Monday, March 30, 2009

Golfer John Daly Loses Libel Suit

After four years of litigation, pro golfer John Daly lost his libel suit against the Florida Times-Union newspaper and its columnist, Mike Freeman, over a 2005 column that discussed his alleged "thug-life qualifications." A Florida judge ruled the comments were either true or constitutionally protected opinion, and granted a defense motion for summary judgment. Read more.

State AG's Use FDA Warning Letters Against Drug Makers

The National Law Journal reports, "State Attorneys General are loading their guns with some potent ammunition against drug companies that run deceptive ads: warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." Recently, "a growing number of states have grabbed hold of FDA warning letters citing unlawful marketing practices and are using them to sue drug companies for false advertising, in some cases winning multimillion-dollar settlements." The agency's "letters are being used as both evidence in lawsuits alleging unfair advertising practices and as a trigger to push attorneys general into action."

Harvard Researchers Subpoenaed Over Alleged Conflicts

The New York Times reports that "Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena seeking information about the work and statements of three prominent Harvard researchers who have been the focus of a Congressional investigation into conflicts of interest in medicine." The researchers, Drs. Joseph Biederman, Thomas Spencer, and Timothy E. Wilens, "have advocated increased use of antipsychotic medicines in children and have accepted lucrative consulting agreements from the drugs' makers." But, according to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is "investigating conflicts of interest in medicine," the three "researchers had failed to report much of [their] consulting income to Harvard." The subpoena, "issued by the Federal District Court for the Massachusetts District," is "sought by the United States attorney in Massachusetts, Michael J. Sullivan, and by the Health and Human Services Department inspector general, Daniel R. Levinson." Together, Sullivan and Levinson are seeking "all documents produced in litigation relating to the three researchers as well as transcripts of any depositions of them."

Bills Aimed at Limiting Drivers' Use of Cell Phones

From USA Today: "More than 250 bills prohibiting or restricting cellphone use while driving are pending in 42 state legislatures despite disagreement over the risks cellphones pose and the effectiveness of enforcement.

The number is up from about 120 bills in just 18 states 10 months ago, according to an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a safety research group funded by insurers. Four states — Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina and Texas — are considering banning all types of cellphone usage behind the wheel, including hands-free devices."

Friday, March 27, 2009

FDA Hampered by Food Companies' Inadequate Records

The Wall Street Journal reports that HHS investigators "found that many food companies don't comply with federal recordkeeping requirements," hindering the FDA's ability to trace the source of food-borne illnesses quickly. According to the report, 60% of the 118 facilities surveyed by the HHS inspector general didn't keep adequate records. At a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee's appropriations panel, HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson said, "We don't have the compliance envisioned by Congress." The FDA is limited in its "ability to trace food products through each stage of the food supply chain back to the farm or border." Still, "FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said the agency is developing guidance to improve the industry's recordkeeping and help the agency trace food contaminants." The agency is hampered, though, as its "funding and staff for food safety has shrunk in recent years." Levinson also "acknowledged that FDA's ability to inspect records -- absent a health threat -- is limited" and "urged Congress to amend the law so the FDA can request records at any time."

Stimulus Law Threatens Privacy of Medical Info

"While it is touted as a major tool for lowering health care costs, the Electronic Health Record (EHR) has serious implications for Americans' health privacy. The Institute for Health Freedom (IHF) warns that the economic stimulus law (H.R. 1, Public Law No. 111-5) weakens individuals' control over the flow of their personal health information. 'The economic stimulus law plans for every American to use an electronic health record (EHR) and allows those records to be sold for research and public-health purposes -- without patients' consent,' said Sue Blevins, IHF president."

Conn. Considers Extending Statute of Limitations in Sex Abuse Cases

On Thursday, legislators considered a proposal that would extend the statute of limitations "where material evidence is found that could not reasonably have been discovered before, giving victims over 48 [years old] three years from the discovery to bring civil claims." The statute in child sexual assault cases gives people 30 years after they turn 18 to file civil actions. The proposal stems from the case of Dr. George Reardon, who died in 1998, years prior to discovery of proof of his crimes in 2007, "when a homeowner renovating Reardon's former West Hartford home uncovered more than 50,000 slides and 100 movie reels of child pornography, hidden in basement walls." Read more.

Kids' Kidney Stones Rising

Doctors are concerned over what seems to be an increase in the number of children with kidney stones, a condition some blame on kids' love of fast food and other salty foods. "Kidney stones are usually an adult malady, one that is notorious for causing excruciating pain — pain worse than childbirth." A 2007 study in the Journal of Urology by doctors at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center reported "a nearly fivefold increase in children brought in with kidney stones between 1994 and 2005." Other hospitals have seen increased numbers as well. Eating too much salt can result in excess calcium in the urine, and in children, most stones are calcium-based. Their eating habits, plus drinking too little water, puts kids at risk. Read more.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pets May be Hazardous to Your Health

A CDC analysis of fall-related injuries associated with cats and dogs for the period 2001--2006 indicates that "an estimated average of 86,629 fall injuries each year were associated with cats and dogs, for an average annual injury rate of 29.7 per 100,000 population. Nearly 88% of injuries were associated with dogs." As someone who dislocated his shoulder after falling on ice with my dog, I am not surprised.

