Free Consultation? Keep These Points In Mind When Meeting With A Lawyer On Your Injury Case

June 16, 2021 | 6:00 am


You always hear about “free consultations” by lawyers, but what does that really mean, and what should a great consultation look like for someone who needs legal help?

Accident and injury attorney Matt Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles answers this frequently asked legal question in a new video below, and we share everything you need to know below about consultations from an accident and injury lawyer.

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Accident and personal injury claims can be complicated, which is why it’s most important to hire an experienced and reputable attorney. There are three main points to keep in mind when beginning the hiring process and meeting with a lawyer for a free consultation:

1) Make sure it’s a reputable law firm or lawyer giving you a consultation. Do your research. Look at reviews and comments from past clients. Negative reviews and lack of client feedback is a big red flag. Remember, personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers should be helping clients move forward with their lives. Don’t hesitate to ask a potential lawyer for references.

2) Make sure you’re meeting with an actual attorney. You’d be surprised how often injured clients never get to meet with an attorney either before their case is signed up, or during a case. That is unacceptable. A lawyer should always be available to meet with you and answer any questions you may have about your case from the first meeting on.

3) A consultation should be free, confidential, and with no obligation to commit. Anything other than free, confidential, and no-pressure meetings is never OK.

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Once you decide which attorneys you’ll meet with about your case, you’ll want to be aware of several things in preparation for the initial consultation. Most injury lawyers offer an initial consultation at no charge. Here are 5 points to keep in mind before you sit down with an attorney to discuss your case:

1) You Can Ask Questions: You want to make sure you hire someone you feel comfortable with, who you can trust, and who has your best interest at heart. Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • What is your experience with my type of case?
  • What is your success record?
  • Who will actually be working on my case? Make sure your case isn’t handed off to a paralegal or legal assistant. You want to make sure an actual lawyer is taking care of your case.
  • Who can I talk to if I have questions during my case? An attorney should always be available to answer any of your questions.
  • How long does it take to resolve a case like mine? Potential lawyers should be able to give you a rough estimate.
  • What is my case worth? A good, experienced lawyer should also have a good idea of what your case is worth. Be wary of attorneys who make estimates that seem unrealistic.

2) Fees: A consultation should always be free and confidential, and the injury lawyers should always work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you pay nothing out of pocket until the legal team recovers money damages in your case through a settlement or verdict. At that point, the lawyer is given a percentage of that award, typically between 33% and 40% if the case is taken to trial. Review the contract and agree on the structure before signing it. In this format, the attorney is responsible for any legal costs if a case is unsuccessful, not the client.

3) Gather Evidence: The lawyer, too, can decide whether or not he or she wants to take your case. Be sure to come to your free consultation with any evidence of you incident and subsequent injuries. This could include photographs of the scene or injuries, a police report, and medical records. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the records; if a lawyer is interested in your case, the legal team will be able to gather all of that information for you. The attorney will also have some questions, including detail about any accident.

4) Legal Team: You need to feel comfortable working with and trusting the attorney and legal team you ultimately choose. Some law firms send non-attorneys to sign up your case, or even pretend to be local when their offices are actually in another city. Still others shift work to non-lawyers. Many lawyers, also, will take on too many cases, causing unnecessary delays. Lawyers should also focus on taking each to a jury trial, even this likely won’t be necessary. This guarantees each case reaches its fullest value, and your case isn’t settled for less.

5) No Agreement: While you have a choice on who to hire, the attorney too might not accept your case due to a number of factors: conflict of interest, statute of limitations expired, minor injuries and small recovery, you caused the accident, or the attorney doesn’t have expertise in your case. If a lawyer can’t help you with your case, he or she should be able to refer you to someone who could help.

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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.

How to identify, report elder abuse and neglect, and raise awareness to end these tragic cases

June 9, 2021 | 9:03 am


It’s hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm an elderly person — senior citizens, after all, are some of our frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Yet, elder abuse and neglect is a widespread problem.

California sees more than 175,000 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.

For Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to draw attention to this problem and provide facts, prevention tips, vital resources, and other information to help reduce neglect and abuse (World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year takes place June 15). The law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse and neglect in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Read below to learn more about elder abuse and neglect, and how we can work together to bring these cases to an end.

