Hysterectomy and Uterine Surgery Cancer Lawsuit Update

May 20, 2015,

woman-in-hospital-1051476-m.jpgThousands of women who underwent fibroid removal surgery or hysterectomies are suffering from late-stage cancer from a device used in their surgeries. Now, device manufacturers are facing liability as these women and their families file suit. Our team of uterine and ovarian cancer lawyers is constantly updating our clients as soon as new information becomes available.

The device at issue is called a power morcellator, which many top American hospitals and health insurance companies have now banned. These bans were based largely on FDA warnings on the use of power morcellators in gynecological procedures, confirming that they may spread undiagnosed uterine tumors and should not be used on most women.

HCA Holdings, Aetna, and several other insurers and hospitals have dropped use of the device. Aetna is the country's third-largest insurer, with about 23 million health members. Power morcellation will no longer be covered under most circumstances; doctors will have to get prior approval for any procedure using the device. Exceptions include women who could suffer severe, life-threatening complications from alternative methods.

Power morcellators work to remove fibroids or the uterus by cutting them into tiny pieces to be removed through minimally-invasive incisions. However, uterine fibroids can contain cancerous cells and tumors that cannot be detected prior to surgery. If a power morcellator breaks up a fibroid that contains cancer cells, the cancer is then spread throughout the uterus, abdomen and pelvis.

Cancer spread significantly lowers the chance of survival, rendering an otherwise benign cancer contained within the uterus into a ravenous late-stage illness affecting multiple organs. The FDA estimates that about one in every 350 women undergoing fibroid surgery has cancer cells hidden in fibroids.

Olympus Sued for Morcellator Cancer Spread

After this came to light in 2014 Johnson & Johnson pulled its power morcellators from global markets. Although J&J was the largest morcellator manufacturer, other companies have kept their devices on market. One of these companies, Olympus America, was recently hit with lawsuits by women who developed cancer from morcellation surgery.

The women claim Olympus should have been aware of the cancer risks of its device, the PKS PlasmaSORD Bipolar Morcellator. They argue there was medical evidence available to Olympus, yet the company failed to respond to published studies and reports describing the risk of spreading and worsening cancer with morcellator use.

Plaintiffs point to articles published in medical journals in the 1990s that illuminate the potential for morcellators to spread cancer tissue. They argue that Olympus made it difficult for patients to know about these risks, misrepresenting the device as totally safe. Misrepresenting the device this way prevented doctors from screening for and diagnosing cancer, further worsening patient survival rates.

Still, some doctors continue to encourage the continued use of morcellators. Many doctors believe that the decision to use a morcellator should lie with the patient and her doctor and that banning them completely would be a disservice to certain patients.

This, on paper, seems a fair and reasonable argument. In reality, however, patients are not always fully informed on the true risks of their options and doctors do not always have time to make sure women completely understand the procedure, its alternatives, and their unique risks versus benefits.

Continue reading "Hysterectomy and Uterine Surgery Cancer Lawsuit Update" »

Heart Surgery Device Recalled for Deaths, Injuries

May 11, 2015,

surgeon-274997-m.jpgThe TigerPaw System has been recalled after reports of heart tissue tears and severe bleeding. More than 4,000 devices, commonly used during open heart surgery, were recalled after dozens of injuries and one death. Medical device lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail this recall below.

The device is manufactured by Maquet Medical Systems and is most commonly used to obstruct the left atrial appendage during surgery. Recently, Maquet has received reports that the device has been tearing the appendage, causing serious bleeding. This recall is considered a Class I, the most serious of its kind.

The FDA has documented many violations at Maquet in the past few years, resulting in five Class I recalls and 40 other recalls between 2009 and 2014. These violations also led to a $6 million settlement in February 2015, which stemmed from a federal lawsuit accusing Maquet of maintaining poor quality standards.

At least one of Maquet's products involved with that settlement was associated with a suspicious patient death. The FDA requested the company stop production on several devices after its inspections, including hernia meshes and vascular grafts and patches.

Lawsuits from Defective Medical Devices

The medical device industry reaps sales of more than $85 billion per year, and companies have the legal and ethical responsibility to ensure their devices are safe and effective. When the device is designed or manufactured improperly, or if the approval process was flawed, patients can be subject to serious injury or even death from complications.

If an injured patient decides to sue the medical device manufacturer for negligence, it is considered a product liability lawsuit. Any and all companies that manufacture products are responsible for making a safe product; therefore, the company could be liable for any injuries caused by defects or a dangerous design.

Companies are also required to warn the public about the risks associated with their products. Unfortunately, device manufacturers try to get new innovations onto market as soon as possible, often failing to adequately test for long-term complications and other serious side effects. Product liability lawsuits fall under three general categories:

1. Manufacturing defects - this applies if the design and promotions of the device were proper, but there were flaws in the manufacturing process causing the product to be defective.

2. Design defects - if the original design of the product can cause serious injury or death.

3. Marketing defects - if the company improperly markets the products, either failing to warn the public about the risks or by giving inadequate instructions to physicians.

A great example of the third type of claim is the recent deadly outbreak from a particular kind of medical device called a duodenoscope. Hundreds of patients have been infected by this medical scope and dozens have died. The duodenoscopes can infect patients with a "super bug", or drug-resistant bacteria that can be fatal in vulnerable patients.

