San Francisco Injury Lawyer Blog

When it comes to the weather in California, one word has dominated the headlines in recent years: drought.  However, this year is off to a much rainier start than years past.  While we could certainly use the rain, it is important to remember the fundamentals of rainy day driving.  Rain and water can make travel more complex and more hazardous, but our San Francisco car accident law firm believes drivers must take responsibility and exercise appropriate caution in wet conditions.

January Sees Huge Rainfall Totals in Northern California

According to SFGate, El Nino delivered on its promise of a wet start to 2016.  Forecasters say that the weatherrainy phenomenon typically brings in warm Pacific Ocean waters that can add moisture to the region’s air mass.  In San Francisco, where a typical January sees 4.5 inches of rain, January 2016 brought a whopping 6.94 inches, the highest total since 2008 and more than the past five Januaries combined (a statistic “helped” by the fact that January 2015 saw no rain at all)!  Other impressive totals include 12.06 inches in Eureka (186% of average) and 12.68 in Redding (213% of average).  While most of California is still dealing with drought conditions, forecasters say this may ease if the season brings in 150% of the average rainfall.  One section along the North Coast has already been removed from the official drought tally.

Tips on Rainy Day Driving from Edmunds.com

Edmonds.com begins its discussion of wet weather driving with a surprising fact – Rainy day driving is actually more dangerous than snowy day driving.  The automotive industry company cites National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data finding a higher likelihood of crashing during wet, rainy conditions than during wintry weather like snow or sleet.  Why?  Perhaps because fewer people hit the roads during snowy weather, but it is likely also because people take rainy day driving for granted and forget to prepare.

Here are some tips from Edmunds on how to stay safe on the roads during rainy weather:

  • Prepare your tires – Make sure you have sufficient tread. Experts now recommend using a quarter (versus a penny) and placing it upside down into the tread.  If you can see the top of Washington’s head, you need new tires.  You also want to check your tires’ air pressure regularly.
  • Prepare your car – Proper maintenance on the rest of your vehicle is also key. Important items to check include windshield wipers, headlights, taillights, and turn signals.
  • Slow down – Speeding is dangerous anytime, but especially in wet weather when you lose traction. Wet weather can cause up to a one-third reduction in the amount of friction built up between the tire and the road.  In rainy conditions, experts suggest reducing your speed by about a third (from 55mph to 40mph) although that is a rough guideline and sometimes slower travel speeds are best.
  • Stay back – In dry conditions, travel about 3 to 4 seconds behind the car in front of you (use a fixed marker like a telephone pole for reference). In wet weather, increase the travel distance and stay 5 seconds behind the car in front of you, 6 seconds if it is raining at night.  Likewise, when possible try to avoid being boxed in by cars on either side of you.  It may not always be feasible in high traffic areas, but it is ideal to leave yourself a way out if a car stops unexpectedly.
  • Be smart about technology – Do not use cruise control (including adaptive cruise control) and do not rely on forward collision warning systems. Wet weather can compromise certain systems’ accuracy and the act of releasing the gas before braking can provide extra traction that gets lost if cruise control is activated.  On the other hand, traction control, anti-skid technology, and anti-lock brakes can help with wet weather driving.
  • Hydroplaning – Hydroplaning occurs when tires ride atop a layer of water, losing contact with the road itself. If this happens, easing off the gas may be enough to regain contact.  If that doesn’t work, gently press the brake to transfer the car’s weight and interrupt the hydroplane.  Don’t steer until you regain traction.
  • Skidding – Despite the old advice, experts now say to simply try to steer in the direction you want to go, a much simpler task than figuring out where the skid originated and turning into it.

Wet weather can make driving more complicated, but usually it is a driver and not Mother Nature who is responsible for a wet weather accident.  If you were hurt because another driver used poor judgment in wet weather, call our San Francisco, Oakland, or Santa Rosa car accident law office for help getting the compensation you deserve.

See Related Blog Posts:

Flooded Roads, Heavy Rains, and Being Prepared Even in California’s Drought

Wet Weather and Driving Safety

(Image by David Prasad)

Tragedies involving children are particularly difficult to comprehend and the mere thought of a car accident killing or injuring a child is enough to send a shiver down any parent’s spine.  While statistics show that children are safer than ever on the road, a surprising number of car accidents involving children occur in driveways and other private spaces.  So-called nontraffic crashes involving children are terrible to contemplate, but discussing them is crucial to preventing future tragedies and obtaining justice for the victims of these incidents.  Our Oakland child injury lawyer is dedicated to both fights.

Toddler Killed as Car Pulls onto Road in Richmond

This week, the Oakland Tribune provided additional details about an accident on January 28 that led to the death of a young girl.  It was around 2:25 PM in Richmond when a man was getting ready to leave his home on the 300 block of Beck Street near South 35 Street.  As he pulled away in his truck, he tragically hit and killed a two-year-old girl.  Police suspect the toddler was chasing after her father to say goodbye when she was hit and say they do not believe he saw the child before hitting her.

