February 20, 2013

21/2Malpractice Watch: Case Involves Mistaken Pregnancy Termination

A woman has filed suit against an Air Force base hospital and a former North Carolina doctor, claiming her pregnancy was terminated under the erroneous determination that she was suffering a molar pregnancy.handsonbelly.jpg

As our Charlotte medical malpractice lawyers understand, that turned out to be false. A molar pregnancy is one in which the tissue that would normally develop into a fetus instead becomes an abnormal and sometimes cancerous growth.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, the woman was diagnosed with the condition when she was 12 weeks along. Doctors had no reason to immediately believe that the tissue had become cancerous, but indicated there was grave potential for it to become a rapidly-progressing and potentially terminal illness. They advised an immediate suction dilation and curettage, which is a type of abortion procedure used to extract tissue from the womb.

She underwent an immediate series of tests - blood work, ultrasounds, exams and x-rays.

She and her Air Force husband had been ecstatic about the pregnancy, and the news of the molar pregnancy was devastating. But as a mother, she did not want to risk not being there for her son to grow up. She underwent the procedure.

She would later reveal in court documents that the procedure was emotionally gut-wrenching and physically painful. But that was little, she would later say, compared to what she learned afterward: The tissue that was removed was actually a healthy fetus.

Because the incident occurred in a military hospital, the lawsuit had to be filed in federal court. But similar cases have been noted in other parts of the country. In 2011, a Colorado woman filed suit after her pharmacist mistakenly gave her an abortion pill, as opposed to the antibiotic she was actually there to pick up, while she was six-months pregnant.

A recent study published in the journal Surgery combed through a federal database of medical malpractice claims to determine how often problems were caused by surgeons either performing performing the wrong procedure, leaving a foreign object inside a patient or operating on the wrong person. The researchers found that between 1990 and 2010, some 9,745 medical malpractice settlements were reached after these kinds of situations, which resulted in payments totaling $1.3 billion.

It's unclear how many instances involved pregnancy-related malpractice, but we do know that birth injuries are exceedingly common. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. suffer some form of birth injury. Most of these happen at non-profit hospitals. Additionally, 6 out of 7 will suffer mild to severe complications as a result, including erb's palsy, fractures, cerebral palsy, facial paralysis and spinal cord damages.

About 135 out of 100,000 live births result in death due to medical malpractice. Some of the more common mistakes include:

  • Failure to recognize fetal distress;

  • Improper use of vacuum or forceps;

  • Untimely C-sections;

  • Instrumental births.

Doctors take an oath upon becoming licensed to never do harm. Sadly, not all keep their word.

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February 18, 2013

Speedy Mover Accused of Killing Passenger in NC Traffic Accident

A Greensburg man who was in the middle of moving to North Carolina was killed in a recent one-vehicle accident. According to TribLive, the man died on scene on Route 17 right by River Bend. State Highway Patrol reports that the man was a passenger in the vehicle.
Media reports indicate the vehicle was heading south just before 4:00 a.m. when the accident happened. The vehicle reportedly veered off the road, into the median and the driver lost control. After traveling in the median, the driver completely lost control, flipped over and slid sideways into lanes of oncoming traffic. The passenger was ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead on scene. The driver was taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Officers say that the driver was speeding when the accident happened. Charges are currently pending.

Our Greensburg car accident lawyers understand that the faster a driver is traveling the higher their risks are for an accident. Speed is actually considered a factor in about a third of all accidents. According to Smart Motorist, exceeding the speed limit by only 5 mph in the wrong place can be dangerous. Local governments and traffic engineers have spent plenty of time working on creating appropriate speed limits for roadways across the nation. The speed limits are not there to slow you down, but they're there to help to keep you safe. Still, about 90 percent of drivers admit to speeding at least once during their driving career. About 75 percent of drivers say that they commit this offense regularly.

Traffic engineers maintain that speed limits should be established according to the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic. What this means is that the limit should be set at a level at or under which 85 percent of people are driving. Numerous studies have shown that the 85th percentile is the safest possible level at which to set a speed limit.

