Looking at Airline Liability and Victim’s Rights in the Wake of the Malaysian Air Tragedy

July 24, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

plane.jpgFive months ago, few Americans had heard of Malaysia Airlines. Now, of course, they’ve held the headlines for months with two flights ending in tragedy in a just a short time. Particularly after this most recent tragedy, our Northern California aviation accident law firm has heard from many community members who are curious about the legal rights of families in the case of similar aviation tragedies.

Remembering the Victims of Flight 17
We could cite any of hundreds of news reports to provide a brief summary of the Flight 17 story, but we were drawn to a report from CNN that looks at a small sample of the lives lost in this tragedy. As CNN explains, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine on Thursday July 17, 2014. There were 298 people aboard the passenger flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia. The victims included 193 Dutch citizens, a total that includes the sole American victim who had dual citizenship, and 43 Malaysians. A champion rower, an AIDS researcher, restaurateurs, a nun, students, and successful businesspeople were among those lost. We encourage readers to take a look at the faces and brief biographies of some of the victims; we do not want the victims’ stories to be lost amidst the rest of the coverage.

Compensating International Aviation Accident Victims Under the Montreal Convention
In 1999, the Montreal Convention http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Convention was adopted to help create a uniform system of rules dealing with the international carriage of both goods and people. One goal was to create a system for compensating the victims of air tragedies. Previously, victims had to show willful neglect to recover damages and the treaty sought to protect passengers and reduce litigation by eliminating this rule. Pursuant to the Convention, Malaysia Airlines is strictly liable to the families who lost loved ones aboard Flight 17 for up to 113,100 Special Drawing Rights, a figure based on the value of a mix of currency values. We would expect that the victims of Flight 17 would be liable for the full amount. A currency calculator clarifies that the airline would be liable for about $174,000 per passenger, regardless of whether the carrier is found to be at fault.

Victims can pursue additional damages beyond the 113,100 SDR. When there are claims above the base amount, negligence becomes an issue. In order to avoid paying greater claim amounts, the airline would need to show either that it was not negligent or lay the blame fully on the negligence of a third-party. Notably, this places this burden of proof on the airline instead of the claimants as would be the case in a typical U.S. civil suit. Malaysian Airlines would need to argue that they were reasonable in choosing the flight path, a point that would probably be fiercely debated. A quick search for opinions reveals a CNN piece that notes flying over a conflict zone is not an unusual practice and a New York Times report that discusses the Montreal Convention and raises questions about the reasonableness of the Airlines’ decision.

Our Commitment to Air Accident Victims in Northern California
Aviation law is a complex field. From in-flight injuries to tragic crashes and everything in-between, our San Francisco aviation injury law firm is ready to help victims navigate this detailed arena. Whether your case involves a large international flight or a small private plane, we are here to help Northern Californians coping with aviation accidents and air tragedies. Call if we can put our knowledge to work for you.

See Related Blog Posts:
Malaysian Aircraft Leaves Barely a Trace and Plenty of Unanswered Questions
Aviation Safety: An Update on Asiana Flight 214

(Image by Mark Harkin)

Danger on Two Wheels: Protecting the Victims of Unsafe Motorcycle Riders

July 23, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

We’ve written in the past about the biases many people hold when it comes to motorcycles. We firmly believe these, and most other biases, are incorrect and unfair. Most motorcycle riders, like most drivers, are committed to safety. However, our San Jose motorcycle accident lawyer knows that it would be equally unfair to suggest all motorcycle riders are innocent victims when it comes to vehicle crashes. Dangerous decisions by riders, including speeding and riding while intoxicated, threaten the rider and others on the road. We are committed to helping those who are hurt or left mourning a love one because of a reckless or negligent motorcyclist.

Witnesses Report Rider in Santa Clara Crash Was Travelling Over 100mph
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on an accident that claimed one life during the early morning hours of Tuesday June 22. At around 2:30 A.M., the driver of a Honda motorcycle tried to maneuver around a Peterbilt truck travelling north on Great America Parkway (Highway 101) in Santa Clara. The attempt was unsuccessful and the motorcycle slammed into the back of a big rig truck, killing the rider. According to the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”), after the initial collision the body of the 23 year old motorcycle rider lay in the street and was hit by other vehicles.

CHP Officer Ryan Fifield told reporters that several witnesses said the motorcycle had been travelling in excess of 100mph when the crash occurred. No other injuries have been reported.

NHTSA Finds Speeding and Alcohol Contribute to Crashes Involving Motorcycle Riders
motorcyclespeed.jpgExcessive speed is dangerous, whether you are on two wheels, four wheels, or more. In June 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (“NHTSA”) released a safety fact sheet on motorcycles based on 2012 data. The NHTSA deems a crash speeding-related if an officer charges someone with a speeding offense or if the officer indicates that racing, travelling too fast for the conditions, or exceeding the speed limit contributed to the collision. For 2012, 34% of motorcycle operators involved in a deadly accident were speeding. This is in comparison to 22% of passenger car drivers, 18% of drivers of light-trucks, and only 8% of large-truck drivers (the final group is likely much lower because of job requirements for commercial drivers).

