San Francisco Injury Lawyer Blog

A decade ago, if you asked most Americans to name the weather/climate condition most associated with California, we have little doubt “earthquake” would have been the dominant response.  Today, however, polling might be split.  Many would answer “drought” and a third common reply might be “wildfire.”  The National Park Service defines wildfires as “an unplanned fire caused by lightning or other natural causes, by accidental (or arson-caused) human ignitions, or by an escaped prescribed fire.”   While they are known for destroying land and property, wildfire injuries and deaths are a real danger.  When a California wildfire is started by a person, intentionally or due to negligence, our Sonoma fire injury attorney is prepared to advocate for the injured or surviving relatives of individuals who died because of a wildfire sparked by another individual.

Three Fires Burn in Sonoma, Two Tied to Suspected Human Causes

wildfireOn Tuesday alone, Sonoma County and North Bay fire departments were battling three wildfires including one tied to a local beekeeper and one currently being linked to a vehicle fire.  The Press Democrat reports that a grass fire south of Sebastopol was accidentally sparked by a beekeeper employing a smoker pot to calm his hives.  Approximately two acres burned in the blaze and an old barn was destroyed.  Although high temperatures and windy conditions complicated all three fires, a large team including nine engine companies and 45 firefighters gained control of the Sebastopol blaze and limited the spread.

While an investigation is ongoing, officials suspect a fire near Wragg Canyon Road started when a woman pulled a burning vehicle to the side of Highway 128 in Napa County and flames spread to roadside brush.  Smoke impacted residents in Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties and forced the evacuation of 200 Vacacille-area residents.  Although crews stopped the forward progress by 8 P.M. Tuesday, the blaze consumed 6,991 acres destroying at least two vehicles and two outbuildings and damaging four outbuildings, one residence, and a walnut orchard.

A ten-acre fire damaged three structures in Clearlake near the 16000 block of Dam Road.  California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“Cal Fire”) spokewoman Suzie Blankenship commented “Everything is dry out there and all it takes is one spark.”


Wildfire Statistics: Numbers and Causes

The number of wildfires in California is growing exponentially.  According to Cal Fire, the Department and its contracted affiliates responded to 3,897 wildfires between January 1 and July 25, 2015.  In 2014, the same period saw 2,757 fires, with both this year and last topping the five-year average of 2,552 fires during the timespan.

In a list of the 20 largest wildfires in California (by acreage burned) since 1937, six are attributed to a “human related” cause and one by “arson.”  Additionally, three fires are blamed on “powerlines” and one is listed as “vehicle,” all suggesting some form of human negligence.  Together, half of the 20 largest California wildfires have been attributed to a human (and two are undetermined).

Compensation for Wildfire Injuries and Wildfire Deaths

Although, thankfully, there do not appear to have been injuries associated with the Sonoma fires discussed above, the rising number of California wildfires is no doubt accompanied by an increased human toll.  Whether civilians or firefighters hurt in the line of duty, people injured in California wildfires that are intentionally set or caused by human negligence (ex. a tossed cigarette, a vehicle fire caused by a dangerous fuel tank, or negligently designed electrical equipment) deserve compensation.  If this is you, or if an immediate family member died in a human-caused wildfire, call our Sonoma wildfire injury law firm.  We can help you recover money damages for your medical bills, lost wages, and other economic costs as well as compensation for pain and suffering.  Our firm can also assist with California wildfire insurance claims.

See Related Blog Posts:

Oakland Apartment Fire Attorney on Civilian Deaths in Residential Fires

Cigarette Fires & Civil Liability

(Photo Credit: U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture; California wildfire photo does not reflect listed fire)

carcrashIn the U.S., motor vehicle safety is governed by a detailed network of laws and regulations governing initial build and on-going maintenance.  Some rules have been standard for decades.  Others are constantly being added/updated.  While the rules are complex, the reason they exist is simple – A single defect in a single automobile can endanger dozens and thousands are at risk when a defect is repeated.  Vehicle recalls are one preventative tool, but a recent settlement questions the effectiveness of some recalls.  When a potential defect becomes a real accident and an injury or death is linked to a defective vehicle, our vehicle defect law firm in San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa is ready to use our experience in car accident personal injury litigation and product liability law to advocate on behalf of the injured and the grieving.

