January 22, 2015

Workplace Injuries and Third-Party Claims


The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety has issued its 2014 report, ranking the top causes of serious, workplace injuries. The report is based upon workers' compensation claims data from year 2012 and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the leading causes of workplace injuries were:

• Overexertion
• Falls
• Being struck by an object or equipment
• Roadway incidents involving vehicles
• Being caught in or compressed by equipment or objects
• Repetitive motions involving small or micro tasks

When an employee suffers a workplace injury that causes him or her to miss a certain number of days of work, the employee is entitled to file a workers' compensation claim. Virtually all states have a workers' compensation award schedule that limits the employee's recovery to a portion of the employee's wages for a specific number of weeks. Additionally, the employee may be entitled to a lump sum payment to compensate the employee for any permanent impairment resulting from the injury. Because workers' compensation benefits are limited by law, the injured employee is rarely made whole.

Employees and attorneys sometime overlook potential claims against third-parties, whose negligence played a role in the workplace injury. While an injured employee cannot sue his employer, there is generally no prohibition against suing a third-party whose negligence played a role in the employee's workplace injury. There are a number of examples of such third-party claims. Consider the case of a construction employee who was working on the ground at the jobsite when a crane operator for another company negligently lowered a boom that struck and killed the employee who was on the ground. We were able to sue the company who employed the crane operator and recovered damages that were not limited by any workers' compensation award schedule. Likewise, consider the case of an employee driving a company vehicle as part of his work duties who was injured in an automobile collision caused the negligence of the other driver. We were able to sue the negligent driver and recover damages that were greater than the benefits the employee would have received had he filed a workers' compensation claim against his own employer. There are also many examples of cases involving employees who were injured due to defective equipment that was being utilized by their employers. In those cases, there may be potential product liability claims against the manufacturers of the defective equipment in which the damages awards would not be limited by any workers' compensation award schedule.

Workplace injuries can have significant consequences on the victims. Benefits to which the victims are entitled under workers' compensation are often inadequate and do not completely compensate the victim for his or her injuries and losses. When a person is injured on the job, it is important that the employee and attorney investigate thoroughly whether the negligence of a third-party caused or contributed to the cause of the injury. That may present the opportunity to file a lawsuit against the negligent third-party, and recover damages that are not limited by the workers' compensation award schedule.

January 12, 2015

Nursing Homes Misrepresent Staffing Levels


A series of reports were published recently, substantiating low levels of care at nursing homes across the United States. An investigation was conducted by the Center for Public Integrity in an effort to quantify the level of care at nursing homes and determine the reason for poor care. Nursing homes are required by state and federal regulations to meet certain minimum levels of staffing in order to meet the needs of their patients. The Center for Public Integrity's investigation determined that greater than 80% of nursing homes reported staffing levels that were higher than what they really were. The investigation also found that 25% of nursing homes nationwide reported staffing levels that were at least two times as high as their actual levels.

Savannah, Georgia attorney John E. Suthers was one of the first attorneys in the United States to sue a nursing home and hold it accountable for neglecting a resident. "Many of us who represent victims of abuse and neglect by nursing homes have been saying for years that the underlying cause of almost all problems in nursing homes can be traced to staffing. It's either a case of inadequate staffing or inadequately trained staff or both. The Center's study just confirms what we have been preaching for years," said Suthers.

In conducting the investigation, the Center for Public Integrity compared numbers that nursing homes had reported to the Government website known as Nursing Home Compare with the numbers submitted in Medicare cost reports, which are detailed reports that nursing homes are required by law to provide and which set out the number of hours paid to staff and the number of residents. By reporting artificially inflated numbers that are posted on the Nursing Home Compare website, the public can be misled when trying to investigate the quality of care rendered at a facility. "You have families relying on inaccurate reports who unknowingly place their loved ones in dangerous facilities," Suthers said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare" is the federal statute that was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Part of that law sought to change the way nursing homes report staffing levels. Rather than nursing homes self-reporting the numbers, the law requires them to submit actual payroll records, which would reflect the type of staff working and the hours they actually worked. The new reporting requirements were supposed to go into effect by March 2012. Regrettably, they have not yet taken effect.

In the meantime, Suthers says, "It's just common sense that the more staffing you can have in the nursing home, the better the chances of a patient receiving good quality care." Many nursing home residents need constant care to perform some of their most basic activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating, ambulating and toileting. Bedridden residents can require additional attention, since they need to be turned and repositioned at least every two hours to avoid developing pressure sores. "By increasing the level of staffing and the training of staff, many of the injuries and illnesses that occur in nursing homes could be avoided," said Suthers.