The devices were contaminated with this super bug because they were not properly cleaned by hospital staff. Duodenoscopes are supposed to be cleaned and disinfected with a special machine, though the instructions provided by the device manufacturer are inadequate. This makes it difficult to fully disinfect the device, causing dangerous bacteria to be transferred between patients.

Continue reading "Heart Surgery Device Recalled for Deaths, Injuries" »

Rauner Proposes Workers' Compensation Reform

forklift-1-1125238-m.jpgIllinois ranks seventh in the nation for workers' compensation system costs. Newly-elected Governor Bruce Rauner recently announced sweeping changes to the state workers' compensation laws, as part of his pro-business agenda. Our team of workers' compensation lawyers explains the serious consequences of these proposals.

Major business groups have a strident ally in Bruce Rauner, who has spent his career in private equity, buying companies and squeezing them of their assets. This is no secret, and many Illinoisans voted for Rauner based on his perceived business savvy, in hopes he could help lead us out of our financial crisis.

Instead, he has made sweeping proposals aimed against labor unions, trial lawyers, Medicare and Medcaid, and injured workers. One of his most recent proposals is to reform our state's workers' compensation system.

Among the changes, Rauner hopes to:

• Make it harder for employees to claim they were injured traveling to or from work

• Limit damage awards in civil suits

• Reducing the power of labor unions

• Withdraw wage laws for taxpayer-funded construction workers

• Toughen the standards workers must meet to prove their injury occurred on-the-job

• Dramatically reduce reimbursement rates for healthcare centers that treat workers

Opponents of these proposals - most vehemently employee unions - believe this is part of Rauner's goal to take rights and benefits away from workers in favor of corporations. Opponents also point to the broad changes lawmakers made to the workers' compensation insurance system in 2011. In total, these changes saved Illinois businesses $315 million in the first few years.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan recently held a rare committee relaying the entire meeting with Rauner, so all 118 Illinois General Assembly members can hear testimony on his proposals.

How Workers' Comp Laws Work Now

Currently, employees must prove their injury occurred during the course of their employment. Businesses often complain that this can make the responsible for covering injuries that are only semi-job-related, such as pre-existing injuries that have been aggravated.

Rauner is proposing to tighten standards so employees must prove that their job was a "major contributing cause" of their injury. Similar efforts to tighten this standard were proposed in 2011, but were blocked by labor unions.

When an employee is injured, their case goes before a board of arbitrators who decide how much and what type of benefits they will receive. Arbiters are licensed attorneys who undergo routine training on ethics, fraud, and best medical practices. At present, these arbitrators use five different factors to determine the award, including medical records, physician notes, and American Medical Association (AMA) Guidelines.

Rauner is hoping to give arbitrators the ability to use AMA guidelines as the ONLY factor in determining how much injured workers are paid. Obviously, this would make workers extremely vulnerable, as their benefits would not be determined by the unique circumstances of their case, but by blanket, standardized guidelines.

House Speaker Madigan explained this perfectly by saying "numbers on paper alone can't tell the full story of men and women who are hurt at work through no fault of their own ... these workers and their families ... deserve to have their voices heard." Injured workers face massive medical bills, lost wages, and potentially losing their life's savings. Most Illinoisans do not have the resources to see the best doctors, physical therapists or home health aides, or furnish their homes with medical tools.

Rauner is also proposing to cut doctor and hospital reimbursements by another 30% - in addition to the 2011 cuts, which slashed reimbursements by 30%. The Illinois Hospital Association warns that this would impact the quality of care injured workers receive. Less medical care means more people put in nursing homes at the cost of taxpayers - the effects of this are not hard to predict. It would merely shift the responsibility of caring for injured workers onto taxpayers instead of the company that caused the injury.

Continue reading "Rauner Proposes Workers' Compensation Reform " »

Rise in Bicycle vs. Car Hit-and-Runs

April 27, 2015,

cyclist-1059798-m.jpgA recent study by University of California at Berkeley found that hit-and-run fatalities are more likely to occur in the West and Midwest. As warm weather approaches, our team of bicycle accident attorneys examines why hit-and-runs are on the rise and what can be done to stop it.

The reason hit-and-runs are more common in Western and Midwestern states is multi-faceted; cities in these states are far less dense, making the possibility of no witnesses more likely. These states also have much more expansive infrastructure, with long stretches of high-speed-limit roads without lights and signs to dictate behavior.

Unfortunately, cyclists have the odds stacked against them on the road. Riders need to know the laws and abide by them, as do drivers and pedestrians, to keep the roads safe. The truth is, a motorist driving recklessly will do far more harm than a cyclist behaving recklessly; when a crash occurs, cyclists bear the brunt of the impact regardless of who was at fault.

In places like Colorado and California, the rise in cyclist hit-and-runs is particularly troubling, as these states have some of the highest rates of cyclists in the country. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of hit-and-run crashes involving cyclists rose 42%. According to data compiled by the LA Times, the majority of these crashes occurred in five neighborhoods: North Hollywood, Long Beach, Van Nuys, downtown Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.

In nearly all parts of the U.S. bicycles are considered "vehicles" under the law, and must abide by all rules of the road. In the worst scenarios - such as the fatal accident between a biker and pedestrian in San Francisco in 2012 - cyclists may be charged with felony vehicular manslaughter.

In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 49,000 cycling-related injuries (and many, many more unreported) and more than 725 deaths. Most fatal crashes occur at intersections, and at night.