Fiat Chrysler Settles Government Claims Related to Vehicle Defects and Ineffective Recalls

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, federal officials have pointed to numerous problems with Fiat Chrysler vehicles.  For example, defective steering parts in more than 500,000 Ram pickup trucks could cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle.  The government claims a recall and repair campaign failed to fully address the issue and Fiat Chrysler has agreed to institute to the largest buyback program in U.S. history.  Additionally, some 500,000 older Jeeps with potentially dangerous rear-mount gas tanks are eligible for buyback or repair.  More than 75 vehicle fire deaths have been linked to the tanks, although Fiat Chrysler says the Jeeps are no more dangerous than similar cars of the same vintage.

These are just two of the underlying issues in a massive, far-reaching settlement agreement between Fiat Chrysler and the federal government encompassing more than 11 million vehicles and allegations of misconduct in 23 recalls.  Regulators have amassed an extensive list of alleged wrongdoing related to recalls including the failure to notify vehicle owners about recalls, delayed manufacture/distribution of repair parts, and the failure to fully rectify certain defects.  The settlement includes a record-breaking $105 million civil penalty, a $70 million fine, and performance requirements projected to cost $20 million or more.  Fiat Chrysler also agreed to submit to an independent recall monitor and enhanced federal oversight.  Per the Chronicle, “The settlement is the latest sign that auto safety regulators are taking a more aggressive approach toward companies that fail to disclose defects or don’t properly conduct a recall.”

The Interplay of Recalls and Civil Injury Lawsuits

A defective car puts the driver, other vehicle occupants, and everyone else in the vicinity at risk of injury and even death.  Vehicle recalls are a critical, preventative safety tool, but they cannot help those who’ve been injured or lost a loved one because of a defective vehicle.  This is the job of civil injury and/or wrongful death litigation.  Importantly, as is confirmed in the consumer handbook “Motor Vehicle Safety Defects and Recalls Campaigns” produced by The National Highway Safety Administration, recalls exist in addition to, not in place of, other legal remedies.  In practice, this means that when a vehicle defect causes an injury, the injured can pursue a civil claim against the carmaker (and/or other parties) even if a recall is in place.  In the case of a fatal accident, a family member may have a wrongful death claim.

Call our dangerous vehicle injury attorney in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, or Oakland to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:

Northern California Product Injury Lawyer Examines Recall Linking Unexpected Braking to Ignition Panel Design

Unexpected Braking Leads to Second Honda Recall

(Image by Steve Lyon)

Enjoying time on the water is one of the great joys of life in California.  With the ocean, numerous rivers, and thousands of lakes, water is (and we note the irony of this statement amid a long drought) everywhere.  Jet skiing is one of many water-related activities that California residents and visitors enjoy.  While it can be great fun, both riders and bystanders must remain aware of the danger of jet ski accidents.  When a jet ski accident can be traced to a negligent individual or corporation, our Northern California jet ski accident law firm can help hold those responsible accountable for their actions and help the injured victim or grieving family recover monetary compensation.

Two Jet Ski Related Accidents Claim Lives on Bass Lake

Recently, two jet ski-related tragedies darkened the mood at Central California’s popular Bass Lake.  On June 27, an accident left a 13-year-old boy dead and his 16-year-old aunt critically injured.  According to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office and The Sierra Star, the pair were, along with the boy’s father, riding in an inner tube and being pulled by a pontoon boat when they were hit by a jet ski.  The waverunner was piloted by a San Jose man with two riders on-board.  Police do not believe alcohol was a factor, but the jet ski was allegedly outside of the three designated waverunner zones.  The owner of a lakeside resort suggested the operator may not have understood that waverunners do not stop simply because the operator lets up on the gas.

Tragically, after Bass Lake’s first fatal boating accident in a decade, another crash claimed a second teen days later.  Around 11 P.M. on July 1, a 14-year-old Los Gatos boy and his 18-year-old friend were riding jet skis when the younger boy hit a moored pontoon boat and was tossed into the water.  Despite efforts of bystanders and rescue workers, he died at the scene.  The Contra Costa Times reports that the boy’s godmother described him as an expert jet skier.  The sheriff’s office is investigating.

Personal Watercraft Accident Statistics

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s report Recreational Boating Statistics 2014, 34 people died and 592 were injured in a total of 891 reported personal watercraft (“PWC”) accidents during 2014 (“jet jetski2ski” is a brand name that has come to stand for the category). PWC accidents made up 17% of all recreational boating accidents and PWCs were second only to open motorboats in the number of fatalities per vessel type.  Operator inexperience and operator inattention were among the most commonly cited primary contributing factors in PWC accidents in 2014 (167 and 107 accidents, respectively).  Other primary contributing factors include: Improper lookout (186), Excessive speed (149 accidents), Navigation rules violations (109), Alcohol (40), and Machinery (4).  At least 246 of the reported PWC accidents involved a rented vessel.

