Happy Independence Day!


My message is the same as last year: I hope you each have a safe and happy holiday today. Please take a moment from the fun to think about our great country and about the many men and women who have sacrificed to give us the freedoms we enjoy. You might also consider what our founding fathers would think about the politicians we currently have running our country now. I doubt they would be pleased about any of the three branches of government today.

End The Violence Program For Offenders

My law school friend Dr. Bob Gordon, through his Wilmington Institute, is assisting with a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program that shows great promise. Here is an explanation from his site:

Serving Dallas, Denton, Collin and Rockwall Counties, Texas.

Goals: To help offenders and those who are vulnerable to family violence learn to engage in caring, considerate behavior. Our program emphasizes, accountability, education & prevention. It is presented in an interesting way by experts who emphasize safety and a happy life.

BIPP page image 1 BIPP page image 2

Standards: Our program is based on the standards of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the policies of the Texas Council of Family Violence. The clinical director of the program is psychologist – lawyer, Dr. Robert Gordon. He has helped persons with family violence concerns for more than 40 years. The program coordinator is Ms. Joy Bengfort.

Schedules: The program is offered in a 24 or 36 week format. Times and days are conveniently scheduled to minimize disrupting work and family responsibilities.

Fees and Costs: Our fees are based upon a sliding scale.

To Enroll: Call 972 280 9444 or email: Joy@DrBob.com.

Read more…


End Violence For Victims

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Decline in Wisconsin

In a more than 3,800-word piece, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the difficulty of pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits in Wisconsin, the result of state regulations and legal decisions which have caused the number of lawsuits to decline. According to the article, court records show that medical malpractice suits in the state have dropped “more than 50% since 1999,” reaching 140 last year, while the state-run malpractice fund “has grown to more than $1.15 billion, a total larger than all the money it has paid out during its entire 39-year history.”

From the news release of the American Association for Justice.

July 4th Fireworks Safety Starts with Common Sense Tips


When I was growing up, my brother, my friends, and I did absolutely stupid stuff with fireworks. It’s a minor miracle we survived with all our fingers. Maybe if we had read this list of safety tips we would have been smarter.

Please stay safe this holiday weekend.

Washington, D.C. – Using consumer fireworks on our nation’s birthday is as American as apple pie, backyard barbecues and parades on Main Street.  And it is equally safe if a few common sense rules are followed, says Nancy Blogin, President of the National Council on Fireworks Safety.  Nancy notes that thanks to testing of consumer fireworks in China, through the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory and other testing programs, and rigorous enforcement of federal fireworks regulations by the CPSC, consumer fireworks today are safer than ever before.  But Nancy notes that fireworks related accidents do occur each year, however, most could be eliminated if some basic safety steps had been taken.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety offers these common sense safety tips for using consumer fireworks in the hopes that injuries to consumers can be greatly reduced this season:

  • Parents and caretakers should always closely supervise teens if they are using fireworks.
  • Parents should not allow young children to handle or use fireworks.
  • Fireworks should only be used outdoors.
  • Always have water ready if you are shooting fireworks.
  • Know your fireworks.  Read the caution label before igniting.
  • Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
  • Wear safety glasses whenever using fireworks.
  • Never relight a “dud” firework.  Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Soak spent fireworks with water before placing them in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Avoid using homemade fireworks or illegal explosives: They can kill you!
  • Report illegal explosives, like M-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department

And note these special safety tips, if using sparklers:

  • Always remain standing while using sparklers.
  • Never hold a child in your arms while using sparklers.
  • Never hold, or light, more than one sparkler at a time.
  • Never throw sparklers.
  • Sparkler wire and stick remain hot long after the flame has gone out.  Be sure to drop spent sparklers in a bucket of water.
  • Teach children not to wave sparklers, or run, while holding sparklers.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety urges Americans to follow these common sense safety rules this Fourth of July in their holiday celebrations.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose sole mission is to educate the public on the safe and responsible use of consumer fireworks.  For a full list of consumer fireworks safety tips and a safety video, please visit www.FireworksSafety.org.

