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Los Angeles Settles Cyclist’s Pothole Injury Lawsuit for $6.5M

Peter Godefroy was riding his bicycle on Valley Vista Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California two years ago when struck a pothole, crashed his bike, and suffered "severe traumatic brain injury and numerous broken or fractured bones throughout his body." Godefroy sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming poor lighting and even worse maintenance led to a simple pothole becoming a "concealed trap for bicyclists." The L.A. City Council settled that lawsuit last week, voting 11-0 to approve granting Godefroy $6.5 million in damages. It's the second such settlement this year, after the council also awarded $4.5 million to the family of a man killed after he was thrown from his bike when he hit uneven pavement in the city. Bike Suits Bicycle accidents are sadly more common than you would hope. And if you don't have cycling insurance (yes, those policies do exist), you may be wondering about your legal options. In a crash scenario, hopefully the other party -- whether it be a driver in their car, a business-owned vehicle, another cyclist, or even a pedestrian -- will be insured and that will cover your injuries. If not, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to recoup medical bills and lost wages. Most cycling accidents can be treated just like car accidents: exchange insurance information with the other party or parties, document the accident and any injuries as thoroughly as possible, and consider contacting the police if there are serious injuries or property damage. And the work doesn't stop the day after an accident -- make sure to track initial ambulance or hospital bills, additional or ongoing medical expenses, and lost work or wages as well as future income. City Liability It may sound daunting, but you can sue city hall. You may have to file a claim of injury with the city before filing a civil lawsuit to give the city a chance to compensate you or respond to the claim, and you'll have to do so within specific statutes of limitation. If the city fails to respond or denies your claim, you can move on to a full-blown lawsuit. As a general rule, municipalities are responsible for maintaining roadways (including bike lanes and sidewalks) so that they're safe for cyclists, and can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on public roadways. If a city or municipal entity fails to exercise reasonable care in keeping the roadways in good repair, they can be found liable for injuries that occur. However, in order to prove a city was negligent in repairing the road, you would also need to prove the city had or should have had notice of the dangerous condition and failed to fix it. If you're considering a bike injury lawsuit against a city, talk to an experienced attorney first. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Severely Injured Cyclist Settles Broken Sidewalk 'Launch Ramp' Case for $4.84M (FindLaw's Injured) San Diego Cyclist Injured by Pothole Gets $235K Settlement From City (FindLaw's Injured) NYPD Accused of 'Hit and Lie' on Cyclist (FindLaw's Injured)
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Judge to Allow Jury to Decide If ‘Brain Dead’ Teen Is Alive

Jahi McMath was thirteen years old when a routine tonsillectomy went wrong and left the teen brain dead. After the surgery in 2013, she was pronounced dead, and the county coroner even signed a death certificate a month later. However, Jahi was never taken off life support. Her parents insist that she is still alive, based upon their Christian faith, regardless of the fact that she has been declared brain dead. While Jahi has been kept on life support, her parents have pursued a medical malpractice claim against the hospital as a result of the surgery. But, unlike typical medical malpractice claims where the plaintiff is either alive and injured, or dead, the court is sending that issue to the jury to decide. What's Life Anyway? Jahi's mother believes that it is her duty to keep fighting for her daughter. Despite knowing that her daughter has a severe and irreparable brain injury, she sees her daughters fingers twitch, and sees her react to unpleasant smells, and this clearly give her hope for the future. In short, whether Jahi is deemed to be alive or dead by the jury will impact the size of the potential jury verdict. If Jahi is found to still be alive, her parents will be able to seek damages for future medical care, and other damages that they would not be entitled to seek on behalf of a deceased child.State of Life California doctors were able to secure an order from the court to withdraw life support, however, before that could happen, Jahi was moved to New Jersey. The state of New Jersey is the only state where religious beliefs that do not accept brain death as actual death will prevail over medical opinion. Jahi's current doctor testified that not only has her body not started deteriorating, but that she has started puberty and even began menstruation. He testified that she is in a "minimally responsive state." Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Jahi McMath Case: What Is Brain Death? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman's Husband Sues Hospital (FindLaw's Injured) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Taken Off Life Support (FindLaw's Injured)
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Is Police Body Cam Footage Public Record?