 

WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE / NEGLECT

Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person financially, including scams targeting seniors. In other cases, it’s simple negligence: Caregivers don’t provide the basic necessities, like nutritious food, appropriate medication, safety, or assistance with hygiene. Abuse can include physical, emotional, financial, abandonment, isolation, and neglect.

Here are five facts about elder abuse:

  1. Elder abuse instances happen mostly in the home where the senior lives.
  2. One in every 10 elder adults experience some form of abuse in their lifetime.
  3. The most common form of abuse is financial exploitation and extortion.
  4. In around 90% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.
  5. Only one of every six instances of elder abuse and neglect is reported.

The purpose of elder abuse awareness is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed neglect and abuse tragedies in elder care and nursing home throughout the United States, including in Kern County. Local skilled nursing facilities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks that affected staff and residents alike. During the pandemic, Kern County Department of Public Health requested immediate help with staffing shortages at Kingston Health Care Facility in Bakersfield, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility.

A report by media agency Al Jazeera English highlighted how an elder care system already in crisis imploded under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. The coverage included an interview with Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark, an elder abuse and neglect lawyer.

 

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.

So, 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

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Know the symptoms of abuse: Bedsores, bruises, or chafing could indicate that your loved one is being restrained to a bed or wheelchair, or otherwise physically abused. If he or she has recently lost weight, malnutrition or dehydration could be at play, while poor hygiene is also an indicator of possible abuse. Watch, too, for changes in the person’s mood; if they seem depressed, anxious, agitated, or listless, see if you can discover why. In short, any changes to an elder’s behavior, disposition or physical condition could be cause for concern.

If you suspect something, say something: If you do detect signs of abuse, document them. Take pictures of bruises or injuries, get a statement from the victim or any witnesses, and keep a log of any suspicious behavior or circumstances. You can then address your concerns with the manager or director of the long-term care facility or home care provider; if they do not take action, contact the police or an elder abuse attorney.

Spread the word with social media: There really is no better way to get the word out and foster awareness than through social platforms. Share informational articles and use the hashtag #WEAAD.

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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.

Video Campaign Sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles Aims to Raise Awareness of Safety, Enjoyment of Bakersfield’s Kern River Parkway

May 5, 2021 | 5:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has helped launch a new video campaign focused on the safe use and enjoyment for all of Bakersfield’s Kern River Parkway — a paved trail over 30 miles long that runs from southwest to northwest Bakersfield used for recreational use and commuting.

The video campaign launched in conjunction with May’s “Bike Month”, an annual observation that showcases the many benefits of bicycling. Videos will be airing on local broadcast channels and throughout social media.

“We are all very lucky to have the Kern River Parkway in our community,” said Matt Clark, accident attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “As an avid cyclist, who has ridden all around our state, I can assure you that the Parkway is a rare and wonderful commodity. We encourage everyone to enjoy the path, and use it safely.”

The three videos highlight the rules of using the Parkway safely, how the entire family – adults with children and pets – can use the Parkway, and lastly, how the Parkway is “a trail to enjoy together,” as the campaign slogan states.

“Our community, unfortunately, has some of the highest rates of pedestrian and bicycle accidents in the state, and the nation,” said Asha Chandy, program manager at Bike Bakersfield. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy our trails, roadways, and other paths in Kern County. Let’s share the road safely.”

Bike Bakersfield has several events planned for Bike Month, which can be seen below and on bikebakersfield.org.

The video campaign is a partnership between three local organizations. Kern River Parkway Foundation works to protect, preserve, and restore the open area around the Kern River for the benefit of the citizens of Bakersfield and Kern County. Bike Bakersfield is a local bicycle advocacy nonprofit and bike kitchen. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is a Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm, which annually gives out hundreds of bicycle lights, safety helmets, and participates in local safety campaigns. Mark Nessia is the campaign videographer.

The videos can be viewed on-demand at youtube.com/chaincohnstiles.

 

BIKE MONTH

Several groups are coming together this year to commemorate Kern County’s Bike Month.

Bike Bakersfield, Kern Council of Governments and Kern County Public Works are working with a coalition of active transportation partners for a month of events to get people out on two wheels, The Bakersfield Californian reports.