Automobile Black Boxes: Good or Bad for Consumers?

We all know that airplanes have “black boxes” — flight recorders that keep track of the cockpit conversation and aircraft settings for a period of time. If the plane crashes, this information is helpful in determining the cause of the crash.

But did you know your late-model car probably also has a “black box” that records your speed, brake application, seat belt use, and other data points? It doesn’t record your conversations of course.

There is quite a debate about whether these black boxes in cars are a good or bad thing for drivers. They can be helpful in certain situations for determining fault in collisions. But consumers don’t have an option as to whether they want the black box. The device just comes with the car. So, does the potential helpfulness of the information outweigh our right to privacy? That’s the question.

An article from the New York Times News Service details the pros and cons of automobile black boxes. Here are excerpts:

When Timothy Murray crashed his government-issued Ford Crown Victoria in 2011, he was fortunate, as car accidents go. Murray, then the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, was not seriously hurt, and he told the police he was wearing a seat belt and was not speeding.

But a different story soon emerged. Murray was driving more than 100 miles an hour and was not wearing a seat belt, according to the computer in his car that tracks certain actions. He was given a $555 ticket; he later said he had fallen asleep.

The case put Murray at the center of a growing debate over a little-known but increasingly important piece of equipment buried deep in the innards of a car: the event data recorder, more commonly known as the black box.

About 96 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States have the boxes, and in September 2014, if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has its way, all will have them.

The boxes have long been used by car companies to assess the performance of their vehicles.

But data stored in the devices is increasingly being used to identify safety problems in cars and as evidence in traffic accidents and criminal cases. And the trove of data inside the boxes has raised privacy concerns, including questions about who owns the information, and what it can be used for, even as critics have raised questions about its reliability.

To federal regulators, law enforcement authorities and insurance companies, the data is an indispensable tool to investigate crashes.

The black boxes “provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” David Strickland, the safety agency’s administrator, said in a statement.

But to consumer advocates, the data is only the latest example of governments and companies having too much access to private information. Once gathered, they say, the data can be used against car owners, to find fault in accidents or in criminal investigations.

“These cars are equipped with computers that collect massive amounts of data,” said Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based consumer group. “Without protections, it can lead to all kinds of abuse.”

In Murray’s case, a court order was not required to release the data to investigators. Massachusetts is not among the states to pass a law governing access to the data. Asked about the case, Murray, who did not contest the ticket and who resigned as lieutenant governor in June to become head of the Chamber of Commerce in Worcester, Mass., declined to comment.

Current regulations require that the presence of the black box be disclosed in the owner’s manual. But the vast majority of drivers who do not read the manual thoroughly may not know that their vehicle can capture and record their speed, brake position, seat belt use and other data each time they get behind the wheel.

The origins of black boxes, which are the size of about two decks of cards and are situated under the center console, date to the 1990 model year, when General Motors introduced them to conduct quality studies. Since then, their use and the scope of the data they collect has expanded.

But privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data collected will only grow to include a wider time frame and other elements like GPS and location-based services.

Here is additional information from the American Association for Justice news release:

NBC Nightly News reported that “many drivers don’t know is that in most newer model cars today, a small recorder is keeping track of critical data, just in case of an accident.” NBC notes that the information is useful for police and insurance companies but that “privacy advocates worry about who is allowed access to that readout about what you are doing behind the wheel.” NBC recounts an incident where former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was involved in a crash and a black box showed that the version of events he originally gave to the media was incorrect. The NBC News report is also available here.

Driver’s License Applicants Can Now Donate to Texas Veterans Fund


Texans can now donate to the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses, the Texas Veterans Commission announced this week.

San Antonio Democratic Rep. Joe Farias sponsored the law that allowed for the change.

Texas Is Keeping Auto Inspections But Peeling Off The Stickers


Photo credit: myfoxaustin.com

Texas drivers will have one minor annoyance  off our lists starting next March — we’ll still have to get auto inspections, but we’ll no longer have to put an inspection sticker on our windshields. That’s under a new law that was detailed in a recent article in the Dallas Morning News. Here are excerpts:

Texas drivers will enjoy a little better windshield view starting in March 2015 when safety inspections become tied to vehicle registration. Texas’ inspection sticker — a front-glass fixture for more than half a century — will go away in the process.

