Thursday, December 31, 2009

FDA to Study Meds Taken During Pregnancy

Reuters reports that the FDA announced on Wednesday that it will be collaborating with other researchers on a new study called the Medication Exposure in Pregnancy Risk Evaluation Program. The research will investigate the safety of medications taken during pregnancy. Gerald Dal Pan, a director at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said the findings "will provide valuable information for patients and physicians when making decisions about medication during pregnancy."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FDA to Revise Rules on Medical Devices

The Wall Street Journal reports that a physician at Northwestern University is being accused of having experimented on humans after he implanted his invention, a Myxo ring, in over 150 patients to stop leaking heart valves without FDA approval. Edwards Lifesciences Corp., which manufactured the rings, decided not to seek approval because it determined the ring was sufficiently similar to approved rings. The dispute is said to have caused the FDA to review its current guidelines over whether medical devices require regulatory approval. Now, according to Bram Zuckerman, director of the FDA's Division of Cardiovascular Devices, the agency may issue revised guidance requiring manufactures to notify the FDA of any alterations to approved products.

Is Toyota Hiding Vehicle Defects?

The Los Angeles Times reported, "A peerless reputation for quality and safety has helped Toyota become the world's largest automaker. But even as its sales have soared, the company has delayed recalls, kept a tight lid on disclosure of potential problems and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects." The Times relates several incidents illustrating that point, commenting, "The automaker's handling of safety issues has come under scrutiny in recent months because of incidents of sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, which The Times has reported were involved in accidents causing 19 fatalities since 2001, more deaths from that problem than all other automakers combined."

FDA Cites Nestle Over Health Claims

Bloomberg News reports that the FDA issued a warning letter on its website finding that "Nestle SA's Juicy Juice and Boost beverages for children violate US rules about marketing health claims." The FDA ordered the firm "to remove claims about the brain development benefits and sugar content of its Juicy Juice product for infants." In addition, the agency "said content labeling for Nestle's orange tangerine and grape juices are 'misleading' because they claimed to be 100 percent juice." Finally, the agency "said Nestle's Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink is falsely promoted as a 'medical food.'"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Multi-State Crackdown on Medicare Fraud

The AP reports that "federal agents arrested 26 suspects in three states Tuesday, including a doctor and nurses, in a major crackdown on Medicare fraud totaling $61 million in separate scams." HHS and the Department of Justice said that the 32 suspects arrested in Miami, Brooklyn, and Detroit "lined up bogus patients and otherwise billed Medicare for unnecessary medical equipment, physical therapy and HIV infusions." With Tuesday's arrests, the "Medicare Fraud strike force formed by the Justice and Health departments has now charged suspects accused of bilking Medicare of more than $1 billion in less than two years." Also on Tuesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced "the operation will expand to Tampa, Fla., Baton Rouge, La., and Brooklyn."

CNN reports, "The largest case, in Miami, involved a doctor and nurses who allegedly ordered home healthcare services that were not medically necessary. 'When someone sends fraudulent bills to Medicare, they are stealing American taxpayer dollars that are intended for those most in need,'" said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer."

Med-Mal Damages Caps Benefit Only Insurers

In a blog at California Progress Report, J.G. Preston, Press Secretary at the Consumer Attorneys of California, wrote, "A report from the American Association for Justice, 'Insurance Company Handout,' finds the only effect of [med-mal] caps on damages is higher insurance company profits. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the average malpractice premiums for surgeons, internists and OB/GYNs is actually lower in states without caps than it is in the 30 states that have caps." Preston asks, "Are higher insurance company profits really a reason to prevent the victims of medical negligence who have the most severe injuries from receiving just compensation thanks to a cap on damages?"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Radiation Exposure from CT Scans Appears Higher than Earlier Estimates

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine by researchers at the National Cancer Institute "found that people may be exposed to up to four times as much radiation as estimated by earlier studies," USA Today reported--exposure that may lead to cancer and death. Read more.

NJ's AG Proposes Limits of Industry Gifts to Docs

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that New Jersey "could become the first" state to make doctors accountable for the incentives they are provided by drug and medical-device manufacturers. State Attorney General Anne Milgram "has recommended banning doctors licensed in the state from accepting gifts that don't directly benefit their patients, and requiring them to report consulting fees greater than $200." Milgram maintained that doctors "should be conscious of how their relationships with manufacturers can influence care."

Kids' Injuries from Falling TVs Rise

The AP reported that "Studies suggest that the number of children killed or injured by falling televisions has risen even as more consumers replace their clunky old TVs with lighter flat screens." The CPSC "says more than 80 of the 180 furniture-related deaths from 2000 to 2006 involved televisions. And the number rose over the years."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fast-Food Standards for Meat & Chicken Exceed Those for School Lunches

A USA Today investigation found that in "the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants." While the U.S.D.A. claims the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products," USA Today says "That isn't always the case." Read more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Daughter Sues Cellphone Industry for Mother's Death Caused by Distracted Driver

The New York Times reports that Jennifer Smith, whose mother "was killed last year when her car was hit by a driver talking on his cellphone," is suing "the companies that provided the driver's phone and wireless service. ... Legal experts said her lawsuit, currently the only such case and one of only a handful ever filed, faces steep challenges but also raises interesting questions about responsibility for behavior that is a threat to everyone on the road." Smith "argues that the industry's success in marketing to drivers is the reason people like" the driver responsible, Christopher Hill, "do not change their behavior or pay attention to what she characterizes as faint warnings by the industry."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day Editorial on Stonington ZEO Probe

The Day editorializes about the Stonington First Selectman's probe of ZEO Joe Larkin. The First Selectman "estimated he has received 10 seemingly credible complaints alleging bias and uneven enforcement in the past two years and said he no longer could ignore them. And he shouldn't."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Administrative Appeal Filed in Zoning Dispute

The Westerly Sun reports on our administrative appeal filed this week, after the Stonington ZBA failed to reinstate a cease & desist order against the plaintiff's neighboring property owner that ordered the neighbor to restore a buffer it ripped out last winter. In August, we filed suit against the Town and the neighbor on account of the destruction of the buffer and failure to enforce Town zoning laws.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Study: BPA in 90% of Newborns

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a study released Wednesday by Environmental Working Group "found that nine of 10 babies tested were born with bisphenol A in their systems" which finding "has renewed calls for the chemical to be banned." The study, which "found the chemical in nine of 10 randomly selected samples of umbilical cord blood," was released on "the same day a US Senate subcommittee met to consider an overhaul of laws governing the nation's toxic chemicals." The Sentinel says the FDA postponed their decision on BPA earlier this week, although "agency officials said they are working to complete it within weeks."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Deadly Weekend in Eastern CT

The Norwich Bulletin reports that "Despite a heavy police presence this holiday weekend, five Connecticut residents, including three from Eastern Connecticut, died in car accidents."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

NFL to Change Policy on Concussions

The NFL "will soon require teams to receive advice from independent neurologists while treating players with brain injuries, several people with knowledge of the plan confirmed Sunday." Read more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blumenthal Calls for Sweeping Changes to Adverse Event Reporting Law

The Hartford Courant reported that on Nov. 16, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called for "sweeping changes to the state's 'adverse event' reporting law for hospitals, following a story in The Courant on Sunday showing that most reported mishaps are kept secret from the public and closed by the state without an investigation." Specifically, "Blumenthal said the law should be rewritten to promote greater disclosure of errors and accidents by hospitals and greater transparency to help patients evaluate medical facilities." In addition, Blumenthal "called for an increase in the number of state investigators, as well as statutory authority for his office to seek civil penalties against hospitals that do not comply with the law."

Blumenthal "said the vast majority of medical decisions and procedures are done correctly, but the minority that's driving down the state's high standards of care should be readily disclosed so the public can make 'informed decisions' about where they should seek care," the Connecticut Post reported. The attorney general stated, "We have now a culture of secrecy and concealment that is completely unjustified by any of the rationales given," adding that "the public needs as much information as possible from doctors, hospitals, and the state Department of Public Health." Blumenthal also stressed the "need for monetary penalties to hold hospitals responsible."

