Friday, October 31, 2008

CT Releases New Reports on Injuries

New reports by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) demonstrate the enormous impact of injuries on disability and death in Connecticut.

Injuries are the leading cause of death among Connecticut residents between the ages of one and 44 years, and are the fifth leading cause for all ages. Injuries are also a leading cause of disability for state residents and responsible for approximately 17,000 inpatient hospitalizations, and 333,000 emergency department visits each year. Direct charges for injury related hospitalizations totaled $1.6 billion between 2000 and 2004 for Connecticut residents.

The DPH and the Injury Community Planning Group (ICPG) have released two reports called Connecticut Injury Prevention and Control Plan, and the Injury in Connecticut data book. The DPH and ICPG identify four priority injuries to be addressed by health officials: falls among older adults; suicides/self-inflicted injuries; homicides/assault injuries; and motor vehicle crashes. “These priorities represent the leading causes of injury-related death and morbidity in Connecticut.” You can read the reports by clicking the following links:

Injury in Connecticut: Deaths & Hospitalizations Data Book (2000 - 2004)

Injury-related Emergency Department Visits in Connecticut (2000 - 2004)

Connecticut Injury Prevention and Control Plan, 2008 - 2012


Employers are warned that Halloween costumes can lead to liability issues. The National Law Journal reports, "With Halloween just around the corner, labor and employment attorneys are warning employers that the annual holiday could get scary -- in a legal way -- if costumes, or a work party, get out of hand," as "costumes that carry a political or social message, or are simply too raunchy for the workplace, could lead to a liability nightmare down the road." Another potential liability with Halloween: personal injury suits, such as a slip-and-fall claims.

U.S. Supreme Court Case Could End Drugmakers' Liability

The AP reports that Diana Levine blames Wyeth Pharmaceuticals "for a botched injection of the Wyeth-made drug Phenergan that led doctors to amputate her right arm in 2000." There is a "hearing Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court, where Wyeth is appealing a $6.7 million verdict in her favor." A ruling "could have major ramifications for drug makers and consumers. The court is expected to decide whether people can sue under state law -- or are pre-empted from doing so -- for harm caused by a drug approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration." While Wyeth and the (FDA) "say that when a drug like Phenergan has a federally approved label, its manufacturer is immune from lawsuits in state court," consumer groups maintain that "federal regulation should represent the floor, not the ceiling, of a drug company's responsibility." Fordham University law professor Benjamin Zipursky, a product liability expert, said that "the court could effectively 'eliminate all pharmaceutical company liability in this one case.'"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

State's Cancer Rate Highest in New London County

In "news" that will surprise no one around here, the Day reports that "New London County has the highest cancer rate of the eight counties in Connecticut, according to new data released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health. The new database, available on the health department's Web site, shows New London County's rate is about 528 cases of invasive cancer per 100,000 residents, compared to a statewide rate of about 508 cases per 100,000. Fairfield County, the most populous region, has the second-highest cancer rate of about 522 cases per 100,000 people. The data pertains to cancer cases documented between 2001 and 2005."

Animal-Vehicle Crashes on the Rise

The AP reports that "Fatalities from vehicle crashes with deer and other animals have more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to a new study by an auto insurance-funded highway safety group that cites urban sprawl overlapping into deer habitat. The report by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that 223 people died in animal-vehicle crashes last year, up from 150 in 2000 and 101 in 1993." Read more.

MetLife Says CT's Nursing Home Rates Among the Highest

The Courant reports that "The Stamford area has won the dubious distinction of having the highest average nursing home rates of any metropolitan area in the nation — and Hartford isn't far behind. Connecticut also has some of the nation's steepest charges at assisted living centers, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the Metlife Mature Market Institute in Westport. The average daily cost of a private nursing home room in the Stamford area this year is $394, or $143,810 a year, about 6 percent higher than in last year's survey." The average Connecticut nursing home cost is $362 a day, and areas of the state other than Hartford and Stamford average $346. "On a national average, private room nursing rates remained about flat this year at $212 a day." Read more.