Over the past few years, more and more police departments have adopted the use of officer body cams. The devices attach to an officer's uniform and record what the officers do while on duty. However, there is no uniform law of the land when it comes to the public's right to access the footage from the body cams. Depending on the local jurisdiction, or state, different standards are used for the release of the footage. Some will only allow the footage to be released publicly as part of a criminal or civil trial (as the law requires the disclosure then), while others allow the recordings to be released on YouTube (after private and identifying information is edited out). Video for the People, Not of the People The purpose of police body cams is to engender the public's trust. The idea is essentially that officers will be less likely to not follow the rules, and will be more likely to do everything exactly by the book, if there is a video record of all their actions. These cams can also provide evidence of corrupt police practices, at least when the corrupt officers are not selectively recording with their body cams. The recordings are not just of public civil servants (police officers), but the individuals they encounter are, naturally, caught on camera too. This complicates public disclosure as private individuals have privacy rights, even when they are out in public. Those privacy rights can be violated by allowing the public unfettered access to the footage. A simple example involves a traffic stop. If an officer is not careful when handling a pulled over driver's documents, or the footage is not redacted/edited before it is released publicly, a person's driver's license number, address, height, birth date, and (alleged) weight, could all be captured by a body cam. Who's Watching? Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of police body cam footage, it would likely be impractical, or a drain on police resources, for all of it to be reviewed. Instead, generally, departments review the footage when necessary to review high profile incidents, arrests that lead to prosecutions, or sometimes when officers need help to remember what happened for their reports. Also, when complaints against officers are made by the public, or other officers, the body cam footage can be reviewed. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Police Body Cameras: What Defendants, Victims Need to Know (FindLaw Blotter) Body Cams Embraced, But Who Will Have Access to Footage? (FindLaw's California Case Law) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Defense Secretary Puts President Trump’s Transgender Ban on Hold

In the wake of President Donald Trump's proclamation that openly transgender individuals be discharged from the military, in addition to the lawsuits, there has been some pushback from an unexpected source: the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis. After sources reported that the general was appalled by the president's proclamation, soon after, he came out with a plan that effectively puts the ban on hold. While socially, and politically, transgender rights are a polarizing and controversial issue, it may not be possible to read anything more than prudence into Mattis's actions. Making a sweeping change like this to the military requires careful planning and assessment. What's Mattis's Hold Up? The general, reportedly, has instituted the hold on implementing the newest ban in order to study the effects and strategically plan how to actually do it (and potentially even whether to do it at all). Although the president, in a series of Tweets, claimed to have met with his generals prior to implementing the ban, no general has corroborated this claim. As such, not only was the general caught off guard, but the new policy's effects had not been studied prior to the implementation. While it may be too soon for those on either side of this issue to celebrate, LGBT advocates are pleased that there is at least some relief from the abruptly announced policy that would have uprooted many people's lives. Constitutional Challenges and Civil Rights Laws The lawsuit by the ACLU that challenges the transgender military ban argues that there is no military basis for the ban. According to the ACLU's complaint, "The Trump Administration has provided no evidence that this pronouncement was based on any analysis of the actual cost and disruption allegedly caused by allowing men and women who are transgender to serve openly."The Trump administration also faces a lawsuit from Lambda Legal that challenges the constitutionality of the transgender ban. Lambda Legal's lawsuit alleges "the Ban and the current accessions bar violate the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment," and "are unsupported by any compelling, important, or even rational justification."Although the new administration has taken a position that transgender individuals should not be protected under civil rights laws, there has been a steady trend in the law to protect transgender individuals. The number of states, and even federal courts, that have recognized transgender individuals as belonging to a protected class, and thus protected by civil rights laws, keeps growing. Related Resources: Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance on Bathroom Use for Transgender Students (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) The Rise of Anti-Anti-Discrimination Laws (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) California's Gender Neutral Bathroom Bill (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Here's the Latest on Trump Immigration Reform Efforts (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Knott’s Berry Farm Faces Second Log Ride Injury Lawsuit