Studies and general experience show that the greater number of cyclists on the road, the safer streets become. It makes riders more visible to motorists, as drivers become more used to negotiating space with cyclists. One university study showed that accidents involving cyclists and motorists were less likely to occur when more than 200 riders traveled through it each day.

Another university study found that drivers involved in hit-and-runs are most likely to be male, young and have prior convictions. Alcohol also plays a major factor in deciding to flee the scene of an accident. Unfortunately, types of hit-and-runs are among the most difficult cases for law enforcement to solve.

Below are some tips for cyclists involved in car collisions

• Record the license plate number, or as much of it as possible on paper, or take a picture of it.

• Get off the road and call 911. Describe the car as accurately as possible. If the driver fled the scene, tell the dispatcher which direction the car was going and any physical attributes of the driver.

• Stay calm, some drivers may be intimidated by an angry victim and decide to flee.

Continue reading "Rise in Bicycle vs. Car Hit-and-Runs" »

10 Oil Worker Deaths Attributed to Hydrocarbon Chemicals

April 22, 2015,

b19industry042.jpgGovernment agencies recently acknowledged a pattern among oil worker fatalities, which were previously ruled natural deaths by heart failure. The stunning similarities among these deaths are forcing industry insiders to consider the role of hydrocarbon chemicals in these fatalities.

At least ten oil-field workers have suddenly died on top of or near storage tanks in the past few years, with six fatalities in 2014 alone. There were no witnesses to these men's deaths, all of which were initially attributed to natural causes. All ten workers died while taking oil samples or tank gauging, a task that involves opening a hatch and climbing on top of a catwalk between rows of storage tanks to measure the levels of oil and byproducts after fracking is completed.

Tank gauging is typically done every few hours alone in remote areas. When the worker opens the hatch, hydro chemicals that have vaporized and built up in the tanks burst through the hatch in an invisible but dense plume. When inhaled in large quantities, hydrocarbon chemicals can cause immediate asphyxiation and heart failure.

All ten workers were found dead on the catwalks near storage tanks they were testing - all were relatively young, not in the age range of high heart failure risk. Yet all deaths were attributed to natural heart failure, though a few have retroactively attributed the cause of death to hydrocarbons.

What Is Being Done?

Acknowledging the pattern between these deaths, federal agencies and industry groups plan to send a joint alert to the oil industry, warning of the risk of inhaling hydrocarbon chemicals. New recommendations for how to work with storage tanks are also expected - insiders state the industry has been ignoring warning the risks for years.

The CDC first recognized the pattern in May 2014. In one small sample, federal investigators found some of the chemicals vaporizing in the tanks exceeded levels that could cause death or permanent health effects. Evidence like this proves that both government and industry insiders knew the tank emissions could be dangerous, yet companies failed to require workers to monitor chemical levels.

A former industrial hygienist told the Wall Street Journal that he tried to get workers into safety respirators as early as 2009, but industry executives refused his requests, telling him this was how everyone else did it.

A safety consultant for North Dakota oil companies said that, from his perspective, there is "no question," that the risk of dangerously toxic fumes "was absolutely known" by the companies.

There are several ways employers can control exposure, including providing protective equipment, applying administrative or engineering controls, or substituting a less hazardous chemical. Safety fixes to reduce chemical hazards are commonplace in other countries, such as Canada, with large oil producing industries.

One method that is used regularly in other countries is using automated or remote methods to read tank levels, instead of having live workers check the gauges. Of course, this adds cost to the process. In investigation related to a worker death, Marathon Oil was found to be using pipes that were too narrow to properly measure the pressure of gas coming through them. This created an excess of gas buildup in the tanks.

In a lawsuit regarding his death, an environmental engineer for the company said he asked Marathon to redesign some of its piping systems so there would be a more steady flow, but was ignored. Marathon Oil took no responsibility for the death of 21-year-old Dustin Bergsing and did not admit liability, ultimately settling with Bergsing's family out of court. More on Bergsing's death and his family's lawsuit can be found here.

Continue reading "10 Oil Worker Deaths Attributed to Hydrocarbon Chemicals " »

How Rauner's Plans for Reform will Harm Injured Illinoisians

April 20, 2015,

usg-1-262481-m.jpgIn Governor Rauner's State of the State Address in February 2015, he made direct remarks about his plans to reform the personal injury legal system in Illinois. Among his remarks, he proposed prohibiting trial lawyers from contributing to judge's campaigns. Injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins explain how this proposal would critically jeopardize the rights of injured citizens.

Not once in his campaign for governor did Rauner mention his intention for radical change in the legal system. He is now proposing to prevent trial lawyers - those advocating for injured plaintiffs against corporate wrongdoers - from contributing donations to judge's campaigns. His proposal targets trial lawyers exclusively, not defense lawyers, or counsel working on behalf of Big Business or its allies.

In Illinois, judges are chosen by popular vote, making campaigns as important as those for other public office. In recent years, these judicial elections have become as expensive as any other campaigns, forcing candidates to rely on outside supporters. Judicial elections are also dominated by Big Business including insurance companies and others who make no secret of electing judges who will decide in favor of corporations at the expense of everyday citizens.

Affecting Real People

To put this in realistic terms, let's say someone catastrophically injured by a pharmaceutical drug chose to sue Pfizer. This patient now suffers a severe disabiliy and is largely unable to work because of it. Because of a defective drug, they require a lifetime of medical care, with little to no money to pay for it. This is already a David-and-Goliath scenario.