Creating a More Accurate Picture of Child Car Accident Victims

In general terms, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes that car accident deaths for children under 13 have decreased 78 percent since 1975.  The IIHS lists a total of 3,643 child car accident deaths in 1975 compared to 939 in 2013 (side note: we think even one is too many!).  Even more dramatically, the rate of child pedestrian fatalities dropped 89 percent.  This is great news, but it is also an incomplete picture.

It was only with the passing of a new law in 2007 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been charged with collecting data on so-called “nontraffic crashes.”  These are accidents that occur off public traffic ways including accidents in driveways, private roads, and parking facilities.  In 2014, the NHTSA published “Not-in-Traffic Surveillance: Child Fatality and Injury in Nontraffic Crashes—2008 to 2011 Statistics” looking specifically at nontraffic incidents involving victims aged 14 years and younger.  On average, from 2008 to 2011, 221 non-occupant children and 40 occupant children died each year in nontraffic incidents.  Breaking the non-occupant figure down further, an average of 104 children were killed by front-moving vehicles, 95 by rear-moving vehicles, 7 in rollaway crashes (i.e. no driver in the vehicle), and 15 in other forms of nontraffic crashes each year.  Additionally, an average of around 8,000 children were injured in non-traffic incidents each year, including 60% who were vehicle occupants and 40% who were outside of the vehicle involved in the incident.

Nontraffic crashes are particularly dangerous to the youngest of children.  In the study years, a full 84% of non-occupant children who died in nontraffic crashes were aged 4 years or younger.  For occupant child fatalities in these off-road crashes, there was a fairly close split between children aged 0-to-4-years (46%) and 5-to-14-years (54%), although that still reflects a higher tendency for young children to be the victims in these incidents.

A Child Injury Lawyer in San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa

Children are our most precious resource.  Drivers must always be on the lookout for children, remembering both their small stature and inability to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions.  If your child was injured or killed in a car accident, whether on the road or in a nontraffic location like a driveway or parking lot, we can help you get the compensation your family needs and deserves.  Call our Oakland law firm for child car accident victims to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:

Backover Accidents: Prevention and Compensation

Child Injury Lawyer Watching Federal Investigation Into Defective Child Safety Seats

 

There are countless poems and other verses about the beauty of trees.  They can provide shelter, give fruit, and offer shade.  Part of their beauty is in their powerful size, stretching to the sky and often much wider than an adult’s arm span.  This is also what makes them potentially dangerous, potentially deadly.  In some cases, property owners are responsible when a tree falls and injures or kills someone else.  Do not assume you are without recourse if you or a loved one are the victim of a tree fall injury; read on for some general information and call our Northern California tree fall injury law firm in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, or Oakland to learn more.

Tree Fall Kills Driver in SoCal

According to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press, a motorist in Pacific Beach died Sunday when powerful winds knocked a tree onto a residential roadway.  Fire Captain Joe Amador told reporters the tree measured eight feet in diameter and also crushed three unoccupied, parked vehicles.  The storm’s strong winds knocked down dozens of trees throughout Southern California, even ripping up rooftops before continuing its journey up the coast.

treefallApplying Premises Liability Law to Tree Cases

We have far too little information to make an informed legal judgment about the recent Pacific Coast tragedy.  However, broadly speaking, most fallen tree cases are governed by premises liability law (often thought of in terms of “slip and fall” cases), a topic that falls under the broader rubric of negligence law.  As detailed in the Section 1000 of the California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”), the basic claim that a plaintiff was injured because of the way the defendant managed his property requires showing:

  • Negligence – The defendant negligently used or maintained the property
    • CACI 1001 explains that a defendant “is negligent if he or she fails to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. A person who [owns/leases/occupies/controls] property must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.” Relevant factors in the analysis include location, the likelihood someone would encounter the issue, the potential gravity of any harm, etc.
    • As in many cases, the rule looks at what the defendant “knew or should have known.” Ignorance is no excuse if an ordinary person in the defendant’s situation would have been aware of the problem and had enough time to remedy it.  Property owners are expected to make reasonable reviews of their property for possible dangers.
  • Control – The defendant must have owned, leased, occupied, or otherwise controlled the property;
  • Harm – The plaintiff was injured/harmed;
  • Causation – The negligence above was a substantial cause of the harm.

Put simply: If the owner knew or should have known that a tree was a hazard and the owner failed to act, the owner is legally liable for any injuries or financial damages caused by a falling tree or tumbling branch.

