Putting A Price On Life

May 14, 2007,

Here is a moving story printed at cbs2.com:

"In a shocking report, more people die from medical mistakes each year than from highway accidents, breast cancer or AIDS. And in California, a little known law puts a price tag on what the state says your life is worth. Now, a Simi Valley family blames a local hospital's errors for robbing their daughter of her young and innocent life.

"She died in my arms," Jodi Gonzalez said. "The doc kept coming over and putting the stethoscope to her heart. 'Why do you keep doing that?' She said, 'The heart is still beating and we have to record the time of death.' See, she didn't want to die."

In the very same UCLA hospital Delaney Lucille Gonzalez was born in, just 16 months later, the toddler would die in.

"The next thing you are at the mortuary, you are picking out little coffins for your daughter… little coffins for your daughter," said Delaney's father Daniel Gonzalez.

Delaney was with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes physical abnormalities of the head and face.

The Gonzalez family never treated their bouncing baby girl, they lovingly nicknamed "Laney the ladybug," any different."

Purdue Pharmacuetical Settles Oxycotin Claims

May 11, 2007,

"Purdue Pharma has agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and Washington, D.C., to settle claims that the company promoted its painkiller OxyContin for off-label uses, the company announced on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 5/9). According to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and state Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Purdue also allegedly violated FDA rules by promoting OxyContin for use every eight hours, rather than the approved dosage of every 12 hours (Hathaway, Hartford Courant, 5/9).

The states allege that Purdue violated FDA rules by promoting the drug as the painkiller "to start with and the one to stay with" for a variety of pain, including from surgery and broken bones, even though the drug was approved by FDA for limited use in people who need long-term pain management. In addition, the states allege that Purdue tied the pay of its sales representatives to how much OxyContin doctors prescribed, while playing down the addictive properties of the drug (Jadhav, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5/9). The cumulative effect of such practices has led to "misuse, diversion and abuse" of OxyContin by increasing the amount of the drug in circulation, according to Blumenthal."

Read the full article at MedicalNewsToday.com

Blue Cross Settles Doctors Claims for $128 Million

"The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and more than 30 Blue Cross health plans across the country agreed yesterday to pay $128 million to settle lawsuits brought by doctors who said that they had been underpaid on insurance claims.
The settlement, which resolves class-action claims filed by more than 900,000 doctors, requires Blue Cross plans to revise claims-payment procedures and set up independent review boards to decide billing disputes, according to court documents.

Archie Lamb, a lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who represented doctors, said in a statement that the accord would “leave doctors with more time for patient care instead of dealing with what was a complex, cumbersome system.”

Read the full article in the NY Times.

Payouts in Medical Malpractice Claims Flat For Last 20 Years

" An umbrella activist group calling for insurance reform released a study Wednesday in an attempt to refute the claim that out-of-control litigation prompted medical malpractice insurance rates to skyrocket in recent years.

Americans for Insurance Reform says annual insurance industry numbers show that the amount of money paid for medical malpractice settlements, verdicts and legal defense has remained relatively flat for almost two decades, when adjusted for inflation and accounting for the growing number of doctors nationally.

According to the study — which based its findings on information from A.M. Best & Co., an insurance industry analyst firm — the total amount of money paid was almost $4.9 billion in 2005 nationally. The study calculated that to be a payout of $5,400 dollars per doctor, the lowest since 1981 when adjusted for inflation.

The study's author, a former government official, said those numbers indicate that the rising insurance rates that drove doctors to leave Madison and St. Clair counties can't be the result of the active trial bars of the Metro East area. Instead, market-related forces — poor performance in investment bonds — and bad insurance company management are to blame, said J. Robert Hunter, a former federal insurance administrator during President Gerald Ford's administration. He is now with the Consumer Federation of America.

"The insurance companies have incentives to blame the lawyers," Hunter said. "Otherwise they'd have to blame themselves for mismanagement of economic cycle."

Read the full article in the St. Louis Dispatch.