Notably, the statistics on alcohol impairment are not unlike those for excessive speed. When looking at the characteristics of those involved in fatal crashes, the NHTSA found that a higher percentage of motorcycle operators were legally intoxicated than any other type of vehicle operator. More specifically, 27% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol level at or above 0.08, compared to 23% of passenger car drivers, 22% of light truck operators, and 2% of the drivers of large trucks.

A Dual Commitment – Protecting Those Injured by Reckless Riders
These NHTSA statistics confirm what our experience in accident law and even a quick review of accident headlines suggest – speeding and/or drinking make motorcyclists more likely to be involved in serious accidents. While most riders (like most drivers) are committed to safety, others engage in dangerous or simply careless behaviors that put themselves and everyone else on the road at risk. If a motorcycle rider caused an accident that left you injured or grieving, call our San Jose personal injury law office or any of our other Northern California locations. We can help you recover compensation from the at-fault rider, money that will help you move forward from an unexpected tragedy.

…and Protecting the Reputation of Safe Riders
An added note -- The Brod Firm supports riders who make safety a priority and we are committed to helping erase biases that paint all riders in a poor light. Reckless riders give all motorcycle operators a bad name and that is one more reason we are also committed to holding motorcycle riders accountable when they cause accidents that leave others injured or dead.

See Related Blog Posts:
San Francisco/San Jose Motorcycle Lawyer on Overcoming Bias
The Importance of Motorcycle Education

Health Care Fraud Whistleblowers’ Attorney Looks as the Costly Problem of Reverse False Claims

July 21, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Suppose your eight year-old child receives a weekly allowance of $5 (perhaps the amount dates us!) and instead of handing him a five dollar bill, you accidentally give him a $20. If he speaks up, you probably praise his honesty, but what if he doesn’t? How do you feel later when you notice your own error? The moment might prompt a lesson in honesty and a discussion of how silence can be dishonest. With your child, there might be room for debate, but what if the recipient is a medical institution and the money closer to a million dollars than five? That scenario might trigger a concept known as reverse false claims, a violation of the False Claims Act that may be costing the government billions a year. As a Northern California medical fraud lawyer, Attorney Gregory Brod is dedicated to working with whistleblowers to end all forms of costly frauds from purposefully filing claims for services that were never provided to knowingly accepting and keeping overpayments.

“Reverse False Claims” and the False Claims Act
The U.S. Justice Department provides a primer to explain key parts of the False Claims Act (“FCA” or “the Act”) and how the law works. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, the Act creates liability for submitting or causing another to submit false claims to the federal government. Medical fraud is one of the key areas in which the Act is invoked and cases are often brought under the “qui tam” provisions that allow a private whistleblower to bring a claim on the government’s behalf. The Primer also notes that Section 3729(a)(1)(G) creates liability for reverse false claims. Initially, this provision was pretty narrow but revisions to the Act in 2009 and 2010 made it clear that Congress intends this reverse false claims concept to create liability when a facility receives an overpayment for services and, despite being aware of the overpayment, fails to return the money within a 60-day period.

Complaint Filed Against Health Care Company for Knowingly Keeping Nearly $1 Million in Overpayments heatlhcash.jpg
In June, the Justice Department published a press release discussing claims against Continuum Health Partners, a health management company that oversees several hospitals, that were filed in a federal court in New York. The civil fraud suit focuses on “the hospitals’ fraudulent delay in fully repaying nearly $1 million in Medicaid overpayments for almost two years after it had discovered the overpayments.” According to the government’s complaint, a software problem caused Continuum to submit hundreds of improper Medicaid claims in 2009 and 2010 on behalf of network hospitals. Continuum became aware of the software glitch in late 2010 and an employee even created a spreadsheet detailing virtually all of the affected claims. Nonetheless, Continuum did not return the overpayments within the 60-day period provided by the law in such cases. Instead, they only repaid the government as the state brought groups of claims to their attention and only repaid the overpayments on 300 affected claims in July 2012 in response to a Civil Investigative Demand from New York authorities.

The press release explains that a recipient of Government money must repay the Government within 60 days if it becomes aware of an overpayment. Continuum took two years and only repaid the monies after repeated Government inquiries. Preet Bhara, a U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, explains that companies cannot just keep improperly made overpayments and hope the government won’t figure out the error. Doing do is fraud and, as another state official notes, fraud on the Medicaid program affects everyone in the state. Similarly, fraud on federal healthcare programs impacts all Americans.