Rauner is now proposing to prevent the lawyers representing this injured plaintiff from making campaign contributions to judges. His proposal would not, however, prevent the lawyer defending Pfizer from making contributions. This is not only corrupt and immoral, but it is plainly unconstitutional. It is preventing a member of society from participating in democracy based on their profession.

In other parts of his speech, Rauner stated that workers' compensation and liability costs needed to be reformed. Illinois has one of the most worker-friendly compensation systems in the country, which Big Business views as an immense threat to wealth. Millionaires and billionaires like Rauner disapprove of the plaintiff-friendly nature of our courts because it properly compensates injured workers, instead of keep the lower and middle classes in their place.

Insurance companies, Big Pharma, and nursing home corporate owners are all allies of Rauner. In fact, Rauner was recently involved in a scandal for his work with a decrepit nursing home chain in Florida. The nursing homes were responsible for numerous deaths and atrocious injuries and named Rauner's firm, GTCR, as helping mastermind the nursing home's operations.

The nursing home chain, Trans Healthcare, was hit with $1 billion in liability after several deaths and rampant resident abuse claims. GTCR, Rauner's firm, co-founded Trans Healthcare in 1998. Rauner sat on the nursing home chain's board for four years, during the time Trans was actively and knowingly understaffing its facilities to boost profits. More on this scandal can be found here.

Rauner and his firm depended entirely on defense attorneys to get them out of this $1 billion liability. Is it any surprise that now, with his new election to governor, he is supporting those lawyers, judges and special interest groups that stood beside him? In doing so, he is muting the voices of those who need their rights protected the most: the elderly, sick, injured, and poor.

Continue reading "How Rauner's Plans for Reform will Harm Injured Illinoisians " »

Virus Hits Two Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships

April 15, 2015,

cruise-ship-1193456-m.jpgMore than 200 passengers aboard two Royal Caribbean cruise ships have been infected with norovirus, causing the ships to dock for medical care. Cruise ship injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explain how personal injury cases are argued against cruise lines.

Both ships have docked in the U.S., one in San Diego and the other in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after massive outbreaks of norovirus. Norovirus infection is highly contagious and is most often spread through contaminated food and water, or through close contact with an infected person. Symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea, and can last one to three days.

Cruise ships are common places of norovirus infection, as it most frequently occurs in closed and contained environments. The CDC requires cruise ships to report the total number of illnesses onboard before ships may arrive at a U.S. port. Outbreaks are posted on the CDC's website, here, when they meet certain criteria. So far in 2015 there have been five outbreaks in ships arriving in the U.S.

Some passengers on the Celebrity Infinity line told reporters they believed the virus came from a port in Guatemala. The CDC sent crews aboard both ships to determine the cause of the outbreak.

In some people, particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, norovirus can cause malnutrition, dehydration, and even death. Recovery depends on the strength of the individual's immune system, as there is no specific treatment for norovirus infection.

Cruise Ship Injury Claims

Cruise ship litigation is much more complex than regular personal injury claims, as they fall under maritime law. Common injuries on ships include falls, sexual assaults, battery, medical negligence, and injuries during shore excursions. Maritime law requires that cruise lines exercise reasonable care for passenger safety.

Most cruise passenger tickets have a one-year statute of limitations for filing an injury claim, meaning the claim must be officially filed within one year from when the injury occurred. Each cruise line is different, but most tickets - which serve as passenger contracts with the line - require that lawsuit notices must be made within six months of the incident.

These are two small but very important details. Many if not most passengers do not read the detailed contracts on the back of the tickets and wait too long to notify the cruise line or hire an injury attorney, preventing them from collecting any damages whatsoever.

In many ways, however, injury claims against cruise ships are similar to other injury cases. Plaintiffs must prove that the injury they suffered was legitimate and occurred as a result of the cruise line's negligence. To prove this there must be detailed factual records, such as accident reports, eyewitness statements, photographs, and medical records.

Cruise tickets also may reference a treaty called the Athens Convention. This only applies to ships that do not ever dock in a U.S. port. The U.S. has not ratified the Athens Conventions, so it does not apply if the cruise itinerary ever included a U.S. port.

If the cruise was entirely foreign, the Athens Convention limits damages plaintiffs can receive to about $70,000 per person. This applies to damages suffered due to the cruise ship's neglect or fault - any behavior that was intentional or reckless would not be subject to this limit.

Continue reading "Virus Hits Two Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships" »

Pacemaker, Pain Pump Companies Face Lawsuits

April 7, 2015,

pacemaker-799205-m.jpgTwo medical device companies are facing multi-million dollar lawsuits over claims filed by injured patients. One company is defending itself against allegations that it implanted pacemakers unnecessarily; the other is accused of injuring patients by selling pain pumps for off-label uses. Medical device lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail these two cases.

In addition to the injury lawsuits, both companies are also facing charges by their insurance companies. The insurers claim they were tricked into providing coverage for the injury lawsuits. The pain pump seller recently settled with its insurer for $10 million, while the complaints against the pacemaker company are pending.

$28 Million Pacemaker Suit

The pacemaker lawsuits are against Biotronik Inc., for conspiring with a doctor in New Mexico to implant pacemakers unnecessarily. The first suit, filed in November 2010, resulted in a $65 million judgement against the company, which was eventually reduced to $28 million. The second lawsuit is still ongoing.