The inspection itself is still required. Vehicle owners will have to get one within 90 days before renewing their registration. They will have to provide proof the inspection was passed, just as they now provide proof of insurance.

The change will lead to millions fewer inspections from next March, when the new rule takes effect, to the end of the transition. So those in the business of conducting inspections stand to take a short-term loss — but not a big one.

The state stands to save $2 million by discontinuing the inspection stickers, which Texas has required since the 1950s. For decades, the safety inspection sticker rode the windshield solo. But that changed for some with the addition of the TollTag and for all Texans when registration stickers were moved from the rear license plate.

With toll roads spreading across the Dallas-Fort Worth area landscape, the three-sticker windshield has become commonplace. Drivers will save a little clutter.

The Shocking Truth About Medication Errors

Our law firm has seen a lot of situations in which consumers suffered damages, from minor to life-threatening, from improperly dispensed prescription medication. Some of the details of this problem were discussed in a recent article in Forbes. Here are excerpts:

Let’s say a physician writes a prescription for Colchicine and accidentally orders “10.0 mg,” when he should have ordered “1.0 mg.” That’s a tiny decimal error, a mistake even the best doctor could make. But it can be catastrophic for the patient. The higher dose could cause Colchicine poisoning, similar to arsenic poisoning: burning in the mouth and throat, excruciating abdominal pain. Internal organs would melt away and death would likely occur within 24 to 72 hours.

The ease with which even the best doctors can make gruesome errors is why hospitals set up elaborate systems to check and double check orders before drugs are given to patients. Some hospitals are better at this checking than others. Medication errors happen all the time, an estimated one million each year, contributing to 7,000 deaths. On average there is one medication error every day for every inpatient. Let’s take a closer look at what’s contributing to these preventable errors.

Hospitals Are In The Technological Dark Ages

According to recent research, the best known way for hospitals to protect patients from errors is by adopting technology called computerized physician order entry (CPOE). The physician (or other authorized prescriber) enters orders for a patient on a computer that contains patient information such as key lab values, clinical condition, allergies, etc. The computer checks the safety and appropriateness of the order and sends it electronically to the pharmacy. In the Colchicine example, a good CPOE system would alert the physician to the misplaced decimal in the order, and the best systems would prevent the order from being written in the first place. In my mind, one of the greatest advances of CPOE is that it eliminates the need for pharmacists to decipher physician handwriting. I’ve often wondered how they do that.

The research suggests errors decline by as much as 85 percent when hospitals implement CPOE, yet the pace of adoption in the hospital industry is agonizingly slow. To jump start progress, the federal government usedeconomic stimulus funds starting back in 2009 to incentivize hospital investment in CPOE and electronic medical records (EMRs). That improved the pace of change, but still, most hospitals are in the Dark Ages when compared to other industries like airlines or retail.

Three Ways To Fix The Problem

It is imperative that several things happen to protect consumers from medication errors. First, stakeholders must come together, lay out the best practices for implementing CPOE and make it available to all of the nation’s hospitals immediately. Today, many hospitals rely on their vendors for instruction and full implementation.  But vendors’ interests do not always make patient safety a top priority — that’s the job of the hospital. Hospitals need more tools and collaboration to successfully adopt this technology.

Second, taxpayer money invested in health care should hold hospitals accountable for preserving the safety of patients. This sounds so obvious it hardly needs to be stated, except, well, it needs to be stated – because it’s not the case today. Despite our repeated pleadings and those of our purchaser members, the administration’s current criteria for paying hospitals to install CPOE doesn’t require the hospitals to test and monitor the safety of their CPOE systems. This is a mind-boggling oversight, suggesting it is more important to your government that hospitals have whizz bang technology than prove the technology actually works for the patient.