Monday, November 16, 2009

CT's Adverse Event Reporting Law Lets Hospitals Avoid Scrutiny

The Hartford Courant reported that a Connecticut law "intended to protect patients by making them aware of hospitals' errors has ended up making it easier for hospitals to avoid scrutiny." Currently, "under the state's 'adverse event' reporting law, hospitals are required to inform the state Department of Public Health when patients suffer certain serious unintended harm," but "public access to hospitals' adverse events has fallen 90 percent since the legislature redrafted the law" in 2004, and "hospitals now report a fraction of the mishaps they once revealed." According to the Courant, "that secrecy was written into the law after hospitals balked at the state's original adverse-event legislation, which gave the public broad access to reports of medical errors and accidents."

In a related piece, the Hartford Courant reported that even though "more than 1,200 adverse-event reports have been filed by Connecticut hospitals since the law was changed in 2004, including at least 116 in which patients died," only "about one in four are investigated, down from half of cases investigated before the law was revised." Although "the Department of Public Health launched investigations in most cases in which doctors performed surgery on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, as well as cases in which patients were killed or seriously harmed as the result of a medication error," Connecticut "officials investigated only about half the reported sexual assaults on patients, and half the cases in which sponges or other foreign objects were left inside patients after surgery."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WSJ Criticizes Holder's Decision to Try Terrorist in Civilian Court

The Wall Street Journal describes Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to move the 9/11 terrorists' trial on war crimes from a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay to a civilian federal court in NYC "intellectually and morally confused, dangerous and political to a fault." Read more.

Tips to Avoid Becoming Victim of a Hospital Error

CNN reports on Kerry Higuera, who went to a hospital after she started bleeding three months into her pregnancy, and was mistakenly given a CT scan of the abdomen after the hospital confused her with another patient, exposing her unborn child to radiation. These types of preventable errors are all too common. Some tips to avoid them happening:

1. Identify yourself to every doctor, nurse and technician you encounter by full name, date of birth and the reason you're there ("My name is Mary Smith, my date of birth is October 21, 1965, and I'm here for an appendectomy."). You might feel stupid doing so, but it will help prevent mistaken identity.

2. Also say: "Please check my ID bracelet."

One of the ways a hospital is supposed to confirm your identity is by checking your bracelet. "Of course, you should check your bracelet to make sure the information on it is correct."

3. Say: "Please look in my chart and tell me what procedure I'm having."

"Make sure the nurse is looking at your chart when she tells you what procedure or test you're having," says Ilene Corina, president of PULSE, New York, a grass-roots patient safety organization.

4. Say: "I want to mark up my surgical site with the surgeon present."

Hospitals these days often hand patients a pen and ask them to mark where they're going to have surgery. Corina says you should do it in front of the surgeon who will be with you in the operating room, and not just in front of the person who hands you the pen.

"If you mark it and the surgeon doesn't know about the marking, what's the point of marking it?" Corina asks.

5. Be impolite.

"If the nurse comes in and says, 'Are you Mary Jones?' and you're really Miriam Jones, you might just nod your head and say yes because you're too polite to correct her," Foster says. "Don't be polite."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Maclaren knew of stroller defect for "at least five years"

The New York Post reported, "Maclaren knew for at least five years that its strollers could lop off a child's finger, but did nothing about the dangerous defect until federal regulators all but forced it to, The Post has learned." Despite recently issuing a recall, Maclaren "failed to notify the Consumer Products Safety Commission when it first became aware of even a 'potential danger,'" and could "face a fine of $1 million or more, sources said." Robert Moro, an engineer and former compliance officer with the CPSC, "testified in 2007 that 'this stroller contains a substantial design defect when compared to other types of designs of strollers intended to be used by children.' The way the stroller was designed and manufactured in China violated federal guidelines intended to prevent a gruesome 'scissoring effect,' Moro said."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Freedom Isn't Free

A view of Ft. Trumbull, New London, CT

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

$875k Settlement by CVS for Selling Expired Goods in NY

New York officials announced an $875,000 settlement with CVS Pharmacy to stop sales of expired products — including food, medicine and baby formula. Read more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Power Windows Endanger Kids

In the "Wheels" blog at the New York Times, Christopher Jensen wrote, "A consumer group says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is greatly underestimating the number of people – including children - injured or killed by power windows." of Leawood, KS, "wants the federal agency to require automakers to equip all power windows with an auto-reverse feature, so that a window would automatically stop and open if it encountered an obstruction while closing." The group obtained its information on power window-related injuries via two Harris Interactive surveys.

RI Hospital Fined, Ordered to Install Cameras Due to Surgical Errors

"Rhode Island's largest hospital was fined $150,000 and ordered to take the extraordinary step of installing video cameras in all its operating rooms after it had its fifth wrong-site surgery since 2007, state health officials said Monday." Read more.

Troops' Spinal Injuries Increase

USA Today says "Afghan insurgents are using roadside bombs powerful enough to throw the military's new 14-ton, blast-resistant vehicles into the air, increasing broken-back injuries among U.S. troops." Read more.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November Newsletter is out!

Lots of good articles including: Top 10 Riskiest Regulated Foods; Cheerios Sued Over Health Claims; Taser Maker Advises Police Not to Shoot Suspects in Chest; New Report on Dangerous Products and Corporate Misconduct; NASCAR Driver to Meet Injured Fan;
NYTimes: "Eating Ground Beef is Still A Gamble"; CPSC Studying Exploding iPods; US Supreme Court Takes Another 2nd Amendment Case; Tort Reform Should Not Deny "Just Compensation"; and more. Stay informed--read the November newsletter here .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Words of Wisdom:

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." --Justice Louis Brandeis

New AAJ Report on Dangerous Products and Corporate Misconduct

A new report by the AAJ details true stories of corporations that knew their products were dangerous, and in some cases deadly, yet failed to act to protect consumers.

“They Knew and Failed To...” cites numerous examples of medical devices, prescription drugs, and other consumer products that remained on the market after critical safety concerns were raised within the companies, while the companies took action to avoid being held accountable for their misconduct. Get the report here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween: High Risk of Pedestrian Deaths

From USA Today: "Children are more than twice as likely to be killed by a car while walking on Halloween than any other night of the year, according to Safe Kids USA. More than 540 kids under age 14 are killed in pedestrian accidents each year. In an analysis of deaths from 2002 to 2006, the group found an average of 2.2 children are killed in pedestrian accidents from 4 to 10 p.m. on Halloween, compared with one child every other evening at the same time." Read more.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Just Joined the CCDL

Tonight I joined the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, Inc., "a non-partisan, grassroots organization devoted to advocating rights affirmed by the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Connecticut. We are especially dedicated to protecting the unalienable right of all citizens to keep and bear arms, for the defense of both self and state, through public enlightenment and legislative action."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gun Rights Case Settled

The Day reports on the confidential settlement of my lawsuit against Groton, its police chief and several officers, alleging various constitutional rights violations stemming from a December incident in which police entered a home without a warrant in order to seize weapons. Article here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jewish Group Sues Litchfield Historic District Commission

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported on a Litchfield case brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, which requires that communities have a compelling reason to reject plans by religious groups to build or expand their facilities. "In Connecticut, RLUIPA cases have involved a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Meriden, a proposed Buddhist temple in Newtown and now the proposed expansion of a Jewish center in Litchfield. The latter battle has turned particularly testy, with thinly veiled charges of anti-Semitism." Litchfield's Historic District Commission, which exists to protect the historic ambience of the downtown area, has been sued by an Orthodox Jewish group called Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, after the commission rejected its expansion plans. The Chabad group currently occupies a 1,500-square-foot building. But when the organization purchased a 135-year-old house about a half mile away, and unveiled plans for a 21,000-square-foot addition that would include a synagogue, classrooms, kosher kitchens, and a community center, the historic commission rejected the plans, "stating that the sheer size of the addition would overwhelm the historic district. It proposed a compromise that would limit the building to 5,000 square feet." Chabad leaders dismiss the explanation for the rejection, citing "comments that were allegedly made about a Jewish symbol that would have been prominent in the project’s design. Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach claims a historic commission member said 'there is no place for a Star of David on the Litchfield Green.'"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CT Atty General Investigating "Smart Choices" Food Labeling

