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USPS facility in Illinois cited for safety violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor cited a U.S. Postal Service facility in Champaign, Illinois for eight safety violations. The administration proposed fines of $144,000. During a June 2013 complaint inspection, inspectors found a lack of fall protection and energy control procedures that exposed employees to increased risk of work injuries.

The inspection found safety violations in the training provided for stopping equipment before clearing jams. Inspectors found that workers were exposed to amputation and laceration hazards due to the potential for unintentional operation of the conveyor while jams were being cleared.

The citations included four repeat violations, including failure to ensure that each device had a tagout or lockout device affixed by authorized employees and failure to conduct inspections of energy control procedures. Other violations included failure to ensure the uniform height of stairway risers and inadequate fall protection for workers clearing jams on a conveyor.

Three violations were cited as “serious,” meaning that there is a substantial probability that serious physical harm or death could occur as the result of a hazard of which the employer was aware or should have been aware.

The Champaign facility employs 294 workers. About 434,000 people work for the Postal Service nationwide.

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Study shows medical malpractice claims are not causing increase in health care costs

Some still argue that high payments in medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, but an examination of the facts shows that this claim is false.

Between 2000 and 2011, health care spending increased by 97 percent, but the value of medical malpractice payments decreased by 12 percent. Research shows that total medical malpractice payments have continued to decrease, that such payments account for a small percentage of health care costs and that most payments are for very serious injuries.

The nonprofit group Public Citizen reviews data on medical malpractice cases each year. In its most recent report, for 2011, the group found that medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf had dropped for the eighth consecutive year, and had reached their lowest level since 1991.

In 2013, medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf accounted for only 0.12 percent of national health care costs.

According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, 80 percent of 2011 medical malpractice payments compensated victims for serious injuries such as brain damage, quadriplegia, injuries requiring lifelong care and death.

Medical errors are a serious problem with grave consequences. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Medicare patients experience a serious adverse event that is preventable each year. In 80,000 of those cases, the error contributed to the patient’s death. In contrast, only 9,758 medical malpractice payments were made on doctors’ behalf in 2011 — all leading Public Citizen to conclude that most medical malpractice errors do not result in litigation.

Family of Junior Seau objects to NFL concussion settlement, says wrongful death claims should be treated differently

The family of Junior Seau, an NFL player who committed suicide in 2012, has objected to the league’s $760 million proposal to settle a lawsuit by thousands of former players over the risk of concussion injuries. Seau’s family said that wrongful death claims should be treated differently from injury claims.

The deal has already been rejected by a federal judge, who felt it did not allocate enough money for such a large group of plaintiffs. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, $5 million would be allocated for each former player with a diagnosis of a brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head during NFL practice and play. However, attorneys for Seau’s family said that only a minimal payment of a few thousand dollars would be available for family members of retired or deceased players.

Seau died in 2012 from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. Later studies of his brain confirmed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that results from repeated head trauma and that can cause dementia and aggressive behavior.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, has 4,500 plaintiffs. Up to 20,000 former players could eventually receive payment.

After the judge’s rejection of the NFL’s settlement offer, experts said that the league would likely have to negotiate a higher settlement. Seau’s family asked the judge to take their concerns into account in deciding on future settlement proposals.

Montreal Maine trustee rebuffs wrongful death claimants’ reorganization plan

The bankruptcy trustee for Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd said that a recent reorganization plan — filed by families of people who died when one of the company’s trains derailed and exploded — is “not a serious plan.”

Robert J. Keach, the trustee, said that the plan, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor, Maine on January 29, “will go nowhere” and is “facially non-confirmable,” according to Bloomberg News.

A group of wrongful-death claimants submitted the plan, which would allocate 75 percent of $25 million in insurance to the families of people who died in the July accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Claimants seeking compensation for property damaged in the derailment and subsequent fire would receive the other 25 percent.