The giant federal agency that funds Medicare, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), will tie some of its payments to hospitals to their safety record — which is a good thing, required by ObamaCare. But, as purchaser and consumer advocates complained in a letter to CMS, there is no plan to include medication errors in the criteria for determining how safe hospitals are. This makes little sense, since medication errors are far and away the most common errors hospitals make.

Finally, employers and other purchasers should favor hospitals that have a monitored CPOE system. That means they should tilt toward these hospitals in benefits design and contracting. In addition to the harm done to your employees when CPOE systems are not in place or are deployed badly, errors are also costly to purchasers. And it’s purchasers — not hospitals — that pay most of the price tag for those errors. Purchasers can actually estimate how much they are paying for the privilege of harming employees using the free tool available here.

The Real Reason Hospitals Don’t Invest In The Right Technology

The fact that hospitals can usually pass the cost of errors to purchasers is precisely the reason adoption of CPOE stalls. Hospitals are much speedier and technologically savvy when their profits are threatened.

In fairness, hospitals respond to health care financing incentives from the government, as well as the private sector, and those incentives rarely reward hospitals for doing the right thing. To their immense credit, many hospitals competently deploy CPOE and electronic health records (EHRs) whatever the financial benefit. Next it is up to us — as citizens, patients and payers — to focus our attention and our market power on those hospitals, the ones that put their patients’ health and well-being first.

GM Makes 48th Recall for Trucks and SUVs That Switch Into Neutral Unexpectedly


The New York Times reports that General Motors announced “more than half a million more vehicles” were being recalled Friday. GM has now recalled over 20 million vehicles, which already comes close to the 22 million that all the world’s automakers, combined, recalled last year. On top of that, GM’s repair costs are rising, too, with the company having “set aside $2 billion for repairs through the second quarter, which ends on Monday” and does not account for the cars recalled yesterday. This new recall “includes 392,459 full-size pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in the United States, 53,607 in Canada and almost 21,000 sold elsewhere,” which all use four-wheel drive systems that can “switch into neutral without any action by the driver.” NHTSA’s website has already received some complaints related to these issues, according to the article.

The AP reports that the problem is related to “a software glitch” in the 2014 and 2015 models. Besides a loss of power to the wheels during normal driving, the issue “can let the trucks roll away if parked.” So far, GM has not reported any injuries associated with the defect. The article also mentions the problems with ignitions switches currently under investigation by Congress, NHTSA, and the Justice Department, as well as GM’s fine paid to NHTSA and NHTSA documents posted online last Thursday “showing that GM would recall about 29,000 Chevy Cruze compacts in the U.S. for an air bag problem.”

The Detroit Free Press reports, the recalls affect some of “the company’s best-selling and most profitable vehicles, including the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban SUVs.” GM has made 48 vehicle recalls this year, as of Friday.

Bloomberg News reports that this week GM also announced that it would be giving paperwork to NHTSA related too the air bag issue, which involved “modules supplied by Japan’s Takata Corp.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that GM spokesperson Jim Cain reiterated the company’s commitment to conducting a full investigation into whether the company’s policy or internal organization contributed to the recalls and vehicle defects. The company’s CEO Mary Barra stated a week ago that she believed the recalls would be over with by July.

WDIV-TV Detroit reported online that the new recall alone affects “428,211 vehicles in the United States.”

The website Kiplinger reports with information related to the string of General Motors automobile recalls, as well as how “high-profile cases obscure the fact that nearly every major automaker has issued recalls.” Still, the article notes that NHTSA’s “more proactive safety stance in recent years may be increasing the number of recalls as well,” as NHTSA now requires automakers to give the agency notice of “consumer complaints more quickly than in the past.”

Feinberg to announce details of victims compensation fund Monday. Bloomberg News reports that the person hired by Barra to setting up the legal fund to compensate people affected by GM’s ignition switch defect, Kenneth Feinberg, “is expected to offer payments to all drivers, passengers and bystanders killed or hurt in collisions” associated with the problem. Feinberg is expected to announce more on Monday, but victims attorney Bob Hilliard contends, “Feinberg wants to settle all eligible claims” with the uncapped fund.