Plaintiffs accuse Biotronik and a doctor in New Mexico, Demosthenes Klonis, of intentionally implanting pacemakers in patients who did not need them in a scheme to increase the number of Biotronik devices in patients. Patients obviously suffered immense harm from this intentional wrongdoing.

In December 2014 Biotronik informed its two insurance companies of the lawsuits against it, requesting coverage for the legal costs. The insurance companies filed a complaint, saying they owed no coverage or duty to Biotronik since the policy specifically states that they will not cover any claims resulting from intentional injuries.

The insurers state that Biotronik's conduct was intentionally harmful, and that the injuries suffered by plaintiffs were expected or intended by Biotronik. They also argue that it took Biotronik four years to notify them of the suits, so the claims should also be time-barred.

Biotronik is facing two other injury lawsuits due to its pacemakers; the company also recently agreed to pay nearly $5 million to settle allegations that it paid kickbacks to doctors as incentives to use its medical devices.

$10 Million Pain Pump Suit

The medical device distributor DJO Global is also snared in court over its poor business practices. The company is facing lawsuits for selling pain pumps for off-label uses, resulting in injuries to patients. The first suit was filed in 2006 by a patient who accused DJO of marketing the pumps, which distribute anesthetics through a catheter, for uses not approved by the FDA. Specifically, for use in shoulder or knee joints after an operation.

Three years after the first pain pump injury lawsuit was filed, DJO applied for a $10 million excess coverage policy from the insurance company Ironshore, stating that the personal injury lawsuits it was facing only involved defective product claims. Ironshore argued that, had it known DJO was actually accused of intentionally injuring patients, it never would have provided coverage.

Ironshore's complaint also alleged that DJO failed to disclose that it was being accused of marketing the pain pumps for non-FDA-approved use in shoulder and knee joints. Ironshore and DJO recently agreed to an undisclosed settlement, in which Ironshore agreed to drop the charges.

In 2012, several pain pump manufacturers, including DJO, were hit with a False Claims Act lawsuit for marketing the devices off-label. The other accused companies were Stryker, I-Flow, and Orthofix International. The orthopedic surgeon who filed the complaint said the use of pain pumps in joints caused a "startling number" of shoulder complications among patients.

Continue reading "Pacemaker, Pain Pump Companies Face Lawsuits " »

3 Workers Killed in Raleigh Scaffolding Collapse

March 26, 2015,

3543576755_56ddb921a8_o.jpgA scaffolding accident in the Charter Square building in Raleigh, North Carolina recently killed three construction workers and serious injured one other. Work accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins have decades of experience handling these types of cases, and are here to help injured workers receive maximum damages.

The accident in Raleigh occurred when workers were dismantling part of a mast climber system in the Charter Square building on Fayetteville Street. Mast climbers are elevator-like platforms that allow workers to perform their duties on the facades of buildings at a comfortable angle. Mast climbers must be carefully designed and implemented; if it is incorrectly secured to the building or improperly loaded with materials the system can fail.

One of the non-injured workers was performing duties under the mast climber when he heard a popping sound and his coworkers shouting for others to run away. Seconds later, he heard a loud crash as the system collapsed, according to news reports. The wreckage landed on the portable restrooms, killing one man inside.

The work being done on the 243,000-square-foot Charter Square building is contracted by Choate Construction, which was hired by Dominion Realty Partners. The company responsible for the mast climber system was a subcontractor, however, called Associated Scaffolding. Workers for that company were in the process of dismantling the mast climbers when the accident occurred. Two workers fatally injured were employed by Janna Wall Inc, a company specializing in thin glass or metal walls.

It is not yet known what caused the collapse, though officials with the state's Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHA) took control of the construction site to conduct an investigation. The investigation could take between three to six months. The only known facts are that a support structure for the mast climber system failed near the building's fifth floor, falling into the performing arts center parking lot on Lenoir Street.

Mast climbers have been used since the early 1980s for work on external walls, commonly to install windows and other glasswork. Although accidents are rare, when they do occur they cause devastating injuries and deaths. In the two decades between 1990 and 2010, at least 18 fatalities have occurred in mast climber accidents.

The system in Raleigh involved a wide platform that was bolted to the building by a central structure. According to North Carolina law, a qualified inspector must examine mast climber systems on a daily basis. These inspections are typically conducted by equipment owners rather than state or federal officials.

OSHA investigators will try to determine whether a qualified person designed the mast climber system, if weight-load limits were being followed, and whether a competent employee inspected it daily. Choate Construction, the contracting company at the lead of this project, works on job site across the Southeast and is Dominion Realty Partners' lead contractor.

Work Zone Fatalities

Another Southern state, Texas, recently made national news for an unfortunate headline. In 2014 Texas had far and away the most work zone crash fatalities of any state. More than 145 people died in work zone automobile crashes last year, a 20% increase from the year before.

Continue reading "3 Workers Killed in Raleigh Scaffolding Collapse " »

Listeria Deaths Traced to Ice Cream

March 19, 2015,

140830811_c8d99c866c_b.jpgA Listeria outbreak that has led to three deaths is being traced to ice creams produced at the Blue Bell Creamery in Texas. The deaths occurred at a hospital in Wichita, Kansas, where contaminated Blue Bell Creamery ice cream was served to patients. Food injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail this outbreak.

