3

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

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

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

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

 

SCENARIO 4

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

———

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

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

March 11, 2020 | 10:34 am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

March 4, 2020 | 10:56 am


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

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

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

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

 

STATE, LOCAL PROBLEMS

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

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

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

 

WHY?

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

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

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

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

 

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

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

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

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

 

HOW TO STAY SAFE

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

Drivers

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

Pedestrians

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

———

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

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

February 5, 2020 | 3:37 pm


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

New year, new laws for California drivers, police, bicyclist, and more

January 1, 2020 | 6:00 am


The New Year brings new laws to California.

For 2020, several new laws will affect roadway safety starting Jan. 1, including increased distracted driving penalties, peace officer use of deadly force, bicycle turning movements at intersections, wildlife salvage permits, and motor carrier permit rules. The following laws are relevant for Chain | Cohn | Stiles legal practices, as the law firm handles accident and injury cases.

  • Traffic control devices for bicycles (AB 1266): This new law allows bicycles to travel straight through a right or left-hand turn-only lane while at an intersection, if an official traffic control device indicates the movement is permitted. The California Department of Transportation would be required to develop standards to implement the provisions.
  • License points for distracted driving (AB 47): Current law prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone in a handheld manner; if found in violation, the offense is punishable by a fine. A new law will levy an additional penalty on a driver found in violation of California’s hands-free law: a point will be added on to a driver’s record for each hands-free violation occurring within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense.
  • Peace officer use of deadly force (AB 392): This new law revises the standards for use of deadly force by peace officers. The use of deadly force by a peace officer is justifiable when the officer reasonably believes it is necessary, amending the reasonable force standard to “objectively reasonable force.”
  • Law enforcement training (SB 230): This new law requires law enforcement agencies to rewrite use of force policy and provide mandatory training to all peace officers in order to comply with the new law.
  • Cannabis and passenger vehicles (AB 1810): California law will now prohibit the consumption of cannabis, in any manner, by passengers in a bus, taxicab, pedicab, limousine, housecars, or camper. This exemption is now only applicable to alcoholic beverages consumed by passengers in these types of vehicles.

Besides these traffic laws above, you should be aware of several other new laws in 2020 affecting the workplace, your privacy, animals, schools, and the criminal justice system.

WORKPLACE

  • Minimum wage (SB 3): The minimum wage in California goes up by one dollar to $12 an hour for workers at companies with 25 or fewer employees and to $13 an hour for workers at larger companies.
  • Hairstyles (SB 188): California becomes the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination based on a person’s natural hairstyle or hair texture. Protected hairstyles include braids, twists and locks.
  • Lactation accommodations (SB 142): This new law requires companies to provide appropriate lactation accommodations that is close to the employee’s work area, has electrical plugs and is free of intrusion.
  • Sexual harassment (SB 1343): Requires businesses with at least five employees to provide sexual harassment training to its employees within six months of being hired, and every two years after that.
  • Paid family leave (SB 83): New parents will have more time to care for their child. Benefits under Paid Family Leave will increase from six weeks to eight weeks starting on July 1, 2020.

HOUSEHOLDS

  • AB 1482: Rent control: The law limits rent increases to 5 percent each year plus inflation, but never above 10 percent total. The law does not apply to housing built in the 15 years prior. The limit is a rolling number so the date housing is excluded changes every year.
  • AB 652: Religious displays: The law prohibits landlords and homeowner associations from banning the display of religious items on entry doors or door frames. The items cannot be larger than 26 by 12 inches.
  • SB 222: Housing discrimination: This law expands existing law to protect veterans and military personnel against housing discrimination.
  • SB 30: Domestic partners: This law allows heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners instead of getting married. Currently, only heterosexual couples age 62 or older were allowed to register as domestic partners because of social security benefits. The new law could help couples with combined higher incomes avoid the federal marriage tax penalty.

PRIVACY

  • Online privacy (AB 375): The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives internet users more control over their data. Among other things, the law gives users the right to know what data is collected, the right to reject the sale of your information and the right to delete your data.