Drivers who speed are more likely to engage in other dangerous driving habits, too. Some of the most frequent dangerous driving behaviors include tailgating, horn honking, Frequent or unsafe lane changes, light flashing, deliberate obstruction, failure to signal, drunk driving and more.

Speed Limits in the state of North Carolina:

-Rural Interstates: 70 mph

-Urban Interstates 70 mph

-Other Limited Access Roads: 70mph

Just because these are the speed limits on interstates and other fast-traveling roadways, that doesn't mean it's the speed limit everywhere. You're urged to remain aware of speed limits on all roadways that you travel. In residential areas, remember that the speed limit is usually 30 miles per her. Keep an eye on your speed and help to improve your safety! When traveling on high speed limit roadways, make sure you're keeping your distance from other vehicles. The closer you're traveling to another vehicle the less time you have to react to a roadway danger. Travel cautiously, travel the speed limit and travel with safety in mind.

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February 16, 2013

Recall Highlights Child-Proof Caps and Poisoning Risks

Common child cold remedies are being recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). We're talking about Triaminic and Theraflu products. According to CNN, officials are taking these products off the market because the caps aren't working properly. These medicines are required by law to come with a functioning child-resistant cap. Unfortunately, they're not working as they're supposed to.
More specifically, it's the Triaminic Syrups and Theraflu Warming Relief Syrups that fall under this recall. The products were voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer, Novartis Consumer Health. They were too easy to get into for children and were posing serious poisoning risks.

Our Asheville child injury attorneys understand that our young ones don't always know what they should and should not be playing with. When presented with something new, there's no doubt that they're going to explore -- even if that "explore" means tasting. When they get their hands on candy- and fruit-tasting syrups, the outcome can be disastrous. This is why it's important for parents and guardians to keep these dangerous products out of sight and out of reach.

The company says that the last batch of these medicines was distributed in the U.S. more than a year ago. They believe that there is not much left on store shelves but home medicine cabinets may be a different story.

The problem with these products is that they contain both diaphenhydramine and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient that is used as an anti-inflammatory and is used to treat pain. Diaphenhydramine is an antihistamine that is used to treat both colds and allergies.

Products that contain these ingredients are required under federal law to come with child-resistant caps. These caps are to help to reduce the risks of child poisonings, which affect over 300 children each and every day here in the U.S. Each day, there are two children under the age of 19 who die from these kinds of accidents.

If you have any of these products in your home, you're urged to stop using them immediately. You're asked to safely throw them out. If you want, you can contact Novartis for details regarding a refund, too. It's also important that you routinely go through your medicine cabinets to make sure that you have no unused or expired medications. These products can be deadly and should not be stored in your home.

Altogether, there are 24 kinds of products involved in this recall. It all started because of a complaint that was filed by a consumer late last year. All of the products that fall under this recall are in the U.S., although some are being recalled in Canada as a safety precaution.

So far, the company has reported that they've received about a dozen reports of children getting into the bottles. There were four reports of children consuming the medicine as a result of the faulty caps.

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February 15, 2013

NC Motor Coach Safety Driven Home By Fatal Crash in CA

A tour bus crash in California has claimed eight lives and resulted in dozens of hospitalizations, with more than 40 people injured. trolleybus.jpg

Our North Carolina personal injury lawyers are heartbroken for the families of those lost, and will continue to hope for a swift recovery for those who were hurt.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all of this is that the crash was likely entirely preventable. The investigation is ongoing, but initial reports are beginning to paint a picture revealing the company that owned the motor coach may have prized profits over people - underscoring the critical importance of thoroughly researching any transportation firm when planning your next road trip.

According to local news reports, the passengers on the bus were on their way back to Mexico, following a daylong trip to a ski resort in Southern California. The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle, potentially due to a brake failure, and the bus careened down the hill at a high rate of speed. The vehicle allegedly slammed into a car heading the same direction before swerving into the opposite lane and striking a pick-up that was towing a trailer. The bus ultimately flipped over in a complete 360, ejecting passengers and crushing in portions of the roof.

