July 28, 2014

Hip Fractures Among the Elderly in Nursing Homes

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When an elderly person suffers a hip fracture, the injury is sometimes referred to as a "death sentence." This is particularly true for elderly individuals who are residing in nursing homes. Studies going back to the 1980s showed that 27% of elderly persons who suffer a hip fracture die within one year following the injury. Even when elderly persons survive a hip fracture, they are usually left with decreased mobility and often require assistive devices to walk again. Falls and fall-related injuries can cause a loss of confidence and a fear of future falls, which can also lead to decreased mobility. This lack of mobility can, in turn, lead to other medical complications, such as the development of pressure sores, pneumonia and other serious health conditions.

More recent studies have reaffirmed the potentially devastating effect that a fractured hip can have upon an elderly nursing home resident. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania examined 60,000 nursing home residents who were hospitalized after suffering fractured hips between 2005 and 2009. What they found was alarming. Their study revealed that within six months of being hospitalized for a hip fracture, 1/3 of the nursing home residents had died. The study also found that of those nursing home residents who survived a hip fracture for longer than six months, 28% remained immobile and became dependent upon caregivers to move around. When the researchers extended the time period to one year for individuals who suffered hip fractures in nursing homes, a staggering 50% of the nursing home residents had died. Statistics for those who were living outside of the nursing home when they suffered a hip fracture were markedly different, as only 20% died within one year of the fracture versus the approximately 50% of nursing home residents.

Risk factors for falls in nursing homes include the resident's age, mental status, means of voiding, a history of falling within the previous six months, visual impairment, confinement to a chair or bed, gait and balance problems, and medications. The most common causes of falls in nursing homes include failing to properly to assess the resident's risk of falling, inadequate supervision of the resident, hazardous conditions within the nursing home (slippery or cluttered floors, inadequate lighting, inaccessibility to call lights, improper use of assistive devices), improper height of beds, failure to use bed and wheelchair alarms, and failure to consider the effects of medications which increase a resident's risk of falling. These common causes of falls in nursing homes almost always boil down to staffing issues; either understaffing or inadequately trained staff, both of which are the responsibility of the owners and operators of the nursing homes.

All nurses and staff in nursing homes should be aware of the risk factors for falls and causes of falls, so that they can take appropriate steps to reduce, if not eliminate, a resident's risk of falling and being seriously injured. Likewise, individuals who have loved ones in nursing homes should be aware of these factors so that they can ask the right questions of the nursing home staff if they become concerned about a loved one falling. When a nursing home fails to recognize that a resident is at risk for falling or fails to implement interventions to reduce the resident's risk of falling, life-threatening injuries can occur, as evidenced by the above-referenced studies. When that happens, the nursing home should be held accountable.

July 16, 2014

Testosterone Lawsuits Consolidated in Illinois Federal Court

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Androgel.jpgAndroGel testosterone gel is a topical testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) manufactured by AbbVie, Inc. and formerly Unimed Pharmaceuticals of Abbott Laboratories, Inc. AndroGel is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat men with low testosterone or "Low T," associated with a diagnosed medical condition. AndroGel 1% and AndroGel 1.62%, are both applied topically to the skin. Patients apply it directly to their upper arm and shoulder and it is absorbed through the skin to deliver testosterone to the patient for approximately 24 hours. The drug has been heavily prescribed over the past several years as a safe way to treat men with low testosterone. However, numerous recent studies suggest that men taking AndroGel have a far greater risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, or other adverse cardiovascular problem. The most recent study, known as the PLOS ONE study, performed on January 29, 2014, found that men 65 years and older who took testosterone injections or used the gel, had double the risk of a heart attack in the months after starting the treatment. On Jan. 31, 2014, after reviewing these studies, the FDA announced it would be investigating the risks of heart attack, stroke and death in men using prescription testosterone products.

On May 29, 2014, an order was issued that established a federal testosterone multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly in the Northern District of Illinois. The purpose of creating an MDL is to facilitate faster progression of a large number of lawsuits that have certain allegations of fact in common. An MDL is designed to eliminate inconsistent court rulings among these cases, as well as expensive and unnecessary duplication of discovery. All of the lawsuits that were transferred to the Northern District of Illinois allege that drugs such as AndroGel, AndroDerm, Axiron, Foresta, Testim and others caused serious, and sometimes fatal, cardiovascular problems in men. According to the June 6 Order, Plaintiffs predict the number of lawsuits associated with testosterone therapy side effects could eventually be in the thousands. (June 6, 2014 Order).

Suthers Law Firm is currently investing claims on behalf of individuals who used AndroGel or other testosterone therapies and suffered heart attacks, strokes or other serious medical complications. Other testosterone therapies that have been associated with cardiovascular complications include Bio-T Gel, Delatestryl, Depo-Testosterone, Striant and Testopel.

