Repeat Bed Bug Infestations Raise Issues of Landlord Liability

March 3, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Lawyers are taught to read each and every document carefully before signing or using it at trial. So, while Northern California bedbug eradication lawyer Greg Brod knows to read beyond a headline, he found the headlines of two articles in the Stanford Daily last fall said a mouthful on their own. The first headline dated November 9, 2014 happily touts “Bedbugs in Toyon Eradicated.” Less than a week later, the same paper declares “New Case of Bedbugs Found in Toyon after Reported Eradication.” These headlines headlight two interrelated truths --- controlling a bedbug outbreak is hard, but residents in rented properties (including students in dorms) have a right to a vermin free life.

University Students Face Bed Bug Problems
bedbug2.jpgIn early November, the Stanford paper reported that bedbugs had been seen in two rooms in an undergraduate residence hall. However, Rodger Whitney who heads the school’s residential living team told the paper that the problem was limited to those two rooms and the pests had been eradicated. The report notes an initial attempt to eliminate the bugs had failed but a more thorough three-week process had now been completed on one room and, per student request, a week-long procedure used on the second room. A Residential Advisor criticized the school’s communication efforts and the fact that bedbugs were not discussed in RA training. Six days later, the paper reported that another case of bedbugs had been found in the same dormitory. Apparently, the report only became public after yet another unit-specific effort to treat the pest invasion.

Eradicating Bed Bugs in Residential Spaces
The University of Michigan’s Extension Program, a group focused on using University resources to tackle problems throughout their own community and the state overall, provides a relevant guidesheet titled “Prevention and Control of Bed Bugs in Residences.” While some of the advice (i.e. checking backpacks to see if bugs have hitched a ride) is student-oriented, much of it is applicable to everyone. The authors note that the best way to detect an invasion is to carefully check the area around where you sleep/rest (ex. mattresses, boxsprings, bed frames, and bedding) as well as under carpet edges, in cracks, and on luggage including purses or backpacks. You may see dead or live bugs, discarded skins, fecal matter, and/or brown and red stains. Once you confirm an infestation, stop and prepare for the step of control since disturbed bugs may move and worsen the infestation.

While there are some websites that discuss ways you can fight these pests on your own, the above-cited article seems to espouse the majority view, namely that controlling an infestation is a job for the professionals. A trained pest control company will conduct a careful inspection and can use both insecticides and non-chemical controls. The latter include heat and steam treatments, measures that are effective but notably do not prevent re-infestation. Sometimes personal items and furniture needs to be removed to facilitate treatment, but if treatment is done right then disposing of items is rarely required.

Bed Bug Infestations, Tenant Injury and Landlord Negligence
California law requires rental residences meet a general standard of habitability. Vermin like bed bugs can render a unit uninhabitable. Negligence in failing to properly address an infestation or warn tenants of a known problem may give rise to landlord liability and, in turn, may mean the landlord owes the tenant monetary compensation. This is particularly true when the plaintiff and/or other family members have suffered from extensive bites.

If you’ve suffered from bed bugs in a Northern California rental residence (dorms may count, although special rules apply in some college-related lawsuits) and believe your landlord’s negligence contributed to the problem, call The Brod Law Firm. As a leading bed bug attorney for San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and all of Northern California, Attorney Brod has specific experience representing renters in Northern California bedbug-related landlord-tenant lawsuits. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
A Bedbug Primer for California Renters
Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite: A Rising Problem in the Bay Area

(Image by Gilles San Martin)

Understanding and Combatting Medicare Coding Fraud

March 2, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Medicare billing is a complex and specialized field. Translating patient care into billing codes takes knowledge and skill. While most providers and coders work hard to make sure billing codes accurately reflect the care provided, others use the system to divert money from government coffers into their own pockets. Fraudulent Medicare coding takes a number of forms. Catching those involved in these scams often takes inside knowledge. Attorney Greg Brod partners with honest insiders who’ve observed modifier fraud and, as a skilled Medicare fraud attorney, he partners with these individuals, protecting their interests while fighting back and working to return taxpayer money to already strained health care programs.

Recent Medicare Coding Settlements
computerhealth.jpgIn January, a physician in Georgia agreed to pay more than $305,000 to settle coding-related allegations under the federal False Claims Act. As reported by the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Dennis Conrad Harper was accused of using an inappropriate billing code in order to bypass Medicare limitations and receive payment for certain urine drug tests. The Government alleged that he submitted payment claims for high-complexity tests while actually performing less-complex tests. Similar allegations regarding improper coding on urine drugs tests formed the basis of a September 2014 settlement between the federal government and Clinical Lab Partners, a Connecticut firm as well as a May 2014 settlement totaling $4.65 million involving Calloway Laboratories, the federal Medicare program, and the West Virginia Medicaid program. The U.S. Attorney involved in the latter explained “Drug treatment programs are a vital component of our ongoing battle against prescription drug abuse….The cost for [related] testing often falls upon federal health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The additional expense of unnecessary review, like that routinely performed by Calloway Labs, increases the burden on an already stressed system.”