The Costs of Fraud, The Benefits of Fighting It
Healthcare fraud costs the nation much more than a $15 allowance mistake. Fighting fraud often depends on private individuals “blowing the whistle” on wrongdoers, often a current or former employer. Speaking up is the right thing to do. We encourage all potential whistleblowers to speak to an attorney who understands the field of healthcare fraud. Legal counsel can help protect you from retaliation and help ensure you receive any award you may be owed, which can be a substantial sum in these cases.

Attorney Brod has the knowledge and experience to serve as a lawyer for health care whistleblowers in California. From an initial consultation through post-verdict/post-settlement discussions, Attorney Brod will serve as your legal guide, protecting your interests while together we work to protect the interests of our nation as a whole.

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

The Danger of Downed Power Lines

July 18, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Sometimes, as our San Francisco car accident lawyer knows quite well, real life writes stories that our imaginations never could. In this case, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a story that began when 21 year old Arman Samsonian crashed into a fire hydrant while rushing to the gym. Witness Irma Zamora, age 40, called 911 and then raced over to help. She was joined by 39 year old Stacey Schreiber. Unbeknownst to the two women, electricity was running through the water around the wrecked car. Both of the Good Samaritans were electrocuted and both died. The incident had unusual aspects but, unfortunately, it is far too common for downed power lines and electrocution to cause injury and/or death following a car accident.

In May, despite his attorney suggesting the electrocutions were not a foreseeable consequence of speeding, Samsonian pled no contest to vehicular manslaughter. On Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court sentenced Samsonian to three years of probation and 70 days of community service. The judge also ordered him to pay restitution to the victims (note: restitution typically cannot compensate victims for pain and suffering). Committing another vehicular offense during the probation period will send Samsonian to prison.

What to Do If Power Lines Fall on Your Car
The Samsonian case certainly has interesting and unusual details, but electrocution following a car accident is a very real danger. Power lines falling during a crash are one of the main sources of electrocution. What is the best way to stay safe if power lines fall on your vehicle or powerlines.jpg one you have been riding in? PSE&G, one of the largest electric companies in the U.S., and B.C. Hydro, the main electric distributor for the Canadian province of British Columbia, both host webpages advising readers on how to stay safe if a power line falls on their vehicle.

The top tip – Stay put! Always assume wires are “live” (i.e. active and running with electric current) until proven otherwise. Unless some other danger exists, you are usually safest in your vehicle and you should stay there until professional aid arrives. You should also warn anyone who may try to approach your vehicle, including well-meaning Good Samaritans, to stay at least 33 feet away (the length of a bus).

If a fire or another life-threatening danger exists, you should carefully jump completely clear of the vehicle. You do not want anything to hit the ground before you land so you should leave anything that is loose or may dangle (ex. a long sweater coat) behind and be sure to tie any shoelaces. You are trying to avoid completing a circuit, so you must not touch the car and the ground at the same time. Jump as far as you can while making sure you don’t stumble and you land with both feet at the same time. After landing you should either hop away, continuing to land with both feet at once, or shuffle away, keeping both feet on the ground.

Avoiding Electrocution Incidents, Protecting Victims
If you encounter a downed wire in other situations, continue to follow the assumption that the wire is live. Stay clear and call the provider, the fire department, or the police for help. Teach children to avoid power lines and to alert an adult if they encounter a newly downed power line. Please share these safety tips; they can be life-saving.

Power line injuries can occur in a variety of ways and involve a range of at-fault parties. Examples include a power company that failed to respond appropriately to downed wires, an installation or repair service that did not secure the wires properly, or (as the Samsonian case demonstrates) a driver who caused an accident that led to a power line accident.

If you or a loved one were injured in an electricity accident in the Northern California region that was caused by someone else, please call our firm. Our San Francisco power line accident attorney can help you recover monetary compensation from those at fault.

See Related Blog Posts:
A Look at Safety Statistics and a Reminder from Your Northern California Injury Lawyer

Wet Weather and Driving Safety

Seatbelts: A Look at Safety Statistics and a Reminder from Your Northern California Injury Lawyer

July 16, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

It is a topic we revisit often, but some things deserve repeating. While our Santa Cruz car accident lawyer is dedicated to representing people who are injured by another driver’s negligence, our firm believe prevention always comes first. Seatbelts are one of the best ways to prevent a collision from becoming a tragedy. We represent people when another driver was at-fault, regardless of whether our client wore a seatbelt, but that doesn’t change the fact that we encourage everyone to buckle up and be safe.

Two Teens Die in Santa Cruz Crash
Reporters with the Santa Cruz Sentinel recently covered a Highway 1 crash that killed two local teens an contributed to a back-up lasting more than six hours. It was just before 7 A.M. when a 15 year-old lost control of a Hyundai sedan, crossed over to oncoming traffic lanes and crashed head-on with a utility truck between Jensen and Salinas roads. The driver was ejected and landed in the middle of the two-lane roadway.

