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11 posts from September 2008

September 24, 2008

California Law Outlaws Text Messaging While Driving: Schwarzenegger

Get_the_message_no_texting Hallelujah!  Today Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law making it illegal to text while driving!  I continue to rant and rave about this subject because, to me, it's as plain as the nose on your face that texting while driving is deadly.  The latest episode of texting while driving left 25 dead and countless injured in the Metrolink Tragedy of September 12, 2008.

Update: 2009 Law Bans Text Messaging while Driving - See Video 

Past Rants

Metrolink Tragedy: Engineer Rob Sanchez Text Messaging, I'm Outraged!

Texting While Driving: Graphic Horror Photos

Hands Off Driving Laws Ok'd For Teens 16 and 17

Texting While Driving: Articles, Videos, Links

The Associated Press reports:

SACRAMENTO—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a law making it illegal to read or send text messages while driving in California.

The bill by Sen. Joe Simitian imposes a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for repeat offenders using any electronic devices to read or send messages, starting next year.

Schwarzenegger says the law he signed Wednesday encourages drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

It follows previous laws restricting the use of cell phones while driving by Simitian, a Democrat from Palo Alto. Since July, motorists have been required to use hands-free devices, and drivers under age 18 can't use any electronic devices.

The California Highway Patrol doesn't keep statistics on crashes related to text messaging.

If you, or someone you know, has been injured, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

"Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

September 19, 2008

Metro Bus and Blue Line Collide: What Is Going On Here?

Metro_train_20080919What is going on here in Los Angeles?  Today a Metro Bus and a Blue Line Bus crashed with 15 injured so far.  Last week we had the horrific Metrolink Crash which left 25 people dead and countless seriously injured.  I've represented many people injured in accidents involving the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, also known as the MTA.  Accidents happen BUT when bus drivers or train engineers are even momentarily careless, huge numbers of people become injured victims.  Mass Transit can instantly become Mass Destruction.

Graphic Scene and Rescue Photos Here

Since these buses are run by the government, by law injured people will have to file a claim with the appropriate governmental agencies.  Government Code Sections 910-913.2 control how and when the claim must be made. In particular, and with very few exceptions, the claim MUST BE MADE WITHIN SIX (6) MONTHS OF THE DATE OF THE ACCIDENT or the victims may forever lose their rights to be compensated for their injuries.

Here's the story on today's crash by The Associated Press: 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A light rail train slammed into a bus near downtown during Friday morning's commute, injuring 14 people, none seriously, officials said.

The Metro Blue Line train was on a run to Long Beach while the bus was not in service. Fourteen people from the train, including the operator, suffered minor injuries and were taken to a hospital, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Luis Inzunza said.

"We had an out-of-service bus turn in front of the train," said Marc Littman, another spokesman for the MTA, which operates both the train and the bus. "We don't know who had the right of way."

The impact knocked the front car of the electric train off the track. The other cars remained on the track.

Inzunza said the speed limit for trains in the area is 35 mph. The bus was being driven by a mechanic, who was not injured.

The crash comes just a week after a Metrolink commuter train smashed into a freight train in the San Fernando Valley, about 30 miles northwest of downtown, killing 25 people and injuring more than 130.

More than an hour after the accident, the smell of compressed natural gas leaking from the bus was still strong.

Chris Romero, 31, who lives nearby, said the screeching metal woke him up and he came running over. The crash, coupled with the Metrolink accident, has made him wary of taking the train.

"With everything that's going on, it's scary to go on the Metro," he said in Spanish through an interpreter.

The Blue Line, which runs from downtown to Long Beach, started service in 1990 and is the oldest part of MTA's popular light rail system.

Metro Rail service covers 73 miles of track and 62 stations, including street-level light rail, two subway lines and some elevated track. Estimated weekday ridership totals more than 300,000 boardings.

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by this accident, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

Lowell Steiger, Attorney at Law "Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

September 18, 2008

Attorney General Brown Cracks Down on Worker Abuses at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports

Truck_drivers_protestCalifornia Attorney General Brown is clearly a friend of the wage & hour worker.  When people fear for their jobs, especially in our ever-declining economy, shark like employers step up their unreasonable demands and cheat employees out of their fair compensation by misclassifying them as "independent contractors" or "exempt employees."  These are terms that must meet certain legal criteria in order to be binding as to the worker.  Just because your boss says you're an "independent contractor" or are "exempt from overtime" doesn't make it so.  Read the press release below and e-mail me at lowell@steigerlaw.com if you have any questions OR feel that you need a free consultation to clarify your rights.