Making matters worse was the fact that the mountainous terrain where the crash occurred made it difficult for rescuers arrive quickly and transport the injured.

At least one passenger who survived told investigators that people inside began to panic when the brakes began smoking and the driver screamed for someone to call 911. However, the remote location of the roadway meant no one could get a clear signal on their cell phones.

Investigative reporters have discovered that the company that owns the bus - one of just three in its entire fleet - had a somewhat spotty safety record. While the Department of Transportation reports that the national average for motor coach inspections resulting in out-of-service actions is 21 percent, this company's rating was 36 percent. This was in addition to the fact that the company had been flagged on the DOT's safety watch list, primarily due to ongoing problems with vehicle maintenance.

And yet, the company was still given a safety rating of "satisfactory" by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - which goes to show more improvements are needed in federal oversight.

The FMCSA advises all persons planning bus or motor coach trips to verify the following before purchasing tickets:

  • Review the company's safety performance history;

  • Check the company's FMCSA safety rating, noting that firms with a "conditional" rating could be higher risk and those with an "unsatisfactory" rating shouldn't even be operating;

  • If you're traveling out of state, make sure the company has federal operating authority and if it carries more than 16 people at a time, make sure it carries a minimum of $5 million worth of insurance.

You may also consider contacting the DOT for more information on a company, and also the Better Business Bureau for consumer satisfaction reviews that could offer further safety insights.

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February 13, 2013

FDA: Eye Surgery Centers Warned To Inform Patients of Risks

Vision enhancement surgery, such as LASIK, was hailed as near miraculous when it became commonplace in the late 1990s. eye1.jpg

However, our South Carolina personal injury lawyers know there is a dark side to it as well, though risks and complications haven't been widely reported to the public or even patients, until recently.

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to five of the country's top surgery centers - two of those in nearby states - to immediately halt false advertising practices and begin appropriately advising patients of the potential adverse outcomes. The warning letters were sent to eye surgery centers in Indiana, California, Florida, Texas and Georgia.

A report by National Public Radio in the summer of 2010 indicated that some 17 million people globally had undergone LASIK eye surgery, with about 700,000 in the U.S. opting for the procedure each year.

Specifically, the goal of the surgery is to use lasers to reshape the cornea to improve or correct a number of vision-related problems, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. While the American Academy of Opthalmology has reported that most patients are happy with the results, an increasing number of people have suffered serious side-effects. In a number of cases, the FDA has indicated patients may not have been adequately warned of those risks.

The regulator's Center for Devices and Radiological Health said patient awareness is paramount.

Among the most common risks posed by the procedure, some patients have reported severe dry eye syndrome, the need for contact lenses or glasses afterward and vision problems such as glare, double vision, starbursts and halos. In some cases, patients have been known to lose their vision entirely.

One of the greatest problems is that patients aren't being told when they are not a good candidate for the surgery, which could be the case for a number of reasons.

This most recent warning to those in the industry is by no means the first. The FDA first issued warning letters to 17 eye surgery centers in 2009 after they were found to have failed in adequately reporting patient complications to authorities. Similar problems prompted warning letters also in September 2011 and again in March of last year.

Those centers that don't follow the FDA's guidelines could face additional sanctions, such as monetary penalties or injunctions forcing them to close.

A $180 million federal class action lawsuit lawsuit was filed in South Carolina three years ago, alleging that some 30 branches of TLC LASIK Centers conducted the procedure on patients who should have been disqualified, causing them to suffer severe problems. The plaintiff alleged he had suffered vision loss and had to undergo a cornea transplant as a result of undergoing LASIK, which he said he should have never been allowed to have due to a pre-existing eye condition.

That case was initially dismissed, but is now pending appeal.

The bottom line for you is that if you are considering LASIK surgery, make sure your doctor thoroughly explains the procedure and potential risks and has conducted a thorough examination to determine whether you are in fact a good candidate.