A quick note: If you speak with people other states about premises liability law, you may find them emphasizing the terms “trespasser,” “invitee” (often a business-related entrant) and “licensee” (often a social guest).  These terms address the status of the injured person.  While this status can be part of the negligence evaluation and impact the reasonableness of the owner’s actions (i.e. one typically owes higher duties to someone who comes into a store to do business than someone who breaks in overnight!), this status is just one part of the calculation and is not controlling in and of itself as it is in some other states.

A Few Points on Trees: Ownership and Prevention

In California, Civil Code 833 that “Trees whose trunks stand wholly upon the land of one owner belong exclusively to him, although their roots grow into the land of another.”  Property owners must be mindful of tree maintenance.  Since we would always prefer to help prevent accidents (though we are very proud of our work helping people recover compensation after accidents!), we wanted to include a few words on tree maintenance.

Many common causes of tree collapse can be managed by being a good steward of your land.  These causes include improper maintenance, failure to trim loose branches, improper planting/installation (e.g. planting where the roots will not be able to effectively anchor the tree or simply planting in an unwise location), and failure to spot/respond to disease.  Owners/Occupiers must inspect their land to determine if any trees pose a hazard to guests or passersby, including risks that would only become reality in harsh weather.  If a hazard is detected, the landowner must take precautions ranging from trimming branches, treating disease, and possibly removing the tree.  Responsible property owners should regularly inspect their property and employ a certified arborist to look at trees annually.

Our Tree Injury Lawyer in Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco

If a tree fell and injured you or a family member in Northern California, you may have a legal claim.  This is true whether the owner was a private individual, a company, or even a government authority (although claims against the government require some special procedural steps).  Call our tree

See Related Blog Posts:

When Winds and Negligence Combine to Cause Injury to Northern Californians

Recovering Injury Compensation Following Mudslides

(Image by Ruid Rlet, not of incident discussed in article)

Sometimes good organizations, with good missions and many good people on board, do bad things.  A notable example is when a charity or public service group falsifies information with respect to a federal grant or other government support.  It can be hard to speak up against any large organization and it can be even harder in the case of a group you know does good work.  Still, it is important — knowingly falsifying a federal grant application or violating its terms is wrong no matter how well-intentioned the ultimate mission.  As a recent settlement reminds us, making false claims for federal grants, a type of federal grant fraud, is a violation of the False Claims Act and charitable organizations must, like any recipient, obey the terms of government grants and use the money in a responsible manner.  As a law firm for federal grant fraud whistleblowers, we take these cases seriously and believe that ensuring accountability is an important form of protecting taxpayer money.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters Pays $1.6 Million to Settle False Claims Charges

On January 21, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a press release announcing that Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (“BBBS”) agreed to pay $1.6 mimoneyrollllion to resolve allegations it made false claims relating to DOJ grants.  BBBS is a national organization with some 300 affiliate agencies that help provide mentoring support to children across the country.  BBBS has received millions of dollars in grant funds since 2004 from the DOJ in order to support programs for at-risk youths.  These grants require that BBBS maintains sound accounting processes and uses financial management systems that comply with federal regulations/guidelines, principles aimed at ensuring grant funds are accounted for and directed toward appropriate purposes.

  • Allegations

In the recent litigation, the government alleged that BBBS violated the rules with respect to three specific DOJ grants awarded between 2009 and 2011.  Following a 2013 audit, the DOJ alleged that BBBS commingled grant money with general operating accounts, failed to segregate expenditures in order to guarantee grant funds were used as intended, and failed to maintain appropriate internal financial practices to ensure proper use of grant money.  Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer explains the reason for concern: “Organizations such as Big Brothers do great work, but in carrying out their mission they also have an obligation to the populations they serve and to the taxpayer to ensure that government grant funds are used responsibly according to the rules.”

  • Settlement

Although BBBS has not admitted to any wrongdoing, the organization agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle these allegations.  Since 2013, the organization has replaced its management team and begun putting policies in place to control the use of federal grant money.  The settlement also includes an agreement by BBBS to implement strict compliance measures to ensure proper use of grant funds including the creation of whistleblower policies and a commitment to regular audits by both internal and independent auditors.

Government Grants: Funding Comes With Serious Obligations to Ensure Proper Use of Taxpayer Money

Like other government agencies and programs, the DOJ manages a number of programs that provide grants to help achieve important goals such as effective crime fighting and crime prevention measures.  According to the Grants 101 webpage developed by the Office of Justice Programs, one of the things a grant manager considers when evaluating a grant application is whether the “activities proposed in the application are measurable, achievable, and consistent with program or legislative requirements as stated in the solicitation.”  This obligation is clearly intended to protect taxpayer money from misuse and/or improper use.

Government Grant Fraud: Whistleblowers and Whistleblowers’ Counsel

As with so many fraud cases, whistleblowers are essential to identifying fraud and prosecuting the offenders.  Most whistleblowers have attempted to raise their concerns internally, but when they are met with silence or outright resistance, they turn to us.  We are a law firm for government grant fraud whistleblowers, headed by an attorney dedicated to fighting government contract fraud abuse in all forms.  If you believe you’ve witnessed the misuse of, improper accounting for, or other fraud in conjunction with government grants (or, indeed, any improper claims for government funds from false Medicare filings to cheating on military contracts), please call our firm at (800) 424-4700.