December 31, 2014

NPR Report Shows No Real Consequences for Nursing Homes Overdosing Patients


Data shows that in more than one in five nursing homes in the United States, antipsychotics are administered to a significant percentage of residents, despite the fact that they do not have psychosis or related condition that warrants their use. Antipsychotic drugs, which are intended to treat severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, can leave people in a stupor. Both the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say it's not appropriate in most cases for patients suffering from dementia to be prescribed antipsychotics. The FDA has given these drugs black-box warnings, the agency's most serious medication alert, about potentially fatal side effects when antipsychotics are taken by patients with dementia, saying they can increase the risk of heart failure, infections and death.

Federal law has long prohibited the use of antipsychotics and other psychoactive drugs for the convenience of staff, a practice known as "chemical restraint." The Nursing Home Reform Act, passed more than 27 years ago, gave residents the right to be free from "chemical restraints." The law also says that nursing home residents should only receive antipsychotics if the drugs are medically necessary. However, in 2012, despite the law being on the book for almost three decades, the government finally started a campaign laying out new stricter guidelines and harsher penalties for the overuse of antipsychotics to urge nursing homes to cut back on their use of these drugs that are so dangerous for patients with severe illnesses. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by NPR, it appears these new regulations have had little success curtailing the practice, largely because they are rarely enforced.

The penalties for giving residents unnecessary medication can range from a "plan of correction," to civil fines, to being kicked out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. However, the NPR report found that when penalties are actually assessed the harshest penalties are almost never used when nursing home residents are given unnecessary drugs of any kind. As a result, antipsychotics continue to be overused in nursing homes across the country.

Not surprisingly, industry experts say there is a clear link between the rate of antipsychotic use in a nursing home and its staffing level. Homes that most often used these drugs for conditions not recommended by the FDA had fewer registered nurses, who direct care, and nurses' aides, who provide most of the hands-on care. According to the recent report, the government rarely punishes these nursing homes that choose not to follow the guidelines, and when they do enforce the rules it is normally a nominal monetary penalty to the offending nursing home. This fact makes for an easy business decision for many nursing home administrators and owners - it is far cheaper to simply pay the fine and provide less resident care. Thus, the only ones actually being penalized under the "stricter" regulations are nursing home residents.

There is no question that the use of antipsychotic medications to control nursing home residents is extremely dangerous. The FDA estimates roughly 15,000 nursing home residents die every year from complications related to antipsychotics. Consequently, if you believe a family member or a loved one in a nursing home is being given unnecessary antipsychotic medications, you should immediately ask for a list of all medications that are being administered to the resident and the doses given daily. If you have a complaint about how a family member has been treated in a nursing home, you should report it to the appropriate state agency. For more information on nursing home abuse and neglect, please visit our "Nursing Home Resource Center" at the website of the Suthers Law Firm, www.sutherslaw.com.

November 18, 2014



Today, many families entrusting a skilled nursing facility with the care of a loved one may be shocked to find out the low number of registered nurses and other medical professionals that are actually providing care inside nursing homes at any given time. The controlling federal law intended at one time to improve the country's nursing homes, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, actually requires only one registered nurse on-site eight hours a day, regardless of the size of the facility.

Additionally, often times, advocates and experts believe that the data is skewed by nursing homes to make it look as if there are a greater number of medical staff available at all times in their home due to government data relying on self-reporting by the owners of the nursing homes. Data on the publicly available Nursing Home Compare website, which is promoted and operated by the government for comparison shopping, reflects staffing levels self-reported by nursing homes during a two-week period before annual federal inspections. Advocates say many homes work hard to prepare for those visits, and, as a result, critics say, those staffing levels may be artificially inflated. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for overseeing nursing homes, has since 2001 discussed the problem of the inaccuracy of self-reported data. Unfortunately, these self-reported staffing levels are a crucial metric in the federal government's broader quality rating of nursing homes on their Nursing home Compare website, which is heavily relied on by the public.

The discrepancies between the inflated numbers and the actual numbers can lead family members to believe their loved ones are receiving one level of care, when they may be receiving much less. This is troublesome as close to 100 peer-reviewed, academic studies have shown that the amount of care, particularly that provided by registered nurses, is most strongly connected with residents' quality of care. Lower levels of care are associated with a higher likelihood of injury, abuse, neglect and even death.

Recently representatives in Congress have taken steps to alleviate some of these problems, including, Jane Schakowsky of Illinois, who introduced a bill in the House to combat the problem. The Bill would require that a direct-care registered nurse (not an administrator) be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in all the nearly 16,000 nursing home that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. Additionally, there is another bill being proposed by Congress that would reform the self-reporting requirements. However, it is unclear at this point if these measures will do anything to alleviate this very serious problem facing some of the country's most vulnerable citizens.