Widow of Welder Awarded $18.5 Million

"The widow of a Waxahachie man killed in an explosion at a Texas Industries Inc. plant in Midlothian was awarded $18.9 million by a Dallas jury Friday.
The verdict was the culmination of a monthlong trial in which the Dallas-based company was accused of negligence and recklessness in the death of 34-year-old Gordon Rutherford, who was working for Circle 4M Welding, a TXI contractor.

Mr. Rutherford was killed in January 2003, when a fire broke out involving a pollution-control device called a scrubber that contained "extremely hazardous and flammable materials," according to the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Mr. Rutherford's widow, Amy."

Read the full artilce in The Dallas Morning News.

FDA Places Suicide Warnings on Antidepressants

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today proposed that makers of all antidepressant medications update the existing black box warning on their products' labeling to include warnings about increased risks of suicidal thinking and behavior, known as suicidality, in young adults ages 18 to 24 during initial treatment (generally the first one to two months).

The proposed labeling changes also include language stating that scientific data did not show this increased risk in adults older than 24, and that adults ages 65 and older taking antidepressants have a decreased risk of suicidality. The proposed warning statements emphasize that depression and certain other serious psychiatric disorders are themselves the most important causes of suicide."

Read the FDA's full press release here.

Jury Awards $2.8 Million Against Allstate in Katrina Coverage Case

April 28, 2007,

"Attorneys say a federal jury that awarded more than $2.8 million to a man who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina sends a strong message to insurers who refused to pay thousands of other homeowners for damage from the storm.

"Insurers should worry about taking any case to a jury," said David Rossmiller, a Portland, Ore.-based attorney who writes a Web journal on Katrina insurance cases and other industry issues.

The U.S. District Court jury decided Monday that Allstate Insurance Co. did not pay Robert Weiss, of Slidell, enough money to cover the wind damage to his home.Allstate had claimed that most of the damage was due to storm surge, an event not covered in its policy."

Read the full article in the Boston Globe.

Texas Judge Threatens Viability of All State Vioxx Claims

April 24, 2007,

A recent ruling by Texas state court Judge Randy Wilson may be the end of nearly 1000 Texas Vioxx cases. The ruling was based on a recent FDA Administrative Rule which effectively preempts all state law failure to warn claims.

Read more at WSJ.com.

Welder Awarded $3 Million For Lung Damage

April 22, 2007,

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a jury verdict of $3 million awarded to a welder injured by welding fumes.The focus of the appeal was expert testimony by Dr. Michael Houston, whostated that the plaintiff's pulmonary and respiratory problems were caused by inhaling welding fumes. The expert further testified that the plaintiff would need to be retrained to work a job in an irritant free environment.

This is one of the few welding fume cases that the plaintiff was successful. It is interesting to note that the plaintiff focused on exposure to welding fume chemicals other than manganese.

Read the full article at LexisOne.

Details of Doctor's Past Revealed

April 20, 2007,

Many state laws keep doctor histories safe from public review. This is especially the case when considering peer review reports. However, the sketchy past of an OB/GYN doctor in Texas was revealed after a long (and ongoing) court battle.As you read the following except from TheEagle.com, keep in mind that this doctor still practices.

According to Ellison's ruling, 16 of Benson's patient charts were reviewed by ACOG in 2001, and 'all 16 were rated unsatisfactory.' Eleven charts were found to be unsatisfactory in both documentation and management, the ruling states, while three others were found to be unsatisfactory only in documentation and two were cited solely for unsatisfactory management.

'Specifically, the ACOG report cited surgery that was not indicated, poor judgment in laparoscopic procedures, not anticipating complications, poor clinical management demonstrating substandard care that does not reflect ACOG's guidelines, poor management potentially exposing the mother and infant to [physician-induced] injury and questionable surgery performed in a patient with a presumed absence of her gynecological organs,' according to a footnote in the judge's ruling.

'The ACOG report concluded that Dr. Benson's charts exhibited a trend of 'grossly inadequate documentation' and that there were consistent indications of inadequate care,' the judge wrote. 'The ACOG report also concluded that Dr. Benson appeared to be 'unwilling or unable to accept peer review as an educational process.''