Safety and Accountability

We urge readers to use caution around jet skis, whether they are onboard or simply nearby.  People frequently underestimate the power of these vessels.  A careless rider, a rental company with lax policies, a manufacturer that made/sold an unduly dangerous PWC, or anyone else responsible for a jet ski accident can and should be held legally accountable.  Our San Francisco jet ski accident law firm can help.  Money can’t erase an injury or bring back the deceased, but it can help victims move forward and ensure they aren’t saddled with the potentially huge economic costs in addition to the physical and emotional toll of an accident that wasn’t their fault.

(The nature of our work means reporting sad stories.  For a heartwarming story, check out the Today Show’s report on an exceptionally modest six-year-old boy who saved his grandfather’s life.  After the pair were thrown off a jet ski, the grandfather nearly drowned.  The boy used skills from emergency swim lessons to flip him onto his back and pull him aboard the vehicle.)

See Related Blog Posts:

Fatal Personal Watercraft Collision in Contra Costa County Points to Dangers of Recreational Boating

Bay Area Boating Injury Lawyer on Boating Education in California

(Image by Chase Lewis)

As a health care fraud law firm, we work with private whistleblowers nationwide to protect taxpayer money and ensure the health of millions of Americans.  Often, scammers who defraud the federal system also target state health care programs.  We work to fight this type of fraud too, recognizing that these systems are also vital to the health and well-being of countless individuals.  While we can handle health care fraud matters across the country, we have particularly strong ties to California and Florida.  In today’s post, we look at a problem plaguing California – Medi-Cal fraud involving drug treatment clinics.

Director Apologizes for Medi-Cal Fraud

Last September, The Center for Investigative Reporting (“CIR”) reported on legislative hearings in which Toby Douglas, the director of Medi-Cal, apologized for systemic problems involving the failure to effectively monitor taxpayer-funded drug rehabilitation programs.  In the course of those hearings, it became clear that the agency knew about widespread sham billing by “rogue clinics” as early as 2007.  In 2014, the agency temporarily suspended 73 clinics and 101 other counseling sites, locations that had bilked Medi-Cal out of more than $36 million in the previous fiscal year alone.  At the time of the report, there were at least 64 on-going fraud investigations looking into these scams.

Investigative Report: Scheme Targeted Taxpayer Money, Took Advantage of Vulnerable Californians

In December, the CIR followed up with an in-depth article examining Medi-Cal drug rehabilitation clinic fraud.  According to the CIR investigation, an illegal marketplace of grew in California in response to the demand for Medi-Cal eligible clients.  Clinics would bribe residents and provide kickbacks to home operators, ultimately using beneficiary information to bill Medi-Cal for drug rehabilitation services that were never provided and were often unnecessary.

This general scheme appeared in many different forms.  Clinics would bring teens by the busload from foster care homes despite the fact that many of the so-called clients didn’t need drug addiction treatment.  Vanloads of elderly healthcashand/or mentally impaired individuals were brought in from group homes, individuals who didn’t need drug treatment and often didn’t understand what was happening.  The clinics would bill for services even when counselors were not on duty and would create fake therapy notes for ineligible “ghost clients.”  As the report states, these individuals were not viewed as patients needing care but instead “[e]ach warm body is a renewable resource, representing about $27 in government funding for a group counseling session and $64 for a one-on-one appointment.”  A man who worked for one of the clinics described the Medi-Cal beneficiaries as “pieces on a board…being shuffled around.”  These schemes led to millions of dollars going to fraudulent clinics and into the pockets of scammers.

The Danger of Health Care Fraud, The Fight to Stop It

These schemes are a prime example of the multi-faceted danger of health care fraud schemes.  Perpetrators prey on vulnerable individuals, taking advantage of them and often putting their health at risk while stealing millions from tax-payer funded systems.  As the schemes grow, the impact grows.  People who actually need the services that the scammers purport to provide suffer as limited funds are diverted into criminals’ pockets.

Whistleblowers, private citizens who have knowledge about health care fraud schemes, are essential to the fight against fraud in the federal health care system and its state equivalents.  Like the federal system, state law specifically provides for the protection of whistleblowers from retaliation and for significant rewards to whistleblowers whose honesty and bravery lead to the recovery of diverted funds.