LOS ANGELES—On September 5, 2008 California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced a crackdown on trucking companies operating at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that abuse their workers by denying them protections under state workers’ compensation, disability and minimum wage laws. These companies engage in cost-cutting schemes that take advantage of their workers and avoid California taxes. They unlawfully classify their workers as “independent contractors,” circumventing state employment taxes and labor laws that guarantee workers compensation and disability benefit and the right to a minimum wage.

“We are cracking down on these two companies and investigating several others that are taking advantage of their workers and cheating the state out of payroll taxes,” Attorney General Brown said. “These are low-paid truck drivers working long hours under onerous conditions who are not getting the benefits they deserve.”  (Story continues below)

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if you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send me an e-mail at lowell@steigerlaw.com

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Beginning in February 2008, the Attorney General’s office authorized a task force to investigate trucking companies at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports. The investigation uncovered numerous state labor law violations committed by several trucking companies operating at the ports. Two of the lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court today and several more will be filed in the coming weeks.

The lawsuits allege that the trucking companies named in the suits have an unfair advantage over their competitors in violation of California Business and Professions Code 17200 by depriving employees of benefits and protections entitled to them under California law. These companies are also cheating the State of California out of thousands of dollars in state payroll taxes.

Jose Maria Lira, a fleet operator responsible for transporting cargo from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, controlled all aspects of his drivers’ work, yet classified his employees as independent contractors and made them sign documents stating that they were independent. Lira leased his trucks to drivers, requiring them to sign a lease agreement stating that the driver would pay Lira 50% of his gross earnings each month in return for use of the truck, plus an additional 10% for management fees.

In fact, Lira required them to claim independent contractor status contrary to their true status as employees. The drivers worked exclusively for Lira, working 60 hours or more per week, delivering cargo in Lira company trucks. Under these conditions, the drivers should have employee status with its legal protections and benefits under the law.

The second lawsuit filed today is against the Pac Anchor Transportation Inc. (“Pac Anchor”) and Alfredo Barajas. Brown asserted that Pac Anchor and Barajas engaged in a shell game in which Alfredo Barajas supplied Pac Anchor with 38 trucks and drivers. Pac Anchor directly paid Barajas’ truck drivers, providing them with 1099 tax forms at the end of the year. Barajas and Pac Anchor misclassified the drivers as independent contractors in order to keep operating costs down and to avoid paying the mandated taxes and benefits.


The investigation found that the drivers should be classified as employees because they do not own the trucks they drive, do not have a business independent of Pac Anchor or Barajas, have no real opportunity for “profit” other than compensation on a piecework basis delivering loads, and can be terminated at will.

Related Articles and Links

BNA Daily Labor Report: Port Drivers Not Contractors, Say Lawsuits  (Teamsters for a Democratic Union)

Pac Anchor Transportation Website

People of the State of California v. Pac Anchor Transportation, Alfredo Barajas (Read the Complaint)

People of the State of California v. Jose Maria Lira (Read the Complaint)

Attorney General Brown Cracks Down on Worker Abuses at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports (Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO)

California Alleges Trucking Firms Improperly Avoid Workers’ Compensation Coverage (Workforce Management)

if you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send me an e-mail at lowell@steigerlaw.com

Family Guy: Lois Runs for Mayor

I couldn't resist.

Lowell

September 14, 2008

Metrolink Tragedy: Engineer Rob Sanchez Text Messaging, I'm Outraged

Avoidtextingwhiledriving Friends, I am completely saddened and outraged by the alleged text messaging by deceased Metrolink engineer Rob Sanchez moments before the crash.  As you know, I have previously railed against text messaging while driving a car.  The facts, of course, are not all in for the Metrolink Tragedy.  If, however, it is true that Rob Sanchez was texting while driving a train with over 200 passengers on board, he was acting at the height of irresponsibility.  Now you may think that I'm being overly harsh since Mr. Sanchez also paid with his own life.  I know in my heart that he bore no malice toward his passengers.  I know in my heart that if he were alive and could turn back the hands of time he would do so.  My heart goes out to Mr. Sanchez and his family and friends.  But that lapse of judgment has cost the lives of, at this point, 25 people and affected the lives of the survivors, the injured survivors, all families and friends. Bottom line, DON'T TEXT WHILE DRIVING.

