Asbestos litigation, drug-delivery errors, toxic mold hysteria, and more top nat�l news
The following capsule summaries of national news of interest to trial lawyers were preared by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America from news outlets across the U.S. for distribution to ATLA members. The majority of these stories are dated from the week of September 19, 2002. For more details on these stories, please refer to the news sources attributed.
Asbestos��Miracle mineral� exacts painful, long-term price
Decades after death and disease were connected to inhaling asbestos, Georgia-Pacific remains ensnarled in the biggest product liability disaster ever. According to reports in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and The Wall Street Journal, Georgia-Pacific defends its use of the fiber in the 1960s and 70s, saying it never knowingly harmed anyone. Asbestos composed a small part of Georgia-Pacific�s formulas �- less than 10 percent in most cases, according to the company. Company executives said that wasn�t enough to harm the home builders and handymen who used the products. Georgia-Pacific was hit with its first asbestos-related lawsuit in the late 1970s, and the company has been in court ever since. So far, more than 314,000 people have claimed Georgia-Pacific�s asbestos products made them sick, and there�s another wave of victims waiting in the wings. Asbestos-related illnesses can take up to 50 years to surface, so people who were exposed in the late 1970s could be claiming injuries for years to come. Today, most of the 41,000 people who sue Georgia-Pacific in an average year are construction workers who claim they got sick on job sites after breathing dust from joint compounds. Some are the wives of workers who brought asbestos home on dusty work clothes. And some are consumers who used the products in home remodeling projects. But Georgia-Pacific�s largest asbestos-related payment, paid this year after a lengthy appeals battle, went to someone who said she was sickened simply by being near dust from the joint compound. After deliberating only three hours, the six-member jury found Georgia-Pacific negligent for making an �unreasonably dangerous product� and awarded Lisa Finkle $9.2 million, the largest award ever against Georgia-Pacific in an asbestos case.
Health/Hospitals�Study reveals drug-delivery errors in hospitals
According to The Associated Press, an average of more than 40 potentially harmful drug errors per day were found in hospitals in a new study on a worrisome problem that regulators are working to remedy. The most common errors were giving hospitalized patients medication at the wrong time or not at all, researchers found in the study of 36 hospitals and nursing homes in Colorado and Georgia. Errors occurred in nearly one of five doses in a typical, 300-bed hospital, which translates to about two errors per patient daily. The new study highlights a specific point in the process of delivering a drug to a patient: �administering errors� made by nurses or other hospital staff members after a doctor has properly prescribed a drug. The study follows an announcement by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations that six safety standards will be required starting in January to reduce medical errors.
Employment Law�Workers� Compensation claimant keeps benefits
In South Hills Health System v. Workers� Compensation Appeal Board, when an employer who has not offered a specific job to a workers� compensation claimant seeks modification of benefits based on earning power, the employer must demonstrate that its evaluation of the claimant�s earning potential was based on positions actually open and available to the claimant, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled in an issue of first impression, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
Family Law� Bench to teen: You be the judge
In Meldrum v. Novotny, a South Dakota judge accepted a 13-year-old boy�s proposal, allowing the teenager to decide whether he will live with his biological father or the former boyfriend of his deceased mother, reported The National Law Journal on Sept. 13. Timmie Meldrum�s attorney said, �This is an unusual case, perhaps just...a blip, but may lend itself as an example that could be followed later.�
Insurance�Insurance rates to rise further as risks grow, executives warn
Don�t expect any relief from the skyrocketing insurance rates of the past year. According to The Wall Street Journal, that is the message from top executives in the reinsurance industry�the handful of powerful financial-services firms that provide a means of spreading risk to the world�s life and property-casualty insurers. They met the week of Sept. 9 for their annual industry conference in Monaco and warned of aggressive rate increases to come. �The price of risk has moved up,� said Jacques Blondeau, chief executive of French reinsurance group Scor SA. �If you are not prepared to pay the price, you�re not going to get cover,� he adds. Such tough talk means reinsurers are looking to raise prices and tighten conditions on the contracts they will be negotiating with the insurance companies during the next few months.
