Lightning Strikes and California Injury Law

August 1, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Whether you find it beautiful, terrifying, or both, lightning is a “striking” example of nature’s power. Lightning can cause enormous property damages and it can also cause serious injury or even death. While you can’t sue Mother Nature for lightning injuries, there are sometimes individuals or entities that contributed to the danger. Our San Francisco lightning injury law firm can help victims pursue money damages and hold such entities responsible for their role in lightning tragedies.

Venice Beach Lightning Strike Injures 13, Kills 1
lightning.jpgAs CNN reported, people enjoying Southern California’s Venice Beach last Sunday saw their day quickly shift from relaxing and fun to frightening and deadly. A round of thunderstorms had been forecast and a lightning strike hit the water and beach at 2:51 PM. The bolt left 13 people injured; all had been in or near the water and 8 required hospital treatment. One additional person, a 20 year old man, was killed, although officials were not initially certain whether he died because of the lightning itself, drowned, or was trampled.

Lightning, Negligence, & Legal Liability
At first it might seem that a lightning strike victim would be without a legal recourse. Sometimes that holds true, but sometime there are potential avenues for civil liability. For example, a person or group may have failed to fulfill a legal duty to protect the injured person. In other cases, the potential defendant may have contributed to the possibility of a lightning injury. Examples of lightning strike cases that gave rise to civil claims include:


  • In July 2011, one Boy Scout was injured and another killed when they were struck by lightning in Utah. The Deseret News reported that their families filed suit asserting that Scout leaders failed to properly evaluate safety risks and had not received adequate training on recognizing and responding to weather emergencies. In addition to claiming the campsite was in an unduly dangerous location, the families blamed troop leaders for exposing the boys to danger by sheltering on a ridge rather than in a mess hall that was a mere 100 feet away.

  • In September 2011, a day after his 21st birthday, a lifeguard was struck by lightning and killed. The Tampa Tribune explained that he was hit while standing in shallow water and evacuating water park guests. His family filed suit, saying the park was negligent in failing to follow appropriate procedures and in delaying evacuations despite receiving warnings from lightning detection equipment. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the park for safety violations and failing to follow procedures, thus exposing workers to lightning dangers.

  • NBC news reported that a Texas man died when lightning sparked an explosion at his friend’s home in August 2012. His family sued, noting the fire marshal concluded the bolt burnt holes in piping that supplied gas to the home’s appliances. The suit was one of several, with outcomes on both sides, that claimed the manufacturer knew the product was unsafe.

  • Lightning struck an 11 year old boy during football practice at school in Fort Meyers, Florida during October 2012. He died a few days later. The Southern Baptist Press reported, that his parents sued the school and church sponsor for negligence. The claim settled with a portion of the funds going towards preventing future lightning tragedies using early detection equipment.

We did not find news reports on the resolution of several of the above claims, perhaps because they ended in settlement including confidentiality clauses. Still, they are just a few examples of lightning-related injury and wrongful death litigation and the fact that they made it beyond initial pleadings shows there is legal merit in the concept.

As the CNN report on the Venice Beach tragedy notes, lightning fatalities are relatively rare in California (note: Florida sees the highest number of lightning deaths, consistent with two of the four examples above coming from Florida). Still, lightning injuries and lightning deaths remain a danger everywhere. If lightning or another weather-related tragedy injured you or a loved one and you believe a negligent individual or group contributed to the event, you may have a civil claim. Call to arrange a consultation with our Northern California civil negligence attorney in Santa Rosa, San Jose, Oakland, or San Francisco.


See Related Blog Posts:
Wildfires and Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy
Scrap Metal Fire Extinguished, But Noxious Effects May Linger

San Francisco Skateboarding Accident Attorney Protecting Skateboarders Injured by Negligent Drivers

July 30, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

At The Brod Firm, we’ve found that people often make quick judgments based on a person’s choice of hobby or choice of travelling vehicle. Motorcycle riders are a prime example, with many assuming they are rough-hewn, “scary” individuals. Another example: Skateboarders. While some do take unnecessary risks, others enjoy the hobby and make every effort to skate smart. Too frequently, these individuals are put at risk by negligent drivers. When a skateboard accident stems from a driver’s negligent or dangerous decisions, our Northern California skateboard accident lawyer is here to help.

15 Year Old Skateboarder Seriously Injured in Fremont Collision
This week, CBS’s San Francisco Bay affiliate reported on a skateboard-vs-car collision that left a teenage boy seriously injured. The 15 year old was riding near Lake Elizabeth in Fremont on Monday afternoon. At approximately 4:50 PM, he attempted to cross Paseo Padre Parkway at Baylis Street when he was hit by a Toyota sedan. The teen, who was taken to an area trauma center, suffered major injuries that thankfully were not deemed life threatening. The Toyota’s driver remained at the scene and cooperated with authorities. Pasedo Padre Parkway remained closed until around 9:30 P.M. Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the collision.

Skateboarding Fatality Statistics
Skaters for Public Skateparks, a non-profit group that advocates for safe and accessible skateparks, publishes an annual list of individuals who lost their lives while skateboarding in the United States. Published in February 2014, the 2013 Skateboard Fatalities page notes 21 deaths, 19 of which occurred on public streets (the other two occurred on a golf course and a private parking lot). Two were listed as hit-and-run victims and the eldest victim (age 50) was hit by a police cruiser while riding for transportation.

skateboard.jpgNotably, the 2013 fatality figures marked a significant decline from the 2012 report which memorialized 30 skateboarding fatalities (including 2 deaths from accidents that had occurred the prior year), all of which occurred on a roadway and 24 of which were described as being struck by a vehicle. The 2012 figures also marked a decline from the prior year which saw 42 deaths. Discussing the list of losses, the group notes that the leading cause of death for riders is “bodily blunt force trauma” due to a collision with a vehicle, in one case a vehicle as small as a motorcycle. Fourteen of the deaths occurred in California. The deceased in 2012 included victims ranging from an 8 year old who rolled out of his driveway and onto the street to a 42 year old man described as a veteran skateboarder and skateboarding advocate who was hit by a vehicle while riding his skateboard to his parked car.

