San Francisco Injury Lawyer Blog

You’re in a car accident.  It’s relatively minor, but this certainly you are still shaken, upset, and angry.  You take a deep breath and try to be thankful that no one was injured.  That, however, can change in an instant.  In today’s blog post, our San Francisco car accident lawyer looks at serious car crashes that follow on the heels of more minor accidents and reminds readers to keep safety in mind during the confusing moments after a crash.

Milpitas Fender-Bender Leads to Fatal I-80 Collision

Late Sunday night, a man was killed when he was hit by a car while checking on the damage from a minor crash that occurred only minutes before.  According to the Milpitas Post, a 36 year-old South San Francisco man was driving a Toyota Prius along northbound Interstate 880 when he rear-ended a Mercedes vehicle.  Officers believe the man exited his car to check on the other driver whose vehicle was disabled in a travel lane.  After confirming she was okay, he returned to his car and stood in its doorway.  A blue Toyota Matrix sedan approached in the same lane as the disabled Mercedes.  Swerving to avoid the disabled vehicle, the Matrix hit and killed the Prius driver.  Police are still investigating but say they do not expect to make an arrest.

A Recurring Problem Turning Minor Crashes into Major Tragedies

Sadly, it is far from uncommon for a serious accident to follow on the heels of a minor collision.  Several fatalities have occurred under similar circumstances in the first half of 2015 alone.  On March 28, NECN reported that a man was killed on the Massachusetts Turnpike when he exited his vehicle to complete paperwork about a minor two-car collision and was hit by a third vehicle.  In February, the New York Post, covered a minor accident near Westchester, New York that turned deadly when a third car crashed into the scene, killing both of motorists involved in the initial incident as they stood on the side of the road inspecting the damage.  A third example was reported by ABC13 in Houston.  On February 1, 2015, a driver who had been involved in a fender-bender was trying to cross the freeway when he was hit by another vehicle, killing him instantly.

Staying Safe After a Minor Car Accident

These cases are only a small sample of a larger problem that often results in serious injury or death.  While it is important for all drivers to be vigilant and on the lookout for accident scenes, we also want to remind readers that safety should be the first priority after any accident, no matter how minor.  WikiHow provides a list of steps (we’ve combined some for simplicity) to follow after a car accident:

  • If possible, move your car out of traffic. Typically, the right shoulder is the best bet.  If you are on a highway, try to get off and stop as soon as you reach a safe location.
  • Stay inside your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened and your hazard lights activated.  You are safer, not to mention more visible, in your car than on the street.  An exception — Get out if you smell gas.
  • If you do have to wait for help outside your vehicle, stay as far from the roadway as possible.
  • Call 911. This is a smart move for safety and in case of subsequent legal action.
  • Document the crash. We’ve added this tip which is less about safety and more about preserving evidence (ex. photos, a log of calls to your insurer, witness info) in the event you decide to pursue a legal claim.

Representing the Injured and the Grieving in Northern California

As always, our motto is “Prevention First.”  Accidents are scary.  It is hard to think in the aftermath of even a minor collision.  Being prepared ahead of time and knowing what to do can save your life.

Ultimately, drivers are responsible for their own actions and it is incumbent upon drivers to be alert at all times.  If a driver ran into you or your loved one while you were dealing with a previous collision, you may have a civil claim.   This is true even if the police did not file charges and even if, in retrospect, you made a less-than-ideal choice after the initial crash.  Contact Attorney Greg Brod, a Northern California injury attorney who operates a personal injury law firm in Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa, to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:

“Move Over”: The Danger of a Second Crash in the Wake of a Roadway Accident

Staying Safe After a Collision: Second Crash Kills UC Berkley Student

 

It shouldn’t surprise us anymore, but it’s the type of fraud that surprises anyone who believes in supporting the American dream.  We’ve seen it before and, sadly, we know we’ll see it again – people taking advantage of programs intended to help small businesses succeed, especially businesses run by our country’s veterans and/or historically disadvantaged groups.  We take solace in the people we work with, those who step forward and say, “This isn’t right.” As a law firm for whistleblowers in defense contract fraud cases, we rely on honest individuals to help us fight government set-aside fraud and we are committed to protecting their interests, including ensuring they receive due compensation if their time, effort, and information leads to the recovery of government funds.