New York Jury Awards $35 Million in Asbestos Claim

April 18, 2007,

" Edward Martin, an insulator, and Robert Lettiere, a boilermaker/steam fitter, alleged that they were exposed to asbestos in powerhouses by the negligent conduct of Robert A. Keasbey. Lettiere originally filed a claim for asbestosis but amended his complaint after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2005.

At trial, Keasbey argued that the men’s lung cancers were cigarette smoking-related and that they were not exposed to significant enough doses of asbestos to cause lung cancer.
But on March 22, after phase I of the reverse-bifurcated trial, the jury returned an $11 million award for Robert Lettiere for pain and suffering.

At the same time, the jury returned $26 million for Edward Martin and his wife, Bonita, including $18 million for pain and suffering; $942,850 in economic damages to Bonita Martin; $9,063 in economic damages to Edward Martin, and a loss of consortium award of $7 million."

Read the full article at LexisOne.

Judge Rules FDA Preempts State Law in Thimerosal Claims

April 16, 2007,

A federal judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled on a Thimerosal case that may have disastrous effects on those harmed by the vaccine preservative. The ruling essentially states that the FDA is the law of the land on drugs, preempting all state consumer protection laws.Considering the track record of the FDA in protecting Americans over the last 5 years, that is a frightening thought.

"The defendants raised two preemption arguments, one of express preemption under the Vaccine Act and a second of conflict preemption under the Food and Drug Administration’s position expressed Jan. 24, 2006, as the Preamble to the Final Rule. Judge Stengel disagreed with the express preemption argument, but said the legislative history of the Vaccine Act as set forth in Blackmon v. Am. Home Prods. Corp (328 F. Supp. 2d 659, 663-66 [S.D. Tex. 2004]) shows that Congress intended to preempt claims asserting strict liability and design defect based on negligence, but not failure to warn.
However, the judge ruled that failure to warn on all products is conflict preempted by the FDA’s Preamble/Final Rule, which says state laws requiring stronger or different labels conflict with the FDA’s authority over the contents of drug labels."

Read the full article at LexisOne.

Physicians and Pharma Closely Intertwined

April 14, 2007,

A recent article in Forbes magazine brings light just how embeded the pharmaceutical industry is in the medical profession.

"The ties between doctors and drug manufacturers are close indeed, with virtually all doctors reporting some kind of relationship with industry, even if it's as seemingly innocuous as accepting free food and beverage, a new study has found.
But the relationships vary depending on the kind of medical practice and specialty, the patient mix and the professional activities of the physician, according to the study, published in the April 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Over the past two decades, physician-industry relationships have attracted increasing scrutiny. One review found that, on average, physicians meet with industry representatives four times a month, and medical residents accept six gifts annually from industry representatives."

Merck Wins First Illinois Vioxx Trial

April 12, 2007,

"The high-profile trial over Vioxx late last month in Madison County was just an early skirmish in what could be years of litigation here and elsewhere over Merck & Co.'s once highly touted painkiller.

The jury, after a month-long trial, rejected pleas to slap Merck with tens of millions of dollars in damages for the 2003 death of a Granite City woman who spent 20 months on Vioxx.

Though the drugmaker's lawyers celebrated their win in a county with a reputation for being unfriendly to corporate defendants, they'll be back soon for the next Vioxx trial in Madison County, scheduled for September.

Two Vioxx trials are also set for December in the county, according to Merck's trial calendar, but those would probably be pushed off. A fourth was slated to face a jury in October but was transferred to Chicago."

Read the full article in the St. Louis Dispatch.

IBS Drug Zelnorm Taking Off the Market

April 10, 2007,

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested that Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation of East Hanover, New Jersey, voluntarily discontinue marketing of Zelnorm (tegaserod) based on the recently identified finding of an increased risk of serious cardiovascular adverse events (heart problems) associated with use of the drug. Novartis has agreed to voluntarily suspend marketing of the drug in the United States.
Zelnorm is a prescription medicine approved in July 2002 for short-term treatment of women with irritable bowel syndrome whose primary symptom is constipation. It was subsequently approved in August 2004 for treatment of chronic constipation for men and women under age 65. Zelnorm is marketed in 55 countries."

Read the full FDA news release here.