San Francisco Injury Lawyer Blog

Many people assume that personal injury law is a rather static field; after all, while the mode of injuries may change, injuries themselves are far from a new concept.  Nonetheless, injury law does indeed evolve.  As your San Francisco personal injury law firm, we work to stay informed about new legislation and updated interpretations of existing law.  Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of California handed down a decision clarifying when a government entity can be held liable for injuries stemming from a dangerous condition of public property.   The ruling is important in itself and as a signal of California’s continued commitment to protecting her people.

Background: The Case & Rulings Below

magnoliaAccording to the court (decision available online), a woman was driving in Los Angeles when another driver veered into her vehicle.  The woman’s car spun out and crashed into a magnolia tree, one of several planted in the median about seven feet away from the inside lane.  The woman and three passengers, including two of her siblings (identified by the Metropolitan News-Enterprise as between 15 and 19 years old), were killed while a fourth passenger was badly injured.  Police arrested the other driver and he was later convicted of four counts of vehicular manslaughter without malice.

The parents of three of the deceased victims filed a wrongful death suit against the City of Los Angeles (“the City”) and others claiming a dangerous condition of public property proximately caused their children’s deaths.  They allege that the magnolia trees were too close to an active road, creating a dangerous condition and posing an unreasonable risk to travelers who might lose control of their vehicles.  The trial court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, concluding the tree did not constitute a dangerous condition of public property, in part because it did not cause the underlying accident that led to the four deaths.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling, noting that the plaintiffs could not show that the tree caused the other driver’s negligent driving and finding nothing about the road constituted a dangerous condition because nothing would cause a law-abiding driver to suddenly veer into the trees.  Granting review, the state supreme court focused on the question: “May a government entity be liable where it is alleged that a dangerous condition of public property existed and caused the injury plaintiffs suffered in an accident, but did not cause the third party conduct that led to the accident?

Ruling: Existence of Unrelated Third-Party Negligence Does Not Erase Dangerous Condition of Public Property Claim

As regular readers of this blog may recall, government bodies are traditionally immune from civil suit. California has waived this immunity via the Government Claims Act (Cal. Gov. Code § 810) which makes public entities and public employees liable for certain torts.  Under specified circumstances, Section 835 renders a public entity liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition of public property.  The act defines such a condition as one “that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial or insignificant) risk of injury when such property or adjacent property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.”

Overruling the trial and appellate courts, the state supreme court found that “nothing in the statute requires plaintiffs to show that the allegedly dangerous condition also caused the third party conduct that precipitated the accident.”  The proper inquiry is whether the condition creates a substantial risk of injury and whether it proximately caused the injuries at issue.  To rephrase, when a dangerous condition and third-party negligence combine to cause injury, the negligence need not stem from the condition itself.  Although there may be cases in which a plaintiff alleges a dangerous condition caused a third-party to act in a way that injured the plaintiff, this case did not rest on such an allegation.  Additionally, the court finds that the fact that an immediately-prior incident (here, the collision between the cars) caused some degree of injury does not relieve the defendants from liability for additional/exacerbated injuries stemming from the dangerous condition (here, the collision with the tree).

Importantly, this decision is by no means a final ruling on the underlying wrongful death case.  The lower courts must now examine the case in light of the state supreme court’s interpretation of the law.

Our Conclusions: Decision Favors Injured Plaintiffs, Experienced Counsel May be Key to Success

In our firm’s opinion, this ruling is a strong affirmation of the existence of a claim, given the proper circumstances, against a public entity for injuries based on a dangerous condition of property.  As the opinion expressly notes, a public entity is not liable to every plaintiff who is injured after someone else’s negligence sends the plaintiff crashing into a fixed object on public land.  Liability only exists if the object is creates a substantial risk of injury to those driving in a reasonable manner.  However, the involvement of a negligent third-party is not an automatic bar to liability.

Unsafe road litigation is likely to involve an intensive inquiry requiring an examination of the site’s history and input from safety experts.  There are also other legal defenses that public entities are likely to assert in these cases.  The complexity of these cases calls for an experienced plaintiffs’ lawyer who understands the law and knows how to work with expert witnesses.  With nearly twenty years’ experience practicing law on behalf of the injured and the grieving, including experience fighting government entities, Attorney Brod has the skills and experience necessary to serve as an effective plaintiffs’ attorney.

If a dangerous road or other dangerous condition of public property caused you injury or caused the death of a close family member, we welcome the opportunity to meet with you at our dangerous roads law firm in San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa or another location convenient for you.  An initial consultation is free and will allow Attorney Brod to help you understand how the law applies to your unique case.  Call 800-427-7020 or use the form on this page to contact us electronically.