Update: 2009 Law Bans Text Messaging while Driving - See Video

Here are links to my past text messaging posts:

Texting While Driving: Graphic Horror Photos

Photo Album: Texting While Driving

Cell Phone Laws for 2008

New Cell Phone Laws for July 1, 2008: Watch The Video and Read the Text

Texting While Driving: Articles, Videos and Links

Hands Off Driving Law Is Ok'd for Drivers 16 and 17 Years Old

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by this tragedy, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

"Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

September 13, 2008

Metrolink Crash, A Tragedy: 25 Dead, How You Can Help; Graphic Photos and Videos

Fires_metrolink_crash_001The tragic Metrolink Train Crash of September 12, 2008 will have lasting effects on the surviving victims and the family and friends of survivors and those not lucky enough to survive.  Injuries will range from broken bones to paralysis to burns to brain injuries to permanent physical and emotional and, for some, death.

Graphic Photos of Metrolink Tragedy

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Red_cross_logo YOU CAN HELP

Contact the Red Cross at 800-RED-CROSS or visit www.redcross.org for other information about blood donation or ways you can help.

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For the injured, it is too soon to determine the extent of their injuries.  Some may be lucky enough to heal quickly while others may not be spared a lifetime of pain, rehabilitation and disfigurement. 

Those affected by this tragedy, victims and family, should contact an attorney as soon as possible.  In spite of the admission of fault by Metrolink, this promises to be a very complicated matter that will go on for years.

Information and Resources:

  • A phone number has been established for the unification center at Chatsworth High School, where relatives can try to contact passengers who were aboard the derailed Metrolink train. Call 818-678-3422.
  • The City of Los Angeles has set up a phone line for anyone looking for relatives as well. The number: 213-847-2117.
  • People looking for information about relatives who may have been on the train can also call this Metrolink information line: 800-371-5465.
  • Northridge Hospital has set up a phone line for relatives calling to inquire on patients: 818-885-8500 x2714 or x5388.
  • You have undoubtedly heard, watched or read the news about this terrible tragedy.  I'm not going to repeat the details in this blog posting.  What I am going to do, though, is provide links to news articles, videos and photos.

    BBC News Video (BBC News)

    Metrolink: Engineer's Mistake Led to Deadly Train Crash in Chatsworth (Fox News)

    For One Crash Survivor: A Sense of Deja Vu (New York Times)

    Video Tribute to Deceased Metrolink Engineer: "I was very close to Rob Sanchez, the Metrolink engineer that tragically died in the crash when Metrolink train 111 hit a UP Freight train in Chatsworth, CA. God bless Rob. You will never be forgotten."

    Video Tribute to 3 Deceased Metrolink Victims: "This is A tribute to 3 very funny & cool engineers/conductor. God Bless them all. For them, please favorite, rate, and comment. At least they all died doing what they loved to do."

    Metrolink Says Engineer Failed to Stop: 24 Dead (Bloomberg.com)

    Families Wait for Any Word on Missing Train Riders (Associated Press)

    Graphic Photos of Metrolink Tragedy

    Metrolink Crash - Raw Video Footage (no audio) :

    If you, or someone you know, has been affected by this tragedy, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    "Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

    September 11, 2008

    Link of the Day: Handicapped Fraud

    Handicapped_parkingHow do you feel when you see a perfectly healthy person park in the disabled parking zone? Don't you just want to shake them and say "Hey, what are you doing?  There's an elderly lady over there who NEEDS this spot."  This issue is of particular importance to me because, as you know, I represent injured people -- legitimately injured people for whom the designated disabled parking spots mean the difference between being able to be a part of the world or staying home while being alienated from the rest of society. 