DOJ Study Finds Plaintiffs Win More Than Half of Cases

Some surprising info here. The National Law Journal reports that a new Department of Justice report finds that "plaintiffs won in more than half of state court civil trials in 2005 and were more likely to get a favorable verdict in bench than jury trials." Judges ruled in plaintiffs' "favor in 68 percent of the cases, while juries favored the plaintiffs 54 percent of the time." The report also concluded that there was a "final median damage award of $28,000" and "punitive damages were awarded in about 5 percent of the cases, with $64,000 as the median punitive damages award." Additionally, there was "a major drop in the number of civil trials, with numbers decreasing by 52 percent from 1992 to 2005 in the nation's 75 most populous counties. In these counties, the median final award also decreased, from $72,000 in 1992, to $43,000 in 2005." The exceptions were in products liability trials, where "median awards were five times higher in 2005" and in medical malpractice cases, where median awards more than doubled.

Sec. Gutierrez Blasts Tort Lawsuits

Congress Daily reported that Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, in a speech at the US Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, referred to a "resurgent plaintiffs' bar" and called for a curb on tort lawsuits, "claiming that a hostile legal environment threatens foreign investment in the United States." He cited a new Commerce report indicating tort costs as a percentage of US gross domestic product are double or triple those of various other countries. "The American Association of Justice...discounted Gutierrez's remarks, saying many business surveys have found fear of litigation ranks low in the concerns for manufacturers and small-business owners and that state tort trials have decreased over the last decade." Ray De Lorenzi, AAJ spokesman, noted that foreign companies "have to follow our laws and be held accountable if they are reckless or negligent." No argument from us there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NTSB Targets Medical Helicopter Safety

A federal safety panel says aviation officials are not moving quickly enough on proposals to prevent crashes of emergency medical helicopters. In the last 11 months, nine such helicopters have crashed, killing 35 people.

In January 2006, the five-member National Transportation Safety Board urged the Federal Aviation Administration to take steps to improve the safety of emergency medical helicopter flights. The safety board wanted the FAA to improve procedures for medical helicopters, to evaluate flight risks, require onboard crash-warning technology and set policies for securing weather updates.

At a meeting this week, the NTSB acknowledged that the FAA is working on the proposals, but needs to work more quickly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Tort Reform" Threatens Playground Safety

A paper by the Center for Justice and Democracy concludes that "Lawsuits serve a crucial purpose by ensuring that guidelines are followed and equipment is well-made and well-maintained."

Amy Widman writes:

"A six-year-old girl severed her finger when she went to slide down a
slide on the school playground. It turns out that there was an opening
with a loose support and the girl’s hand was caught as her body slid
down the slide. Her parents sued the school district on her behalf and

A six-year-old boy injured himself when he fell off a ramp intended
for use by older children, even though younger children had been
instructed not to use it. The injured child had successfully used the
ramp twice before falling on his third attempt. A jury found that the
ramp and its use constituted a dangerous piece of equipment and
awarded the family damages.

A nine-year-old fell from a swing when the overhead fasteners came
loose and the swing gave way. The court awarded damages to the
family, stating that ordinary inspection would have revealed the
impending danger.

Another nine-year-old fell from the ladder of a 14 foot high slide at
school, while climbing up for the purpose of sliding down. The jury
found that the school was negligent in allowing such a dangerous
piece of playground equipment to be used by children.

Litigation explosion? Well, no. These cases all took place before 1946 and, even more troubling, similar cases today might not fare so well for victims, due in part to the efforts of organizations dedicated to wiping out such lawsuits. Recently, some corporate-funded 'tort reform' groups have seized on children’s playgrounds as a new area to exploit to further their 'tort reform' agenda." Read more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

U.S. Chamber: "Lawsuit Abuse" Caused Financial Crisis

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform claims "lawsuit abuse" has caused the current economic crisis, in an email blast sent 10/23. The U.S. Chamber would have us ignore its role in pushing less oversight, regulation and accountability on behalf of corporate wrongdoers, and would have us overlook, for example, its contribution of over $23 million from bailed-out insurer AIG. Note too that the U.S. Chamber spent $30 million in lobbying expenses in the last quarter alone, part of which was used to push for passage of the $850 billion financial "rescue" package.
Earlier this month, the AAJ released an issue brief on U.S. Chamber’s role in the current financial meltdown, and exposed payments to it from AIG.