Five-year-old Charles Miller was sitting in his father's lap on the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm in California when the ride came to a screeching halt after the last drop. According to a lawsuit filed against the theme park by his father, Miller flew forward, forcing his head to be "sandwiched between his father and the back of the seat causing an orbital blowout." Miller suffered a fractured eye socket, and the lawsuit claims Knott's Farm negligently maintained the ride. It turns out this is not the first problem with the log ride or the first lawsuit filed against the park: the family of a 6-year-old girl settled with Knott's Berry after she broke a bone above her right eye hitting her head on the ride, and the Miller suit cites ten other examples where guests were injured in similar incidents. Improper Water The problems for the log ride allegedly occur on the final descent into a large pool of water. According to the lawsuit: [T]he water sensing system for the Timber Mountain Log Ride was not properly monitoring the water level on the ride, especially at the bottom of the last drop, where there was improper water for proper braking, which increased the deceleration experienced by the guests in the log and contributed to their being injured by being thrown against the log's interior components. The suit also claims the California Division of Occupational Safety had previously inspected the ride, made Knott's Berry Farm aware the water sensing system was not working properly, and that the ride was operating out of compliance for almost two years. Contemptible Conduct "The conduct of the Defendants was so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched and loathsome," the lawsuit claims, "that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people." Along with compensatory damages for the child's injuries, the suit is also asking for punitive damages against Knott's Berry Farm as well as attorneys' fees. Related Resources: Child Battered by Knott's Berry Farm Log Ride, Family Says (Courthouse News) Who's Liable for Waterpark Injuries? (FindLaw's Injured) When to Sue for Theme Park Injuries (FindLaw's Injured) Disneyland Sued in 140 Injury Cases in 5 Years (FindLaw's Injured)
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$417M Judgment Against Johnson & Johnson in Latest Talc-Cancer Verdict

At this point, there have been so many lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson over its talc and baby powder products, and judgments against the company based on cancer caused by those products, it's becoming hard to keep track of them all. Luckily, Bloomberg did the work for us: J&J is facing "5,500 claims in U.S. courts, [and] has lost four previous jury verdicts in St. Louis for a total of $300 million." And you can add another verdict to that list, this one coming in California. A Los Angeles jury awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million after finding J&J liable for not warning about the cancer risk in its baby powder products. Problem All Over the Country "J&J needs to see they not only have verdicts against them in St. Louis, they now also have them in Los Angeles," Echeverria's attorney Mark Robinson said. "There's a problem all over the country with women using talcum powder on daily basis for 10, 20, 30, 40 years." The 62-year-old woman began using the talcum powder products when she was 11 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. Of the total award, the jury charged Johnson & Johnson with $347 million in punitive damages. While J&J has and continues to defend the safety of its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc-based products, various lawsuits have cited studies linking talc to ovarian cancer and accused the company of failing to adequately warn customers of the risk. Denying the Obvious Most damning of the allegations against J&J revolve around what the company knew and when. According to one lawsuit, the Cancer Prevention Coalition notified Johnson & Johnson's CEO in 1994 that studies showed using talcum powder in the genital area posed "a serious risk of ovarian cancer." And the AP has reported on an internal memo in 1997 from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant said "anybody who denies" the risk of using hygienic talc and ovarian cancer is "denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary." The latest judgment against J&J may be the latest and one of the largest, but it's far from the first and likely far from the last as well. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Talcum Powder Lawsuit: When to Sue J&J for Wrongful Death (FindLaw's Injured) Can Using Talcum and Baby Powder Really Cause Cancer? (FindLaw's Injured) Talcum Powder May Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk in African American Women (FindLaw's Injured)
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Interview with Penny Cooper, “Champion of the Marginalized”