The Most Common Forms of Coding and Billing Fraud
Beckers ASC, an information source for the healthcare industry with a focus on outpatient surgery, provides a useful page titled “5 Common Fraudulent Coding, Billing Schemes.” The report discusses the following types of fraudulent billing/coding scams: 1) Upcoding – billing for a more complex procedure than was actually preformed (listed as the most common coding fraud); 2) Unbundling – separately billing for items that should be included in a bundled package; 3) Kitchen sink coding – including codes beyond those tied to confirmed diagnoses (notably can hurt patients by making their records include preexisting conditions they don’t actually have); 4) Inconsistent coding – changing a listed diagnosis without actual symptom changes, often done just prior to surgery; 5) Inflated charges – inflating charges, particularly when bills are not first sent to an insurance provider, often in personal injury/accident-related care.

A Dual Commitment: Protecting the System, Protecting the Whistleblower
It is simply impossible for Medicare to closely review every patient bill, a fact scammers use to their advantage. This, along with the complexity of the coding system, also means it is often only company insiders who are aware that fraud is being committed. We understand that this is a difficult and even scary situation, leaving honest workers from top executives to data-entry specialists feeling torn between reporting and fear for their job and their family’s economic well-being. We are here to help. Our Medicare coding fraud attorney will consult with you and explain how the law protects whistleblowers and even compensates them for their role in successful prosecutions. As a whistleblowers’ law firm, we promise to keep your unique, individual concerns in mind throughout the process and we will always be available to discuss your worries. As partners in the process, we will fight fraud together, protecting the health care system broadly (including, of course, you and your loved ones as patients/health care consumers) and your specific individual interests. Take the first step and call today.

As an added note, our firm is based out of California and has close ties to the Miami area. We can, however, assist coding fraud whistleblowers anyplace in the nation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Focus on Fraud: Upcoding
The Many Guises of Medicare Fraud: Part I

(Photo by Intel Free Press);

ATV Accidents: Statistics, Safety, and Legal Representation

February 27, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

While cars are responsible for a strong majority of vehicle-related accidents, they are not the only culprit in the fatal or injury-causing accidents we see in our Northern California injury practice. All-terrain vehicle accidents (“ATVs” or “ATV accidents”), can cause serious injury or even death. When someone other than the injured is at fault, our Sonoma County ATV accident lawyer can help the injured victim or surviving family members obtain financial compensation from those responsible.

ATV Overturns, Seriously Injuring Petaluma Teen
The Press Democrat reported on an ATV accident that occurred in Petaluma on Saturday and left a teenager seriously injured. Three teens were riding an ATV on private property when the vehicle overturned and rolled over onto one of the passengers, leaving him with a severely broken arm, a broken vertebra in his neck, and a severed artery. An uninjured rider called 911 and used his own shirt to staunch his long-time friend’s bleeding. The injured teen underwent emergency surgery and is expected to make a strong recovery.

ATV Accident Statistics
ATV.jpgIn April 2014, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) released its 2012 Annual Report of ATV-Related Deaths and Injuries. Through the end of 2012, the CPSC had received 12,391 reports of ATV-related fatalities between 1982 and 2012, including 353 in 2012 and 554 in 2011. Notably, accident numbers for the years 2009 to 2012 are expected to increase as reporting is finalized; in 2008, the last year for which reporting is deemed complete, there were 755 ATV deaths. Of the 12,391 reported deaths in the study period, 24% involved victims aged less than 16 years. CPSC statistics also show an estimated 107,900 ATV-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2012, with 25% involving children under 16.

A related state-by-state report dated August 2013 shows California saw 628 reported ATV deaths from 1982 to 2011. Again, the most recent years’ numbers are considered incomplete. Focusing on the years for which reporting is deemed complete, there were 548 deaths from 1982 through 2008. Using either figure, California had more ATV fatalities than any other state

ATV Safety Tips
In addition to reporting accident statistics, the CPSC’s ATV Safety Information Center provides several safety tips for ATV riders. The agency recommends wearing safety gear, including a helmet and eye protection, and avoiding paved roads. They suggest children under age 16 not be allowed to drive/ride adult ATVs. The CPSC recommends against allowing passengers on ATVs that are intended for only one rider. Additional safety tips not specifically mentioned include obeying suggested maximum speeds and never riding while drunk or under the influence of drugs.

A Detail-Oriented Northern California Law Firm for ATV Accidents
Our Northern California ATV accident attorney represents victims in both personal injury and wrongful death suits. We conduct a close investigation of each accident to determine who bears factual and legal responsibility. In some cases, a company that made/sold/rented a defective vehicle is responsible. In others, responsibility lies with an individual who drove recklessly/negligently. Another scenario involves negligent maintenance of a road or path. Sometimes more than one party is at fault. A victim may have a legal claim even if his/her own negligence was a factor.

If you, your child, or another family member has been involved in an ATV accident in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Oakland, or neighboring communities, please call. We can help you recover money from those at fault, compensation that can help you and your family move forward after tragedy.