The New York Times reported that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is "investigating a national labeling campaign that promotes products like Froot Loops and mayonnaise as nutritionally smart choices." The "Smart Choices" program "uses its own nutritional criteria, developed with input from the food industry, to evaluate products." And, foodstuff that "meet its standards can show the program's green checkmark logo on the front of their packages, intended as a signal to consumers that the product is nutritionally superior." But AG Blumenthal maintains that the program is "overly simplistic, inaccurate and ultimately misleading.'" So, his office will work to determine if the "labeling campaign violates the state's consumer protection law."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Criticism for Medicare's "Aggressive" Debt Collections

In a column in Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer wrote, "In recent years, Congress has pushed Medicare to aggressively pursue debts from injured elderly people who have won compensation through lawsuits or liability insurance." For people "on the receiving end of the collections process-mostly elderly car accident can be a traumatic ordeal." After "forcing plaintiffs' lawyers to serve as Medicare's debt collectors failed to produce the desired results, Congress passed new debt-collection measures as part of the 2007 SCHIP reauthorization. Starting next year, insurance companies must report any settlements or judgments involving Medicare beneficiaries to CMS. If a Medicare beneficiary fails to reimburse the agency for health care costs it paid, the agency can punish the insurance company with double damages." But "the prospect of harsher penalties is already leading to insurance company overkill that, combined with Medicare's bureaucracy, has kept some elderly folks from receiving money that's rightfully owed them."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

AAJ: Medical Malpractice Insurers' Profits Higher Than Most Fortune 500 Companies

The Washington Independent reported, "The American Association for Justice - the trial lawyers' lobby group - has just released an astounding statistic: medical malpractice insurance companies' average profits are higher than those of 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies. As the nation remains mired in a debate over health care reform and how to keep down the costs of expanding coverage, AAJ is trying to point out that Republicans claims that medical malpractice lawsuits are one of the big cost drivers is completely misleading. In fact, though malpractice claims and so-called 'defensive medicine' does account for a small percentage of unnecessary costs, medical errors and the astronomical profits of malpractice insurers appear to be a bigger part of the problem." AAJ President Anthony Tarricone said, "Insurance companies are gouging doctors on their premiums to mislead lawmakers," adding, "Today, injured patients are often left with no avenue to pursue justice, while health care costs continue to skyrocket."

New Website for Impressionist Artist Gersh Camassar

A newly launched website details my grandfather's life and career as an artist. You can also become a fan on Facebook. Do it!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

BGlobe: Ban Pharma Payment Deals with Doctors

The Boston Globe editorialized that when physicians "promote drugs in exchange for pay from pharmaceutical companies, they cease to be independent evaluators" of drugs' safety. The editorial argues that hospitals "should prohibit doctors from taking part in so-called speakers bureaus, whereby companies compensate them for giving talks to colleagues about new drugs," and legislators "should go beyond requiring disclosure of the relationships, and ban the practice." As an example, the Globe points to Eli Lilly & Co., which "in the first three months of this year" paid "at least 60 doctors in Massachusetts a total of more than $580,000 to give speeches about its drugs." The piece emphasizes that Eli Lilly's "voluntary disclosure is only the tip of the iceberg. ... By some estimates, 1 in 6 doctors in the country take speakers' fees from drug companies."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New CT Law Will Require Drivers to Move Over for Emergency Vehicles Stopped on the Side of the Road

Drivers are required to slow down and move over one lane of traffic, if they can, when they see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road. Violators will be served an infraction and can be fined up to $2,500. If there is an injury or a death, fines can be as much as $10,000. Article here.

GAO: CMS Nursing Home Program Omits Hundreds of Troubled Facilities

The AP reports that the GAO recently issued a report on CMS' Nursing Home Compare program, which "identifies up to 136 nursing homes as 'special focus facilities' subject to more frequent inspections because of their living conditions." The GAO found that the program "leaves out hundreds of troubled facilities" but does not identify them.

Merck Paying Over 3,100 Vioxx Death Claims

Bloomberg News reported, "Merck & Co. is paying claims by the families of more than 3,100 users of its Vioxx [rofecoxib] painkiller who died of heart attacks or strokes blamed on the drug, according to a law firm administering a $4.85 billion settlement fund." The company is paying "about 3,000 claims for heart attack deaths and at least 122 strokes," BrownGreer LLP, the claims administrator, said. The drug was " 1999" and withdrawn "in 2004 when a study showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Merck set up the fund, which covers claims of death and lesser injuries, in 2007 after reserving $1.9 billion to fight 26,000 Vioxx suits." BrownGreer said that "families of heart attack victims who died will get an average payment of about $374,000."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Studies: Parents Impact Teen Drivers

USA Today reports: "Two studies coming out in the journal Pediatric Friday show that parents have a big impact on the safety of teen drivers. Parents who are actively involved in setting rules and boundaries, and following up on those rules, lead to safer drivers. Teens who say their parents are actively involved cut their risk of drinking and driving by 70%, are half as likely to speed and 30% less likely to use a cellphone. And kids who don't have access to their "own" car — they have to ask for the keys — are half as likely to get into a crash."

Falls Prevention Awareness Week

It's Falls Prevention Awareness Week. Learn more from the CDC.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MA Law Would Permit Police to Forcibly Vaccinate Kids

H1N1 hysteria appears to be leading some of us down the path to dictatorship. Massachussetts, the cradle of liberty, has passed a bill, sooned to be signed by the governor, that will allow the police to forcibly quarantine adults, remove kids from their parents and forcibly vaccinate them against the virus. I hope this news piece was wrong:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

GAO: USDA Failed to Tell Schools About Food Recalls

The AP reported, "Federal authorities failed to tell schools about recalls of potentially tainted peanut products and canned vegetables, and cafeterias may have unknowingly served them to children, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday. A GAO investigation found the Agriculture Department didn't always make sure states and schools were notified promptly about recalled food distributed through the federal school lunch and breakfast programs, which serve 30 million students." According to the GAO, it took as much as a week for states to determine which products had been recalled, and schools could have served the suspect food in the meantime. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a written statement, said that the agency was working to develop a better food safety system; the US Food and Drug Administration also said it was moving to improve notification to schools.

FDA Bans (Some) Flavored Cigarettes

USA Today reports that on Tuesday, the FDA "banned the sale of candy-, fruit- and clove-flavored cigarettes. The move was authorized by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Obama signed in June."

"These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said, according to a front-page story in the New York Times. The Times reports, however, that there has been confusion among distributors as to what constitutes a cigarette, and if flavored cigars or cigarillos are affected by the ban.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AAJ President Responds to Obama Healthcare Speech

AAJ President Anthony Tarricone said last night: "Tonight, President Obama made clear that our current health care system is broken, and reform is needed to provide coverage for the uninsured and lower health care costs for all Americans.

“The pilot programs outlined by President Obama will require more detail. But the focus must be on reducing medical errors and improving patient safety. Over 98,000 people are killed every year by preventable medical errors. Reducing accountability won’t improve health care.

“Trial attorneys see first-hand the effects medical errors have on patients and their families. We should keep these injured people in mind as the debate moves forward.”

The AAJ suggests keeping the following points in mind when contacting your legislators on this issue:

* Medical malpractice is about real people, with real injuries. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 98,000 people die each year in the US from preventable medical errors. And, this number does not even include the countless other people who are injured by medical errors. Rather than reforming the legal system that provides protections to these injured patients, we must focus on reforming the medical system in this country to prevent these errors from ever happening in the first place.

