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Chemical Spill in Kansas Hospitalizes Over 100 People

Last week, a Kansas-based manufacturer of food and beverage products accidently released a toxic chemical gas, a mixture of sodium hypocholorite and sulfuric acid, which sent over 100 people to the hospital. Fortunately, of the 125 people who sought medical attention, only two required an overnight stay in the hospital. MGP Ingredients, which was responsible for the spill, explained that the gas spill had dissipated after only a few hours. Additionally, the company has reported the incident to the EPA and plans to fully cooperate with the investigation. The company is also taking additional measures to avoid any future spills by engaging outside experts to investigate and assess the situation. How a Gas Spill Leads to Hospitalization While large gas spills are not everyday news, it is not an uncommon occurrence for people to be hospitalized for exposure to toxic gases. Most commonly it is due to carbon monoxide, which nearly everyone has been warned that it is the silent killer. Unfortunately, when a large gas spill happens near populated areas, individuals in the surrounding areas can have their health impacted. Usually, it is just for a short duration and only effects people within a certain radius from the spill. When the air that people breath has its chemical concentration changed, people can begin to notice problems, such as: Shortness of breath Light-headedness or dizziness Headache Nausea The symptoms can vary from severe to mild, from person to person, and in type or duration. For instance, a person with asthma, or another respiratory condition, will likely be more severely affected than someone without a respiratory condition. Can a Company Be Held Liable for a Chemical Gas Spill? When a toxic gas spill occurs, manufacturers can not only be held liable to the public for violations of anti-pollution laws, but can also be held liable to individuals who were injured, and/or affected, on a negligence theory. Since public gas spills tend to be atmospheric, meaning that a company released gas outside and not inside their buildings or buildings own by others, people generally are not severely affected. Nevertheless, companies can still be held liable for injuries or damages that an accidental release of gas can cause. The numerous people who went to the hospital as a result of the recent Atchison, Kansas gas spill may have potential claims or lawsuits against MGP Ingredients as a result of the spill. While injuries of a very short duration may not be valued very highly, medical bills as well as incidental or special damages can also be assessed, in addition to damages for pain and distress. Related Resources: Injured in an accident? Get matched with a local attorney. (Consumer Injury) Health Hazards (FindLaw’s Injured) Samsung Hit With First U.S. Lawsuit for Exploding Note 7 Smartphone (FindLaw’s Injured) Student Slips in Vomit, Suffers Brain Damage, Sues School for $1.3M (FindLaw’s Injured)
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Oklahoma Bill Punishing Doctors for Abortions Vetoed

Last week, Oklahoma's governor vetoed a bill that would have made it a felony, punishable by three years in prison, for doctors to provide abortions. Republican Governor Mary Fallin said the bill would not survive constitutional challenges, Reuters reports, and abortion rights groups had already promised to fight it hard. The Oklahoma bill would have revoked medical licenses for doctors who performed abortions, but did make allowances for the procedure under certain medical circumstances to save a mother's life. The governor, who is considered staunchly anti-abortion, complained in a statement that the bill was too vague and ambiguous. Constitutionally Challenged The controversial legislation proposed to criminalize abortions and strip doctors of their medical licenses for performing them. Although Oklahoma would not have been the first state to try to ban abortion despite the US Supreme Court's holding in Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalizing it, this proposed legislation was unique insofar as it relied on doctors' professional code of conduct. If the bill had not been vetoed by Governor Fallin, Oklahoma would have become the first state to use professional conduct codes to, basically, ban abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It seems that Oklahoma sought to make performing an abortion a violation of medical ethics punishable as a felony with prison time and loss of a license, with the charge hinging on the conduct codes. But the bill did not pass because, Governor Fallin said, it's insufficiently clear. "The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother,'" Fallin said in a statement, Reuters reports. Costly Lawsuits It is believed that Fallin vetoed the bill in part because it was sure to bring battles, and Oklahoma can't afford that. The cash-strapped state is already ailing and this law would have led to lawsuits promised by abortion rights groups. They seem pleased with the decision to veto the measure. "Governor Fallin did the right thing today in vetoing this utterly unconstitutional and dangerous bill," said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group. But this is probably just a momentary reprieve, and the fight over abortion rights is likely to continue in Oklahoma. Reportedly the state has been a leader in increasing restrictions on abortion since Governor Fallin took office in 2011. In the words of Think Progress, Governor Fallin "has rarely met an abortion restriction she didn't like." Related Resources: Abortion Laws (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) After Roe v. Wade (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Birth Control and the Law Basics (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Abortion Rights FAQ (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Brain Injury: Military Studies and Legal Recovery

