We Stand With The Children Separated From Their Parents and Here is How You Can Too!

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I have been watching the news, horrified with the rest of the country, watching as immigrant children are taken from their parents at the US Border. Regardless of your feelings about immigration laws and immigration reform, I think we can all agree this practice has to stop and these babies need to be reunited with their families. 

I practice in personal injury and employment law, but watching this crisis unfold I have wished that I was an immigration lawyer so that I could advocate for these children in court. But these children need experienced immigration attorneys fighting for them and getting them back into the arms of their parents. If these children cannot obtain counsel they could stand in front of judges and represent themselves! There are a number of organizations providing legal advocacy that you can support financially. Our office is supporting RAICES, (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Below are links to a number of organizations providing legal assistance to immigrant children:

  1.  RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund;
  2. Kids in Need of Defense; 
  3. The Florence Project; 
  4. The ACLU; 
  5. The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights; and 
  6. Together Rising Love Flash Mob for the Children

Even small donations help. In addition to financial support, these children need you to let your voices be heard. Contact your representatives to let them know that you oppose the policy of separating children from their parents at the border. If you want to learn more about what you can do in the face of this crisis, please read this article from the New York Times. 

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN. 

Most Common Child Injury Cases

Child Injury Attorney

We believe children deserve to grow up in a safe environment, which gives them the freedom to grow and develop to their fullest potential. But sometimes accidents happen. Child injury claims exist to seek justice and to provide for a safer world for all of our children. Here are three of the most common types of injury cases we see in our office.

School Injuries

One category of child injury claims we have brought on behalf of children and their parents are claims against a school for injuries by the child. According to the Iowa Supreme Court, a school acts in the role of a parent while children are present in school. Stepping into the shoes of a parent, the school is then legally responsible for the care and well-being of the children during that time. While a school is not required to prevent every child injury, the school must take the same action that a reasonably prudent parent would. As a child injury attorney, I represent families whose children have been significantly injured because of school negligence.

Lead Poisoning

Unfortunately, another common child injury claim is for environmental exposure to a dangerous chemical such as lead. Lead poisoning is a very common child injury claim – and Ann Brown has represented multiple children who have suffered permanent injuries as a result of lead poisoning.

Iowa has a higher prevalence of lead poisoning than the national average, according to a CDC report, due in large part to a greater number of homes built in the mid 1900’s, when lead was used in paint. Children of families who buy or rent these homes may be exposed to lead through breathing or ingesting particles of that paint. Parents who rent such a home and whose children become lead poisoned may not realize they have a case, but we are here to help them navigate that process and recover damages that can help their child throughout their life.

Car Accidents

Car accidents are a common type of case we see, especially among teenagers. Insurance companies will often try to take a statement from an injured child or their parent, before they have had a chance to speak with a child injury attorney. We can help you deal with insurance companies, file a lawsuit and navigate the additional court process that is required in order to settle a child’s claim for any settlements over $25,000.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified the following as the most common types of child injuries: suffocation, drowning, poisoning, burns and falls. If a child suffered one of these injuries because of the fault of another person or because someone failed to adequately supervise the child, a parent should consider speaking with a child injury attorney to discuss compensation for their child and holding responsible parties accountable to prevent future harm to other children.

Child injury claims can be factually, legally and emotionally complicated. We stand with our clients and help them through this incredibly difficult time because we believe all children deserve justice and a bright tomorrow.

If you need a lawyer to represent your child after an injury, please call us for a free consultation at (319) 826-2250 or fill out our contact form.

Trucking Accidents: 5 Things You Should Know if You Have Been Injured in a Car Accident with Semi-Tractor Trailer

Truck Injury Attorney

The number of semi trucks on the road has been steadily increasing and along with it, an increase in the number of fatal crashes and crashes causing injuries involving semi trucks. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2016, 4,213 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes and 55,633 large trucks were involved in crashes causing personal injury.

This problem is exacerbated because truck drivers are encouraged to drive more and sleep less and truck owners often do not keep trucks in safe, working order. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident caused by the driver of a semi truck, there are some things that you should know:

  1. There may be multiple people or companies responsible: Semi truck accidents are often complicated because there may be multiple insurance companies and corporations that could be responsible for compensating you for your injuries. Determining who is responsible requires looking at who was driving the truck, who owned the truck and who the truck driver was hauling for. Most of these companies have insurance. There are complicated rules regarding how damages should be assessed against multiple responsible parties and their insurance companies. Before signing a release with any party, it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer so that you know the effect of releasing that party and whether you may also be releasing other responsible parties.