See Related Blog Posts:
Golf Cart Accident Spurs Family to File Product Liability Suit on Behalf of Victim
Representing the Victims of Motorized Scooter Accidents in Northern California

(Image by Damien Coeffard)

California Child Injury Lawyer on the Danger of Scooter Accidents

February 25, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

There are few sounds as good for the soul as the noise of children at play. In a world where technology often keeps even young children glued to screens, it is especially heart-warming to hear kids engaged in active, outdoor play. It is important for kids to take part in physical activity, but it is also important for that activity to be safe. Scooters have been one of the most popular outdoor toys for many years, but they are also one of the most dangerous. In today’s blog entry, our Oakland child injury lawyer focuses on the danger of scooter injuries, injuries that often involve defective products, careless drivers, or other forms of adult negligence.

Trio of California Scooter Deaths in Late 2014
Late 2014 saw at least three fatal scooter accidents in California. On November 11, a 14 year-old high school freshman was riding his scooter near his home in San Leandro. According to the San Francisco Chronicle a driver heading south in a scooter2.jpgnorthbound lane swerved, ran a red light, and crashed into the high school freshman who later succumbed to his injuries at an area hospital. Only one day later, a 13 year-old boy was riding his scooter to school when he was struck by a car and killed in Riverside, a town about an hour west of Los Angeles. Witnesses said that driver had also run through a red light and ABC7 reported that the 44 year-old driver was taken into custody on charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. A third child was killed in a scooter accident on December 26 in San Bernardino County. News station KTLA reported that 12 year-old boy was playing with his new Razor-brand scooter, a Christmas gift, when he the into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Study Blames Scooters for Increase in Toy-Related Accidents
In December, USA Today reported on a study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics that focused on the problem of toy-related accidents. The study suggests that “kick” scooters, like the foot-powered collapsible Razor scooters that have been widely popular since around 2000, were largely responsible for a 40% increase in toy-related injuries between 1990 and 2011. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, 52,500 children under age 15 were taken to the emergency room and one died as a result of injuries stemming from non-motorized scooter accidents in 2013 (Side note: It is unclear whether this number includes traffic accidents). The study authors and the CPSC urge parents to be sure children wear safety helmets when using scooters.

A Child Injury Law Firm for Scooter Accidents in Northern California
Scooter accidents can be caused by a number of different factors. In some cases, the root cause is a defect in the toy itself. In other cases, a negligent driver bears responsibility for the accident. As a Northern California child injury lawyer, Attorney Greg Brod understands that each case is unique. Along with his team, Attorney Brod has the wide-range of experience in personal injury matters that is crucial for getting compensation for injured children and/or grieving families. If your child has been injured in a scooter accident in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, or the surrounding communities, call to arrange a consultation. Most injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis so there is no cost unless you or your child receive compensation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Toy-Related Injuries in the Holiday Season
Toy Safety Reminder From Your San Francisco Injury Lawyer

(Image by Pabak Sarkar)

San Francisco Apartment Rental Fires & The Law

February 24, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

There are few images as peaceful and serene as a cozy room adorned with oversized chairs and handmade blankets, all set before a blazing fire. Fire can be beautiful and functional; fire can also be destructive, frightening, and even deadly. Fire can leave families facing injuries and financial losses. Fire can also leave people with countless questions. In the case of a San Francisco apartment fire, Northern California tenant’s lawyer Greg Brod can help renters get answers while protecting their legal rights and recovering any due compensation.

firetruck2.jpgFire Displaces Church Street Residents
On Saturday afternoon, a team of San Francisco firefighters responded to a blaze at 301 Church Street, near the intersection with 15th Street. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the initial call came in at 4:11 P.M., alerting the Fire Department to a fire burning between two buildings. Fire officials had the flames under control at 5:23 P.M., but not before the blaze grew to a three-alarm size and caused substantial damage to both apartment buildings. Luckily no one was injured (fire officials did rescue and provide oxygen to a pet cat), but an unknown number of residents were displaced by the firm. The upper levels of the two burned buildings appear to be severely damaged and uninhabitable while a third building seems to have incurred smoke damage.

An Overview of S.F. Renters’ Rights Following a Fire
An overview of tenant’s rights after a fire under California and San Francisco laws/regulations can be found in a Home Guide: Tenants’ Rights After a Fire by the San Francisco Chronicle and also in the “In Case of Fire” section of a resource page produced by the Housing Rights Committee. As with many housing issues, much of the rights afforded to tenants after a fire stem from the implied warranty of habitability. Pursuant to that warranty, landlords must repair a damaged property as soon as possible. In general, the landlord is not responsible for the tenant’s personal property (renter’s insurance will usually apply). However, the tenant may have a claim if he can show that the fire was caused by the landlord’s negligence.

If a fire renders a unit uninhabitable, the tenant can live elsewhere and stop paying rent. A report from the local health department is usually the basis for a finding that the unit is uninhabitable. Once the landlord repairs the unit, he must notify the tenant that the apartment is ready and offer the tenant the opportunity to return. In San Francisco, Section 12.19 of the Rent Board’s Rules & Regulations provides: “If a tenant is forced to vacate her/his unit due to fire or other disaster, the landlord shall, within 30 days of completion of repairs to the unit, offer the same unit to that tenant under the same terms and conditions as existed prior to her/his displacement.” The landlord can only ask for a higher rent if it is approved by the Rent Board. If the landlord fails to offer the apartment back to the tenant, the renter may have a claim for wrongful eviction.