Four Charged With SBA Fraud

Last week, the Justice Department announced an indictment formally charging four individuals with defrauding Small Business Administration grant programs to obtain $24 million in unlawful profits.  The SBA operates programs that help businesses owned and controlled by disabled veterans and socially or economically dimoneysadvantaged individuals compete for government contracts.  In order to qualify, the business must be unconditionally owned and controlled by a qualified individual.

According to the indictment, the defendants submitted false eligibility statements and allowed unauthorized persons to control business entities that received over $140 million in federal agency contracts.  The government alleges that the defendants exploited SBA programs, in effect stealing taxpayer money specifically marked to help veterans and the disadvantaged succeed in business.  An investigator involved in the case explains, “[T]he defendants allegedly took U.S. taxpayer dollars from the 8(a) contracts intended to support the U.S. military.  These acts erode public confidence and deny opportunities for honest contractors.

Similar Schemes Target Veterans’ Department

Sadly, similar schemes have also targeted government contract preference administered by other agencies, diverting additional funds from deserving businesses.  Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced the indictment of three individuals on charges they defrauded the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) program run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.  Three defendants stand accused of using one defendant’s status as a service-disabled veteran to register a company as a SDVOSB.  Allegedly, this company was merely a front for other entities.  Further, the Justice Department suggests that the veteran was not actually in charge of the even the SDVOSB-registered company and “was simply a figurehead or ‘rent-a-vet’, who was being used for his service-disabled veteran status to obtain contracts.”

The Importance of Whistleblowers

In 2014, the federal government spent more than $447.6 billion on government contracts.  The scope of this spending means the government simply cannot catch every fraudulent contract on its own and it relies on honest individuals to help.  The False Claims Act allows private individuals to bring actions on the government’s behalf against the perpetrators of government contract fraud.  In addition to the knowledge that they chose to do the right thing, the individual is entitled to a substantial monetary award if the case leads to the government recovering wrongfully diverted funds.

If you have knowledge regarding government contract fraud, including cases involving set-aside programs, call our office at (800) 427-7020 to arrange a consultation with a government contracts fraud attorney.  We are located in California, however we work with whistleblowers on government contract fraud claims nationwide to protect the integrity of the government contracts system, defend taxpayer’s money, and safeguard the intended beneficiaries of set-asides and other government programs.

See Related Blog Posts:

Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Pursuing Scammers Posing as Veteran-Owned Businesses

Fighting Fraud: Government Contract Fraud Attorney Examines Procurement Fraud

(Image by Damian Gadal)

baybridge2While the Golden Gate Bridge is the traditional symbol of our town, we think that other spans are no less beautiful.  Reopened in 2013 following reconstruction, a project that faced years of delays and ultimately cost five times initial estimates, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is a gorgeous piece of engineering.  However, given continuing Bay Bridge safety concerns, our San Francisco bridge accident law firm is left wondering whether the bridge will ultimately be recalled as beautiful but tragic.

Cracks Found in Rods Used in Bay Bridge Foundation

As reported on SFGate.com, this week Caltrans formally acknowledged that tiny cracks found on rods used to secure the foundation of the Bay Bridge’s new tower may threaten to more than 400 other fasteners, particularly in an earthquake.  Caltrans chief engineer for the bridge project, Brian Mahoney, added: “As an engineer, if I have these micro­cracks I have to assume they exist in every rod.”

baybridgeLikewise, the agency admitted that a high-strength anchor rod, one of four in the tower, appears to have become brittle and snapped following exposure to water.  In 2013, a similar problem caused 32 rods on seismic stabilizers to fail after being submerged, costing Caltrans $45 million just months before the span’s much-anticipated re-opening.  On Tuesday, Mahoney told an oversight panel that experts found that a fastener that was removed for failure to hold up to testing suffered a “fast brittle facture.”  Experts suggest this type of failure could only occur if the rod was exposed to hydrogen in water.

Potentially Corrosive Saltwater Found in Rod Sleeves

These reports are particularly concerning in light of revelations earlier this month that approximately one-quarter of the steel rods anchoring the tower are in sleeves that are penetrated by corrosive salt water.  On June 5, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 120 rod sleeves continually flood and half of those will fill with over 6 inches of water in only a matter of weeks, some filling with more than a foot of water merely days after being drained.  Agency director Malcolm Dougherty who said that, while no bridge could be fully watertight, the saltwater intrusion is an issue because the foundation has “sensitivity to water getting to some components.”  He elaborated, “We need to protect this — we need to come up with a solution.”  The same article cited other potential concerns with the Bay Bridge including possible thread failures in a nut intended to secure one of the rods to a steel plate.