See Related Blog Posts:

Fatal Single-Vehicle Crash Serves as a Reminder of the Threat of Dangerous Road Conditions

Dangerous Condition of Public Property- Tort Claims Against Government Entities

(Image by Sarah Joy)

As a law firm for beneficiary whistleblowers in health care fraud cases, we are committed to staying informed about developments involving fraud and related wrongs across the country.  When a beneficiary reporting health care fraud (or a beneficiary who simply feels something is amiss) calls our office, we can evaluate the facts and discuss the law, including the very latest cases involving federal and state anti-fraud statutes.  This week, a case from Illinois caught our eye.  It involves alleged fraud by a chiropractor, a field many view as new and/or alternative despite having roots in Ancient Greece and practitioners being recognized in all 50 states (American Chiropractic Association).  Notably, the allegations suggest some beneficiaries were complicit in the scam.  While patients probably didn’t know the extent of the fraud, perhaps accepting a dubious explanation, the clinic’s fishy behavior likely set off alarm bells; alarm bells we hope lead others to contact our team rather than assent to wrongful acts.

The Allegations: Chiropractor’s Fraudulent Billing Scheme Supported by Beneficiary Cooperation

chiropractorAccording to the Journal & Topics Newspapers, a Wheeling, Illinois chiropractor and members of his family are facing charges they fabricated medical records and billed insurance carriers for services that were medically unnecessary or never rendered at all (indictment available via the FBI).  The charges include health care fraud and aggravated identity theft.  In all, the defendants are accused of filing $28,775,000 in insurance claims from 2006 through November 2012 and receiving $10,47,000 in insurance payments.

The article suggests the alleged perpetrators falsified patient records and created fake sign-in sheets suggesting patients received care when no treatment was rendered.  The government suggests the clinic also referred patients for unnecessary ultrasounds, with the ultrasound provider allegedly sending some of the ill-gotten proceeds back to the chiropractic team.  Notably, the charges suggest some patients knew about the overbilling and were convinced to assent by having their deductibles covered by the conspirators or by being given a share of the proceeds via a check from the chiropractor and/or his family members.

The Other Side: Beneficiary Helps Uncover Fraud in Michigan

While the indictment alleges that patients were complicit in the Wheeling fraud, we believe another case shows a far more common occurrence – a fraudulent chiropractic billing scheme uncovered because a patient spoke up.  Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan reports that a patient noticed her Explanation of Benefits statement, the monthly report listing claims made on your behalf, included more chiropractic visits than she actually made.  She told the doctor’s office.  They said it was an error and sent her a gift basket.

The patient remained suspicious and rather than accepting the explanation she spoke to colleagues.  She learned others had noticed similar insurance claims for dates they had not received treatment.  The patient reported her concerns to the insurer and it concluded the billing was purposeful and fraudulent.  An investigation uncovered numerous inaccurate billings.  One subscriber’s family members had received care from the chiropractor, but the clinic also regularly filed claims for visits by the subscriber himself despite the fact that he never received clinic care.  The chiropractor eventually entered a no contest plea to charges related to the incidents and was forced to repay the insurer — all thanks to a beneficiary who refused to accept suspect behavior.

A Message to Beneficiaries

If you suspect fraud by your medical provider, please speak up.  It is tempting to ignore inklings that something is amiss or even write off medical fraud as a “victimless crime,” especially when given a financial incentive and having medical professionals allay your concerns.  In truth, as discussed on this blog, health care fraud steals from the general public and endangers the health of millions by depleting resources and creating inaccurate medical records.

We are here to hear your concerns and help you determine whether it is truly a case of fraud or whether there is an innocuous explanation.  If it is indeed fraud, we will ensure your concerns are heard and acted upon.  When the case involves government insurers (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare), you may be eligible for compensation if your information leads to a recovery.

Don’t let unscrupulous providers convince you to become a participant in fraud.  Call our health care fraud lawyer at (800) 427-7020.

 See Related Blog Posts:

Beneficiary-Reported Medicare Fraud

Hardly a Victim-less Crime: The Victims of Health Care Fraud

(Image by Alisha Vargas)

 

Cars are powerful machines, a fact that is easy to forget as we go about our day-to-day lives.  Occasionally, however, we are given a sharp reminder.  In some cases, this comes in the form of a close call; a driver glances down momentarily, perhaps returning a beverage to the cup holder, and looks up to with just enough time to motorcycleBbrake before hitting someone crossing the road.  Such moments make us think about what could have happened and remember how much responsibility we have behind the wheel.  Unfortunately, sometimes the reminder takes a harsher form and someone is hurt or even killed.  These moments remind us of the sheer power of the automobile, the importance of attentive driving, and the vulnerability of other travelers, especially those not protected by an automobile themselves.  As the following story of two crashes illustrates, pedestrian injuries and motorcyclist injuries are far too real and, in the opinion of our San Francisco injury law firm, far too common.

