San Jose Accident Attorney on the Danger of Impaired Driving

April 18, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

From fender-benders to fatal pile-ups, car crashes can often be traced back to one fundamentally dangerous decision, a truth we are reminded of daily as your San Jose car accident injury law firm. Opting to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a choice that endangers countless lives. We are proud of our work helping victims of impaired driving and we are also committed to making these accidents a thing of the past.

Police Eye Alcohol-Involvement in San Jose Crash
Authorities believe alcohol consumption contributed to a serious crash in San Jose early Thursday morning. According to the San Jose Mercury News, it was just after midnight when a Chevy Suburban and Honda CRV collided near Almaden Expressway and Coleman Avenue. The Chevy driver was taken to the hospital with life threatening injuries. Police report that the other driver, who also incurred serious injuries, will be arrested on charges including suspicion of driving under the influence.

Impaired Driving: One of the NTSB’s Focal Issues for 2014
Every year, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) prepares a Most Wanted List setting forth the group’s top advocacy priorities. For 2014, as detailed in an agency fact sheet, eliminating substance impaired driving is one of these ten priorities. The NTSB notes that nearly 90% of all transportation-related fatalities in the U.S. involve motor vehicles, adding that many of these deaths are wholly preventable because they involved drug or alcohol impairment.

winespill.pngWhile campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s made significant progress, the percentage of motor vehicle fatalities involving alcohol impairment has been stuck at one-third since 1995. One of seven surveyed drivers admitted to driving when they believed they were at or over the legal blood alcohol limit and some 10.3 million people admitted to driving while under the influence of an illicit drug. These numbers do not capture the growing number of drivers under the influence of legal drugs and we are fairly confident that more people drove impaired than were willing to admit to the act.

The NTSB’s Suggestions for Tackling the Problem
The NTSB also presents wide-ranging suggestions for tackling the problem of substance-impaired drivers. These begin with a call for improved data collection, including studies aimed at reviewing the effectiveness of various intervention techniques. As for prevention, the agency discusses two types of efforts: General and Specific deterrence. General deterrence involves measures directed at the public as a whole, including a call lowering the BAC limit to 0.05 and employing high-visibility enforcement efforts. Specific deterrence, efforts aimed at identifiable individuals, recommendations include the creation of dedicated DWI courts that focus on changing driver behavior. The NTSB also calls for using technology to help combat impaired driving, employing tools like ignition interlocks (which prevent impaired drivers from operating equipped vehicles), passive alcohol sensors (which help officers identify dangerous drivers), and Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (an in-development, in-vehicle system to prevent alcohol impaired driving). These recommendations supplement the NTSB’s current, on-going efforts

The Role of Civil Courts in Preventing Impaired Driving
We believe that the civil courts play an often under-appreciated role in the fight against impaired driving. Criminal cases focus on the offense, civil cases focus on the impact. In civil suits, the offender must face the people who were hurt by their actions. They see the injured and the grieving and learn about how their choice impacted others. This is powerful deterrence against future impaired driving, particularly since most people who drive under the influence do not believe they will cause harm. Publicizing civil injury suits helps call attention to the true results of impaired driving. Of course, there is also the disincentive provided by the monetary verdicts – a civil judgment costs a lot more than cab fare!

If you or a loved one has been hurt by a substance-impaired driver, our San Jose DUI injury law firm can help you recover monetary compensation and your story may help prevent future tragedies. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Repeat Drunk Drivers: An Epidemic Endangering All of Us
Drunken Driving by the Numbers: a Sobering Set of Statistics

(Photo by Ryan Gageler)

Doctor House Calls Become Latest Focus for Potential Medicare Fraud

April 17, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

In an era when personalized, time-intensive medical care is seemingly a thing of the past, house calls from doctors have become a quaint, increasingly rare form of interaction between physicians and their patients. That is why San Francisco healthcare fraud attorney Gregory J. Brod finds reports that some medical personnel may have managed to rack up potentially $2 billion in bogus billing to Medicare as symptomatic of a larger, serious assault upon our healthcare system, the U.S. Treasury and the taxpayers.

According to the Washington Times, a report from the office of the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services says that, despite new regulations in force as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the practice of doctors billing Medicare for home visits they never made has become rampant, with the financial hit amounting up to $2 billion.

The ACA mandates that doctors conduct a face-to-face visit first in order to ensure that patients who request home care are actually too ill to travel to a healthcare facility. The law also requires that doctors provide the specific proof that they are, in fact, paying a house call.

“The Medicare program doesn’t really have a system in place to ensure that providers are meeting the face-to-face requirement,” said Danielle Fletcher, a program analyst in the inspector general’s Office of Evaluation and Inspections. “Medicare has found a lot of fraud in home health. The expectation is that the face-to-face visit helps prevent that fraud by ensuring the physicians see and assess the patient, and document that visit and assessment.”