* Americans should not have to give up rights, in order to gain the right to healthcare. President Obama has repeatedly stated that in America, healthcare is a right. Likewise, Americans should not have to relinquish their constitutionally protected 7th Amendment rights in order to gain access to quality healthcare. Patients’ rights are not a bargaining chip.

* Health courts would be an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare. They would exchange a patient’s constitutional right to a jury trial for a schedule of pre-determined outcomes that would be handed out by judges more interested in appeasing special interests than rendering justice to the injured patients standing before them. And health courts would not protect patients from wrongdoers, but instead, would shield doctors and hospitals from accountability for their careless, harmful acts. Health courts truly are an unfair proposition for patients.

* Practice Guidelines should not create immunity for negligence. Giving doctors immunity for complying with guidelines is an idea at odds with the fundamental principle of practice guidelines which has always been to improve patient quality by giving doctors some type of guidance when making decisions based on sound medical expert research. Practice guidelines were never intended to be stringent, inflexible rules for doctors to follow in exchange for legal immunity.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

AAJ President Responds to Bill Bradley's Comments on Malpractice Reform

Anthony Tarricone, president of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), wrote the following letter to editor of the New York Times:

The “grand bipartisan compromise” proposed by former Senator Bill Bradley would force Americans to trade one right for another: gain health insurance, but lose legal options if injured by another’s negligence through no fault of their own.

The Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office have both studied medical negligence and determined that limiting the legal rights of patients would save the health care system little money.

Mr. Bradley’s “medical courts” concept would not only make it more difficult for injured patients to hold wrongdoers accountable, but also create an entirely new bureaucracy with costs far exceeding the system we now have to address medical negligence.

If we really want to lower health care costs, let’s find ways to lower the estimated 98,000 annual deaths that are caused by medical errors. Eliminating malpractice would lead to fewer cases being filed, and better yet, patients would be safer and have better outcomes.

This is the sort of grand compromise no one could disagree with.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Westerly Man Killed in Plainfield Accident

From the Day:

A Westerly man was killed Tuesday evening when he was thrown from his motorcycle after trying to avoid a car that was backing up on the road.

Police said Cynthia Cipriano, 45, of 368 Pond Hill Road, was driving a minivan on New Road when she missed her turn onto a residential driveway.

Cipriano started to back up on New Road. At the same time, 28-year-old Solan Bowen was driving his Harley-Davidson down the road, police said.

Police said Bowen approached the crest of hill as Cipriano was backing up, forcing Bowen to swerve to avoid the minivan. Bowen was thrown from the motorcycle.

He was taken by Life Star helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital, where he died, police said.

Members at the state police accident reconstruction team responded to the scene to assist with the investigation.

The accident remains under investigation

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Newsletter Available Here

The September newsletter is out; if you're not on the mailing list, sign up!

Professor: Tort Reform Will Not Lower Healthcare Costs

In its Prescriptions blog, the New York Times interviews Tom Baker, a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, on reasons why tort reform may not lower healthcare costs. He argues that "making the legal system less receptive to medical malpractice lawsuits will not significantly affect the costs of medical care." Baker calls tort reform "a red herring," arguing that "as the cost of healthcare goes up, the medical liability component of it has stayed fairly constant. That means it's part of the medical price inflation system, but it's not driving it." He calls the idea that there are many frivolous lawsuits "ludicrous" and points out, "We have approximately the same number of claims today as in the late 1980s. Think about that. The cost of healthcare has doubled since then."

Whistleblower Accuses Toyota of Hiding Data in Hundreds of Accident Cases

The Los Angeles Times reported that "Toyota spent years concealing evidence from victims of hundreds of rollover accidents that resulted in death and injury, a former top lawyer for the automaker says." Dimitrios P. Biller of Pacific Palisades, "a former managing counsel for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., said in the suit that the company repeatedly forced him to illegally withhold information from opposing lawyers and made him resign in September 2007." In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles, "Biller accuses the world's largest automaker of destroying data in more than 300 accidents that proved vehicle roofs were substandard." Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, "said that if what Biller says is true, the financial repercussions for Toyota could be massive."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Many Poorly Performing Hospitals Near Popular Vacation Spots

"A USA TODAY analysis finds two dozen hospitals near popular travel destinations, as compiled by the National Travel Monitor, have death rates among the worst in the USA. A separate analysis shows that one of every four hospitals with high death rates for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia — 94 of 402 — are near state parks." Read more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doc Accused of Hastening Deaths During Katrina Now an Advocate for Physician Immunity

The New York Times magazine has an article on the controversial case at Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans in which Dr. Anna Pou was accused of having "hastened the deaths of some patients by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs" during Hurricane Katrina. After a New Orleans grand jury "declined to indict her on second-degree murder charges," she became an advocate, helping to "write and pass three laws in Louisiana that offer immunity to healthcare professionals from most civil lawsuits...for their work in future disasters." She also advises national and state medical organizations "on disaster preparedness and legal reform" and "argues for changing the standards of medical care in emergencies. She has said that informed consent is impossible during disasters."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Millions of Window Blinds Recalled After Kids' Deaths

The AP reported, "Six companies are recalling millions of window blinds and shades, following the deaths of three children who got caught in cords that help the coverings move up and down. The recalls, announced Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, involve some big-name companies, including Pottery Barn Kids and IKEA as well as smaller companies that sold their window covers at retailers such as Target." CPSC "says the three deaths, which date back to 2006, involved blinds or shades made or imported by Vertical Land Inc., of Panama City Beach, Fla., and Lewis Hyman Inc., in Carson., Calif."

CNN reported, "'Any exposed loop in a window covering can become a noose for a child,' said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. 'We're concerned about the inadequacy of current standards for shades and blinds.'"

Study: Medical Imaging Exposes Millions to High Radiation

The New York Times reports, "At least four million Americans under age 65 are exposed to high doses of radiation each year from medical imaging tests," according to a study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers also found that an estimated "400,000 of those patients receive very high doses, more than the maximum annual exposure allowed for nuclear power plant employees or anyone else who works with radioactive material."

The AP reports that "researchers found about 20 percent were exposed to moderate radiation doses and two percent were exposed to high levels." The work "did not directly address whether medical imaging is being overused, but some doctors are concerned that advanced tests like CT scans are being over-prescribed, and that evidence of their value in certain situations is lacking."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Atrazine Weed Killer May be More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

The New York Times reported, "For decades, farmers, lawn care workers, and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses, and manicured lawns." The chemical often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water." However, recently released research indicates that atrazine "may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought," suggesting that the chemical "may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights, and menstrual problems." And while officials at the Environmental Protection Agency say Americans are not exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine," some scientists and health advocates "argue that the recent studies offer enough concerns that the government should begin re-examining its regulations. They also say that local water systems -- which have primary responsibility for the safety of drinking water -- should be forced to monitor atrazine more frequently, in order to detect short-term increases and warn people when they occur."

911 Abuse Wastes Millions

CNN/Money reports that chronic abuse of the 911 system is overwhelming healthcare resources and "wasting what could add up to billions of dollars every year, paid ultimately through higher taxes and medical fees." They found that "People struggling with headaches, toothaches, and even feelings of loneliness are calling 911 -- often several times a day." Read more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Study: Mercury in Fish, Contamination Widespread

A new federal study released Wednesday found evidence of mercury contamination in every fish tested at nearly 300 streams across the country, "a finding that underscores how widespread mercury pollution has become. . . .Mercury can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children. " Read more.