The Washington Post reported in its “Wonkblog” blog that this “could turn out to be one of Feinberg’s toughest jobs yet.” Nevertheless, Hilliard says that his “hope is that Ken Feinberg’s marching orders from GM are to err on the side of liberal awards, given the fact pattern here,” a reference to the revelation that GM was aware about the ignition switch issue for over 10 years.

Lawsuit forced GM’s hand in air bag recall. Reuters reports with more information about the air-bag-related recalls, involving air bags manufactured by Takata Corp, saying that legal action filed in April by Georgia resident Brandi Owens after an accident she had that left her blind in one eye is what prompted GM to recall 33,000 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles. Reuters notes that GM’s papers filed with NHTSA related to the air bag recalls did not say anything about Owens’ suit but adds that NHTSA was aware of GM’s effort to replace the air bags on the driver’s side in order to adjust for the Takata defect, related to incorrect parts.

From the news release of the American Association for Justice.

Consumer Reports: 39 Percent of Smart Phone Users Don’t Secure Their Phones

I can’t think of any lawyers who don’t depend on their smart phones to stay in touch with their offices or their employees or other people associated with business. We use e-mail, address books, calendars, and more. But do we backup that information? Do we secure it from prying eyes in case we lose our phones? Some do, some don’t.

I’m fortunate to use both an iPhone and a Mac computer. This makes it easy for me to backup and synchronize information between my phone and my computer using iCloud. I could also use iCloud to locate my phone if I were to misplace it. But I have to admit that until recently I didn’t use password-protection on my phone. It was just too burdensome for a lazy lawyer. I finally read enough articles warning about lost data that I have started using password protection. It’s a pain to enter those four digits every time I use my phone, and now I’m eager to get a newer one that uses fingerprint authentication.

This article from Consumer Reports points out how few of use really take phone security seriously. Here are excerpts:

Smart phones are fast replacing home computers for many daily online activities. But 39 percent of the more than 100 million American adult smart phone owners failed to take even minimal security measures to protect their phone, the latest Consumer Reports State of the Net survey found. The survey projects that at least 7.1 million phones were irreparably damaged, lost, or stolen and not recovered last year.

Here are some examples of how few users protected their phones:

    • 36 percent used a screen-lock of any kind (4 digits or stronger).
    • 31 percent had backed-up their data, such as photos or contacts.
    • 22 percent had installed software that could locate a missing phone.
    • 7 percent had installed software that could erase the contents of a missing phone.

Other highlights from our findings include:

    • Malicious software is a real threat to smart phones. Last year, 5.6 million users experienced symptoms of such software, our survey projects.
    • Many users who wanted to turn off their phone’s location-tracking feature to protect their privacy didn’t know how to do so. For instructions on how to disable location tracking, as well as other phone security tips, see our video.
    • Apps are often too intrusive. Roughly 48 million users had stopped installing an app last year because it requested too many privileges, our survey suggests. To try your hand at spotting intrusive apps, try our interactive quiz.

Featured Link — Asthma Resources

Many of our Social Security disability clients suffer from asthma. Usually this condition alone is not sufficient to qualify a person for Social Security disability benefits. However, in conjunction with other physical or mental issues, it might be.

Asthma.com is a commercial site, but it has is quite a bit of helpful information and links to other resources. If you or a loved one suffers from asthma, take a look at this site.

Skip Jury Duty and You’ll Pay, if Judges in Dallas County Get Their Way


I’ve been complaining for years about the pitifully small turnout for jury service in Dallas County and about the almost complete lack of enforcement. Now, maybe, the County is going to take action.

Here are excerpts from an article in the Dallas Morning News:

Dallas County residents who fail to show up for jury duty may find themselves in court anyway if a proposal by local district judges is funded next year.

The Commissioners Court is being asked to provide a portion of the funds needed for a jury duty court where people who didn’t respond to their summonses could be fined and ordered to sit on different juries.

The goal, the judges say, is to increase turnout at the courthouse of those called to make themselves available to serve on juries. Currently, that turnout is a paltry 19 percent.