Investigators from the inspector general’s office say that about one-third of all house calls were lacking proof that the visit ever happened, usually consisting of a description of the visit or a signature from a supervisor. At the very least, 10 percent of all face-to-face visits lacked any documentation whatsoever, totaling $605 million in charges against Medicare, according to the inspector general. If the one-third of cases with sketchy accounting were also made up, then the financial hit that the government has absorbed would balloon upward toward the $2 billion figure.

The office of the inspector general suspected that fraudulent behavior associated with house calls was particularly rife in Miami and Chicago, and agency’s investigators placed a moratorium last year on new home healthcare providers in those cities. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says that in Miami alone the number of doctors claiming to provide house calls was 2,000 percent higher than in other parts of Florida. That’s especially curious since urban areas tend to have more accessible healthcare networks and facilities than more rural areas.

Whatever the distance from patient to healthcare provider, though, it seems that physicians have been hard-pressed to explain why patients have not been able to make the trek to a doctor’s office themselves, according to the inspector general’s office. The most common reasons that have been offered were that the patient was “weak” or that it would be a “taxing effort to leave home.”

Such explanations, however, offer scant information on whether payment for these visits was warranted, according to Fletcher.

“The phrase ‘taxing effort to leave home’ is included in Medicare’s definition of ‘homebound,’ so it doesn’t really tell us anything specific about the patient’s condition,” Fletcher said.

Continue reading "Doctor House Calls Become Latest Focus for Potential Medicare Fraud" »

Recall Highlights the Importance of Child Safety Seats

April 16, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Child safety seats, now standard fare, are a fairly new innovation. Many adults, especially those who came of age in the 1970s or prior, recall having free reign to roam the back seat, a freedom today’s children couldn’t imagine. Today, we know that proper restraints can save lives and prevent serious injury. This blog entry focuses on the proper use of child safety seats to keep our youngest travelers secure. It also provides an important reminder that even “safety equipment” can be unsafe. If a defective car seat contributed to an injury or a fatality, our San Francisco child injury attorney is prepared to help.

carseat.jpg1.3 Million Child Safety Seats Recalled for Latch Problem
Evenflo Company Inc. recently issued a voluntarily recall for buckles used in more than 1.3 million child safety seats manufactured between 2011 and 2014. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the buckle may become stuck in the seat’s latch. This could be dangerous, even life-threatening, if it hampers a caregiver’s ability to get the child out of the seat in the event of an emergency. The article details the specific seats involved in the recall (not all seats made by Evenflo in the time frame are affected). Evenflo asserts that the malfunction only occurs when the buckle/latch has been exposed to contaminants such as food particles and says they have not received any reports of actual injury due to the problem. The company plans to alert all appropriate registered owners of the recall and to supply replacement parts.

Regulators had been looking into potential buckle malfunctions in Evenflo seats since January and are continuing to look at possible issues with one rear-facing model. In February, Graco announced a similar recall impacting 3.8 million child seats. Federal safety officials suggest the Graco recall should have included another 1.8 million infant seats.

Tips for Using Child Safety Seats
While they are a vital safety innovation, child seats aren’t always child’s play. Advice contained in the Car Seat Safety Tips pamphlet prepared by the non-profit Safe Kids Worldwide includes:

  • Pick the proper seat for the child’s age/size.

  • Position the seat correctly, keeping the seat rear-facing until the child is approximately 2 years old. See the specific guidelines for your seat model to determine which anchors and tethers should be used as the child grows.

  • Know the history of the seat and only use a “used” seat if you do. Current guidance calls for replacing a seat that has been in a moderate or severe crash (see blog entry linked below for more details). Car seats do expire and typically last about six years, consult the label for details.

  • Make sure the seat is properly installed. Nearly a full three-quarters of child seats are installed incorrectly or otherwise used improperly. The SafeKids pamphlet has some basic advice, but visiting an inspection event or making an appointment with a qualified technician is even better. Consult the SafeKids site or for help (inspections are often free).

  • Buckle up! The best car seat is useless if the child isn’t buckled in. Teach kids that the car doesn’t move until EVERYONE (adults too!) is buckled up.

The Danger of Defective Child Safety Seats
Frighteningly, sometimes safety equipment can actually cause or contribute to injury or death. Some potentially dangerous defect/malfunctions (including some that violate regulatory standards) are: Flammable materials, including straps; Weak frame; Latches that unclip; Straps that loosen or rip; Latches or adjustments that get stuck; Carriers that separate from the base; or Seats that fail to properly protect the child’s head. In many cases, a defective seat is not the sole source of injury and instead is a contributing factor. For example, a driver may run a red light, hit a second vehicle, and a child may be injured after the straps on a car seat inside that vehicle become loose. Even if it isn’t the sole factor in the injury/death, a product liability claim may still exist if the defective product contributed to the harm. This can be critical in a real-life scenario if the driver is unable to pay a damages award.

