Medicaid Fraud: Health Care Fraud Targeting Another Government Program

March 30, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Sometimes it seems like the terms “health care fraud” and “Medicare fraud” are interchangeable. Medicare related fraud is a topic of great concern, but it is important to remember that Medicare is not the only government health care agency targeted by scammers. Medicaid fraud is also a growing problem and our Medicaid fraud law firm is proud to partner with whistleblowers who step forward to bring the perpetrators to justice and return funds to this important program.

Medicaid Fraud Generallycash2.jpg
The National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units (“NAMFCU”) brings together professionals from across the country to fight Medicaid provider fraud, an epidemic that costs the nation’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. As the NAMFCU’s website explains, the perpetrators of Medicaid fraud range in size from sole practitioners to large medical institutions and include all segments of the health care industry from hospitals and home health providers to pharmacies and medical equipment companies. Examples of Medicaid fraud include: Billing for services that were not rendered and/or patients not actually seen; Billing both Medicaid and a private insurer for the same treatment; Misrepresenting provider credentials; Charging for unnecessary treatment, and; Kickback schemes involving the exchange of improper payments in exchange for referrals.

An Example: Federal Authorities Investigating Scheme Involving Children’s Mental Health Services
Just this month, news outlets including Raleigh’s ABC11 reported on an egregious case of Medicaid fraud involving a high profile individual. Eric Leak played football for NC State from 1997 to 2000. In more recent years, Leak was banned from the school’s campus after allegedly giving illegal compensation to student athletes. Federal investigators now believe Leak and his wife were also involved in a complex Medicaid fraud scheme.

The Leaks own Nature’s Reflections, a company that purports to provide mental health services to children in the Medicaid system. According to government allegations, the company billed Medicaid for over $8.5 million in the past two years including numerous bills for services that were never actually provided. The details in the news report and in an affidavit filed by the government in a federal court are stunning even to our experienced health care fraud law firm. In one example contained in the affidavit, the company billed $26,000 for more than 100 visits by a patient whose family told investigators they never used the company’s services. Another case involved more than $50,000 in bills claiming over 200 visits by a Medicaid subscriber when, per the allegations, not even one visit was actually made. Highlighting the contrast between the alleged fraud and the provider’s noble-sounding mission, a former employee of Nature’s Reflections recalled Leak telling him “It doesn't matter if you actually see [patients], you're not actually helping people." A grand jury is expected to be convened soon to decide whether to proceed with formal charges against Leak and Nature’s Reflections.

Combating Medicaid Fraud, Protecting America’s Investment in Care
Medicaid exists to help the nation’s poorest individuals obtain health care. Along with the Children's Health Insurance Program, the agency helps more than 43 million children obtain the care they need and deserve. Medicaid fraud threatens this pursuit and, ultimately, steals money from every U.S. taxpayer. If you have knowledge regarding a case of Medicaid fraud, you can help fight this epidemic. Call to arrange a consultation with our Medicaid fraud attorney. We handle cases throughout the country including in Northern California and the Miami area.

See Related Blog Posts:
Health Care Fraud Recovery Numbers For 2014 and the False Dichotomy of Prevention and Prosecution
California Whistleblowers’ Law Firm Shines a Spotlight on Medi-Cal Fraud

(Image by Nic McPhee)

Holding Trucking Companies Responsible When Mechanical Issues Lead to Tragic Crashes

March 27, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Large trucks have the potential to cause terrible accidents. Whether the victim is an employee or a bystander, large truck accidents are frightening and tragic. The tragedy of a truck-related fatality is compounded when the investigation reveals that the incident could have been prevented. Maintenance failures are a major cause of preventable trucking accidents. Although we cannot turn back the clock, our Oakland truck accident law firm is committed to holding companies responsible when their actions (or inaction) leads to a preventable tragedy.

Mechanical Issues Eyed in Fatal Pittsburg Truck Crash
On Monday March 16, a big rig truck slammed into a Pittsburg restaurant killing the driver. An investigation by ABC7 News suggests maintenance issues may have led to the incident. ABC 7 learned that Roby Trucking, the company that owns the truck involved in the accident, has received numerous violation notices from the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”). The records show a long history of problems involving safety and maintenance including issues with steering, brake, and other mechanical systems. A CHP inspection last fall found the company had an unsatisfactory performance in all categories. Two examples of problems noted in CHP records include a big rig driven despite a missing lug nut and another overloaded by 16,000 pounds.

The possibility that a mechanical failure led to the Pittsburg tragedy doesn’t seem to have come as a surprise to some current and former employees of Roby Trucking. An employee who spoke anonymously told reporters that he has seen a wide range of maintenance problems on company trucks including problems with the brakes, tires, and oil lines. Another individual, a former office manager with the company, said "It was about money. It was always about money. It was never about safety. It wasn't about their drivers. It wasn't about the public."

truck2.jpgLarge Truck Crash Statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) reports that there were 333,000 large trucks (vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating in excess of 10,000 pounds) involved in crashes in the United States in 2012. These large truck accidents led to 3,921 deaths and 104,000 injuries. In California alone, 244 people died in large truck crashes during 2012. These figures represent an 18% increase in injuries and a 4% increase in fatalities over 2011.