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February 10, 2013

North Carolina Injury Lawyers Encourage Child Burn Awareness

As a North Carolina woman has made headlines for her arrest following the reportedly intentional burning of a 3-month-old infant for whom she was caring, our Charlotte personal injury lawyers know that most burns, while preventable, happen as a result of negligence, not abuse. rubberducky.jpg

In this case, the 19-year-old suspect has been charged with intentional child abuse caused by serious bodily injury after the child was found to have suffered serious burns caused by scalding hot water on 8 percent of his lower body.

Coincidentally, the incident occurred during National Burn Awareness Week, in which scalding was made a primary focus by the American Burn Association. This is a serious criminal matter, but most child burns are caused by accident, though they are almost always entirely preventable.

According to the ABA's 2011 fact sheet, approximately 450,000 burn injuries required medical treatment, with about 45,000 of those requiring in-patient hospitalization. An estimated 3,500 people in the U.S. were killed that year as a result of burn injuries, mostly from residential house fires. The rest were a result of contact with chemicals, electricity or hot liquids.

With regard to the overall number of burns (not just those that resulted in fatalities), 70 percent occurred in the home and 33 percent were attributable to scalding. These incidents often stem from cooking, but they may also result from bath water that's far too hot or a child pulling hot liquid off a surface down onto himself.

Taking care to implement certain safety measures around your home - especially if you have small children or occasionally host small children - can make all the difference.

The American Burn Association recommends heeding the following:

  • Make sure the thermostat on your home water heaters is set at a maximum 120 degrees. If you aren't sure whether yours is set too high, allow the water to run for about five minutes on hot and then use a water or meat thermometer to test it. Make adjustments as necessary.

  • Keep hot liquids, candles and appliances (and their cords) out of reach and away from surface edges where they could be easily pulled down by little hands.

  • When filling up a bathtub for your child, run the cold water first, and then the hot. Turn the water off completely and mix the water thoroughly, checking the temperature as you do, before you place the child in it.

  • If someone else in your home is showering, bathing or washing dishes, avoid flushing the toilet or running the washing machine.

  • When you're cooking, use the back burners and keep the handles of the pots turned toward the back.

  • If you are supervising small children while cooking or doing dishes, set up a safe area in your line of sight and out of the path of hot surfaces and liquids.

  • Never drink or carry a hot liquid while you're holding or carrying a child. Kids can be quick and sudden movements can potentially result in the liquid spilling and causing a serious burn.

If your child has suffered a preventable burn while in someone else's care, you may be entitled compensation to help you cover the cost of medical expenses and ongoing treatments.

Continue reading "North Carolina Injury Lawyers Encourage Child Burn Awareness" »

February 6, 2013

South Carolina Injury Lawyers Warn of Thousands of Drug Recalls Annually

We trust in this country that when we consume prescribed or over-the-counter medication, we are taking action to improve our health. meds.jpg

But in fact, as our Rock Hill personal injury attorneys know, those medicines could end up making us sicker.

From October 2011 through March 2012, there were some 1,200 drug recalls issued in the United States. That's slightly less than the more than 1,600 drugs that were recalled the year before, but keep in mind there were just 870 medicine recalls the year before.

We reported last November in our South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer Blog that one of these recalls involved a New England compounding pharmacy that produced injectable steroids that ended up sickening 650 people and killing at least 40.

Another recall involved the cholesterol drug Lipitor, when batches manufactured in India were found to have been contaminated with glass.

Those two recalls alone affected millions of people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has often proven ineffective in releasing timely information about the potential risks of certain medications, as the agency often relies on manufacturers to self-report problems. Unsurprisingly, not many are eager to do so.

It's important for you as a consumer to understand too that just because a drug company has issued a recall, that firm is not free of liability if you have suffered some illness or injury as a result. Ultimately, these businesses are still responsible for the harm they cause.

As you strive to be a smart consumer, it's important to understand that there are actually three different categories of recalls - Class I, Class II and Class III.

Class I recalls are the most egregious, meaning use or consumption could result in serious harm or death. (The New England steroid recall was a Class I.)

Class II recalls are those issued when use of a drug could result in a temporarily adverse effect to your health.