EDUCATION

  • School suspensions (SB 419): The law bans schools from suspending students in grades 4-8 for disrupting school activities or defying teachers and administrators. Students in grades K-3 already have this protection. High school students must wait until 2025 for the same benefit.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

  • Juvenile hall (SB 439): Minors under 12 who commit non-violent crimes would be released to his or her parent or legal guardian instead of being sent to juvenile hall. The law does not apply to minors who commit murder, rape, or great bodily harm.
  • Human trafficking (SB 970): Operators of motels and hotels in California must provide training to teach its staff how to identify victims of human trafficking.

ANIMALS

  • Dog areas (AB 1762): The California Department of Parks and Recreation has until July 1 to establish a comprehensive list of state parks that allow dogs, including the specific areas that allow dogs and the total miles of trails that are open to dogs.

WILDFIRES

  • Public safety power shutoffs (SB 167): Requires utilities to devise plans on reducing the negative impact of planned power shutoffs to first responders and people with disabilities.
  • Tree trimming (AB 247): Gives the California Public Utilities Commission more oversight over tree trimming efforts by utilities. Power companies would have to submit timely reports on their brush and tree trimming work.
  • Wildfire warning center (SB 209): Establishes a wildfire warning center to broaden the state’s ability to predict and prepare for wildfire. The center would rely on a statewide network of automated weather stations and fire detection cameras.

———

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.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Driving in drizzle: 12 tips for navigating safely in the rain (Rule 1: slow down!)

December 4, 2019 | 6:00 am


With rain making its way into the Central Valley, the rich soil is getting a vital ingredient that helps grow the crops to feed our country. But, the water sprinkles are also landing on our roadways, creating dangerous driving conditions.

Rain is directly associated with higher accident rates. In fact, out of the nearly 6 million motor vehicle crashes that occur each year in the United States, about 22 percent are weather-related, according to Federal Highway Administration. Knowing how wet roads and reduced visibility affects the way your vehicle handles will help you drive safely in rainy conditions.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, with tips from local authorities, remind drivers to be aware of the roadway hazards associated with rainy weather.

“Let’s all make sure we slow down on the streets of Bakersfield when it’s wet and raining,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Slowing down helps you maintain control of your vehicle, and could mean the difference between a crash, and making sure you and others get home safe.”

Here are some more tips for driving in the rain:

Wait: If you feel uncomfortable driving in the rain and can postpone your trip or commute, wait until the weather improves before driving. There is no reason to put yourself in danger if driving in wet conditions is not necessary.

Plan Ahead: If you must drive, always give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Never rush when it’s raining heavily.

Check Your Car: Check your headlights, tail lights, and windshield wipers to make sure that they will work efficiently when they are needed. Also check the tread of your vehicle’s tires; balding tires can severely reduce traction on wet roadways. Use your hazard lights only when you have stopped on the road or at the side of the road.

Slow Down: You should drive considerably slower than you normally would, and slower than the speed limit. Wet roads are very dangerous. Your vehicle’s reaction time is much slower when it is raining. Also, accelerate and decelerate slowly. This will help you stay in control and avoid skids.

Turn on Headlights: Even if it is only misting, turning on your vehicle’s headlights will increase both your own visibility and other drivers’ ability to see your car on the road. Plus, California vehicle code requires drivers to use their headlights during inclement weather.

Keep Your Distance: Keep a greater distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. Stopping your vehicle will be more difficult when driving in the rain. Maintain a distance of several car lengths between your car and other vehicles, to about five or six seconds between marks.

Avoid Heavy Braking: Try to slow your vehicle by taking your foot off the accelerator earlier than you normally would in preparation to slow down or stop.

Avoid Cruise Control: Don’t use cruise control so your attention on using both the gas and brake are in tune.

Watch for Puddles: Driving through standing water can cause hydroplaning, which is when you lose traction and skid across the surface of the road. To avoid hydroplaning, drive around places where water has collected by changing lanes or safely steering around such areas. If your car does hydroplane, calmly take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction that the front of your car needs to go. Avoid making sudden turns or slamming on your brakes.