Pedestrian and Motorcycle Rider Hit in Two Crashes

A motorcycle officer and a pedestrian were injured in a pair of accidents on Tuesday.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a police officer aboard a motorcycle was struck by a car around 7:30 A.M. at the intersection of Leavenworth Street and Golden Gate Avenue.  A police spokesman told reporters the officer was in the far-left lane when a Volvo travelling in the same direction changed lanes, hitting the officer and sending him crashing into a nearby parked car.  The officer was injured but is expected to recover.  The driver is cooperating with investigators.

The motorcycle crash occurred when the officer was en route to an accident at Sixth and Stevenson.  There, a pedestrian was crossing the street when he was hit by a 2008 Porsche Boxer.  Witnesses report the man hit the car’s windshield before falling and briefly being pinned underneath the car.  He was taken to the hospital but, at the time of this writing, there was no information on the pedestrian’s condition.

Pedestrian and Motorcycle Accident Statistics

Pedestrians and motorcyclists can take many steps to ensure their own safety, pedsign2but they always remain vulnerable to the actions of the drivers around them.  One negligent driver can kill a pedestrian or motorcycle rider or leave him/her seriously injured.  According to the Traffic Safety Facts Overview published last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), 2013 saw 4,668 motorcyclists die and approximately 88,000 suffer injuries in traffic incidents nationwide.  Further, 2013 saw 4,735 pedestrian deaths and an estimated 66,000 pedestrian injuries.  Taken together, 9,403 pedestrians and motorcyclists account for 28.7% of the 32,719 people killed in traffic crashes reported to police in 2013.  Notably, pedestrians and motorcyclists accounted for merely 6.7% of all traffic injuries.  Taken together, we believe these figures point to the increased likelihood that a person on foot or on a motorcycle will die in a crash compared to better protected occupants of cars and trucks.

An Advocate for the Injured and Grieving

Our law firm fights for the injured and the grieving.  Attorney Greg Brod is an experienced advocate for both pedestrians and motorcyclists injured in accidents in Northern California, with particular experience advocating for the catastrophically injured.  While most accident cases are resolved prior to trial, Attorney Brod always keeps the potential for trial in mind as he works with clients and negotiates with opposing parties.

Remember, the insurance company is not on your side and you do not have to accept their initial offer.  Tell the insurance company or the person at fault that you will be represented by an attorney and call our San Francisco personal injury law office to schedule a free consultation.  Most accident cases are handled on a contingency fee meaning we only get paid if you recover.

See Related Blog Posts:

A California Law Firm Helping the Victims of the Hit-and-Run Epidemic

Examining the Numbers Following Fatal Motorcycle Crash in Milpitas

(Motorcycle image by Flickr user LenDog64; Pedestrian sign image by Peter Blanchard)

cheer1For decades, cheerleaders were about just that – leading cheers.  They played a secondary role, bringing energy to the sidelines, drumming up team spirit, and supporting the athletes on the field.  Today, cheerleading also has a competitive side, requiring mastery of skills from the worlds of gymnastics and dance.  As competitive cheerleading grows in popularity, debates rage about whether to recognize it as a sport in its own right.  This movement is fueled by both the athleticism required for competitive cheerleading and concerns about serious cheerleading injuries.  As a San Francisco sports injury law firm, we are devoted to protecting and advocating for all young athletes, including those fighting to move from the sidelines to center stage.

Bill to Label Cheerleading a Sport Moves to Governor’s Desk

On Monday, as detailed by NBC’s Bay Area affiliate, California’s state senate unanimously voted to require the California Interscholastic Federation to treat competitive cheerleading as a sport.  Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s sponsor, says the need for safety-oriented regulations including training requirements for coaches is fueling a nationwide movement to formally recognize the sport.  AB949 will now go to Governor Brown’s desk for his signature or veto.  If passed, the bill would require the change be implemented by the 2017-2018 school year.

Safety Concerns Fuel Movement

A 2013 article from U.S. News and World Report opens: “Cheerleading is definitely not your grandmother’s pastime anymore, injury experts warn, but rather a highly competitive activity that’s light on the pom-poms and heavy on risky daredevil acrobatics.”  Cheerleaders compete year-round, putting on dazzling displays of acrobatic prowess.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”), the number of participants ages 6 and older who cheer at school or with an offsite team skyrocketed from 600,000 youths in 1990 to somewhere between 3 million and 3.6 million participants in 2003.