“Ominous” Results, “Unreliable” Components

An expert interviewed for this week’s article said that the discovery suggests the rods could break without a great deal of force, meaning they could snap even without the stress of an earthquake.  “[T]hey are unreliable in the service loads they are under now.”  Another expert called the results ominous and noted embrittlement can take years to occur.  He suggested that the bridge might be safe today but wondered how safe it will be in years to come.

The bridge oversight panel declined to approve spending to clean and protect the rods, opting to weigh the options following further testing and additional expert recommendations.  Per the June 6 article, the bridge project is already around $50 million over-budget and further testing could cost some $10 million.

Our Bridge Safety Law Firm

Bridge engineering accidents are incredibly serious whether the problem is a structural failure or a traffic accident caused by an unsafe design, such as the crashes that plagued the notorious S-curve that was part of a temporary fix to the old Bay Bridge span.  When such accidents occur, all those involved from government agencies to private construction firms to at-fault drivers must be held accountable.  We hope you never need us, but our Northern California bridge safety law firm is here to help if a bridge-related tragedy impacts you.

See Related Blog Posts:

Witnesses Call Into Question the Safety of the Bay Bridge, 4 Months After Re-Opening

Brittle Rods Break During Construction of Bay Bridge Eastern Span

As Public Access to New Bay Bridge Fast Approaches, Legacy of Old Span Will Include Wrongful Death Chapter

(Image1 (daylight) by torbakhopper, Image2 (shadow w/ boat) by Edward Stojakovic)

As we learn more details about last week’s tragic balcony collapse in downtown Berkeley, we are reminded how often we rely on the assumption that the buildings in which we live, work, and play are sound.   When this proves not to be the case, injuries and fatalities often follow.  In addition to premises liability claims against property owners (discussed in last week’s blog post, linked below), these tragedies can give rise to claims against those who built the faulty structure.  Today’s blog post from our San Francisco construction defect injury law firm looks at this subset of civil injury litigation.

Waterproofing Problems Eyed in Deadly Balcony Collapse

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the investigation in the balcony collapse appears to be focusing on the company responsible for waterproofing the structure.  The paper says Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has suggested that, while the investigation is still underway, there is a “high probability” that water caused the wood supporting the fourth-floor balcony to weaken.  The article also cites experts who have examined photographs of the damage and identified signs of moisture-related rot.  Further, these experts suggest the photos show damage to the waterproof membrane intended to protect the wood supports, damage the experts believe dates back to the balcony’s construction that may have allowed moisture to invade the structure and rot the beam.

Civil Claims for Injuries Due to Construction Defects

For purposes of civil injury litigation, construction defects are split into two key categories: design defects and building defects.  Design defects can be thought of as a problem in the planning and construction defects as a failure in execution.  Both forms of construction defect cases are essentially negligence claims.  As with any negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove the existence of a duty of care, a breach of that duty, and the fact that the duty was the proximate cause of the resulting injury.  The specifics of the duty of care depend on the claim type.

  • Design Defects

architectIn design defect cases, the problem can be traced back to an architect, engineer, or other design professional.  Importantly, a construction defect case against one these individuals falls under a special category aptly termed “professional negligence.”  Section 600 of the California Civil Jury Instructions explains the special standard used in these cases (applicable to architects, engineers, lawyer, and other non-medical professionals): “[A/An] [insert type of professional] is negligent if [he/she] fails to use the skill and care that a reasonably careful [insert type of professional] would have used in similar circumstances. This level of skill, knowledge, and care is sometimes referred to as “the standard of care.”  Essentially, this standard takes the place of the “duty” element in a traditional negligence case.  Expert testimony is critical to establishing the standard of care in professional negligence cases.

  • Building Defects

Building defects can typically be traced back to a contractor or subcontractor.  These parties are not considered “professionals” when it comes to a negligence claim.  This means the case against a contractor or subcontractor for an injury arising out of a construction defect will rely upon traditional negligence principles and the duty involved is one of ordinary care.

Representing the Injured in Construction Defect Tragedies

Civil litigation cannot undo construction defect tragedies, but it can provide compensation to the victims and a stern warning that may help prevent future injuries and deaths.  If you have been injured or lost a loved one because of a building or design defect in Northern California, we can help. Call to arrange a no-cost consultation Attorney Greg Brod, a San Francisco building defect injury lawyer with specific expertise in the area of balcony collapses.