A brain injury can easily happen to anyone for any number of reasons. Adventurers, athletes, accident victims, babies during birth, kids at play, and military veterans, are all at risk. But treating head trauma is very difficult, and the best bet is to prevent it. Now Defense Department scientists are focusing on pinpointing how brain cells change after experiencing explosions to learn how to improve protective equipment. Let’s consider their experiments and legal recovery for brain injury. The Experiments Military researchers say that mild traumatic brain injuries are on the rise among veterans. There is so far no relief for these injuries, no treatment. So the scientists are trying to prevent them altogether by making better protective equipment. To do this, they must first understand what happens to a brain that experiences trauma, even mildly, over time. To figure out how the brain responds to trauma physically, the Defense Department scientists recreate the effects of explosions on the brain and measure how cell structure changes accordingly. The hope is to then sort out how to prevent these changes by making equipment that appropriately protects vulnerable areas. “For mild traumatic brain injury there is currently no treatment available, so we need to assess the mechanism of injury to find out how we can mitigate it,” said Thuvan Piehler, a research chemist with the Army Research Laboratory’s Explosive Technology Branch. Her team measures brain damage thresholds for the development of protective equipment. The civilian public often benefits from this type of military experiment. The Internet, for example, was a defense project before it was our window on the world. So it stands to reason that we’ll see the fruits of these experiments in civilian equipment soon enough. Brain Injury Lawsuits The most famous brain injury lawsuit is no doubt that of National Football League players who suffered from concussions and sued the league. But there are many ways to suffer from a brain injury and many such cases. Anyone who suffers head trauma in an accident, at the hands of a doctor, or otherwise due to someone’s negligence, could sue to recover damages. Suing is not just about allocating blame. It allows people who have incurred medical expenses and lost wages, and experienced pain and suffering to get much-needed compensation for current and future costs. Talk to a Lawyer If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, talk to a lawyer. Tell your story. Many personal injury attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to hear to assess your case. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Brain Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law) Types of Brain Injury (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law) Brain Injury Rehabilitation Resources (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
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California’s Gender Neutral Bathroom Bill

While some states have been suing the federal government for the right to discriminate against transgender people when it comes to bathroom access, California is going in the other direction. The same state that led the way on transgender student access to bathrooms in schools just passed a bill requiring all public, single-occupancy bathrooms in the state be gender neutral. The new law would allow anyone to access these bathrooms, regardless of gender identity. So will the Golden State's take on transgender bathroom access be the norm, or remain an outlier? Equal Rights, Equal Access California already has laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender people, including restroom access. That law allows a person to access common bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The new bill would take the law further, barring single-use restrooms in businesses, government buildings, and public places from being reserved for either gender. (Proponents of the law also point out that gender neutral bathrooms will reduce wait times, since anyone can now use bathrooms that were previously reserved for either more or women.) But the bill hasn't become law quite yet. While the measure passed California's House on a 55-19 margin, it must still get through the State Senate and governor. And no date has been set for either consideration. California in Context Transgender bathroom access has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with some states expanding access and others pushing back. Most infamously, North Carolina recently passed a law prohibiting people from using bathrooms with gender designations different from those on their birth certificates. But the federal government, who has the last word on civil rights issues, has been fighting discrimination against transgender people. The Department of Justice responded swiftly to the North Carolina law, filing a discrimination lawsuit against state officials in an effort to block the law. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently advised business to allow bathroom access to employees based on their chosen gender identity. If California's history holds, the gender neutral bathroom bill will soon become law, and we'll all have an easier time going to the bathroom. If you have questions about bathroom access where you live, you can contact an experienced civil rights attorney near you. Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Transgender 1st Grader Wins Restroom Ruling (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal Rights and Issues for Transgender Children (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Transgender Bathroom Laws in Public Schools: A National Overview (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Four Superhero Women Embark to Break Open the Glass Ceiling

Once upon a time, four great women were asked to participate on a panel about the effects of gender in the courtroom at the ABA White Collar Conference but instead of simply opining about the topic- they decided to conduct their own research and find real answers.  These superhero women were: Moderator Patricia Brown Holmes, a Partner at Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila Ellen Brickman, Ph.D. Director, DOAR a litigation consulting firm Laura Colombell Marshall, Partner, Hunton & Williams LLP Joan McPhee, Partner Ropes & Gray LLP The panel was titled Women in the Courtroom: A View from the Jury Box.  I spoke to Joan McPhee last week about the study and the panel discussion, which I unfortunately missed.  She told me that when they first started to explore the topic it was disappointing to discover there was very little if any data or research on the topic.  This inspired them to conduct their own research to get to the bottom of many questions such as: How do jurors view male and female attorneys? How does a juror’s gender influence perception of attorney effectiveness? Does attorney gender have power to influence the ultimate outcome? Thankfully they had Ellen Brickman on the panel from DOAR Litigation, a Ph.D. with extensive experience in conducting juror research. A study was developed using a pool of 880 mock jurors of equal gender from major metropolitan areas from around the country.  These jurors were surveyed using two components. One was the IAT (Implicit Association Test) measuring implicit biases and the other was a survey that included an attorney opening statement case scenario.  They had the jurors read the opening statement, which was identical except one version described the attorney as female and the other described the attorney as male. The jurors then were asked questions with reference to the gender of the attorney about their perceptions of the opening statement and its effectiveness across a range of attributes.  You can read more details about the study in the PowerPoint presentation here.  The most amazing finding from this study was that male jurors have an automatic preference for male lawyers, and female jurors have an automatic preference for female lawyers.  Even more surprising, the women’s preferences were much stronger. If conducting their own research wasn’t enough, these women also conducted an attorney survey of experiences relating to gender bias. They found that 72% of female colleagues surveyed reported negative experiences with colleagues because of their gender, 69% reported negative experiences with opposing counsel, and 43% reported negative experiences from judges.  The take away is that gender bias is alive and well in our field. When I spoke to Joan she shared with me how surprised she was by certain parts of the study’s findings.  Having anticipated that gender stereotypes embedded in our culture might lead both male and female jurors to have automatic preferences for the male attorney, and to prefer the male opening statement as stronger and more effective, it was notable that male and female jurors each held a clear preference for the attorney of their own gender with the female jurors exhibiting a preference for the female attorney that was twice as strong as the male jurors’ preference for the male attorney. Given that juries are gender diverse, Joan noted that, all other things being equal, these results suggest that a gender-diverse trial team should have an edge at trial in connecting with jurors and maximizing persuasiveness.  She noted that the jurors’ preferences for the attorney of their own gender was reflected in the results of both the IAT, in the form of an “automatic preference,” and in the opening statement case scenario.  Specifically, with regard to the latter, female jurors found the female attorney’s opening statement to be clearer and more logical and to reflect greater care for the client. The reverse was true for the male jurors.  