Anticipate Other Hazards: Drivers may encounter fallen trees, downed power lines, flooded roadways, and other hazards. Deep water can hide many dangers you cannot see, and only a few inches of water can disable your vehicle and even carry it away. Never drive through deep water or around barricades indicating the road has been closed.

Don’t Drive Distracted: Electronic devices and cell phones should never be used while driving, but when driving in rainy weather your attention to your surroundings is your best defense against a hazard or collision. Watch out for brake lights in front of you.

Ventilate: Rain causes humidity levels to increase. You may find that your vehicle’s windows become foggy when you operate your vehicle while it is raining. Most cars’ ventilation systems include a function that will work to reduce this type of fog that develops on the interior of your windows and windshield. It may be necessary to pull over if you are no longer able to see through your windows.

———

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

Study: Number of people killed by red light runners hits a 10-year high (and how to prevent crashes)

November 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


We all learned the rules as children: green light means go, yellow light means slow, and perhaps most importantly, red means stop. Unfortunately, adults seem to be forgetting that lesson.

The number of people killed by drivers running red lights has hit a 10-year high, according to a study by Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). Nearly 1,000 people were killed in a year, according to the most recent statistics available — that’s a 30 percent increase from 10 years ago.

Almost half of the people killed in those crashes were passengers or drivers of other cars hit by a red-light runner. And just over one-third of the victims were the driver who ran the light, the AAA study found.

The reason for the uptick may surprise you. While distracted driving played a role, traffic lights that weren’t timed appropriately were also to blame. But perhaps most surprising? Many crashes are the result of drivers intentionally speeding and breaking the law by running red lights. About one in three drivers said they’d done it within the last 30 days, even when they could’ve safely stopped, AAA reported. The reason drivers ran a red light even though they knew it was against the law is equally as surprising. About 2 in 5 drivers don’t think police will pull them over for dangerous driving.

The Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is urging drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to use caution at traffic signals.

“Like crashes cause by those driving under the influence, crashes caused red light runners are 100 percent preventable crimes,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Drivers who decide to run a red light are making a selfish and reckless choice that puts all of us on the roadways in danger.”

The good news is there are several things we can do to prevent red-light crashes. Continue reading this blog post to learn how.

 

RED LIGHT CAMERAS

Crashes caused by red light runners can be curbed with red light cameras, which take photos and a 12-second video of the driver when a car runs a red light.

In fact, such cameras reduced red light violations by 40% in a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Those cameras take photos of vehicles that run red lights, which police can review for ticketing purposes. Running a red light will cost the offender $490, according to the Judicial Council of California, which sets fines for traffic offenses.

Locally, the Bakersfield Police Department reviews about 1,500 to 2,000 violations per month, according to The Bakersfield Californian. On average, 37 are cited each day. Red-light cameras are stationed at 10 Bakersfield intersections.

  • Bernard Street and Oswell Street
  • California Avenue and Oak Street
  • California Avenue / New Stine Road / Stockdale Highway
  • Chester Avenue and Brundage Lane
  • Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway
  • Coffee Road and Truxtun Avenue
  • Ming Avenue and Valley Plaza
  • Ming Avenue and Real Road
  • Ming Avenue and Old River Road
  • White Lane and Wible Road

These intersections with red light cameras saw collisions reduce by more than 80%, according to a recent Kern County Grand Jury report.

 

HOW TO AVOID RED LIGHT CRASHES

Besides putting in more red light cameras, Chain | Cohn | Stiles recommends pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers do several things to avoid crashes at intersections.

Drivers

  • Drivers should monitor “stale” green lights — those that have been green a long time as you approach the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection.
  • Prepare to stop. Lift your foot off the accelerator and “cover the brake” when preparing to enter any intersection by positioning your right foot just above the brake pedal, without touching it.
  • Use good judgment. Monitor “stale” green lights, those that have been green a long time as you’ve approached the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection.
  • Tap the brake. Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will catch the attention of drivers who may be inattentive or distracted behind you.
  • Drive defensively. Before you enter an intersection after the light has turned green for you, take a second after the light changes and look both ways before proceeding.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists

  • Wait. Give yourself a few seconds to make sure all cars have come to a complete stop before moving through the intersection.
  • Stay alert and listen. Don’t take chances. Watch what is going on and give your full attention to the environment around you.
  • Be visible. Stay in well-lit areas, especially when crossing the street.
  • Make eye contact. Look at drivers in stopped vehicles to ensure they see you before crossing the road in front of them.
  • Never wear headphones or earbuds while commuting or talk on the phone.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of a red-light runner, 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.