Neither the sedan’s driver nor her 18 year-old passenger were wearing their seatbelt. Both were pronounced dead at the accident scene. It is unclear if the driver had a learner’s permit (note: the law would allow a driver her age to have a permit, but she’d need a licensed companion aged 25 or older in the car). No one in the truck was hurt.

Seatbelt Statistics from the CDC
seatbelt.jpgIn January, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) updated their policy brief focused on seatbelt usage, including important statistics. More than half (53%) of the 33,000 who died in vehicle accidents nationwide in 2009 were unrestrained. Seatbelts cut the risk of dying by 45% for drivers and front-seat passengers, cutting the risk of serious injury in half. A big part of the reason seatbelts save lives is they prevent ejection -- more than 75% of those who are ejected in a crash will die and people who are not belted are 30 times more likely to be ejected during a crash.

Putting it fairly simply, the CDC says “Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent death and serious injury in a crash.” Both education and enforcement have helped lead to an increase in seatbelt usage in recent decades. Still, despite the fact that almost 13,000 lives were saved by seatbelts in 2009, 1 in 7 people still fail to buckle their seatbelts. The CDC estimates nearly 4,000 more lives could have been saved in 2009 if everyone buckled up.

Improving Seatbelt Usage
The Policy Brief suggests that primary enforcement is one tool that could save lives. In primary enforcement state, police can pull drivers overs and issue tickets solely for a seatbelt-related infraction. In secondary enforcement jurisdictions, police can only enforce the seatbelt laws if the driver has been pulled over for another offense. California, as noted in a report by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, is a primary enforcement state. However, the CDC notes that 19 states are do not have primary enforcement and changing that could save lives since primary enforcement states have a 9% higher rate of seatbelt use on average than secondary enforcement areas.

The CDC Brief also includes two other recommendations for increasing seatbelt usage. One recommendation calls for higher fines for seatbelt infractions which may encourage more drivers to buckle up to avoid paying the economic price. Another recommendation calls for “enhanced enforcement” efforts. This can include publicized “Click It or Ticket” campaigns and either increasing the average number of seatbelt citations per officer or increasing the number of officers on patrol.

A Reminder About Civil Liability
If our blog encourages just one more driver to buckle up, then every post we’ve written on seatbelt use will be worth it. While buckling up is always wise, we want to remind readers that forgetting to do so does not mean you “deserve” to be an injury victim. If you were injured or lost a loved one in an accident caused by another driver’s negligence, you may have a civil claim regardless of whether or not you (or your loved one) buckled up. The failure to wear a seatbelt may mean a reduced monetary recovery, but an “at fault” driver is still liable and a victim still has a civil claim.

Call our Northern California car accident attorney to discuss this issue or any other question about your legal rights after a crash.

See Related Blog Posts:
Statistics and Law in Northern California Ejection Accidents
Keeping Kids Safe and Advocating for the Smallest of Car Crash Victims

California Fraud Lawyer on Alleged Food Stamp Fraud

July 14, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Why is government fraud such an important practice area to our team? The cases aren’t simple, they can be time consuming (especially since we try to relieve pressure from our clients), and they take longer to reach resolution that a typical accident case. Still, we do it for the same reason we represent the injured – we believe in it. We are involved as legal counsel in California fraud cases in addition to our work on cases involving Medicare and other federal programs. Fraud on the state and on state programs impacts every Californian and, by stealing from limited coffers and leaving honest people facing a haze of suspicion, hits the people who rely upon those programs the hardest, typically the groups that can least afford it.

D.A. Investigating Alleged Fraud on CalFresh Benefits Program
grocery.jpgThe San Francisco Examiner recently reported on a case that the District Attorney’s Office is pursuing against four individuals accused of defrauding the local food stamps program to the tune of over $480,000. According to the charges, the four people solicited recipients of CalFresh Benefits, the state’s food stamps program, convincing them to sell their electronic benefits cards in return for a small fraction of the card’s value. Allegedly, the defendants would then use the card to fake purchases at Ivy’s Food Co., so that the government ultimately reimbursed Ivy’s for purchases that didn’t actually happen (ring a bell? -- there are some very similar schemes in the medical benefits arena).

Ivy Lai and Alan Wan, owners of Ivy’s Food, face charges alleging they were co-conspirators in the scam and face 31 felony counts apiece. These charges include conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds and multiple counts each of CalFresh Benefits fraud and money laundering. Lai and Wan, should they be convicted, face a prison sentence of 24 years and 8 months. Nelson Tse is an alleged co-conspirator who also faces a similar list of charges and up to an eight year sentence in state prison. Also arrested in the scheme, charges against the fourth defendant, Cam Zenh Mong, remain forthcoming. As the Distract Attorney George Gascon states: “These conspirators are accused of defrauding a system designed to help the most vulnerable among us….Ripping off a government assistance program that helps those who can’t afford to put food on the table is pretty low.”