Should the Next President Break Up the FDA?

Some observers anticipate serious difficulty for the incoming president regarding the regulatory system that oversees food and drug safety in this country. "We have seen early warning signs of failure, but like the warnings before Hurricane Katrina, they have been ignored by the current administration. Recent drug recalls and food alerts are the early warning signals. These include beef recalled for mad cow and E. coli contamination, mystery salmonella outbreaks that took weeks before the source was identified, tainted shipments of heparin from raw materials that originated in China, recalls of the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri because it was linked to cancer and the diabetes drug Avandia, and the Vioxx recalls and generics manufacturers that produced pills that were not equivalent to the brand-name medicines." One suggestion for improvement: break up the FDA. Read more.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Death Toll Prompts Navy & Marines to Require Special Motorcycle Training

The military reacts not only to service-related deaths but also recreational. "So many members of the armed forces have been dying on sport bikes like the Ninja that the Navy and Marines have made special training mandatory for sport bike riders this year. In one weekend in September, the Navy lost four men in sport bike accidents." Read more.

$322,000 Jury Verdict In New London for Rear-End Collision

The Day reports that a jury in New London Superior Court returned a verdict of nearly $322,000 in favor of a New London woman who was injured when her car was struck from behind by another vehicle on Montauk Avenue in 2005. Liability was admitted, leaving the amount of damages to be determined by the jury, which awarded $321,910.52 to Mrs. Crespo and an additional $2,943 to her husband. Local orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey A. Miller and Dr. Robert Burnett, a chiropractor, had testified for the plaintiffs.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Baby Deaths Prompt Recall of Nearly 1.6M Cribs

Delta Enterprises is voluntarily recalling nearly 1.6 million older versions of its drop-side cribs after two infants suffocated to death. One recall, to install missing safety pegs, involves 985,000 of the drop-side cribs. The other recall, which affects about 600,000 cribs, is because the crib’s drop side can detach when the spring peg is not engaged, causing an entrapment and suffocation risk to infants and toddlers.

Delta's recall follows on the heels of another recall of about 2,000 convertible cribs made by Playkids USA, after an infant died by suffocation as a result of becoming trapped in one of the cribs. The sides of the convertible crib are made of a mesh that expands, creating a gap between the mattress and the side through which an infant can slip, resulting in risk of suffocation and entrapment for small children. If you have concerns about a dangerous or defective product, call the Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck (

Claims Not the Cause for Rising Medical Malpractice Premiums

So much for the medical malpractice "crisis". The American Association for Justice (AAJ)analyzed the 2000-2004 performance of the 15 largest medical malpractice insurers in the United States rated by A.M. Best. "Because of the overall surge in malpractice premiums with no corresponding surge in claims payments during [that period], the leading malpractice insurers have increased their surplus by more than a third in only three years, and they are now charging more for malpractice insurance than either their actual payments in malpractice cases or their estimated future payments in malpractice cases would justify." Sounds like another case of corporate greed. Read the report here.

Toys Containing Banned Plastics Flooding the Market

In February, toys containing now-banned phthalates, chemical additives that render hard plastics flexible, will be illegal to sell, and that has some retailers trying to liquidate their inventories--just in time for the holidays. "Three types of phthalates will be banned from children's toys and child-care products starting Feb. 10, while three other types of phthalates will be temporarily prohibited from child-care products and toys that can be placed in a child's mouth", reports the Wall Street Journal. Consumer advocates complain that the law has ended up allowing a grace period that permits toy makers to sell off the soon-to-be banned toys, rather than forcing them to dispose of them. Read more.