If you have information about fraud on the California’s health benefits system, call our Medi-Cal fraud law firm.  Our firm also serves as whistleblowers’ counsel in cases involving federal health benefits fraud and fraud targeting the health benefits systems of other states.

See Related Blog Posts:

California Whistleblowers’ Law Firm Shines a Spotlight on Medi-Cal Fraud

Medicaid Fraud: Health Care Fraud Targeting Another Government Program

(Image by Flickr user 401(K) 2013)

They blend into the everyday hubbub on streets throughout America, fitting in seamlessly because they visit most of our homes on a weekly basis.  This normalcy makes it easy to forget that they are actually powerful, heavy-duty vehicles.  Our Oakland truck accident lawyer knows that garbage truck accidents are a problem few of us ever consider – until it happens in our neighborhood or until an accident impacts someone we love.

Officials Investigate Garbage Truck Accident in Orinda, CA

A garbage truck accident in Orinda on Tuesday left many feeling grateful that the outcome wasn’t more tragic.  The Oakland Tribune reports that a garbage worker was preparing a bin for loading on Los Ceros just before 8 A.M. when the truck began to roll backwards down a hill towards the busy Moraga Way.  The worker gave chase and tried to jump into the driver’s seat but wasn’t able to hold on and eventually leapt off the truck.  After colliding with a single car, the truck came to a stop.  Both the worker and the car’s driver were hospitalized but officials say they expect both people to recover fully.  Local police chief Mark Nagel remarked that it is amazing the consequences weren’t more severe.  An investigation is ongoing to determine why the truck began to roll.

Recent Garbage Truck Accidents Show the Seriousness of a Far-Too-Common Threat

One community in Washington State is far too familiar with garbage truck accidents.  Last month, an NBC affiliate reported that Richland, WA saw two frightening garbage truck accidents in just a few short weeks.  In the first incident, brake failure caused a garbage truck to roll into a house.  In the latter case, a packed truck weighing garbagetrucksome 600,000 pounds was headed to the dump when it veered off the road and into a wall.  The driver was injured, but the local Public Works Director suggested he was lucky to be alive.

Garbage truck accidents can have much more dire results.  In May, The Times-Herald Record reported that a garbage truck in New York state veered into opposing traffic and slammed head-on into a school bus, hospitalizing a garbage worker and killing the bus driver who had just dropped a busload of children at a local school.  In March, a homeless man was killed in Allentown, PA when he was trapped in the back of a garbage truck.  Per 6ABC, he was buried beneath refuse and became caught in the trash compactor.  The same month and one hour away in Hazle Township, PA, a garbage worker was seriously injured when he was thrown through a truck’s windshield in a collision.  Per The Morning Call, the refuse vehicle ran then ran over the man and dragged him 41 feet.

A Dangerous Occupation

According to a March 2013 article on HealthDay.com,  garbage collecting is one of the most dangerous jobs nationwide.  Two-thirds of the 450 refuse worker killed during trash collection in the U.S. from 1980 to 1992 died in vehicle-related events.  The article suggests this situation has not improved, citing a 2007 government report that found a fatality rate of 22 per 100,000 refuse workers, one of the highest for any occupation.  Studies also found a high rate of injury among refuse workers.

Representing Workers and Bystanders Injured in Refuse Truck Accidents

Garbage truck accidents can be serious, even deadly, and impact workers and bystanders alike.  These accidents often have unique characteristics and may be tied to problems in vehicle design, worker negligence, and/or dangerous company policy.  Civil injury and wrongful death lawsuits can help uncover these root causes.  Importantly, refuse collection companies are often deemed accountable for the actions of their workers and for problems with company vehicles.  One complicating factor is whether the trash collection organization is public or private as cases involving public entities involve unique issues of sovereign immunity.

Our firm has decades of injury law experience in California including cases involving public entities, vehicle malfunction, and employer liability for worker negligence.  If a Northern California garbage collection accident leaves you injured or claims the life of a relative, call our Oakland truck crash attorney.  You may be entitled to compensation and your case may help prevent future tragedies.

See Related Blog Posts:

Back to the Basics – Accidents and Employer Liability

Commercial Truck Accidents and Legal Liability: Who’s Responsible When Trucks Cause Injuries?