Teen drivers, school buses the focus of safety awareness weeks

October 23, 2019 | 11:11 am


Our children’s safety can be one of the most important focuses in our lives, which makes two national observances this week especially vital. This week in the United States we are observing “School Bus Safety Week” and “Teen Driver Safety Week.”

Learn safety tips, statistics, and other important information about these observances below.

“Our children’s safety is a top concern always,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Let’s all remember this week, and moving forward, to be extra careful around school buses, talk to teens about safe driving habits, and follow our laws always.”

 

Teen Driver Safety Week

This week and beyond, parents should speak with their teen children about how to stay as safe as possible behind the wheel. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of death for teens (15 to 18 years old) in the United States, ahead of all other types of injuries, diseases, or violent acts. Teens are also 10 times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than adults.

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. Learn more about them below, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Alcohol and Drugs: All teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol.  However, nationally in 2017, 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.  According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.5% of adolescents 12 to 17 years old reported using marijuana. 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. A total of 539 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half (60%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 87% of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled. The chances of surviving a traffic crash are 45% higher when properly restrained in a seat belt.
  • Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky—they can be deadly. In 2017, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 9 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. 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.
  • Speeding: In 2017, almost one-quarter (27%) of all teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, and males were more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than females.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 

School Bus Safety Week

Every school day in this country, 25 million children ride in a bus. The good news: School buses are among the safest modes of transportation. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car, according to NHTSA. Why? They’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries.

But it’s not inside of the bus we should be most concerned about in terms of safety, but what happens outside. The real risks is in walking to the bus stop, and getting on and off the bus.

Here are some tips to keep students safe, as well as those walking and driving around school buses.

Tips for Drivers

  • Watch out for children walking or bicycling to school when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage.
  • Be on the lookout when driving through neighborhoods. Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street.
  • Learn the school bus laws in California.
    • Yellow flashing lights indicate that a bus is preparing to stop to pick up or drop off children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop.
    • Red flashing lights and an extended stop-arm signal indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Cars must stop a safe distance away and not start again until the red lights stop flashing, the stop sign has been folded back, and the bus begins to continue on its way.

Tips for Students

  • Be at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • Stand at least 6 feet away from the curb when the bus approaches, and keep the line away from the street.
  • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay to step onto the bus.
  • Remain visible to the bus driver at all times.
  • Never walk behind the bus. You should always make sure that you’re in the driver’s line of sight.
  • Use the handrails to avoid falling.
  • If seat belts are available on the bus, buckle up.
  • Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Don’t put your head, arms, or hands out the window.
  • Keep the aisle clear of books, bags, and other objects.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat.
  • If you have to cross in front of the bus after you get off, first walk at least 10 feet ahead until you can see the driver.
  • When the driver signals, look left, right, then left again. Walk across the road and keep an eye out for sudden traffic changes.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Driving while high on THC? Here’s what you should know

October 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


Marijuana today has become mainstream as voters across the United States approve ballot measures for legalization and medical use. In fact, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 10 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, and nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

As legalization continues to expand, safety officials across the country are more concerned than ever about stoned drivers taking to the nation’s roads and freeways, potentially endangering lives. But while there’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, there is not yet a linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment.

Read below to learn about the current state of marijuana laws as they relate to driving, ongoing studies, and what you can do to make sure we are all safe on the roadways.

 

CALIFORNIA LAW

Under California law, marijuana use and driving is still in the works. California DMV states that “the use of any drug which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.” The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs.

California also does not have a legal blood concentration limit for THC, unlike for alcohol. That is, there is no stated level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed AB 127 into law, which provides funding and authorization for the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of marijuana-impaired driving.