  2. There is usually more evidence available in a case involving a semi, but you need to get it early: Most semi truck drivers have to maintain log books that could contain crucial information to your case. Oftentimes there is crucial information found in the employment files of the truck driver or the maintenance records for the truck involved. Additionally, trucking companies often conduct their own accident investigation immediately after a crash and may have gathered important data. All of this evidence can help prove your case, but you need to obtain it as soon as possible and before it is destroyed. It can be difficult to obtain the evidence without representation, but a car accident injury attorney should be able to help you get the evidence you need.

  3. Semi trucks and their drivers have more rules to follow than other drivers: The federal government regulates the trucking industry. This includes regulations about the weight and mechanical condition of the truck, the training required to operate a truck and the number of hours a truck driver can operate a truck without taking a break. While most truck drivers abide by these rules and are cautious, some truck drivers and trucking companies do not follow the rules and their breaking of the rules may be very important to your case.

  4. Semi trucks are more dangerous than other vehicles:  Semi trucks are more dangerous than other vehicles because of their size and the difficulty operating the truck. These trucks have large blind spots due to their size and shape. The trucks also take longer to stop than a regular vehicle and can be difficult to maneuver around sharp turns.

  5. Multiple investigators will likely contact you: If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident or you lost a loved one in a truck accident, you should expect that multiple people will contact you about the accident. This includes the officers investigating the crash as well as investigators hired by the trucking company or an insurance company. You should be very cautious about providing information to an investigator hired by a trucking company or even hired by your own automobile insurance company. It is very likely that the investigator is focused on obtaining evidence that will help the trucking company prove that they were not at fault for the crash or information that they believe will help them to show you were not seriously injured.

If you or a loved one were injured in a trucking accident, it would be helpful to speak with an attorney about your options. Trucking cases are complicated and raise a number of factual and legal issues that should be dealt with by an experienced car accident injury attorney. If you would like to speak with someone at Ann Brown Legal about a trucking accident, please call (319) 826-2250.  

Working Hard for Their Money: How Iowa Employment Law Protects Employees from Wage Theft

Iowa Employment Law

Iowans are known for their work ethic and so it’s particularly disturbing when an employer doesn’t pay an employee the wages they’ve earned. This is known as wage theft. Iowa employees are protected against wage theft both through a federal law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but also through an Iowa law known as the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act, Iowa Code Chapter 91.A. Unfortunately, a lot of employees don’t know their rights under these employment laws.

The FLSA requires that most employers pay employees minimum wage for hours worked and also requires that employers pay employees one and a half times their regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40. The FLSA also requires that employers count time spent performing certain work as hours worked and prohibits agreements between an employer and an employee to pay the employee less than minimum wage or not to pay the employee overtime owed.

The FLSA requires that employers pay employees for time spent doing things that are “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ work activity. This can include time spent putting on specialized protective equipment and then walking to the employee work station and time spent traveling between worksites. One of the most famous FLSA cases about these issues came out of Iowa—Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo was an Iowa case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. That case was a class action where employees of the Tyson Meat Packing Plant were awarded back pay, including overtime owed, for time they spent “donning and doffing” protective equipment.

In addition to the FLSA, Iowa employees’ right to wages is protected by the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act requires that an employer pay wages due on regular pay days and that an employer pay the employee all wages on the first regular pay day after the employee’s termination of employment. Many employers violate this law by withholding an employee’s last paycheck or by deducting expenses from a paycheck that are not permissible. Iowa law prohibits an employer from withholding wages for the following:

  1. A cash shortage unless there is a written agreement;

  2. Losses of the employer due to customer non-payment, breakage or bad checks;

  3. Lost or stolen property;

  4. Tips/gratuities received by the employee;

  5. Protective equipment; and

  6. Costs of more than $20 for employee relocation expenses.

The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act also prohibits an employer from withholding employee wages because they believe they have a claim against that employee.

Both the FLSA and the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act allow an employee to recover back wages along with liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees and expenses—meaning that if an employer violates one of these laws they wind up paying more than they would if they had simply paid the employee what was owed.

If you have questions about whether your current or former employer has violated employment laws, you should speak with an Iowa employment lawyer to determine if you have a case. Please call us at (319) 826-2250.

Sobering Facts - What you need to know about drunk driving and Iowa's dram shop law.

Between 2003 and 2012, 968 fatal accidents in Iowa involved a drunk driver. Around 30 % of fatal crashes are alcohol-related.  In addition to fatalities, numerous people are injured by drunk drivers throughout Iowa. The Des Moines Register recently published an article highlighting the following shocking statistics:

  1. Since 2005, 222 people have been charged with vehicular homicide as a result of driving drunk;
  2. At least 13 of those drivers were caught driving drunk after being convicted of vehicular homicide;
  3. Since 2005, more than 11,300 people have been arrested for driving drunk three or more times.

These numbers are consistent with what I have seen in my practice. In nearly every case where I have represented a person injured by a drunk driver or the family of a person killed by a drunk driver, it has not been the first time the person was arrested for drunk driving. 