See Related Blog Posts:

Government Fraud Case Study: The Violation of “Buy American” Clauses in Government Contracts

Fiscal Year 2015 and the False Claims Act: Reviewing Another Successful Year

(Image by Zach Mccarthy, aka zzzach)

A problem we reported on in mid-December continues to endanger people, including children, in Northern California and nationwide – hoverboard fires.  Hoverboards certainly turns heads the first few time you encounter them (even if it isn’t quite what those of us old enough to have watched the Back to the Future trilogy think of when we first hear the name!) and they can take time to master.  A few bruises from tumbling off while mastering the ride are one thing, severe burns from an explosion are quite another and our team is here to serve as a law firm for hoverboard fire injuries in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Oakland.

Petaluma Fire Adds to List of Alleged Hoverboard Explosions

According to CBS SF, a hoverboard is being blamed for a home fire in Petaluma on Monday night.  The hoverboard was allegedly charging and plugged into a wall outlet when it exploded, catching fire and sending burning debris throughout the home.  Thankfully no one was injured, but officials estimate the damage to the home at around $10,000.

hoverboard2Per CBS, the Petaluma fire is the third Bay Area fire in the past two months allegedly linked to hoverboards.  Last week, prior to the Petaluma incident, technology news website CNET reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was investigating 39 (presumably now 40) hoverboard fires in 19 states.  The agency is focusing its attention on the lithium-ion batteries and how they interact with the unit’s other electrical parts.  Witnesses say hoverboards have exploded in a range of situations including while charging, during use, and even reportedly while sitting idle near a kiosk in a mall.

In response to the fires, CNET notes that several airlines have banned hoverboards from passenger flights and the US Postal Service forbids shipping hoverboards by air.  Several retailers have suspended sales, some even allowing customers to return hoverboards for a full refund.  Additionally, California has a new law stating no one under 16 may ride a hoverboard on public roads, limiting hoverboard use to bike lanes and roads with a speed limit at or under 35mph, and requiring users to wear a helmet.

California Product Liability Law: Claims and Defenses in Design Defect Litigation

California law is clear – manufacturers and sellers are responsible for injuries caused by unsafe products.  Although other claims exist (e.g., negligence), most claims of injuries stemming from unsafe products are based on product liability law.  As California Civil Jury Instruction (“CACI”) 1200 and related sections provide, product liability claims fall under a strict liability framework meaning the plaintiff does not need to prove the defendant was negligent or had a dangerous intent.  There are three primary categories of product liability claims:

  • Design Defect – Asserts the product’s design was a substantial factor leading to the injury;
  • Manufacturing Defect – Asserts the product deviated from design specifications and that defect was a substantial factor causing injury); and
  • Failure to Warn – Asserts risks known to the defendant but not obvious to a consumer existed and the defendant’s failure to provide an adequate warning was a substantial factor in the injury-causing event.

Design defect cases are further divided into two different categories by the Jury Instructions, the:

  • Consumer Expectation Test (CACI 1203) – Asserts the item “did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected it to perform when used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way” and this failure was a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s injury, and
  • Risk/Benefit Test (CACI 1204) – More a defense than a type of claim, under this Instruction the plaintiff first shows that the product’s design was a substantial factor leading to the injury. The defendant then has the burden of proving that the feasibility and drawbacks of an alternative design mean the benefits of the chosen design outweigh the risks.

Of course, lawsuits are not the answer for every injury.  In a prior blog post, we discussed the Nalwa decision, a 2013 California Supreme Court ruling finding a claim for an injury sustained aboard a bumper car ride was barred because the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury when she chose to board the ride and that the risk of a minor injury was inherent in the ride.  If someone stumbled while learning to ride a hoverboard (assuming it wasn’t due to a problem with the device like unexpected braking), the assumption of the risk doctrine might apply.  However, it is much less likely to apply in the case of sudden combustion!

A Law Firm for Hoverboard Fires and Other Northern California Product Liability Claims

From the information available, it appears a design defect claim would be most appropriate in hoverboard fire cases.  However, it would require a close investigation of the facts of each case to determine which claim or claims apply in a specific case.  Our San Francisco product liability firm (with additional offices in Santa Rosa and Oakland) always plans our strategy by investigating the facts, determining the appropriate claims, and anticipating the potential defenses so we are poised to respond.  In appropriate cases, we also consider whether a class action may be appropriate.