(Image by Salim Virji)

Bicycling can provide a sense of freedom to people of all ages.  For the young, bikes expand the world, affording their rider a sense of independence.  For adults, riding evokes that feeling and also provides freedom from the expenses and hassles associated with driving, especially in urban areas.  Sadly, this freedom is sharply limited by the reality of bicycle fatalities.  Our San Jose bicycle accident law firm was saddened to learn of two deadly bicycle accidents separated by only three days and a seven mile stretch of road.

Three Days, Seven Miles, Two Fatal Bicycle Accidents

According to a report in The Los Altos Town Crier,  63-year-old Palo Alto resident Eric Palmquist was hit by a car while riding a bicycle on Friday July 10.  He died six days later.  Police believe he was riding west on El Camino Real when he was struck by a Honda Civic travelling north on San Antonio Road.  Palmquist was thrown onto the pavement and suffered a fatal head injury.  He was not wearing a helmet.  The driver of the Civic was not hurt and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

While Palmquist was fighting to stay alive, a second bicycle accident occurred along El Camino Real, approximately 7 miles away in Sunnyvale.  The San Jose Mercury News reports that a 12-year-old boy was riding across the intersection of El Camino Real and Henderson Avenue when he was struck by a car just before 10 P.M. on Monday July 13.  He passed away two days later.  Police say the initial investigation suggests the boy was crossing against a red light.

Bicycle Crashes — General Statistics

In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) released a Traffic Safety Facts sheet bikeghost2examining bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles in 2013 (Note: References to “bicyclist deaths/injuries,”  “motor vehicle accidents/crashes,” and “traffic accidents/crashes” refer to bicycle accidents involving at least one motor vehicle on public property).  Per the NHTSA, 743 cyclists were killed and approximately 48,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents during 2013.  The fatality figure represents a 1% increase over the prior year.  This was the third straight increase in rider deaths, amounting to a worrisome 19% increase since 2010.

California saw 141 bicyclist deaths in traffic accidents in 2013, more than any other state.  Taking population into account, California was the third deadliest state for riders with 3.68 bicyclist traffic crash deaths per million population, exceeded only by Arizona (4.68 rate, 31 deaths) and Florida (a whopping 6.80 rate, 133 deaths).  Nationwide, the rate was 2.35 bicycle fatalities per million people.

Bicycle Crashes – “Who?” and “How?”

Although women outnumber men nationwide, men were heavily overrepresented in bicycle accidents.  Men made up 83% of riders injured in motor vehicle accidents and 87% of those killed.  The average age for bicyclists killed in traffic crashes 2013 was 44 while the average age for injuries was 32. Both ages rose steadily between 2004 and 2013.

The NHTSA report also provides some insight into the nature of bicycle traffic accidents.  Urban areas saw more bicyclist fatalities than rural areas (68% to 32%) and a majority of traffic crashes that led to a bicyclist’s death happened in non-intersection locations (57%).  The peak time frame for deadly traffic crashes was between 3 P.M. and midnight when 56% of the fatal accidents occurred.

A Bicyclist’s Law Firm in Northern California

Our hearts go out to the families of the bicyclists killed in the recent bicycle accidents on El Camino Real.  Two fatal bicycle accidents in less than a week’s span, seven miles apart on the same roadway, cannot and should not go unnoticed.  Regardless of who was at fault in these particular bicycle tragedies, many and perhaps most bicycle accidents stem from driver negligence.  Drivers must be attentive to all travelers and must not forget just how powerful a motor vehicle is in contrast to a bicycle.  We highly recommend all bicycle riders wear helmets every time they ride, but even a helmeted rider is virtually unprotected from a multi-ton car, truck, or SUV.

If you were injured or lost a family member in a bicycle accident caused by a negligent driver in Northern California, call to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with our Bay Area bicycle attorney.  With decades of legal experience and as a member of multiple bicyclist organizations, Greg Brod is ready to represent you and fight for the compensation you deserve.

See Related Blog Posts:

Bicycle Safety in San Francisco

Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same: Bicycle Accidents & Rider Fatalities Over the Years

(Image by Sebastien Paquet)

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On television, the least popular cops work in internal affairs.  By the same token, one might expect us to hesitate, especially around other lawyers, to say we serve clients looking for a legal malpractice lawyer in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and other locations in Northern California.  The truth is we’re very proud to practice in this arena.  Legal malpractice is about ensuring lawyers do not practice with wanton disregard for our profession’s high standards.  Today, we look at legal malpractice in California.  We examine the elements of a successful claim, including the case-within-a-case concept, and look at one reason The Brod Law Firm is able to serve malpractice clients effectively and efficiently.