Medication Deaths Reported to Gov't Hit New Record

The Washington Times writes that "The number of serious problems and deaths linked to medications reported to the government set a record in the first three months of this year, a health industry watchdog group said Wednesday.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received nearly 21,000 reports of serious drug reactions, including over 4,800 deaths, said an analysis of federal data by the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), which scrutinized data going back to 2004, and yearly totals dating to the 1990s." Read more.

Study Finds 1 of 10 Patients Die from Preventable Medical Errors

A recent study by the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that 1 of every 10 patients who died within 90 days of surgery did so because of a preventable medical error. The study, published in the July 28 issue of the Journal of Health Services Research, also found that preventable medical errors cost nearly $1.5 billion annually.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Worst Insurance Companies

The AAJ identifies the ten "worst insurance companies for consumers," based on a comprehensive investigation of thousands of court records, SEC and FBI documents, state insurance department complaints and investigations, news accounts from around the country, and the testimony of former insurance agents and adjusters. The list includes companies from a wide range of insurance fields, including auto, homeowners, health, life, and disability insurers. The worst: Allstate, based on its "concerted efforts to put profits over policyholders". Read the report here.

Bush Administration Sought to Undermine Consumer Protections

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) states that "In a stealth effort coordinated at the highest levels of the Bush administration, multiple federal agencies were repeatedly ordered to usurp state law and undermine consumer protections, according to documents obtained through repeated FOIA requests". The newly released documents describe how the administration's top priority has been helping corporations escape accountability for dangerous products.

"This is the real Bush legacy," said AAJ President Les Weisbrod. "In effect the Bush administration made the safety of Americans secondary to corporate profits." Read the report.

Attorney General Seeks Ban on Toxic BPA in Baby Bottles

Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is urging manufacturers of baby bottles and formula containers to stop using the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their products in light of the recent studies linking the toxin to potential health problems. BPA, which hardens plastic, is used in the lining of baby formula containers. Studies demonstrate that even a small amount of BPA damages infant neurological, reproductive, and immune systems.

The New Jersey and Delaware AGs joined Blumenthal in sending letters to baby bottle manufacturers Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflo; and formula makers Abbott, Mead Johnson, PBM Products, Nature's One and Wyeth. "I am alarmed by recent studies confirming that BPA leaches from these products into the foods they hold," Blumenthal said in the letters. "The preventable release of a toxic chemical directly into the food we eat is unconscionable and intolerable." Read more.

Medicare Cuts Hospital Reimbursements for Malpractice

On Oct. 1st, Medicare, the government health insurance program for the nation's elderly and disabled, began reducing reimbursements for many hospital-acquired conditions such as surgical-site infections, certain catheter-related infections, advanced bed sores, injuries resulting from falls and trauma, signs of poor blood-sugar control such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hypoglycemic coma, and deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism following certain orthopedic surgeries. Medicare also is targeting the "never events" (events that should never happen in a hospital) such as the wrong kind of surgery, surgery on the wrong body part or surgery on the wrong patient, for which it will eliminate payment altogether. The agency estimates the savings from paying hospitals a lower rate for preventable hospital-acquired conditions will amount to $21 million a year. Several private insurers have announced plans to follow Medicare's lead.

Forcing hospitals to bear the cost of preventable complications is accelerating efforts by hospitals to tighten up their safety systems and treatment protocols. According to 2002 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most recent available, patients acquire an estimated 1.7 million infections each year in U.S. hospitals, leading to about 99,000 annual deaths. Nearly one third of these are urinary-tract infections, 22% are surgical-site infections, 15% are pneumonias and 14% are bloodstream infections. There are about 750,000 sepsis cases every year in the U.S., resulting in more than 200,000 patients deaths. Observers believe Medicare's new stance on reimbursement is likely to result in steps by hospitals to increase prevention and early diagnosis of infections that can lead to sepsis.

Some believe the new Medicare rule has advantages and disadvantages. While efforts to reduce or eliminate preventable complications is a worthy goal, some fear that the rule changes could result in doctors and hospitals becoming much more selective about which patients they treat. Another concern is that hospitals will try to pass the costs onto patients, and that patients will receive hospital bills for the preventable medical errors or conditions they suffer.