Why We Need Whistleblowers
We agree and are in favor collaborative efforts among law enforcement groups. Together, they have more information and resources that must be shared to succeed. Also vital to success are people willing to step forward and say, “I saw it.” In benefits cases, program beneficiaries (ex. people approached about trading in their benefits card) are often marginalized groups and may fear not being believed or having their benefits cut if they came forward. Our Oakland benefits fraud lawyer will speak to you with an open mind and protect you from unfair retribution. We also work with insiders who encounter benefits fraud in their professional capacity.

Why blow that whistle? First, because you know it is the right response. Second, because it feels wonderful to truly help. Third, so-called qui tam plaintiffs are often eligible for a financial reward. You don’t have to go it alone. Our California law office can help.

See Related Blog Posts:
Putting Money Over Medicine: Health Care Fraud, Kickbacks and Patient Recruiters

Fighting Fraud: Government Contract Fraud Attorney Examines Procurement Fraud

(Image by Jessica Mullen)

Much Remains to Be Determined in Deadly Santa Clara County Trucking Accident

July 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

truck-877374-m.jpg

When a big rig collided with 10 vehicles on northbound Highway 17 near the Lexington Reservoir in Santa Clara County on Thursday the result was a horrific scene in which one person died and seven others were sent to the hospital. And San Francisco trucking accident attorney Gregory J. Brod would point out that tragedy not only left behind much death, injury and destruction, but also several questions regarding how the multi-vehicle crash could have occurred as well as the matter of liability.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, a big rig was traveling just south of Bear Creek Road when, a witness reported, traffic came almost to a standstill near the reservoir and the truck “rolled over everything in its path.” As a result, a 25-year-old San Jose State graduate from Santa Cruz who was driving one of the vehicles caught in the mash-up died after he was ejected from his car. In addition, seven other people in the remaining nine vehicles were sent to area hospitals with injuries, with one listed in critical condition and the others sustaining minor to moderate injuries. The California Highway Patrol did not arrest or cite the driver of the big rig and has determined that he was not intoxicated at the time of the crash. The CHP said that investigators do not yet know what caused the crash.

Thel National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there has been an increase in the number of traffic fatalities involving trucks in the United States, with such deaths going up by 3.7 percent from 2011 to 2012 alone. And, as the nation has grown increasingly dependant on truck traffic for shipping goods, the number of accidents overall involving trucks has steadily increased.

Whenever there is a trucking accident, the questions of what caused the collision and who is responsible often go beyond the obvious on-the-road participants – unfortunately, in Thursday’s tragedy, the number of people who were directly impacted by the crash was on the high end. Barring any fault placed upon the drivers of passenger vehicles involved in a crash with a truck, if the focus of fault hovers over the truck driver, there are other key parties who may be judged responsible for victims’ injuries aside from the truck driver, including:

  • the owner of the truck;
  • the person or company that leased the truck from the owner;
  • the manufacturer of the vehicle, tires or other truck parts that may have played a role in the cause or severity of the accident; and
  • the shipper or loader of the truck’s cargo in those cases that involve improper loading.

Continue reading "Much Remains to Be Determined in Deadly Santa Clara County Trucking Accident" »

Looking at Traumatic Brain Injuries as Jury Rules in Dodgers’ Beating Case

July 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

A verdict was handed down this week in a case that many in the Bay Area have been following for nearly three years. As our San Francisco brain injury law firm looks at the verdict, we also consider the danger of traumatic brain injury. Whether it results from an intentional beating or a negligent car crash, we are prepared to help people in Northern California who are facing these life-altering injuries.

Dodgers Held Responsible in Fan Beating
As The Oakland Tribune recounts, opening day 2011 saw a face-off between California rivals as the San Francisco Giants battled the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bryan Stow was wearing a Giants jersey when, according to his lawyers, the 45 year-old was attacked by two Dodgers fans in the parking lot of Dodgers Stadium. The altercation left Stow wheelchair-bound, facing disabling brain damage and requiring round-the-clock care.

In addition to pursing claims against men who attacked him, Stow sued the Dodgers and former owner Frank McCourt. The civil suit claimed the team failed to provide appropriate security at the game and sought compensation for Stow’s lifetime care, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. During the trial, Stow’s counsel called the stadium a mess, citing high alcohol sales and a “culture of violence.” The defense pointed the finger back at Stow, suggesting he was partially at fault because he was drunk.

On Wednesday, a jury in the negligence trial ruled against the Dodgers organization, but absolved McCourt of liability. The jury divided responsibility between the Dodgers and the two Giants fans, meaning the Dodgers will only owe a portion of the total damages Stow incurred in the beating. While the money is about half of what they requested, but the family still considers it a victory. His mother said she was glad the jury found that her son was not liable for the attack. Although noting that the money will help with Stowe’s future needs, she added that Stow’s brain injuries mean he may not be capable of understanding the verdict.