If you or loved one has experienced a heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, or other adverse cardiovascular problem after using one of the products listed above, contact the experienced product liability attorneys at Suthers Law Firm online or call us on our toll free number, 1-800-320-2384, to set up a FREE consultation.

June 5, 2014

Medication Errors

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Medication errors remain one of the leading causes of injuries and deaths in hospitals. These incidents occur in several, different scenarios.

Medication dosage errors are the most common. It can be particularly dangerous when a decimal point describing the dose is placed in the wrong location. For example, suppose a doctor writes a prescription for Colchicine. Instead of ordering the intended dose of "1.0 mg," he accidently writes or orders "10.0 mg," resulting in the patient getting ten times the dose prescribed. This decimal error can have catastrophic consequences for the patient. The higher dose could lead to Colchicine poisoning, which is similar to arsenic poisoning. The patient's internal organs could shut down and the patient would likely die within twenty-four to seventy-two hours.

Mistaken medication types are another common form of medication error. The names of some drugs are very similar to others, and a pharmacist or hospital nurse can mistake one drug for another, leading to the patient receiving the wrong medication.

Another form of medication error occurs when a medication is contraindicated because of the patient's condition, or because of other medications that the patient is taking. For example, there are certain medications that are not recommended for pregnant women. There are also medications that are not recommended for patients who have certain diseases. There are also medications for which it is recommended that they not be taken in combination with other medications or if they must be taken together, the patient should be monitored closely. For example, individuals who take Coumadin (a blood thinner) should not be prescribed certain types of antibiotics without having the prothrombin time (PT/INR) monitored on a daily basis to ensure that the two medications taken together are not causing excessive internal bleeding.

A less frequent but potentially dangerous type of medication error occurs when a medication order for one patient is placed in the chart of another patient. Hospitals should have medication reconciliation protocols in place to detect such errors before the patient is adversely affected. However, if undetected, the patient receiving the wrong medications over an extended period of time can suffer severe, adverse consequences. We represented an individual who was taken to the emergency room during the weekend because she was experiencing a cardiac condition known as atrial fibrillation. The emergency room physician examined the patient, consulted with the patient's cardiologist, and the decision was made to admit the patient to the hospital for monitoring. Unfortunately, at the same time that our client was seen in the emergency room, another patient who had significant psychiatric illnesses was admitted to the emergency room and examined by the same emergency room physician. After examining both patients, the emergency room physician placed a medication order that was intended for the psychiatric patient in the chart of our client, who had no history of any psychiatric illnesses. This resulted in our client being given potent antipsychotic and antidepressant medications over the next four days. These medications had multiple, well-known side effects including dizziness, drowsiness, weakness, blurred vision, confusion and fainting. On the fourth day in the hospital, our client was so drowsy, weak and confused from the medications that had been given to her in error that she fell and suffered a closed head injury and fractured vertebrae. We characterized that case as a "system failure case," meaning that the entire system, from the emergency room doctor to the patient's attending physician to the nurses and staff at the hospital, failed to detect the medication error.

The number of people injured and killed by medication errors, and the cost of such errors, are staggering. Consider the following:

• 1.5 million patients are harmed by medications each year.

• 100,000 people die each year as a result of medication errors.

• 400,000 medication-related injuries occur each year in hospitals. That means there is approximately 1 medication error per patient every day.

• It has been estimated that injuries caused by medication errors result in $3.5 billion in additional medical costs.

Considering the staggering numbers of injuries and deaths, and the costs associated with medication errors, it is important that there be organizational policies, procedures and systems in place for ordering, dispensing and administering medications that are designed to minimize errors. These policies and procedures should be established system-wide, so that they apply to the management of the hospitals, and to the physician prescribers, pharmacists, nurses and others. When there is a breakdown in the system and a patient suffers serious injuries due to a medication error, such as the case described above, the wrongdoers should be held accountable.

June 2, 2014

Dangers of Extreme Obstacle Races

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Tough Mudder.jpgRunning events have steadily increased in popularity over the past decade. A runner looking to compete in a race never has to look very far from their own home to find a 5k, 10k, or marathon to participate in. Last year millions competed in traditional road races, but nearly 4 million racers finished what are known as non-traditional obstacle races. Non-traditional races such as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash are extreme fitness events, exploding in popularity, that involve the traversal of obstacle courses filled with military-style obstacles.

Though these races have been unquestionably successful and extremely popular over the past several years, many believe there is a real cause for concern. Dr. Alex Diamond, a sports medicine expert at Vanderbilt University says that many of these obstacles in non-traditional races are just inherently dangerous, and therefore lead to serious injuries. "They're literally jumping over fire, into rock pits, diving head-first into ponds." Moreover, Diamond says the problem is that these races have no governing body to determine which obstacles go too far, which is obviously a cause for concern.

