Articles Posted in Personal Injury

Dr. Paul Harnetty, an Ob/Gyn who practiced in Georgia from 2003 until 2012, was convicted last month by a Wyoming jury of sexually assaulting two of his female patients.  Harnetty began practicing medicine in Wyoming in 2012.  It did not take long before a number of his Wyoming patients accused him of sexual assault and abuse.  In February of 2016, a disciplinary complaint was filed against Dr. Harnetty by the governing medical board in Wyoming.  In January of 2017, Dr. Harnetty was arrested and charged with twelve counts of sexual assault, resulting in the recent conviction on two of those charges.  Dr. Harnetty awaits sentencing.

Sadly, there was a long trail of allegations against Harnetty while he was practicing Ob/Gyn medicine in Georgia.  Harnetty was investigated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board.  Nurses who had worked with the doctor reported to the Board that the doctor had committed highly unusual acts on patients while they were delivering babies.  The Medical Board never disciplined Harnetty publically and the Board’s investigation was kept confidential.  Dr. Harnetty gave up his hospital privileges at a Georgia hospital in 2010, but the hospital refused to say why.  As a result, Harnetty was able to leave the State of Georgia with a clear record and obtain a license to practice medicine in Wyoming.  The District Attorney in Wyoming who prosecuted Dr. Harnetty stated, “There had been red flags on this guy forever.”

Regrettably, the system in place that shields and protects doctors who are charged with sexual abuse of patients is broken.  The Georgia Board responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors refuses to comment on what it knew about Dr. Harnetty or whether he was ever disciplined by the Board.  Georgia law allows the Board to discipline doctors in private.  This is the so-called “code of silence.”  For example, the Georgia Board’s investigator had interviewed a labor and delivery nurse, who reported that she had filed a complaint of sexual harassment by Dr. Harnetty with the hospital in 2007.  The nurse reported that while in a patient’s room, Dr. Harnetty walked up beside her and grabbed the nurse’s bottom.  Other nurses also told the Board’s investigator about Harnetty touching them inappropriately, making lewd comments, and sexually harassing them.  If the Georgia Board did anything about these allegations, it was never made public.  Had the Georgia Board decided to discipline Dr. Harnetty publicly, the alleged sexual abuse that occurred in Wyoming may have been prevented.

A recent study performed by researchers at Florida State University found that receiving cell phone notifications, such as a ringtones, vibrations or alarm bells, while operating an automobile can be just as distracting and dangerous as talking or texting while driving.  This is the first study to examine the relationship between of cell phone notifications and mental performance.

The researcheCelrs, who published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, determined that when your cell phone sends out an alert, your mind starts to wander and lose concentration.  “The level of how much it affected the task at hand was really shocking,” FSU researcher Courtney Yehnert said.  “Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance.  Cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupt performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants do not directly interact with a mobile device during the task.”

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reported in April 2013 that an estimated 660 thousand drivers use cell phones or electronic devices while driving at any given daylight moment in spite of the fact that 44 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed texting while driving. Unsurprisingly, the National Safety Council has found that twenty five percent of all traffic accidents are caused by distracted driving, specifically cell phone use while driving.

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.

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:


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:

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.

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.

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 & Harper 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.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced recently that new Federal Regulations, which will hopefully improve safety on the roads by reducing truck driver fatigue, have been enacted. The new, so-called “hours of service” regulations became effective on July 1, 2013. These regulations were first announced in December of 2011 by FMCSA, and trucking companies were given 18 months to adopt the new rules for their truck drivers. The new hours of service rules do the following:

(1) limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, down from the current maximum allowed of 82 hours;

(2) allow truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within 1 week to resume driving after they have rested for 34 consecutive hours; and (3) require truck drivers to take a 30 minute break during the first 8 hours of a driving shift.

The well-known organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), has been leading the fight to save lives and prevent injuries caused by drunk drivers. In 2006, MADD started what it called the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. The campaign is working, as fatalities caused by drunk drivers have decreased by greater than 25% since the campaign began. 9,878 people were killed and approximately 350,000 were injured by drunk drivers in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This was the first time since NHTSA began collecting data that there were less than 10,000 fatalities. When MADD was first founded, there were more than 22,000 drunk driving fatalities each year.

While we rejoice in the fact that the numbers are going down, the battle is long from being over. 9,878 deaths is still too many, and each death impacts not only the victim, but family, friends, classmates and others. The yearly price tag of drunk driving runs into the billions. Proof that there remains more work to be done can be found in the preliminary statistics regarding the first half of 2012. Regrettably, these statistics showed a 7% increase in traffic deaths related to drunk drivers. While the year-end statistics have not yet been released, if fatalities continued to occur at that rate, that means an additional 700 people will have been killed by drunk drivers last year.

Tragically, approximately 1/3 of all drunk driving incidents, ranging from arrests, car crashes, deaths, and injuries, are caused by repeat offenders. We potentially share the highways with approximately 2 million people who have 3 or more drunk driving offenses. That’s one of the primary reasons that states have attempted to crack down on drunk drivers by enacting stiffer penalties for offenders and especially, for repeat offenders. The State of Georgia can take pride in the fact that it has the 3rd lowest percentage of traffic deaths that are DUI related in the USA according to the 2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The State of South Carolina is one of the worst states when it comes to DUI fatalities, ranking 46th among the 50 states. Taking away the driver’s licenses of repeat offenders isn’t always enough, as more than 50% of them will drive anyway. MADD and other organizations are supporting research into various forms of technology that could help eliminate drunk driving. An example of technology being studied includes a system that can read a driver’s blood alcohol concentration and lock the ignition system, which would stop drunk driving offenders before they repeat their crimes.

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