The Basics of a Legal Malpractice Claim

Let’s begin with what legal malpractice is not.  A meritorious legal malpractice claim is not triggered just because a “good” case was lost or a court rendered an unjust verdict.  No lawyer can promise a certain result, in fact that itself might actually be malpractice.  Legal malpractice does exist when a lawyer fails to provide professional services with the diligence, prudence, and skill that a reasonable lawyer would use in the situation.  This standard applies to all non-medical professional malpractice actions and is detailed in California Civil Jury Instruction 600 (“[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.”).

To prove legal malpractice in California, the plaintiff must show:

  1. An attorney-client relationship existed
  2. The attorney was negligent in the legal representation provided
  3. The negligence proximately caused the client harm
  4. The extent of injury

Examples of Legal Malpractice

What sort of negligence can trigger a legal malpractice claim?  Examples include: Failing to maintain communication with the client; Failing to meet clear deadlines; and Taking on a case s/he is not qualified (and does not work to become qualified) to handle.  Malpractice can also be more intentional such as overcharging or mingling client’s money with his/her own.  Legal malpractice may involve transactional services (ex. contract drafting, corporate merger services, etc.).  An example would be drafting an agreement containing a substantial error that would be obvious to another transactional attorney.

The Case-Within-a-Case Concept

Showing negligence is not sufficient for a legal malpractice case.  There must be specific proof that this negligence caused harm.  Put another way, as set forth in Civil Jury Instruction 601: “To recover damages from [name of defendant], [name of plaintiff] must prove that [he/she/it] would have obtained a better result if [name of defendant] had acted as a reasonably careful attorney.”  In litigation, this essentially means that a legal malpractice claim includes a “case within a case;” the plaintiff must show that there would have been a different result if the lawyer provided a reasonable level of legal service.

This part of the case also establishes damages.  A plaintiff must prove exactly what was lost because of the malpractice, such as how much the plaintiff would have won at trial or would have earned with a properly drafted contract.  The plaintiff must also show the damages could have been collected, i.e. that the defendant in a car accident case (or his insurance) could have paid the damages.

Why Hire The Brod Law Firm?  Why Not a Firm that ONLY Does Malpractice?

The “case within a case” requirement is one reason we are well-positioned to serve as a Northern California legal malpractice law firm for Oakland, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and neighboring regions.  While it might be tempting to choose a firm that only does legal malpractice, we believe this isn’t the best choice.  A successful case requires re-doing the initial representation, therefore clients are best served by an attorney knows the underlying field.  For example, as a premises liability and a legal malpractice firm, we could effectively handle a malpractice suit involving a slip-and-fall case.

Attorney Greg Brod is proud to practice as a legal malpractice lawyer in Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa.  If you have been a victim of legal malpractice, please call.  We would be honored to talk with you and to help uphold the honor of our legal system.

See Related Blog Posts:

Our Commitment to Legal Ethics – Adhering to the Ethical Standards of Our Profession and Protecting the Victims of Attorney Malpractice in California

State Bar Recommends Suspension After Attorney Defrauds 77-Year Old Client of $3.5 Million

longgavel

 

(Image by Bruce Bortin)

For-profit schools provide an education to many students who might otherwise be unable to attend post-secondary school.  However, these schools have a dual mission: a commitment to educating students and a commitment to earning money for investors and shareholders.  While many, perhaps most, are ethical and education-oriented, some for-profit schools misuse federal student aid funds perpetuating scams that hurt the government and students alike. Today, our false claims act law firm looks at federal student loan fraud and reminds readers of the importance of whistleblowers in all government fraud cases.

Education Affiliates Pays $13 Million to Resolve False Claims Allegations

classroomOn June 24, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that Education Affiliates (“EA”) agreed to pay $13 million to settle False Claims Act (“FCA”) claims against the for-profit institution.  EA operates 50 campuses providing post-secondary training in a range of fields in five states.  The suits were brought by five whistleblowers who will share approximately $1.8million under the FCA’s qui tam provisions.  EA denies any wrongdoing.