Keeping Children Safe and Advocating for Our Youngest Clients
Using a car seat, and using it properly, can save a child’s life. We encourage caregivers to take the time to ensure car seats are properly installed and to teach children that seatbelts and safety seats must be used for every trip, no matter how brief. In the event that a “safety” seat malfunctions and contributes to a child’s injury, you and/or your child may have a legal claim. With offices in Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and San Jose, our Northern California child injury law firm can help you navigate the civil injury system. The money damages available in civil court are especially crucial when injuries have life-long consequences.

See Related Blog Posts:
Tools to Keep Children Safe: WHALE Program and Rules on Car Seat Replacement

Keeping Kids Safe and Advocating for the Smallest of Car Crash Victims

(Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil; photo does not reflect a recalled seat)

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

April 14, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Narcotic medications can be a critical part of a pain-management regime. While these drugs can be miraculous for those in medical need, misuse has reached epidemic levels. Sadly, sometimes this abuse is fueled by the very medical practitioners who should be on the front lines of prevention. These wayward practitioners are often motivated by financial gain, with some taking part in pharmaceutical fraud schemes that endanger public health twice -- First by improperly distributing powerful drugs and Second by defrauding the health care system generally and diverting money from legitimate health needs. Our Oakland health care fraud lawyer is committed to fighting these schemes with the help of the brave whistleblowers who call our office. Ending these fraudulent prescription schemes returns money to already-strapped government programs, provides an award to the whistleblowers for reporting and prosecuting the scheme, and helps restore public faith in our medical system by bringing the errant practitioners to justice.

“And a Side Order of Percocet…”
Last week, according to the Contra Costa Times, a federal grand jury returned an indictment, formally charging an East Bay doctor with health care fraud and counts related to improper distribution of controlled substances. On Thursday, officers arrested 62 year-old Dr. Toni Daniels of Berkeley who appeared in court the following morning. In the indictment, prosecutors (including U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag) allege that from October 2010 through April 2011, Daniels met clients at an odd assortment of Oakland-area locations including Burger King, Starbucks, and Dick’s Donuts. At these meetings, she allegedly sold prescriptions for controlled substances, providing strong medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone in return for cash. Allegedly Daniels also knew that many of these customers relied on Medicare, Medi-Cal, or private insurance to cover the cost of the prescribed substances.

As a result of this scheme, Medicare and Medi-Cal paid more than $64,000 in fraudulent, false claims for medicines that Daniels prescribed between October 2010 and April 2011. Daniels reportedly earned about $144,000 in 2010, although the indictment states that she failed to file an income tax return that year. She is slated to appear in court again this week and could face up to 20 years in prison plus a $1 million fine on the controlled substances claims alone.

prescription.jpg Types & Extent of Pharmaceutical Fraud
In 2013, per a press release, the Justice Department secured a total of $3.8 billion in False Claims Act settlements and verdicts. This included $2.6 billion in recoveries tied to federal health care fraud, which in turn included $1.8 billion related to alleged false claims for medications and medical devices pursuant to federally insured health programs (ex. Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE). An added $443 million was recovered for state Medicaid programs. There were several types of pharmaceutical fraud cases including claims for off-label marketing (when manufacturers improperly promote drugs for uses that have not been approved by the FDA) and the manufacture/distribution of adulterated drugs. While it may account for a smaller portion of total recoveries, physicians improperly prescribing medicines is still an important pharmaceutical fraud issue and also a major public health concern.

The Critical Role of Whistleblowers & Qui Tam Actions
As with all forms of health care fraud and, in fact, all forms of False Claims Acts prosecutions, whistleblowers are essential to the recognition and prosecution of pharmaceutical fraud matters. Qui tam cases, the legal term for cases brought by private parties on behalf of the government, accounted for $2.9 billion of the $3.8 billion in False Claims Act recoveries for 2013. The individuals who bring these claims are entitled to a substantial financial award for their time, effort, and (even in light of whistleblower protections) bravery.

If you have observed health care fraud in California, including physicians selling prescriptions, we can help you pursue a qui tam action. Call to arrange a free meeting with our Oakland prescription fraud attorney to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:
Results in the 2013 Fight Against Health Care Fraud and the Growing Importance of Whistleblowers

Case Study: PharMerica Litigation, Medicare Fraud, and Pharmaceutical Law

(Photo by Kathea Pinto)

Medicare Money in Hands of a Few, Campaign Contributions Raise Suspicions

April 13, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

This week, Medicare opened the books on where it has distributed roughly $77 billion in a report that is the most detailed accounting of the federal program’s expenditures in its 50-year history. Some fascinating, yet eyebrow-raising, information emerged from the report concerning the concentration of benefits among a select few providers and how some doctors opted to spend the proceeds from Medicare that has fraud investigators buzzing. As San Francisco healthcare fraud attorney Gregory J. Brod would say, if one wants to find likely instances of schemes to defraud Medicare one needs to follow the money.