“One of the open-ended questions (about legal, recreational cannabis), that is a legitimate question, is public safety on the roads,” Newsom said in a statement before signing the bill. ”

 

DRIVING WHILE STONED

Government agencies are now testing ways to ensure the legalization of cannabis doesn’t create new public health risks, including answering the question, “at what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?” The answer is complicated.

Scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment. The reason is existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred in the day or month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a murkier proposition.

Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace, recently surveyed licensed Californian drivers who used cannabis within 30 days of responding, and here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half, 46%, who responded were unable to answer whether there exists a legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC, as there is for alcohol.
  • 81% were aware that it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
  • 62% also were unaware of the legal penalties that come with it. Like a DUI involving alcohol, they can include fines, jail time and license suspensions.
  • 82% stated that driving is the primary method by which most marijuana consumers buy cannabis
  • Almost half, 45%, reported driving after consuming the drug.
  • Of adults who consume and drive, 77% believe it doesn’t affect their driving, and 16% believe it improves their driving.
  • A vast majority said they would not do so if low- or no-cost ride-share options, or delivery, were available.

In the end, the study showed that “few know critical details about cannabis consumption and driving.”

 

BREATHALYZERS?

Breathalyzer tests for alcohol are a quick and non-invasive way to tell if a driver is drunk. Testing for stoned drivers isn’t as straightforward. And there is no known correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment, and testing requires a blood or saliva sample. These complications have made it a challenge to gauge whether legalization makes the roads more hazardous. Some areas have laws that define a predetermined concentration of THC in the blood as illegal whether or not the driver appears impaired.

One company, called Hound Labs, is working on a breakthrough in creating a marijuana breathalyzer.

The company says its device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked pot in the last two hours. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.

Other tools now on the market to determine marijuana test blood, saliva or urine can take days for a result.

For now, law enforcement agencies rely mostly on roadside sobriety tests by officers to make an initial determination on impairment. In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana.

 

RESEARCH

Studies do show that marijuana does, in fact, weaken a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But more research is still needed, experts say.

Research by the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University showed that half of young drivers, age 16 to 25, who died in car crashes were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both. In 2015, 43 percent of all drivers killed in vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, according to the NHTSA. In California, 19 percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. And those percentages have been increasing each year.

Drugged driving is known as “a silent epidemic,” because there is a misconception that it’s OK and is safe to drive after smoking pot, as NPR reported. And the public — especially teenage drivers — are not well aware of some of the hazards of drugs such as marijuana on driving.

A major study underway on driving impairment at University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is scheduled to wrap up next year. Other groups, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are working on creating standards for a marijuana DUI detection test.

 

STAYING SAFE

The advice for pot users and driving is the same for all substances that cause impairment: never drive while under the influence!

Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime – even if impairment is due to prescribed medications, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications or marijuana – medical or recreational. The dangers and legal consequences are the same.

Here’s what you need to know about driving while under the influence of marijuana:

  • Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make decisions. Marijuana affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, balance and coordination and can impair judgment and memory. Studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana negatively impacts attentiveness, perception of time and speed. Impaired memory can affect the ability to draw from past driving experiences, especially in emergency situations.
  •  The higher you are, the more risks you take while driving. Studies show that drivers with only a small amount of THC in their blood can feel the effects. They often try to be more cautious, driving slower than normal, even sometimes too slow. However, greater problems arise when increasingly larger doses of THC are present in the blood. These drivers tend to weave in and out of lanes more, react slower to traffic lights and unexpected obstacles and are less aware of their speed. Overall, higher doses of marijuana tend to cause greater impairment when it comes to driving.
  • The effect of marijuana is strongest during the first 30 minutes after consumption. People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. The impairing effect rises rapidly and remains for some time. These affects can be delayed if the marijuana is ingested rather than smoked.
  • Combining alcohol with marijuana or impairing medications is even more dangerous than any used alone. Alcohol is a depressant and works by slowing down the central nervous system, which means that normal brain functions are delayed. It also impairs hand-eye coordination and how you process information. When marijuana or the long list of impairing prescription medications and illicit drugs are mixed with alcohol, the combination can heighten the effects of both on the body and brain.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Work injury lawyer James Yoro provides insight for cancer cases involving former refinery workers

September 11, 2019 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation lawyer James Yoro provided advice and legal insight in the local cases involving the Mohawk Refinery in Bakersfield, and workers who may have been exposed to cancer causing materials. Trusts have been set up to distribute fund to those who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer.