Class III recalls are those in which the medicine may not have been produced according to certain standards, but it's unlikely to cause you harm.

So far this year, the FDA has announced two Class I recalls.

One of those involved a drug called Ferrous Sulfate, which is a natural iron supplement given to those with iron deficiencies. It was discovered that least one lot that was produced actually contained Meclizine HCI, which is an antihistamine that when taken in large doses has the potential to cause impaired alertness, confusion, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, coma and even death.

The second Class I recall announced so far this year involved a drug called Mitosol, a drug used to treat glaucoma, after the manufacturer alerted the FDA that some of the batches were found to have contained yeast, and were therefore possibly not sterile.

Keep in mind, though, the FDA's website might not always contain up-to-date information. If you are concerned about whether a medication you are taking may have been recalled, ask your pharmacist to confirm before you consume another dose. Most pharmacies will offer you replacement medications if the one you are taking has been recalled.

And if you have suffered some serious negative side effect as a result of taking a drug that has been recalled or that is later recalled, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, as you may be entitled to compensation for what you have endured.

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February 5, 2013

North Carolina Gun Show Operators, Gun Owners, Could Face Liability for Injuries

Although a shotgun owner won't be charged with any crime, after the weapon accidentally fired and injured three people - including a retired sheriff's deputy - at a recent gun show, our North Carolina personal injury lawyers know that both the owner and the show's organizers may have to contend with civil liability issues.blackgun3.jpg

Such incidents have been historically rare, but they appear to be increasing in the midst of the debate over gun control measures at both the federal and state level, following the deadly shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

In this case, the owner of a 12-guage shotgun accidentally fired the weapon as he was removing it from a case at a security checkpoint at the weapons show held at the fairgrounds in Raleigh. The retired deputy and two others were hurt, though their injuries were not expected to be life-threatening.

That same day, which was deemed the first annual Gun Appreciation Day, two other similar shootings occurred in other states.

At a fairground in Iowa, a gun dealer was reportedly testing what he thought was an unloaded pistol when the weapon fired, resulting in a gunshot wound to his own hand.

Also that day at a gun show in Ohio, a gun dealer was opening a case containing a gun when the weapon fired and a single shot struck the man's partner in the arm and thigh.

In yet another incident in Indiana, a man leaving a gun show was reportedly attempting to load his own handgun when the weapon fired, causing him to incur a gunshot wound to the hand.

In each of these cases, it appears authorities intend to clear the individuals of any criminal wrongdoing, as none of the incidents were apparently intentional and the individuals didn't break any criminal laws in bringing the weapons - even loaded - to the events.

At this point, no civil lawsuits have been filed, but it's possible, particularly in cases where someone besides the gun's handler was injured. In cases like these, there could be liability on the part of the owner, for not properly securing a weapon, the handler, for negligently or recklessly handling the weapon and possibly even the event organizers, for failing to ensure the safety of those in attendance.

However, its worth noting that the majority of unintentional firearm injuries don't occur at gun shows. Most such incidents occur in private residences, and about 20 percent of all firearm-related fatalities involve children under the age of 14.

Some 220 million Americans possess firearms, including about one-third of families with small children. There are a variety of reasons for owning a gun - including protection, hunting and recreation or crime prevention.

However, with that weapon comes a great responsibility. Safe storage of a firearm is key to preventing unintentional injury. The National Rifle Association advises the following:

  • Store your firearm in a well-concealed gun safe or lock box. Prevent unauthorized access by keeping it in a place that is hidden, but easily accessible to you.

  • Make sure your safe or lock box includes a secure locking device - most often a cable lock or a trigger lock.

  • Keep the gun unloaded. This is particularly important when you have it stored in your home or when you intend to take it to a show. This way, even if it falls into inexperienced hands, the consequences won't be deadly.

  • Take the time to educate yourself on gun safety, and pass that knowledge onto your children as well - or any other children who may be in your home. Guns often arouse a great deal of curiosity, but children need to be taught early that handling a weapon should only ever be done under the supervision of a responsible adult.