According to The New York Times, in 2012 just 100 doctors received $610 million from Medicare, with $21 million going to one Florida ophthalmologist and payments of $4 million each to dozens of other physicians, including eye and cancer specialists. It seems as though the medical profession has had its version of the notorious so-called “one percent” in society with a concentration of wealth — except that among Medicare providers, the figure is two percent, two percent of all Medicare providers, that is, who received $15 billion in payments from the program, or 25 percent of all money distributed. Overall, one-fourth of all providers are responsible for three-fourths of the spending from Medicare.

The concentration of payments into the hands of a small group of physicians raises questions of whether some of these doctors who performed a high volume of services conducted tests or treatment that were, in fact, medically necessary, or if they even performed these services at all.

Indeed, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the watchdog on fraud and abuse for the department, issued a report in December in which it called for greater scrutiny of those doctors who were Medicare’s highest billers.

Also this week, additional news emerged concerning the Florida ophthalmologist, Dr. Solomon Melgen, who took down $21 million in payments from Medicare, and another doctor, a cardiologist named Dr. Asad Qamar, who raked in $18.2 million from Medicare, the second biggest haul in 2012. According to The New York Times, the two doctors, the former based in North Palm Beach, Fla., and the latter in Ocala, Fla. were making some major campaign contributions at the same time they were receiving the top-two distributions from Medicare.

In Melgen’s case, his firm donated $700,000 to Majority PAC, a super PAC run by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who spent $600,000 to help re-elect Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Interestingly enough, Menendez became the target of an investigation after he intervened on Melgen’s behalf with federal officials who were looking into his alleged overbilling of Medicare. After a lawsuit that sought to recover $9 million from Melgen was filed, he reached out to Menendez, and now both of them are the subjects of federal scrutiny.

In Qamar’s case, he forwarded more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and other state branches of the party as well as made contributions to President Obama’s presidential campaigns. Meanwhile, Greenberg Traurig, a prominent law and lobbying firm, as well as a former Justice Department official and congressional aide name Gregory W. Kehoe, helped Qamar get in touch with more than a dozen members of Congress to ask them to help him address why he was the focus of intense scrutiny from Medicare auditors. Qamar, whose $18,2 million in payments dwarfed the $4 million to the next biggest cardiologist recipient of Medicare funds, was under federal scrutiny for his voluminous billing practices.

Continue reading "Medicare Money in Hands of a Few, Campaign Contributions Raise Suspicions" »

Major Initiatives Are Launched to Encourage Railroad Safety in Wake of Tragedies

April 12, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

This week saw a couple of important developments concerning safety on the rails emanating from the federal government and railroads. The initiatives, a campaign from a nonprofit backed by railroads, a trade group and the government that stresses the dangers of being near train tracks and a set of proposed rules from the Federal Railroad Administration, are welcome measures. And San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod joins safety advocates in hoping that these steps will help stem the rising number of deaths on railroad tracks.

On Tuesday, ads began appearing on television for a campaign that has been dubbed “See Tracks? Think Train,” in which a young man is shown walking on railroad tracks while wearing headphones and not realizing that a train is approaching. According to KTVU News, the CEO of the campaign sponsor, Joyce Rose of Operation Lifesaver, which is a nonprofit focused on educating people about the hazards of railroads, believes that the uptick in deaths on the rails in 2013 may be tied to the increased use of smartphones and other electronic devices.

“We’re a distracted population,” Rose said.

Causal factors behind the rail deaths can be the subject for debate, but there is no doubt that there was an increase in fatalities from 2012 to 2013. After a period of declines in derailments and crossing accidents, the number of trespassing deaths jumped by 47, or 11 percent, to 476 last year; the number of deaths in accidents rose by nearly 8 percent to 250 last year.

The campaign is also supported by the Association of American Railroads trade group, major railroads and the FRA. Interestingly enough, the “See Tracks? Think Train” initiative comes on the heels of the tragic death late last month in Marysville, California, where a teenager died on train tracks after being hit by a train when trying to save his girlfriend.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Mateus Moore, a student at the Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts and his girlfriend, Mickayla Friend, both 16, were walking on railroad tracks on March 21 and didn’t realize that a train was fast approaching them from behind. Although the train sounded a warning horn and tried to stop it was too late; Moore died after being hit by the train but not before making the fateful decision to shove Friend away, which helped spare her from the brunt of the collision.