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.

November 14, 2014

Takata Airbag Recalls


Eleven major automobile manufacturers have issued recalls on more than 7.8 million cars equipped with defective airbags manufactured by Takata Corporation. There have been reports of the airbags exploding and shooting metal shrapnel at passengers in the cars. Complaints that were filed recently indicate that Takata has known about this serious safety hazard for longer than 10 years. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now opening an investigation into Takata's defective airbags. Several United States Senators have recently called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation as a result of recent reports that Takata erased the results of tests that indicated the existence of defects in the airbags. Thus far, complaints and/or lawsuits filed against Takata claim that Takata's defective airbags are responsible for the deaths of 4 individuals and injuries to 139 individuals.

The recall is focused on geographic areas with high humidity, since the alleged defect is thought to be triggered by exposure to excessive moisture. The following is a list of the manufacturers and models recalled involving Takata airbags:

2000 - 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 - 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 - 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 - 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 - 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 - 2006 M3 Convertible

2003 - 2008 Dodge Ram 1500
2005 - 2008 Dodge Ram 2500
2006 - 2008 Dodge Ram 3500
2006 - 2008 Dodge Ram 4500
2008 - Dodge Ram 5500
2005 - 2008 Dodge Durango
2005 - 2008 Dodge Dakota
2005 - 2008 Chrysler 300
2007 - 2008 Chrysler Aspen

2004 - Ranger
2005 - 2006 GT
2005 - 2007 Mustang

General Motors
2003 - 2005 Pontiac Vibe
2005 - Saab 9-2X

2001 - 2007 Honda Accord
2001 - 2005 Honda Civic
2002 - 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 - 2011 Honda Element
2002 - 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 - 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 - Honda Ridgeline
2003 - 2006 Acura MDX
2002 - 2003 Acura TL/CL
2005 - Acura RL

2002 - 2005 Lexus SC

2003 - 2007 Mazda 6
2006 - 2007 MazdaSpeed 6
2004 - 2008 Mazda RX-8
2004 - 2005 MPV
2004 - B-Series Truck

2004 - 2005 Lancer
2006 - 2007 Raider

2001 - 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 - 2006 Nissan Sentra
2001 - 2004 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 - 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 - 2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45
2006 Infiniti M35 and M45

2003 - 2005 Baja
2003 - 2005 Legacy
2003 - 2005 Outback
2004 - 2005 Impreza

2002 - 2005 Toyota Corolla
2003 - 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 - 2005 Toyota Sequoia
2003 - 2005 Toyota Tundra

Suthers Law Firm is handling wrongful death and personal injury cases involving defective Takata airbags. Given the large number of cars equipped with airbags manufactured by Takata, we believe that there are many more victims who have been harmed by these defective products.

October 29, 2014

Infections in Nursing Homes Increasing


A recent study by the Columbia University School of Nursing reported that the rate of infections in nursing homes is increasing. Regrettably, the trend will likely continue unless and until better care and hygiene practices are implemented.

The author of the study, Carolyn Herzig, stated, "Infections are a leading cause of deaths and complications for nursing home residents...We found a significant increase in infection rates across the board." Data submitted by nursing homes to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) between 2006 and 2010 was analyzed by the author and her team. The data revealed increasing rates of urinary tract infections, pneumonia, wound infections, and septicemia, also known as blood poisoning. Septicemia is a serious, life-threatening infection that can worsen quickly. It arises from other infections throughout the body, often when such infections are either untreated, improperly treated, or treated too late. The Columbia University study also found increased rates of drug-resistant bacterial infections like methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA. Of the above-referenced infections, urinary tract infections and pneumonia were the most common in nursing homes.

One of the more common types of cases that we see in our nursing home litigation practice are decubitus ulcer (pressure sore) cases. These wounds develop when the nursing home staff fails to turn and reposition a resident to relive pressure on a bony area, such as the sacrum, hips or heels. When a pressure sore occurs in the sacral area, it often becomes infected, especially if the nursing home resident is incontinent of bowel or bladder. If the wound infection is untreated or treated too late, the resident can develop septicemia (sepsis), which can, in turn, lead to death. That is why early intervention, proper treatment and proper hygiene practices are so important.