According to the allegations, employees altered admissions tests, created fake high school diplomas, referred applicants to “diploma mills” so to obtain invalid high school credentials, and otherwise falsified federal aid applications.  EA allegedly violated the FCA, defrauding the government by enrolling and accepting federal aid funding for unqualified students.  The settlement also resolves claims that EA violated the ban on incentive pay for enrollment personnel, misrepresented graduation rates and job placement figures, and altered attendance information.  Government officials claim EA defrauded the government and hurt students by providing them “a worthless piece of paper” instead of an actual education.

An Epidemic of Fraud by For-Profit Educational Institutions

This is far from the only case of a for-profit school facing FCA allegations involving federal student loans.  Notably, not all cases focus on loan applications and/or admissions requirements.  Per the government, it is also fraud, under the FCA, when a school accepts federal aid and fails to provide the education promised.  It seems likely that those scenarios would also include defrauding students and providers/recipients of private loans, grants, and scholarships.  Funds recovered in these cases may be used to repay the government, reduce student aid debt (or refund paid-off amounts), and provide appropriate whistleblower rewards.  Schools often settle while denying wrongdoing.

A few examples based on DOJ press releases:

Representing Whistleblowers, Fighting Federal Student Aid Fraud

Commenting on the University of Phoenix case, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner remarked, “This settlement showcases how a working relationship between the Government and private whistle-blowers can bring about effective results in terms of protecting taxpayer dollars.”  Whistleblowers, often but not always current or former employees, are crucial to uncovering fraud against the federal government including fraud involving federal student aid.  The government cannot police this growing field alone.

Don’t sit by and allow fraud to happen.  Don’t let dishonest individuals steal money from the government and an education from Americans.  Speak.  If you have information about a school committing government fraud, call our federal student aid fraud lawyer at (800)-427-7020.  Our whistleblowers’ attorney handles FCA matters nationwide.  As a team, we can fight fraud, ending fraudulent schemes and returning money to aid coffers.  Ask us about the protections available to whistleblowers and the financial reward that may be.

See Related Blog Posts:

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

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

 

Trust.  It is an essential part of living in a community from trusting the food we purchase is safe to trusting opposing traffic will stop when they have a red light.  As our population ages, another form of trust becomes ever more important – trusting that elder care facilities will care for and protect their residents.  A shocking example of the violation of this trust arises when facilities fail to guard against sexual elder abuse.  Difficult as it is to think about, sexual abuse in nursing homes is a very real threat and our San Francisco nursing home abuse lawyer believes elder care facilities must take swift and comprehensive action when sexual abuse occurs whether the perpetrator is a nursing home employee or another resident.

Civil Suit Follows Investigation into Nursing Home’s Failure to Report Sexual Assault

On June 16, a civil lawsuit was filed in Washington state involving allegations that a nursing home failed to take appropriate steps to protect a resident from sexual abuse.  KOMO 4 News and Wenatchee World (via San Mateo County’s Network of Care) report that the estate of Christine Trowbridge filed the suit against Cashmere Convalescent Center.  The civil action follows government investigations, including a $6,500 fine levied by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services for failing to intervene in or report the abuse.

oldsadTrowbridge was admitted to Cashmere’s dementia care ward in 2013.  In addition to other mental and physical deficits, she suffered from partial paralysis and was barely able to speak.  According to the lawsuit and the recent investigation, staff members found a male resident in Trowbridge’s room on two separate occasions during January 2015.  On the first occasion, the man took hold of Trowbridge’s hand and put it on his genital region.  After the second visit, Trowbridge told a nurse that the man was sexually abusing her.  While employees stopped the conduct, the nursing home did not report the events to state health investigators as the law requires.  According to the Complaint, in the wake of the incidents Trowbridge became depressed, suffered suicidal thoughts, and lost significant weight due to lack of appetite.  Trowbridge was hospitalized with pneumonia and respiratory failure on May 11 and died three days later.

Notably, investigators found the same male resident behaved in a similar manner with other female residents.  No reports were made until February 2 when he was found fondling a female resident in the dining facility.  The nursing director defended the failure to report prior events saying she believed the incidents were consensual and the man had a right to physical intimacy.  However, state investigators concluded the center failed to assess the ability of the female patients to consent to sexual activity and that this failure left the women vulnerable.

Sexual Mistreatment of the Elderly: An Understudied Threat

The National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the federal Justice Department, calls sexual abuse “one of the most understudied aspects of elder mistreatment.”  Disturbingly, a 2006 study concluded that cases of sexual abuse in care facilities are less likely to lead to charges and a finding of guilt than cases involving seniors living independently.  There has been a repeated refusal to recognize the immense psychological impact of these crimes including a failure to routinely assess/evaluate the psychological effects of sexual elder abuse on the victim.  Charges are often not filed unless there are physical signs of assault.