The FDA released a Safety Alert on March 13, 2015, detailing all the information it had on the outbreak. In the Alert, the agency noted that four rare strains of Listeria were found in three Blue Bell Creamery products: the Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich, single-serving Scoops ice cream, and the Great Divide Bar.

All patients exposed to Listeria at the hospital were served pre-packaged, single-serving products and milkshakes made from these Blue Bell products. All those affected are adults. Blue Bell has removed the affected products from the market and shut down the production line where the contamination occurred.

Any of these Blue Bell products purchased before the recall may be contaminated with Listeria, however. Listeria is among the most dangerous foodborne pathogens and can be fatal, particularly in certain vulnerable groups. High-risk groups include pregnant women, the elderly, small children, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of Listeria poisoning include: fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, chills, and gastrointestinal issues. These symptoms can appear a few days to a few weeks after consuming the contaminated food.

Blue Bell Creameries has removed the following products from market:

• 12 pack No Sugar Added Mooo Bars
• 6 pack Cotton Candy Bars
• 6 pack Sour Pop Green Apple Bars
• Almond Bars
• Chocolate Chip Country Cookie
• Cotton Candy Bar
• Great Divide Bar
• Scoops
• Sour Pop Green Apple Bar
• Vanilla Stick Slices

It is important that anyone who has purchased these products discard them immediately.

Listeria Lawsuits

Because Listeria is so dangerous, lawsuits over food contaminations are not uncommon. By far the deadliest Listeria outbreak occurred in 2011, when at least 33 people died from eating cantaloupe contaminated is Listeria. The Colorado farm responsible for the outbreak, Jensen Farms, was shut down and the owners pled guilty to introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. Each of the owners was fined $150,000 and 100 hours of community service in restitution. Investigators determined that the cantaloupes were contaminated by dirty water on the floor of Jensen Farms' packing house and on old equipment.

Continue reading "Listeria Deaths Traced to Ice Cream" »

Veterans without Legal Protection Forced into Financial Frauds, Schemes

March 17, 2015,

medal-of-honor-ssg-salvatore-giunta-united-states-army.jpgAmerican military service members face a multitude of hurdles when they return home from duty: PTSD, acclimation back to daily life, familial issues, and finding adequate work, to name just a few. Lesser known are the financial struggles, often ending in illegal repossessions and seizures of assets. The injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail how our laws and court systems are failing to protect our veterans from financial fraud.

This story came to our attention through an expose in the New York Times, which focused on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and how it is being violated by Corporate America. Since the Civil War, Congress has given service members various protections from repossessions and foreclosures while on active duty. In recent years the American financial industry has been illegally resisted these special protections, leaving troops and their families vulnerable to asset seizures and financial schemes.

Specifically, Corporate America - including big banks that promote the "assistance" they give to veterans - is forcing veterans into mandatory arbitration when they complain of illegal seizing. Mandatory arbitration rules are very common in financial agreements with banks and credit card companies, but service members, under the SCRA, are supposed to be protected from these private agreements.

What is Mandatory Arbitration?

Mandatory arbitration is a system of resolving legal disputes outside courtrooms. Arbitration occurs before a private lawyer (or 'arbiter') instead of judges, and arbiters are often chosen by the banks and companies. The arbiter's decisions are never made public and are always is final. Consumers enter into these agreements when they sign contracts for services, before any dispute or disagreement occurs.

Tens of millions of Americans are currently signed into mandatory arbitration agreements whether they know it or not. It is most common with credit card companies, investment advisers, banks and lenders. As mentioned, service members are supposed to have special protections from these contracts, but companies like JPMorgan Chase and the USAA are finding ways around it.

Arbitration is designed in the interest of the company, most notably because they prevent class-action lawsuits, which allow consumers harmed in similar ways to band together to file a claim. Instead, consumers have to go up against the company one by one, which few people can afford. So instead of filing broad legal challenges against illegal or unethical practices, companies are able to erase the issues entirely.

Real Harm to Real Veterans

This is severely affecting American veterans and their families. Charles Beard, an Army National Guard sergeant, for example, had his car repossessed while he was on duty in Iraq. Men came to his home in California and threatened to put his wife in jail unless she gave them the keys to their car; despite federal laws that require court orders before repossessing the vehicles of active troops.

When he returned home, Sergeant Beard attempted to take the issue to court, but his suit against the auto lender was thrown out because of the mandatory arbitration clause in his contract. This type of forced arbitration directly violates federal protection laws. It took Sergeant Bard four years to get an arbiter to rule on his case, a not-uncommon time frame for arbitration.

Any actions to stop these violations are being actively lobbied against, however. In 2013 a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans was introduced that would allow service member to opt out of arbitration and file a lawsuit. The bill was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street's lobbying group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (Sifma). The bill never made it to the floor.

The financial industry lobbied against the bill because it fears that exempting service members from arbitration would make it easier for others to gain exemption. The thinking goes, if they admit that mandatory arbitration is bad for the military, than the public would assume it was bad for them as well and challenge the entire system.

Sifma represents many financial companies that publically applaud themselves for their hiring of veterans, including the USAA, which almost entirely serves troops and their families. Sifma and other corporations claim that arbitration is less costly and more efficient than lawsuits, which they contend makes their services more affordable to consumers. There is little data to prove this, and much flat-out denying this causation.