Bad Wiring Threatens Troops in Iraq

The military is inspecting more than 90,000 U.S.-run facilities across Iraq to reduce the threat to troops from electrocution or shock while showering or using appliances. Most of the problems relate to faulty electrical grounding. "About one-third of the inspections so far have turned up major electrical problems, according to interviews and an internal military document obtained by The Associated Press. Half of the problems they found have since been fixed but about 65,000 facilities still need to be inspected, which could take the rest of this year."

In January 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Pittsburgh (pictured at right with his mother, Cheryl Harris), died while showering, one of at least three soldiers killed while showering since the Iraq invasion in 2003. Army investigators have reclassified Maseth’s death as negligent homicide caused by KBR, the Houston-based contractor that oversees maintenance at most U.S. facilities in Iraq, and two of the company's supervisors. "An Army investigator said KBR failed to ensure work was done by qualified electricians and plumbers." Read more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Insured Who Injured Another While Acting in Self Defense Entitled to Indemnity Under Homeowner's Policy

In Vermont Mutual Insurance Co. v. Walukiewicz, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that a homeowner’s liability insurance policy, which provided for indemnification for damages resulting from accidents, but not for intentionally caused injuries, provided coverage for an insured who caused bodily injury to another while acting in self defense.

Appeals Court Upholds Verdict Against NBA Star Iverson

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has affirmed a judgment against NBA guard Allen Iverson for negligent supervision of his body guards involved in a nightclub brawl. "The evidence in this case supported the jury’s finding that Kane attacked Godfrey in a fight that
lasted several minutes, and that Iverson stood and watched without attempting to do anything to stop the beating." Read the decision here.

Liberty Mut. Insurance Fined for Overcharging

"Liberty Mutual companies are paying $928,042 in fines and restitution for overcharging customers, settling claims improperly and other violations of state law, the Connecticut Insurance Department said Tuesday," according to the Courant. Fines for violations totaled $296,000, while the company also was ordered to pay $632,042 in restitution, mostly to about 3,600 policyholders who were overcharged for premiums on auto insurance.

"It is imperative that consumers are treated fairly," said Insurance Commissioner Thomas Sullivan. "I am pleased that my staff was able to identify these violations, work with the company to provide restitution, and make a difference for policyholders."

Fisher-Price 3-in-1 High Chair Recall

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Fisher-Price has voluntarily recalled 24,000 convertible high chairs after a report of a child falling out and fracturing his skull when a seat back detached." The 3-in-1 High Chair, which converts from a high chair to a toddler booster seat, was sold at Target stores nationwide over the last four months for about $100.

Surgeon Fell Asleep While Operating

This is almost too outrageous: the Boston Globe reports that Dr. Loren Borud "said he had been up all night working on a book, but he kept operating, starting a second case, during which he briefly fell asleep, according to a report from state investigators." The report says that "the operating room nurse called the plastic surgery department twice to report Borud's behavior that morning and early afternoon...and the office nurse told her to 'keep an eye on him.'" However, "no senior surgeon or administrator ordered Borud to stop operating - even though there was widespread awareness of his history of drug and alcohol abuse, according to investigators." Now, the hospital has a week to respond to the report which also found that "Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center provided poor care to Borud's second patient that day."

Monday, March 23, 2009

In-Flight Entertainment Systems Raise Safety Concerns

Many airline passengers enjoy planes' onboard entertainment systems, which let them choose movies, TV shows, songs and games on certain long flights. However, many are concerned
that the systems "under each seat's arm rest generates too much heat — 105 to 115 degrees — when not in use." A USA Today analysis of FAA data indicates airline maintenance workers "filed nearly 400 reports of difficulty with the systems to the Federal Aviation Administration during the past 10 years," and in "the most serious cases, smoke from the systems forced pilots to shut them down and make emergency landings." These reports worry safety advocates, "many of whom are mindful of the Canadian government's claim that not enough safety improvements have been made since investigators cited an electrical wiring problem as the likely cause of a Swissair jet crash 11 years ago." Read more.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ER Data Shows Teen Binge Drinking Rising

Despite some recent surveys indicating a decline in teen drinking, binge drinking among youth appears to be increasing, with data from emergency rooms shows "a steady rise in severely intoxicated middle and high school age youths." Read more.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wells Fargo Liable to Reservist for Job, Back Pay, Punitives

Michael Serrichio, a former Connecticut financial adviser and military reservist who alleged he was effectively dismissed from his job after being called to active duty following the Sept. 11 attacks, received about $1.3 million in what is believed to be the largest judgment under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a federal law protecting employment rights of servicemen. U.S. District Judge Janet B. Arterton entered the judgment Thursday following a jury trial last June. Arterton held Wells Fargo & Co. liable, although Wachovia Securities was sued, since Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia on Dec. 31.