Penny Cooper has a real and enduring legacy, as is reflected in the documentary about her life and work entitled Penny: A Documentary Film. Penny practiced for 36 years in San Francisco after graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1964 and is now retired.  She was a “lawyer’s lawyer” and was one of the first women criminal defense lawyers to try a major white-collar crime case, but she would tell you she preferred defending people charged with general criminal offenses.  She argued before the United States Supreme Court, which is rare for any lawyer, let alone a female.  She was known for her cross-examination skills and a long list of wins and high-profile acquittals; yet in-spite of this she has a keen understanding of the most important aspect of what it means to be a criminal defense attorney, that is that “[i]t’s not just the drama of going to court and objecting and winning or losing, it’s really managing people’s lives when they get into difficulty or trouble.” The documentary aptly described her as a “champion of the marginalized.” Penny was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame by the California State Bar’s Litigation Section in 2010, with long-time law partner, Cris Arguedas.  It was such an honor to interview one of the true legends of the criminal defense bar. I feel so lucky to have had an opportunity to have met and listened to this true defender, who forged a path for many of us to follow. I hope you will be as inspired by Penny Cooper as I am.   How did you get interested in criminal defense and what kind of cases did you handle? I am a product of the 60’s. I graduated from law school in 1964 from Berkeley.  The fall of 1964 was the free speech movement. We were just getting the civil rights amendment passed.  It was an era where everybody felt strongly one way or another about civil rights and criminal defense.  It was the only thing I was really interested in. I practiced for 36 years and I handled every kind of case.  My greatest day of practice was when I was coming home after having handled a traffic case for some guy who owned a winery who had entered the freeway the wrong way and was ticketed. I was representing him and I got the case dismissed because the law had been repealed. That same day, as I was driving home, I learned that we had won our case in the United States Supreme Court – United States vs. Merchant, 480 U.S. 615 (1987). This is the best way to express the breadth of my practice. I did everything from handling a traffic case in a little municipal court to arguing and winning a case before the United States Supreme Court. Without question, you were a pioneer for women in the field. What was it like to be one of the few women in the field when you started and did you know at the time that you were opening doors for other women in criminal defense? I have a very close female friend whom I went to law school with, and we laugh about it all the time because we didn’t even know what feminism was and we didn’t realize we should have been treated differently. We were just treated the way we were and it was really bad, but we just kind of laughed at it and soldiered through.  The dean of the law school was William Prosser, who was one of my teachers and he didn’t believe that women should be in law school – period. In my section, there were 90 people and only 3 women – and he didn’t call on women because he just figured it was a waste of time. In that era that’s just what people believed. Nick Johnson, who was another professor and who later became Lyndon B. Johnson’s head of the Federal Trade Commission, believed that it was so ridiculous to have women in law school; he said he was going to treat women equally — so in our class he called on man – woman – man – woman. Then we had a professor who transferred from Harvard, named Raoul Berger, and he would say “now stand up like a man and recite.” And we just took it all.  And we kind of laughed about it and still laugh about it.  It was only years later that we realized we had a right to expect something else. In law school we even had a segregated conference room where we would take our breaks and the men were someplace else. I remember when JFK was assassinated, we had to get permission from the dean to be able to watch the television, which was located in the men’s conference room. Here we were at Berkeley, the bastion of liberalism, which wasn’t so liberal back then. So, when I entered the public defender’s office there was only one other woman at the time but she was on her way out. The guy who hired me, the public defender, told me he didn’t really think women belonged in that office because it was like sailing down a sewer in a glass bottom boat. ...
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Federal Agents Raid Los Angeles Casino for Allegedly Laundering Money, Again

An ongoing investigation against the Bicycle Hotel and Casino in Bell Gardens, a city in Los Angeles, resulted in federal agents raiding the casino and closing the gambling floor this week. Since the warrant issued for the raid by a federal district court judge was filed under seal, there are only a few details about the investigation. However, this same casino was found, after a 1991 investigation, to have been built using drug money. Although numerous gamblers speculated that the raid was a result of rigged gaming tables, unnamed media sources clarified that the casino is under investigation for money laundering. Casino patrons holding stacks of chips will be pleased to know that the casino reopened this week after investigators finished their search. However, there may be some more legal trouble in their future, depending on what the search discovered. What is Money Laundering? The crime of money laundering occurs when a person exchanges illegally obtained money, such as the proceeds from the sale of drugs, stolen goods, or other criminal activities, for "clean" money. Many financial institutions are regulated in such a way that certain transactions are monitored for suspicious activity. However, businesses that operate with modest, or even sometimes large amounts of cash can sometimes fly under the radar of authorities, as we learned in Breaking Bad. Penalties for Money Laundering Money laundering is a relatively common type of white collar crime. Depending on whether charges are brought by federal or state authorities, the penalties for money laundering can vary. State laws tend to mirror federal laws, but vary from state to state. Typically, the penalties will increase with the amount of money laundered as well as the number of transactions. While one-off offenses can result in only misdemeanor charges, simple fines and short jail sentences, multiple money laundering transactions can lead to multiple offenses and felony jail sentences of several years. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How Stacks of Cash Get People Arrested (FindLaw Blotter) Founder of For-Profit College Gets Prison Time (FindLaw Blotter) Feds Punish NY Corruption: Sheldon Silver Sentenced to 12 Years (FindLaw Blotter)
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Is Mooning Someone Illegal?