    Well, welcome to Handicapped Fraud.org.  Here's their mission statement:

    Handicappedfraud.org was launched as a community service effort to end the misuse of handicapped parking spaces and placards. The disabled have run out of places to park, as their designated handicapped parking spaces are being taken by fraudulent individuals. Our cities are being robbed of serious metered parking revenue to to this abuse as well. The police are far too valuable and busy to stake out parking lots to ticket handicapped parking violators. The abusers go largely unpunished. It's time for our community to become the ambassadors for our cities, and report handicapped parking violators when they see it.

    A grass roots vigilante organization designed to protect those who truly need and deserve to park in the handicapped spots.

    Here are some videos that drive the point home:

    This is why you should not park in a disabled parking space. A woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) gives her view.:

    A mother of two children with disabilities in Concord, California channels her frustration with people taking disabled parking spaces in a positive way. Her idea is turned into a new California law by Assembly member Mark DeSaulnier:

    Jim Carrey reacts to a man illegally parking in a Handicapped Zone:

    If you, or someone you know, has been injured, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    "Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

    September 07, 2008

    Ladder Safety: Videos, Photos and Links

    Man_falling_off_ladder The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has a common sense page on their site devoted to Ladder Safety.  Click here to read the article wherein they discuss the following topics:

    • Selection of the Appropriate Ladder
    • Inspection of Ladder Prior to Use
    • Proper Use of the Ladder

    Click Lowell Steiger's Ladder Safety and Injuries Photo Album

    Video, Choosing the Right Ladder: Ladder Safety by Work Safe BC, is a video designed to highlight the important safety procedures associated with ladder use on construction sites. The video uses classic B&W comedic film footage and computer graphic simulations to illustrate safe ladder techniques.

    Here's another Ladder Safety Video -- graphic comedy styled video which really drives its point home

    Ladder Safety Links

    Ladder Safety eTools : OSHA (U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration)

    PowerPoint Presentation Filled with Photos (University of Wisconsin): If you don't have PowerPoint, download a Free PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft here

    Ladder Safety: Safety Is Us, includes a section to Test Your Knowledge of Ladder Safety

    ANSI/OSHA Ladder Requirements: Lab Safety Supply

    Photos: Fotosearch provides 241 Safety and Ladder Stock Images and Photos

    If you, or someone you know, has been injured, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    "Treated With the Respect That You Deserve"

    Boss Can't Make You Lie About Your Hours!

    Leona_helmsleyIs your boss a Leona Helmsley type?  Hopefully not BUT, as hard as it may be to believe, some employers take advantage of, and abuse, their employees in a myriad of ways.  One way is by making them sign a release that states that they have been paid all of their owed wages and/or taken all of the breaks to which they are entitled before they will agree to pay them!!!  How angry does this make you?  Well, apparently it got Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's attention and he has attempted to right this egregious wrong by signing AB 2075 (details below).  The bill was sponsored by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation whose mission is "Fighting For Justice and Changing Lives."  Although their focus is primarily to help low income families, this new bill will be of benefit to all California Wage Earners -- I applaud their successful efforts.  Please read the important information below and, of course, if you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send me an e-mail at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    New California Law: Limit on Wage and Hour Releases

    Schwarzenegger_signs_billGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law AB 2075, which modifies California Labor Code Section 206.5. The new provision takes effect on January 1, 2009.Section 206.5 currently prohibits an employer from requiring the “execution of a release” of a claim or right on account of wages due, or to become due, or made as an advance on wages to be earned unless payment of those wages has been made. Consequently, an employer cannot condition payment of earned wages on an employee’s execution of a release, and an employee cannot waive wages owed by an employer, unless all wages have already been paid. A violation of Section 206.5 will invalidate the release agreement, be deemed a misdemeanor, and may also result in civil ramifications. The new Section 206.5(b) defines a “release.” For the purpose of the amended Section 206.5, “execution of a release” will now prohibit an employer from requiring an employee, as a condition of being paid, to execute a statement of hours that he or she worked during a pay period which the employer knows to be false.Employers should closely review their employee release agreements, time recording documents and processes in light of the soon-to-be-modified Section 206.5.

    Josepadilla Sponsored by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (photo: Executive Director Jose Padilla) whose justifiably employee-friendly rationale is written as follows:

    According to the author's office, increasingly unscrupulous employers protect themselves from litigation over   underpayment of wages or meal & rest period violations by adopting false pay records and timekeeping systems.  In many instances, these employers have instituted a practice of requiring their employees to sign off on timesheets which do not reflect actual hours worked and which are created at the direction of the employer or his/her staff, and/or to sign declarations attached to their timesheets that they have received all their rest and meal periods when, in fact, they have not.  These statements are generally required to be signed before the timesheets are turned over to the employer and wages  are paid. Workers who question this practice are often retaliated against.