According to the article, the AAP officially endorses reclassifying cheerleading as a sport, a position largely motivated by safety concerns.  Although the overall injury rate is low compared to other girls’ sports like soccer and basketball, cheerleading accounts for a whopping 60 to 70 percent of the catastrophic injuries among female high school athletes.  The rate of injuries increases with participants’ age and skill level as cheerleaders undertake increasingly complex stunts.  U.S. News reports that injuries range from basic sprains and strains to concussions and even death or permanent disability.  Reclassification’s opponents suggest cheerleading is already becoming safer and point to raw figures showing only a small number of catastrophic injuries per year.

Designating cheerleading as a sport would bring an increase in resources and regulation.  Cheerleaders would be required to participate in strength and conditioning workouts before and during the competition season.  Participants would be protected by onsite medical staff and coaches certified in teaching and spotting proficiency.  Squads would also have emergency medical plans in place.  The AAP also calls for specific limits on certain activities such limiting the height of human pyramids and banning tumbling on hard surfaces.

Protecting Cheerleaders and Other Youth Athletes

As a San Francisco youth sports injury law firm, we believe it is up to adults to protect all young athletes, a group that we believe includes competitive cheerleaders whether or not the activity is formally deemed a sport.  When injuries do occur, it is up to adults to look closely at and learn from the incident.  We believe that, even amid the increasing demands placed on young bodies, sports and other athletic endeavors can become safer.

Certainly, not every turned ankle should lead to a lawsuit.  Frivolous litigation does not help anybody; in fact, it diverts attention from legitimate safety measures.  Sometimes, however, youth injuries are the result of adult negligence.  In these cases, such as when defective equipment or poorly trained staff cause or contribute to cheerleading accidents, the responsible parties should be held legally accountable.  Doing so helps bring about change while providing critically needed compensation for a young person who may be facing lifelong challenges.  If your child suffered a serious cheerleading or other sporting injury that you believe stemmed from adult negligence, call to schedule a free consultation to discuss whether you may have a legal claim.

cheer2

See Related Blog Posts:                  

Sports Injury Attorney Looks at Soccer Injuries

Young Bodies, Adult Injuries: Continuing Our Look at Safety in Youth Sports

Protecting California’s High School Football Players and Other Young Athletes

(Both images by Joshua Effrece)

 

Some activities are reserved for the thrill-seekers among us.  These activities carry a certain level of danger, but the danger can be exponentially increased by the negligent acts of a company or individual.  While hang-gliding intimidates most of us, fans call it an almost spiritual experience.  Hang-gliding accidents are an understood risk, but it is unacceptable for this risk to be elevated by negligent or wrongful acts.  Even in the riskiest of activities, victims are not without recourse.  If a Northern California hang-gliding participant in hurt or killed because of someone else’s negligence, our San Francisco recreational injury law firm is here to help.

Sunday’s Hang-Gliding Fatality in San Francisco Part of a Tragic Trend

On Sunday afternoon, a hang-gliding accident in San Francisco claimed the life of a 69-year-old man.  Fox40 reports that the accident occurred in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The glider appears to have crashed into a cliff just 30 feet below the Fort Funston launch pad.   An early statement from the National Park service suggests the crash may have been caused by a mechanical failure.

hangglidingSunday’s tragedy was not the first hang-gliding fatality this summer.  KOLO 8 reported that a man was killed near Reno, Nevada on June 26 when his hang-glider crashed into Slide Mountain.  Days earlier, per the Washington Times, a man died in a hang-gliding crash in Maryland.  Another person was critically injured on May 22 in a desert crash reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal (“the RJ”).

These crashes come amid continuing questions about a crash that killed a 12-year-old boy and a hang-gliding instructor on March 27 near Jean, Nevada.  Also reported in the RJ, the glider was being towed when the truck made an abrupt turn sending the aircraft crashing into the ground.   Although the accident occurred on federal lands, a statement from the Bureau of Land Management noted that the instructor did not have the requisite special use permit.

Hang-Gliding Fatality Statistics

A hang-gliding FAQ from Willis Wing, a manufacturer of hang-gliding equipment, puts hang-gliding’s fatality rate at 1 in every 1,000 participants annually.  This figure includes regular participants only, meaning in Sunday’s crash the child’s death would not be included but the instructor’s would.  Notably, Willis Wing cannot be called a disinterested party since it has a financial interest in maximizing participation rates.  Other sources state the fatality rate in different terms, but suggest a higher rate of death.  HealthResearchFunding.org (a separate entity from Health Research Funding Inc.) states a fatality rate of 1 in 560 flights.  While the site seems to suggest this rate is improving with only 2 deaths reported in 2013 versus 40 in 1974, the string of deaths in 2015 seems to call this trend into question.