Judge Arterton ordered that Wells Fargo return Serricchio, 30, to a position comparable to the one he formerly held and ordered that he be paid $144,300 annually, in addition to commission income. He also received more than $400,000 in back pay and interest. The judge ruled that Wachovia had willfully violated Serricchio's rights, entitling him to an additional $390,000 in statutory punitive damages, and he is entitled to be reimbursed for legal fees and court costs, which his attorney said is probably more than $500,000. The Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is a federal law dating from World War II, which was written to encourage military service and protect veterans from being penalized for their service. It requires, among other things, that employers pay those returning from military duty as if their employment had not been interrupted. Read more.

Whistleblower Warned FDA About Syringe Plant

"Several months before federal investigators linked a North Carolina syringe manufacturer to hundreds of illnesses and five deaths, a whistle-blower wrote to regulators to warn about the poor conditions inside a room vital to producing a sterile product." FDA records released Friday "show no sign that inspectors tried to address the concerns of the AM2PAT Inc. employee. She told the agency in a June 2007 e-mail, months before the outbreak was discovered, the firm was not operating appropriate temperatures in its cleanroom - an environmentally controlled site where air is constantly monitored." The unnamed whistleblower also said "management ignored complaints and did not allow employees to talk to FDA officials during an inspection." Sadly, the FDA's response was "delayed and disjointed." Read more.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Op-Ed: Medical Device Makers Should Not be Shielded From State Lawsuits

In an op-ed in the New England Journal Of Medicine Gregory Curfman, M.D., Stephen Morrissey, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Drazen, M.D. wrote, "Major stakeholders throughout our health care system agree that every step must be taken to ensure that medical interventions, used with the intention of improving patients' health, are as safe as possible." However, "every medical intervention has benefits and risks." They say, "Unfortunately, one major stakeholder, the medical-device industry, has been shielded from the potential consequences of failing to adequately disclose risks." After "the Supreme Court ruling in Riegel, thousands of lawsuits against medical-device manufacturers have been tossed out of court by judges following the Court's lead in deeming such lawsuits to be preempted" and "we contend that preemption will result in medical devices that are less safe for the American people." Concluding, they say, "The critical issue of preemption, which directly affects the disclosure of risks and thus the safety of the nation's supply of medical devices and drugs, should properly be decided by officials elected by the people, with whom the responsibility for the health of the public rightfully resides."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kellogg's CEO Calls for Food Safety Overhaul

Kellogg Co. CEO David Mackay "is urging lawmakers to overhaul the nation's food safety system." Noting that Kellogg lost some $70 million in the peanut salmonella outbreak, Mackay "wants food safety placed under a new leader in the Health and Human Services Department. He also called for new requirements that all food companies have written safety plans, annual federal inspections of facilities that make high-risk foods, and other reforms. Mackay's strong endorsement of major changes could boost President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the system." Read more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck Files Suit for Death of Disabled Man

The Law Firm of Stephen M. Reck has filed suit on behalf of the estate of a Groton man who died January 16, 2009 after ambulance attendants dropped his wheelchair while trying to carry him up stairs into his apartment, causing the man’s head to strike a concrete step, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and massive hemorrhaging. The suit names as defendants Hunter’s Ambulance Service, Inc.; Groton Estates, LLC; and MCR Property Management, Inc.

The plaintiff alleges that Hunter’s Ambulance was negligent in various ways including dropping the wheelchair, causing Mr. Vasquez to strike his head, and failing to use a stair chair in order to safely move him up the stairs where there was no ramp. The suit alleges that Groton Estates and MCR Property Management were negligent in a variety of contributing ways, including violating the Connecticut State Building Code by having unsafe stairs, failing to provide a proper handrail, and failing to provide or allow a wheelchair ramp. The plaintiff alleges that they denied or discouraged the construction of a wheelchair ramp, in violation of the Connecticut Fair Housing Act and the Discriminatory Housing Practices Act.

Attorney Scott D. Camassar, who represents the family, said Mr. Vasquez’s death has been hard on his family, especially his son Jose Vasquez, who lived with his father in order to care for him 24 hours a day. “To lose his father after a preventable accident, after the man was sick for so many years, is especially painful to him” noted Camassar.

The Day covers the story here.