She noted that the recent ABA report on women as first chair found that, for women serving in lead counsel roles at trial, almost 70% appear for the government as prosecutors and only 30% for the defense. Joan questioned, in light of the research findings and the government’s apparent greater ability to field a strong, gender-diverse trial team, whether we are effectively “ceding an advantage to the Government.” This study suggests that the defendant has a clear disadvantage if the only female in the courtroom is at the Government’s counsel table. Ellen Brickman cautioned, based on her years of experience in working with mock juries, that jurors are sensitive to how women and minorities are treated as members of a team, and that just having a token female member at counsel table who is not playing an active role has the opposite effect and can backfire. Joan also spoke to me about the “Audition Screen” that has been written about extensively, and which involved a symphony conducting blind auditions of musicians using screens and carpeted floors to mask any information about the gender of the performers.  Orchestra directors traditionally had a strong preference for men, believing that men were better able to perform at the highest levels of the field, particularly with certain instruments that were viewed to require a level of physical strength and stamina.  The judges were shocked that one of the best performers turned out be a petite woman.  Audition screens thereafter came into more prevalent use and, when the judges’ implicit bias against female performers was walled off and removed from the selection process, the result was a dramatic increase in the number of women being chosen. What does that tell us? Joan would say that our own implicit biases may interfere unconsciously with our ability to identify and promote the strongest talent, to the detriment not only of those passed over, but also to the overall performance of the team.  In the context of a criminal trial, with our clients’ liberty on the line – if we are to field the strongest team and harness full persuasive power with a gender-diverse jury – we cannot ignore the potential role of gender in the courtroom. Joan challenged the audience and and all of us to ask, “What is going to be our trial lawyer’s equivalent of the Audition Screen?” The post Four Superhero Women Embark to Break Open the Glass Ceiling appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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No Indictments in Sandra Bland Death, but Prosecutor Says It’s Not Over

A Texas grand jury this week issued no indictments associated with the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead by an apparent hanging in her jail cell this past summer. Bland's death made national headlines because the African American woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, allegedly got into an altercation with the officer over a lit cigarette, and was found hanging by a trash bag in her jail cell after only three days in custody in Texas. Local officials vehemently denied that Bland was mistreated, and the grand jury's failure to indict in the criminal case seems to support those claims. But Darrell Jordan, the special prosecutor, said that "the case is still open," and that grand jurors would reconvene next month to discuss other aspects of it, according to the New York Times. Bland Family Responds Bland's family suspect that Sandra was mistreated because she was black. Her parents filed a wrongful death suit in August against a Texas trooper, the Waller County Sherriff's office, and her jailers -- they blamed authorities for their daughter's death and do not believe she would commit suicide. Bland's family responded to the grand jury's decision through their lawyer, Cannon Lambert. "We are unfortunately disappointed by the fact that our suspicions regarding this sham of a process have come to fruition," said Mr. Lambert, who is based in Chicago. Mr. Lambert said he was unsure of what to make of Mr. Jordan's statement that the grand jury would return to work in January, saying, "We would like very much to know what in the heck they're doing, who they're targeting and if it has anything to do with Sandy and her circumstances." Background on Bland Sandra Bland, who was from the Chicago area, was in Waller County, Texas this past summer because she had accepted a job at her alma mater, the nearby Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution. Bland's family does not believe she would commit suicide because she was an activist, recording videos about racial issues, including policing. The last video Ms. Bland was known to appear in, unfortunately, is that of the trooper who used a dash cam to record her traffic stop for a failure to signal lane change. In it, the trooper physically struggles with Bland after she refuses to put out her cigarette and is reluctant to exit her car, slamming her head and expressing pleasure about it, among other abuses of power. For those disappointed that the trooper, the county, and Bland's jailers appear to have gotten away with something this week -- possibly even murder -- special prosecutor Jordan said, "The case is not over. That's what I'm stressing right now. The case is not over." Criminal Defense Counsel If you face charges as a result of a traffic stop or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your charges and get help getting them resolved. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Traffic Arrest FAQ (FindLaw) Can the Police Set Up roadblocks for any Reason? (FindLaw)
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Can the President Bypass Congress on Gun Control?

