San Francisco Injury Lawyer Blog

In the future, we may be able to rely solely on renewable energy resources, but for now oil and gas are essential to the operations of our country and our state.  These fuels are highly flammable and generally quite dangerous if not handled with the utmost of care.  Although it is too early to identify a cause in Sunday’s refinery fire, many oil and gas accidents occur because an entity failed to respect these potentially hazardous substances.  When a fuel processing or distribution accident leaves injuries and/or fatalities in its wake, our Oakland refinery fire law firm helps victims uncover the cause of the tragedy and pursue money damages from those responsible.

Fire at Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo

On Sunday, as reported by The Contra Costa Times, a small fire struck the Phillips 66 refinery on the 1300 block of San Pablo Avenue in Rodeo, about 20 miles south of Oakland.  The Phillips 66 San Francisco refinery was built in 1896.  It has an 80,000 barrel daily crude feed capacity and a daily clean fuels production limit around 4.3 million gallons.

Refinery staff and local firefighters responded when flames broke out around 3 PM.  A company spokesman said no injuries were reported and an investigation is underway to determine the cause.  It is, according to the newspaper, the first major incident since an overpressured water tank caused the release of chemical fumes in June 2012.  In response to Sunday’s fire, Contra Costa County issued an alert advising people with respiratory sensitivities to stay indoors or avoid the area.  ABC News reported that the advisory was lifted after two hours.

refineryRefinery Fire Statistics

A 2002 National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”) report, “Petroleum Refineries and Natural Gas Plants” found that from 1994 through 1998 there were, on average, 228 fires at refineries and natural gas plants each year in the United States.  Although this is an older figure, some evidence suggests that refinery safety has not improved.  While observing the somber ten-year anniversary of the 2015 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured approximately 180 workers, the Houston Chronicle found nearly the same number of workers died at U.S. refineries between March 2005 and March 2015 (at least 58) as did over the previous decade (64).  A piece of data that is at once broader and a narrower than the NFPA figures comes from the Insurance Information Institute which found there were 18 major oil/gas fires and explosions in 2014 that claimed 40 lives.

British Refinery Fire “Could Have Been Easily Prevented”

Last week, Britain’s national regulator overseeing workplace health and safety (Health & Safety Executive or “HSE”) issued a press release announcing a £ 1.4 million fine issued against an energy firm in connection with a 2010 refinery fire that killed a 24 year old worker.  Investigators concluded the fire was the result of an uncontrolled release of crude oil.  After the hearing, an investigator elaborated:

“If [the company] had followed well established principles of risk assessment this major fire and the subsequent fatal injury…could have been easily prevented.  Although the accident arose from a simple task, the magnitude of the risk was great. The risk should have been identified before the task started, and action taken to either eliminate or control it. This did not happen.  [The company] as operator in control of a major accident hazard establishment fell far short of the standard required of them.  This tragic incident should serve as a reminder to all such operators that if they fail to assess the risks associated with even simple and routine maintenance tasks, the consequences can be severe, and irreparable to the people involved and their families.”

Accountability, Compensation, & Prevention

Oil and gas companies must be held to the highest of safety standards.  Uncovering the cause of a refinery fire, pipeline explosion, or other oil/gas accident is critical to preventing future tragedies.  Although both industry and government groups conduct their own investigations, civil litigation is an important tool for achieving the goal of prevention.  Of course, these lawsuits can also provide compensation to the injured and/or grieving.

If you or someone you love suffered an injury in an oil- or gas-related accident in Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, or the surrounding areas, our Northern California refinery accident lawyer can help.  We also assist clients with refinery accidents in Central California.  We can help you recover critically needed compensation and give added meaning to your loss by ensuring your tragedy is not forgotten and the lessons learned help prevent others from sharing your (or your loved one’s) fate.

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Fresno Pipeline Explosion Calls Attention to an Ever-Present Threat

One Year Later: California Oil & Gas Attorney on the Response to the 2012 Chevron Refinery Fire

(Image by Greg Goebel)

 

This week, CNN reported on rampant abuse in the federally-funded programs that help provide job opportunities for the severely disabled.  Sadly, the current investigations are just the latest chapter in a series of problems with fraud and abuse in this area.  If the allegations are true, this is yet another example of scammers taking taxpayer money and using it to line their own pockets rather than to support the noble cause for which it was marked.  Fraud in AbilityOne and other government programs is a serious issue and our government contract fraud law firm works with honest whistleblowers to root out these frauds and return funds to these important initiatives.

DoJ Joins Other Agencies Investigating Work Program for the Disabled

CNN reported last week that the Department of Justice (“DoJ”) has joined several other government offices investigating allegations of fraud involving AbilityOne, the leading federally-funded program helping the blind and severely disabled find work, and SourceAmerica, the nonprofit agency that manages the program.  AbilityOne uses contract2some $3 billion of taxpayer money annually to fund contracts nationwide.  In order to hold an AbilityOne contract, blind and/or seriously disabled individuals unable to hold another job must perform 75% or more of the company’s work.

According to CNN, up to half of the companies holding AbilityOne contracts for the severely disabled may not actually be meeting this standard.  Insiders told the media that the program failing to enforce or follow the law.  One lobbyist noted 10 large companies hold more than their share of agency contracts and suggested that conflicts of interest abound tying those approving AbilityOne contracts to these companies. CNN further notes that some companies who lost bids for AbilityOne contracts are suing and claiming the government fails to monitor compliance effectively.

A History of False Claims Act Allegations

Whether the current allegations include False Claims Act (“FCA”) charges is unclear, but there is a history of FCA claims involving AbilityOne.  In October 2012, the DoJ announced a $5 million settlement resolving FCA allegations against the National Center for Employment of the Disabled (“NCED”), a manufacturer now known as ReadyOne.  The qui tam action, initiated by a former NCED employee, alleged the company knowingly submitted false certifications stating the percentage of company work done by severely disabled individuals.  These certifications landed NCED government contracts under AbilityOne.  According to the lawsuit, NCED failed to properly account for certain work done by non-disabled employees between 2000 and 2006.  Notably, a settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing.

A similar suit was settled in July 2001.  Per a DoJ press release, PRIDE Industries and a subsidiary agreed to pay $400,000 (a relatively small figure that could add up if multiple organizations committed similar wrongs) to settle allegations it knowingly filed false statements in an effort to obtain an AbilityOne contract.  In this case, the contract involved maintenance services for the Fort Bliss Army Base.  According to the government, PRIDE did not include work performed by certain temporary, non-disabled employees when it calculated and submitted the relevant ratios.  Additionally, the suit claimed PRIDE overcharged the Army by including unallowable costs and charging more than the permissible amount for labor.

How Our Government Contracts Attorney and Private Whistleblowers Fight Fraud

In both the PRIDE and NCED/ReadyOne press releases, the DoJ emphasizes the importance of protecting the integrity of AbilityOne and declares a commitment to pursuing those who violate government contracting rules.  Given the enormous scope of government contracting, private individuals who see fraud are essential to helping stop it.  If you witness government contracting fraud such as companies using falsified information to steal from a government program and its beneficiaries, please call to learn about the role you can play in this fight.  Our False Claims Act lawyer can explain the law, the protections it provides to whistleblowers, and the possibility of a large reward if your information lead to a recovery.

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Spotlight on Government Contracts Fraud: The Threat of Government Set-Aside Fraud

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(Image by Dan Moyle)

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.

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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.

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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.)

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(Image by Sebastien Paquet)

longgavel

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

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(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