Negligence Adds Danger to an Inherently Risky Sport

Many, perhaps most, hang-gliding crashes come down to bad luck or Mother Nature’s hand.  Other crashes result from pilot error, although it can be difficult to say that when the pilot is hurt or killed.  However, there are also hang-gliding deaths and hang-gliding injuries that can be traced to a third-party, an individual or company whose negligent or outright wrongful behavior caused the accident.

Equipment failures have become increasingly intolerable.  We have the scientific, mechanical, and technological knowledge to build and maintain “safe gliders.”  Yes, that term will always be relative, but a well-made, well-maintained glider in 2015 is safer than ever before.  Introducing a list of technological concerns, Willis Wing adds: “Hang Gliders require routine maintenance to meet the airworthiness standards to which they were developed and are sometimes subject to airworthiness advisories for inspection, configuration and maintenance.”

Experience has taught us any list of parties that might be responsible for a given type of accident will always be incomplete.  That noted, parties that may be at fault in equipment-related glider accidents include manufacturers, rental companies, and repair/maintenance personnel.  Responsibility may lie with an individual or company/entity may be to blame, such as when a rental company’s maintenance standards are not subpar.

Liability and Accountability in Hang-Gliding Crashes

Failing to comply with standards and/or industry practices often amounts to disregarding safety.  In most cases, this is largely a willful, negligent blindness.  Other times, it is an explicit choice, often motivated by money.  If either choice (and both are indeed choices) leads to injury and/or death, the responsible party should be held legally accountable.

If you are hurt or lose a loved one in a hang-gliding accident in Northern California and you believe another person or entity is to blame, contact our Northern California hang-gliding accident lawyer.  Attorney Greg Brod has significant experience in sports law and in fighting for people injured or grieving after other recreational accidents.  Our firm also handles all manner of aviation accidents.  We can help investigate the accident, determine the cause/causes, and hold those responsible financially accountable.  Hang-gliding, like many other activities, carries an inherent risk, but that is no excuse for negligence.

Note: Never assume a liability waiver is valid.  The validity of a waiver such as those commonly found in rental or instructional agreements is a detailed inquiry, an inquiry always worth making.

See Related Blog Posts:

Pair of Fatal Jet Ski Accidents Serve as a Reminder of the Danger on the Water

ATV Accidents: Statistics, Safety, and Legal Representation

(Image by Sarah Ward)

hospicehandsHospice care workers are some of the most amazing people you’ll ever encounter.  Not only do they care for people in their final days, they also care for the patient’s families.  All forms of Medicare fraud result in theft of taxpayer’s money and endanger the health of beneficiaries, but there’s something particularly insidious about hospice fraud.  Our Medicare fraud attorney is honored to work with private individuals who observe these wrongs and step forward to help stop them.

FBI Reports on Case of Hospice Fraud

Last week, the FBI posted a report dealing with a case of hospice care fraud in Oklahoma (note: all assertions in this post regarding the case are per the FBI’s report).  P.K. owned a hospice center and, together with certain colleagues, submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare totaling in the millions of dollars.  From June 2010 to July 2013, the conspirators did not comply with the rules and regulations governing Medicare-eligible hospice centers.  They actively concealed the actual health status of patients and falsely reported the treatment provided, including claiming nurse visits that never actually occurred and altering files to make patients appear sicker than they actually were.  While hospice is intended for the terminally ill, specifically patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, many patients remained at the center for five to seven years.  When an audit was performed to review services in the state, P.K. provided falsified documents to those conducting the audit.

The FBI reports that P.K. kept a substantial portion of the payments Medicare made to the center and used business accounts to fund her personal lifestyle.  After a trial, she was ordered to make $2.5 million in restitution and also owes $5.4 million to cover Medicare overpayments.  She has also been sentenced to a term in federal prison.

The Best and the Worst: Hospice Care and Hospice Fraud

As the FBI states, while most people go into medical care to serve, “Unfortunately, there are also some unscrupulous individuals who do it because they think they can take advantage of the health care system for their own financial gain.”  Hospice care seems to attract the best of both groups – those committed to helping others and those committed to helping themselves.  According to a resource paper for the Senior Medicare Patrols (“SMPs”), a group that empowers beneficiaries and their loved ones to detect and report fraud, Medicare A’s hospice benefit covers certain palliative and support services for terminally ill individuals expected to live six months or less.  This includes personal care, therapy, medical equipment, and other aid.  In 2011, there were a total of 3,585 Medicare-certified hospice centers, a 43% increase from 2005, and 1.2 million Medicare beneficiaries received some form of hospice care.  In 2007, Medicare spent $10.1 billion on hospice services.  In 2012, the figure rose to $14.9 billion

The SMP resource paper explains that hospice fraud occurs in a number of different settings including private homes, hospital and nursing home hospice centers, and stand-alone hospice facilities.  Common forms of hospice fraud noted in the report include: Referral payments (e.g., kickbacks to physicians and nursing homes); Bills reflecting a higher level of care than that provided; Cases lacking needed physician certifications; Falsified eligibility and certification documents; Improper marketing to ineligible Medicare members; and, quite simply, Failure to provide adequate or complete services.