Vegas Lawyers, Doctors, Accused of Massive Fraud

This story will make you sick. Fortune reported, "Prosecutors charge that a group of top Las Vegas plaintiffs lawyers and doctors, with the 64-year-old [Howard] Awand at its center, conspired in an audacious fraud. ... Unwitting accident victims were recruited as plaintiffs and then persuaded to undergo serious, sometimes needless, surgeries. The procedures, in turn, helped inflate the size of personal-injury claims. The result was multimillion-dollar insurance settlements, even for dubious cases, and lucrative fees for the doctors, the lawyers, and, of course, Howard Awand." According to government evidence, "the group coordinated their testimony as expert witnesses, lied under oath, protected one another from malpractice lawsuits -- even after the surgeries left a few patients paralyzed -- and ate away at the plaintiffs' settlement money with kickbacks disguised as contingency fees."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cellular Calls Cause 911 Havoc

USA Today reports that "For the millions of Americans giving up their land lines in favor of cellphones, dialing 911 may no longer mean a quick response. It can lead to misrouted calls, delayed information about the location of the caller and, most important, a slower emergency response." Read more.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Consumers Should Demand Accounting of Medical Errors

The Houston Chronicle editorialized that a recent "Hearst special investigative series" indicates that "preventable medical injuries kill an estimated 200,000 Americans" annually. The Chronicle suggests that in order to prevent these deaths "on a national level, we need to know exactly what they are and where they occur. Death certificates often fail to mention medical error as a contributing cause of a patient's death." The Chronicle urged consumers to "demand that the $19 billion earmarked for electronic medical records buy us better public accounting of accidents." At the same time, it suggests consumers who have a choice among hospitals for their next surgical procedure should ask: "What's the hospital's rate of errors and infections?" The Chronicle suggests that consumers "report medical errors that affect your family to the state health department and to the Joint Commission, the national accreditation agency for hospitals."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Firefox-Only Plug-In Gives Access to PACER Files

A Firefox browser plug-in now gives free access to many PACER court files. Also, if you try to access a PACER document the program first sees if the document is already in its free database. If so, you get the free version; if not, you can buy the document from PACER (8 cents a page), and it gets added to the free database. Brilliant.
Read more.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Contractor Appeals OSHA Fine in Mohegan Sun Fatality

The Day reports that contractor T. Keefe & Sons, who employed two ironworkers injured in separate accidents at the construction site for the Mohegan Tribe's government administration building, "is contesting a $1,250 fine assessed in connection with the first incident, a fatality." The company has filed a “notice of contest” with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "which first inspected the site May 20, the day after Richard “Dicky” Blake, 59, of Niantic, died after falling several stories." Read more.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

LIRR Engineer Allowed Passenger to Operate Train

The New York Times reports: "A Long Island Rail Road engineer allowed a passenger to operate a train carrying nearly 400 riders to New York during the morning rush on July 2, and both men now face criminal charges of reckless endangerment, the authorities announced on Wednesday. The engineer, Ronald Cabrera, 40, of Centereach, N.Y., and the passenger, William L. Kutsch, 47, of East Setauket, N.Y., surrendered to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department on Wednesday and have been charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail." The two men "created 'a substantial risk of serious physical injury' to those on the train and in the communities around the tracks, said Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, in announcing the charges."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hartford Juror's Research on Internet Leads to Mistrial

The AP reports that a juror's use of the internet has led a Hartford judge to declare a mistrial in the case of a former school bus driver being sued for an accident that killed a pedestrian in 2006. Apparently the juror found evidence on the Web against defendant Robert Fountain that had been excluded from last month's wrongful death civil trial (evidence relating to a previous felony conviction and that cocaine was found in his system around the time of the accident). A new trial has been ordered, with jury selection beginning Dec. 1. He was convicted of negligent homicide and served five days in jail.

Study: Anti-Depressant Use Doubled in America

USA Today reported that, according to a study "of nearly 50,000 children and adults," published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, "about 10 percent of Americans -- or 27 million people -- were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996." Notably, "the majority weren't being treated for depression. Half of those taking antidepressants used them for back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, sleep difficulties, or other problems," the study found.

Bloomberg News reported that researchers from Columbia University said that the "surge in antidepressant use propelled that class of treatments to become the top-selling US medicines in 2005, surpassing blood-pressure prescriptions," findings which "highlight the need for doctors who aren't psychiatrists and who prescribe these medicines to be trained to diagnose and manage depression so patients get the most effective treatment."

Sebelius on Health Insurance Reform

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in an op-ed for the Washington Post wrote: "Health insurance is fundamentally about peace of mind. ... Through health reform, we can give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance so that if they do get sick, they have the best chance possible of getting better without bankrupting their families." Sebelius argues that the current system "gives insurance companies all the power." According to Sebelius, "They get to pick and choose who gets a policy" and "can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition. They can offer coverage only at exorbitant rates -- or offer coverage so thin that it's no coverage at all." Sebelius says that President Obama's healthcare reform "will switch the roles. Americans will get peace of mind and insurance companies will start getting nervous. They will know that if they don't deliver a great value, their customers will flee."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Be Careful on Newport, RI's Cliff Walk

A suit now before the RI Supreme Court alleges the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island and the Preservation Society of Newport County all "failed to keep the Cliff Walk safe, in spite of prior serious injuries and even deaths." Read more.

Friday, July 31, 2009

House Passes Food Safety Bill

The AP reports that by a 283-142 margin, the House yesterday "passed a far-reaching food safety bill Thursday in the wake of the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanuts that killed at least nine people." President Obama "praised the bill soon after it was passed, calling it 'a major step forward in modernizing our food safety system.'" It's about time something meaningful was passed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Texting Drivers 23 Times More Likely to Crash

A new study shows that texting while driving is an incredibly dangerous driving distraction, perhaps the worst. The 18-month study, which was conducted with long-haul truckers (though the high risk applies to all drivers), found that drivers "are 23-times more likely to crash" while texting.

In a front-page story, the New York Times explains that the study followed drivers in "the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months." The study is currently "undergoing peer review and has been submitted for publication in the Journal for Human Factors." Among the findings were "that drivers took their eyes off the road for around five seconds when texting."

The AP compared the 23 times greater risk of collision while texting to a six-fold increase while "dialing a cell phone or reaching for an electronic device." Researchers "recommended that texting should be banned for all drivers, and all cell phone use should be prohibited for newly licensed teen drivers. Only 14 states ban texting while driving.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tort Reform: Just the Facts, Ma'am

In a column in the St. Petersburg Times, Susan Taylor Martin discusses how medical malpractice costs are handled in Canada. Martin comments that in this country, "Despite the push for tort reform, the facts don't warrant what Public Citizen, a nonpartisan research group, calls the 'politically charged hysteria surrounding medical malpractice litigation.' The number of U.S. malpractice payments in 2008 was the lowest since creation of the federal National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked payments since 1990. And the average payment - about $326,000 - was the smallest in a decade."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Influential Health Research Group Owned by Insurer

The Washington Post reported, "The political battle over healthcare reform is waged largely with numbers, and few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group, a consulting firm whose research has been widely cited by opponents of a public insurance option." Both Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have cited the Lewin Group's numbers, the Post notes, but "generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers." In fact, "the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data." Why is this not surprising?

Investigation Suggests iPod Fire Risk

KIRO-TV Seattle, WA reported on its website, "An exclusive KIRO 7 Investigation reveals an alarming number of Apple brand iPod MP3 players have suddenly burst into flames and smoke, injuring people and damaging property." It took "more than 7-months for KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator Amy Clancy to get her hands on documents concerning Apple's iPods from the Consumer Product Safety Commission because Apple's lawyers filed exemption after exemption. In the end, the CPSC released more than 800 pages which reveal, for the very first time, a comprehensive look that shows, on a number of occasions, iPods have suddenly burst into flames, started to smoke, and even burned their owners." Earlier this year "a lawsuit against Apple was filed in Cincinnati because, [a] lawyer claims, an iPod Touch, one of Apple's newest edition of iPods, also powered by a lithium ion battery, exploded and caught fire while in a teenager's pocket. The suit claims the boy suffered second-degree burns to his leg, and that the iPod was off at the time. This incident is not included in the CPSC's file."