    It took this great foundation to put the wheels in motion to strengthen the rights of California Wage Earners.   

    If you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send me an e-mail at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    September 04, 2008

    Wage & Hour Litigation Alert! $1.4 Million for Drywall Workers

    Ag_logo_lgbal80Wage & Hour Violations are intolerable. Employees, often at the mercy of their employers are afraid to stand up for their rights because they fear the ultimate retribution: Being Fired. However, you as employees have rights. As discussed in a previous post, Attorney Steve Waisbren and I are aggressively pursuing claims for employees who have been cheated out of overtime pay, meal breaks and other compensation by their employers.

    If you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

    Apropos to my previous Wage & Hour post, I just read a News Release from the Office of the Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. where the headline reads "Attorney General Brown Announces $1.4 Million Restitution Settlement for Drywall Workers."  Please read the article below:

    ORANGE COUNTY – California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a settlement with an Orange County drywall contractor that will award $1.4 million in restitution to employees who were forced to work overtime and through state-mandated meal breaks without being fully compensated for their work.

    “This settlement will right a wrong that’s been inflicted on the hard-working employees of Interwall,” Attorney General Brown said. “The company tried to increase its profit on the backs of its workforce, by denying employees meal breaks and overtime pay. With this agreement, Interwall will now be required to pay its employees a proper wage for every hour of work they performed.”

    Brown sued Interwall Development Systems last January for engaging in unfair and unlawful business practices. The suit alleged that Interwall denied certain overtime pay, did not provide accurate itemized wage statements, and did not allow its employees to take breaks during afternoon shifts. Approximately 400 employees were affected by the company’s practices. The company slashed its labor costs in an effort to underbid competition for at least 150 drywall installation projects in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties.

    The settlement, approved by the judge today in Orange County Superior Court, prohibits Interwall from circumventing the state’s labor laws. It will award just over $1.4 million to current and former employees of Interwall that were not properly paid for work they had done. Of the $1.4 million to be paid by the company, $674,396 will be applied to resolve unpaid overtime claims, $303,607 will resolve interest claims on the overtime, and $425,996 will be paid to compensate workers who had to work through state mandated break periods.

    Additionally, Interwall will pay up to $131,000 in employer share payroll taxes that the company would have paid if it had adequately compensated its employees for their work.

    Since the company violated provisions of the California Business & Professions Code on unfair business practices, it will have to pay civil fines in the amount of $200,000 to the state.

    Investigators found that some Interwall employees worked Monday through Saturday, up to twelve hours per day, and received no overtime payments. Interwall also denied rest breaks to employees during their afternoon shifts. Under California law, workers are entitled to a ten-minute break every four hours and to overtime pay for working more than eight hours per day or forty hours per week.

    To avoid paying overtime, Interwall set up a business operation with affiliate companies that paid employees, at regular pay rates, for the extra hours. In one case, an employee worked sixty-eight hours for Interwall, but was paid for forty hours by Felts Construction Company and twenty-eight hours by Cinco Construction.

    Last December, Brown sued two janitorial companies, Excell Cleaning & Building Services and MO Restaurant Cleaning Services, for committing flagrant violations of California’s basic wage and hour laws. Brown also sued Brinas Corporation, a Southern California drywall contractor, found to be paying workers below minimum wage and also denying overtime wages. The state was awarded nearly $1.4 million in the Brinas case in June of this year. Brown also sued PacifiStaff, a company that was teaching construction companies how to avoid providing state mandated workers’ compensation benefits.

    Attorney General Brown enforces California laws that require fair business practices in order to protect working men and women and ensure a level playing field where all businesses adhere to the same rules of conduct. His office has several ongoing investigations into employment, payroll and record-keeping practices of various businesses and construction companies across California.

    If you, or someone you know, have been a victim (or suspect you have been a victim) of Wage & Hour Abuse, please call me immediately at (323) 852-1100 or send an e-mail to me at lowell@steigerlaw.com

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