Keach said that the plan relies on the assumption that insurance proceeds, a Canadian asset, could be transferred to the United States. An attorney for the official victims’ committee said that proceeds from the Canadian insurance policy would not be turned over to a U.S. court without an agreement between both countries’ courts.

Keach also said the plan would be a bad deal for the majority of claimants. He said the plan was proposed by a “splinter group” not participating in the official victims’ committee, and that it was a tactical move related to their resistance to Keach’s plan to move the wrongful death lawsuits from Illinois to Maine.

Republicans consider limits on medical malpractice lawsuits as alternative to Obamacare

Republicans have strongly criticized President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but they have struggled to articulate a common alternative vision for health care. While House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times, there has been less unity on proposals that replace it.

One proposal involves new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.

However, some Republicans oppose the concept of a big healthcare bill that would make sweeping changes. Instead, they propose a targeted approach with smaller bills that would make limited changes within Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act sets minimum standards for health insurance coverage. It requires most Americans to purchase health insurance and provides subsidies for low-income people to get coverage. Opponents have criticized the legislation as government interference in the marketplace.

Many states have passed legislation limiting the amount of non-economic damages, such as those for pain and suffering, that can be recovered in lawsuits over medical malpractice. In other states, including Illinois, such limits have been ruled unconstitutional. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has ruled that punitive damages in any lawsuit may not exceed compensatory damages by a ratio of more than nine to one.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Caseyville nursing home

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a Caseyville nursing home over the death of a resident who developed gangrene and had her leg amputated.

Stephanie Strickland filed the lawsuit in St. Clair County Circuit Court as the special administrator of Carolyn Strickland’s estate. The defendant is Caseyville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Inc.

The lawsuit claims that while Carolyn Strickland was a resident of the nursing home, she received negligent care and developed osteomyelitis, ulcers and gangrene, which necessitated the amputation of her leg. The lawsuit also claims that she developed a post-surgical wound infection and sepsis, which contributed to her death.

The lawsuit claims that the nursing home was negligent in caring for Strickland. Stephanie Strickland, her daughter, is seeking over $50,000 in damages. She is currently represented by attorney Staci M. Yandle. However, Yandle currently has a pending nomination to serve as a federal judge in the Southern District of Illinois in Benton.

Nursing home neglect and abuse may be more prevalent than was previously thought. A recent study revealed that more than 30 percent of nursing homes in the U.S. have been cited for abuse. It is estimated that 2.1 million older Americans are the victims of abuse in nursing homes each year. Other evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of nursing homes fail to deliver needed care to residents.

Depakote birth injury litigation in Illinois federal court moving forward

A federal court in Illinois has ordered Abbott Laboratories to produce documents it said were “long overdue” in lawsuits alleging birth injuries caused by the anti-seizure medication Depakote.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered the company to “exercise all avenues available” to produce approximately 4,000 documents related to the case “as soon as possible.” Plaintiffs had previously raised the issue of insufficient production of documents with the court.

The lawsuits were filed by mothers who claim that taking Depakote during pregnancy caused birth injuries in their children. The lawsuits claim that the children were born with conditions including heart defects, neural tube defects, spina bifida and other congenital malformations and injuries.

The plaintiffs include a woman who was prescribed the anti-seizure medication during her pregnancy and whose daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis that threatened her lungs and heart. In another case, a woman took Depakote before she knew she was pregnant, and her child was born with an extra digit. A third case involves a woman who took Depakote during her pregnancy, which she alleges was the cause of her son’s undescended testicle, which required surgery.

Depakote, also known as valproic acid, is used as a mood-stabilizing and anti-convulsant medication. It is often used to treat biploar disorder, epilepsy and migraine headaches. The drug is manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, a global pharmaceutical firm headquartered in North Chicago.

Growth of telemedicine may relax state doctor licensing requirements, raising patient safety concerns

Telemedicine, the use of technology to examine, diagnose and treat patients remotely, is a growing practice. An estimated 10 million people rely on telemedicine. Patients are able to show their symptoms to doctors via video communication services. Doctors are able to monitor patients’ conditions after they are discharged from the hospital. Surgeries have even been performed remotely using robotics.