IIHS Confirms the Danger Posed by Defective Trucking Equipment
A Q&A webpage from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”) takes a closer look at large truck accidents, noting they account for one in ten highway deaths. As the IIHS explains, a network of both federal and state authorities set standards for large truck safety. Responding “Yes” to whether defective equipment is a factor in truck crashes, the IIHS cites a Washington study that found that trucks with defective equipment were involved in twice as many crashes as trucks with no defects. That study further found that brake defects existed in 56% of tractor-trailers that were involved in collisions and steering-related defects existed in 21% of the trucks involved in studied crashes. Additionally, a study that looked at large truck crashes nationwide between 2001 and 2003 found that post-crash inspections revealed at least one mechanical violation in 55% of the trucks, including nearly 30% that had a defect serious enough to require taking the vehicle out of service immediately had it been identified.

Holding Companies Responsible for Large Truck Crashes Caused by Maintenance Issues
One of the hardest things to tell a grieving family or injured person is that the accident that caused their pain could have and should have been prevented. When maintenance problems lead to a large truck accident, the victims may have a civil personal injury or wrongful death claim against the trucking company. Our Oakland truck crash injury attorney can help hold the companies responsible for their safety failures. Call to learn more.

See Related Blog Posts:
Commercial Truck Accidents and Legal Liability: Who’s Responsible When Trucks Cause Injuries?
Hit-and-Run Crash in Fremont Between Truck and Motorcyclist Leaves Latter Dead and Unanswered Questions

(Image by Clare Bell via Flickr)

Child Care Injuries in Northern California

March 25, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

While our culture often defines success by looking at someone’s material possessions, our work reminds us every day that our own health and the well-being of our loved ones that truly matters most. From the moment your child is born, he/she matters more than any trendy smartphone or fancy car. Modern life often means entrusting children to day care providers. When this trust is violated, the child pays the price. Our Northern California child injury law firm in Sonoma, Oakland, and San Francisco works with parents and guardians to recover financial damages that can protect a child’s future after a daycare injury.

One Teen’s Impressive Courage Despite Daycare Injury
Earlier this week, The Press Democrat profiled a courageous young man from Windsor. Jack is an 18 year old high-school junior and interested in day working in the public safety arena. In addition to being an athlete, Jack is part of the Rincon Valley Fire and Windsor Police Explorer Programs. While he works diligently, he has had to accept that certain career options are not possibilities. He envisions a career with the fire department but knows he could never be the type of firefighter who rushes to the scene of a fire and carries people trapped inside to safety. Jack is mostly blind.

Jack’s blindness is the result of violence he suffered when he was only 3 ½ months old. At that tender age, he was severely shaken by a daycare worker. Initially, his mother was told he would never walk or talk. Jack has fought hard to overcome his remaining challenges and no longer thinks about the woman who changed his life in an instant.

The Mechanics of a Child’s Injury Claim
If your child is injured by a daycare worker, you may be able to file a civil claim on the child’s behalf. Typically, your attorney will file a motion for you to be appointed a guardian ad litem, meaning you stand in the child’s shoes and act in the child’s best interests. The claim belongs to the child him/herself. When a civil claim is on a child’s behalf, a judge must approve any settlement. While in some instances, an individual may be able to file an injury claim after turning 18 that relates back to an injury in childhood, we recommend talking to a child injury lawyer as soon as possible.

A civil claim is in addition to any possible criminal charges. As in other fields of injury law, the elements and standard of proof in a civil case are often different than those in a criminal prosecution. In particular, as noted in California Civil Jury Instruction (“CACI”) Number 200, the elements of a crime in a criminal case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt while in a civil case the plaintiff’s burden of proof is a less-stringent “more likely true than not true” standard.

Claims and Damages in Daycare Injury Suits
Several different claims might apply in a daycare injury case, including claims against an individual worker and/or against the childcare center. Your child may have a personal injury claim based on a negligence theory which would require showing that the defendant had a duty to care for the child, breached that duty, and that the breach led to the child’s injuries (see CACI 400). Other possible civil claims include breach of contract, negligent supervision of the child, and/or negligent supervision of an employee (i.e. a claim against a care center tied to the actions/inaction of an employee).

When an injury is long-term, relevant damages may include but are not limited to: Money for medical bills; Compensation for lost earnings capacity; Money to cover other costs tied to the injury (ex. a personal care worker now and in the future, home renovations for accessibility, etc.), and Compensation for pain and suffering. Typically, the proceeds of a child injury claim are placed in a trust until the child reaches maturity. Parents/guardians may be able to obtain money from the trust to pay the child’s injury-related expenses prior to the child turning 18.

Representing Children in Northern California
Injuries in childhood can impact an individual for a lifetime. If your child is injured by a day care worker, either intentionally or due to the worker’s negligence, the child may have a civil claim. Attorney Greg Brod has experience serving as an injury attorney for children in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Oakland, and throughout Northern California. Call to arrange a free consultation to discuss how we can help protect your child’s future.

See Related Blog Posts:
A Difficult Calculation: California Wrongful Death Lawyer on Damages Following the Death of a Child
Civil Child Sexual Abuse Cases: Accountability for those Who Turn a Blind Eye to Abuse

Oakland Apartment Fire Attorney on Civilian Deaths in Residential Fires

March 24, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Many of us have sat before a burning fire and marveled at its intricacy and beauty. While fire can be fascinating, it remains one of the most powerful and dangerous forces known to man. As described below, residential fires pose a greater threat to human lives than any other type of fires. When an apartment fire death results from a blaze caused by the negligent or wrongful acts (or failure to act) of a property owner/landlord, a wrongful death suit may be appropriate. Our Oakland apartment fire attorney works with grieving families to help them recover following these terrible tragedies.