Jurors Increasingly Using Handhelds, Phones for Research

In a front-page story, the New York Times reports, "The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges." Under "the legal system's complex rules of evidence," jurors "are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible." But, they can now "seek information outside of the courtroom" using "their cell phones," and "tell their friends what is happening in the jury room." And, although "judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches," the "risk has grown more immediate -- and instinctual." Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, notes that "some courts are beginning to restrict the use of cell phones by jurors within the courthouse."

Med Schools Examine Drug Industry Ties

From NPR: "Financial dealings and gift-giving between drug companies and doctors are nothing new. But they're getting a lot more attention these days. ... And Harvard Medical School has just launched a review of its ethics policies, under pressure from students there who think the pharmaceutical industry's influence has become too pervasive." Read more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chimp Attack Lawsuit Filed

The family of a Connecticut woman mauled by a chimpanzee last month has filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages against the animal's owner. A relative of 55-year-old Charla Nash filed the lawsuit against Sandra Herold late Monday in Superior Court in Stamford. The lawsuit accuses Herold of negligence and recklessness for owning "a wild animal with violent propensities, even though she lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary." Attorneys say Nash lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids and may be blind and suffering brain damage after the attack on Feb. 16 in Stamford. She remains in critical condition at the Cleveland Clinic.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

NY Times Supports Patients' Rights to Sue Medical Device Makers

The New York Times editorialized, "Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that patients can sue drug companies in state courts for harm caused by medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Congress ought to give patients the same right to sue makers of medical devices." The paper concludes, "Suits in state courts reinforce federal regulations. Patients who have been hurt by faulty medical devices should have the right to seek redress there."

Medtronic Increases Death Estimate for Defibrillator Leads

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that "Medtronic Inc. said the number of deaths in which its fractured defibrillator wires may have been a 'possible or likely contributing factor' has risen to 13." The new number "is the company's first update of its death estimate since the Sprint Fidelis, then the No. 1 such device in the world, was first recalled." When the company recalled the device in October 2007, it cited five deaths.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sorting Out Dram Shop Liability for Providers on Tribal-Owned Property

The Day discusses tribal sovereign immunity in the context of dram shop cases, in the aftermath of the recent death of a 20-year-old Connecticut College student by a driver who was drinking at Mohegan Sun. Unlike a recent case that was dismissed from state court because it was brought against the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, its CEO Mitchell Etess, Tribal Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, and the permittee and bartender from the tribe-owned bar, the sailor accused of slamming into the livery van carrying the Conn College students told police he was drinking at a nontribal-owned nightclub located inside Mohegan Sun.

"In interviews last week, state officials, including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, have said the nontribal businesses controlling Ultra 88, including the permittee, Plan B LLC, and Lyons' company, the Lyons Group, could face lawsuits in state, not just tribal, courts." Cases against tribal entities have been dismissed from state court because courts construe the agreements of the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to abide by state alcohol regulations as not detrimental to their sovereign status. "Instead, plaintiffs seeking damages after accidents caused by drinking at tribally owned and operated businesses have no recourse except the respective tribal courts maintained on the Mashantucket and Mohegan reservations." Non-tribal entities "are liable under the dram act, and also possibly under common-law reckless claims. The basic rule is if it's not tribal, they are liable.” Read more.

Friday, March 13, 2009

GAO Reports on Staggering Medicare Fraud

USA Today reports that "Fraud and abuse helped boost Medicare spending on home health services 44% over five years as some providers exaggerated patients' medical conditions and others billed for unnecessary services or care they did not provide," a new Government Accountability Office report says. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, says Medicare must strengthen its oversight: "Every home health care dollar that's lost to fraud or improper payments is a dollar that doesn't go to necessary care and a better quality of life for older Americans."

Anna Nicole Smith's Ex and Two Doctors Facing Charges for Providing Her Drugs

Although Anna Nicole Smith died from an accidental overdose, prosecutors charge her ex-boyfriend and two doctors were responsible for feeding her addiction. "Howard K. Stern, her lawyer-turned-confidant, and Drs. Sandeep Kapoor and Khristine Eroshevich were charged in an 11-count felony complaint on Thursday, including conspiracy, unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance and prescribing, administering or dispensing a controlled substance to an addict." Read more.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

(Another) Baby Toys Recall

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that "About 184,000 baby toys sold at major retailers -- including Target, Wal-Mart and Babies 'R' Us -- are being voluntarily recalled because they pose a choking hazard to children," the CPSC said. The Infantino models that are involved are: Lil' Chef Set, Activity Stacker and Tag Along Chime Trio.

Should Doctors Report Patients' Blackouts to State?