Medical Malpractice�Suit challenges state law on malpractice
U.S. News & World Report, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Westlaw Highlights report that North Carolina�s Supreme Court recently heard a landmark case that will determine who can file medical malpractice lawsuits. At issue is the constitutionality of a state law requiring people suing doctors to first line up a medical expert on their side who will say a mistake was made. The law, passed in 1995, was meant to weed out so-called �frivolous� medical malpractice claims, which the restriction�s proponents say tie up courts and drive up the cost of medicine unnecessarily. Critics say the law illegally denies people access to court and sets a higher standard for alleging medical malpractice than any other injury. They also complain that it forces injured people to prove their case before they can get access to information that might help them make it.
Georgia judge faces issue of �wrongful abortion�
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled three years ago that state law did not allow for medical malpractice suits claiming �wrongful births� � cases brought by parents who would have terminated pregnancies had doctors warned them of foreseeable birth defects. According to the Fulton County Daily Report, a panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals recently heard arguments about a claim for what could be called �wrongful abortion,� and sounded ready to order the case to trial in Breyne v. Potter.
Miscellaneous�Federal judges ponder future of secret settlement
The Miami Daily Business Review reported on Sept. 12 that South Florida�s federal district court judges gathered recently to consider whether to join South Carolina�s federal judges in banning secret settlements in civil lawsuits, a move strongly opposed by the insurance industry. The nation�s courts have been dogged recently about sealed agreements and documents that, if not sealed, might have sounded early alarms about pedophile priests, bad doctors and dangerous consumer products.
It�s everywhere: Tales about rampant toxic mold
The impression that toxin-producing molds are rampant and more virulent than ordinary molds�an impression created by some news reports and on the Internet, often on sites operated by companies that sell mold tests, cleanup systems or legal services�may not be supported by evidence. A Sept. 17 report in The Washington Post said that some who have studied the issue say there is little conclusive evidence that mold toxins in the home or office (as opposed to an overabundance of ordinary mold) can cause serious harm to humans. �Mold is everywhere,� said Gailen Marshall, director of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. �For most, mold is a mostly ignored part of their lives. For some with mold allergies, the smell can cause nasal allergy or even asthma symptoms. Yet what is increasingly clear is that their mold-related illness has nothing to do with toxic substances produced by molds.� Several widely publicized cases of �killer mold� have drawn headlines, in part, because real toxins are involved. In reality, they involve vast growths of ordinary mold, too: Entertainer Ed McMahon filed a $20 million lawsuit against his insurance company and contractors after a broken pipe in his Beverly Hills mansion left widespread mold growth that allegedly sickened him and his wife and killed his dog, Muffin. A jury awarded $32 million in damages after mold took over a Texas family�s mansion. After mold caused $600,000 worth of damage in her new home, activist-cum-celebrity Erin Brockovich lobbied for California�s Toxic Mold Protection Act last year. Insurers are being inundated with mold claims, which cost them more than $1.2 billion for repairs and litigation last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Farmer�s Insurance Group, which is appealing that $32 million judgment in Texas, paid $85 million for mold claims in 2001. The III says about 10,000 mold-related lawsuits are pending nationwide, a 300 percent increase since 1999.
FTC assails deception in weight-loss ads
Ads for billions of dollars of diet products and services sold each year often include false, misleading and exaggerated claims that promise rapid, effortless weight loss and unachievable goals, according to a government report. The Washington Post reported with nearly 70 million Americans trying to lose weight or to prevent weight gain at any given time, these rampant, deceptive claims not only waste money but also place some consumers at risk, according to the Federal Trade Commission report. �We have known for some time now that there is a serious problem with weight-loss product advertising,� said FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris. �This report demonstrates the extent of that problem.� Since 1990, the FTC has filed 93 cases challenging false and misleading weight-loss claims involving over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, commercial weight-loss centers, weight-loss devices and exercise equipment.
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