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

November 18, 2020 | 3:49 pm


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips for a safe summer road trip during the pandemic

July 29, 2020 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

 

Plan Ahead

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

 

Get Enough Sleep

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

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

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

 

Bring ‘Protection’ 

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

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

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

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

 

Watch Out For Speeding

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

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

 

Stay Focused 

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

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

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

 

Roadside Safety

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

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

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

Elder abuse and neglect awareness is more important now than ever

June 3, 2020 | 11:42 am


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

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

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

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

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

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

“… It’s an inadequate amount of staffing that leads to poor patient care. Poor patient care leads to poor patient outcomes. Poor patient outcomes especially in the elder care world often times leads to death,” Clark said in an interview with 23ABC.

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

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

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

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During pandemic, auto crashes are down throughout California, but not in Bakersfield-Kern County

May 27, 2020 | 9:25 am


The coronavirus pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives, including driving habits. In fact, traffic volume is down throughout California’s roadways, which has resulted in fewer collisions and arrests for driving under the influence across the state.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Bakersfield and Kern County.

While California saw an 88% reduction in the number of people killed in crashes and a 62% decrease in the number of people injured in crashes from March 19 to April 30 this year versus last year, the Bakersfield area saw a 33% increase in fatal crashes from 8 in 2019 to 12 in 2020 during this same time period, according to data from the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS).

California also saw a 75% decrease in the number of crashes, and the total number of truck-involved collisions also saw a 60% drop, with fatal truck-involved crashes down 88%, according to CHP. The number of DUI arrests made by officers has decreased during March and April in California, from 7,224 in 2019 to 4,223 in 2020; a decrease of 42%.

Even more, the open roads have left some drivers feeling the need for speed. CHP officers issued 2,738 citations for speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour between March 19 and April 30, which is an increase of 46% from last year. Locally, the CHP’s Central Division, which covers the Central Valley, saw a 61% increase in speeding over 100 mph tickets during the same time period.​

According to Verra Mobility, a photo enforcement company with 4,000 camera locations in the United States, speed violations were up 16%, and the number of vehicles going at least 20 miles per hour over the local limit increased 40% in April compared with the same month last year.

The surge in speeding and reckless behavior on our roadways has led to increased patrolling on local highways. A first offense for a 100 mph citation could lead to a $1,000 fine, loss of license for 30 days, or worse — speeding endangers lives of everyone on the road.

“During this time, taking care of yourself and one another goes beyond wearing a mask and physical distancing. We all have a responsibility care for each other on our roadways, too,” said David Cohn, managing partner and personal injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Please Slow down, take your time, pay attention while driving, and drive sober.”

Across the country too, U.S. highways have gotten emptier and they have also been more deadly, data from the National Safety Council shows. The fatality rate per mile driven went up by 14% compared with March 2019. The number of miles driven dropped 18.6% in March compared with the same month last year, but the death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.22 in March, up from 1.07 in March 2019.

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

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

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

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

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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.

More bicycles are on our roadways during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more accidents (how to stay safe)

May 13, 2020 | 6:00 am


With the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis restricting much of everyday life, limiting movement to essential trips for food and medicine and a daily outings for exercise, bikes have emerged as savior for many.

Bicycles have become a welcome tool for this pandemic as a way to quickly get around and get exercise while staying a safe distance from everyone else. In some cities, cycling has increased by more than 150% during the outbreak, according to the World Resource Institute.

Unfortunately, also increasing are injuries from cycling. In New York, authorities reported a nearly 50% jump in cyclists injuries during March. The rise in cyclist injuries comes as the number of people on the road overall is decreasing as more people work and are staying put inside their homes. It appears that driver inattention and failure to yield, and some form of driver error are all to blame.

Locally, The Bakersfield Californian reported that that bicycle shops and bike repair businesses are doing well at a time when many retailers are struggling or shut down entirely. The California Highway Patrol recently issued a reminder to motorists to share the road safely with bicyclists, who may be out in larger numbers as a result of the stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus. In fact, local CHP offices are giving out helmets to children, and parents or guardians. According to the National Safety Council, cyclists who wear a helmet reduce their risk of head injury by an estimated 60 percent. California law requires cyclists under 18 to wear a helmet.

The increase also comes at a time of another sobering statistic: From 2016 through 2018 in California, more cyclists died in traffic accidents across the state than during any three-year period in the past 25 years, according to California Healthline. Surging popularity of bike shares and fitness cycling are part of the reasons.

At the time, and especially during this month’s National Bike Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reminds everyone — bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists — to stay alert on our roads to keep everyone safe. Read below for quick tips of how we can all stay safe:

RULES OF THE ROAD

Here are bike laws you need to know to pedal safely and legally, courtesy of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition:

  • Pedestrians have the right of way: In the crosswalk or not, bike riders and drivers are required to yield to pedestrians.
  • Stop behind the crosswalk: Leave crosswalks free and clear for pedestrians. Always stop behind the line.
  • Mind the signs and lights: Stop at stop signs and obey red lights, just like all other vehicles.
  • Stay on the streets: It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk.
  • Go with the flow: Ride the same direction as traffic. Walk your bike on the sidewalk if you find yourself on the wrong block of a one-way street.
  • Take the lane: If you’re next to parked cars or you’re riding in a narrow lane — if you feel safer, take the lane and ride outside the door zone.
  • It’s OK to leave the bike lane: If you feel safer outside the bike lane, you can ride in other vehicle travel lanes. Merge when safe and signal when changing lanes.
  • Light up the night: Reflectors and a front white light are required by law. We recommend you use a rear light as well.
  • Keep an ear clear: Even when using hands-free devices, bike riders and drivers are required to keep one ear free of headphones.
  • Be a friend to disabled neighbors: Sometimes people with disabilities need access to the curb. Paratransit carriers (including taxis) may have to enter the bikeway to drop them off. Be a good neighbor and give them room.
  • Pass on the left: Although bike lanes are often on the right side of the road, people biking and driving are required to pass on the left.