See Related Blog Posts:

Bay Area Injury Attorney on the Rights of Balcony Collapse Victims

Homeowners’ Lawyer on Individual and Class Action Claims for Construction Defects in California

(Image by Jaysin Trevino)

At its core, the justice system is about holding people accountable for their actions.  In the personal injury/wrongful death arena, this means making at-fault drivers (and/or other wrongdoers) face their actions and the results thereof.  Hit-and-run drivers are a prime example of individuals who have committed an egregious wrong.  Our Oakland hit-and-run injury attorney works with professionals to find these offenders (notably, legal teams often locate people the police cannot find) and then uses the justice system to ensure they face their actions.  We cannot make the perpetrators of hit-and-run accidents feel remorse, but we can make them face the consequences of their actions and compensate those they hurt.

Hit-and-Run Accident Kill San Leandro Pedestrian

pedkilledLast week, a hit-and-run driver cut short the life of 26 year old Madeline Moore of San Leandro.  As reported by the Oakland Tribune, Moore was crossing at the intersection of Hesperian Boulevard and Thornally Drive at around 9 A.M. on Monday when she was hit by a black Toyota T-100 pickup truck.  She succumbed to her injuries that afternoon.

The driver of the Toyota did not stop after hitting Moore and has not, as of the time of this writing, been identified.  A tip did, however, lead police to locate the truck itself in Hayward on the 28000 block of Thackeray Avenue.  Police are asking the driver to come forward voluntarily.  They have also requested anyone with knowledge about the driver contact 510-577-2740 or 510-577-3230 for voice calls, text “TipSLPolice” to 888777, or use 510-577-3278 to speak anonymously.

Hit-and-Run Statistics: A Growing Plague

In November 2013, USA Today published an article with a title that speaks for itself: “Fatal Hit-And-Run Crashes on Rise in U.S.”  The article noted that hit-and-run deaths rose steadily in the prior years from 1,274 in 2009 to 1,393 in 2010 and again to 1,449 in 2011 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  This increase occurred despite the fact that traffic fatalities overall trended down between 2009 and 2011, giving further credence to labeling the problem a “plague” and one of “epidemic proportions” in some regions.  In 2012, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety’s statistics, there were 314 fatal and injury-causing hit-and-run collisions in Oakland and 344 in San Francisco.

Using the Law to Help Hit-and-Run Victims

If you are involved in a hit-and-run accident, you should contact the police and seek any necessary medical care immediately.  As soon as possible, you should also call Oakland car accident injury attorney Gregory Brod.  Why?  First, we can help look for the at-fault driver.  The police will investigate, but they have limited time and resources to devote to any given case.  We work with experts who can help identify the driver who caused your injuries or killed your loved one.

Second, we can defend your legal rights and help you recover compensation.  In general, hit-and-run recoveries can come from two primary sources.  If the at-fault driver is located, you will likely have a civil injury or wrongful death claim and you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition damages intended to compensate you for your losses.  If the driver is not found, you may have a claim against your own insurance company If you have uninsured motorists coverage.  In this case, your insurer’s interests are in opposition to your own making it critical you obtain legal representation before agreeing to or signing anything.

There is no question about it, car crashes are scary and hit-and-run collisions can be particularly frightening.  We can help ease your fears by putting our experience and knowledge to work for you.  Call (800) 427-7020 to schedule a meeting with Attorney Brod at our hit-and-run law offices in Oakland, San Francisco, or Santa Rosa.

See Related Blog Posts:

An Injury Attorney’s Role in Hit-and-Run Cases

Oakland Injury Attorney Comments on Coverage for Hit-and-Run Accidents

(Image by Joe Shlabotnik)

Our discussions of Medicare and Medicaid fraud on this blog include a wide-range of schemes and schemers.  In most cases, however, the people running the scam are on the provider-side of the health care equation; they are medical professionals, medical supply companies, health care facilities, or otherwise involved in the provision of care to patients.  While rarer, beneficiary-committed health care fraud does occur, meaning cases in which a beneficiary is the primary fraudulent actor rather than a pawn in a provider’s scheme.  Perhaps the subset of health care fraud that is most often committed by beneficiaries is prescription fraud.  Of course, beneficiaries aren’t the only ones involved in prescription fraud, but our Medicaid and Medicare prescription drug fraud lawyer finds their role makes this form of fraud a unique threat.