The ability to practice medicine remotely has led more physicians to seek licensing in multiple states, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The growth of telemedicine has led some to propose streamlining the process, but critics are concerned that easing licensing requirements could put patients at risk and increase the incidence of medical malpractice.

Proponents of telemedicine have suggested that states recognize each other’s licenses, arguing that doctors take national exams and must meet federal standards. However, state medical boards also protect patient safety by disciplining doctors who fail to follow state rules.

Large health care and telecommunications firms that seek telemedicine growth have proposed an interstate compact for medical licensing, which would provide legal protections for patients and doctors in any state that participates. Proponents argue that patient safety could even be improved through the use of an interstate system because data on investigations of doctors could be easily shared between states.

New Car Seat Safety Rule Goes Into Effect

A new federal rule requires manufacturers of automobile child safety seats to warn parents about their products’ weight specifications. If the combined weight of the child and the seat is 65 pounds or more, parents should not use the lower anchors to attach the car seat.

The lower anchors are part of the LATCH system, an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, and they have been required in cars since 2001. However, testing has determined that the strength of the anchors is uncertain for weights of 65 pounds or more.

Car seats often weigh between 15 and 33 pounds, so the new rules could mean that a child who weighs only 32 pounds would not be able to use a car seat attached with the lower anchors.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sought the rule change because previous limits did not account for the weight of the car seat and were based on older models of child safety seats.

Use and awareness of the LATCH system is already low. Safe Kids Worldwide, an advocacy group, conducted a study that found that the lower anchors were used by car seat checkpoint technicians just 30 percent of the time, and only 30 percent of parents used the top tether straps for car seats, which are designed to prevent injuries to the child’s head in a crash.

The LATCH system was designed to be an easier way to secure a car seat (compared to using the seat belt). Both methods are considered to be equally safe, and parents have the flexibility to use either system.

The rule change came about after the lower anchors failed to work properly during testing with a 77-pound crash-test dummy in a car seat in a 30 mph crash.

Because child safety seats vary in weight, manufacturers will need to determine the maximum child weight permitted for each seat for labeling purposes. Car seat labels must include a height, weight and age range as well as an expiration date, typically six years after manufacture.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should use car seats with harnesses through age eight. The Academy’s research led car seat manufacturers to design more seats for children who weigh 65 pounds or more.

Legal requirements for children in car seats vary by state, and they are usually based on age, not weight. The average legal age for a child to ride with an adult seat belt and no other restraint is between seven and eight years old.

Birth injury lawsuit settles for six and a half million dollars

A lawsuit against the U.S. government, filed by the parents of a child who was born severely brain-damaged, has been settled for $6.5 million.

Kasie and Hignio Rivera of Austin, Texas filed the lawsuit in federal court against Darnall Army Medical Center after the birth of their son in 2008. The lawsuit alleged that doctors did not respond to evidence that the excessive use of oxytocin was overstimulating the mother’s contractions, causing severe distress to the baby. As a consequence, the lawsuit claimed that doctors failed to perform a timely cesarean section.

The lawsuit alleged that while the mother was in labor, the use of oxytocin was frequently stopped by nurses who noticed decelerations in the heart rate of the baby, but that the doctors ordered that it be resumed each time. According to the lawsuit, this cycle continued despite the fact that fetal monitors showed that the baby was in distress. The lawsuit argued that the signs of distress indicated that oxytocin should have been halted and a C-section performed.

According to news reports, the mother said that when her son was born, he did not move or cry. Tests shortly after birth showed that the child had severe brain damage, according to the lawsuit. The Riveras’ child is now five years old. He cannot walk or talk, and he must be fed with a feeding tube. His parents said that the settlement will ensure that his medical and other care expenses are covered.

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The law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County. Briskman Briskman & Greenberg also represents injured people throughout Wisconsin, including Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Madison.
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