  • A kick-off celebration has local elected officials and bicycling clubs enjoy a ride of solidarity from Beach Park to the Liberty Bell.
  • On May 4, Bike Month celebrates a chance to support local organizations through Give Big Kern’s day of giving. Bike Bakersfield is collecting donations now through the big day.
  • A community swap meet will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 8 outside of Cafe Smitten, 909 18th St. Participants can set up their own table with their gear and parts to sell or trade. After the swap ends, there will be a community cruise through downtown.
  • On May 19 from 6 to 9 p.m., the Ride of Silence will be held, starting at Cafe Smitten. Sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the ride honors the lives lost to traffic violence, particularly those killed while bicycling on public roadways.
  • Whether you’re still working from home or headed to the office, you can participate in Bike to Work Day on May 21. From 6 to 9 a.m., Bike Bakersfield and Kern Wheelmen will set up along the Kern River Parkway with refreshments for those riding to work.
  • On May 22, an alley cat/on bike scavenger hunt will be held at 11 a.m. Not to be confused with the downtown bar, participants will meet at Bike Bakersfield’s shop, 1708 Chester Ave., to kick off a race to reach checkpoints in downtown Bakersfield and the Kern River Parkway leading to Snider’s Cyclery. At the finish line, winners will be announced and prizes will be awarded. Everyone wins with food and drinks from local vendors as well as a BMX and skate jam.
  • Finally a full moon ride rounds out the month on May 26. Starting at 7 p.m. at Beach Park, riders will enjoy a community sunset cruise down the Kern River Parkway to Lengthwise Brewing at The Marketplace, 9000 Ming Ave., T-1.

 

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 number 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.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in the choking death of 21-year-old at local for-profit care facility

March 31, 2021 | 8:44 am


Ryan Kowal, 21, had severe autism and required one-on-one care “at all times” when he was placed in the care of SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home in Bakersfield. That care was most important during meal times, as Ryan required a soft food-only diet due to his risk for choking.

Supervisors at SAILS Westbrook Crisis Home, a vendor of Kern County Regional Center and Golden Gate Regional Center, signed care plans confirming such knowledge. So, it was alarming to the Kowal family when Ryan choked while eating a corn dog, causing Ryan to lose consciousness and go into cardiac arrest. He had to be revived by emergency personnel, and spent days in the hospital recovering.

But it was a preventable tragedy when, 7 months later on Jan. 23, Ryan was left alone again with easy access to food that posed a choking hazard. While Ryan was left alone with no supervision, he accessed what is believed to be crackers, ate a large amount of the crackers, choked and died.

The Kowal family, along with attorney Matt Clark at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, say this is a warning to families of special-needs children and adults everywhere to beware of for-profit care facilities who sacrifice appropriate support and care, which they are contractually obligated to provide, to increase profit margins.

“SAILS Westbrook knew Ryan’s needs and care requirements, accepted him as a resident in its home, being paid by taxpayers to provide him the appropriate supervision and provide for his needs,” states the lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the Kowal family. “A lack of oversight from both regional centers, and SAILS Westbrook’s desire for profit, caused Ryan’s tragic death.”

Ryan’s parents Treena and John Kowal, along with their attorney Matt Clark, spoke with local media to discuss Ryan’s tragic death, their wrongful death lawsuit, and the state of for-profit care facilities. To see the media interviews and coverage, click the links at the listing below.

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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.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles launches new educational grant program open to all Kern County students

February 3, 2021 | 5:00 am


While schooling may look different these days, one thing that hasn’t changed is the very real costs of education, which includes computers, textbooks, college application fees, and other school supplies and needs.

In an effort to help local students with the higher costs of education, local law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has introduced a new grant and educational video program open to all Kern County students.

The “Chats with Chain | Cohn | Stiles” educational grants program aims to give away $500 educational grants. How can students apply? Simple. Kern County students can visit bit.ly/chatswithccs, fill out the application, and ask our attorneys a question. It could be a question about the law, life as a lawyer, or anything in the legal field they may be curious about.

For the next 10 months, Chain | Cohn | Stiles will choose a question, and students will get to ask the lawyers that question on video at Scope Studios in Bakersfield. And, of course, they’ll get some cash for their education, too. Questions and answers will be posted on the Chain | Cohn | Stiles YouTube page for all to learn.