West Oakland Fire Claims Two Lives
Early Saturday morning, a fire in a West Oakland apartment building claimed two lives. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Fire Department was called to the 600 block of 24th Street at around 3 A.M. and found smoke emanating from a two-story brick building. The property involved had been an armory before being split into two apartment buildings, one on 24th and one on 23rd. Flames spread from a unit in one building to apartments in the other.

Fire crews began fighting the blaze and called for backup assistance. During a search of the 24th Street building, firefighters found two men, Davis Letona (age 27) and local artist Moe Thomas. Both were declared dead at the scene. Approximately thirty others were displaced by the blaze. An investigation into the fire is ongoing, with officials leaning towards an “accidental” label and stating they do not believe an accelerant was used.

apartmentfire.jpgStatistics on Residential Fires and Civilian Casualties
Part of the Federal Emergency Management Association, the United States Fire Administration (“USFA”) collects data on fires from a range of sources in order to better understand the nation’s fire threats. According to 2011 data, 75.7% of all fire deaths in the United States and 79.1% of fire injuries occurred on residential property. The USFA also prepared a report titled “Civilian Fire Fatalities in Residential Buildings (2010-2012)" which attributed 82% of civilian fire fatalities during the period to residential fires. From 2010 to 2012, an estimated 2,465 civilians died in 1,700 fatal residential fires, a subset of an estimated 366,900 total fires in residential buildings.

The USFA report also looks at the cause of residential fire fatalities. In 91% of cases, the primary symptoms leading to civilian death were smoke inhalation and thermal burns. Of those cases, 46% involved both symptoms, 40% involved smoke inhalation alone, and 5% were attributable to burns alone. Additionally, cardiac arrest accounted for 3% of residential civilian fire deaths between 2010 and 2012.

Apartment Fires and Landlord Liability/Owner Liability
While the cause of the weekend’s deadly fire in West Oakland is unknown, apartment fires can sometimes be traced to either the acts or failure to act of property owners, landlords, or other management personnel. When those fires lead to a human fatality, the deceased’s immediate family members may have a wrongful death case against the party responsible and/or any relevant insurance carrier. Likewise, a civil personal injury action may be appropriate if the fire causes injuries, especially if those injuries carry long-term consequences including the deep emotional/psychological trauma caused by burn scars.

Why Hire the Experienced Brod Law Firm Team Following a Northern California Apartment Fire?
As in other civil matters, engaging an attorney to represent the victim and/or the victim’s family is critical. Victims should resist the urge to agree to a settlement offer prior to consulting legal counsel. Defense counsel and insurance companies often make a low, early offer hoping the victims will agree to it out of a desire to “be done with it” rather than consulting an attorney. The true value of the claim(s), i.e. the amount a court would be likely to award, is often much higher than this initial offer. Even if the case settles prior to trial, having an attorney on your team can mean recovering substantially more than going it alone. As an experienced negotiator and skilled litigator, Attorney Greg Brod brings value to his clients at all phases of the legal process.

Another important point – as a victim’s law firm, we do our own investigation into the facts of the case. Our law firm may uncover evidence the police miss. We may be able to prove the fire resulted from the defendant’s acts/failure to act even if the police and fire officials are unable to do so. We encourage victims to call our office as soon as possible after a fire in order to facilitate the investigation and ensure evidence and witnesses are not lost.

With experience in wrongful death, personal injury, residential fire, and landlord/tenant matters, the Brod Law Firm is well-positioned to help victims as a law firm for apartment fire injuries and a law firm for apartment fire deaths in Oakland and throughout Northern California. Call or press the “Contact Us” button to start the process.

See Related Blog Posts:
San Francisco Apartment Rental Fires & the Law (addressing renter’s rights after a fire)
Fire Injury and California Landlord/Tenant Law (addressing landlord’s fire safety obligations)

(Image by Jay Adan; Note: Image is not from West Oakland fire discussed in post)

Health Care Fraud Recovery Numbers For 2014 and the False Dichotomy of Prevention and Prosecution

March 23, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

An article released by the Wall Street Journal late last week caught the attention of health care fraud lawyer Greg Brod. As discussed below, the article reviews some promising numbers from 2014 that show the fight against health care fraud is gaining ground and, at the same time, show how far we have to go. The article also discusses what it calls a shift in focus from “chasing fraud” to preventing it. We believe this is a false dichotomy and that belief, the belief that prosecuting fraud prevents fraud, is part of what motivates our firm’s commitment to partnering with private whistleblowers to fight health care fraud.

Government Reports $3.3 Billion Recovered in 2014 from Perpetrators of Health Care Fraud
Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government recovered $3.3 billion in the course of fiscal year 2014 from the perpetrators of health care fraud schemes that targeted federal health programs. The article cites a report from the federal Health and Human Services Administration (“HHS”) that was released to the public later the same day. Over the past three years, the administration recovered $7.70 for each dollar it spent investigating fraud in the health care arena. This is the third-highest level of return on investment since the government launched the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program in 1996. Since that time, investigations have resulted in the return of over $27.8 billion to the Medicare and Medicaid systems. Nonetheless, the recoveries represent only a small fraction of the amount scammers are believed to be draining from the federal program coffers. Fraud is believed to account for a startling 10% of all Medicare spending, a figure that works out to $58 million a year.

A False Dichotomy: Fighting Future Fraud by Prosecuting Past Frauds
Clearly this is still a fight we’re learning to fight. While HHS applauded the program’s “impressive recoveries,” the WSJ suggests that it comes amid an “attempt to move away from chasing fraud to preventing it.” The article referenced a new Fraud Prevention System, a predictive analysis program that reviews claims for suspect behavior that is credited with identifying and/or preventing $211 million in improper payments in 2014. Additionally, in 2014 the federal government expanded the ability of the Medicare and Medicaid system to remove providers from the program due to a pattern of inappropriate billing statements.