Pennsylvania Woman Indicted for Prescription Fraud

pillhandWhile the specific case involves fraud against private insurers, charges filed in Pennsylvania provide an example of this type of fraud.  Pittsburgh’s WTAE reports that Kari Richards of Latrobe, PA was indicted in a U.S. District Court last week on charges including health care fraud and obtaining prescription medication via fraud.  According to police, Richards visited in excess of 100 hospitals spanning 11 states to obtain prescription medication for shoulder injuries that she actually inflicted on herself.  Over 16 months, she allegedly sought hospital care more than 300 times.  Authorities claim that, between January 2014 and April 2015, Richards ultimately obtained 190 prescriptions for opiate medications including oxycodone.  The grand jury indictment suggests the frauds against Highmark Community Blue Shared Cost plan totaled more than $600,000.  Richards was arrested and then released pending trial.

An Important Message on Prescription Drug Abuse

Before going any further, we want to make an incredibly important comment.  Prescription fraud is a multi-faceted problem.  For the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on the financial impact of this form of fraud.  In many cases, prescription fraud also involves prescription drug abuse with the beneficiary either using the medications himself or selling the pills to others who abuse the drugs, medications that can be even more addictive than illicit/illegal drugs.  We are focusing on the financial side of these crimes, but this is a major public health issue and one we wouldn’t want to ignore.  If you believe someone you know is battling a drug addiction, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration webpage for a link to programs in your area that can help.

The Financial Impact of Prescription Drug Fraud

The likely extent of the financial cost to government programs from pharmaceutical fraud, including beneficiary-perpetrated scams, is staggering.  In a list released in February 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) lists “Ensuring Appropriate Use of Prescription Drugs in Medicare and Medicaid” among the top challenges it faced in 2014.  HHS notes that Medicare Part D provides prescription coverage to 37.4 million individuals and Medicaid pill$prescription plans cover 59.4 million with a total of more than $93 billion spent on prescription drugs for the combined groups in 2014.

In a press release issued in 2011 in support of his reform proposals, some of which were enacted in different forms this year, Representative John Carney of Delaware cites a Government Accountability Office report identifying 650,000 Medicaid beneficiaries who visited 6 or more doctors in order to obtain prescriptions for 10 frequently abused medications.  These prescriptions alone, obtained in circumstances suggesting fraud, cost Medicaid $63 million.  These cases are merely a narrow part of the overall picture of Medicare/Medicaid beneficiary prescription fraud.

The Importance of the Fight Against Fraud and the Role of the Individual in Ending Health Care Fraud

Referring to Medicare and Medicaid, HHS states: “Maintaining the integrity of these two programs is critical to ensuring patient safety; safeguarding the quality of care; protecting the programs from fraud, waste, and abuse; and protecting taxpayer dollars.”  Individuals commit many of these frauds and we believe individuals can help fight them.  Individuals can also fight other forms of prescription fraud including schemes perpetrated by pharmacies and prescribers.  Provisions of the False Claims Act and its state counterparts specifically envision individuals as key to the fight against government fraud.  If you are aware of a Medicare/Medicaid drug fraud scheme, call our prescription drug fraud lawyer at 800-427-7020 to learn how you can help.

See Related Blog Posts:

The Dangerous Trend of Medical Professionals Fueling the Epidemic of Prescription Abuse

Focusing on a Form of Pharmaceutical Fraud: Doctor Indicted for Selling Narcotic Prescriptions

(Image of hand by V1ctor Casale; Image of open pill by Bill David Brooks)

courthouseAs a DUI injury law firm in Sonoma County, we believe our obligation to represent our clients includes ensuring they understand the legal process.  One of the first things we explain about California DUI injury law is something anyone involved in a legal dispute should know — there are separate legal systems for criminal and civil matters.  Injured parties can file (and win!) civil claims whether or not a criminal charge is filed based on the underlying incident.  Despite the separation, we believe it is helpful for those injured by a drunk driver to understand a bit about criminal DUI charges in California.

The Underlying Laws Against Drinking and Driving

California law contains two broad prohibitions against drunk driving, Vehicle Code 23152(a) and (b).  Section (a) is more general and makes it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.  Section (b) is more specific and prohibits anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher from driving in the state.  Notably, this means a person can actually be charged with drunk driving even if their blood alcohol level is below the so-called “legal limit.”  Police often charge drunk drivers with both offenses.  Ultimately, defendants can be convicted of both offenses but they can only receive a punishment for one.

When a DUI results in injury, the charges shift to V.C. 23153(a) and (b).