Here's an issue that raises serious, competing privacy and public safety concerns. The Chicago Tribune reports that a man whose "daughter was killed in a...crash caused by a driver who lost consciousness" has proposed "legislation that would keep people who suffer blackouts from getting behind the wheel." Under the measure, "physicians would be required to report all patients" who have "been told not to drive because" they experience blackouts "to state officials, who could then revoke their driver's licenses." But, according to a spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the proposal "could be counterproductive in that it may discourage patients from being honest with their doctors."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Army Sees Increase in Stress Fractures from Combat Loads

Army officials say an "increasing number of soldiers are being sidelined with muscle and bone injuries caused by carrying combat loads weighing as much as 130 pounds," and Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, says the Army is researching "how many troops are affected by weight-related stress fractures, sprains and other orthopedic problems that prevent them from shipping out with their units. Read more.

FDA Wants Faster Salmonella Test

The AP reports that the FDA is frustrated that "conventional lab methods can now take as long as nine days to identify the most common of food bugs," and is looking for a more rapid test for salmonella. The recent outbreaks have shown that delays in identifying the source made "consumers nervous about eating everyday foods. Food producers lost millions in forgone sales and recalled products." As a result, "FDA officials are desperately seeking anything that would make their response more efficient."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NFL, Others Granted Exemption from Suits from Terrorism Victims

USA Today reports that the NFL "and dozens of other companies and organizations have won exemption from lawsuits under a post-9/11 law that prohibits them from being sued if terrorists attack a site they are protecting." The law known as Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY Act), seeks to protect security providers "by guaranteeing they will not pay any claims that terror victims might file after an attack." The protection extends only to companies' services or equipment that the Dept. of Homeland Security has approved as being effective in anti-terrorism. The NFL became exempt from such suits after the DHS approved the league's nine-page stadium-security guidelines, which include digital security cameras in stadiums, quick searches on entering spectators and barriers that keep cars and trucks 100 feet from a stadium. Other beneficiaries of the legal protection include Boeing Corp., which got the exemption for its strengthened flight deck doors on planes, and IBM, which makes software used to more accurately verify names and identities. Protected companies must carry terrorism insurance. A DHS spokeswoman said the protection has led to "wider deployment of anti-terrorism technologies and services."

AG, Others Support Bill Banning Drug Makers' Gifts to Doctors

"A bill pending in the state Legislature that would ban drug company gifts to doctors has drawn strong support from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo and patient advocacy groups, but objections from drug companies and the state medical society." Stephen Smith, a retired Brown University medical school professor and member of the Board of Directors of the National Physicians Alliance, said, "I support it because we need to restore integrity to medicine, and patients need to know when a doctor prescribes a medication that it's what's best for the patient and is supported by the evidence, not influenced by a drug company gift." Read more.

Researcher with Ties to Pfizer Accused of Fraud

Dr. Scott S. Reuben, an anesthesiologist on the staff at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., and a former member of Pfizer's speakers' bureau "who helped pioneer new pain treatments that combined two of the company's major products[,] has been accused of perpetrating one of the biggest research frauds in medical history." In fact, he is "accused of fabricating study results in at least 21 articles and perhaps scores of others. The medical center that uncovered Reuben's fabrications after an audit came to the conclusion that the researcher had been dreaming up data - to fit apparently preconceived conclusions - for up to 13 years." Dr. Steven L. Shafer, professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and editor-in-chief of the medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, said "I couldn't begin to understand why someone would do this. The odds of being caught are virtually 100 percent."

Reuben's data "helped establish support for a relatively new way of treating post-operative pain called multimodal analgesia that, under Reuben's approach, had as its linchpin the use of Pfizer's products Celebrex and Lyrica before and after surgery." A Baystate spokesperson said there are no indications that Pfizer had any part in Reuben's apparent fraud, and she didn't believe Pfizer's research funding involved a large amount of money. Pfizer, whose worldwide research-and-development headquarters are in New London, announced last month it will reveal next year the names of doctors who receive more than $500 annually from the company. Information on how much was paid to Reuben was not disclosed. Read more.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mass. Man Makes False Claims for Broken Tooth

Between 2002 and 2006, a Massachusetts man who broke a tooth on a piece of plastic in a restaurant salad allegedly collected about $36,000 by making repeated claims against restaurants for the same broken tooth. After an investigation by the state attorney general's office, the man has been arraigned on 19 counts of insurance fraud and ten counts of larceny over $250, each of which carries a maximum five-year term. Read more.

Troopers Couldn't Get There Fast Enough To Prevent Tragedy

I hope someone will explain why it takes three state troopers to investigate a stolen car at Foxwoods.