Continue reading "North Carolina Gun Show Operators, Gun Owners, Could Face Liability for Injuries" »

February 2, 2013

Toyota Recalls 1.3M Cars for Various Defects

Toyota is making headlines once again for vehicle defects - this time issuing a recall for more than 1.3 million vehicles across the world for two defects that could lead to injury. toyotalightingsystem.jpg

Our Greenville personal injury lawyers are dismayed at this news for several reasons, not the least of which is that this top-selling manufacturer issued a dozen recalls last year for 5.3 million vehicles - the most of any other auto company in the world.

This is actually the third major recall involving more than 1 million vehicles that the company has issued since October. As it stands, the company is already struggling to better its battered reputation, following numerous recalls two and three years ago involving vehicles that improperly accelerated, contributing to some 89 deaths and even more injuries. In December, the company agreed to a $1 billion settlement in those cases, though there are still hundreds more personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits pending.

Then last fall, the company recalled some 7.4 million cars due to a window problem that created a risk of fire. The very next month, nearly 3 million hybrid vehicles were recalled for steering problems.

So this latest news is not surprising, but it's troubling that Toyota continues to fail in its responsibility to produce safe vehicles for their millions of consumers.

The most recent recalls include more than 750,000 Corolla and Corolla Matrix cars in the U.S., sold between 2003 and 2004. According to the company, these vehicles are affixed with airbags that reportedly have the potential to deploy inadvertently. There is apparently a chip in the bags' control units that can cause it to malfunction when there is electrical interference. The chip was reportedly produced by an outside company, though officials with the company declined to say which one.

So far, this problem has caused injuries in roughly 20 cases.

To fix the problem, Toyota has instructed Corolla owners to bring their vehicles in to have an additional signal filter installed.

The second recall involves faulty windshield wipers, and it involves some 270,000 Lexus IS vehicles. The company has indicated that the wipers have the potential to be rendered inoperable in conditions with heavy snow. Of course, this is especially troubling as we contend with dangerous winter storms across the country. Snow and salt inevitably contribute to visibility issues for drivers in these conditions, but having your windshield wiper fail altogether has the potential to prove fatal. Already, there have been more than 25 reports of problems due to this, but thankfully so far no serious injuries or deaths.

The company says that a certain nut on the wiper arm may not have been tightened correctly at the factory.

As we recently reported in our Greenville Injury Lawyer Blog, the company's top-selling Camry models performed rather poorly in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Researchers found that in instances of collision, the Camry's front wheel was pushed back by the impact, and the passenger compartment footwell was pushed inward.

Toyota sales topped 9.75 million last year, making it the top-selling auto manufacturer in the world.

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January 30, 2013

Adult Bed Rails Lead to North Carolina Wrongful Deaths, Injuries

Bed rails, the metal frames or bars affixed to your elderly loved one's bedsides to prevent her from toppling onto the floor, might actually kill her or seriously injury those they are meant to protect.someshapswithands.jpg

Our North Carolina nursing home negligence attorneys understand that a federal study of adult bed rails by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was launched late last year - but only after more than a decade of complaints.

The truth is, the government has known since at least 1995 that elderly people were dying and suffering major injury as a result of getting their heads and necks caught in between the slats. Yet no decisive action, such as a recall, was ever taken.


The reason is multi-pronged, but much of it has to do with the slow wheels of government bureaucracy.

For starters, no one could decide how these devices should be classified - as a medical device or as a consumer product. The reason this matters is because regulation of medical devices is done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, while consumer products are regulated by the CPSC. Without a definitive classification, neither agency was eager to take charge on the issue.

Secondly, there was a great deal of push back from the bed rail and nursing home industries, as a redesign of the products and mandatory replacement would have cost millions of dollars.

And finally, when the regulatory agencies first became aware of problems, Congress was in anti-regulation mode. Legislation passed in the 1990s would have required multiple layers of approval, which both agencies decided they would be unlikely to get anyway.