The Terrible Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injuries
brain.jpgBrain injuries are among the hardest cases we see in personal injury law. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) is an acquired injury resulting from sudden trauma. It can occur when the head forcefully hits an object (ex. hitting the ground during an assault or the road after a car accident) or when something pierces the skull and goes into the brain. A loss of consciousness can, but does not always, occur. In “mild” cases, initial symptoms can include headache, fatigue, vision problems, mood/behavioral change, and impaired memory or thought processes. More severe cases may also include vomiting, convulsions/seizures, dilated pupils, inability to awaken after sleep, speech impairment, weakness/numbness in the limbs, coordination problems, and mental confusion.

While initial brain damage is typically irreversible, medical attention can help prevent further injury. Surgery is often needed to remove or repair ruptured blood vessels. Longer-term consequences vary greatly and may include problems with cognition (i.e. thinking and reasoning), communication, and mental health. Patients with moderate to severe TBI often benefit from individualized rehabilitation and therapy plans including physical, emotional, and social support. The more severe cases of TBI can leave the patient in a vegetative state.

Brain injury is, to speak plainly, incredibly costly. Medical costs can last a lifetime and a patient may face radical changes in his/her lifestyle. An individual may go from being an active wage-earner to being unable to work and in need of continuous care. In addition to the economic costs, there is pain and mental/emotional suffering. Family members share in the loss.

Representing the Severely Injured
In cases where TBI is the result of someone else’s wrongdoing (ex. an assault) or negligence (ex. a car accident), the injured patient and/or family members may be entitled to money damages. At the Brod Firm, we understand the complexities of traumatic brain injury and can help injured people and their families. When serving as a Northern California traumatic brain injury law firm for San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and surrounding communities we promise to always offer care and compassion while working to obtain the maximum compensation possible under the law.

See Related Blog Posts:
Concussions & Youth Sports

San Francisco Attorney Comments on Damages in Brutal Fan Beating

(Image by Sue Clark)

Focus on Potential Medicare Fraud Shifts to Lab Billing

July 10, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

hospital-bc-laboratory-form-with-syringe-2-517762-m.jpg

It seems as though every time the federal government gains ground in the battle over Medicare fraud, schemers come up with new scams or variations of old ones in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the feds. So it comes as little surprise to San Francisco qui tam lawsuit attorney Gregory J. Brod that testing conducted at clinical laboratories could provide another frontier for healthcare fraud.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General released Wednesday called into question $1.7 billion in approved Medicare payments to clinical laboratories in 2010 alone. The report found that more than 1,000 labs had five or more measures of questionable billing in that year. The six measures, median levels and the questionable lines these labs crossed that have raised red flags include the following:

  • Lab average allowed amount per ordering physician: median, $61; threshold for questionable, $901
  • Lab average claims per ordering physician: median, 3; threshold for questionable, 22
  • Lab average allowed per claim: median, $19; threshold for questionable, $129
  • Claims with beneficiaries living 150 miles or more away from ordering physician: median, 1.5 percent; threshold for questionable, 12.5 percent
  • Lab average allowed amount per beneficiary: median, $47; threshold for questionable, $303
  • Lab average claims per beneficiary: median, two; threshold for questionable, nine

In addition to the red flags the 1,000 labs have raised, the very nature of the relationship between clinical laboratories and physicians in general is cause for concern, according to Medicare fraud specialists. The specialists harbor a more general suspicion of inappropriate spending at clinical laboratories, whose services include blood counts, cholesterol screenings and urinalysis, because doctors order their services from the labs rather providing them directly, and whenever a chain of healthcare providers are involved the prospect for fraud rises.

Not surprisingly, Medicare is the biggest payer of clinical laboratory services in the United States; the program paid out $8.2 billion in 2010 for lab services as part of its Part B benefit, which covers doctor visits as well as clinician services. And while enrollment in Part B has been increasing, going up by 10 percent from 2005 to 2010, the surge in spending for lab services through the program has been even more robust, going up by 29 percent during the same period.

While only 13 percent of all clinical laboratories in the nation are located in California and Florida, 43 percent of the labs that surpassed the threshold for having five or more measures of questionable billing were in either the Golden State or the Sunshine State. Indeed, Florida has been the epicenter of much of the nation’s healthcare fraud schemes.

Interestingly enough, the same day the inspector general’s report was released, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging issued another eyebrow-raising report on Medicare fraud. According to CNBC, the Senate committee found that improper Medicare payments increased from $30 billion to $36 billion between 2011 and 2012. At about the same time, government officials began using a technology screening system that is similar to the one credit card companies employ to scan charges and freeze accounts.

Continue reading "Focus on Potential Medicare Fraud Shifts to Lab Billing" »

Medicare Fraud Hits Nursing Homes and Other Senior Care Centers

July 9, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

One of the most disturbing forms of health care fraud is fraud involving nursing home residents, a group that relies on their caregivers even more than most members of the public. As a San Francisco nursing home fraud lawyer, with expertise in both Medicare fraud and nursing home abuse matters, Attorney Brod works with the brave whistleblower who come forward to report nursing home fraud. Using the qui tam provisions of fraud laws, we work as a team to stop these transgressions, help the health care programs recoup losses and bring perpetrators to justice. We also protect whistleblowers from retaliation and ensure they receive due compensation for their role in stopping the health care fraud epidemic.