If you’ve been injured by a hoverboard fire in Northern California or in any other consumer product related injury, call to arrange a free consultation.  Remember — Attorney Brod is not only a skilled trial attorney, he is also a skilled negotiator and most cases resolve without the need for a trial.  Attorney Brod uses his experience as a California product liability and personal injury attorney to help clients evaluate a specific settlement offer, but ultimately accepting a settlement is always a client’s decision.  Call to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:

Hoverboards: A Holiday Craze that May Become a Holiday Nightmare

From the Playing Fields to Extreme Sports, Part One: Recreational Injury Claims

(Image by TechStage; Note: Picture is an example of a hoverboard and does not reflect specific product mentioned in the news reports.)

There are few things we take for granted a much as clean air and a safe place to sleep.  Sadly, our Santa Rosa tenants’ lawyer knows that many Californians do not have this luxury.  As a pending lawsuit alleges, many of our neighbors are stuck in unsafe living conditions, problems exacerbated when landlords turn a blind eye to the suffering.

Paper Examines Santa Rosa Tenants’ Dispute Alleging Unhealthy Living Conditions

The Press Democrat’s Sunday Edition included an in-depth look at the health problems plaguing residents in a northeast Santa Rosa apartment complex and the related battle pending in state court.  According to the report, the apartment was infested with dangerous mold that, along with other triggers, caused serious asthma flares for one young resident.  Numerous other tenants reported moderate to severe health issues they believe are linked to the living conditions at the complex.

Currently, nine families who lived in the Bennett Valley Townhomes complex are suing the current and former owners for damages tied to a range of substandard living conditions.  These include: Mold: Insect infestations; Vermin; Faulty wiring; Defective plumbing; Heating issues; and Leaky roofs.  Last year, residents were forced out of the complex when the city red-tagged the property meaning it posed a hazard to the tenants’ health and wellbeing.  The suit also raises concerns about the ability of Sonoma County code enforcement officers to deal with growing numbers of cases involving substandard living conditions.

Tenant Protections in California

lawbooksTenants throughout Northern California should know that they do not have to live in uninhabitable apartments or otherwise give in to landlord intimidation.  One of the most important tools tenants have is the Implied Warranty of Habitability, a statewide rule that requires that all residential units meet minimum living standards.   As developed in California Code 1941.1, some of the minimum requirements for habitability include being free from rodents/vermin, having hot and cold water, and having adequate waterproofing and weather protection.  Courts have expanded on the list to include several other items like the presence of working smoke alarms and the absence of persistent sewage overflows.

The warranty of habitability is important, but it is far from the only law that protects Northern California tenants.  There are special laws dealing with discrimination, lead/lead-based paint, privacy, mold, and other important residential matters.  Tenants also have contract law rights pursuant to their rental agreements.  Depending on where in Northern California you are located, you may have additional rights.  One of the best known local tenant-protection statutes is the San Francisco Rent Ordinance which includes provisions on rent control for certain properties and protection from eviction, but it is far from the only local law protecting renters.

A Law Firm for Renters in Northern California

If you are a renter in Northern California and your landlord is not maintaining your rental property in a safe, healthy, and habitable condition, please call our office.  We can help you fight for your rights under state and local laws.  Usually we can resolve landlord-tenant matters without the need for a trial.  Do not assume your claim is too small to matter and do not trust your landlord to tell you your legal rights.  An initial consultation with our Northern California renter’s rights lawyer is always free.  We have landlord/tenant law offices in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Oakland, but can meet elsewhere in Northern California if necessary to serve your needs.

See Related Blog Posts:

Bay Area Tenants’ Attorney on Renter Protections in Era of Rising Rents Throughout Northern California

What Does “Habitability” Mean in California?

(Image by Eric E. Johnson)

Last Tuesday, we published a blog entry about bus accidents.  In a tragic turn, between the time we wrote the post and the time it went live on our website, another terrible bus accident occurred in the Bay Area.  We regularly look at major news stories and this accident raises several important issues, including the serious danger of overtired drivers.  Bus drivers hold many lives in their hands, both the lives of their passengers and the non-passengers who may be impacted in an accident with such a large vehicle.  It is, as we note below, too early to know for sure what caused last week’s deadly bus accident, but out San Francisco bus crash lawyer knows that the potential dangers of bus driver fatigue are too great to ignore.

Investigation Continues into San Jose Bus Crash, Officials Rule Out Mechanical Failure

It was early on a rainy Tuesday morning in San Jose when, as ABC7/KGO reported later that day, a Greyhound bus travelling on Highway 101 began to turn onto Highway 85 and suddenly slid into several impact barriers before landing on its side.  Two passengers died after being ejected through the bus’s front window.  One other passenger suffered serious injuries and nine others, including the driver, were taken to the hospital for minor injuries.  The bus, which left Los Angeles around 11:30 P.M. Monday, had been due to arrive in Oakland by 8:10 A.M.