Types of DUIs

There are several types (or levels) of DUI in California with varying degrees of potential punishments.  The levels are distinguished by several factors including whether there was an accident and/or injury and whether the driver has prior DUI convictions.  Some of the most common types of DUIs include:

  • Misdemeanor DUI, First Offense – This applies to the first-time offender, particularly the driver who is pulled over for a DUI without an accident or injury occurring. Penalties include a fine of $390 to $1,000 (plus costs), jail time of 48 hours to 6 months, and a license suspension of at least 6 months (including 5 months of a restricted license for driving to/from work).
  • Misdemeanor DUI, Second and Subsequent Offenses – Each time a driver is convicted of DUI, the penalties climb.
  • Felony DUI Causing Severe Injury – When a driver seriously injures another person, the charge is often elevated to a felony. Punishment can include 16 months to ten years in state prison and fines up to $5,000.  Felony DUI typically results in a one year revocation of all driving privileges and three years of a restricted work license.
  • Vehicular Manslaughter – When a driver under the influence of alcohol causes the death of another, the resulting charge is often vehicular manslaughter (Penal Code 191.5).   The precise charge depends on whether the driver acted with ordinary negligence (191.5(b), a “wobbler” that can be a misdemeanor or a felony) or gross negligence (191.5(a), a felony).  Penalties include prison terms of up to ten years and fines up to $10,000.

An additional note about Ignition Interlock Devices  (“IIDs”) – IIDs are breathalyzers that attach to a car’s ignition.  They require an alcohol-free breath sample to start the vehicle and the driver must periodically re-test while driving.  Currently, a pilot program requires that anyone convicted of a DUI, even first-time offenders, in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare Counties install an IID on all vehicles they own or operate for a period ranging from five months to four years.  This is expected to eventually be expanded to the entire state, although judges in other counties have the option of adding an IID requirement to any DUI sentence and certain higher DUI offenses include mandatory IIDs statewide.

Our Civil DUI Injury Practice

It is worth reiterating – If you are injured or lose a loved one because of a drunk driver, you may have a civil claim regardless of whether the driver is charged with a crime.  Call our drunk driving law firm in Santa Rosa, Sacramento, or San Francisco toll-free at (800) 427-7020.

See Related Blog Posts:

Repeat Drunk Drivers: A Look at the Problem of DUI Recidivism

The Impact of Alcohol: Santa Rosa Injury Lawyer Examines the True Meaning of BAC

(Image by Robert Linder)

For many apartment dwellers, a balcony is their version of a backyard providing a chance to enjoy a sunny day or cool evening and functioning as an extension of their home.  Both occupants and visitors should be able to enjoy a balcony with confidence in its stability.  Sadly, as we were reminded this week, balcony and deck collapses are a very real danger.   San Francisco balcony collapse lawyer Greg Brod is prepared to use California law to help injured victims and grieving families following devastating balcony collapse tragedies.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Kills Six, Injures Seven

In the early hours of Tuesday June 16, a balcony collapsed in downtown Berkeley claiming at least six lives and leaving seven others injured.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the collapse occurred at Liberty Gardens, a four-story apartment building on Kittredge Street near Shattuck Avenue.  The victims were attending a birthday celebration when the balcony of a top-floor apartment detached from the building and sent partygoers tumbling.  Most of those attending the party were Irish students participating in work-study programs.

Liberty Gardens was built in 2006 and is managed by Greystar with rents ranging from $2,150 to $4,000 per months.  The reason for the collapse was not initially evident.  Initial reports suggest up to 14 people were on the balcony when it fell.  Pieces of wood and insulation remained attached to the fourth-floor site while the balcony structure landed upside-down on the balcony one floor below.  During the initial investigation, police officials flagged at least one other balcony at the complex as potentially unsound.

Causes of Balcony and Deck Collapse

balconiesBalcony collapses can stem from a number of different causes.  In general terms, collapses can be traced to construction defects, improper/inadequate maintenance, and/or excess weight.  Maintenance problems that can lead to a collapse include rotting wood, rusted supports, and loose elements.  Construction defects can range from unsafe design to substandard materials.  Many sources, including Robson Forensic, cite ledger board failure as the most common cause of deck collapses.  The ledger board connects the balcony to the building and failure can caused the deck to pull away from the structure.