Providing Legal Counsel to Bay Area Renters
We’d urge any tenant impacted by an apartment fire to obtain legal counsel before engaging in self-help. Call our office to schedule a free consultation with San Francisco landlord/tenant lawyer Greg Brod. Attorney Brod’s experience in both tenant representation and injury law make him a top choice for tenant’s facing the aftermath of an apartment fire.

See Related Blog Posts:
Fire Injury and California Landlord/Tenant Law (focused on fire safety)
After the Storm: The Threat of Mold After Residential Flooding

(Image by Chad Kainz)

Medical Equipment Fraud and Power Wheelchair Scams

February 23, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

It seems like you can barely turn on the television these days without seeing an advertisement for medications and medical equipment. Equipment ads in particular often target seniors and inevitably include a promise that the company will deal directly with Medicare to get the product supplied with little or no cost to the consumer. While medical equipment helps countless people live fuller and more productive lives, the industry is a prime target for scammers. Power wheelchair scams and other equipment fraud operations allow scammers to profit at the expense of taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries. Stopping these scams often requires beneficiaries and/or company insiders coming forward and sharing their knowledge. Medicare fraud lawyer Attorney Greg Brod protects the interests of these brave whistleblowers while working to stop equipment fraud and return money to the government.

Wheelchair Scams: “The Poor Man’s Way In” to Medical Fraud
wheel2.jpgA 2014 Washington Post report, carried online by The Fiscal Times, paints a picture of one power wheelchair scam based on testimony offered before a California court last summer. According to witness testimony, patient recruiters would call seniors and ask whether they had ever received a power wheelchair through Medicare. If the answer was “no,” the recruiter would attempt to get the person to agree to come to a medical office and get a prescription for a power wheelchair. Whether the patient truly needed the expensive equipment was all but irrelevant. One Medicare beneficiary testified that he told them he did not need a power wheelchair but that the company insisted they were giving away the chairs or free.

Wheelchair schemes date back to at least the mid-‘90s. The Post calls the operations “the poor man’s way in, an entry-level fraud that didn’t require a medical degree or a hospital.” Equipment fraud scammers bill Medicare for chairs and other equipment that is not medically indicated and pocket the large price markup. In the scheme underlying the above-mentioned court inquiry, recruiters were paid $800 for each time a (usually bogus) prescription was written and a chair ordered. The California-based scam billed Medicare for some 1,000 power chairs, a medium-sized operation in the world of Medicare equipment fraud. Per The Post, Medicare has spent $8.2 billion on power wheelchairs and motor scooters since 1999. It is impossible to know how many of the 2.7 million people who received chairs paid for by the government had true medical need.

An On-Going Threat to Medicare
The Post suggests that the “golden age” of wheelchair scams has passed. Despite the institution of more stringent controls, our medical fraud law firm would question that assessment. Just last week, California news station KUSI reported on the sentencing of a former California doctor in a medical equipment fraud case. Jason Ling, who pled guilty to federal and state charges and whose license to practice medicine has been revoked for at least 10 years, will spend four years in custody and be required to repay close to $1.5 million to both the state and federal government. According to his guilty plea in the federal case, Ling used a “street-level marketer” to find patients for his Southern California medical practice. Even when patients were healthy, Ling would bill for office visits and prescribe unnecessary power wheelchairs and other equipment. Ling pled guilty to charges in both federal and state courts.

Whistleblowers’ Law Firm Fighting Medical Equipment Fraud
Medicare equipment fraud misappropriates money from already strained health care budgets. Sadly these schemes hurt those who genuinely need to equipment by casting their requests in an uncertain light.

Medicare fraud lawsuits help return money to already strained health care programs. These suits often rest on information supplied by company insiders who see and object to the fraud or even the report of individual Medicare beneficiaries who suspect something is amiss. If you have witnessed medical equipment fraud, including but by no means limited to power wheelchair scams, call our office. As a lawyer for medical equipment fraud whistleblowers, Attorney Brod works to fight fraud while also ensuring these brave individuals are protected from retaliation and, if money is recovered as a result of their involvement, fairly compensated for their efforts.

See Related Blog Posts:
Conviction in Medicare Fraud Scheme Involving Power Wheelchairs
Putting Money Over Medicine: Health Care Fraud, Kickbacks and Patient Recruiters

(Image by Daniel Oines)

A Reminder: Santa Rosa Renters, Like All California Tenants, Have Rights Regardless of Housing Shortages

February 20, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

For quite some time, the local and national press has been bringing attention to the San Francisco housing shortage. It is important to remember, however, that this is not a problem limited to San Francisco. The problem stretches across Northern California and includes a shortage of affordable housing in Santa Rosa. It is important that renters remember that, shortage aside, they do have rights and should not be afraid to speak up about an abusive landlord or unfit dwelling. Our Santa Rosa tenants’ lawyer is committed to protecting renters and ensuring units are both affordable and fit to be called “home.”

keys.jpgProspective Renters Camp Out to Apply for New Santa Rosa Apartment Building
A story in this week’s Press Democrat brings attention to the Sonoma County affordable housing shortage. The piece reported on would-be tenants camping out for up to two nights in hopes of applying to live in a new complex set to open in May at the intersection of Petaluma Hill and Kawana Springs roads in southeast Santa Rosa. Management personnel said they’d never seen anything like the campers before with a prospective renter reporting that people can spend years on waiting lists to get into an affordable rental property.