“We are especially mindful of the challenges students have faced during the pandemic,” said Matt Clark, senior partner at personal injury attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “This is our way of recognizing these challenges, and hopefully providing students with a little help, encouragement, and education.”

The scholarship application can be accessed at chainlaw.com, or by visiting the short URL http://bit.ly/chatswithccs. Scholarship program questions can be directed to [email protected]

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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.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

‘CHATS WITH CHAIN | COHN | STILES’ VIDEOS

Chain | Cohn | Stiles participates in community ‘Real Talk’ discussions focused on race relations in America

September 16, 2020 | 10:00 am


Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, and the nationwide protests that followed, Bakersfield College aimed to bring us all together. With the help of local media personality Danny Morrison, the college organized a full week of conversations, events, and celebrations for Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

BC continued with a two-week virtual series called “Real Talk” to discuss racism and violence, and ways to overcome these issues; to “Light A Candle” and “Shine A Light” so to speak.

“It is a dark and confusing time, which makes it harder to see how to move forward,” Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian wrote on her blog. “But as Bakersfield College Renegades, we owe it to our community, to our veterans, and we each owe it to George Floyd, to join together, listen with humility, and to bring light that can illuminate the way ahead.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles was proud to join in on the conversations as well. Attorney Matt Clark joined Morrison and Bob Prater — author of “A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation” — to discuss white peoples’ roles in the ongoing racial conversation. Topics during the discussion included the Black Lives Matter movement, white identity, white supremacy, exploitation, and reverse racism.

“We understand this is a process and that people of color and people of all religions and races and backgrounds and creeds and socioeconomic backgrounds can all come together as one,” Morrison told local media about the series.

You can watch the full discussion at this link on the Chain | Cohn | Stiles YouTube page, or below.

And you can watch all of the “Real Talk” discussions on the Danny Morrison Media Facebook page by clicking here.

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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 resolves Nancy Garrett wrongful death case, the last in a series of fatal crashes involving Kern County Sheriff’s personnel

July 8, 2020 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has resolved a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputy struck and killed her in September 2014 while in his patrol car.

The family settled the lawsuit against the County of Kern for $2.5 million. The resolution of this case represents the culmination of nearly a decade of work representing not only the family of Nancy Garrett, but the families of Daniel Hiler, Larry Maharrey and others who have been killed in crashes involving Kern County Sheriff’s Office personnel

“This case resulted in five years of protracted litigation in federal court,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “We are pleased with the outcome especially in light of the fact that the civil rights components of the case were fought at every turn … This case is an example of how the wheels of justice do in fact grind slowly. We appreciate that we had patient clients who believed in the civil rights aspects of the case to see if through to the end.”

For full media coverage of the case, see the listing below.

 

THE CRASH

The crash occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report found that Deputy Nicholas Clerico was at fault when he ran a red light at 85 mph and crashed into Garrett’s vehicle, on her driver’s side. She died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries.

“A reasonable person would have known that entering an intersection against a red traffic signal, at 85 mph, and without giving adequate warning to approaching traffic would create a danger to human life,” the CHP report stated.

The CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy, and in 2017, he pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 240 hours of community service. He was no longer with the KCSO by the time he accepted the plea agreement.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 on behalf of Garrett’s adult children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, asked for monetary damages as well as changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies were trained.

 

KCSO DRIVING

In the lawsuit, Garrett’s family through Chain | Cohn | Stiles asked for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County. The county’s policies “were not adequate to train its deputies to handle the usual and recurring situations with which they must deal, including … driving at excessive speeds, pre-clearing intersections and responding Code 3. (Kern County) was deliberately indifferent to the obvious consequences of its failure to train its deputies adequately.”

In fact, Garrett’s death came in the midst of other tragic crashes involving a KCSO. In a four-year span, Kern County sheriff’s personnel crashed into and killed four innocent bystanders in Oildale, including Garrett.

  • Larry Maharrey was killed in July 2015 when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. The family, represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and County of Kern settled the lawsuit for $3.8 million.
  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed in December 2011, when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case settled in March for $8.8 million.

 

BRINGING ABOUT CHANGE

The case was delayed due, in part, to the Central Valley’s federal district court instituting a “judicial emergency” order due to a shortage of judges. Federal Judge Dale A. Drozd of the U.S. Eastern District Court of California, the federal judicial district that includes Bakersfield and the southern Central Valley area, stated that the judicial emergency order “will seriously hinder the administration of justice” in the district.