Nursing Home Chain Allegedly Committed Medicare Fraud
Life Care Centers of America Inc. (“Life Care”), a nursing home care company based in Tennessee, is facing allegations it engaged in Medicare fraud, filing millions of dollars of claims for unnecessary treatments. A Wall Street Journal report from late 2012, reviewed allegations that Life Care, from high-ranking executives to low-level supervisors, pressured therapists to provide unneeded, expensive treatments and bill ever-higher amounts. According to the Complaint, Life Care billed both Medicare and Tricare, an insurance program for military personnel and their families, for unnecessary treatments in a scheme dating back to at least 2006. Life Care allegedly falsified records in order to charge the government for the most costly services possible.

Company Billed for Unneeded, Ultra-High Therapy
nursing2.jpgThe Justice Department alleges that Life Care management set aggressive billing targets for “ultra-high” therapy, forms of therapy that are billed at high rates including physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Life Care pressured therapists to hit targets and goals unrelated to patients’ actual needs. Presentations, emails, and visits from high-ranking officials were used to advance billing goals, as were action plans for so-called underperforming facilities. Nearly 68% of Life Care’s Medicare rehabilitation days were billed at the ultrahigh level, in contrast to the 35% average for all skilled nursing care centers.

The government’s Complaint lists examples of patients who allegedly didn’t need provided treatment or could even be hurt by it. One was a medically fragile 92 year-old cancer patient who, despite spitting up blood, was given physical (48min), occupational (47min), and speech (30min) therapy the day before he died and 35 minutes of physical therapy on the day of his death in 2007. Documents allegedly reference another 62 year-old patient could not walk and needed help to even move from lying down into a seated position. Life Care billed Medicare for group therapy for the 62 year-old, therapy sessions focused on standing exercises.

Whistleblower Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss
The suit against Life Care began when two former employees, a Tennessee nurse and a Florida occupational therapist, brought separate whistleblower cases against the company. In late 2012, the Justice Department joined the suits. In May 2014, per the Cleveland Banner, a judge denied Life Care’s motion to dismiss. The article notes that the original lawsuit asked for civil penalties ranging from $5,500 to $11,000.

The Fight Against Nursing Home Fraud and the Critical Role of Whistleblowers
Nursing home fraud is about more than money. It is also about the mistreatment of our seniors, people who deserve honest, individualized care. The financial aspect also poses a threat to the health and lives of older Americans by draining critical resources and also casting doubt upon the actual legitimate claims filed by honest companies. If you have witnessed Medicare or health care fraud, please come forward. As a California Medicare fraud attorney, Greg Brod can help protect your interests, get you compensation for your efforts, and work with you to end the wrongdoing. We can’t fight this fraud without the help of brave whistleblowers, help us end fraud, protect patients, and allow the government to recover lost funds.

See Related Blog Posts:
Tainted Decisions: Kickbacks Leave Providers Focused on Money, Not Patient Care
High Medicare Billings: A Sign (But Not Conclusive Proof) of Possible Fraud

(Photo by Derrick Tyson)

Back to Basics: 2012 Accident Figures and a Reminder of the Importance of Injury Counsel

July 7, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Sometimes the most basic facts hold the most power. We often talk about pretty specific issues when it comes to car accidents, but we shouldn’t forget the big picture. In this post, our Bay Area car accident lawyer and his team look at some general car accident statistics, numbers that we always remember represent real people and real lives. We also remind readers why every victim injured or killed by another driver’s negligence deserves the help of an experienced accident attorney.

Lower DUI Numbers Mark Start of Holiday Weekend for San Mateo County
Before turning to these difficult statistics, we want to highlight a local “win.” The San Jose Mercury News reported that police in San Mateo County made only eight arrests on suspicion of drunk driving this past Thursday and Friday, the opening half of a holiday weekend campaign against drunk driving. In contrast, they made 17 arrests during the same time span last year. A Daly City Police Department representative indicated no alcohol-related crashes were reported in the county during the period this year.