Many participants may feel because of the overwhelming popularity of these events they must be safe, however that has proven to be far from the truth. Below are just few examples of serious injuries that have occurred over the last several years in these races:

• Emergency room doctors in Allentown, Pennsylvania, saw a Tough Mudder racer who received 13 electric shocks on the course causing inflammation in his heart. Another competitor had a stroke, causing temporary paralysis.

• Twenty-two people who participated in a Nevada obstacle race last October came down with Campylobacter coli infections ascribed to accidentally ingesting surface water in the mud pit, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

• A mysterious skin condition dubbed "Spartan Rash" has been reported in Spartan Race participants plagued by red, itchy skin.

Just this month, a Maryland woman whose son tragically drowned last year along an obstacle course in West Virginia has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the organizers of the Tough Mudder event. Avishek Sengupta, 28, drowned after another racer jumped into the water on top of him, his family claimed in a wrongful lawsuit filed last week. The injury occurred on an obstacle called "Walk the Plank." The obstacle involves climbing up a wooden wall to a platform, then jumping 15 feet into a water pit. Sengupta was in the water for more than eight minutes before a rescue diver pulled him out. At the time, Tough Mudder said the event "was staffed with more than 75 ALS, EMT, paramedics, water rescue technicians and emergency personnel," and that Sangupta's was "the first fatality in the three-year history of the company." However, the complaint reveals that the scuba diver hired by organizers of the event to man "Walk the Plank" on the day Sengupta drowned had expired rescue diver credentials at the time of the incident.

Unfortunately, there appears to be little one can do to avoid injuries in one of these extreme obstacle races, other than avoid them altogether. A study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine on the safety of these races stated, "Unlike traditional marathon training, where the training enhances race-day performance and preparedness, obstacle races are nearly impossible to train for." There's really not much a participant can do to "prevent injury in an event in which obstacles include having to jump off a 9-foot height or run through a field of electrical wires (while the participant is wet and hot)," they write.

As attorneys who represent victims involved in catastrophic injuries, we can only hope that these types of races implement better safety protocols, rescue measures, and consider scaling back the danger of the obstacles in these events to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

May 14, 2014

Medtronic Pays $22 Million to Settle Spinal Fusion Lawsuits

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Medical product manufacturer, Medtronic, announced that it is paying $22 million to settle the claims of approximately 950 individuals involving Medtronic's Infuse spinal surgery product. Moreover, Medtronic anticipates setting aside millions more to cover a larger number of claims that remain pending or will be filed in the future.

The Infuse product contained a drug known as BMP-2. BMP-2 is a genetically engineered bone morphogenetic protein-2. This product was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") in 2002. In conventional spinal fusion surgery, the surgeon normally harvests a small amount of bone from the patient's hip and uses it in fusing the spine. Infuse and BMP-2 were considered to be an alternative to the traditional method of harvesting bone from the hip. The product turned out to be very popular with spine surgeons, leading to sales of approximately $800 million annually. To date, it is estimated that Infuse was implanted in more than 1 million people worldwide.

The Infuse litigation uncovered a conflict of interest between certain spine surgeons and the manufacturer. After the product was approved by the FDA, some prominent surgeons began authoring papers in medical journals, touting the benefits of the product, but failing to mention several potential, serious complications associated with the product. These complications included cancer, growth of unwanted bone, and sterility in men. When another group of doctors became concerned about the fact that these complications had been ignored by the authors of the articles, they began their own study and published the results in 2011 in the medical publication, Spine Journal. According to the study results, the risk of adverse events associated with BMP-2 is 10 to 50 times the original estimates that were reported in the industry-sponsored articles.

Further investigation revealed that Medtronic had paid $210 million in royalties and other payments to the doctors who had authored the initial articles touting the benefits of Infuse. The doctors who had authored or co-authored the initial articles were criticized by their peers for using medical literature to promote the product in exchange for receiving millions from Medtronic. Further investigation by the United States Senate Committee on Finance revealed that Medtronic's employees, who were involved in marketing Infuse, secretly drafted and edited the favorable articles written by the surgeons who, in turn, were paid by Medtronic. The Senate Report concluded that Medtronic had overstated the benefits of the product and understated the risk of serious complications.

Approximately 750 cases remain pending throughout courts in the United States. Medtronic expects law firms to file another 2,000 to 3,000 cases in the future. If you were surgically implanted with Medtronic's Infuse bone graft product and suffered complications such as cancer, growth of unwanted bone in the area or sterility, you may have a viable lawsuit against Medtronic. For more information, contact the medical product liability attorneys at Suthers Law Firm.

May 13, 2014

Nursing Home Wandering and Elopement

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Elopement, sometimes referred to as wandering, is defined in the context of the nursing home setting, as a cognitive-challenged resident leaving the facility and exposing themselves to potential dangers. Individuals who are the most at risk for wandering in nursing homes are those who suffer from dementia. It is estimated that approximately half of all nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia, most commonly Alzheimer's disease. Those residents who suffer from dementia often experience severe anxiety that is associated with not knowing where they are, what they are supposed to be doing, who the people are around them and perhaps not even their own name, which can lead to wandering/elopement.