Unfortunately, often a driver with a prior drunk driving history does not have sufficient insurance limits to fully compensate the persons they have harmed (or does not carry any insurance). This leaves injured persons to recover for their own insurance through uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage or, in some cases, to pursue a dram shop claim. 

In Iowa, the law prohibits bars or other establishments that hold a liquor license from over-serving patrons. A bar that serves a patron to the point of intoxication or when they reasonably should know the patron is already intoxicated can be held responsible if that patron later harms someone while drunk. The law also requires that in order to obtain a liquor license, a bar or other establishment must provide proof of dram shop insurance. 

Dram shop cases can be complicated, often because the drunk driver refused to submit to a breathalyzer. They often involve obtaining the investigative files from police, speaking with investigating officers and hiring a toxicologist to determine if the drunk driver was likely served to the point of intoxication at the defendant bar. 

One important thing to remember about dram shop cases is that persons injured by a drunk driver must send a notice of a potential dram shop claim to the bar within six months of the date of injury unless they can show good cause for not doing so. Dram shop claims are often pursued in addition to a claim against the drunk driver who caused the injury. 

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, you should speak with an attorney about a potential dram shop claim as soon as possible. If you would like to speak with me about your claim, please call me at (319) 826-2250. 

Revolution? Will 2017 mark in history the year when sexual harassment finally became unacceptable and when the world started placing blame where it belongs?

Sexual harassment didn't start with Bill O'Reilly or Harvey Weinstein. It has been around since women entered the workplace.  For countless women, going to work has meant being targeted by their co-workers and their bosses. Being hit-on, propositioned, threatened, even sexually assaulted, has just been the price for being employed. Victims have included women who kept quiet because they needed their minimum wage jobs in order to support their families to women executives who took it because they felt their careers would be stalled if they ever spoke out. 

But has something changed in 2017? In April, Bill O'Reilly, with the best ratings in cable news, was finally fired after years of sexual harassment complaints and confidential settlements with the women who he had harassed. In August, Taylor Swift won a symbolic verdict of $1.00 against a radio host who had sexually assaulted her and then sued her because she had complained to his employer about the assault. 

Then in October, the New York Times published an article detailing years of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Since then, 83 victims have surfaced to tell their horrific stories. Then in November, Matt Lauer was fired, and finally in December, Minnesota Senator Al Franken resigned his senate seat amid sexual harassment allegations.  If 2017 has shown us anything, it is that sexual harassment happens in every field of employment, at every income level, is committed by Republicans and Democrats alike and is a plague on our workforce. 

I, like the rest of the country, am wondering if we are in the middle of a revolution that will lead to real change. But I am left with another unanswered question that I have had since I first began practicing law: How did we get here?  To a place where men in power feel entitled to proposition or even touch the women they work with, and women think of these actions as another hazard of the workplace. 

If anything changes after 2017, I hope it is that more women come forward. I have represented women who have been subjected to sexual harassment, and I know with certainty that it is NOT easy to come forward. But the silence has spanned decades, and silence changes nothing. I hope that with more women coming forward it becomes easier for others to speak up. That people start to realize that blame doesn't belong with the victims. Women go to work for the very same reasons as men—to make a living, to support a family, to find a purpose, to get ahead, to change the world for the better. There is no place for this kind of conduct in our workforce. 

If you have been sexually harassed at work and would like to discuss your options, please call me at (319) 826-2250. 

Wage Theft - How your employer may be stealing from you without you even knowing.

 Iowa Employment Lawyer 

A number of recent class action lawsuits brought by employees against their employers have called attention to the long-time problem of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee all of the wages earned by the employee and can happen in any industry and to all types of employees. Here are a few common types of wage theft to watch out for:

  1. Working off the clock: Some employers may require employees to work before or after their scheduled hours doing things like putting on required protective gear, cleaning up or completing required paperwork, but will only pay the employee for the scheduled shift. 
  2. Failing to pay overtime: The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay non-exempt employees time and a half for hours worked over 40. Some employers will fail to pay the increased rate for overtime or may incorrectly classify employees as exempt in an attempt to avoid paying overtime. 
  3. Failing to pay for travel time: Employers are required to pay employees for certain travel time. However some employers refuse to do so. 
  4. Failing to pay for training time: Employers must pay employees while attending certain training sessions that are required by the employer. 
  5. Withholding pay: Some employers may take impermissible deductions from an employee paycheck or may withhold an employee's last check.