“Serving on a jury is one of the two most sacred obligations that a citizen can do for their country,” said state District Judge Martin Lowy. The other, he said, is serving in the military.

Lowy, the presiding judge over jury services, has worked for years to improve the response rate among potential jurors. But often the poorest and wealthiest residents don’t show up, he said. That makes it difficult to compile juries that accurately reflect the county population, he said.

But first, the judges must get the Commissioners Court to approve the funding. The judges said fines would cover some of the costs but probably not enough to make the program break even. County Budget Officer Ryan Brown estimated that the county would have to chip in about $100,000 each year, a tiny fraction of the county’s $491 million general fund.

Final approval for the budget is expected in September.

Featured Link —Home Fire Safety

I don’t usually have a reason to thank Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, but they do have a helpful site regarding protecting your home from accidental fires. Check out BeFireSafe.

Friday Fun

I think this is a hilarious video of a dog (inside the yard) racing back and forth with a young deer (outside the yard.)

Four Signs Someone Else Is Liable for Your Injury

Four Signs Someone Else Is Liable for Your Injury

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Personal injury can come in many forms. You might be bitten by a dog, injured by unsafe working conditions, or even be hurt because the property owner failed to adequately fix an existing safety issue.

When you get injured, you could be out of work for weeks or months. You may even be out of a job permanently due to life-long injuries. To get back on the road to recovery, you need to seek compensation for your injuries so that you can get them treated as soon as possible.

Determining who is at fault is the first step in this lengthy process. Here are four signs that will help you determine if the injury was someone’s fault other than your own.

Sign #1: The Owner Knew About the Danger

If the owner knew about the dangerous conditions that led to you acquiring your illness or injury, then they are likely at fault. It’s their job to ensure that you have a safe, hazard-free environment that won’t result in injury.

If the property owner failed to correct issues in a timely manner or failed to put up warning signs that would help you prevent the injury, then the owner is likely at fault.

Sign #2: Danger Was Hidden

Injuries that you sustain from hidden dangers are as bad as ones that you can detect outright. Things like wet floors, side effects from chemical exposure and even an uneven floor qualify as hidden dangers that may be hard to detect by themselves.

The property owner is still liable to a degree in these instances. Proper maintenance and repair should usually prevent the conditions required for making such a danger possible.

Sign #3: Someone Purposely Created the Dangerous Conditions

It’s common for a bitter employee or even unhappy owner to create the dangerous conditions that led to you becoming injured. This is one of the clearest signs of whom is at fault for your injury.

The problem can be determining who to file a lawsuit against in this case. Firms such as the Cantini Law Group can help determine who should be sued in the case of personal injury.

Sign #4: You Were Exposed to Dangerous Chemicals

Illness and permanent disability tends to be the result of exposure to dangerous chemicals. They can do everything from burning your skin to causing terminal illnesses, which means that they are among the most grievous types of personal injury.

Determining Who’s at Fault for Your Personal Injury

Although these are clear signs that someone other than yourself is at fault for your personal injury, the actual process of determining the individual whom is at fault is a more complicated one. Your best bet to do this is to use the aid of an experienced legal counsel.

About the author: A recent college graduate from University of San Francisco, Anica Oaks loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she’s used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.

Featured Link — Publications by the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration has recently redesigned its Web site, and the new one is full of information and fairly easy to navigate.

One thing some people may not realize is that the  Social Security Administration provides a vast amount of helpful information online. They also have many publications you can download from the Web site. Here is the link to the publications list.

ABA Says Attorneys May Search Potential Jurors’ Online Postings


The AP reports from San Francisco that the American Bar Association “says it’s ethical for lawyers to scour online for publicly available musings of citizens called for jury service – and even jurors in deliberations,” but the ABA “does warn lawyers against actively ‘following’ or ‘friending’ jurors or otherwise invading their private Internet areas.” The AP notes that although “judges now universally admonish jurors to refrain from discussing trials on social media, the nationwide lawyers group for the first time is addressing how deeply attorneys, their investigators and their consultants can probe for information that might signal leanings of potential jurors, or unearth juror misconduct during trials.” Jurors’ online postings “have disrupted many legal proceedings over the years, causing mistrials and special hearings over the effects of Facebook musings, tweets and blog writings about their trial experiences, “and attorneys and judges “have also been wrangling over how far attorneys can go in assembling a jury with help from online research of jurors’ social media habits.”