Gun control advocates have long sought to close the so-called gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without submitting to the same background check requirements imposed on licensed dealers. But congressional attempts at passing such legislation have thus far been fruitless. So President Barack Obama may decide to take matters into his own hands. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Obama administration is considering the use of an executive order to expand background checks on gun sales. How do these orders work? And can the president really pass gun control laws without congressional approval? Going Solo It's no secret that Obama wants stricter gun controls. The president pushed for expanded background checks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting three years ago, but that legislation died in the Senate. He tried again after the Umpqua Community College shooting in October, but measures for more background checks and bans on sales to people on the government's anti-terrorist "no fly" list both failed. Now the White House is looking to circumvent the legislature altogether. According to reports, officials have been working on an executive order that would use existing laws to require all (or nearly all) gun purchases to be cleared by the same background check system.While the order has not been finalized, Obama is said to be looking at expanding license requirements by defining what it means to be "in the business" of dealing guns -- those deemed in the business are required to perform background checks while those that aren't don't. If occasional sellers like those at gun shows are required to obtain a license to sell firearms it would also expand background check requirements. Chief Executive Order Leaving to one side the question of whether tougher gun control laws will lead to fewer shooting deaths (even though evidence suggests that they do), the issue becomes whether this exercise of presidential power is even legal. An executive order is a policy statement that interprets and directs the implementation of existing federal statutes, congressional provisions, or treaties. Executive orders aren't so much new laws as they are changing or clarifying the policy on existing laws, and generally aren't used without some congressional approval. And executive orders are still subject to judicial review for constitutionality. Hence Obama's delay in formally announcing or implementing an executive order on gun control. Despite his desire to make it more difficult for violent people to purchase firearms, drafting an order that will accomplish that and appease enough congresspeople to be successfully implemented may prove as politically intractable as the legislature. Related Resources: Obama Looks to Expand Background Checks for Gun Sales (Time) Obama's Gun Proposals Target Mental Health Too (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Will Obama's Executive Order on Student Loans Pay Off for You? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Obama's Executive Order on Immigration: 5 Things You Should Know (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Can I Get Workers’ Compensation for Frostbite?

Workers’ compensation is theoretically available for any injury caused by your job, including frostbite. The extent to which you can ultimately recover will depend on how severe the injury is and how much time and expense it costs in lost work and healthcare. The specifics vary from state to state, and certain industries follow special standards, so you will have to look into the particular law that applies to you. But here are the basics on workers’ compensations claims, using frostbite as the example injury. Causal Connection, Not Casual Workers’ compensation claims are not lawsuits. If you are injured at work or by a task causally connected to your job, it is a benefit that is available to compensate for expenses. It is a kind of insurance claim. The key to getting compensation is a causal connection between work and injury. Read carefully — that is causal, and not casual. For example, if you work outdoors and, as a result of spending so much time outside, end up with frostbite so severe it keeps you from work and has you seeing specialists, chances are good your claim will be covered. If, however, you work in an office and just went vacationing in Mount Everest, where you got frostbite, do not file. There is no causal connection between your injury and your claim and, therefore, no benefit due to you. Workers compensation is only for work-related injury. Are You Covered? States do not all extend the benefit of workers’ compensation to everyone. Depending on where you live and what you do, it may not apply to you, unfortunately. There are states that require employers to cover undocumented workers, but very few, while others do not include domestic help in the covered worker category. Note too that worker’s compensation is for employees and many contract workers are not covered. Do You Need a Lawyer? As you can see, figuring out whether you can file a claim can be complicated. You do not need a lawyer to apply for workers’ compensation but it can help. Attorneys are expert administrators, accustomed to handling official forms and paperwork. A lawyer can ensure your claim goes smoothly and defend it if it is denied. It costs nothing to consult with counsel and the guidance could be very valuable. Related Resources: Hurt on the job? Have your injury claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Workers’ Comp Benefits Explained (FindLaw) Workers’ Comp Benefits and Returning to Work (FindLaw)
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Can Your Fitbit Data Be Used Against You in Court?