Property owners have a duty of care to remove or mitigate conditions that may cause harm to an individual who uses their property for legitimate purposes. And that duty extends to children who may be trespassers but are attracted out of curiosity to investigate the hazardous conditions of a property, i.e., an “attractive nuisance,” which may be grounds for a premises liability and may or may not be relevant in the Marysville case.

The FRA, which is an agency of the Department of Transportation, says that the number of injuries and deaths changes from year to year depending on factors such as construction near train tracks or stepped-up vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

On Wednesday, the FRA announced that it was issuing a proposed rule requiring two-man crews on trains carrying crude oil and setting minimum crew size standards for most freight and passenger trains. Additional FRA guidelines are expected on securing unattended freight cars, requiring railroads to verify securement of those cars for emergency responders, and mandating that locomotive cabs be locked and reversers to be removed and secured.

There have been several incidents involving the spilling of hazardous materials from trains in recent years, but one that triggered an emergency session of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that resulted in the government’s recommendations was the deadly derailment of an unattended freight train carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, on July 6, 2013.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to taking the necessary steps to assure the safety of those who work for railroads and shippers, and the residents and communities along shipping routes,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The proposed rulemaking on crew size is the latest effort in our comprehensive strategy to ensure crude oil is transported as safely as possible.”

Continue reading "Major Initiatives Are Launched to Encourage Railroad Safety in Wake of Tragedies" »

As Trucking Accidents Have Gone Up, Authorities Seek Answers in Crash with Bus

April 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

It was supposed to be a get-acquainted trip for students from Southern California who had been accepted at Humboldt State University. But the bus trip to the Northern California college turned deadly on Interstate 5 near the Glenn County town of Orland on Thursday when a FedEx tractor-trailer crossed the grassy center divider, slammed into the chartered vehicle, and created a fireball that resulted in 10 deaths and dozens of injuries. The horrific collision has San Francisco trucking accident attorney Gregory J. Brod noting that the tragedy took place in the midst of an upswing in accidents involving trucks in California.

According to The New York Times, state authorities have said that it could take months to determine what caused the driver of the FedEx truck to cross over the divider and hit the bus, a collision that took the lives of five of the students on board among the 10 deceased that included the drivers of both vehicles; 31 more passengers were taken to seven hospitals. In the chaotic scene that unfolded, panicked children, attempted to flee the bus from its windows or the rear emergency door. Many of the children were limping and bleeding from cuts to their faces.

Meanwhile, the bus and tractor-trailer were engulfed in a huge conflagration from the impact that could be heard from as far as one-quarter mile away, according to Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones, and the collision resulted in I-5 being shut down on both sides of the highway.

“This was a horrific collision,” said Jones, who is also the county coroner. A fire “with very high temperatures” broke out almost immediately after the impact, he said.
There were 47 people on board the bus, including high school students and their chaperones who were from Southern California school districts, including Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside. The high school teens were visiting Humboldt State as part of a spring program for admitted students.

A couple of unsettling factors that investigators will be looking into as to why the driver of the southbound FedEx truck veered out of control before striking the northbound bus will be whether the truck driver fell asleep or whether the truck had mechanical problems. The California Highway Patrol noted that prior to colliding with the bus, the truck sideswiped another vehicle, although the CHP said that it was not immediately clear what role that may have played in the subsequent disaster.

One thing that is clear, unfortunately, is that accidents in California involving commercial trucks have been on the upswing lately, with deadly consequences. According to KTVU News, in 2012 there were 1,015 collisions involving commercial trucks in the state, up from 951 in 2009. Indeed, the crash numbers have been on the rise for the last five years, and fatalities and injuries have also gone up during the same period.

Some of the trucking accidents may have been attributable to improperly maintained vehicles – commercial vehicle license holders are required to properly maintain their trucks in California – or the crashes may have been due to an increased number of trucks on the highway due to an improving economy. But another culprit may have been the pressures of meeting deadlines and longer hauls that may be a contributory factor to driver fatigue, which may have been an issue in the Glenn County crash on Thursday.

Continue reading "As Trucking Accidents Have Gone Up, Authorities Seek Answers in Crash with Bus" »

Whistleblowers Use False Claims Act to Pursue Allegations of Defense Contract Fraud

April 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

In this blog, we have often discussed the use of the False Claims Act (the “Act” or the “FCA”) as a weapon against those who commit health care fraud. While health care fraud is an important target of FCA suits, the Act’s reach goes beyond the health care arena. Generally, the Act can be used to fight back against those who knowingly submit false/fraudulent claims seeking payment from the federal government. Private whistleblowers are key to this fight, bringing attention to fraud and filing claims known as qui tam lawsuits. In addition to fraud involving the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the FCA is often used to stop companies and individuals who submit fraudulent claims pursuant to military contracts. Our California defense contractor fraud attorney is prepared to help these whistleblowers bring an end to schemes involving defense contractor fraud, using the Act to recover money for the government and helping the whistleblower recover a substantial whistleblower reward for their efforts.