There are a number of steps that can and should be taken in an effort to reduce a nursing home resident's risk of infection. Nursing homes can reduce the risk of a resident developing urinary tract infections by reducing the use of urinary catheters. Rather than using a catheter, they can establish a toileting schedule to increase the number of assisted trips to the toilet by a resident who requires assistance with toileting. Another simple step that would reduce the risk of both urinary tract and wound infections is to increase the diaper changes for residents who are incontinent. We often hear complaints from family members of residents about the resident remaining in soiled or wet diapers for hours at a time before a staff member comes to the room to change the diaper. When this type of neglect occurs, the family should not hesitate to report their concerns to the Director of Nursing and Administrator at the nursing home.
Proper hand hygiene is another simple step that would help prevent infections that can be spread through the air or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Hand sanitizer dispensers and hand-washing stations should be readily available throughout the nursing home. If you don't see these when visiting a nursing home, it may be an indication that the nursing home lacks adequate hygiene and infection control programs.

September 15, 2014

Hospital-Acquired Conditions Data to Be Released Soon


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will make data public on eight hospital-acquired conditions in the near future. This data can be found on the CMS website. The data will include mistakes that occur in hospitals, such as foreign objects being left in patients following surgery and the wrong type of blood being given to patients. These and other so-called "hospital-acquired conditions" can be life-threatening.

This data was mysteriously removed from the CMS website recently, which led to criticism by several consumer organizations that publish safety ratings for hospitals. There has been mounting pressure on government officials and hospitals to be more transparent about safety, so that patients considering certain types of surgeries can make more informed choices about the hospital where the surgery will be performed. For example, a patient who chooses to have an elective surgery, such as a hip replacement or knee replacement, can investigate the infection rates at the hospitals they are considering. This is important information because infections can lead to more serious conditions, such as sepsis or septic shock, which can be deadly.

Not surprisingly, many hospital officials around the country opposed this release of information reflecting hospital mistakes. The hospitals contend that some incidents, such as foreign objects being left in patients after surgery, do not happen enough for the information to be reliable. However, a USA Today report in 2013 concluded that foreign objects were retained after surgery as often as 6,000 times a year, which was far greater than the government had estimated. The retention of foreign objects after surgery can lead to infections and other complications that can, in turn, lead to additional surgeries.

Thankfully, CMS has seen the light and reversed its previous decision to stop publicly reporting these hospital mistakes, many of which can be life-altering if not life-threatening. While the data is not expected to be made public until late 2014, it is a positive step toward enabling patients to be better informed.

September 4, 2014

Bellwether Metal-on-Metal Hip Replacement Trial Begins


Metal-on-Metal.jpgThe first MDL bellwether trial began this week against DePuy Orthopaedics in connection with their Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip replacement product. This trial is the first of more than 6,000 cases filed across the country that have been consolidated in U.S. District Court in Dallas, Texas.

The Plaintiff in the case, Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli, aged 58, had two Pinnacle hips implanted in 2009 and soon began to complain of pain from the devices. Blood tests before her 2011 revision surgeries found the implants had released dangerous levels of cobalt and chromium into her bloodstream. Doctors found Mrs. Paoli's cobalt blood serum levels were 85 times higher than normal, and an MRI also showed the presence of a sizable pseudotumor growing around her left hip implant.

In her Complaint, Ms. Herily-Paoli alleges that DePuy "knew, or should have known, of reports that metal-on-metal implants, such as the Pinnacle, generated unusually high amounts of metal debris over time due to unusual, premature or increased wear and tear," and that the debris "can spread throughout the surrounding bone and tissue and cause serious complications and damage." Further, the Plaintiff says DePuy officials misled patients and their doctors about the safety of the artificial hips, and sponsored a nationwide satellite telecast to orthopedic doctors to push the advantages of the Pinnacle device when they were already aware of the dangers of the product.

Ultimately, the jury in this first trial will be asked to determine whether the Plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence to meet the legal standards with regard to her claims of product defect, fraud, misrepresentation, and infliction of emotional distress. Moreover, if jurors find DePuy recklessly endangered the Plaintiff's life, then they could be exposed to tremendous punitive damages.

The Suthers Law Firm continues to investigate and file lawsuits for patients suffering from problems caused by metal-on-metal hip implants. Contact the experienced product liability attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm online or call us on our toll free number, 1-800-320-2384, to set up a FREE consultation if you have experienced complications from a hip implant from one of the following manufacturers:

• DePuy
• Stryker
• Biomet
• Wright
• Zimmer

The attorneys at the Suthers Law Firm can quickly determine if your hip implant has been subject to recall, certified for multidistrict litigation or subject to FDA complaints or investigation. If it is determined that you have a valid hip implant 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.

July 28, 2014

Hip Fractures Among the Elderly in Nursing Homes


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

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