Unfortunately, the risk of elopement endangerment in nursing homes is on the rise. Over the last several years, the number of reported cases of elopement has increased by 38 percent. When a nursing home resident elopes and leaves the nursing home grounds unattended, they put themselves, and others, at risk of injury. Residents who have eloped may be exposed to extreme heat or cold, suffer a fall when walking over uneven or unfamiliar territory, or suffer severe injuries or death as a result of wandering into traffic or bodies of water.

Elopement by nursing home residents is generally preventable, and usually is a consequence of the nursing home staff failing to meet two specific areas of care: supervision and security. Nursing homes are required by law to provide each resident with the appropriate level of supervision to address elopement and wandering behaviors. Proper supervision by nursing home nurses employees is a critical component to a safe nursing home facility. Moreover, there must be a proper care plan in place to address the security needs of each resident. The ideal care plan is resident-specific and adapts to any changes in a resident's condition that would impact the safety of the resident. To ensure the care plan meets a resident's changing needs, the plan must be continually evaluated.

If a parent or loved one has sustained injuries as the result of wandering or elopement from a nursing home, please call the experienced nursing home attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm. The Suthers Law Firm, which practices throughout the States of Georgia and South Carolina, regularly represents victims who have been abused or neglected and their families in cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities. For more information on nursing home abuse and neglect, see the page entitled "Nursing Home Resource Center" at the website of the Suthers Law Firm, www.sutherslaw.com.

March 7, 2014

Government Report Says One-Third of Nursing Home Patients Harmed in Treatment

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According to a study released this week by Medicare's Inspector General, one in three patients in skilled nursing facilities suffered a medication error, infection or some other type of harm related to their treatment. A "skilled nursing facility" is defined as a facility that provides specialized care and rehabilitation services to patients following a hospital stay of three days or more. There are more than 15,000 skilled nursing facilities nationwide, and about 90 percent of them are also certified as nursing homes, which provide longer-term care.

Researchers found that 22 percent of patients suffered events that caused lasting harm, and another 11 percent were temporarily harmed. In 1.5 percent of cases the patient died because of poor care, the report said. During August 2011 alone, the study estimated that 21,777 patients were harmed and 1,538 died due to substandard skilled nursing care.

Shockingly, the study revealed that 59 percent of the errors and injuries were preventable. Most of the injuries and deaths were caused by substandard treatment, inadequate monitoring, delays or the failure to provide needed care. Many of the deaths involved problems such as preventable blood clots, fluid imbalances, excessive bleeding from blood-thinning medications and kidney failure.

Patient safety experts have naturally being to voice their concerns because of these alarming numbers, as well as the fact that the frequency of people harmed under skilled nursing care is exceeding that of hospitals, where medical errors receive the most attention. According to Dr. Marty Makary, a physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore who researches health care quality, "The report tells us what many of us have suspected - there are vast areas of health care where the field of patient safety has not matured." Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, said Medicare patients "deserve better," and that he would push for better inspections of nursing homes. Additionally, in response to the study, Medicare officials said they are compiling lists of the most common medical mistakes, and preparing better training for doctors and nurses in skilled nursing facilities on how to avoid the mishaps.

The Suthers Law Firm, which practices throughout the States of Georgia and South Carolina, regularly represents victims who have been abused or neglected and their families in cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities. If you believe a family member has suffered a serious injury or died as a result of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, you should contact the experienced, nursing home litigation attorneys at Suthers Law Firm. For more information on nursing home abuse and neglect, see the page entitled "Nursing Home Resource Center" at the website of the Suthers Law Firm, www.sutherslaw.com.

February 20, 2014

Talcum Powder Linked to Ovarian Cancer

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Talcum Powder, a household item that is sold globally for use in cosmetics and personal hygiene products, has recently been linked to ovarian cancer after prolonged use. Talcum powder is commonly found in baby powder and other adult products including body and facial powder.

In October of last year, a South Dakota jury determined that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn consumers about the risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder product. The lawsuit was brought against Johnson & Johnson by Deane Berg, 56, who developed ovarian cancer in 2006 after using Johnson and Johnson's Shower to Shower body powder for 30 years. According to the plaintiff, she had no other risk factors for ovarian cancer. Three separate doctors who examined her cancer tissue found talc in the tissue using an electron microscope, and determined that her cancer was caused by Shower to Shower. One of Berg's treating physicians, Harvard University Professor Daniel Cramer, has been looking into links between talc and ovarian cancer for 30 years. He testified that talcum powder probably caused 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer every year.