We have sometimes referenced a “two-pronged strategy” on this blog in terms of health care fraud and with respect to other areas of our practice. Ultimately, however, we believe this is something of a false dichotomy. Prosecuting wrongdoers prevents wrongdoing, both by the specific target of the prosecution and by others who are deterred by the knowledge that many people are dedicated to ferreting out fraud. The whistleblowers we work with, private individuals who decide to speak up and speak out in the face of fraud, know this and it is part of what brings them to our offices. In partnership with these individuals, our Medicare fraud law firm works to recover wrongfully diverted government funds and in doing so not only chases fraud, but prevents it.

If you witnessed health care fraud or other forms of government contract fraud, call our office at (800) 427-7020 to discuss how you can join the fight.

See Related Blog Posts:
Record Recoveries in False Claims Act Suits in 2014, Whistleblowers’ Firm Looks to Continue Trend in 2015
How the Federal Government Fights Health Care Fraud

(Image by Flickr user 401(K) 2013)

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

March 20, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Hit-and-run accidents are frightening -- and frighteningly common. Hit-and-run victims are often afraid. Many of our clients tell us they worry that they will not only have to deal with their injuries, but that they will be stuck with the bill. As an Oakland hit-and-run injury lawyer, Attorney Greg Brod helps erase this fear by pursuing all avenues to ensure these victims receive the compensation they need and deserve.

Oakland Hit-and-Run Injures Five
The Oakland Tribune is continuing to follow the case of a hit-and-run accident that left five people seriously injured. On Monday, police responded to a crash at the intersection of 68th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in the Millsmont section of Oakland. Arriving on scene, emergency crews found a 1993 four-door Oldsmobile sedan that appeared to have been broadsided at high speed. Police believe that the driver of the other vehicle ditched his/her car and fled on foot, although that vehicle was gone from the scene when emergency officials arrived.

Crews had to use the Jaws of Life to remove two of the Oldsmobile’s five passengers from the sedan. Three children, an infant, an eight year-old, and a ten year-old, were transported to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. All were in stable condition as of the report. Two adults who were also in the Oldsmobile were taken to Highland Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The Basics of a Growing Problem crashed.jpg
California’s Vehicle Code Section 2001(a) provides that any driver involved in an accident that causes injury to another person must stop at the scene of the accident. Failure to do so turns any crash into a hit-and-run and puts lives at stake as time and information are lost. In late 2013, USA Today suggested hit-and-runs had reached epidemic proportions in some areas including parts of California. The article notes an upwards trend in the number of fatal hit-and-run crashes (1,274 in 2009, 1,393 in 2010, 1,449 in 2011) at the same time as the number of traffic deaths across the board fell. One in five pedestrian accidents is a hit-and-run and pedestrians account for 60% of hit-and-run deaths. None of those statistics even includes injury crashes like that in Oakland earlier this week.

Avenues for Recovery: Investigations, Injury Suits, Uninsured Motorists Claims, and an Injury Attorney’s Role in Hit-and-Run Cases
Hit-and-run victims often fear they will not be able to recover compensation to help pay for medical expenses and lost work days, let alone receive compensation for their pain and suffering. The biggest mistake these victims can and often do make is failing to call a personal injury attorney. In fact, as an Oakland hit-and-run victim’s lawyer, Attorney Brod can and does help hit-and-run victims recover monetary compensation.

One way we can help is by thoroughly investigating the accident. Police will do this too, but the police have quite a lot on their plates and can’t always give an individual accident the attention it truly deserves. It is not at all unusual for a plaintiff’s attorney to locate a hit-and-run driver where the police investigation failed to do so. If the driver is identified (through our work, police efforts, or in any other manner), we can file a civil suit against the other driver seeking money for both economic and non-economic (i.e. pain and suffering) damages. In hit-and-run cases, punitive damages may be appropriate and provide extra compensation to the victims as a way to punish the offender. We know extra money is always helpful, allowing victims to focus on healing both physically and mentally without having to worry about finances.

If the driver at fault is never identified, we can help hit-and-run victims make a claim against their own uninsured motorist’s policy. All California insurance companies must offer this form of coverage and we always encourage people to include it in their insurance coverage package. Having an attorney not only relieves you of the burden of dealing with the insurance company, it often means you recover more than you would if you were unrepresented. We can help you avoid a bad faith denial and we can ensure the settlement you receive is fair and appropriate. Uninsured motorists’ policies can pay for everything that a defendant in a civil injury case might pay for like medical expenses, lost income, funeral costs (if appropriate), and pain and suffering.

If you are involved in a hit-and-run, the first thing you should do is make sure you and any loved ones involved in the crash receive appropriate medical care. Once your health allows, you should call an experienced hit-and-run victims’ attorney like Greg Brod. Along with his team, Attorney Brod will fight to get you the money you need and deserve so you can focus on healing.

See Related Blog Posts:
Hit-and-Run in Hercules All the More Shocking Due to Film Footage
Oakland Injury Attorney Comments on Coverage for Hit-and-Run Accidents

(Image by Kel Patolog; image does not depict news story discussed in post)

San Francisco Injury Attorney Examines Legal Standards for Emergency Vehicle Crashes

March 18, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Last week, we discussed the danger of fire trucks colliding with other vehicles. This post picks up where that one left off, looking at the California law on emergency vehicle crashes. In this entry, which encompasses all emergency departments (i.e. not just fire), our Northern California emergency vehicle crash lawyer focuses on crashes where an emergency official driving a department vehicle is at fault and a civilian is injured or killed.