Meanwhile, hundreds were dying and tens of thousands were being injured. Since 1995, when a bioethics professor in Minnesota first issued an alert to federal regulators regarding problems with bed rails, some 550 people have died as a direct result of their use. Additionally, it's estimated that roughly 4,000 people a year suffer injuries - most of those elderly patients requiring either home health care assistance or full-time care in a residential nursing home facility.

In all likelihood, these are low estimates, as not all bed rail injuries and deaths are reported as such by hospitals and medical examiners. These are only the those that regulators were able to cull together from incidents that were reported.

Back in 2006, the FDA did push the bed rail industry to adopt "voluntary guidelines" with regard to the design of the devices, but injuries and deaths continue.

So why study the issue now?

Like many agents for change, this one was prompted by a tragedy. In late 2006, an 81-year-old woman living in Washington state was suffering from dementia, and her husband could no longer manage her care. She was placed in a nursing home where she could receive 24-7 care.

But five months later, she was found dead in her bed - having been strangled when her neck was caught in the bed rail.

Her daughter began writing to both the FDA and the CPSC, only to learn that these entities already knew of the dangers. She stayed persistent, conducting her own research of the issue, which she forwarded to local officials.

It paid off, and the CPSC agreed to study the issue.

Still, the agency called that the first step. Definitive action has yet, at this point, to be taken.

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January 27, 2013

North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse, Fraud, More Often at For-Profit Centers

For-profit nursing homes have grown exponentially in the last two decades. So too have the instances of abuse, fraud and waste. brokenglasses2.jpg

Our North Carolina nursing home abuse lawyers know the correlation is no coincidence, according to an investigative report by Bloomberg News, which exhaustively scoured through reams of government data to reach this conclusion.

The federal government data was pulled from research conducted by he inspector general's office for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The government data did reveal that in the last five years, over-billing for Medicare and Medicaid had spiked to $1.5 billion annually and federal prosecutions for nursing home abuse and neglect had doubled. The report was silent on the rise of for-profit facilities.

Let's consider first that the care of our older loved ones, while a calling to some individuals, is actually a $3 trillion industry in this country. For the last 10 years, for-profit nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been getting an increasing slice of that pie - from 72 percent in 2002 to nearly 80 percent in 2010.

Consider too that for-profit nursing homes and assisted care centers operate the lion's share of the outpatient surgery centers in the U.S. - about 96 percent. In the last nine years, that area of health care has ballooned by a third, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Additionally, when compared to non-profits, for-profit hospices increased their numbers 10 times faster between 2004 and 2009. Those now account for more than half of all hospices. Dialysis clinics? Eighty-five percent are now for-profit, as are 84 percent of home health care agencies.

Why does it matter whether a center is for-profit or non-profit? There have been numerous studies indicating that for-profit centers are more likely than non-profit centers to go after the almighty dollar in ways that are not only questionable on an ethical and moral level, but a legal one as well. A law school professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, who has studied the matter extensively, was quoted as saying that when a facility is in the business of care, with money as the bottom line, the quality of the care inevitably becomes secondary.

While some might see Medicare fraud as something that only hits our pocketbooks, consider the recent case involving a South Carolina nursing home, owned by a for-profit chain. An 80-year-old woman wasn't able to to walk. In fact, she couldn't stand or even control her head or keep her eyes open. But as part of a "physical and occupational therapy session," she was forced for nearly 90 minutes to endure standing up in a standing frame. Two days later, she died.

The nursing home that allowed this has been sued by the federal government for overcharges and unnecessary treatment, but the incident begs the bigger question: Was the procedure a factor in her death?

That hasn't yet been made clear. What we do know is that just as criminal prosecutions regarding nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect have risen, so too have the number of civil cases.

One such recent case out of California involved a mega-nursing home chain that was sued for six wrongful deaths between 2005 and 2012. The allegations centered around the assertion that staff administrators were so money-hungry, they skimped on essentials: staff, medicine, food, etc. As a result, patients were left on their own for hours, denied meals and bathing and suffered from malnutrition and infection.

