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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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.

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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