Big Picture Accident Statistics
This May, the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration released Quick Facts 2012, a bare-bones look at the most recent traffic accident statistics. Representing a relatively small increase from the prior year, 2012 saw 30,800 fatal crashes that claimed 33,561 lives nationwide. The year also saw approximately 2,362,000 people injured in vehicle accidents, an increase over the injury figures for 2010 and 2011(2,239,000 and 2,217,000, respectively). Notably, the data restated as “Clock Facts” can feel more powerful. 2012 saw an average of 6,454 injuries and 92 deaths per day. These numbers became painfully real when one recognizes that every “1” is a unique person with a unique story whose life was altered, from an annoying sprain to a lost limb and chronic pain, or even ended.

crashed.jpgThe report also looked at factors that can influence a crash, including alcohol and speed. For 2012, 30% of crash fatalities were connected to speeding, a minor change from 2011 and 2010’s figures (31% and 32%, respectively.) Further, 8,364 fatal crashes in 2012 were deemed alcohol-involved. In 2012, 23% of fatal passenger car crashes involved a driver who tested at or above the .08 limit. Interestingly, a higher portion of motorcycle accidents involved an operator over the alcohol limit at 27%, while light trucks sat a 22%. Alcohol-impaired accidents were less common in the large trucks arena, only 2%, perhaps due to on-the-job monitoring,

The Importance of Injury Counsel
Car accidents are, to speak simply, far too common. However, even if they seem like every-day incidents and a particular case seems straight-forward, an attorney should still be consulted when an injury or death is the result of another person’s negligent or wrongful acts. Attorney Brod knows the applicable laws/policies and can ensure all procedural requirements are met. He also has the experience to help determine a fair settlement value and, while most cases do settle, the expertise to take a case to trial if needed.

Insurance companies often try to get unrepresented injured parties to make a statement or agree to a low-ball settlement that is in the insurance company’s best interest, not the victim’s. They do this every day; just think about the accident figures above! Don’t fall into that trap. People injured in accidents that were not their fault deserve legal counsel, as do families left grieving by another driver’s actions. If you are in Northern California, call to schedule a free consultation at our injury law offices in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Jose, or Oakland. We can help.

See Related Blog Posts:
Red-Light Running: Violating a Simple Rule Causes Major Accidents
Speeding: An All-Too-Common Threat to Roadway Safety

(Photo by Kel Patolog)

Fireworks Safety on the Fourth of July

July 4, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

The Fourth of July is a day to come together to celebrate our country and our freedoms. It is a day to appreciate those who’ve secured our many rights and the brave men and women who helped found our nation. Of course, it is also a day to have fun. It is a day for picnics, parades, and pool parties. For many, the day wouldn’t be complete without fireworks. While we appreciate the gorgeous displays put on by cities and small towns alike, our San Francisco fireworks injury law firm has seen the harm that fireworks can cause. This post is dedicated to safety and not becoming a fireworks injury statistic.

Fireworks Injury Statistics
According to a National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”) Fireworks Fact Sheet, 8,700 people sought emergency room treatment nationwide in 2012 for a fireworks-related injury. As the NFPA notes, the risk of firework injuries extends beyond public and private displays to include anyplace they are made, transported, sold, or stored. While many people assume they are a safe alternative, sparklers were responsible for 16% of the firework injuries treated in emergency departments from June 22 to July 22, 2012, ranking second only to small firecrackers (18%).

fireworks1.jpgThe Fact Sheet provides focused statistics from the Independence Day period, specifically the following statistics involve the month between June 22 and July 22, 2012. Burns accounted for more than half of the firework injuries in the holiday period, with contusions and lacerations accounting for nearly one-fifth (18%) of fireworks injuries. Unsurprisingly, the largest share of injuries (41%) during the holiday month involved hands and/or fingers. Of particular concern, the next largest share of injuries (19%) involved the victim’s head, face, and/or ear. The age group most at risk of holiday fireworks injuries is between age 12 and age 24.

Fireworks & Fire Danger
A headline in the July 3, 2014 San Francisco Chronicle reads: “Homes threatened as Napa fire spreads to 4,300 acres.” As most Californians know, fires are a big concern for our region in the summer months. This makes the portion of the NFPA Fireworks Fact Sheet dealing with fires of particular importance to our area. The NFPA reports that during 2011 fireworks sparked an estimated 17,800 fires, a figure that includes 400 vehicle fires, 1,200 structural fires, and 16,300 fires burning outdoors or in other areas. These blazes caused 40 civilian injuries and cost $32 million in property damage (note: the fact sheet and another NFPA page have conflicting information on fire-related fatalities from zero to eight deaths). On a typical Independence Day, fireworks caused two out of five reported fires.

Helping the Injured and Giving Thanks
While the statistics don’t reveal the detail, sometimes it is a bystander and not the person lighting a firework that suffers an injury. If you or a loved one experiences a fireworks injury because of someone else’s carelessness, our Northern California fireworks injury law firm can help you recover money damages. We can also help if you are hurt because a legal fireworks product is defective.

We urge people to stay safe and leave the fireworks to the professionals. We hope the lights remain in the sky and not on an approaching ambulance. We also send a message of thanks to all the men and women who continue to fight to keep as safe and protect the grand experiment of democracy and freedom.

See Related Blog Posts:
When Fireworks Turn Tragic: Defective Products Law and Other Protections for Fireworks Victims
Celebrating Our Nation with a Safe and Happy Fourth of July

(Photo by Steve Arnold)