In one of the more heart-wrenching tragedies in a while, a local Navy sailor, who was reportedly drinking at Mohegan Sun, drove his car the wrong way onto the highway Saturday morning and hit a van filled with Connecticut College students, killing one. A state police spokesman said the barracks "received three emergency calls about Musser's travels but that the troopers on duty were 10 miles away at the Foxwoods Resort Casino investigating a stolen vehicle found to be associated with a burglary in Philadelphia." The troopers were redirected to the interstate when the calls came in but could not get there before the crash. Read more.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Staggering Costs of Teen Driving Accidents

A 2006 analysis by AAA indicates crashes involving teen drivers ages 15 to 17 results in costs of over $34 billion annually in medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, loss of quality of life and other expenses. As a result, AAA advocates states enact a comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) system, whereby teens complete a combination of manda­tory practice and limited driving at night and with peer passengers. According to AAA's research, GDL systems reduce fatal crashes involving teen drivers by an average of 38%.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New Collision Avoidance System Debuts

City Safety, a low-speed collision-avoidance technology, becomes available this month on the new 2010 Volvo XC60, a crossover utility vehicle that now will be able to brake itself to avoid a fender-bender. The system uses a windshield-mounted laser that sends infrared rays out as far as 18 feet ahead of the vehicle. The rays are reflected back from objects ahead of the car, and a computer analyzes them and will automatically brake the vehicle if it concludes a collision is imminent. "The system is designed to prevent the low-speed collisions often seen during bumper-to-bumper conditions when a driver fails to notice that the car ahead has slowed down or stopped." Almost 75% of all collisions occur at speeds below 19 miles per hour. "In half of those accidents, a driver never hits his or her brake pedal, Volvo research shows. City Safety can intervene and prevent a collision when a vehicle is traveling at 9 mph or less. At speeds between 10 and 19 mph, the impact of a collision will be mitigated." Read more.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Private Food Safety Auditors Missed Contamination

"With government inspectors overwhelmed by the task of guarding the nation’s food supply, the job of monitoring food plants has in large part fallen to an army of private auditors", many of whom have repeatedly "failed to detect problems at plants whose contaminated products later sickened consumers." Read more.

Six Companies Stop Using BPA

From the AP: Six companies "have stopped manufacturing baby bottles containing Bisphenol-A, a chemical some studies suggest may be harmful to infants," in response to a request last year from the attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey asking them to end their use of the chemical. "Avent America Inc., Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex Products Inc. and Evenflo Co. are voluntarily complying with the request, said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal."

Drug Patches Cause Skin Burns in MRIs

The Wall Street Journal reports that the "U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday warned of the risk of skin burns in patients wearing transdermal drug patches who are undergoing MRI scans." The patches, which "are applied to the skin and can be used to deliver pain medications, hormones, and nicotine," are made with "aluminum or other metal in the backing of the patches which can overheat during an MRI scan and cause skin burns in the immediate area of the patch."

Bill Reintroduced to Allow Suits Against Medical Device Makers

The AP reports that one "day after the Supreme Court decided that federal rules do not protect drugmakers from state lawsuits," Democratic lawmakers "reintroduced a bill that would allow similar lawsuits against companies that make heart devices, catheters, hip replacements and other devices." In 2008, "the Supreme Court agreed with the pre-emption policy in a case [Riegel v. Medtronic] involving medical devices, ruling a patient injured by a catheter from Medtronic could not sue under state laws. That case turned on a provision of federal law prohibiting states from imposing their own requirements on the devices," but "there's no similar provision for drugs." Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) "and other Democrats said...that decision ignored decades of precedent." The AP adds that "the bill to restore liability claims against device makers is co-sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)," who "is expected to hold hearings on the issue in coming weeks."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Loads of Tainted Inventory Stuck on Shelves Due to Lead Law

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Makers of children's products and charities that run second-hand shops are stuck with more than $1 billion of inventory they can't sell because of a new federal product-safety law, according to surveys by trade groups and the charities." The items in question are "suspected of having illegal levels of lead or plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates, include everything from beach balls to second-hand clothes to brand-new all-terrain vehicles for children."

Wyeth Inconsistent with Court's Ruling in Reigel v. Medtronic

The New York Times notes that the Wyeth ruling, that "federal law does not protect drug companies from product liability suits in state courts," appears to conflict with a ruling last year involving medical devices. "[T]he Supreme Court ruled last year that federal law does bar such lawsuits against the makers of heart stents, artificial joints and other critical medical devices." Professor David C. Vladeck, of Georgetown University Law Center, said, "I think this is going to force Congress to revisit the issue of why medical devices should be insulated from lawsuits."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CCSU Prof Calls Police After Student Discusses Guns

Last fall, John Wahlberg and two classmates at Central Connecticut State University gave a class presentation on why students and teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. Their assignment was to discuss a “relevant issue in the media,” and the students chose the April 2007 Virginia Tech campus shootings, arguing that the death toll would have been lower "if professors and students had been carrying guns." Although the presentation was not threatening, and guns are prohibited on campus, Professor Paula Anderson apparently thought her unarmed student was a risk to campus safety, and reported him to police. "That night, police called Wahlberg . . . and asked him to come to the station. When he arrived, they read off a list of firearms that were registered in his name and asked where he kept them." After learning that he lived 20 miles off-campus and kept his guns locked in a safe, police took no further action.