Whistleblowers and Our Law Firm Fighting Hospice Fraud Together

Hospice care should be a caring service that helps patients and families deal with some of the toughest days imaginable.  Fraud in this arena should not be tolerated.  If you believe you’ve witnessed this or other forms of Medicare fraud, please call our hospice care fraud law firm at (800)-427-7020.  Help us fight fraud that steals from this important program.

See Related Blog Posts:

Working With Whistleblowers in the Fight Against Hospice Care Fraud

Medicare Fraud and the Home Health Care Industry

(Image by Lee Haywood)

Wildfires continue to dominate the headlines in California and throughout our region.  For some, fires are a hard-to-watch story on the news.  For others, they are a very present danger, a threat to property and well-being.  Some wildfires are sparked by nature, but others are manmade.  Our San Francisco fire injury lawyer represents people who are injured or suffer the loss of a relative because of a manmade fire.  Attorney Brod and his team also use this blog to provide information that we hope helps prevent future tragedies.  Today’s topic is fresh from the headlines — water heater fires.

Water Heater Blamed for Massive Fire

On Wednesday, officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“Cal Fire”) identified a faulty water heater located in an outbuilding as a significant factor causing one of our region’s massive fires.  According to the Napa Valley Register, Cal Fire representatives said the gas water heater sparked one of two fires that eventually became the Rocky Fire.  Flammable liquids in the outbuilding caught fire and then the blaze spread to nearby vegetation.  The Rocky Fire consumed almost 70,000 acres, caused the evacuation of 13,000 residents, and destroyed 43 homes before it was contained late last week.  Officials are still looking into the circumstances surrounding the fire and working to identify the cause of the second fire that became part of the Rocky Fire.

Other Water Heater Fires in the News

Water heaters are known to be a potential fire hazard, especially when flammable materials are stored in the vicinity.  In July, a San Antonio house fire began when a man was attempting to repair a water heater using spray-on foam.  My San Antonio reported that the man suffered minor burns.  In May, CBS affiliate WREG covered a house fire in Tennessee that investigators traced to a water heater.  Flames spread to the attic and the rest of the home.  A volunteer firefighter living in the home saved the lives of his own and the family was okay aside from a minor burn to the son’s face.  A family in Ghana was not as lucky.  According to Graphic Online, two children died earlier this week in a house fire.  While the cause has not been officially determined at the time of this writing, neighbors suggest that two water heaters may have been to blame.

The Details & Prevention Tips

waterheaterDo-it-yourself website The Family Handyman lists appliances, including water heaters and clothes dryers, among its Big 7 list of common causes of preventable home fires.  According to the site, lint in dryers and combustible materials stored near gas water heaters are the leading culprits of appliance fires which account for 7% of home fires and 4% of home fire deaths (stoves and heaters are in a separate category).  While that sounds like a small percentage, it is anything but small to those impacted by these fires.

The website suggests marking off and maintaining a three-foot “combustible free” zone around a water heater.  Other causes of water heater fires include defective equipment and installation/maintenance problems.  Always hire professionals, the cost is nothing compared to what you risk.

Fire Liability & Compensation 

When a fire is caused by the negligent or willful acts of an individual or corporate entity, the injured have a right to compensation via a civil claim.  A civil suit involving such a fire might include negligence, product liability, premises liability, and even landlord/tenant principles.  The Brod Law Firm is experienced in all these fields and is honored to help fire victims recover the money they are due.  We have offices for our fire injury law firm in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Oakland to serve those injured by fire and/or smoke throughout Northern California.

We will continue to watch news reports and talk to people affected by this year’s wildfires.  We hope the fires stop forming and that the firefighters gain the upper-hand on those currently burning.  Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by these terrible blazes.