A Matter of Trust

Nursing homes are entrusted with the care of our beloved relatives and friends — and perhaps, one day, ourselves — who can no longer care for themselves.  We must be able to trust that the facilities will keep residents safe and guard them against threats including the threat of sexual abuse.  This obligation not only includes proper reporting but also taking affirmative steps to prevent sexual abuse of the elderly and infirm in the first place.

If you believe someone you care about has been sexually abused or otherwise mistreated while at a Northern California senior care facility, call the offices of our elder abuse law firm in Sonoma, San Francisco, or Oakland.  We can help you protect and advocate for your loved one.

See Related Blog Posts:

Resident Aggression: A Growing Threat in Senior Care Homes and Facility Liability

California Enacts New Law Expanding Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse

A Shocking Form of Elder Abuse: Sexual Abuse Against Seniors in Care Centers and At Home

(Image by Ulrich Joho)

 

Late last week, a friend of our San Francisco landlord/tenant law firm e-mailed us an article he’d seen on Curbed LA, the Los Angeles portion of a real estate and neighborhood news website.  The article suggests that landlords in L.A. could fetch up to twice as much money on the short-term market (such as via Airbnb) than they can make via a traditional long-term rental.   He asked us: “Could the same thing happen in San Francisco?  Should renters be worried?”  We thought that the reality and the legality of short-term rentals in San Francisco might be on more than one renter’s mind (and therefore a great blog topic!), especially given the well-publicized increase in rental prices in the Bay Area in recent years.

Airbnb and the Short-Term Rental Concept

For those unfamiliar with the company, Airbnb is a locally based company that touts itself as a community marketplace connecting people looking for a place to stay with people who have space to spare.  The site covers more than 34,000 cities and allows people to rent a wide-range of spaces with many spaces offering nightly, weekly, and monthly rates.  While it is certainly the most popular, Airbnb is just one company serving the growing demand for short-term rentals.

rentSan Francisco’s Short-Term Rental Law

On February 1, 2015, a new law took effect in San Francisco allowing short-term rentals in the city, a move many called a victory for Airbnb since rentals under 30 days in multi-unit buildings had previously been banned (although the consensus is the law was rarely enforced).  The Planning Commission provides a Frequently Asked Questions page aimed at those wishing to rent out property short-term.  Under the law, (1) permanent San Francisco residents may rent out their (2) primary residence for an (3) unlimited period while they are present and for (4) up to 90 days while the owner is not present, with fines taking effect thereafter.

While the structure of the law seeks to limit the impact it will have on long-term rental availability, some renters believe the law does not go far enough.  According to KQED, last week the group ShareBetterSF presented the city with a petition to put amendments to the law on the ballot.  ShareBetterSF is a coalition that purports to be fighting the conversion of residential rental units into virtual hotel rooms.  A spokesperson for the group said the revisions are not intended to target individuals renting out a room in their home for needed income, but rather people who rent out multiple full units that previously housed longer-term tenants.  The petition seeks to improve enforcement of the law and to change the limit from 90 to 75 rental nights when the owner is not in residence.  It is just one of the attempts to amend the law mere months after it went into effect.

 

Protecting San Francisco Tenants in a Tight Housing Market

Our research suggests a wide-range of opinions on whether or not short-term rentals are further depleting the rental market in San Francisco.  Regardless, short-term rentals have changed, and will continue to change, the world of residential tenancy and the law governing this area is in flux.  We are staying abreast of legal developments in San Francisco and throughout Northern California.

We promise to continue to fight for the legal rights of Bay Area renters.  If you believe you’ve been wrongfully evicted so that your former landlord can adopt a short-term rental model, please call.  As a San Francisco tenants’ lawyer, Attorney Greg Brod can also help long-term renters whose homes have been rendered uninhabitable because a neighboring short-term rental is poorly managed (i.e. excessive noise, vermin such as bed bugs) and short-term renters whose rental companies did not provide property that lived up to promised standards.  Call (415) 397-1130 or (800) 427-7020 to learn more about our Northern California landlord/tenant law firm.

See Related Blog Posts:

California Supreme Court Protects Tenants, Strengthens Rent Control

Bay Area’s Spike in Rents Presents Incentive for Landlords to Turn Over Units

Uber: Rider Beware?

(Image by Mark Moz)