Robert Shibley, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said Anderson's actions appeared to be unwarranted. “If all he did was discuss reasons for allowing guns on campus, it seems a bit much to call the police and grill him about it,” said Shibley. “If you go after students for just discussing an idea, that goes against everything a university is supposed to stand for.” Read more.

50 Cent Slander Suit Survives Motion to Dismiss

From the Conn. Law Tribune: After a fire destroyed Shaniqua Tompkins's house, she allegedly said that the plaintiff had threatened her and informed the media, “Who do I think did it? Curtis Jackson.” The Plaintiff, Curtis Jackson, also known as rap musician “Fifty Cent,” sued Tomkins alleging false light invasion of privacy and slander per se. The Defendant Tompkins moved to dismiss the case. The court found that C.G.S. §59-59b(a)(2) bars long-arm jurisdiction for defamation such as slander per se, and granted the motion to dismiss that count. The long-arm statute provides for jurisdiction with respect to false light invasion of privacy, so that count survived. The Defendant, a resident of New York, had enough contacts with the State of Connecticut, where the Plaintiff resides, that she could expect to be summoned into court in here. The court also denied the Defendant’s motion to dismiss for improper venue.

Supreme Court Rejects Preemption in Wyeth

Late-breaking news from the AAJ: In a major victory for consumer rights, the U.S. Supreme Court today held that FDA drug regulation does not preempt common law claims for damages under state law.

In a 6-3 decision in the case of Wyeth v. Levine, the Court rejected Wyeth’s arguments that a drug company cannot comply with both state law duties and federal labeling requirements, and that requiring a drug maker to comply with a state-law duty to provide a stronger warning label interferes with Congress’ purpose in establishing the FDA’s authority. The Court stated that Congress never intended for FDA labeling regulation to preempt state tort law. Writing for the Court, Justice Stevens said:

“If Congress thought state-law suits posed an obstacle to its objectives, it surely would have enacted an express preemption provision at some point during the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act’s 70 year history . . . its silence on the issue, coupled with its certain awareness of the prevalence of state tort litigation, is powerful evidence that Congress did not intend FDA oversight to be the exclusive means of ensuring drug safety and effectiveness.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas called Wyeth's preemption argument unconstitutional:

“Because such a sweeping approach to pre-emption leads to the illegitimate – and thus, unconstitutional – invalidation of state laws, I can no longer assent to a doctrine that preempts state laws merely because they ‘stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives’ of federal law.”

Score one for the good guys. This decision will go a long way towards protecting those injured by dangerous drugs.

Some Doctors Seek to Prevent Patients from Posting Negative Comments Online

The AP reports that some physicians are "asking patients to agree to what amounts to a gag order that bars them from posting negative comments online." The AP highlights one company that "provides doctors with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign agree not to post online comments or ratings about the doctor, 'his expertise and/or treatment.'" The "company advises doctors to have all patients sign the agreements" and physicians "are notified when a negative rating appears on a website, and, if the author's name is known, physicians can use the signed waivers to get the sites to remove offending opinion." But, John Swapceinski, co-founder of, said, "They're basically forcing the patients to choose between healthcare and their First Amendment rights." According to AMA President Dr. Nancy Nielsen, "online doctor reviews 'should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient's sole source of information when looking for a new physician.'"

Body Parts Supplier Falsified Info on Cadavers

Federal prosecutors allege that the owner of a North Carolina company, which collected human body parts for transplants and other medical procedures, was shut down in 2006 for more than merely having "inaccurate paperwork and poor record-keeping." Prosecutors charge the owner actually "falsified medical histories, identities and blood samples of harvested cadavers to ensure the risky tissue could be sold." They accuse the owner of "forging the age and cause of death of cadavers he gathered from North Carolina funeral homes because tissues can be rejected for a number of reasons to protect the health of transplant recipients." He is also accused of hiding "instances of disease or drug use," among other violations. Read more.

Feds to Pursue Doctors Who Took Kickbacks

The New York Times reports, "Federal health officials and prosecutors, frustrated that they have been unable to stop illegal kickbacks to doctors from drug and device companies, are investigating doctors who take money for using these products." In the past, "prosecutors rarely pursued doctors because they believed that juries would sympathize with respected clinicians." In the near future, however, "officials plan to file civil and criminal charges against a number of surgeons who they say demanded profitable consulting agreements from device makers in exchange for using their products." According to the Times, this "move against doctors is part of a diverse campaign to curb industry marketing tactics that enrich doctors but increase healthcare costs and sometimes endanger patients. Taken together, the new measures are likely to transform the relationship between medicine and industry." Lewis Morris, chief counsel to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, said, "What we need to do is make examples of a couple of doctors so that their colleagues see that this isn't worth it."

Well, this should be interesting.