A General Rule of Liability policelights.jpg
Several provisions in California’s statutory law address emergency vehicle crashes. The most general provision, Vehicle Code Sec 17001, provides that a public agency is liable for death, injury, or property damage caused by the negligence or wrongful act/omission of an agency employee who is operating a motor vehicle in his/her official capacity. While this general rule makes agencies liable for accidents caused by an employee’s negligent or wrongful driving, the provisions that follow chip away at this liability.

“Chipping Away” at the General Rule: Limitations on Liability in Emergencies
Two such “chips” involve Sections 17004 and 17004.7. Under Section 17004, a public employee is not liable for an accident caused when responding to an emergency call and pursuing a suspect, even if the officer is negligent. Immunity does not apply and liability “returns” on the “return trip” such as the ride back to the fire department after a call. Section 17004.7 extends immunity in these emergency call accidents to the agency itself so long as the agency has a written policy on vehicle pursuits that meets certain listed qualifications and provides regular training on that policy. The section explicitly focuses on accidents caused by a suspect’s vehicle but sources consulted in preparing this piece suggest it also applies to a crash caused directly by the official vehicle. Notably, the standard is based on the existence of the policy and the policy’s contents, not whether it was followed.

Note that there is a mismatch between the two code sections, 17004 does not extend to the agency so the agency is potentially liable where the employee is negligent, presuming of course it isn’t “saved” by Section 17004.7. Further, 17004.7 applies only to the agency, not the individual, so an officer is not “saved” by the mere existence of a pursuit policy.

Synthesis: The Standard of Care for Emergency Vehiclesfiretruck.png
Taking into account the foregoing, what is the standard of care California law demands from emergency vehicle drivers? The answer starts with Vehicle Code Section 21055. This code section provides that emergency officers do not have to comply with a number of traffic laws when responding to an emergency call/fire alarm, engaging in a rescue, or pursuing a suspect. As elsewhere, the “pass” applies on the way to an emergency, not on the way back to the station after a fire call or during similar non-emergent situations. For the exemption to apply, the officer must have sounded a siren or lit an appropriate red warning lamp (note: the siren/light is an added requirement and is not sufficient on its own to make the exemptions apply).

Ultimately, there is always some standard of care. If the officer does not engage the sirens and/or lights, conduct is ultimately judged by the same traditional negligence standard that applies to all drivers (and the emergency is NOT part of the calculation). Even during an emergency, where sirens/lights are activated and all other standards are met, an officer must act as a reasonably prudent emergency responder would behave in that specific situation (including the emergency). This is a fairly lenient standard but still prohibits the officer from creating an unreasonable danger. The rule is captured in California Civil Jury Instruction 730 which discusses Section 20155:

“If you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, then you cannot find it negligent for a violation of section [insert section number]. However, even if you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, you may find it negligent if [name of public employee] failed to operate [his/her] vehicle with reasonable care, taking into account the emergency situation”
(brackets in original)

The Brod Law Firm: Representing Victims of Emergency-Vehicle Accidents in Northern California
If it seems complicated, that’s because it is. We believe it is important for anyone injured in a car accident to engage legal counsel. We believe this is even more pressing when the accident involves an emergency responder (including accidents caused by vehicles fleeing from officials). The law in these cases is complex and the power imbalance created when officials are involved can only be equalized when the plaintiff has a qualified, experienced attorney on his/her side. Serving all of Northern California, Greg Brod can help victims in these cases understand their legal rights and recover the full amount allowed by law. Call our emergency vehicle accident attorney in San Francisco, Oakland, or Santa Rosa to arrange your free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
The Danger of Fire Truck Crashes and Other Emergency Vehicle Accidents
San Francisco Injury Lawyer on Accidents Caused by Emergency Vehicles
Complex Cases in San Francisco Injury Law: Officer-Involved Car Accidents

(Police image by Scott Davidson; Firetruck image by Robert Linder)

One City’s ‘Get Tough’ Approach towards Landlords Who Ignore Bed Bugs in Northern California

March 17, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Just reading about bed bugs is enough to make most of us start to feel a bit itchy. Imagine then how hard it is to live with the blood-sucking pests and to have your landlord, someone who is supposed to ensure your rental is in habitable condition, ignore your pleas for help. Conditions like these led one California city to take the unusual step of instituting a pilot criminal program addressing bed bug matters, specifically focusing on instances in which an owner or landlord ignores bed bug infestations. These problems are also the reason Attorney Greg Brod has dedicated part of his practice to serving as a Northern California bed bug lawyer, representing tenants in disputes with disreputable landlords who operate unsafe and unsanitary rental properties in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and surrounding communities.

Concord’s Program Creates Penalties for Landlords When Bed Bug Complaints Are Ignored
bedbugs.jpgLast Spring, the city of Concord decided to get tough on bed bugs. As reported in a May 2014 Contra Costa Times article, the city created a pilot program aimed at controlling the bed bug problem in rental housing. Under the program, bed bugs are considered a public nuisance and a police unit is granted authority to address tenant’s bed bug complaints, matters previously overseen by the Public Health Department. Pursuant to the new program, after a resident files a bed bug complaint the Police Department’s Code Enforcement Unit sends a notice to the property owners and they have 30 days to hire professionals to inspect and exterminate the unit. If there is no response within 10 days, an Environmental Health Division employee visits the unit. Fines for non-compliance begin a $100 and rise to $500 per citation plus a re-inspection fee.