Shockingly, numerous studies dating as far back as the 1970s reveal a link between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, yet Johnson and Johnson failed to warned consumers, despite being aware of the risks associated with its use from these studies. According to the National Institutes of Health, women that use talcum powder on a weekly basis have a 33 percent increased chance of developing ovarian cancer. The studies show that Talc particles may enter the female reproductive through direct dusting or through the use of feminine products dusted in baby powder. Once inside the body, talc can migrate to the ovaries. Talc particles that reach the ovaries are thought to cause an inflammatory response, yielding conditions that are friendly to the growth of cancer cells, accounting for the increase in risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The Suthers Law Firm is currently investigating cases for women who have suffered from ovarian cancer and have a history of using products containing talcum powder. The lawyers at the Suthers Law Firm have years of experience litigating dangerous product cases. To discuss a potential lawsuit for yourself or a family member call 1-800-320-2384 or go to www.sutherslaw.com for a free Talcum Powder lawsuit consultation.

January 22, 2014

NuvaRing Contraceptive Product Lawsuit Update

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At present, more than 1,700 women have sued the manufacturers of NuvaRing, a prescription contraceptive device. NuvaRing was manufactured originally by Organon USA, Inc., a company which was subsequently acquired by Merck & Co., and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October of 2001. The product consists of a vaginal ring that contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. NuvaRing was designed to be used monthly. It was marketed as being more convenient than daily birth control pills, but equally effective. A study that was commissioned by the FDA and published in 2011 reported a 56% increase in blood clot risks for NuvaRing users, including an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), when compared to birth control pill users. In 2012, studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine and The British Medical Journal stated that the side effects of NuvaRing included an increased risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.

One case that is pending against the manufacturers involves a then 20 year old college student, who began using NuvaRing in 2008. After using NuvaRing for more than a year, she suddenly became ill and began spitting up blood. She was rushed to the hospital, where she spent 10 days receiving anticoagulants in an effort to thin her blood. Her doctors had a hard time believing she had a blood clot in her lung because she was only 22 years old at the time, she did not smoke, and she had no family history of blood clots. Her doctors eventually concluded that she had developed a blood clot in her lung, a condition known as pulmonary embolus, which can be fatal. Because she was a healthy 22 year old at the time and did not have other risk factors for blood clots, her doctors concluded that NuvaRing caused the blood clot.

A 24 year old woman who had used NuvaRing was not so fortunate. She suffered what was described as a massive pulmonary embolism that, in turn, triggered four heart attacks, resulting in her untimely death. Her doctors also believed that NuvaRing was the cause of her pulmonary embolism. In 2011, her parents filed a lawsuit against the product manufacturers.

Victims who were injured as a result of using NuvaRing and their families allege in these lawsuits that Organon, Merck & Co. and others failed to adequately warn the public about the side effects of NuvaRing. The plaintiffs contend that the companies were negligent in their marketing of this birth control device, since the product warning placed more emphasis on relatively minor side effects, such as nausea and headaches, while neglecting to place adequate warnings of the risk of deadly blood clots.

The federal court cases are pending in what is known as the multidistrict litigation (MDL) court, which is a coordinated proceeding in which all pretrial activities, such as written discovery, depositions, motions and evidentiary rulings, are pending before one judge. The presiding judge also has the authority to schedule so-called Bellwether trials, which are trials of selected cases to assist the parties in evaluating the remaining cases. The NuvaRing MDL litigation is entitled In Re: NuvaRing Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1964 (E.D.Mo.), and the presiding judge is United States District Court Judge Rodney Sippel. The first Bellwether trial was rescheduled to begin on January 27, 2014. However, on January 9, 2014, Judge Sippel ordered that all adversarial proceedings, including depositions of experts and lay witnesses, motions to exclude evidence and witnesses, and any rulings on pending motions, be suspended for a period of approximately five months. While the judge did not address the reason for suspending the litigation in his order, lawyers involved believe that this break in the litigation may provide counsel for the victims and the manufacturers the time needed to negotiate a potential settlement agreement. Although the NuvaRing litigation is currently in abeyance, that does not prevent the filing of new lawsuits during this period of abeyance. Any lawsuits filed while settlement negotiations are ongoing would be included in any potential settlement agreement.

Women who developed blood clots and were diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism (PE), or stroke, may contact the Suthers Law Firm toll free at 1-800-320-2384 to discuss their legal rights. The firm provides such consultations at no charge. If it is determined that you have a valid NuvaRing case, your case will be handled on a contingency fee basis, meaning there is no attorney's fee unless there is a recovery on your behalf.

January 17, 2014

Dram Shop Liability

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Dram shop liability is a legal theory that establishes that bars, taverns, liquor stores, and other businesses that sell alcoholic beverages can be held liable for damages caused by their patrons. These laws are aimed to prevent bars, taverns, and retail stores from selling alcohol to minors and to individuals who are visibly intoxicated. The term "dram shop" comes from the shops serving "drams," which is a term for a small measure of alcohol, usually gin.