In the end, Chain | Cohn | Stiles was able to resolve the case for the family, and helped bring about change.

“Over all else, the family of Nancy Garrett from the outset sought change in the driving practices within the Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian.

The family believes their lawsuit ultimately had a positive impact in the community, evidenced by the fact that in the five years of litigation they aren’t aware of any deadly traffic collisions involving sheriff’s deputies responding to calls, Clark said.

McGowan and Blanco told The Bakersfield Californian they continue to stand behind law officers and deputies as they work together with the community to maximize vehicle safety.

“Despite this litigation,” they said in the statement, “we support law enforcement and hope it prevents future crashes and tragedies on the part of our officers and our community members.”

Following the closure of the case, Mark McGowan posted a video regarding his experience with the case, and with Chain | Cohn | Stiles. You can view that video by clicking here.

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

CLAIM MEDIA COVERAGE

PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

‘JUDICIAL EMERGENCY’ MEDIA COVERAGE

SETTLEMENT MEDIA COVERAGE

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.

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

Seeking justice, inspiring hope, sharing stories for 2020 ‘Crime Victims’ Rights Week’

April 22, 2020 | 10:39 am


This week — April 19-25 — is Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which promotes victims’ rights and services available to crime victims.

Locally, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office each year hosts a march, speeches, and vigils to mark the occasion. That, of course, is not possible in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic taking place. But MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board wanted to continue to commemorate this occasion by asking victims, advocates, law enforcement partners, community members, and other impacted to record short videos or send pictures that highlight how each person has been impacted, why we should always remember/help crime victims locally, and a call-to-action to support victims this week and beyond. These stories are posted on the MADD Kern County Facebook page throughout the week, and a selection of which can be viewed below. 

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to partner with MADD Kern County throughout the year, including for Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Attorney Matt Clark shared a short video on the impact of DUI crashes on victims.

Clark is the recent recipient of the “Pursuit of Justice” award by MADD California. He is also a founding board member and organizer for MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board and event planning committees, regularly speaks at local Victim Impact Panels intended to prevent repeat DUI offenses, and has done pro-bono legal work for victims of DUI crashes. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has also been awarded a “Community Champion” award for the law firm’s work toward raising awareness locally and helping victims.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil lawsuits for victims of crimes and other injustices.

As examples:

  • A Tehachapi teenager was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday. The occupants of the truck fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was established by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Here are some of the powerful stories shared throughout the 2020 Crime Victims’ Rights Week …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Kvasnicka Family …

We are John and Mary Jo Kvasnicka, with our beautiful daughter Jaclyn Ann.

Jackie, Pavinder Claire and Jessica Magee were three best friends who all worked for Kern Schools Federal Credit Union. The night of August 30, 2014 they spent the evening enjoying Bakersfield together at a Blaze baseball game. It was the last time Pavinder’s parents, and John and I, would see our daughters. Not just see our daughters alive, but see them at all.

That night a man decided he was able to drive his car, despite being high on drugs and alcohol. He decided to drive at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. He decided to not use his brakes when he came up behind our daughter’s car, carrying the three young women home. He decided to slam into the back of Jackie’s car with absolutely no intention of stopping. And he killed Pavinder on impact. He caused major burns to over 40 percent of Jessica’s body, where she carries scars to this day. And he pinned Jackie behind the wheel, desperately screaming for help to escape the fiery inferno. No one was able to help her. Our daughter burned to death, as did Pavinder. Jessica miraculously escaped with the help of her angels in the form of first responders. But she remains forever scarred, physically and emotionally.

None of this had to happen! Every single part of this scenario could have been prevented! Our daughters could still be alive and with us! Jackie’s daughter, yes she was a Mommy, would have her Mommy here with her, and not just pictures!

We no longer ask God “Why?” Instead we use our time and resources to work to make sure no other parent, child, sibling has to suffer what we suffered. Despite the passing of time, our missing Jackie has not and never will lessen. The pain subsides, memories flood our minds, and God provides peace. But our daughter is forever gone.