As of the close of 2014, a whopping 97.2% of Sonoma County apartments were occupied, a figure industry personnel consider equivalent to full occupancy. Rents have increased nearly 30% on light of the intense demand. Real Answers, a research firm, placed Santa Rosa fifth on a listing of areas with the biggest rent hikes.

Protecting Renters in a Tight Housing Market
Some unsavory landlords are taking advantage of this unprecedented demand, but tenants have rights regardless of how high occupancy rates have risen. Both state and local laws exist to protect tenants and ensure they are treated fairly; units must not only be affordable, but livable. This area of law is a complex network of legislative and judicial mandates and no single post could capture all facets of tenant protection. Although far from a comprehensive catalog of tenants’ rights, three crucial elements, which roughly break down to protection for renters looking for units, renters living in those units, and renters forced out of those units, of California’s landlord/tenant law are:

  • Discrimination – As detailed in the Unlawful Discrimination section of a California Department of Consumer Affairs rental handbook, landlords cannot refuse to rent to a prospective tenant or otherwise discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected status. Landlords must also apply the same income rules to roommates as they apply to married couples. There are very limited exceptions that apply to a single rental in an owner-occupied dwelling, such as a woman looking to rent a room in her home to another female.

  • Habitability – Habitability is a broad, overarching term that essentially means a unit must be fit for use as a dwelling. It is a requirement read into every rental agreement. The “Dealing with Problems” section of the above-referenced handbook includes a list of some of the elements of the warranty of habitability including: Effective weather protection; Working plumbing, heat, and gas; Clean, sanitary grounds free from vermin and related hazards; and Adequate trash facilities.

  • Eviction – In a tight market, renters may reluctant to speak up due to fear of eviction. However, the law provides in depth rules on evictions including a detailed eviction process. Retaliatory evictions are illegal, meaning a landlord violates the law if the primary purpose of an eviction is retaliating against a tenant who exercised his/her legal rights.

The protections against discrimination, the warranty of habitability, and the rules regarding eviction are the backbone of California tenant protection law. Regardless of how tight the market is, tenants can and should speak up if their rights are being violated. Do not allow unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of the market and, in doing so, take advantage of you. If you believe your landlord has violated your rights, call our Santa Rosa renters’ law firm. Do not assume your case is too small or stay silent out of fear. We can help.

See Related Blog Posts:
What Does “Habitability” Mean in California?
Bay Area’s Spike in Rents Presents Incentive for Landlords to Turn Over Units
Understanding Ellis Act Evictions

(Image by George Redgrave)

Oakland Injury Attorney Examines the Threat of Rental Truck Accidents

February 18, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

movingtruck.jpgWhether it is to facilitate a do-it-yourself move, to haul equipment for a landscaping project, or for some other transport need, many of us will rent a truck at some point in our lives. Rental companies often tout the ease of driving these vehicles, assuring prospective customers that they can handle the task of driving even if the largest vehicle they’ve piloted in the past is a mini-van or SUV. Still, renters and everyone else on the road are relying on the rental company to provide a safe vehicle. Rental truck accidents happen for a range of reasons. In today’s post, our Oakland rental truck accident lawyer explores these accidents, specifically the dangers that negligent upkeep or other vehicle-related problems pose to all travelers.

Rental Truck Accident in San Jose
Early Tuesday morning, according to a report in the Oakland Tribune, a rental truck accident halted traffic on Highway 101 South between Brokaw Road and First Street in San Jose for one hour. CHP Officer Ross Lee told reporters that a rental truck swerved off the road onto the right shoulder and plowed into a chain-link fence. With the fence wrapped around the driveline and rear axle, the truck proceeded to head left, driving through a guardrail and crossing all four lanes of traffic with the fence in tow. Luckily, the driver was not injured and, likely thanks to the early hour, no other vehicles were involved. The cause of the incident remained undetermined at the time of the report, although the CHP noted they did not suspect drug or alcohol use.

Report Examines Rental Truck Safety Following Fatal Accident
The accident in San Jose could have had a much more tragic ending, a truth brought home by a November 2011 report in the Hartford Courant. The report followed a crash in which a rental truck driven by a Yale student hauling beer kegs to a football tailgate plowed into a group of pedestrians killing one woman and injuring two others. Although the article preceded an investigation, the author suggests the accident would likely add to the controversy over rental truck policies nationwide, policies that put untrained drivers at the helm of 5-ton vehicles despite few maintenance requirements.

- Questions About Vehicle Maintenance and Aging Fleets
According to The Courant report, rental trucks do not need to comply with the oversight and inspection rules applied to commercial truck fleets by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The article cites a 2005 study out of Toronto that found half of the trucks one leading rental company had in the region failed safety inspections. Another 2007 report did a spot-check of 163 trucks owned by the same company and found half were more than 60 days overdue for safety checks that the company said were performed monthly to ensure brakes, tires, and other equipment were in safe working order.