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Mesh Injury Victim Wins $5.7 Million Jury Award

March 16, 2015,

A woman injured by Johnson & Johnson's pelvic mesh product was just awarded $5.7 million by a California jury. Mesh lawyers at Pintas & Mullins applaud the jury for its decision and explain how this case could impact others like it throughout the country.

deadly-listeria-food-poisoning-who-are-at-risk.jpg The plaintiff in this case, Coleen Perry, sued the Johnson & Johnson unit that makes mesh products, Ethicon, over the debilitating pain caused by the product. Ethicon manufactures the TVT Abbrevo mesh product and the TVT-O transvaginal sling, which are subject to tens of thousands of lawsuits.

These mesh products are surgically placed in women to treat stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Unfortunately, these products were never studied for their long-term effects in humans, causing a wide range of serious, permanent, and even fatal injuries.

Perry's was the first trial over the TVT Abbrevo mesh, although many other mesh lawsuits have been successful in court. More than 70,000 women injured by various mesh products have filed lawsuits against the companies who made them, already winning millions for their horrendous injuries.

The California jury in Perry's case found Ethicon liable for the TVT Abbrevo's faulty design and for failing to warn patients and doctors about the risks. Of the $5.7 million awarded to Perry, $5 million was ordered as punitive damages, to punish Ethicon for its illegal, dangerous, and unethical behavior. The jurors stated that Ethicon's conduct was malicious and should be punished accordingly.

This is the fourth win against Ethicon over its mesh products; about 36,000 lawsuits are currently pending against the company.

Pain, Erosion, and Permanent Damage

Perry's experience with the mesh mirrors many others. Almost immediately after being implanted with the mesh in 2011, Perry started feeling a pulling-type pain in the abdominal and pelvic area. The mesh was eroding inside her, causing immense pain that doctors expect to last for the rest of her life.

Other injuries experienced by women implanted with mesh devices include: infections, repeated surgeries, organ perforation, erosion, uncontrolled bleeding, painful or impossible intercourse, and recurrence of SUI or POP.

In response to these catastrophic injuries and lawsuits, the FDA recently proposed to reclassify mesh products as "high risk devices." If this proposal is finalized, it would require all seven mesh manufacturers to provide clinical data to prove the products are safe and effective. This would only apply to products being used to treat transvaginal POP.

Over the last six years the FDA has issued repeated actions and statements over mesh products. The first was released in 2008, regarding serious complications associated with surgical mesh products. Several actions were taken in 2011 and the latest occurred in 2012, when the FDA ordered mesh companies to conduct studies that measured specific safety concerns. More information on these FDA actions can be found here, on the agency's website.

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Helmet Add-Ons Fail to Prevent Concussions

March 10, 2015,

mini-seahawk.jpgAs contentious as the recent NFL head injury lawsuit may be, it can be credited for bringing the immense dangers of contact football to public attention. Football associations across the country, from professional to peewee, have gone to great lengths to study and ultimately prevent brain trauma and other head injuries. Traumatic brain injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a look at some of the most recent developments.

One study conducted by sports neurology experts found that helmet add-ons, such as liners, external pads, or friction reducing treatments, were unlikely to reduce concussion risks. Although lab tests with four of these products did reduce linear accelerations in impacts, the effect on angular accelerations - which result in concussions - was much less significant.

Angular acceleration is believed to be the major factor involved in concussion. In this study, researchers added four products to standard football helmets for study:

• Shockstrip external pads

• Helmet Glide treatment to reduce friction

• Guardian Cap external padding system

• UnEqual Technologies energy-dispersive liner

The helmets were then dropped from five different heights, measuring the linear and angular acceleration. The study found these products did very little to effectively reduce the risk of concussion, and, at present there is no product that will prevent concussion in football.

NFL Tracks Injury Data

In 2011, the NFL started an injury surveillance program to track trends in and causes of athletic injury. The program is run by Quintiles, the world's largest biopharmaceutical contact services company, and was recently extended for another five years.

The extended program will track data using the NFL's electronic medical records system, which was implemented before the 2014-15 season. It will also use clinical study data, media reports, and existing medical claims to track injuries. Quintiles executives told reporters that the program is focused on understanding the patterns of injury occurrence in players, in effort to promote player health.

The NFL, along with college and school-aged football programs, are attempting to try to understand when and why brain injuries occur and determine what can be changed to prevent them. In 2013, the NFL contributed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for brain injury research. Another $100 million for research was promised as part of the settlement with the players' association.

Football is not the only sport associated with significant, life-changing brain injuries. Snowboardng, soccer, wrestling, and even baseball show the highest number of head injuries treated in emergency rooms. The top 10 sports-related head injury causes are:

1. Cycling

2. Football

3. Baseball and softball

4. Basketball

5. Skateboarding and scooters

6. Water sports

7. Soccer

8. Powered recreational vehicles

9. Winter sports

10. Trampolines

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UnitedHealth Tightens Rules on Hysterectomies

March 3, 2015,

14287831848_b7a01e153b_c.jpgThe country's largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, recently announced that it was tightening the rules around hysterectomies and the use of power morcellators. Doctors will not have to gain specific authorization to perform surgeries with morcellators, which are now linked to uterine cancer. Our team of uterine cancer lawyers details these new rules.

Starting in April 2015, doctors in United's network will have to get authorization before performing a hysterectomy with a power morcellator. Other types of hysterectomies, such as vaginal hysterectomies performed on an outpatient basis, will not require pre-approval.