On Thursday, ABC7/KGO provided an update on the investigation into the deadly accident.  At that time, NTSB officials announced that their initial investigation determined that the crash was not due to any mechanical defect in the bus.  Investigators continue to look at the crash, including the efficacy of the impact barriers.  At the time of the article, the lead CHP investigator said he had not yet substantiated statements (included prior news report) suggesting the driver told first responders he was feeling fatigued and had stopped for coffee in Gilroy.  Still, when asked about the bus line’s safety record, the President of the Greyhound drivers’ union focused on fatigue saying: “So, you can teach people how to make a right turn, a left turn, and keep eyes open and watch the mirrors, but the bottom line is if you create a work environment that’s hostile to rest, which is what we have in the whole industry, then it doesn’t matter.”

The Threat of Drowsy Driving Nationwide

While we cannot yet be certain if fatigue caused the Greyhound tragedy, there is no question that fatigue is a major threat on our nation’s roads.  According to the Centers for Disease Control’s online feature Drowsy Driving: Asleep Asleep at the wheelat the Wheel, drowsiness slows reaction time, impairs the driver’s ability to focus on the road, and generally reduces the driver’s ability to make smart driving decisions.  Citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the site estimates that 72,000 accidents, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2014 were the result of driver fatigue.  The National Sleep Foundation (“NSF”) cites an Australian study suggesting that being awake for 18 hours caused the equivalent of a .05 BAC and being awake 24 hours was akin to BAC of .10 (.08 is the legal limit).  Additionally, the NSF’s own poll found 60% of adult drivers report driving while drowsy in the past year and 37% say they have fallen asleep at the wheel (13% of those say it happens at least once a month.

Fatigue, Bus Drivers, and the Law

It is easy to see how driver fatigue might be even more dangerous when it hits a bus driver.  In 2014, LCT Magazine, an industry publication, said “Fatigued driving is the primary ‘uncontrolled risk’ in the bus and motorcoach industry and is the primary cause of most severe accidents.”  The report suggests fatigue is at the root of 15% of motorcoach crashes but accounts for 80% of total claim costs, suggesting the higher magnitude of drowsy driving bus crashes.  From a legal standpoint, this is particularly concerning since California places a higher duty on so-called “common carriers,” including buses to “use the utmost care and diligence [to ensure passengers’] safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill” (California Civil Code 2100).

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in any motor vehicle accident in Northern California and believe someone else’s drowsy driving was to blame, call our San Francisco drowsy driving accident lawyer.  In the case of a drowsy bus driver, you may have multiple legal claims including claims against the bus company itself.

We also ask all our readers to stay safe and stay alive by staying awake and alert at the wheel.

See Related Blog Posts:

San Francisco Injury Lawyer on Tour Bus Accidents in California

The Dangerous Intersection of Drowsy Driving and Big Rig Accidents

(Image by Mark Winterbourne)

It is a simple concept — health care should be dictated by the patient’s needs rather than the provider’s fiscal interest.  While most providers adhere to this core principle, far too many do not, especially in the long-term and nursing home care arenas.  Nursing home billing fraud, including rehabilitative therapy fraud, is a violation of patient trust and medical ethics as well as a serious financial wrong that diverts money away from genuine medical needs.  As a Medicare billing fraud law firm, we monitor this area of law closely and we fight back by working with honest whistleblowers who come forward to report these wrongs.

DOJ Press Release Details Alleged Frauds in Recently Settled False Claims Act Case

A Department of Justice (“DOJ”) press release issued on January 12 demonstrates the DOJ’s continuing commitment to supporting whistleblower-led Medicare billing fraud claims in 2016.  Kindred Healthcare Inc. and its subsidiaries RehabCare Group Inc. and RehabCare Group East Inc. (collectively “RehabCare”) have agreed to healthmoneypay $125 million to resolve a False Claims Act (“FCA”) lawsuit.  RehabCare is the nation’s largest provider of rehabilitative therapy, contracting with over 1,000 nursing homes nationwide to provide patient care.  Four nursing homes will also pay a total of $8.225 million in connection with the settlement.   While the settlement resolves the claims, it is not an admission of wrongdoing and all claims detailed below remain allegations.

Originally filed by two private individuals, one a physical therapist and former rehabilitation manager and the other an occupational therapist, the suit alleged RehabCare caused facilities to submit false claims to Medicare including bills for services that were never rendered and/or services that were not necessary, reasonable, or skilled in nature.   In general terms, the defendants were accused of operating to recover the highest level of reimbursement regardless of patient needs.  Specific wrongs alleged in the complaint include:

  • Presuming patients should be in the highest therapy reimbursement category instead of using individual evaluations to determine appropriate care;
  • “Ramping” — Boosting the amount of therapy reported in “assessment reference periods,” allowing facilities to bill at the highest reimbursement level despite providing materially less therapy after the assessment ended when fewer reporting requirements exist;
  • Scheduling and reporting therapy sessions after treating therapists recommended patients be discharged from therapy;
  • Arbitrarily moving minutes of planned therapy among different disciplines (speech, physical, occupational) to meet reimbursement targets regardless of patients’ actual needs;
  • Increasing therapy times towards the end of a measurement period to reach the highest reimbursement levels regardless of medical necessity and despite providing notably less therapy in the immediately preceding days;
  • Reporting initial evaluations as therapy time to boost reimbursement;
  • Claiming to have provided therapy when patients were asleep, unable to participate in care, or not eligible for services (e.g., during end-stage hospice care); and
  • Estimating or rounding times instead of reporting precise minutes of therapy services.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz for the District of Massachusetts summarized these claims, and the essence of the FCA, noting: “This False Claim Act settlement addresses allegations that RehabCare and its nursing facility customers engaged in a systematic and broad-ranging scheme to increase profits by delivering, or purporting to deliver, therapy in a manner that was focused on increasing Medicare reimbursement rather than on the clinical needs of patients.”

Whistleblower Law Firm: Partnering with Real Heroes Who Speak Out When They Witness Wrongs

Often, several people working within (or in association with) fraud-perpetrating organizations notice red flags that signal deeper wrongs.  Some will become actively complicit in the scheme, but more are left wondering what to do.  This is where the FCA’s qui tam provision comes into play, empowering whistleblowers to come forward and fight fraud by bringing a claim on the government’s behalf.  The DOJ reports that whistleblower-led claims resulted in over $2.8 billion in recoveries for the federal government in 2015 alone.  The FCA not only protects whistleblowers from retaliation, it also provides them with a substantial reward should their claim lead to the government recovering money.

Whistleblowers have the information.  Our firm has the knowledge and skill to empower whistleblowers and turn that information into action.  If you suspect a company is committing Medicare fraud, including a current or former employer, a company your employer does business with, or a company that provides you with care, call our health care fraud attorney at (800) 427-7020 to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:

The False Claims Act and the Health Care Fraud Fight in 2016

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(Image by Wellness Corporate Solutions)

If you’ve suffered from food poisoning, chances are the misery is cemented in your brain.  You may recall stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms.  Food poisoning can, however, be even more serious.  Food poisoning can put people in the hospital, cause long-term damage, and even lead to death, especially in vulnerable populations.  This is why we practice food safety law and why our food safety law firm in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Oakland talks about food poisoning prevention and, when needed, food poisoning lawsuits.  As we hear about one of the first large recalls of 2016, we take this opportunity to provide the following Food Poisoning FAQ and safety tips.

Trader Joes Recalls Cashews

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the popular grocery chain Trader Joe’s is warning the public that certain cashewsbags of “Raw Cashew Pieces” (barcode 00505154) may be contaminated with salmonella.  Specifically, the store’s supplier alerted them to potential contamination in bags labeled “BEST BEFORE 07.17.2016TF4.”  Although the initial alert suggests the bags were not sold in California, they were sold in neighboring states and it is still wise to check the packaging.  Thus far, no illnesses have been linked to the nuts, but a press release from Trader Joe’s says the nuts have been removed from shelves and asks anyone who has bags from that specific lot to either throw them out or return them to the store for a full refund.

Food Poisoning FAQs

We hear a lot about food poisoning (aka “foodborne illness” and similar terms), but many people don’t know too much about it.  Here are some quick facts, based on information found on Food Safety section of the Centers for Disease Control’s Food Safety website:

  • What is foodborne illness? Foodborne illness is a broad term used to identify illnesses caused by many different pathogens including bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  Beverages may be contaminated too.  There are more than 250 different forms of foodborne illness recorded.  The term also includes poisonings by toxins such as in poisonous mushrooms.  Per a 2011 study, the most common causes of foodborne illness are the norovirus and the bacteria Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter.
  • How many people get sick from foodborne illness each year? Every year, 1 in 6 Americans (approximately 48 million people) gets some type of foodborne illness.  While most people recover independently, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year in the U.S. due to foodborne illness.
  • How does food become contaminated? Contamination can occur at many different points in the production and preparation chain. Examples in the production process include being exposed to infected animal materials and fruits/vegetables being washed/irrigated with water contaminated with manure or sewage.  In the preparation process, examples include infection via contact with unwashed hands that are carrying bacteria or contaminated surfaces (e.g. cutting boards, utensils).  Importantly, cooked foods can be re-contaminated via contact with raw foods or infected handlers.  Certain foods like eggs and oysters are especially prone to carrying pathogens that can make people sick.
  • What are the symptoms? Although there isn’t just one picture of foodborne illness, typically symptoms start in the gastrointestinal tract and may include abdominal cramps, nausea/vomiting, and diarrhea.  Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on your health status and the type of bacteria involved.  People who believe they may have a foodborne illness should seek help if symptoms become severe (e.g. high fever, bloody stool, dehydration) or last beyond three days.  Food poisoning can cause long-term damage or even death.
  • How can I prevent food poisoning? The CDC recommends this four-part approach:
    • Cook – Only a food thermometer can truly tell you whether a food is safe (see the CDC’s site for details on temperatures needed to kill contaminants);
    • Clean — Wash hands, surfaces, and anything used in food preparation. Also wash all fruits and vegetables before eating);
    • Separate – keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat items;
    • Chill – Refrigerators should be kept below 40 degrees. Germs may grow in unrefrigerated foods within 2 hours (1 hour in the summer heat).