J&J, Janssen Pharm. Mislead Doctors About Risks of Risperdal

A judge has ruled that Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceutica unit must pay West Virginia $3.95 million for misleading doctors about the risks and benefits of Risperdal, an atypical antipsychotic drug. The state's attorney general sued Johnson & Johnson and Janssen in 2004, alleging the companies violated the state's consumer protection act "by claiming the drug was safer than similar medications." In September 2003, the FDA "required makers of atypicals to warn doctors that such drugs were associated with an increased risk of diabetes," but the judge found that in November 2003, Janssen "sent out 'false and misleading' letters to doctors that downplayed the risks" associated with the drug. Read more.

Home Gyms, Kids' Flip Flops Recalled

About 78,000 Bowflex Ultimate 2 Home Gyms, made in China and imported by Nautilus Inc., sold from June 2005 through January this year, have been recalled due to a problem with the seat rail. Also, about 210,000 children's flip flops, made in Brazil by Alpargatas USA Inc., of New York, sold from Nov. 2006 through last month, are recalled because decorative paint on the sole of the flip flops can contain high levels of lead. Flip flops of the Havaianas brand containing decorative paint were sold under the following names: Baby Estampas, Baby Pets, Kids Apple, Kids Fairy, Kids Flores, Kids Lighthouse, Kids Monsters, Kids Surf, Baby Letrinhas, Kids Sports, Kids Candies, Kids Fun, Kids Love, Kids Sereias, Kids Speed, Kids Lucky Bug, Kids Pets, Kids Rock, Kids Slim, Kids Wonder Woman, Kids Small Flowers and Kids Tropical w/Kit. More info.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

AstraZeneca Warned Doctors in Japan About Seroquel Link to Diabetes

Bloomberg News reports: "AstraZeneca Plc pushed salespeople to tell U.S. doctors its antipsychotic drug Seroquel didn't cause diabetes more than two years after warning physicians in Japan of possible links to the disease, internal documents show." The company sent a letter in November 2002 to Japanese doctors warning them that "12 reports" showed "that Seroquel users were diagnosed with high blood-sugar levels over a 21-month period, according to company documents unsealed last week in connection with litigation over the drug." According to AstraZeneca spokesperson Tony Jewell, "Every country has a different regulatory administration with different regulatory standards and requirements." However, the failure to disclose the information to the FDA has been called "irresponsible" and Sidney Wolfe, the director of Public Citizen's health-research group, said, "If there's enough evidence to warn people in Japan, there's enough evidence to warn people here."

Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg (FL) Times editorializes, "Beyond arbitrating private disputes, the courts play a key role in protecting the public interest" and "a federal magistrate in Orlando is deciding whether to open records of the drug company AstraZeneca or allow the maker of the blockbuster drug Seroquel to hide potentially embarrassing information." The Times says "Thousands of personal injury lawsuits have been filed against AstraZeneca by patients who claim the drug led to weight gain and diabetes" and "some 6,000 cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court in Orlando for pretrial hearings." The paper concludes, "The public has the right to know if a drug company is putting sales before safety - and if the FDA is acting in the public interest."

Growing Resistance to Tamiflu

"Evidence that flu viruses are becoming more resistant to the drug Tamiflu has sown deep concern among doctors who are worried that their best flu treatment is losing its punch.
The spread of resistance also has potentially weakened a pillar of the stockpiles of drugs that will be used to combat global flu outbreaks, doctors say." Read more.

Preston Bus Operated with Defective Brakes

The state DMV says "135 juvenile students were regular passengers on a Preston school bus that operated three times in December while out of service with defective brakes." The report follows a DMV inspection in December that revealed allegedly falsified documents and has now led to criminal charges against a former bus mechanic from Preston. Read more.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tests Showing Infant Seat Failures Never Publicized

"In a government crash-test video, the infant car seat flies off of its base, smashing the baby dummy — still strapped into the carrier — upside down and face-first into the back of the driver’s seat. . . . This seat was one of 31 that either flew off their bases or exceeded injury limits in a series of frontal crashes conducted by federal researchers using 2008 model year vehicles, a Chicago Tribune investigation found." But these test results were never publicized, and some infant-seat makers didn't even know of the results. "The Tribune found the results buried in thousands of pages of test reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These tests are used to rate the safety of cars, not the child restraints in them." Read more.

Food Safety Needs to be a Priority

In an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Bill Marler, a trial lawyer with Marler Clark in Seattle, said, "After a brief lull a few years ago, we're seeing a sweeping increase in outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and other food-borne contaminants" and "there are many reasons for this ugly trend: businesses more focused on sales than safety, fragmented government agencies, inadequate inspection of foods, poorly educated food handlers and lack of consumer awareness, to name a few." He suggests some ideas on how to change the system, and concludes that "This may seem like a lot for a busy administration to chew on, but according to the CDC, every year nearly a quarter of our population is sickened, 350,000 hospitalized and 5,000 die, because of what they ate."