Anti-Meat Group: Hot Dogs Need Warnings

An anti-meat advocacy group says hot dogs are "hazardous to your health and should carry warning labels." The group known as the Cancer Project filed a lawsuit last month in New Jersey on behalf of three state residents against Kraft Foods Inc., manufacturer of the Oscar Mayer brand; Sara Lee Corp.; Nathan's Famous; and the makers of the Hebrew National and Sabrett brands. "The lawsuit cites a report by the American Institute for Cancer Research that concluded regular consumption of processed meat can increase the risk of colorectal and other forms of cancer."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FDA Targets E-Cigarettes

USA Today reports that the FDA, which was "recently granted the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, is taking aim at electronic cigarettes — battery-powered cigarette look-alikes that deliver nicotine and produce a puff of odorless vapor." The FDA says tests show that "e-cigarettes contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze." However, e-cigs do not have warning labels.

NHTSA Data on Cell Phone Dangers Suppressed

In a column in the New York Times Maureen Dowd wrote, "Ominously, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - suppressed for years and released on Tuesday after petitions were filed by advocacy groups - shows that there are 'negligible differences' in [car] accident risk whether you're holding" a phone or using a hands-free device. "The agency buried its head in the sand, keeping the research to itself for years and ignoring the fact that soon nearly all Americans would own cellphones and that the phones are always getting smarter and more demanding, putting a multimedia empire at your fingertips while you're piloting a potentially lethal piece of artillery."

I have said all along, at least since CT mandated use of so-called "hands-free" devices, that the hands-free devices are just another distraction. I think using the hands-free device is more dangerous than just the phone, but that's just me.

UCLA Investigating Spine Surgeon's Conflicts of Interest

The Wall Street Journal reports, "A top surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, has lost his position as executive director of its spine center and faces an investigation by the school into his research after allegedly failing to disclose he was being paid by several companies whose products he was studying." The university claims that Jeffrey Wang "repeatedly failed to report on forms filed with the state and with the medical school that he was receiving consulting payments, stock options, and royalties from five companies on whose products he was conducting research." In doing so, he "'violated university guidelines,' the school said." A committee appointed by UCLA will "investigate Dr. Wang's work and determine whether the payments affected his research and 'if there are any mitigating actions needed to ensure the integrity of the research results." A spokeswoman for the university said "the school is considering further sanctions against" Wang.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings a "Waste of Time"

For once, I actually agree with Philip Howard. A New York Times blog presented the opinions of several legal scholars and commentators as to the value of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. Philip K. Howard said, "These hearings are almost devoid of substance, so the lessons are mainly negative. The one useful conclusion is that Judge Sotomayor's skill at parrying loaded questions demonstrates that she is as smart as her resume suggests. Otherwise, the hearings are a waste of time."

Suit Alleges Medical Device Makers Paid Doctors to Use Products

The Wall Street Journal reports today: "Former employees of certain medical-devicemakers allege in lawsuits unsealed in a Texas federal court that the companies paid kickbacks to heart surgeons to get the doctors to use their products to treat...atrial fibrillation." The suits "name at least four companies whose products are among those used in surgery to treat the heart condition," including "AtriCure Inc., Medtronic Inc., St. Jude Medical Inc., and Boston Scientific Corp." The companies are accused of taking part in a "'fraudulent marketing and inducement campaign,' involving kickbacks to doctors and hospitals," which "resulted in excessive charges to the Medicare insurance program." The "cases against Boston Scientific, Medtronic, and AtriCure" also allege that "these companies marketed surgical ablation equipment as a treatment for atrial fibrillation even though it was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to" treat that condition.

The AP reports, "The allegations against the companies, released Tuesday in the United States District Court in the Southern District of Texas, were made by a former Boston Scientific employee who was not named in the documents."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Class Action for Those Injured by Gadolinium Contrast MRIs

Rhode Island's WPRI News reported that "in a massive lawsuit," 517 plaintiffs are suing "pharmaceutical companies that make certain dyes used for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)." The plaintiffs were "diagnosed with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF)...after being injected with a contrast-agent made with gadolinium." Patients with healthy kidneys are able to "simply flush the gadolinium out," but those with NSF "describe their skin turning wood-like, eventually cracking." The FDA "issued a warning in 2006 and 2007 not to administer the drug to those with kidney problems," but "gadolinium is still used in routine MRIs." The class-action suit "against five pharmaceutical companies that make gadolinium-based contrasting agents is getting larger as more and more are diagnosed with NSF." Some claim that they were "never warned about the possible side-effect because the medical community was in the dark at the time."

Monday, July 13, 2009

AEI Criticizes Proposal for Consumer Financial Protection Agency

In a Washington Post op-ed, Peter J. Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute says if the Obama Administration's proposal for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) "is adopted, many consumers will be told that they cannot have particular products or services because they are not sophisticated, educated or perhaps intelligent enough to understand what they have been offered." The Administration's plan "would allow the educated and sophisticated elites to have access to whatever financial services they want but limit the range of products available to ordinary Americans. This unprecedented result comes about because, under the proposed legislation, every provider of a financial service (a term that includes organizations as varied as banks, check-cashing services, leasing companies and payment services) is required to offer a 'standard' product or service -- to be defined and approved by the proposed agency -- that will be simple and entail 'lower risks' for consumers."

Ignorance is bliss.

Chrysler, GM Avoid Product Liability

As discussed in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, "Plaintiffs' lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have the new automakers that emerged from bankruptcy held liable for damages caused by their predecessors' products. They won a partial victory with GM, but both companies will shed liability for most claims." For people "who allege they were injured by defective cars, that's a grim prospect."

As a result, some attorneys are changing focus of their product liability cases, targeting dealers and suppliers because of the automakers' immunity. Bloomberg News reported, "General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC dealers and suppliers ... are becoming targets of product-liability lawsuits in the wake of the automakers' bankruptcies. Accident victims' lawyers in California, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri and Colorado have sued dealers and parts- makers on finding that GM and Chrysler are shielded from litigation by bankruptcy law. The attorneys say they have no other way to seek compensation for some clients.

NY Times Op-Eds Look at Malpractice Reform

In an op-ed in the New York Times (7/12), Tom Baker of the University of Pennsylvania Law School wrote, "Our medical liability system needs reform. But anyone who thinks that limiting liability would reduce healthcare costs is fooling himself. Preventable medical injuries, not patient compensation, are what ring up extra costs for additional treatment. ... Just as we need evidence-based medicine, we also need evidence-based medical liability reform."

In another Times op-ed, Harvard professors Amitabh Chandra and Michelle Mello wrote, "Doctors tend to believe capping damages on malpractice awards would solve their troubles. But the best evidence shows that although caps modestly constrain the growth of insurance premiums, they don't reduce the number of claims or address any of the fundamental pathologies of the system. ..."

These are messages that need to be heard. Arbitrary, "one-size-fits-all" caps on damages are completely unfair to the grievously injured.

Lisbon Girl Hurt in Hit-and-Run

The Norwich Bulletin reports that a "14-year-old Moosup girl was hospitalized after a car struck her during a hit-and-run accident in Lisbon on Saturday." The unidentified girl was taken to Backus Hospital with a head injury and her condition was unavailable. "According to a police news release, the girl was walking south on the shoulder of Route 12 near the northbound ramp of Interstate 395 when she was hit. At least two people witnessed the accident, which happened at about 9:45 p.m." A dark-colored four-door sport utility vehicle struck the girl, causing her to be “thrown off the shoulder and onto the grass,” the police said. The car did not stop.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tap Water More Regulated Than Bottled

Congress has held hearings on two reports concluding that the EPA regulates tap water more carefully than the FDA does bottled water. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA, which "oversees" the $11.2 billion bottled water industry, "doesn't keep track of companies that produce bottled water and doesn't require companies to report positive tests for contaminants, federal officials told a House hearing Wednesday. Consumer advocates testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations panel that bottlers should be required to disclose more information to consumers." FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein "testified that the agency regulates bottled water as a food and doesn't know which companies among registered food firms make bottled water. Moreover, he said, the FDA has limited power to require more information on labels, and he put in a pitch for legislation that would boost the FDA's funding and authority for food safety."