See Related Blog Posts:

A Discussion of Electrical Fires from Your Santa Rosa Fire Injury Law Firm

When People Cause Wildfires: California Fire Injury Attorney on a Growing Threat

(Image by Shannon Prickett)

A crash in El Sobrante this week raises important questions about passenger safety in car accidents.  Specifically, are passengers at greater risk for serious injury and/or death than drivers?  Research and our experience as an Oakland car accident wrongful death law firm suggests the answer is “Yes.”  New studies on passenger safety also reveal surprising information on where in a vehicle an adult passenger is safest.

El Sobrante Crash Kills Three, Injures One

NBC’s Bay Area affiliate reports that CHP officials were called to the scene of a crash in El Sobrante, near the 6000 block of San Pablo Dam Road, at around 10 P.M. on Sunday.  According to CHP, a red Camaro crossed into the opposing lane and sideswiped a silver Honda Civic.  The driver of the Civic was able to stop the car on the shoulder and did not suffer major injuries.  However, the Camaro crashed into a tree and exploded killing three passengers.  The Camaro’s driver escaped before the blast, but was taken to John Muir Medical Center with serious injuries.  CHP officials believe alcohol and speed may have both been factors in the accident.

Safety of Passengers vs. Drivers

In our practice, we have seen that passengers often bear the brunt of automobile collisions.  There are fewer studies looking at passenger and driver safety than one might expect.  In 2004, researchers in Scotland reached a similar conclusion to our own, finding front-seat passengers were more likely to die than drivers (6.6% versus 5.3%) and more likely to suffer injuries to seven out of the eight studied body areas.  Compared to drivers, front passengers were more likely to incur injuries to the chest (41.4% versus 29.0%), cervical spine (6.0% versus 3.3%), and lumbar spine (7.4% versus 5.2%).   In conclusion, the authors write, “Front seat passengers are at increased risk of injury relative to drivers in actual road traffic accidents as recorded in the [Scottish trauma] database.”  The study notes that the real-world analysis actually contradicts certain laboratory crash tests that suggested front seat passengers were better protected than drivers.

Safety of Adult Passengers in Front vs. Rear Seats

backseatEarlier this year CBS News reported on an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”) study questioning conventional wisdom on where passengers are safest in the event of a crash.  While the front-passenger seat was once referred to as the “death seat,” advances like air bags, improved seat belts, and crumple zones have improved front-seat passenger safety.  However, there has been far less attention paid to the safety of rear-seat adult passengers.  An IIHS researcher concluded, “For adult occupants, we wouldn’t necessarily say it’s safer [in the rear] anymore.”

In part, the difference in attention may be because 88% of all passengers ride in the front.   That percentage is probably even higher if only adults are considered.  Adults are also be more likely to forgo a seatbelt in the back seat. (Note: We strongly recommend all vehicle occupants wear seatbelts every time they travel in a car or truck).  However, even when seatbelts were used, one study found passengers aged 55 and older were more likely to die in a crash if seated in the back.

Attention has shifted in recent years from crash worthiness to crash avoidance meaning that, although new innovations may protect all occupants, even less attention is being paid to the safety of adult backseat passengers in the event of a crash.  Still, IIHS suggests rear-seat air bags and improved seatbelt technology could help protect adult backseat passengers.  Improvements in the comfort of rear seatbelts and alerts that sound when a rear passenger has not buckled up, like those commonly used for the front passenger seat, could enhance safety by improving seatbelt usage among adult backseat passengers.

It is important to emphasize that this study is about adult passengers only.  The backseat is still the safest place for children ages 12 and under.

Helping Injured Passengers Recover Compensation

When a passenger is hurt or killed in a car accident, liability is almost always a non-issue aside from the apportioning of damages among drivers.  A passenger claim typically includes all involved drivers in order to ensure full compensation.  Damages are apportioned based on fault.

We recognize it can be a complex situation when an injured passenger or the family of a deceased passenger is forced to file a claim against the driver of the vehicle he/she was in since the driver is most likely an acquaintance if not a loved one.  We remind our clients that ultimately an insurance company typically foots the bill if the passenger is awarded compensation.

If you were hurt when riding as a passenger or if you lost a close family member who was a passenger during a car crash, we can help you recover monetary compensation.  Call our car accident injury law firm in Oakland, San Francisco, or Santa Rosa by dialing (800) 427-7020 or use the form towards the left-and side of your screen to contact our team.

See Related Blog Posts:

A California Law Firm Helping the Victims of the Hit-and-Run Epidemic

Examining Wrong-Way Highway Crashes, Protecting Wrong-Way Crash Victims

(Image by Sean MacEntee)

Our team is proud to partner with whistleblowers to fight back against health care fraud and other forms of government contracts fraud.  When a case involves fraud on the federal government, the False Claims Act is the primary tool that private citizens can use to pursue these claims.  While we often talk about specific issues of fraud on this blog, it is also important to periodically take a step back and examine this important piece of legislation more generally.  In this post, our False Claims Act lawyer does just that.