Below is the article published in The Bakersfield Californian, followed by a news video interview by KBFX Eyewitness News:

———

Decades can pass before cancer from asbestos exposure becomes evident, and by that time, who’s to say exactly who or what is to blame?

It almost doesn’t matter: Lawyers say that if documentation can be found showing a cancer patient spent enough time working somewhere asbestos was present — and the cancer is consistent with exposure to the carcinogen — then there’s a chance that financial compensation may be available to the person or the person’s heir.

Such is the case with the former Mohawk Refinery on Rosedale Highway.

People who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer could be eligible for compensation.

People who qualify may be entitled to thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, from any of several trusts set up to disburse money to victims of asbestos exposure.

Though no longer in wide use, asbestos used to be a common material in refineries and other industrial sites. As a result of exposure, workers who inhaled or ingested its microfibers may, over time, develop mesothelioma or lung, esophageal, laryngeal, pharyngeal, stomach, colon or rectal cancer.

The National Cancer Institute says 10 to 40 years can pass before asbestos-related cancers begin to appear.

The refinery has been declared a “qualified site.” That means instead of suing for compensation, qualified victims or their heirs need only prove how long the person was employed there — five years may be enough to qualify — and turn over medical records showing the cancer diagnosis.

Liability for paying such claims does not rest with the refinery or its former owners. Instead, payments would come from five asbestos trusts set up to cover injury claims.

The Bakersfield refinery was owned by Mohawk Petroleum Corp. when it first opened in 1932. It changed hands many times over the years, merging along the way with neighboring operations, and is now owned by Delek US. It is closed and has not operated for 12 consecutive months since 2012.

 

FINDING DOCUMENTATION

In the case of a qualified asbestos site, the process of filing and collecting on a claim does not typically involve a lawsuit. Even so, the process is not always easy; the difficult part can be collecting pathology reports, doctor’s reports and employment records.

Filing a claim has no effect on a person’s pension or Social Security benefits.

Lawyer James A. Yoro, an equity partner in the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, said a statute of limitations limits the window of opportunity for filing a claim against an asbestos trust. But because the window only opens when a person becomes aware of the cancer diagnosis, he said, the statute doesn’t usually become a barrier to payment.

While asbestos claims are not unheard of in Kern, Yoro said, those related to valley fever are more common here.

He noted that someone making an asbestos claim may have been exposed to the carcinogen at different times at various locations. This diversity of exposures does not generally affect a person’s chances of collecting payment from an asbestos trust.

 

ANOTHER AVENUE

Yoro also pointed out another option available to people exposed to asbestos while at work in California. It’s called the Asbestos Workers’ Account and it is part of a fund in the state Treasury.

How long and difficult the process of collecting on an asbestos claim often depends on the documentation a claimant provides, Yoro said. The more records available, he said, the better.

He advised that anyone with a possible claim consider filing one.

“If somebody does have a potential claim, they should definitely try it out,” he said. “There’s nothing to lose by trying it.”

 

ASBESTOS TRUSTS

Dozens of trusts exist to pay out asbestos-related medical claims. In the case of the former Mohawk Refinery along Rosedale Highway, these five trusts have money that can be claimed by people who used to work there and contracted cancer, or whose antecedents did.

The trusts were established to pay out future claims against these companies:

  • Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), which used asbestos as insulation in boilers
  • Halliburton, manufacturer of asbestos-containing turbines, pumps and compressors
  • J.T. Thorpe, which used asbestos to make refractory materials
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corp., maker of pipe-insulating products with asbestos in them
  • Fibreboard, manufacturer of fiberglass insulation and other materials that contain asbestos

———

If you or someone you know is hurt on the job, or hurt in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

———

MEDIA COVERAGE