And here are a few tips to ensure the safety of everyone on the road:

  • Drivers should look behind them before making a turn at an intersection, especially if crossing into a designated bike lane.
  • Drivers should use extra caution backing up or leaving a parking space.
  • Bicyclists should go with the flow of traffic and let faster traffic pass.
  • Bicyclists should make themselves visible and wear brightly colored clothing.
  • Bicyclists are advised to use lights from dusk to dawn (front white light and rear red flashing light or reflectors).
  • Bicyclists should always wear a helmet and use hand signals when turning or stopping.
  • Both drivers and bicyclists should avoid distractions like using their cell phone.

 

CRASH CHECKLIST

If you are involved in a collision while riding a bicycle, it’s important to know the steps to follow to ensure that you receive fair response from the police and collect information you may need for future legal issues. Even if you are not injured, follow this checklist as injuries can come up later.

Immediately after a crash

  • Tell the driver to stay until the police arrive. If they refuse to stay or don’t provide ID, get their and the car’s description, vehicle’s license plate # and state of issue.
  • Call (or ask someone to call) 9-1-1, and ask for the police to come to the scene.
  • Get name and contact info for any witnesses. Ask them to remain on the scene until police arrive, if possible.
  • Ask for the driver’s license and insurance card. Write down name, address, date of birth, and insurance information.

When the police arrive

  • Ask them to take an incident report.
  • Get reporting police officer’s name and badge number.
  • If you’ve been doored, ask the officer to cite the motorist for dooring.
  • Ask the officers to speak to witnesses, if possible.
  • While a doctor’s report of your injury is important for insurance and/or legal action, you do not need to take an ambulance.

In the days after the crash

  • Contact witnesses to ask them to email you their version of what happened while it’s fresh in their mind. Email yourself a description of what happened with relevant information and capture as much detail as you can.
  • Take good photos of your injuries and any bike damage. Get an estimate from a bike shop before making repairs.
  • Request a copy of the incident report from the police.
  • Contact an attorney who has experience with bicycle accidents.

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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark discusses COVID-19 outbreak at local skilled nursing facility, and how to protect loved ones

May 6, 2020 | 10:05 am


A local skilled nursing facility is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak affecting staff and residents alike, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles spoke with media on what people can do to protect their loved ones.

Kingston Healthcare Center, a skilled nursing facility in southwest Bakersfield, has reported 70 positive cases of the novel coronavirus as of May 5, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. The Kern County Department of Public Health said the facility requested immediate help with staffing shortages, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility.

The nursing home in a statement to media said they are working with health officials to manage confirmed cases. The facility said they’ve increased their housekeeping services and currently have appropriate personal protective equipment for staff.

“California Department of Public Health is on-site daily at the center and working together with center staff to ensure infection control process are being followed and assisting with some staffing needs,” according to the statement

Matthew Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles elder abuse and elder neglect attorney and senior partner, shared with 23ABC News that families with loved ones in the Kingston facility have reached out to the law firm about the quality of care since the COVID pandemic. He says over the last three years his firm has had around a half dozen cases against the facility.

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

23ABC reported in April that documents showed the California Department of Public Health cited the Kingston Health Care Facility more than 14 separate times since 2015. Within the last six months they were also cited with a Double-A citation, which is considered one of the most serious violations.

KGET-17 News also reported that Kingston has been sued six times since 2017, with allegations including medical malpractice, elder abuse and neglect and wrongful death. Many of those cases have been filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

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

Kingston’s profile is now listed as a “Special Focus Facility.” According to the site this means the nursing home has had a history of persistent poor quality of care.

As of May 5, Kern County is reporting 1,055 positive cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths, according to Kern County Public Health Services Department.

UPDATE (MAY 11, 2020): Families of residents at Kingston, as well as staff members, are speaking out about conditions at the skilled nursing facility, and seeking justice. A certified nursing assistant said they were not given PPE equipment until about a “two weeks ago,” and were working 16-hour shifts.

UPDATE (JUNE 2, 2020): The Kern County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a plan to designate an accountability officer from the Kern County Emergency Services to oversee issues at the state-regulated nursing care faculties.

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

To report cases of abuse locally, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services or the Long-Term Care Ombudsman:

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

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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

March 18, 2020 | 6:00 am


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

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

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

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

 

Employer responsibility 

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

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

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

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

 

Coronavirus and workers’ compensation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: On May 6, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order made it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensations benefits. The order streamlined workers’ compensation claims and established a rebuttable presumption that any essential workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job. In effect, the change shifts the burden of proof that typically falls on workers and instead requires companies or insurers to prove that the employees didn’t get sick at work.The change covers claims filed for 60 days from the May 6 announcement and is retroactive to claims filed as early as March 19. The new rules apply to workers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of performing work, or those who received a diagnosis within 14 days that was confirmed by a positive test no more than 30 days later. Employers have 30 days to rebut a claim.

 

Benefits available to infected workers

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

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

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

 

Other work benefits 

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

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

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

 

Message to our clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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