Bankruptcy Judge Okays Whistleblower Claims to Proceed Against Defense Contractor gavel2.jpg

In late March, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, a New York judge paved the way for a $2.3 billion whistleblower lawsuit to move forward despite the company involved in the alleged wrongdoings being in the process of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Donald Minge and David Kiehl are former employees of TECT Aerospace Inc., a subcontractor for Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, a manufacturer of military aircraft. Together, the pair filed a whistleblower claim pursuant to the FCA alleging that the company provided flawed aircraft parts to the U.S. military. Their complaint includes allegations that workers would use hammers and pry bars to alter defective parts so that they would pass inspection. Not surprisingly, that behavior is not permitted by government contracting specifications.

In May 2012, Hawker Beechcraft filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company emerged from Chapter 11 in 2013 and was recently sold to Textron Inc. Previously, a bankruptcy judge ruled that the whistleblowers could not bring their FCA claims, refusing to allow them to argue that their claims fit into an exception to the bankruptcy rules that extinguish most debts. In the recent ruling, Judge P. Kevin Castel restored the right of the whistleblowers to argue that their claims fit into an exception that will allow the claims to proceed, effectively reviving the lawsuit.

The False Claims Act and Defense Contracting Fraud
Concerns about defense contractor fraud actually motivated Congress to enact the FCA back in 1863. As noted in a Justice Department FCA primer, Congress enacted the Act amid concerns that suppliers were defrauding the Union Army during the Civil War. The Act has been amended numerous times, including major changes in 1986 and three amendments since that time. As the primer notes, the Act allows private individuals to file claims for FCA violations on the government’s behalf. In legal circles, these private whistleblowers are called realtors and the lawsuits they bring are called qui tam actions. The realtors are protected from retaliation. They are also eligible for a financial award amounting to between 15% and 25% of the recovery if the government intervenes in the case and between 25% and 30% if the government declines involvement.

Working with Whistleblowers on Qui Tam Claims
Qui tam suits under the False Claims Act are essential to the fight against fraud on the government, including fraud committed by government contractors (or in the awarding of such contracts). The recent case is important since it allows FCA claims to survive even if a company declares bankruptcy. Hopefully, other bankruptcy courts will find Judge Castel’s ruling persuasive and reach a similar conclusion, a stance that prevents a company from using bankruptcy law to avoid responsibility for prior fraudulent acts.

False Claims Act claims are subject to a complex set of rules, making legal counsel essential. Our San Francisco defense contract fraud lawyer has the knowledge and experience crucial to guiding whistleblowers through the qui tam process and a False Claims Act lawsuit. If you have witnessed defense contract fraud or other fraud on the government anywhere in California, call today.

See Related Blog Posts:
Results in the 2013 Fight Against Health Care Fraud and the Growing Importance of Whistleblowers
The Experience of Whistleblowers

(Photo by Brian Turner)

As Collisions with Cars Prove Relentless, Pedestrians Suffer Deadly Week

April 10, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Since Sunday, it has been a deadly week in the Bay Area for pedestrians who have been hit by motor vehicles, with fatalities in San Francisco, San Jose, Alameda and Sebastopol, and life-threatening injuries for a boy in San Francisco. The rash of deaths and severe injuries has several community advocates as well as San Francisco pedestrian accident attorney Gregory J. Brod hoping that the spate of bad news is not a trend that is sustained through the rest of the year and calling for measures to improve pedestrian safety.

Late Sunday night, a man was struck and killed on Van Ness and and Golden Gate avenues near City Hall in San Francisco. The death was the seventh recorded in San Francisco in 2014, in spite of the fact that the San Francisco Police Department has stepped up its issuing of traffic citations through the first three months of this year in an attempt to curb the uptick in pedestrian deaths in the city.

Wednesday was a particularly deadly day for pedestrians in the Bay Area, with one fatality in San Jose, another in Alameda and yet another in Sebastopol.

In San Jose on Wednesday, a man died after being struck on the East Capitol Expressway in an incident that the San Jose Police Department is investigating as a hit-and-run incident. According to KTVU News, Officers arrived on the scene to find the victim mortally wounded after the suspect vehicle struck him and fled the scene.

In Alameda on Wednesday, a woman died on Otis Drive in front of the South Shore Shopping Center while crossing the street after being stuck by a minivan. According to KTVU News, the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.

In Sebastopol on Wednesday, a man taking a stroll on Healdsburg Avenue was struck while in a crosswalk by an automobile. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the man died in the impact.