Balcony Collapse Injuries and California Law

When a person is injured or killed by a deck collapse on someone else’s property, premises liability law may help the victims recover monetary damages.  As defined in California Civil Jury Instruction 1000, the essential factual elements of a premises liability claim are: 1) The defendant owned/controlled the property; 2) The defendant negligently used or maintained the property; 3) The plaintiff suffered harm; and 4) The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor leading to the harm.

In many states, premises liability duties are based almost exclusively on the status of the injured person (i.e. invited guest, licensee, or trespasser).  While the plaintiff’s status may be a factor, California does not use rigid categories to determine the viability of a claim.  Instead, cases turn on the use of reasonable care.  Elaborating on the standard, Instruction 1001 explains: “A person who [owns/leases/occupies/ controls] property must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.”  Factors that may be relevant to the question of reasonable care include the likelihood of injury, the probable degree of injury, and whether the defendant knew or should have known of the danger.

While premises liability is probably the most common basis for a deck collapse injury suit, it is not the only legal doctrine that can help.  Construction defect claims apply a professional standard of care and often turn on whether an injury was foreseeable.  When a faulty item such as a defective beam caused the collapse, product liability law can apply and provides the benefit of a strict liability standard.  Landlord/tenant issues can also arise in balcony collapse cases.

As a Northern California deck collapse law firm, The Brod Law Firm is prepared to use a wide-range of civil law principles to protect the injured and grieving.  Call for more information and to arrange a free consultation with Attorney Brod.

See Related Blog Posts:

“The Sky Is Falling!”: Bay Area Injury Lawyer Examines Legal Rights Following Injuries from Falling Debris

Theatre Collapses Injures Dozens, Investigator Say No Criminal Liability

(Image by Sharat Ganapati)

Roller coaster fanatics travel far and wide to check out a new attraction, experience a unique thrill, or take a ride on a historic attraction.   For fans, part of the thrill is feeling scared and out-of-control while knowing they are ultimately safe.  Sadly, that sense of safety is sometimes false; roller coaster injuries and other amusement park accidents  are a reality.  When a memorable day of fun turns tragic, our Northern California amusement park injury lawyer can help.

Two Injured at Santa Clara Amusement Park

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, two people were injured in an accident at California’s Great America on Friday June 12.  The incident involved the Flight Deck roller coaster (previously called Top Gun), an inverted coaster that allows riders’ legs to dangle free.  Based on official statements and witness accounts, it appears that an employee of the Santa Clara amusement park was struck in the head by a rider as the coaster was returning to the base station.   A rider also suffered a hand injury during the incident.

This is not the first accident involving this particular coaster.  In 1998, a man died after he scaled a security fence to retrieve a lost hat and was hit by the legs of a rider on the coaster.  The death is one of five attraction-related fatalities since the park opened in 1976, including a 2007 drowning and a fall in 1999.

coasterThe Lack of Statistics on Fixed-Site Amusement Injuries and the Danger of Not Knowing

Injuries and deaths stemming from accidents at “fixed site” (versus mobile attractions like a bounce house or travelling carnival ride) are admittedly quite rare.  Still, we find it disturbing that there is currently no independent or government-led attempt to track injuries and deaths at U.S. amusement parks.  The headline of a 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times makes the point quite clearly: “How Many Die on Roller Coasters? No One Knows.”  Based on the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the article estimates 4,400 children are injured on amusement park rides annually, but the system does not track deaths and there has been no corresponding study on adult injuries.  Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) used to track amusement park deaths, the agency no longer tracks accidents at fixed site amusement fatalities.

The lack of data is perplexing and a risk factor in and of itself.  Accident data helps researchers identify trends, information that can then be used to proactively prevent future tragedies.  Tracking data is one way that past tragedies can prevent future tragedies and, as injury professionals, we believe failing to track statistics puts lives at risk.

Northern California Injury Lawyer Understands Amusement Park Injury Law

The law on amusement park injuries is complex. In some ways, the patchwork nature of the rules and regulations resembles the patchwork of data on amusement park accidents.  State and federal laws can be relevant and standards vary based on specifics such as whether a ride is fixed-site or mobile.  In California, roller coasters are uniquely positioned because they are deemed “common carriers,” distinguishing them from other amusement rides and placing them in a category that includes trains and buses.  Further, there are a range of potential defendants in any amusement park injury case from ride operators to design engineers and the facts may point to any number of legally actionable causes such as operator negligence, mechanical failure, design defects, or inadequate training/maintenance.