An Overview and the History of the False Claims Act

lawbooksThe False Claims Act (“FCA” or “the Act”) is a series of statutes, with two of the most important pieces found at 31 U.S.C. 3729,  which defines a false claim, and 31 U.S.C. 3730,  which creates a cause of action.  Passed during the Civil War Era amid concerns about contractors defrauding the Union Army, the FCA was largely forgotten until the mid-1980s and has gone through several major revisions in the past few decades.  Now, it stands as the primary tool for fighting a range of frauds from a manufacturer providing inferior goods pursuant to a military contract to a medical provider billing Medicare for services that were not medically necessary to any other form of government contract fraud.

31 U.S.C. 3729: Liability & Damages

Liability under the Act is defined primarily by Section 3729.  In broad terms, the statute defines a violation of the Act as knowingly submitting (or causing another to submit) a false claim to the government or knowingly creating a false record/statement in order to get the government to pay an improper claim.  As discussed in a recent post on this blog, there is also a prohibition on “reverse false claims” which involves failing to pay money owed to the government; this includes keeping money that the person/entity received but knows should not have been paid by the government (i.e. money that should be paid back).

Damages under the Act are also detailed in Section 3729.  Language at the end of subsection (a)(1) explains that a party that violates the Act must pay three times the amount of damages caused by the fraud.  This is in addition to a civil penalty of between $5,500 and $11,000 for each violation.  The Act does provide that treble damages can be reduced to double damages if the defendant voluntarily discloses the fraud within 30 days.   To qualify, the disclosure must be made before any legal action is filed regarding the violation and before the defendant knows of any investigation into the violation.

31 U.S.C. 3730: The Right to Sue

Also of high importance is Section 3730.  In addition to allowing the government to bring a claim for violation of the Act, Subsection 3730(b) contains a qui tam provision which allows a private party to bring a claim on the government’s behalf.  When such a claim is filed, the government must decide whether to intervene in the action, essentially taking over the case, or allow the private party (the “realtor” or, more colloquially, “whistleblower”) to proceed with the action.  When an action filed by a private realtor leads to a recovery by the government, either via a settlement or a verdict, the realtor is entitled to a portion of the money recovered.  Under most circumstances, the successful realtor receives 15 to 25% of the recovered money if the government intervenes in the case and 25 to 30% if the government does not intervene.

A Whistleblower’s Law Firm

Our firm is proud to partner with whistleblowers to help them navigate the complex waters of a False Claims Act case.  We welcome calls from anyone who believes he/she has knowledge of health care fraud, government contract fraud, or other fraud in violation of the FCA.

See Related Blog Posts:

Record Recoveries in False Claims Act Suits in 2014, Whistleblowers’ Firm Looks to Continue Trend in 2015

The False Claims Act: From Shoddy Civil War Uniforms to Costly Defense Contracts in 2014

(Image by Eric E. Johnson)

treecrashA new study gives parents, and the public, another reason to be wary of distracted teen drivers. In a study of about fifteen-hundred teen drivers, almost half admitted to using their cellphones while driving. Startlingly, the subset of teens who considered themselves safe drivers, fared no better.

It’s the Parent’s Fault?

A whopping 88% of the “safe” teen drivers admitted to using their cell phones on the road. When asked to explain why they would take such risks, the teens expressed confidence in their ability to send a quick text message or glance at the latest social media post without causing much harm. But if you or someone you love has been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, then you know just how much harm a momentary glance can cause.

The study has some surprising implications for parents. Although many of the teens said that they used their cellphones to stay connected to their friends and social media, many others used their cellphones in order to communicate with their anxious parents. The teens reported feeling pressured to respond to their parents’ texts immediately or face punishment.

It’s the Law

If you are the parent of a California teen, refrain from texting or calling your teen on the road. Let your teen know it’s okay not to answer your (or anyone else’s) texts and calls behind the wheel. This is not only safe: it’s the law. It is illegal in California to use a handheld mobile device while driving. Drivers who fail to comply with the law could face fines or even jail time.

Every 24 seconds, a driver distracted by a cell phone causes an accident. The most inexperienced drivers, teenagers, are also the most distracted drivers. So take steps today to educate your teen driver on the dangers of distracted driving. Then, continuously remind your teen driver to take basic precautions that guard against distracted driving, namely, keep cell phones and tablets out of arm’s reach, mute notifications, and pull over to the side of the road if cell phone use is necessary.

Get Legal Help

If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney in California, who will review your case and help you navigate all the available options. The initial consultation is free and you will only have to pay, if we win you compensation.