Furthering potential risks, the truck rental company appeared to wait much longer than traditional car rental companies to retire vehicles from their fleet. The Courant identified 28 used rental trucks for sale that were, on average, more than 16 years old and had over 175,000 miles on the odometer. In contrast, former fleet passenger cars being sold off by a leading car rental company were typically less than two years old and had traveled under 35,000 miles.

- Concerns About Lax Rental Requirements
Despite the size of these vehicles, drivers do not need a special license to pilot rental vans. At least one major truck rental company allows 18 year-olds to rent trucks and allows 16 year-olds to rent trailers. In contract, most major car rental companies require drivers to be 21 and charge a surcharge for renters under 25.

Representing Injured Victims Following Northern California Rental Truck Accidents
If you have been involved in a rental truck accident in Northern California and you believe someone else was to blame, our team can help. Our Northern California rental truck accident attorney will explore all possible avenues of recovery, including the potential liability of the rental company if a vehicle defect or corporate negligence played any role in causing the crash.

See Related Blog Posts:
Commercial Truck Accidents and Legal Liability: Who’s Responsible When Trucks Cause Injuries?
“The Car Was Out of Control” – A Lesson in Excuses from your Oakland Injury Lawyer

(Photo by Connie Ma)

California Legislature Eyes Adult Bicycle Helmet Requirement

February 17, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

At the Brod Law Firm, we are strong supporters of Northern California’s bicycle riders. Attorney Greg Brod is a member of both the San Francisco and Marin County Bicycle Coalitions and our team has San Francisco bicycle injury law firm helped many injured riders recover compensation from those who put them at undue risk. While we are dedicated to pursuing those whose negligent decisions harm (or even kill) riders, we also urge riders to make every effort to keep themselves safe in the event of a crash. One step every rider should take is wearing a bicycle helmet for every two-wheeled trip.

Riders Split Over Helmet Requirement for Adult Bicycle Riders
bikepack.jpgThis weekend’s San Francisco Chronicle reported on a conflict among California riders regarding a potential change in the state’s helmet laws. Currently the law requires minors to wear bicycle helmets but State Senator Carol Liu has introduced a bill that would require adult riders to don a helmet or face a $25 fine. If approved, the legislation would make California the first state to require helmet use by riders over age 18. The pending bill would also require the use of reflective clothing at night.

Chronicle reporters found a range of opinions among riders about the potential legislative helmet mandate. Notably, the head of the California Bicycle Coalition expressed opposition saying that California should focus on improving safety by increasing the number of riders and suggested a mandatory helmet law would result in fewer bicycle trips. One supporter of the requirement, a rider who is also a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, noted she sees head injury patients every day and said people on the road must take proper precautions. The reporter observed 100 riders at a busy San Francisco intersection; 68 were wearing helmets while 32 were not.

Studies and Statistics Support Efficacy of Bike Helmets
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”), 741 bicyclists died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013, a slight increase from 2012. The California Office of Traffic Safety’s Score Card indicates that a significant portion of these deaths, 124 in 2012, occur in our state. Digging down further, the IIHS found that in most fatal bicycle accidents the most serious injuries were head injuries. The IIHS suggests this highlights the importance of helmet use which has been estimated to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent. Nationally, 63% of the bicycle deaths in 2013 involved riders who were not wearing helmets and helmet use information was not known for an additional 20% of riders. Although current helmet laws focus on young people, 84% of bicycle deaths involve riders aged 20 years or older.

In May 2013, the Smithsonian Magazine looked at the efficacy of helmets in a piece titled, “Bicycle Helmets Really Do Work, But You Have to Wear Them.” A study spanning twelve years found helmets reduced brain injury risk by 88%, in line with the IIHS’s conclusions. The study also credited helmet laws with a 20% drop in injuries and deaths among riders under age 16 involved in automobile-versus-bicycle collisions. A review of 63 studies concluded “the evidence is clear that bicycle helmets prevent serious injury and even death.”

Safety, Regrets, Representation
As a rider cited in the Chronicle report noted, helmets may not be stylish but neither are accidents. Whether or not the pending bill passes, we strongly encourage riders of all ages to wear helmets. In our work as a Northern California personal injury law firm we have met countless individuals who expressed regret over skipping a safety measure (i.e. not wearing a helmet or not buckling a seat belt); we haven’t spoken to anyone who regretted taking an extra step for personal safety.

Important note -- In most cases, if someone else was responsible for the crash that caused you injury, you will have a legal claim even if your own actions (ex. not wearing a helmet) contributed to or exacerbated the injury.

See Related Blog Posts:
California Bicycle Riders’ Law Firm Examines Bicycle Accident Statistics
Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same: Bicycle Accidents & Rider Fatalities Over the Years

(Photo by Greg Michael Photography)

Decision Expands Reach of the False Claims Act and Helps Fight Government Fraud

February 16, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

We are honored to work alongside brave and honest individuals as a government contracts fraud law firm. Attorney Brod has a deep understanding of the laws that allows private whistleblowers to fight back against scammers who commit fraud against the government and partners with such individuals on cases nationwide. Many of these cases rely on a law that dates back to the Civil War and that was substantially amended in the mid-1980s, the False Claims Act (“FCA”). Despite over 150 year of history, the law continues to be examined and interpreted including on the crucial question of whether a contract violation in itself can support an FCA action, a theory referred to as “implied certification.”