Recently in Colorado, the parents of a 16 year old girl filed suit against the Bayou Cajun Restaurant and Bar and one of its bartenders under a theory of dram shop liability. According to the Colorado State Patrol, the girl and two of her friends were served alcohol at the restaurant and subsequently got into an accident with a tractor-trailer that resulted in all three girls losing their lives. At the time of the accident, the driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.241, more than three times the legal limit. Unfortunately, these types of accidents are all too common, and many times could have been prevented if not for the negligence of the "dram shop" involved.

Under Georgia law, bars, restaurants, liquor stores and other establishments that sell alcohol to patrons have a responsibility not to sell alcohol to noticeably intoxicated patrons who they know will soon be driving, as well as minors. If they do so, they may be held liable for causing the personal injuries sustained by innocent motorists at the hands of drunk drivers served at their establishments.

If you have been seriously injured or have lost a loved one in a DUI accident, contact the attorneys at The Suthers Law Firm, as you may be entitled to compensation, not only from the negligent drunk driver, but also from the bar, liquor store, restaurant or other establishment that permitted the driver to buy alcohol. The accident attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm will provide a free consultation to review your case and determine if a business establishment can be considered liable for selling alcohol illegally to the defendant under Georgia's "dram shop" laws.

December 20, 2013

Drunk Drivers Face Ignition Interlock Programs

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Deaths caused by drunk drivers rose 4.6% last year. A total of 10,322 people were killed in drunken driving automobile crashes. During the holiday season alone, 830 people died as a result of drunken driving collisions. Because the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers increased for the first time after six straight years of declining, the U.S. Transportation Secretary is pushing states to pass laws, requiring first-time offenders of drunk driving to install and use alcohol breath monitors whenever they get behind the wheel. These so-called ignition interlock programs or ignition interlock devices force the driver to blow into a breath analyzer before the driver is able to start the car. If the driver has been drinking, the car will not start.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released guidelines this week for states to use ignition interlock programs. At present, only 20 states require the devices for first-time drunk driving offenses. While almost every state has an ignition interlock program, the programs are unique and are mandated at different stages. DUI laws in Georgia require the courts to order the installation and maintenance of ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders. DUI in Georgia is defined as operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. The offenders are also responsible for the cost associated with installing, leasing, maintaining and removing the ignition interlock devices. In other states, such as Texas, an ignition interlock program is mandated for anyone with two or more intoxication-related convictions, such as DUI, assault while intoxicated, and intoxication manslaughter. There is strong evidence showing that ignition interlock programs and devices are effective tools for reducing drunk driving among first offenders and repeat offenders. Thus, these programs are essential components of highway safety programs.

The attorneys at Suthers Law Firm support the implementation of ignition interlock programs for first offenders throughout the United States. Having represented victims and families of victims of drunken driving crashes, we have seen firsthand the damage caused to victims and families who have lost loved ones as a result of collisions caused by drunk drivers. Often, the at-fault drunk drivers are repeat offenders, which makes it more important to implement ignition interlock programs for first offenders.

December 12, 2013

Georgia Supreme Court Overturns Appeals Court Ruling Allowing Wrongful Death Claim to Proceed to Jury Trial

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Gavel.jpgLast month, the Georgia Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, reversed a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals in favor of Thelma and Sheldon Johnson, the parents of a teenage boy who died two weeks after he was treated by a physician in an Albany, GA emergency room. The reversal by the court now allows the case to proceed to a jury trial.

At issue in the case was whether the emergency room doctor, Dr. Price Paul Omondi, acted with "gross negligence," and if the case should be tried by a jury. By statute in Georgia an ER doctor can only be held liable when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that his or her actions showed "gross negligence." Thus, there is a higher evidentiary burden to bringing a successful medical malpractice claim again a doctor in an emergency room setting.

The facts of this case involve a 15 year old patient who came to the emergency room complaining of chest pain. Eight days prior to his visit to the ER, the boy had undergone an arthroscopic knee surgery to repair an injury sustained playing high school football. Upon admission to the ER, the doctor noted the prior surgery, ordered that he be administered pain medication, an electrocardiogram ("EKG"), and a chest X-ray; he interpreted the results of the EKG and X-ray himself. The ER doctor diagnosed the teen with pleurisy and discharged him from the hospital with a prescription for an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, and instructions to return to the emergency department if his symptoms continued. Tragically, when the teen returned to the hospital a week later complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing he died from a bilateral pulmonary embolism.

After these events, the Johnsons sued both the hospital and the ER doctor for medical malpractice. They presented affidavits and deposition testimony from two emergency medicine specialists who stated their son's symptoms and history constituted a "classic" presentation of pulmonary embolism and the doctor failed to order the tests that would have uncovered it. However, the doctor moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not grossly negligent and therefore could not be held liable, which the trial court granted, despite this expert testimony. (A judge grants summary judgment when he determines a jury trial is unnecessary because the facts of the case are undisputed and the law falls squarely on the side of one of the parties.) The parents appealed to the Court of Appeals, but the court upheld the ruling stating that for the case to survive summary judgment the parents must demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact existed not as to whether the doctor exercised ordinary care, but rather, they must show the existence of 'clear and convincing' evidence that Omondi did not exercise even slight care.