Do your part!!!! NEVER, EVER drive while impaired! There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for this scenario to ever happen! Have a plan, and make the right choice, always. Keep our streets safe always. Do your part!!!

God bless

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Embree Family …

Taylor Embree (2/28/84 – 10/17/13) was killed by a repeat drunk driver while on his way to work. He was hit head on at 90 mph. The impact was so great that it sheared off the bolts that held the cab onto the chassis causing the cab to become airborne and land on its rear windshield, where Taylor was killed on impact. He left behind his wife Britney, and son, Clayton.

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Soto Family …

This is Ireli Soto-Jalving, holding a picture of her sister Alba Elliott. Ireli was 2 years old when her mom Gabriela Soto was killed on June 6, 2017. Gabby was 7-months pregnant at the time of her death. Gabby and Baby Alba were victims of a head-on collision that was caused by someone who was determined to be under the influence of marijuana.

Gabby was captivated by all things Irish which is why she named her first daughter, Ireli Gabriela. Gabby had a passion and love for many things, but nothing compared like the love she had for her daughter Ireli. Her love for her daughter really pushed Gabby to be the best version of herself, which she presented to everyone and was truly reflected in her work and life.
Gabby was loved by many. Her beautiful smile and infectious laughter lit up any place she entered. And that smile and sincere soul reeled you in and never let you go.

Take care and stay safe,

Blanca Soto

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Balderrama Family …

My name is Tina. My sister is Leslie Balderrama, and she was hit and killed by an underage drunk driver.

No matter how much time passes by, the pain of not having her here with us every day is heartbreaking. Some days you wake up OK, and by the time you’re done getting ready for work, you are having a meltdown because you think of what mornings used to be like when she was there. Holidays are never as happy or exciting as they once used to be. I try to keep a smile on my face for my kids. My son is 6 years old and every day he tells me he misses his Tia, and every time we pass the cemetery he always asks to go see her. Knowing my daughter will never get to meet her is something I will always struggle with. The hardest part for me is always wondering what she would be doing today, what college she would be attending, how far would she have gotten in her basketball career, where would she be working. Little things like that definitely hurt the most.

This is our last family picture together …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Morales Family …

Sunday, March 25, 2018 was the worst day of my life! My three older children Kaleb, Ethan, and Madysyn were with their father Adam for part of Spring Break. They were headed to their dad’s home in Wasco along with their 11-year-old sister, Jordan, after being at their cousin’s quinceañera practice. They picked up Kaleb from work and then made their last stop at Best Buy, where they purchased a birthday gift for my son, Ethan.

As they were driving Highway 43 (less than 5 minutes from home) a selfish, thoughtless woman decided that she was going to get behind the wheel intoxicated 3 times above the legal limit. She hit the soft shoulder and over-corrected, losing control of her vehicle and crossing over into oncoming traffic, causing Adam to hit her head on from her passenger side of her vehicle with not even a second to react. She was driving her son’s illegal chop shop vehicle. She had no insurance and no license to drive.

According to the CHP report, no brakes were activated and no skid marks were on the road because there was no time for him to react. He was not on his phone. He was not texting. He was not doing anything wrong. He was just driving his children home.

She stole part of my world and forever changed our lives and the lives of many people. My first-born child, Kaleb Adam Garza, was 19 years old. My first-born daughter and sweet baby girl, Madysyn Rose Garza, was 14 years old and a freshman at Ridgeview High School. Jordan Nicole Garza, the kids’ sister & Adam Garza, the kids Father were all were taken away.
Ethan, who was 17 at the time (now 19), was the only survivor. Given the injuries he sustained (2 broken femurs, right ankle, left wrist, right forearm, broken ribs, collapsed lung, a serious injury to his intestines, broken ribs, lacerated liver, and losing his spleen), he is so very, very lucky to be alive. He lost his father and three siblings that night. His scars and physical and mental pain is a constant reminder of his traumatic loss.

This was 100% preventable! It is always 100% preventable! Look what it did to us! It is a never ending healing process and we will never be the same. Please remember to not drink and drive or drive impaired. Please don’t get in the car with anyone who had been drinking or is impaired. Please don’t encourage or underage drink and please, please please, don’t allow anyone to end up like us! It’s forever life changing, an unexplainable loss, and horrible experience no one wants to have!

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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.

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MEDIA COVERAGE