Any doubts about Concord’s commitment to the bed bug eradication program can be answered by another Contra Costa Times article, this one from December 2014, detailing the surrender of a landlord who turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest on bed bug related charges. According to the city, Athan Magganas failed to maintain a vermin-free environment in a property located at 2175 California Street, causing the 20-unit rental property to become unsafe or unsanitary. Officials say Magganas ignored multiple violation notices and amassed a total of $800 in fines for failure to exterminate bed bugs that reportedly infested two units in the building. The city turned to the courts and eventually a warrant was issued citing a misdemeanor violation of the Concord municipal code and setting bail at $10,000. The article reports that the Magganas case was one of 16 that had been reported under the ordinance as of its publication.

Tenant’s Rights When Landlords Allow Bed Bugs to Prosper
We applaud Concord’s decision to crack down on landlords who ignore bed bug infestations. Tenants should be aware that, in addition to action by government officials, they may have a civil case if their landlord has failed to address a bed bug problem. We serve as a law firm for tenants throughout Northern California and we have specific expertise in bed bug matters. We represent individual tenants as well as tenant groups, acting as a bed bug law firm in Concord, Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, and throughout the region. In this role, we can help renters recover money damages for the physical and mental impact of an ignored infestation. Call to schedule a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Repeat Bed Bug Infestations Raise Issues of Landlord Liability

A Bedbug Primer for California Renters

(Image by Michael Wunderli)

A Question of Trust – Excluding the Perpetrators of Fraud from Future Government Contracting Opportunities

March 16, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Government contracting fraud is a crime of opportunity. It involves wrongs perpetrated by people who are in a position of trust. It is a crime that amounts to stealing from the government at best; at worst, it can put our military at risk or pose a threat to public health/welfare. Once an individual has been convicted of government contracting fraud, should they be afforded the opportunity to hold a leadership role in a company that contracts with the government again? Can we trust them? In this post our government contract fraud attorney looks at one state’s proposal that addresses that very issue and also at how government contract exclusions operate in the health care arena.

New Jersey Proposes Permanent Ban for Key Employees Convicted of Government Contract Fraud
contract3.jpgLast month, news site reported on a bill moving through the New Jersey legislature that would create a one-strike rule for government contractors. If passed, the bill would create a permanent bar preventing a person convicted of second-degree government fraud from ever again serving as a “key employee” in a company that holds government contracts. The bill would only apply to higher-level employees, a group that ranges from C-level executives, presidents, and vice-presidents to directors and supervisory managers. The focus is on decision-makers and it does not impact the day-to-day employees who may be “caught up” in a fraudulent contracting scheme. Under the proposed legislation, New Jersey’s state treasurer would be tasked with maintaining an online list of those individuals who are subject to the permanent ban. Companies in the state would have to provide a written certification stating they do not employ any of the named individuals before being allowed to receive a government contract.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyperson Daniel Benson points out that lawyers and doctors can lose their professional licenses if they commit certain wrongs. He states, “This is a situation where somebody defrauded the government of taxpayer dollars. They shouldn't be allowed to have another chance." Co-sponsor Assemblyperson Reed Gusciora suggests the bill sends a clear message that those who work for the government and serve the taxpayers must carry out their jobs in a fair and honest manner.

Exclusion in the Medicare Context
An exclusions process like that proposed in New Jersey is already used in the Medicare arena, although health care exclusions are typically temporary. The federal Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) has the authority to bar both individuals and entities from participating in federally funded health care programs. Exclusions can be the result of a range of wrongs and there are both mandatory and discretionary exclusions. The list of mandatory exclusions, situations in which the OIG must exclude a party from participating in Medicare or other government health care programs, includes individuals who have been convicted of Medicare fraud. Exclusion is permitted but not mandated in the case of a fraud conviction involving a health care program that is not government run. The main effect of exclusion is that the individual/entity and any company that employs such an individual as a key employee cannot receive payments from Medicare or other government health care program for services or goods (ex. Medicare will not pay a hospital employing an excluded individual as a key employee for services provided to a program beneficiary). Exclusion focuses on contracting and claims for payment; it does not impact an individual’s rights as a Medicare or other program beneficiary.

The OIG maintains a List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (LEIE). Employing an excluded individual is considered a form of fraud. In fact, per a review of an OIG list of cases in which companies paid money pursuant to a settlement or judgment in a health care fraud matter, employing an excluded provider or other individual is one of the most common forms of health care fraud (list is regularly updated, frequency of excluded individual cases noted as of March 2015). The summary of a case involving an Arizona group home explains: “Under federal law, a provider who has been excluded from federal health care programs can neither provide services to Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries nor have those services paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.” In that case, the company paid nearly $42,000 to settle certain excluded individual claims. Other excluded individual settlements include an $111,969.11 payment by an Alabama hospital (summary dated 1/30/15), a $96,259.57 payment from a Minnesota pharmacy (summary dated 1/23/15), and a California lab that paid over $1.9 million to settle allegations involving four excluded individuals (summary dated 8/5/14).

Protecting the Public Trust – A Partner, a Guide, and an Advocate for Whistleblowers
Government contract fraud is a financial crime that can have wide-ranging repercussions. It can impact public health, endanger the safety of our armed forces, and have drastic effects on the well-being of our nation and our citizens. Individuals and entities that commit government contract fraud abuse the trust of the American government and the American people.