The Georgia Supreme Court saw the case differently, and in a unanimous decision, reversed the ruling by the Appeals Court. The Court noted that the parents submitted expert testimony that the doctor's actions "did not meet the standard of care," and "he did not take action that would be appropriate to exclude pulmonary embolism ..." -- which would have included the administration of a computed tomography scan, or a lung scan. The court reasoned that given this evidence, a reasonable jury could find, by clear and convincing evidence, that in addressing the patient's symptoms, the Dr. Omondi acted with gross negligence, i.e., that he lacked 'the diligence that even careless men are accustomed to exercise."

This case serves an example of the fact that lawsuits involving malpractice by emergency room doctors are among the most challenging cases that are pursued by medical malpractice attorneys. Therefore, it is important to retain an attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice cases and who has the financial resources to thoroughly investigate and take such cases to trial, if necessary. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of medical malpractice, contact the attorneys at Suthers Law Firm at 1-800-320-2384 or go to www.sutherslaw.com for more information.

November 8, 2013

Experts Say Drowsy Driving Is Similar To Drunk Driving

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Drowsy Driving.jpgA new study by the Triple A (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that one in four motorists report having recently had a drowsy episode while driving, meaning they were either too fatigued to drive, or fell asleep. According to AAA, motorists ages 19 to 24 were the most likely to report driving dangerously drowsy at 33 percent, while the oldest drivers (ages 75+) and the youngest (ages 16 to 18) were the least likely to report having done so.

Experts say that drowsy driving can be just as a dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Studies show that an estimated 17 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 7 percent of all crashes requiring a tow involve a drowsy driver. Even more concerning is the fact that while 95 percent of drivers agree that driving while drowsy is dangerous, yet 41 percent decide to do it anyway. According to Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA, "Drowsy driving continues to remain a significant threat to all road users. Many drivers underestimate the risk of driving while extremely tired, and overestimate their ability to deal with it, and no matter how good a driver you are, fatigue and lack of sleep will impair your driving abilities."

Warnings signs that may signify drowsiness while driving include:
• The inability to recall the last few miles traveled
• Having disconnected or wandering thoughts
• Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
• Feeling as though your head is very heavy
• Drifting out of your driving lane/driving on rumble strips
• Yawning repeatedly
• Accidentally tailgating other vehicles
• Missing traffic signs

Drivers who experience any of these symptoms should stop driving. Other than the usual suggestions to "get enough rest" and "get enough sleep," Triple A has a few other recommendations such as stopping every two hours, avoiding heavy foods, and keeping track of medications you're taking. The Federal Office of Traffic Safety recommends planning ahead to reduce the risk of drowsy driving. This starts with ensuring drivers have adequate sleep to maintain proper alertness during the day.

As attorneys who represent victims involved in catastrophic automobile collisions, we have seen far too many people seriously injured as a result of avoidable crashes. Anytime someone suffers a significant injury in an automobile collision it is a tragedy, but it is particularly heartbreaking when the injury is caused so needlessly. We can only hope that drivers in Georgia and throughout the country will take note of the dangers drowsy driving and take the appropriate precautions.

October 25, 2013

False Claims Act Cases Result in $Billions Recovered

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The United States Department of Justice announced that it recovered $4.9 billion in settlements and judgments in civil cases that involved fraud against the Government during fiscal year 2012. It was also reported that since January 2009, total recoveries under the False Claims Act totaled $13.3 billion, the largest four year total in the Justice Department's history. Why should private citizens care about cases involving fraud against the Government? The answer is money.

Under the federal law known as the False Claims Act, private citizens can sue individuals or businesses that are committing fraud against the Government and recover money on behalf of the Government. Most states have similar laws, allowing private citizens to bring cases involving fraud against state agencies. These lawsuits are known as whistleblower, or qui tam, lawsuits. They allow the whistleblowers, known as the relators, to be rewarded for the risk they take in pursuing the case and exposing the fraud against the Government. If the Government prevails and recovers money, the whistleblower can receive anywhere from 15% to 30% of the amount recovered. Consider this fact in the context of the $4.9 billion in recoveries that the U.S. Government secured for fiscal year 2012. The private citizens, who obtained evidence of fraud against the Government and took the risk of pursuing qui tam lawsuits, were rewarded amounts totaling between $735 million and $1.47 billion.