Background of the Badr Case – Contractor Accused of Providing Security Forces Who Did Not Meet Marksmanship Requirements
gavel3.jpgLast month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (a critical jurisdiction since, although it doesn’t include Washington D.C. itself, it includes areas around D.C. where many federal contractors operate), released an opinion endorsing the implied certification theory in FCA actions. The issue arose as the court evaluated the dismissal of certain portions of the Complaint filed in United States ex rel. Badr v. Triple Canopy Inc., ultimately affirming part of the lower court’s ruling and dismissing other portions of that decision. In doing so, the circuit joined several other jurisdictions (including state courts interpreting California’s version of the FCA) in embracing the implied certification concept.

In June 2009, Triple Canopy entered into an agreement to provide security services at the second-largest airbase in Iraq, Al Asad Airbase. Pursuant to the Task Orders that spelled out the company’s responsibilities, Triple Canopy was to provide personnel who had received certain weapons training and passed a marksmanship skills test. Among the personnel hired by Triple Canopy were 332 Uguandan guards (plus replacements). According to the Complaint, some or all of these guards did not meet the marksmanship requirements. Omar Badr, a medic with Triple Canopy, initiated the FCA action alleging, among other things, that he was asked for prepare false scorecards for guards who did not actually pass the marksmanship test.

Court Endorses Implied Certification Theory, Finds Conduct Violated FCA By Falsely Suggesting Contractual Compliance
Among the reasons listed in support of its Motion to Dismiss, Triple Canopy suggested that the FCA Complaint failed to point to a demand for payment that included a statement that was objectively false. Importantly, payment was not expressly contingent on compliance with this requirement and the invoices submitted by Triple Canopy did not specifically mention marksmanship matters. The issue became, in essence, whether violating the contract constituted a violation of the FCA. While the court expressed concerns about making all contract violations into FCA violations, they noted the FCA is intended to protect the treasury and determined that a claim for payment that rests on a false suggestion of contractual compliance, whether express or implied (including silent implications), is in fact an FCA violation. The Court wrote:

... Accordingly, we hold that the Government pleads a false claim when it alleges that the contractor, with the requisite [knowledge], made a request for payment under a contract and withheld information about its noncompliance with material contractual requirements…The pertinent inquiry is whether, through the act of submitting a claim, a payee knowingly and falsely implied that it was entitled to payment. (internal citations removed)

It is worth noting that this is not a ruling on the merits of the case but rather a finding that the facts alleged by the plaintiffs could, if proven, legally support a claim (see discussion of a motion for failure to state a claim on the Legal Information Institute website: “A defense asserting that even if all the factual allegations in a complaint are true, they are insufficient to establish a cause of action. In a federal civil action, this defense is raised via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).”)

Using the False Claims Act to Fight Fraud
The Badr ruling (notably not a ruling on the merits but rather one that reverses a ruling dismissing certain claims based on the law) is a critical decision in that it helps expand the power of the FCA to reach those who are looking to cheat the government and, thus, all Americans. Our firm welcomes calls from honest individuals across the country who you believe they have witnessed a scheme to defraud the government. When you call, we will schedule a no-cost/no-obligation consultation to discuss the Act, whether what you’ve witnessed is a likely violation, and how we can partner together to fight back. Our government fraud whistleblowers' attorney and the entire government contract fraud team are committed to protecting whistleblowers from retaliation and also ensuring you are fairly compensated if your information leads to a recovery on behalf of the government

See Related Blog Posts:

The False Claims Act: From Shoddy Civil War Uniforms to Costly Defense Contracts in 2014
Public Safety and Other Aims of False Claims Act Litigation
Fighting Fraud: Government Contract Fraud Attorney Examines Procurement Fraud

(Image by Flickr user cousine4everkis)

Behind the Statistics: Drunk Driving Victims and Perpetrators

February 13, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

beerdriver.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,322 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2012. This means that nearly 30 people die every single day in the U.S. in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, one life lost every 51 minutes. As a drunk driving crash law firm in Santa Rosa, we never forget that there are real people behind every statistic. The impact of drunk driving is very real.

On occasion, we like to use this forum to look at specific stories of drunk driving’s impact. Since our practice focuses on the victim, we often highlight stories that help readers appreciate the real people behind these numbers. Our goal in doing so is to remind readers that there are real faces behind the numbers and hopefully make people think twice before stepping behind the wheel.