Perhaps you just meant it as a prank among friends. Or maybe you were really mad and meant to insult a neighbor. Does that intent matter under state laws on indecent exposure? Do your bare buttocks count as "genitals" under state statutes? Here's what you need to know about mooning and indecent exposure laws. No Ifs, Ands, or Butts Most indecent exposure laws, like California's for instance, require intent by the exposing party to sexually arouse, or sexually insult or offend. The Golden State statute broadly makes it a crime to willfully expose your genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire to sexually gratify yourself or offend or insult the other person. So if you're not trying to offend or insult someone with your bared buttocks, you're probably alright. Even if you are trying to get a rise out of someone, the law also only applies to exposing one's genitals. Most courts have ruled that showing a bare female breast is not considered exposing your genitals, thus protecting breastfeeding mothers from prosecution on indecent exposure charges. So as long as you're showing your butt, and only your butt, it generally will not constitute indecent exposure under most indecent exposure statutes, including California's. Cheeky Free Speech In 2006, a Maryland court similarly determined that indecent exposure relates only to exposure of the genitals, noting that even if mooning is a "disgusting" and "demeaning" act, it was not illegal. "If exposure of half of the buttocks constituted indecent exposure," the court held, "any woman wearing a thong at the beach at Ocean City would be guilty." The Maryland court also held that mooning is a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment. Relying on a 1983 case where a woman was arrested for wearing nothing but a cardboard sign that only covered the front of her body during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the court ruled the man could not be guilty of indecent exposure, even if the mooning took place in front of a mother and her 8-year-old daughter. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) BofA Exec Can't Moon His Boss and Keep His Job, IL Court Rules (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Foxy Brown Cleared of 'Mooning' Charges: Witness Refused to Testify (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) State Indecent Exposure Laws (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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3 Common Types of Tax Fraud

Taxes can be scary for many people. The system is not necessarily user friendly. While debtors’ prisons are supposed to be a thing of the past, failing to abide by tax laws can result in criminal penalties, including fines and jail time. To make matters even more complicated, in addition to federal tax laws, there are also state and local tax laws that can have just as harsh, if not harsher, penalties, as one California man recently learned. Below, you’ll find three common types of tax fraud. 1. Underreporting Income Underreporting income is extraordinarily common for any person who is paid, or earns money, in cash form. However, this is a form of tax fraud and tax evasion and can result in serious criminal consequences. The IRS, and even state tax boards, require that all income be reported, which includes cash earned from the sale of goods, tips, and even casino winnings. Because there can often be little-to-no paper trail for industries where workers receive cash tips, or cash payments, oftentimes cash income will go unreported. However, not all underreported income will rise to the level of criminality, at least under federal law. It is conceivable that some cash income received is not reported due to ordinary negligence or a genuine mistake. However, underreporting can be charged as a felony with penalties including a couple years behind bars, and up to $250K in fines. 2. Using Fake Numbers Fudging numbers can result in serious criminal penalties for tax fraud. A person should never just guess, and should especially never knowingly use incorrect numbers, as it can be considered as making a false statement or falsifying a document. There are some checks and balances in place, some of which are computer automated, as well as specialized systems and tools, which can alert the IRS to inconsistencies.It will be hard to prove the defense that using wrong dollar amounts was unintentional, particularly if the results weigh in your favor, and there is not a clear explanation on how it unintentionally occurred. Fudging numbers is likely to be charged as a felony, and carry a few year jail sentence and up to $250K in fines. 3. Claiming Unqualified Deductions Another common act of tax fraud is claiming deductions, credits, and expenses, that an individual or business does not actually qualify for. Doing so can expose an individual to felony charges, a few years in jail, and the same hefty fines listed above. Related Resources: Need help with your taxes? Get your tax issue reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) What Is a Tax Haven? (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life) Avoiding Behavior the IRS Considers Criminal or Fraudulent (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law) Wesley Snipes Must Report to Prison on Tax Evasion Sentence (FindLaw’s Celebrity Justice)
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