If you have witnessed government contract fraud, it is your duty to report it. Our government contract fraud lawyers understand that this is easier said than done. We are committed to using our knowledge and experience to protect whistleblowers and, where their involvement leads to a recovery, ensure they are compensated appropriately. We act as a partner and a guide, working with these brave and honest individuals to fight fraud, recover wrongfully diverted government funds, and protect our country and our fellow Americans.

See Related Blog Posts:
Decision Expands Reach of the False Claims Act and Helps Fight Government Fraud
The False Claims Act: From Shoddy Civil War Uniforms to Costly Defense Contracts in 2014

(Image by Anthony Tong Lee)

Crosswalks & Pedestrian Safety

March 13, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

At the Brod Law Firm, we are more than a personal injury law office, we are a personal safety law office. We work to get compensation for those who are paying the price for someone else’s negligence, including families of those who paid the very highest price. We are also advocates for safety, encouraging people to take steps to prevent accidents. We believe in preventing people from causing accidents and also helping people avoid becoming victims. Safety tips are rarely perfect, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be followed, a truth that came to mind as our Santa Rosa pedestrian injury lawyer learned about a recent accident and explored the evidence regarding crosswalk injuries.

Crosswalk Crash Leaves Girl in Critical Condition
Last Sunday night, a Santa Rosa family was walking to their car after visiting with relatives when their world was suddenly shattered by a terrible accident. The Press Democrat reports that the father and son had already crossed Petaluma Hill Road in the vicinity of Breeze Way and the mother and 6 year-old daughter were walking hand-in-hand through the crosswalk when tragedy struck. Police say the pedestrian warning lights were activated when a northbound car approached the crosswalk. Reportedly the driver saw the mother and daughter at the last moment and applied his brakes but he still hit the little girl, despite the duo’s attempt to jump out of the way. The child was thrown approximately 25 feet up the road. She was initially taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and then flown to Children’s Hospital in Oakland. As of Tuesday, she remained hospitalized with critical, life-threatening injuries. An investigation into the crash is underway and the driver is cooperating with police.

crosswalk2.jpgThe NHTSA on Crosswalk Safety
Despite Sunday’s accident, we strongly recommend pedestrians use (and localities install/maintain) crosswalks. In June 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a National Pedestrian Crash Report aimed at analyzing trends in pedestrian accidents between 1997 and 2006. The research found that only 9% of pedestrian fatalities occurred in crosswalks compared to 80% occurring in roadways. The report concludes: “This indicates that using a crosswalk is the safest way to cross a street.” Many other research pieces and safety guides from the NHTSA echo this sentiment, such as a 2012 Consumer Advisory that urges pedestrians to “walk with care” and use crosswalks whenever possible.

Crosswalk Controversy
Perhaps surprisingly, crosswalks are not without controversy. There are groups that suggest crosswalks can be dangerous, pointing primarily to over-confidence on the part of pedestrians. These groups say that pedestrians are too quick to presume a crosswalk will be safe and do not take other appropriate safety precautions (ex. looking for approaching vehicles). We don’t disagree that it is important for pedestrians to watch for traffic whenever crossing a road, but we ultimately agree with the NHTSA that crosswalks, when used appropriately, are a net positive. This does not mean accidents cannot occur, as Sunday’s events show all too well, but we still encourage pedestrians to use crosswalks.

Additionally, some groups use research that points to a higher number of injuries on roads with crosswalks. We would respond by pointing out that crosswalks tend to be placed on busier roads and are unlikely to be found on smaller roads that have less traffic and thus fewer accidents.

Focusing on Safety and Compensation
Crosswalks only work when pedestrians use them and drivers respect them. It is too soon and we have too little information to pass judgment on Sunday’s crash. However, the fact that the victim was utilizing a crosswalk can be a key piece of evidence supporting the plaintiff’s case in a personal injury or wrongful death case. If you or a loved one was injured in a crosswalk accident in Northern California, please call our office. Our pedestrian injury law office in Santa Rosa, along with our other locations in San Francisco and Oakland, is here to help you recover compensation from those at fault.

See Related Blog Posts:
Caught on Tape – Using Video Evidence in Support of a California Personal Injury Claim

With Numbers in, 2013 Goes Down as Deadly Year for Pedestrians in San Francisco

(Image by Robert Vega)

Northern California Child Injury Attorney Examines Rising Number of Bounce House Injuries

March 11, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

bounce.jpgFrom birthday parties to town fairs, bounce houses are a surefire way to make a child’s eyes light up. Somehow the same equipment that leaves many an adult with an upset stomach and a dizzy head makes children laugh and scream with glee. There are few joys as sweet as listening to kids have that much fun and it’s especially refreshing when modern day kids are enjoying something physical instead of staying “plugged in” and glued to a digital screen. Unfortunately while bounce houses are great fun, bounce house injuries are a very real danger and a concern to our San Francisco child injury attorney.

CPSC Reports on Increasing Number of Inflatable Amusement Injuries
Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) released a study looking at injuries associated with inflatable amusements. The study focuses on the ten-year period from 2003 through 2013 and looks at injuries tied to air-filled structures that use one or more blowers to provide a continuous air flow. Bounce houses, also called moon bounces or space walks are the most common type of inflatable amusements with slides, obstacle courses, and other games also falling into the category. Importantly, although they are quite similar, the report does not cover smaller structures that are only inflated once per use. Researchers used injury data from emergency room codes provided by a sample group and then extrapolated to create nationwide estimates.