A Young Family Forever Changed by a Drunk Driver
In December, CBS Sacramento looked at the journey one family faced after a near-fatal crash believed to have been caused by a drunk driver. A twenty-two year old woman was driving with her brother and her eight-day old baby in the car when they were involved in a six vehicle pile-up. Miraculously, the baby suffered only a few bruises, protected from the glass and mangled metal by his car seat. His mom, who was only one class shy of becoming a pre-school educator, was not nearly so lucky. She was hospitalized with a cracked spine, broken pelvis, lacerated liver, and ruptured spleen. In addition to her stay in intensive care, a stay that took away her time to bond with her newborn son, she will require months of therapy and will have to move to a home that doesn’t require climbing stairs. The baby’s uncle also suffered six broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

A Continuing Problem
Stories like that take our breath away. There is so much pain behind the statistics and the saddest part is that impaired driving accidents are preventable. It is hard for us, as victims’ advocates, to understand the decision to drive drunk. Yet, people do. Just this week the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on several impaired driving incidents. In one case, a 28 year-old man was stopped going 77mph in a 55mph zone. Police found an open bottle of whiskey in his vehicle and learned he had a suspended license and was wanted on an arrest warrant related to a drunk driving incident. Officers suspect he was once again driving under the influence. In another case, a woman was clocked driving 86mph. Police checked her license and learned she already had two DUI convictions and eight license suspensions. Preliminary tests put her blood alcohol level at more than three times the legal limit and police once again placed her under arrest.

Our Long-Standing Commitment to Prevention and Representation
There is no excuse for drunk driving. If you or someone you love has been the victim of a drunk driver, we can help you recover compensation. This money can help you pay your bills, cope with lost wages, and deal with the lasting consequences of a crash. We cannot undo the harm, but we can help you move forward. We can also continue to ask our readers to prevent future tragedies by opting not to drive impaired and pressing those you love to make the same commitment.

See Related Blog Posts:
Repeat Drunk Drivers: A Look at the Problem of DUI Recidivism
Back to Basics: 2012 Accident Figures and a Reminder of the Importance of Injury Counsel

(Image by James Cridland)

Cell Phones & Car Crashes: An Underreported Safety Threat

February 11, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Almost any driver would tell you that cell phones are a factor in countless car crashes. Yet, the same driver might insist he or she is the exception, that s/he has the skills needed to pilot a car safely while using a cell phone, maybe even while texting. Science and crash studies, many cited previously on our Oakland distracted driving law firm’s blog, prove this is simply not the case. While there is a lot of data on the subject, pinpointing the total number of cell phone crashes has proved an elusive goal for reasons explored in today’s post.

Investigators Eye Cell Phone Use in Jenner Crash
Olympian turned reality star Bruce Jenner was involved in a deadly highway crash in Malibu last Saturday that, per the Oakland Tribune, killed one and injured seven. Police are now asking all drivers involved in the multi-vehicle accident to voluntarily turn over their cell phones so that investigators can review call and text data. Even with the phones, Sgt. Brooks of the LAPD notes it can be hard to tell if a driver was texting at the precise moment of the collision. Among other things, authorities will look for a series of texts that span the accident window to determine if cell phone use was a factor in the accident.

Cell Phones & Crash Data
The National Safety Council (“NSC”) believes the underreporting of cell phone use in crashes is a serious matter. As they suggest on a page titled “Cell Phone Crash Data & Under-Reporting”: “Both policymakers and the public may not consider [cell phone use] as phone.jpgserious a problem compared to bigger fatality factors that can be more reliably measured, such as impaired driving and not wearing seat belts.” The NSC lists four key factors limiting the ability to get an accurate picture of the number of crashes involving cell phones: 1) Drivers do not always admit to using a cell phone and in some cases cannot do so because they perished in the incident; 2) Witness statements can be inaccurate, in part due to memory limitations; 3) Cell phone records are difficult to obtain; 4) There is nothing equivalent to a blood alcohol test that can confirm cell phone use.

In 2013, the NSC produced a white paper on the challenge of finding reliable data on the impact of cell phones on car crashes. The paper adds detail to the foregoing reasons that make it difficult to accurately assess the problem, including the tendency of police to focus on other violations and the challenge of aligning cell phone data, when it is even available, with the precise timeline of the crash. Notably, the NSC reviewed some 600 crashes in which there was solid, reliable evidence of cell phone use and found that in 2011 only 52% of such crashes were coded as cell phone affected in the federal crash database. This is actually an improvement since the figure was 35% in 2011 and a mere 8% in 2009. Shockingly, even when drivers admitted cell phone use, only 57% were coded as involving cell phones in the database for 2011 (40% in 2010, 33% in 2009).

Representing the Victims of Cell Phone Crashes
Clearly, the data recording is improving. The improvement is notable and laudable, but research still suggests that half of crashes involving cell phones are not recorded as such. As a result, it is likely that the data grossly underestimates the danger of cell phone use behind the wheel. We believe that it is important to work on improving the data because understanding a problem is a key step towards combating it. We need to be able to show drivers that the facts prove cell phone use behind the wheel is dangerous and no one is an exception.

If you were injured or lost a close family member in a Northern California crash caused, in whole or in part, by another driver using a cell phone, we can help you recover the compensation you need and deserve. Call to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with our distracted driving injury attorney in Oakland, Santa Rosa, or San Francisco.

See Related Blog Posts:
A Reminder of Why the Fight to End Distracted Driving Must Continue

Report Dials Home Message That Cellphone Use and Driving Is a Risky Combination