With the coming of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, it’s a good time to talk about charity scams.   Our firm handles fraud actions in the healthcare context, and scams burn us up.    Do some research — know your donation dollars are going to actually support breast cancer research and programs.   As one site put it, “Think Before You Pink.”   This includes not just donating, but purchasing products which purport to give to breast cancer research.

Look for well-established charities, ones that are transparent about how funds are spent, and especially those that will disclose financial records.

My family recently decided to donate an older family car to the fight against breast cancer.  We found a site coming up first on internet searches.  A call to the site number had a representative saying suspicious things.  We did more research.  Good thing.  On further research, the charity appeared convoluted, difficult to track, and was criticized for not being reliable for charitable giving.  For example, it appeared that the charity took in $5.7M in revenues in 2013, but their expenses claimed were $5.65M.  The Form 990 on file with the IRS showed that very little money actually went to a true charitable purpose.   Do we know whether it was a trustworthy charity?  No, there was not enough out there to assure us, and plenty to raise red flags.   In the end, the car went not to them, but to a different charity with solid figures and accountability.

If you think the warm, fuzzy charity that is tugging at your heartstrings is worth your $$, make sure it can support its claims.   Try this link set up by the California Department of Justice: https://oag.ca.gov/charities.  Put the name of the charity to which you’d like to donate in their Charity Research Tool.   Be cautious if your charity does not appear, and do further research.   You also may want to take a look at this scary recent news clip:  http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/19/us/scam-charity-investigation/.  Bottom line:   Sadly, charity scammers are out there, and you’ve got to be vigilant so you don’t get “pinked in a wink.”


In what industry, other than health care, are consumers expected to make life-altering decisions about who to hire (for the most important job — their health) without the slightest idea what their services will cost?

CR-Health-II-California-Project-Logos-09-15A new website clears some of the fog surrounding health care value in California.  A tool on the site allows consumers to compare California hospitals and health care providers on both cost and quality. But health insurers may be making a play to render it useless.

The $3.9 million web tool was created through a partnership between the California Department of Insurance, UC San Francisco, Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) and others.  It allows comparison of quality scores of health care providers with the amount they charge for their services.

Visit the website by clicking the pic above, or going to www.cahealthcarecompare.org.

This information, particularly the quality scores, is sorely needed by California consumers and is an excellent step forward.  Where the project falls flat for many consumers, however, is that it does not allow consumers to compare the net cost charged to them between different health insurance plans.  Due in part to the Affordable Care Act, a lot of us are insured, and that number is growing. According to the LA Times, health insurance companies have worked to block the inclusion of their rates in a comparable tool.  Instead, we are left with statewide averages, which can mask wide variations between insurance plans.

So, for many of us, the comparison is incomplete.  We can discover the rated quality of a provider, and the average price of the service… but not actual cost to ourselves or our insurer, or what it would be under a different plan. (Our insurer’s cost becomes very important in liability claims, because they demand their portion back!).  Detailed cost estimates from insurers can be found by clicking a button on the new website.  But only health plan members with an active policy can access that information — ensuring that no cost comparison can be made before buying a policy.

We applaud the new “CA Health Care Compare” website as an important first step in health care value transparency.  And we urge the Department of Insurance, Consumers Union and California consumers to keep the heat on insurers to pull back their curtain on pricing, so that the site might reach its full potential.


Cities and counties usually have broad immunities from lawsuits.  But, if a statute provides a basis, such as when a city allows a dangerous condition to exist on public property, there can be liability.

The California Supreme Court recently found that trees planted or maintained in a median can pose a foreseeable danger to drivers, and that a city can be liable, even in a case where another negligent driver causes a car to veer into the median and hit the tree.  The court found it was not necessary for the plaintiff to prove the trees caused the at-fault driver to operate his vehicle recklessly. The court held plaintiffs need only show the trees – in this case which were alleged to be too close to the road – were a proximate cause of the injuriesCordova v. City of Los Angeles.  August 13, 2015.

Tree cases are blooming of late.  In 2014, City of Pasadena v. Superior Court held that local agencies could be liable for inverse condemnation when a city-owned tree damaged in a windstorm fell and damaged private property.

Dangerous conditions of trees can lead to large verdicts, as seen in a suit filed in 2011 by a man who was rendered paraplegic after being crushed by a falling queen palm after the city canceled its tree-trimming program due to budget cuts.  Mission Hills resident Michael Burke, the plaintiff in that case, received a verdict of a reported $7.7M against the City of San Diego.  Press after the case focused on the need for inspection, monitoring and care of trees under government control, especially palms which have shallow root systems and topple more easily.

And lower trees blocking views can be just as bad a problem.  In March, 2015, a baby was killed and her father injured when her father pushed a stroller across an intersection at Catalina Blvd. and Canon Streets in Point Loma.   The motorist who hit them indicated a tree had blocked his view.  That palm tree has since been removed by the city.

Local agencies should be viewing these cases as a call to remove or trim trees before tragedies are repeated.  In some areas, untended brush impeding views may be the problem.  But, just as worrisome, drought conditions and water restrictions can weaken trees.  And, parched trees can and do fall.  http://www.usnews.com/news/science/news/articles/2015/07/31/amid-california-drought-fears-rise-of-trees-dying-falling

Homeowners and local entities responsible for public grounds should take heed of these new cases and the conditions increasing potential liability.