For Iowa workers, there are two laws aimed at protecting employees from wage theft—The Fair Labor Standards Act and The Iowa Wage Payment Collection Act. Often, claims for wage theft are filed as class action lawsuits on behalf of all employees of an employer who have been a victim of the theft. Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a series of cases involving whether employers can include arbitration agreements and class action waiver in their employee agreements. The Court has not yet issued a ruling, but you can read more about the case here

If you believe your employer has committed wage theft and you would like to discuss whether you have a claim against your employer, please call our office at (319) 826-2250

The Iowa Supreme Court Holds Case Against Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds for Violation of Constitutional Rights Can Proceed

On June 30, 2017, in a 4-3 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that will help protect Iowan's Civil Rights for years to come. In the case of Godfrey v. Branstad et al, the Court held that Chris Godfrey, the former Iowa Worker's Compensation Commissioner, could continue to pursue claims against Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds and other officials from the Branstad Administration for violating his right to Due Process guaranteed under the Iowa Constitution. 

Godfrey's case arose out of Branstad's actions in 2010 when he demanded that Godfrey resign from his position and then substantially reduced Godfrey's salary after Godfrey refused. Godfrey claims that Branstad wanted to remove him from the position for partisan and discriminatory reasons, based on Godfrey's appointment by a Democratic Governor and his sexual orientation. The position of Worker's Compensation Commissioner has typically been insulated from partisan politics. 

The Court's decision will allow Iowa Citizens to bring lawsuits against state officials when those officials violate their constitutional rights, provided that there is not already a law in place allowing the claim. The decision will protect Iowan's from abuses of power for years to come. As the Court noted in its decision, Iowa has a long history of paving the way for progress by recognizing and protecting civil rights before the US Supreme Court has acted, noting our state motto "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintaining." The full decision of the Court can be read here. 

Chris Godfrey is represented by Roxanne Conlin, a Des Moines attorney. 

At Ann Brown Legal we are committed to helping people whose civil rights have been violated. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work: How our clients' fight to be paid what they were owed helped all women in the battle to close the gender pay gap

 Cedar Rapids Employment Discrimination Attorney 

It was 2011 when I first met the three women who I would end up representing for nearly six years. These women came to me after they learned that they were being paid substantially less than the men who were performing the same job at a large furniture manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. All three women were managers working in a male dominated workplace. They were like a lot of women I know—smart, hard-working and dedicated employees. Still, they were being paid less than men for doing the same work. 

We brought claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. In 2015, before the trial, the case went to the Iowa Supreme Court to answer a certified question about the time period for recovering damages under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 

We held a jury trial in Davenport, Iowa, in the summer of 2015. The jury was made up of both men and women, and the jury found in favor of our clients for all of the equal pay claims. The jury also found that the employer's conduct was willful and awarded punitive damages. Throughout discovery in the case, we learned that all of the women managers at the manufacturing plant were being paid less than men performing the same work and we were able to present that evidence to the jury. 

The employer then appealed the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 3, 2017, the 8th Circuit ruled in favor of our clients. The ruling can be found here. The Court held that the employer had failed to show that economic conditions were the reason for the pay difference. The Court also held that evidence of the other women managers who were being paid less was admissible. As discussed by Bloomberg in an article discussing the ruling, the Court also held that Department of Labor audit results were not admissible. We believe these victories will help women employees in future cases to successfully prove their claims of wage discrimination.

Throughout the six years that we worked on this case, my clients stood strong in their belief that they and all women should be paid equally. They brought the same level of dedication to this case that had allowed them to advance to management in a male-dominated field. This case proves that we really can change the workplace for the better—one case at a time. 

Wrongful Death—Grieving a Loss that Never Should Have Been

Life is meant to be lived in the company of our families. The moments we spend with our parents, our children, our husbands or wives—those are the moments that make up a life well-lived. There is no greater heartbreak than the death of a loved one. It can be even harder when a death is unexpected and caused by carelessness. Words left unspoken. Plans broken. Dreams unrealized. 

During these tragic times, it seems unfair that there is often so much added responsibility to the families who have lost when grieving is already too much to bear.  We have been with families through these tough times and have found ourselves questioning how we could best help these families when at times it seems that any help we can give is not enough.   

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, who unexpectedly lost her husband, has recently written a much-needed book addressing many of the things that are left unsaid about tragedy and grieving. The book is called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sandberg not only gives advice for those who are grieving but for those who care about someone who is grieving. There are two pieces of advice that she gives that spoke to me: 1) don't ignore the tragedy because you don't know what to say; and 2) actually do something to help, no matter how small,  instead of simply offering to do anything.

One way that we strive to help our clients is through pursuing wrongful death claims, which can be complicated and overwhelming. We help our clients in a number of ways, including:

  1. Protecting them from unwanted communication from an insurance company;
  2. Helping them to determine potential claims and how to pursue them;
  3. Helping them to navigate opening an Estate; and 
  4. Finding available community resources. 

Our goal with every client dealing with an unexpected death is to provide them with reliable counsel and advocacy so that pursuing a wrongful death claim does not become overly burdensome in an already difficult time.