Medicare Analyzes Best, Worst Hospitals

USA Today reports that "Too many people die needlessly at U.S. hospitals, according to a sweeping new Medicare analysis showing wide variation in death rates between the best hospitals and the worst." Click here to find and compare hospitals.

Report Blames EB Worker for Fatality

I have to wonder if there's more to the story. The Day reports that Ritchie Morse, the Electric Boat worker who died in an accident at the company's Quonset Point manufacturing plant earlier this month, "pressed the wrong button on a hangar door, closing it when he had meant to open it." Apparently, Morse was "moving a section of steel outside using a large transport device with a cab on either end." Morse, who was in the front cab, went to the other cab when it started raining to move the section back inside the main building. "About 20 feet of the transporter remained outside the hangar doors, with about a foot of clearance between the door and the vehicle." Realizing he forgot his hard hat in the transporter's front cab, he exited the vehicle and "tried to squeeze through the small space between the door and the transporter, the police report said. Unable to fit, Morse hit the button on the door, intending to open it, but instead hit the button to close it, witnesses told police." The report says the "door jerked closed ... crushing Morse's head between the door and the transporter." OSHA reportedly "is still investigating." What a horrible tragedy. Something tells me this was preventable and that the victim is not totally at fault.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Federal Action on Food Safety

The Obama Administration is taking steps to make the nation's food supply safer and reduce outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli. The new rules call for better coordination among agencies and enhance safety standards, tracking, and inspections of eggs, beef, poultry, leafy greens, melons, and tomatoes.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a "White House panel, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is shifting the focus of food regulation to preventing outbreaks from reacting to them after they occur." The FDA announced "a rule aimed at reducing salmonella infections from raw or undercooked eggs by 60%, or 79,000 illnesses a year. The regulation, among other things, requires egg producers to test their facilities for salmonella and buy chicks only from farmers who monitor for the pathogen." The Washington Post notes that "Fears about food safety have been spurred by outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli illness from products as varied as peanuts, spinach, tomatoes, pistachios, peppers and, most recently, cookie dough." Currently, 15 separate agencies "oversee food inspections in a complex and sometimes bizarre division of labor: The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for produce, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for meat," for example. The FDA and the USDA also announced they "will create new positions to better oversee food safety," as reported by the AP. Many of the new rules won't take effect immediately, and the transformation of the food safety oversight system is "a huge undertaking." USA Today notes the "new proposals give the FDA 'real teeth' in requiring companies to track food safety problems and make that information available to the government." As Vice President Biden said, "The food-safety system in our country needs a significant update. ... We know these are the first steps of many."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Driver in Hartford Fatal Wreck Was Speeding

The Courant reports that "Speed appears to be a factor in a weekend wreck on Capitol Avenue that killed the driver." Police say that around 10:45 a.m. Sunday, "Jerry Sturges was driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla west on Capitol Avenue when he lost control in the area of Flower Street." His vehicle continued west, crossed the center line and continued in the eastbound lane, where it eventually struck a stone wall and a metal pole, and came to rest at the intersection of Capitol and Babcock Street. Sturgis, 29, was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital.

RI Worker Killed in EB Accident Identified

The Day reports that North Kingstown police have identified the Electric Boat employee who died in an accident at the company's Quonset Point manufacturing plant last week as Ritchie A. Morse, 31, of North Kingstown. Morse had worked at EB for 10 years. "According to police, Morse was moving a section of steel outside using a large transport device. The section then had to be moved back inside the main building where the submarine modules are assembled, due to the rain. Morse exited from the machinery and became trapped between it and a large door as it was closing, police said." He was transported to Kent County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police and OSHA are still investigating the incident.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recalls of Kids' Pool Floats, Cribs

The Los Angeles Times reported that the CPSC announced the recall of "inflatable baby floats - shaped like turtles, ducks, power boats and other figures" which are being "voluntarily pulled by distributor Aqua-Leisure Industries after 31 reports of the seats tearing and dropping youngsters into the water." The second action, initiated by the CPSC rather than the manufacturer, recalls more than 400,000 Simplicity drop side cribs for the same reason that forced one million Simplicity cribs off the market in September 2007: the upgraded plastic hardware still could bend or break, causing the drop side to detach.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Medicare's Track Record

Gov't run health care: the NY Times looks at Medicare's mixed track record.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Traffic Deaths Still Falling

The AP reports that "highway deaths are continuing to fall in 2009 from their lowest levels in nearly a half-century. The government reported Thursday that an estimated 7,689 people were killed on the nation's highways in the months of January through March of this year. That's a 9 percent decline from a year ago." This is good news. In 2008, the government estimated that 37,261 people died in traffic accidents, the fewest since 1961. "If the 2009 fatality trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people would die. Experts have attributed the declines to the recession, record-high seat-belt use and fewer people driving."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

RI Hospitals to Adopt New Surgical Protocol Aimed at Reducing Errors

The AP reports that "All 14 hospitals in Rhode Island have agreed to adopt a uniform set of precautions to prevent surgeons from operating on the wrong body part or committing other grievous errors." Under the new protocol, hospitals will have "two licensed providers mark the place on the patient where the operation is to occur and" surgeons will be required "to mark the spot with their initials and use a checklist before surgeries." These procedures are aimed at helping physicians "who work at multiple hospitals reduce the potential for operating on the wrong part of the patient or other mistakes." Officials began developing "the protocol...18 months ago, before several wrong-site surgeries at Rhode Island hospitals occurred," Jean Marie Rocha, vice president of clinical affairs for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, said.

Walkers, Canes Involved in 47,000 Falls Per Year

The AP reports that a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society notes "Health officials say more than 47,000 elderly Americans end up in emergency rooms each year from falls involving walkers and canes."

Norwich Panel Discusses Growing Trend of Prescription Drug Abuse

Article here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Editorial Says Doctors, Lawyers Both Wrong

A USA Today editorial says the "only thing" trial lawyers and doctors "have in common" on medical malpractice "is that they're both wrong. Doctors overestimate the degree to which lawsuits drive up medical costs (malpractice costs account for less than 2% of all health care spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office). Lawyers underestimate the degree to which even a few outsized verdicts spread fear and influence doctors' behavior." Unless "doctors and lawyers move from the extremes of the malpractice debate, the public will be denied what it wants most a reduction in the medical errors that occur all too often."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Suit Filed for Victim of Sexual Assault at Underage Drinking Party

The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck has filed suit on behalf of a Fitch Senior High School student who was sexually assaulted by another teen at an underage drinking party in Groton on June 16, 2007. The girl is identified as “Jane Doe” to protect her privacy. The suit alleges that the girl and her friend obtained and consumed alcoholic beverages from the friend’s home in Mystic, and then went to the party at a second house in Groton where they drank more and where the assault took place. The suit, filed against the owners of the homes where the drinking took place, alleges claims for negligent supervision and negligent provision of alcohol, including that the homeowners failed to properly supervise their minor children and their guests at their homes; failed to take steps to prevent drinking of alcohol by minors on their premises; violated Conn. Gen. Stat. § 30-89a by knowingly permitting minors to possess alcohol on their premises, and/or failing to make reasonable efforts to halt possession of alcohol by minors on their premises; and failed to prevent sexual assault of minors on the property. In addition to sexual assault and battery, the victim alleges injuries including mental and emotional anguish and distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, embarrassment, social ostracism and humiliation.

The trial attorneys at The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck, LLC represent individuals in all types of personal injury cases throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island including car accidents; trucking accidents; motorcycle accidents; wrongful deaths; slip/trip and falls; construction accidents; dog bite cases; medical malpractice; nursing home abuse or neglect cases; defective products; negligent security claims; uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) claims; spine, neck and back injuries; traumatic brain injuries; birth injuries; jury trials; mediation and arbitration; and appeals. We proudly serve clients all over the state of Connecticut and the state of Rhode Island, including, in Connecticut: New London County, New Haven County, Middlesex County, Hartford County, Tolland County, and Windham County; and in Rhode Island: Bristol County, Kent County, Newport County, Providence County, and Washington County. Call the attorneys at The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck today, at (860)535-4040 or (800)597-1334.