RI Supreme Court Rejects Social Host Liability

In Willis v. Omar, No. 2007-164 (July 9, 2008), the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff's invitation to create a new cause of action against social hosts when guests or drunk drivers leave their parties after consuming alcohol and then cause injury or death on the highway. The Court held that social hosts do not owe a duty to third persons for injuries caused by intoxicated guests who were drinking at the host's home, in the absence of a "special relationship." The Court said it was up to the Legislature to create such a duty. Read more.

Caps on Damages: Justice Denied

David A. Hyman, professor of law at the University of Illinois College of Law, discusses the real-world consequences of caps on damages in the Sept. 15th issue of Forbes. "The elderly, the poor, the unemployed and their surviving families are getting hurt in disproportionate numbers. Many deserving victims of medical malpractice can't even find a lawyer to represent them. Any suit that might require extensive discovery, the testimony of high-priced experts or protracted court proceedings can't get off the ground." Read more.

Man Left for Dead Settles Lawsuit Against Ambulance Corps

The Stonington Ambulance Corps has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by stonemason Kevin Crandall, who alleged that two of its EMTs stopped resuscitation efforts after they mistakenly determined he was dead, resulting in brain damage from lack of oxygen. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

Mr. Crandall had been struck by lightning in May 2005 while building a stone wall. After responding to the call, ambulance president Victor Lima and former member Iona Lyons stopped resuscitation efforts and covered Crandall with a blanket. Lyons also told a police dispatcher to cancel the paramedics rushing to the scene. A few minutes later, when Police Lt. Keith Beebe noticed Crandall was still alive, he was rushed to the hospital. State protocols require EMTs to continue cardiopulmonary resuscitation until paramedics, who have more training, get to the scene and take over for them, or a doctor tells them to stop resuscitation efforts. Lima and Lyons were later disciplined by the state Office of Emergency Medical Services for violating the protocol that required them to try to resuscitate Mr. Crandall. The State's investigation found Lima and Lyons "failed to conduct a proper patient assessment" and, in doing so, "failed to recognize the patient was actually alive." The two did not contest the findings and the state placed the two EMTs on a one-year probation and ordered them to undergo retraining.

Attorney Reck was prepared to take the case to trial, and had retained experts to testify that Mr. Crandall's injuries were caused by the actions of the EMTs and that continuous resuscitation reduces the risk of hypoxic (lack of oxygen) injury.

Nursing Home CEO and Physicians Sued for Wrongful Death of Norwich Man

Termini is alleged to have used nursing home funds to, among

other things, launch Category 5 Records, pictured here.

Attorney Scott D. Camassar has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate of a Norwich man who died after developing gangrene in his legs while a patient in a nursing home. Although the Haven Healthcare chain had filed for bankruptcy court protection, The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck is also seeking to hold the patient's doctors accountable for their own poor care, along with Haven's CEO Raymond Termini, who is being investigated for using nursing home funds to furnish a lavish lifestyle and start a Nashville record company. Attorney Camassar is also seeking to sue the State of Connecticut Ombudsman's office for allowing the nursing homes to operate at a substandard level and for failing to respond to the family's complaints about poor care. The case has received widespread media attention including front-page coverage by the Hartford Courant (read the article here). To learn more about this complex case, or to talk to a lawyer about suspected nursing home mistreatment or neglect, call us at The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck (

Supreme Court Upholds $472,048 Verdict For Injured Motorist Against State

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently upheld a $472,048.00 verdict in favor of a Groton City Fire Captain, Herbert Hicks, in his case against the Department of Transportation and State of Connecticut (which, incidentally, offered zero before trial). Herbert Hicks was represented at trial by Attorney Stephen M. Reck. The jury found that on November 29, 2001, Mr. Hicks was rounding a sharp curve on Route 94 in Glastonbury when he encountered a large D.O.T. dump truck in his lane of travel. Mr. Hicks swerved to avoid the D.O.T. truck, which caused his crane truck to flip over and crash. Mr. Hicks, who suffered severe injuries, was knocked unconscious as a result of the crash and had no memory of the accident. Read more.