And on Thursday in San Francisco’s Richmond district, a 3-year-old boy who was either walking or riding his bicycle in a crosswalk at Fulton Street just outside Golden Gate Park was struck by a light truck, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The boy, who was run over by the light truck and dragged several feet, was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

2013 was a particularly deadly year for pedestrians in the Bay Area. In the region’s three largest cities, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, there were a total of 50 pedestrian deaths, including 26 in San Jose, 17 in San Francisco and seven in Oakland. Unfortunately, those figures dovetail with a trend that has been recorded nationwide: pedestrians have been one of the few groups of people using roadways who experienced an increase in fatalities in the United States in 2011 to 4,432, according to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Continue reading "As Collisions with Cars Prove Relentless, Pedestrians Suffer Deadly Week" »

Tailgating Accidents: California Lawyer on Prevention and Representation

April 9, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Tailgating ranks high on the list of most-common driving pet peeves. There are few safe drivers who haven’t experienced another driver following so close you swear you could reach out and touch the other vehicle’s bumper, even from the front seat! In some cases, the driver compounds the annoyance by flashing their lights, honking their horn, or making rude gestures. Our San Jose car accident lawyer knows that tailgating is not only annoying, it is also incredibly dangerous. Today’s post looks to remind readers of this danger and also to provide tips on coping with a tailgater. As always, our team is ready to represent the victims of tailgating accidents, helping injured and grieving Californians recover money damages from those at-fault.

Murder Charges Against Teen in Fatal Tailgating Crash that Claimed Life of Pleasanton Cyclist
In a Pleasanton courtroom, prosecutors are presenting a story emphasizing the grave dangers associated with tailgating. As detailed in The Oakland Tribune, the incident at issue occurred on June 9 on a rural road located by Pleasant Ridge Regional Park. According to prosecutors, nineteen year-old Cody Hall was driving a Dodge Neon when he began tailgating a bicycle rider and attempted an unsafe pass on the curvy roadway. Hall then lost control of his vehicle and hit 58 year-old Diana Hersevoort, killing the Dublin cyclist. Hersevoort’s husband was also injured by the Neon.

Initially, Hall was placed under arrest on charges of vehicular manslaughter and felony reckless driving. The charges changed, however, when investigators found tweets in which the teen boasted about his fast and reckless driving habits. Prosecutors also uncovered a history of tailgating, including a previous accident. The charge was increased to murder. At a preliminary hearing last week, one witness testified that Hall had previously tailgated her when she was taking her children to a swim practice. She said that his driving scared her, noting that Hall eventually crossed a double-yellow line and made an illegal pass in front of her. Hall is in custody at Santa Rita Jail and the hearing is set to continue next week.

tailgating.jpgThe Law and the Danger of Tailgating
California Vehicle Code 21703 provides: “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.” The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety considers tailgating a form of aggressive driving and notes that aggressive behaviors play a role in up to 56% of all deadly traffic crashes. The Foundation recommends drivers follow the “two second rule,” meaning that the gap between you and the car in front of you should be enough so that you pass a fixed point at least two seconds after the driver in front of you passes the same mark.

Staying Safe and Responding to Tailgaters
Wikihow provides an illustrated guide to responding to tailgaters, noting that avoidance is always preferable even if the other driver would likely be deemed at fault should a crash occur. While not a typical traffic safety site, the basic advice is generally sound and centers on two basic concepts: 1) Remain calm, avoiding the temptation to “teach them a lesson” or irritate the other driver in response and 2) If possible, pull over (or move to a slow, right-hand lane) in order to allow the driver to pass you.

Northern California Accident Attorney Represents Tailgating Crash Victims
If a tailgating driver caused an accident on a Northern California road leaving you injured or claiming the life of a close relative, you have legal rights. Call our experienced tailgating accident lawyer in San Jose, Santa Rosa, Oakland, or San Francisco to schedule a free initial consultation and discuss your right to money damages.

See Related Blog Posts:
Questions Linger in Tragic Head-On Crash in Wine Country That Claims Life of Boy
Witnesses Report Passing Attempt Led to Fatal Car Crash

(Photo by Michael Coghlan)

Questions Linger in Tragic Head-On Crash in Wine Country That Claims Life of Boy

April 8, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Motorists face enough perils on the road, from unsafe driving conditions to distracted or drunken drivers and more to make driving an inherently risky proposition. Whenever there is a collision involving a motor vehicle it is often the passengers who bear the brunt of such incidents. And, as Santa Rosa automobile accident attorney Gregory J. Brod would point out, children are often the most vulnerable persons in a collision, a fact that was sadly evident in a deadly head-on collision in Carneros on Sunday.

According to the Napa Valley Register, the collision occurred when a Chevrolet Equinox sport utility vehicle collided with an oncoming Lexus RX 450 SUV at about 3:30 p.m. on Highway 12/121. Both vehicles were reportedly traveling at the posted speed limit of 55 mph when, witnesses say, the Chevrolet crossed the double-yellow line into the path of the Lexus and the two vehicles collided head-on. The crash occurred on a curved portion of the roadway and its cause is still undetermined.