Friday, June 19, 2009

FDA Medical Device Approval System "Broken"

From Reuters: Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), chairman of the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that "there is evidence that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval system for medical devices is 'broken' and a comprehensive review of the major issues and potential problems is needed." At a hearing Thursday, Rep. Pallone "said the standards, procedures, and rules for certain devices 'don't [meet] modern needs of getting medical devices to those in need with confidence in their safety,' and an approval process is required that keeps pace with new technology." During the hearing Marcia Crosse, the Government Accountability Office's director of healthcare, said "that the GAO has repeatedly pointed to shortcomings in the medical device approval process that continue today."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Airbag Amputates Thumb

In a New York Times blog (6/17), Christopher Jensen wrote about the case of Ken Thompson of Pittsburgh, whose right thumb was partially amputated by his air bag after it deployed following a "minor impact." Thompson "said he planned to file a suit against BMW, the manufacturer of his 2006 BMW 325xi. But Jensen says "if there is a widespread problem with serious hand injuries, it is not obvious. At my request, the American College of Emergency Physicians asked their members if they had seen many hand injuries as the result of air bags." Of the 16 doctors who responded, "only one said he had seen a serious hand injury and that involved not just the amputation of a thumb, but 'the digit was thrown out the window.'"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

AAJ's Response to Obama's Address to AMA

The following is a statement from American Association for Justice President Les Weisbrod regarding President Obama’s address to the American Medical Association:

“It’s clear America’s health care system is in crisis. Over 40 million people are without health insurance and costs are skyrocketing. President Obama is right that health care reform is needed now and patient safety should be the top priority.

“Empirically-based practice guidelines, developed by independent experts, is an idea we can support, as long as it does not lower quality or standards of care. Instead, these guidelines should lead to greater patient safety.

“According to the Institute of Medicine, 98,000 people die every year because of medical errors. Eliminating these errors, not further hurting the victims of negligence, is where lawmakers should focus their attention. By taking away the rights of people to hold wrongdoers accountable, the quality of health care will suffer tremendously.

“However, the notion that ‘defensive medicine’ is leading to higher health care costs is not supported by empirical data or academic literature. Recent news reports, CBO and GAO analyses, and statements from administration officials have shown that physicians will over-test and over-treat purely for financial reasons, unrelated to liability concerns.

“Limiting the legal rights of injured patients will do nothing to lower health care costs or aid the uninsured. We will work over the coming weeks and months to educate members of Congress and the administration on how to best protect victims of medical negligence.”

AAJ has developed a primer on medical negligence and the role of the civil justice system in the current health care debate. The primer can be located at

NYTimes Says Patients Must Be Able to Sue for Negligence

The New York Times editorialized: "Hoping to enlist support for his campaign for health care reform, President Obama told the American Medical Association this week that he would work with doctors to limit their vulnerability to malpractice lawsuits. That was a reasonable offer - provided any malpractice reform is done carefully." The Times says, "Whatever the alternative - tribunals, mediation - patients must retain the right to go to court and seek higher damages than they have been offered" because "that is the only way to deter negligence by doctors, hospitals and other health care providers."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Research, Good Policies Protect Kids From Products

USA Today reports that children are benefiting "from a wealth of new research, as well as the safety laws and better products based on those research findings." Nationwide, the "death rates from unintentional injuries among children under 19" fell "nearly 50% in 1981, from 27 deaths per 100,000 children in 1981 to 14 per 100,000 in 2005, according to the CDC." According to the CPSC, "Injuries from baby walkers - which help babies stand up - have fallen 88% since the early 1990s, from 25,700 a year to 3,100 annually today." Also, "Deaths from crib accidents have fallen 84% since 1973, decreasing from 200 deaths a year to 30, largely because of safety improvements," and "thanks to childproof caps, accidental poisonings have fallen more than 80% since the early 1970s, when 216 children died each year, the CPSC says."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conn. Legislature Creates New Infraction re: Customer Access to Restrooms

The legislature has passed a law requiring customer access to restrooms in retail establishments when the customer has documentation of certain specified medical conditions (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or a medical condition that requires use of an ostomy device). Read P.A. 09-129.

Obama Willing to Impose Malpractice Limits

The New York Times reports that the AMA "has long battled Democrats who oppose protecting doctors from malpractice lawsuits. But during a private meeting at the White House last month, association officials said, they found one Democrat willing to entertain the idea: President Obama." The Times adds that "in closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits -- a goal of many doctors and Republicans -- can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as A.M.A. officials."

There is NO EVIDENCE that caps on malpractice awards reduce insurance premiums paid by doctors or lead to savings on healthcare costs. This is a horrible idea, and just another myth used to appeal to a particular interest group for political advantage. Tell your elected leaders to oppose caps on damages.

Incidentally, the New York Times also editorialized (6/14) that "As the debate over health care reform unfolds, policy makers and the public need to focus more attention on doctors and the huge role they play in determining the cost of medical care - costs that are rising relentlessly." The paper said, "There is disturbing evidence that many do a lot more than is medically useful - and often reap financial benefits from over-treating their patients." The Times concluded, "Doctors have been complicit in driving up health care costs. They need to become part of the solution."

Bridgeport Diocese Seeks Reconsideration on Disclosure Ruling

The AP reported, "The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport asked the Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday to reconsider a ruling that would make public thousands of pages of documents that detail alleged sexual abuse by priests." The diocese argues that "the ruling fails to uphold the privacy and constitutional rights of all parties to lawsuits, especially when cases are sealed, and contends the disclosure of the sealed documents is barred by the religious clauses of the First Amendment." Read more.

Most States Don't Require Seat Belts on Back Seat Passengers

USA Today reports that "Highway safety advocates say a deadly gap exists in the nation's seat belt laws: Most states don't require adult passengers in the back seat to buckle up." Read more.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In the News

The Norwich Bulletin writes about two of my three nursing home wrongful death cases.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RI Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

The AP reports that "Rhode Island would be the third state in the nation and the first on the East Coast to allow nonprofit stores to sell marijuana to medical patients under legislation approved Tuesday by state lawmakers." The state Senate voted 30-2 to allow three stores to sell marijuana to more than 680 patients registered with the state Department of Health. The measure now goes to Gov. Don Carcieri, who has previously vetoed bills legalizing medical marijuana.

Monday, June 8, 2009

U.S Already Had a Hispanic Justice

Judge Sotomayor would not be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. We've already had one: Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, U. S. Supreme Court Justice from 1932 - 1938, a Sephardic Jew of Spanish ancestry.

His father, Judge Albert Cardozo, was Vice President and Trustee of the famous Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in New York City, Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest congregation in the western hemisphere. It was founded in Recife, Brazil circa 1630 and moved to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1654 when Portugal took Brazil from the Dutch and brought the Inquisition there.

NY PIRG: Malpractice Pay-Outs Have Fallen

In a blog on the New York Times website Jeremy Peters wrote, "For years, as hospitals have fought to protect the money they receive from the state, health care lobbyists have argued that the exceedingly high cost of medical malpractice insurance was a result of a runaway legal system that allowed juries to award huge judgments to victims of doctors' mistakes." However, "a new report from an independent government watchdog group suggests that those claims are exaggerated." The study by the New York Public Interest Research Group found that "the amount of money paid for malpractice claims in New York has actually fallen in recent years, and that the number of overall claims has remained 'remarkably stable.'"

The number of malpractice suits in Arizona has fallen. The Arizona Daily Star reported, "Attorneys are becoming increasingly choosy when it comes to filing medical malpractice lawsuits - largely because doctors and hospitals usually win when the cases go to court." Some people "attribute the decline to changes in the law, the expense of putting on a case and the attitudes of jurors" and "others say it's just a cyclical phenomenon."