From 2003 through 2013, there were an estimated 113,272 injuries associated with inflatable amusements treated in emergency rooms nationwide. A whopping 93% of these were tied to moon bounce style equipment. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 accounted for 61% of the injuries and 88% involved youths under age 15. The CPSC reports 12 deaths associated with inflatable amusements, 5 involving inflatable slides and 4 involving bounce houses. Many of the deaths involved head and/or neck injuries

The CPSC reports a statistically significant increase in inflatable amusement injuries in recent years. Seventy-three percent of the total injuries occurred in the second half of the decade-long study period. On average, there were 15,815 injuries annually from 2011 through 2013. This is compared to only 5,311 estimated injuries in 2003 and 6,101 in 2004. The report notes that it is unclear whether the increase is due to an increased injury rate or an increase in exposure (i.e. more people using the amusements).

Safety Tips for Parents
Last week, USA Today reviewed the CPSC study and provided some safety tips for parents and other adults to help prevent inflatable amusement injuries. The recommendations include: 1) Always follow the instructions for setting up and using the equipment; 2) Use stakes and other anchors as indicated; 3) Stay alert for changing weather, particularly high winds; 4) Keep younger children away from power equipment, particularly when there is also water nearby; 5) Do not allow younger children to use bounce houses while older (often more physical) children are playing; 6) When the amusement is at a public event, be sure the event operators are licensed and experienced; 7) Have adults supervise children and also have the company supplying the equipment provides appropriate personnel to oversee set-up and use.

Legal Help When Injuries Occur
If your child (or you) is injured while using an inflatable amusement, our Northern California bounce house injury attorney can help. There are a number of legal principles that may apply and you and/or your child may have a legal claim based on a manufacturing defect, a failure to provide adequate warnings, too few or poorly trained personnel, inadequate security, or other factors that led to the injury. Call to discuss your unique situation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Northern California Injury Looks At the Danger of Trampoline Injuries
Safety and Legal Concerns in Northern California Amusement Parks

(Image by Daniel Orth)

The Danger of Fire Truck Crashes and Other Emergency Vehicle Accidents

March 10, 2015 by Gregory J. Brod

Serving as legal counsel in personal injury cases means our team knows that first responders save lives. We are incredibly grateful for the commitment emergency personnel make to San Francisco and its people. We are humbled by their bravery. Emergency personnel are indeed superheroes, but they are also human. Fire truck accidents and other accidents involving, and sometimes caused by, emergency vehicles are a reality. Both during emergencies and in non-emergency situations, drivers of police cruisers, fire trucks, and other emergency vehicles must never forget they are still drivers and that driving carries responsibilities whether you are a superhero or a civilian. People injured by these vehicles deserve the protections afforded to all accident victims. Our San Francisco emergency vehicle crash lawyer knows these are complex cases that are far too common and we help victims recover due compensation.

San Francisco Fire Truck Collides With Bicycle Rider
Sadly, the notion of emergency vehicle accidents became a terrifying reality for one bicyclist over the weekend. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, a fire truck was returning to the station and headed southbound on Mason Street in the Tenderloin at approximately 2:15 Saturday morning. The fire truck collided with an unnamed bicycle rider at the signaled intersection with Turk Street, mere yards away from Market Street. The truck did not have either its emergency lights or its flashers activated.

The accident left the rider, a man in his 30s, with serious head injuries. He remained hospitalized as of the Sunday afternoon report. No fire personnel were injured in the collision. The fire truck operator tested negative for drugs and alcohol. Officials do not yet know who was a fault, but a police investigation is ongoing. Police are expected to examine security footage from area businesses, most of which were closed at the time of the crash.

firetruck3.jpg30,000 Crashes Per Year Involving Fire Trucks in the United States
Fire truck accidents are, sadly, not uncommon. In 2012, the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine published a study focused on injuries incurred by firefighters in fire truck crashes placing the rate at approximately 30,000 crashes per year. That figure, based on research from the ten year span from 2000 through 2009, shows a notable increase over earlier research. A Participant Guide for a workshop run by the International Association of Fire Fighters cites a 1998 study that, based on three years of data, found an average of 2,472 fire apparatus collisions in the U.S. each year.

California Fire Engine Crash Attorney on Responsibility & Representation
In at least some fire truck accidents, as with other emergency vehicle crashes, fault lies with emergency personnel. In January, the Los Angeles Times reported on an investigation into a crash last spring that involved two fire vehicles colliding and sent one crashing into a restaurant. The investigation concluded that unsafe driving by one of the firefighters caused the incident that injured nine civilians and six firefighters. While the party at fault there was a driver, fault could also lie with a mechanic, a policymaker, or someone else involved in overseeing and utilizing emergency vehicles.

A forthcoming post will examine the legal standards that apply to collisions caused by emergency vehicles. For now, we want to reiterate that we are incredibly grateful to the first responders who risk their own lives for others. We also represent those injured in emergency vehicle accidents in San Francisco and throughout Northern Californian. We do not believe this poses a conflict. Our ultimate commitment is to the safety and well-being of residents of and visitors to the Bay Area region.

Emergency vehicle drivers must not forget that they are just that, drivers. Superheroes, like civilians, must drive responsibly. If you’ve been hurt in a crash caused by a police or fire vehicle in Northern Californian, you have rights. Please call to arrange a free consultation with our fire and police car accident attorney in San Francisco or at one of our other convenient offices in Santa Rosa or Oakland.

See Related Blog Posts:
San Francisco Injury Lawyer on Accidents Caused by Emergency Vehicles

Complex Cases in San Francisco Injury Law: Officer-Involved Car Accidents

(Image by Flickr user torbakhopper)