What we know, however, is that a 4-year-old Napa boy who was a passenger in the Chevrolet died in the crash, while his mother, Ariel Kirk, 25, who was not the driver, was injured. The boy was strapped into a booster seat that had a base-only apparatus, but the lap and shoulder seat belts were in use. The condition of Flavio Castellanos, the 23-year-old driver of the Chevrolet, is unknown, as are the conditions of John Watanabe, 66, the driver of the Lexus, and his wife and passenger, Cindy Pawlcyn, 58, a well-known St. Helena restaurateur.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during 2012, there were 33,561 traffic fatalities in the United States, of which 1,168, or 3 percent, were children 14 and younger. The latest data also showed that motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for children age 4 and every age 11 through 14 in this country.
However, the NHTSA also posted these statistics, some of which were grim while others more encouraging:

  • An average of three children 14 and younger were killed and 462 injured every day in the United States in motor vehicle crashes in 2012.
  • From 2003 to 2012, the number of fatalities in the 14-and-younger age group dropped by 45 percent, with the 8- to 14-year-old group showing the largest decrease at 53 percent.
  • Among children 14 and younger, males accounted for 56 percent of the fatalities and 51 percent of those injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2012.

Part of the reason for the decrease in traffic fatalities among children 14 and younger from 2003 to 2012 may be attributable to the use of restraints, such as lap/shoulder seat belts. In 2012, there were 4,888 passenger vehicle occupants age 14 and younger who died in a motor vehicle crash. In cases where restraint use was known, 18 percent of the children were unrestrained; but among those children who were fatally injured, 40 percent were unrestrained.

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Boating Fires: Causes and Seeking Compensation from At-Fault Parties

April 7, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

It isn’t the first danger most people consider when boarding a boat. After all, there’s a touch of irony in the threat of fire when surrounded by water. Still, our San Francisco boating accident attorney knows that boating fires are a very real danger. Fires, fuel and non-fuel-related, were listed by the United States Coast Guard as the primary cause of 264 boating accidents in 2012 , leading to 5 deaths, 99 injuries, and more than $12 million in property damage (see Recreational Boating Statistics 2012, Table 16). When boating fires occur in the waters of Northern California because someone was negligent (for example, an owner, operator, manufacturer, or maintenance provider), we can help victims file personal injury and wrongful death claims and recover critical money damages.

Eight Passengers Escape Burning Boat Off Tiburon
Eight people, five adults and three children, learned about the potential for boating fires firsthand following a Saturday afternoon boat fire off the Tiburon coast. According to KGO-TV ABC7, the owner of a 35-foot fiber glass motor boat noticed smoke about an hour after departing from San Rafael’s Loch Lomond Marina. He alerted the Coast Guard and was told to have everyone don life jackets, jump into the water, and wait for help. The owner fired off flares to get the attention of nearby vessels. While no one spotted the first two flares, a pleasure craft responded to the third and pulled all eight individuals out of the water. Luckily, the riders were rescued after only five minutes in the water and no one was hurt.

A boat from the Tiburon Fire Department arrived and extinguished the blaze. Officials noted they could not have boarded the motor boat due to the dangerous conditions. Firefighters on scene heard two explosions, possibly a result of exploding gas tanks. Officials plan to use air bags to flip the vessel and extract it from the water.

boatfire.jpgThe Cause of Boat Fires
BoatUS, the Boat Owners Association of the United States, provides insurance, lobbying support, and information to the recreational boating community. The group produces Seaworthy, a report that examines insurance claims to find out how future accidents can be prevented. A Seaworthy article titled “Why Boats Catch Fire,” notes that boating fires carry a particular risk since, unlike with a house fire, you can’t escape by running across the street. Escaping requires going overboard (which isn’t always as simple as it was in the recent Tiburon-area event). Responding to an onboard fire, per BoatUS, often means violating the group’s top two rules of boating: 1) Keep water outside the vessel and 2) Stay with the vessel.

Looking at fire-related marine insurance claims, BoatUS concludes the top three causes of fires that start on-board are: 1) Wiring and appliance issues, including AC and DC systems (55%); 2) Overheated engines/transmissions (24%); 3) Fuel leaks (8%).

Compensation for Boat Fire Victims
Our Northern California boating injury law firm in Petaluma, Oakland, San Francisco, and Campbell represents people who’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a boating fire caused by someone else’s negligence. At-fault parties may include, but are not limited to, manufacturers who sell shoddy products, repair workers who cut corners, and rental companies that rent dangerous vessels or fail to supply required fire safety equipment. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Bay Area Boating Injury Lawyer on Boating Education in California
Fatal Personal Watercraft Collision in Contra Costa County Points to Dangers of Recreational Boating

(Photo by Ashley Pollack)