Putting Lives at Risk

UnitedHealth is that latest company to take action against the medical devices known as a laparoscopic power morcellator. The problems with these devices became a topic of public debate in 2013, when an esteemed physician, Dr. Amy Reed, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of uterine cancer after undergoing a power morcellation surgery.

Neither Dr. Reed nor her doctors knew she had cancerous uterine cells before the surgery, but the power morcellator spread the cancer throughout her uterus and significantly worsened her likelihood of survival. Power morcellators work by cutting fibroids and other tissue with tiny spinning blades so they can be easily removed through a small incision. Fibroids often contain cancerous cells, which are spread throughout the uterus when cut up by the power morcellators, worsening the prognosis and survival outcome.

Worsening the issue, there is no reliable method to test for uterine cancer presence before surgery because the cancer cells live in the thick muscle or tissue of the uterus, making testing nearly impossible. Medical experts have tried for years to develop better testing methods, to no avail.

This type of procedure was offered to women as the most minimally-invasive option for hysterectomies and myomectomies. Recovery takes between two and four weeks, and patients are able to be back home the same day and return to normal life much faster than with traditional surgery, making it a tempting option for busy women.

Like thousands of other women, Dr. Reed was never told the morcellation surgery could spread hidden cancer, and the risk was not included in the informed consent papers. About 500,000 hysterectomies are performed every year, only 10 -15% of which are vaginal procedures performed on an outpatient basis, which is the only method that UnitedHealth will fully allow.

Outpatient vaginal hysterectomies do not use power morcellators and are considered the least invasive and least expensive method. Doctors believe this procedure is underused because it is not emphasized enough in medical training. Now that UnitedHealth is allowing only this type of hysterectomy to be performed without pre-approval, many are hoping it will spur broad clinical changes and hopefully improve training.

More than 40 million Americans are insured under UnitedHealth, and the insurer is trying to do more for their customers to ensure they received the safest, most effective treatment. Outpatient vaginal hysterectomies are not only the safest and most efficient, but the least expensive as well. According to the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, these surgeries cost about $7,900, while power morcellation hysterectomies average around $11,500, and robot-assisted hysterectomies cost around $13,400.

It can take days or weeks to get authorization from insurers for procedures, which can drag on evn longer if the company would like the doctor to consult one of their own medical experts. This new policy does not, however, cover hysterectomies for cancer treatment purposes.

Morcellation procedures have become so popular due in large part to the lobbying of medical device manufacturers. Companies like Johnson & Johnson often send sales teams out to hospitals and incentivize doctors to use their products, marketing devices like morcellators to doctors as a high-tech tool that will make the surgery easier.

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Medical Device Infecting Patients with "Super Bug"

February 27, 2015,

The FDA recently warned health care providers that improperly sterilized scopes are infecting patients with deadly, drug-resistant bacteria. The so-called "super bug" has already killed dozens of patients and caused hundreds others to fall ill. Medical device lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail this outbreak below.

5080768357_4076960131_o.gif The drug-resistant family of bacteria is known as CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) typically infect patients in hospitals and nursing homes - and particularly patients dependent on catheters or breathing tubes. The deaths and injuries associated with CRE have occurred at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Southern California and the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.

The duodenoscopes at the center of this outbreak have crevices and parts that are extremely difficult to reach with cleaning brushes, making total disinfecting almost impossible. These scopes are inserted into patients' throats, down into the stomach and small intestines to diagnose and treat liver, bile duct and pancreas diseases. About 500,000 of these types of procedures are performed each year in the U.S.

When these devices are not properly disinfected, bodily fluids and debris can remain on the scopes, exposing any patients undergoing an endoscopic procedure thereafter to contamination and infection. About 180 UCLA patients who underwent this procedure between October 2014 and January 2015 have been notified of their possible exposure.

CRE germs affect bodily systems broadly, infecting patients who are otherwise healthy and able-bodied. If CRE spreads, it can affect patients even with minor infections, like UTIs or small cuts, and cause fatal complications. Unfortunately, CRE is becoming increasingly common in American hospitals.

Currently, CRE infects about 9,300 people in the U.S. every year and kills about 610 patients. Whenever a CRE infection is confirmed, hospitals take aggressive measures to contain the bug, including: isolating patients, dedicating specific rooms, staff and equipment, and requiring higher hand-washing standards for staff.

Government Action

On February 19 the FDA issued a safety alert stating it was closely monitoring the situation and the association between these duodenoscopes and the infection of drug-resistant bacteria. The agency reportedly received about 75 complaints over the last two years regarding these duodenoscopes and bacterial infections in more than 130 patients. Almost all infections were resistant to antibiotic treatments.

The agency is stopping shy of issuing a national duodenoscope recall, since there are no alternative devices hospitals can use to treat and diagnose diseases of the liver, bile duct and pancreas. Three manufacturers sell these devices: Olympus, Fujifilm, and Pentax Medical. Nevertheless, members of congress are urging the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on the outbreak.

The deaths in Seattle also caught the attention of Congress, enacting Washington senators who urged the FDA to provide better guidance on sanitation practices.

Injury Lawsuits Being Filed

The medical scope at the center of California outbreak is made by Olympus America, who was just hit with a lawsuit by an injured patient. The patient, Aaron Young, is alleging that Olympus failed to instruct UCLA Medical Center on how to properly disinfect the duodenoscopes. Olympus is being targeted because the hospital reportedly did sterilize the scopes according to the company's standards.

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