The Law, Liability, and Representation
California law typically requires skateboarders to ride on sidewalks and follow the rules applicable to pedestrians (see CHP’s Safe Skateboarding fact sheet). That said, simply being on the street does not make a skateboarder liable for any accident that may occur. If a car hits a skateboarder because the driver was not paying attention, the driver will generally be liable for the resulting injuries or death. Do not be intimidated by a defense attorney or insurance company. If a negligent or reckless driver caused a skateboarding crash that left you injured or claimed a loved one’s life, call our Northern California skateboard injury lawyer in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, or San Jose. A consultation is always free and most injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis so you only pay us if you get money.

See Related Blog Posts:
Motorcycle Accidents: Statistics & A Reminder of the Real-World Rule of Comparative Negligence

San Francisco/San Jose Motorcycle Lawyer on Overcoming Bias

Golf Cart Accident Spurs Family to File Product Liability Suit on Behalf of Victim

(Image by Naoki Tomeno)

Whistleblowers’ Attorney Discusses Guilty Plea in Case Involving Contractor Providing Substandard Parts to Department of Defense

July 28, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

Most cases of fraud involve a party attempting to gain money or some form of financial advantage by depriving another of the same. This holds true in the case of military and defense contract fraud, which frequently involves a company or individual providing a product or service below the value of that promised. While similar financially to other frauds, defense contract fraud puts the lives of our nation’s bravest at risk. This is part of the reason our San Francisco defense contract fraud law firm partners with whistleblowers to fight military contract fraud.

Guilty Plea in Case Alleging Military Contracting Fraud Involving Knockoff Parts
Last week, Law360 reported on guilty pleas by Harry Ray Bettencourt Jr., owner of defense contracting firm Kustom Parts Inc. (“KPI”), and his sons to allegations pending in an Oregon federal court. According to the allegations, KPI contracted to provide equipment and services to the Department of Defense (“DoD”) between 2006 and 2010. In some instances, KPI committed fraud when it underbid its rivals by using cheaper knockoff parts obtained from unapproved vendors. The contractor skimped on contracts including for so-called critical application items, products essential to protecting the lives of military personnel or necessary for weapons systems. In total, KPI fraudulently secure 750 DoD contracts that added up to over $10 million.

One example of KPI’s fraud involved a DoD contract from 2008. KPI agreed to provide aviation locknuts to be used in Kiowa helicopters. Instead of using one of the two approved manufacturers, Bettencourt arranged for another company to make thousands of nonconforming locknuts. The Justice Department said the manufacturer was not aware that the locknuts were intended for critical military applications. Bettencourt continued to lie even after the defective locknuts were detected. When asked to replace the items, KPI used the same nonconforming locknut manufacturer and tried once again to pass off defective items.

Discussing the case, an investigator explained “This is an unfortunate example of a dishonest contractor who disregarded safety and profited through risking the lives of our troops by knowingly placing faulty and unsafe parts and equipment, including flight critical components, into the military supply chain.” Likewise, an agent quoted in an FBI press release on the same case noted that the financial cost of the KPI fraud had been significant, over $10 million, but that the human cost could have been turned out to be much higher. As he explained, the counterfeit pieces could have caused a catastrophic failure of land and air vehicles used by the military.

The False Claims Act and Defense Contract Fraud
The Justice Department’s paper “False Claims Act: A Primer” explains that a company or individual violates the Act when they knowingly submit a false claim, cause another to do so, or make a false statement/record in order to get the government to pay a false claim. In this context, a claim is essentially a request for payment made to the government or that otherwise would end up being paid from government coffers. The Act contains specific qui tam provisions which allow a private individual, called a “realtor,” to file allegations of an violation on behalf of the government. After an initial qui tam complaint, the government can choose to intervene in the claim, basically taking it over, or can allow the realtor to act as the plaintiff. If a qui tam claim results in money paid to the government including pursuant to a settlement agreement or verdict, the realtor is entitled to a reward for their role. The realtor’s award is a percentage of the payments, from 15%-30%, to be paid to the realtor based on the role the realtor played in pursuing the allegations.

The False Claims Act recognizes the importance of private whistleblowers in identifying and pursuing cases of fraud on the government. Violations of the Act are often about much more than money (although money is certainly important given tight budgets in health care, defense spending, and other arenas!). In the case of military contracting fraud, violating the Act can endanger our armed forces and thus endanger our nation as a whole. We are committed to playing an active role in fighting government fraud, including military contracting fraud. If you know of a company or individual engaging in this dangerous crime, please call our Northern California defense contract fraud law firm and arrange a consultation with our qui tam attorney in San Francisco, Oakland, or one of our other convenient law offices. Join the fight.

See Related Blog Posts:
High-Technology Firm’s Defense Contract Makes News for Alleged Fraud

Fighting Fraud: Government Contract Fraud Attorney Examines Procurement Fraud


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

July 24, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image by Mark Harkin)

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

July 23, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 21, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Danger of Downed Power Lines

July 18, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wet Weather and Driving Safety

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

July 16, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Fraud Lawyer on Alleged Food Stamp Fraud

July 14, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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Putting Money Over Medicine: Health Care Fraud, Kickbacks and Patient Recruiters

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

July 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Image by Sue Clark)

Focus on Potential Medicare Fraud Shifts to Lab Billing

July 10, 2014 by Gregory J. Brod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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