When police come to question you as a suspect in a crime, you know the rules: anything you say can be used against you in court. So, you don't say anything. However, your Fitbit may talk loud and clear on your behalf. For example, earlier this year, Jeannine Risley called the police claiming she had been sexually assaulted while asleep by a "man in his 30s, wearing boots." Instead of searching for and arresting the supposed attacker, police charged Risley with a crime. Why? Blame her Fitbit. Fitbit: Tracking Data That Doesn't Lie Jeannine Risley is one of millions of people who have a Fitbit. A Fitbit is an activity tracker that users wear around their wrist. The device measures the user's exercise level, diet, and sleep. Users can download data from the Fitbit onto their smartphones or computers to see how many steps they took, distance traveled, calories burned, and even hours asleep and awake. Risley was wearing her device on the night of the alleged attack. According to Risley, she lost the Fitbit during her struggles with the assailant, but police were able to find it. With Risley's password and permission, police downloaded the activity data from her Fitbit device. Surprise, surprise. While Risley claimed to be sleeping all night, the Fitbit data showed she was awake and walking around all night. The Fitbit data along with other forensic evidence showed that Risley may have falsified the rape claim. So, instead of being treated like a victim, Risley was charged with false report to law enforcement, false alarms to public safety, and tampering with evidence. Is Fitbit Data Admissible Evidence? In the case of Riley v. California, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that police cannot search digital information on a cell phone without a warrant. By this logic, police generally cannot access data on electronic devices without a warrant either. However, with a warrant, police will be able to use your Fitbit data (and data from other motion tracking devices) as evidence against you in court. On the flip side, you may be able to use such data to prove an alibi. The biggest disadvantage to relying on activity tracking device data is that it may not be entirely accurate. Risley's case is not the first time Fitbit data was used in a legal case, and it's likely not to be the last. If the police try to use your Fitbit data against you, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney for help. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Police: Woman's fitness watch disproved rape report (ABC 27 News) 5 Ways Instagram Can Lead to Legal Trouble (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Here's What Facebook Sends the Cops When They Subpoena Your Activity (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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If I Find a Phone, Can I Keep It?

Welcome to the new FindLaw series, "If I Find," where we'll discuss the rule of finders keepers as it applies to different topics. We hope you'll check back regularly! If you've ever lost a cell phone, raise your hand. I know I have. If you find a lost cell phone, give it back! Finding a lost cell phone, especially a shiny new iPhone, can seem like hitting a jackpot. Even if you don't need it, you could probably sell it for a lot of money (unless the phone has a new smartphone kill switch). However, can you legally keep it? Common Law Lost Property Rule At common law, you may be able to keep the phone if it was lost property but not if it was mislaid property. If this sounds like a weird distinction to you, you're not alone. Lost property is property that was unintentionally left behind by its owner. Mislaid property is property that was intentionally put down by its owner and then forgotten. So, a wallet that falls out of a back pocket is lost property, and a wallet set on a table and forgotten when the owner left is mislaid property. Common law allows you to keep lost property until the owner comes back to claim it. If the property is mislaid, then the owner of the property where it was found gets to keep the property. For example, a customer leaves his wallet on the table after dinner. Since, it's mislaid property, the restaurant owner gets to keep the wallet, just in case the customer comes back to look for it. Current State Laws Unless your state follows common law, it may have its own laws regarding lost and found property. In California, if you find lost property and you know who it may belong to or can easily find out, you have to take reasonable steps to return the item to the owner. Failing to do so is theft. California Civil Code section 2080.1 requires that anybody who finds property worth at least $100 must first turn the property over to the police department. If the owner of the property does not claim it within 90 days, then the finder can keep it. If your state has similar laws, you likely can keep the phone you found as long as you turn it in to the police first. Related Resources: If I Find Treasure, Can I keep It? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) If I Find a Stray Animal, Can I Keep It? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) If I Find an Eagle Feather, Can I Keep It? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) If You Find $41K in Cash in a Couch, Can You Keep It? (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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