Qui tam lawsuits have become a very powerful tool for private citizens to aid the Government in stopping various types of fraud, such as Medicare or Medicaid fraud perpetrated by healthcare providers, defense contractor fraud perpetrated by military suppliers, and other types of fraud that have a significant financial impact on the Government. The following list of qui tam lawsuits were brought by the whistleblower employees of companies who were defrauding the Government:

• A hospital employee exposed the hospital's practice of billing the Government under Medicare and Medicaid programs for treatment of patients who were not eligible for these federal programs. The employee received $3 million after the Government entered into a $15 million settlement with the hospital.

• A nurse brought a qui tam lawsuit against her hospital employer, alleging fraudulent billing. After the hospital settled for $6.2 million, the nurse received 20% of the recovery.

• An employee of a defense contractor alleged that the contractor was defrauding the Pentagon by overcharging. The U.S. recovered $88 million as a result of the employee's whistleblower lawsuit, and the employee received an award of almost $19 million, representing 21.5% of the Government's recovery.

• In one of the largest qui tam awards in history, a former employee of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc. brought a qui tam lawsuit against the drug manufacturer, alleging the company was engaged in off-label marketing of one of its drugs for uses that were considered unsafe and dangerous. Ultimately, Pfizer paid a total of $2.3 billion to settle the Medicare fraud claim brought on behalf of the Government. The whistleblower received an award of more than $51.5 million.

How do you bring a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act? Once a person, who is usually an employee or former employee of the wrongdoer, has adequate evidence of fraud against the Government, that person needs to retain a lawyer who has the expertise and resources to represent him or her. After a thorough investigation, the lawyer then files a lawsuit on behalf of the whistleblower against the wrongdoer. The lawsuit is filed under seal, which means that it is kept confidential from everyone except the Government. The purpose of the lawsuit being filed under seal is to allow the Department of Justice adequate time to investigate the allegations in the lawsuit, usually with the assistance of the whistleblower's attorney.

Once the Government has completed its investigation, it decides whether to join, or intervene, in the case. If the Government decides not to intervene, the whistleblowers have the right to pursue the cases on their own. However, the chances of succeeding are higher when the Government chooses to join in the lawsuit. One reason for this is because when the Government is involved, the Government has the leverage of pursuing not only the civil lawsuit, but also filing criminal charges against the corporate or individual wrongdoer. The threat of corporate officers having to serve jail time for the alleged wrongdoing is often enough to bring about a settlement. Another factor which often results in a settlement, as opposed to a jury verdict, is that Defendants who are found liable may have to pay three times the amount of the Government's losses plus penalties for the false claims that were proven. Consequently, most qui tam lawsuits are ultimately resolved through settlement negotiations between Justice Department attorneys and the attorneys for the wrongdoer.

The whistleblower's award depends upon the quality of the evidence and case that was presented to the Government, the work of the whistleblower's attorney, and the amount recovered by the Government. In cases where the Government chooses to intervene and it recovers money through a settlement or verdict, the whistleblower is entitled to recover anywhere from 15% to 25% of the recovery. In cases where the Government chooses not to intervene and the case is pursued successfully by the whistleblower and the whistleblower's attorney, the award is between 25% and 30% of the recovery. As evidenced by the above-referenced, successful qui tam lawsuits, the potential reward to a whistleblower, or relator, can be quite lucrative.

Individuals who have evidence of fraud being committed against the Government and who are willing to become whistleblowers, or relators, should retain lawyers who have the experience and resources to investigate and pursue such cases. The attorneys representing the whistleblowers typically handle such cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning their fee is a percentage of the reward received by the whistleblower.

October 1, 2013

New Study Shows that Twice as Many Patients May be Dying As a Result of Medical Malpractice than Previously Thought

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A recent study published in Journal of Patient Safety suggests that current estimates of the number of fatal mistakes made by physicians in the United States are far too low. The study found that twice as many patients, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients per year, suffer from preventable medical harm that contributes to their deaths. Previous studies done in this area had suggested there were far less fatal injuries as a result of medical errors. A study done in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine suggested that 98,000 people a year died from mistakes made in hospitals. Another study, performed in 2010 by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services suggested that the number was around 180,000 deaths per year.

The American Hospital Association has disputed these findings, and has indicated that the AHA has more confidence in the Institute of Medicine's 98,000 number found in the 1999 study. However, if the new estimates are accurate, medical malpractice would be considered the third leading cause of death in America, with only heart disease and cancer killing more Americans. Irrespective of which study is more accurate, there are far too many deaths in the U.S. caused by the negligence of medical providers.

Medical malpractice cases take many forms, but the common thread is that people trusted to care for a patient are responsible for serious harm that could have been avoided. When a medical provider is determined to be legally responsible for your injuries during medical care or treatment, they may be liable for the harms they caused. The attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm have been very successful at holding doctors, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacists, and other health care providers accountable for medical mistakes or negligent care throughout Georgia and South Carolina. If you feel that you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of medical malpractice, call the Suthers Law Firm at 1-800-320-2384 or go to www.sutherslaw.com for more information.

 
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