A Food Poisoning Lawyer in Northern California

Not every case of food poisoning should lead to a lawsuit.  However, if a person or company’s negligence causes a severe case (or multiple cases) of food poisoning resulting in serious illness or death, the responsible party should be held accountable and financially liable.  Our San Francisco food poisoning lawyer can help.  Remember: The sooner you call, the better.

See Related Blog Posts:

Foodborne Illness Litigation: Examining the Law and Looking at a Shigella Outbreak in San Jose

Food Allergy Litigation in California

Contaminated Water and the Threat of Waterborne Illness

(Image by Razor512)

For some, a garage is simply a place to park a car, perhaps a bit more climate-control and security than an open parking slot.  For others, a garage is an extension of the home, a place for storage and engaging in hobbies from exercise to woodworking, scrapbooking to auto repair.  No matter the use, garage safety is important.  Garage fires are particularly dangerous and surprisingly common.  Prevention is (as always) best, but when a garage fire occurs our Oakland fire injury law firm takes a close look at the facts in the context of the law to determine who is at fault and who may be owed compensation.

Fire Consumes Oakland Garage, Spreads to Home

The San Jose Mercury News reported on a weekend fire in Oakland that destroyed two cars and left two people displaced.  The fire started in the garage of the Marr Avenue home and two residents were able to escape the home before firefighters arrived.  Before the Oakland and Piedmont firefighters gained control, the blaze consumed the entire garage and spread to the house and attic.  Thankfully, no one was injured, but fire officials estimate the damage will exceed $150,000 and say the home will need work before it is habitable.  Officials say the cause remains under investigation, but it appears accidental and may have involved a malfunction involving the natural gas system.

A Common Threat: Examples and Statistics

Focusing on last weekend alone, an internet search reveals multiple garage fires endangering homes and lives across the nation (the following are only a sample of the results!).  In Montana, The Great Falls Tribune reports that a Saturday night garage fire spread to and destroyed a mobile home.  Also on Saturday, a space heater fire in a
Southern California garage caused minor injuries and $100,000 in damage according to the San Diego Union Tribune.  Unfortunately, injuries also resulted from a New Jersey fire that, according to WPVI, officials believe began when a medical emergency led to a car overheating in the garage.  Both the driver and another person in the residence were treated at a local hospital.

So, turning to the numbers, just how common are garage fires?  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration (“USFA”), there are around 6,600 garage fires in U.S. homes each year, about 18 per day.  Each year, garage fires leave approximately 30 people dead and 400 injured, resulting in $457 million in property loss.  The overwhelming majority, 93%, occur in one- or two-family homes.

Preventing Garage Fires

The USFA reports that electrical malfunction such as shorts, damaged/frayed wires, and overloaded power outlets are the leading cause of garage fires in the U.S.  Among the steps you can take to prevent garage fires, the USFA recommends:

  • firealarmStore flammables (e.g., oil, gasoline, propane, paint, etc.) in an unattached shed placed away from the residence;
  • Store other items that may burn easily (e.g., citronella candles, wood, etc.) away from appliances;
  • When charging appliances, only plug in one per outlet and do not use an extension cord for charging;
  • Make sure the garage itself, including the door and ceiling, are fire safe (see the USFA link for details);
  • Consider installing a heat alarm instead of a smoke alarm to provide a warning if temperatures get too high without the problem of false alarms due to dust, humidity, insects, etc. (see the USFS link for more information).

A Law Firm for Oakland Fire Victims

To quote the USFA, “Garage fires tend to spread farther and cause more injuries and dollar loss per fire than fires that start in all other areas of the home.”  If a garage fire left you injured or claimed the life of a family member, you may be entitled to compensation.  If your insurance company isn’t doing its job or if you believe someone was to blame (e.g., a contractor who did shoddy electrical work, the manufacturer of a defective lawn mower, a landlord who failed to install proper safety equipment), call to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with our Oakland burn injury attorney.  We have offices in Oakland, Santa Rosa and San Francisco to serve all of Northern California.

See Related Blog Posts:

Oakland Apartment Fire Lawyer Looks at Residential Fire Statistics Following Deadly Blaze

Negligence and Responsibility in Northern California Apartment Fires

(Image by Ben Schumin)