From the news release of the American Association for Justice.

Whistleblower Claims Guardrails Are Potentially Deadly Hazards

In a 1,300+ word article, Bloomberg News reports that Joshua Harman, claiming Federal whistle-blower status, is suing Trinity Highway Products and its owner, Trinity Industries, “alleging the company made quiet design changes that transformed guardrails intended to reduce injuries into potentially deadly hazards.” Harman claims that Trinity made changes to its ET-Plus end terminal without notifying Federal authorities. However, the article notes that in a “2012 deposition for a patent infringement lawsuit over the ET-Plus,” a Trinity executive said the changes made to the end terminal were “‘cosmetic’ and didn’t require new approvals because they didn’t hurt its performance.” According to the report, company spokesman Jack Todd said Trinity did not “sell the revised end terminals until they had been crash-tested in 2005,” and the FHWA had “issued its letter of acceptance.”

From the news release of the American Association for Justice.

Off-Label Use of Medical Devices Increasing

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the off-label uses of medical devices, which it says is commonplace in some specialties and allows doctors to solve problems that have no existing solution but that also “comes with risks for patients.” It points out that physicians “have complete discretion to use medical devices in any way they think helps their patients,” in part because the FDA’s regulatory authority “extends only to device makers, not doctors.” Christy Foreman of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health said, “It is not our place to say, ‘Here is how you should treat that patient.’” The Star Tribune reports on some of the alternate uses for devices, including turning “a prostate product into a promising brain probe” and treating “young stroke victims with a device designed for congenital heart defects.”

From the American Association for Justice news release.

Drowsy Drivers, Dangerous Highways


Rules regarding the number of hours big-rig operators can drive have been in the new for several years now, as legislators look for a balance between the safety of drivers and the profits of trucking companies. An opinion piece in the New York Times detailed some of the problems in revising the regulations — especially in light of the recent tragic incident involving the actor Tracy Morgan. Here are excerpts from the story:

Days before an accident in which an allegedly drowsy truck driver crashed into a van carrying the actor Tracy Morgan, critically injuring him and killing another passenger, a Senate committee voted to roll back regulations meant to keep fatigued truckers off the nation’s highways.

In a display of the trucking industry’s lobbying might, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to suspend a new Department of Transportation regulation that requires truck drivers to take at least 34 hours off after working 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight days. The lawmaker who proposed the suspension — Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — says the rule needs further study, ignoring the years that the government spent writing it. The regulation, which the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld last year, is designed to make sure drivers get the rest the human body needs.

The trucking industry makes the disingenuous claim that the rule, which has been in effect since July 2013, “exacerbates congestion” and could make highways less safe by forcing more truck drivers onto the roads during morning rush hours. The rule requires that the break include two consecutive nights, but it says nothing about what time drivers must go back to work.

If anything, the rule is too weak. For instance, it allows drivers to spend up to 11 consecutive hours behind the wheel with just one 30-minute rest break. A 2011 study that Penn State University conducted for the government shows that the risk of accidents is greatest during the 11th hour of driving. And the 34-hour break that truck drivers are entitled to after an arduous 60-hour or 70-hour workweek is far too short. Most Americans get two full days off after working an average of 34.5 hours.

The government estimates that about 13 percent of commercial drivers involved in a crash were fatigued. Crashes involving large trucks, or vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, have gone up steadily in the last five years, and fatalities are up 18 percent since 2009. More than 3,900 people died and 104,000 people were injured in accidents involving large trucks in 2012, the latest year for which the government has compiled data. Occupants of vehicles involved in crashes with large trucks make up the vast majority — more than 70 percent — of those killed and injured in such accidents.

Because this is an election year, lawmakers may be tempted to do the bidding of the trucking industry, a generous contributor to political campaigns. But in doing so, they will put more American lives at risk.