If you were injured on an amusement ride in Northern California or if an accident involving a ride claimed the life of a loved one, you need and deserve a lawyer who understands the complex nature of these cases.  As a San Francisco amusement park injury lawyer, Attorney Greg Brod has the knowledge and experience necessary to help victims of amusement park accidents recover compensation.  Claims related to roller coaster accidents and other amusement park injuries also provide an incentive for parks to make changes that may prevent future injuries or even save lives.  Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:

Nalwa v. Cedar Fair – The California Supreme Court on Amusement Park Injuries

Safety and Legal Concerns in Northern California Amusement Parks

 

 

Who are the victims of Medicare fraud?  As a law firm specializing in health care fraud matters, we understand that question requires a multi-part answer.  At the broadest level, Medicare fraud is theft and the target is a taxpayer-funded government program, meaning every U.S. taxpayer is a victim.  Narrowing the focus a bit, Medicare fraud depletes an already strained budget and thus it jeopardizes the health and well-being of all Medicare beneficiaries.  Medicare fraud also has more specific victims, individuals who are treated as mere pawns by the scammers.  A recent case involving mental health benefit fraud in Texas brings these individual victims to the forefront of our minds.

Medicare and Mental Health

Medicare recognizes that true health involves both physical and mental well-being.  In order to understand the Texas case, it is helpful to understand a bit about Medicare’s mental health coverage.  Medicare Part B includes outpatient mental health services holdinghandfor all program beneficiaries.  This coverage includes an annual depression screening and necessary outpatient mental health treatment such psychotherapy and medication management.   If a beneficiary requires inpatient mental health treatment, coverage is provided via Medicare Part A, the hospital insurance arm of the program.

The Texas fraud case involves a type of treatment that falls between inpatient and outpatient services, the partial hospitalization program (“PHP”).  Falling under Medicare Part B, PHP is a structured program that involves intense outpatient psychiatric care.  In order to be covered by Medicare, the services must be delivered via a community mental health center or the outpatient department of a hospital.  When appropriate, additional life-skills therapy and/or patient education may be covered.  PHP is an alternative to in-patient care and reserved for patients with serious mental health needs.

Sentencing in Houston Case Involving PHP Benefit Claims

Last week, an FBI press release announced the sentencing of three individuals for their roles in a scam that billed Medicare more than $158 million for PHP services that were never provided.  Evidence presented at trial showed that the defendants billed Medicare for patients who did not qualify for PHP treatment, who rarely saw a psychiatrist, and who did not receive the intense level of treatment associated with PHP care.  In some cases, the patients sat watching movies at the Houston-area facility rather than receiving care.  Some of these beneficiaries suffered from Alzheimer’s and were not capable of participating in the treatments allegedly provided.  The scheme included kickbacks paid to recruiters and group home operators for bringing ineligible Medicare beneficiaries to the organization.

Discussing the case, one Assistant Attorney General stated: “[The defendants] saw mentally ill, elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries as commodities to be turned into profit centers—not as vulnerable individuals in need of health care.”  He criticized the fraudulent scheme for taking advantage of “a historically underserved community.”  After a five-week jury trial last fall, three key defendants were convicted on charges including conspiracy to commit health care fraud and charges relating to the paying/receiving of illegal kickbacks.  The sentences handed down include jail terms of 12, 20, and 45 years and the defendants were ordered to pay restitution totaling more than $100 million.  Six others have pled guilty of charges tied to the scheme.

Fighting Fraud, Fighting for Victims, Fighting for You

The term “fraud” can evoke an image of purely financial, supposedly “victimless” crimes.  In the case of health care, this is far from accurate.  Health care fraud takes advantage of individuals, typically the poor and the elderly, using them for their status as program beneficiaries rather than providing critically needed services.  The individual beneficiaries involved in the scheme discussed above were deprived of care and of the basic right to be treated as a person rather than a “profit center.”  If that’s not reason enough to make you want to fight back, Medicare fraud depletes limited resources depriving every program beneficiary of funds needed for care.  Even pulling back to a purely financial focus, health care fraud schemes effectively reach into the wallets of all Americans and steal from each and every one.

If you have information about a health care fraud scheme, you can fight back.  We can help.  Call to speak with a health care fraud lawyer and learn how we protect your individual interests, including fighting for your right to compensation for your time and effort, while also advocating on behalf of every victim of health care fraud (which, ultimately, is all of us).

See Related Blog Posts:

Mental Health Benefits Abused By Medicare Fraud Scammers

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

(Image by Shella Sund)