Continue reading "North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse, Fraud, More Often at For-Profit Centers" »

January 24, 2013

North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Highlighted in New ProPublica Database

When it comes to combating nursing home abuse and neglect, one of the most effective tools is prevention. thestormwillpass.jpg

However, our North Carolina nursing home abuse attorneys realize that in order for family members to choose even a decent facility for their loved one, they have to be armed with information. They need to know details about deficiencies, problems with over-medication and allegations of abuse and neglect. But that information hasn't always been readily available.

Last year, the Medicare program unveiled its Nursing Home Compare site, which provides some information. But news organization ProPublica took it a step further, compiling a database of information by pressing the government for un-redacted inspection and deficiency reports, as well as information on fines.

As it turns out, North Carolina ranks in the top 20 for nursing home fines. Additionally, about 20 percent of all nursing homes in the state have been cited for serious deficiencies -- or those failures that pose a serious risk to patient health and well-being.

It's worth noting that serious deficiencies are often greatly under-reported, as inspectors often overlook or aim to minimize problems that pose an immediate threat to patients. That's according to research by the Government Accountability Office, which found commonly under-reported deficiencies included instances of serious bedsores, over-medication, malnutrition and even outright abuse.

In the last three years, North Carolina nursing home facilities have been slapped with nearly $5 million in penalties for such deficiencies.

The state also has four special focus facilities, or those that have been flagged by the government as having a long history of serious issues with quality. (Yet they remain in operation.)

The very worst of those was a facility in Nashville, NC, just outside of Raleigh. (Unsurprisingly, it's a for-profit facility, which are known to have higher rates of abuse, neglect, fraud and waste, according to a new report by Bloomberg News.) This facility alone accounts for 11 percent of the deficiency fines in the state. The 60-bed facility has racked up nearly 55 deficiencies during that time.

In the most recent inspection report, issued in April of last year, the facility failed to immediately inform residents', their doctors and their family members of negative side effects of psychoactive medications (which are notably over-prescribed for dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers as a way to control patient behavior, as opposed to having any therapeutic value for the patient).

Other deficiencies included failure to provide adequate housekeeping and maintenance services, failure to ensure patients with limited mobility were regularly moved (which leads to bedsores), failure to ensure each patient is not receiving unnecessary drugs, failure to have adequate procedures in place to reduce incidents of infectious diseases and a failure to have medications reviewed monthly by a licensed pharmacist.

Another facility in Rutherfordton, about an hour north of Spartanburg, SC, was cited in February and again in June of last year for serious deficiencies, including a failure to protect all patients from abuse, physical punishment, after a male resident was found to have sexually assaulted at least four female residents. No abuse investigation was launched, despite multiple complaints, and the offender was allowed to remain in regular living quarters with the others, though nurses had warned one another to "keep an eye out" for him.

We wish we could say such instances are rare. Unfortunately, they are not.

Family members should avail themselves of the opportunity to review these reports, both before placing a loved on in a nursing home and then regularly once they are there.

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January 22, 2013

Three-Year-Old Killed in Carolina Traffic Accident

A 3-year-old girl was killed in a car accident; her father was driving. According to WSPA, charges against the father are pending.
The driver was heading east on Biltmore Avenue when he was involved in an accident at the intersection of Hilliard and Grove Street. Police officers are saying that dad's vehicle was speeding at the time of accident. The vehicle slammed into an embankment, went flying into the air and landed in the parking lot of the City of Asheville's Public Works. Upon landing, the vehicle slammed into two parked cars and two of the building's employees. Dad and his daughter were taken to Mission Hospital, where the young passenger was later pronounced dead.

"It was raining, but I would say the speed was the main factor," said Highway Patrol Trooper Gene Williamson. "He (Hutchison) was going way too fast for the curve."

Our Asheville injury lawyers understand that speeding is extremely dangerous and is one of the top factors in fatal accidents across the nation. When you pair this factor with inclement weather, you've got a recipe for disaster. It's important for drivers to understand their capabilities in these two scenarios. It's important for drivers to slow it down and to alter their driving habits in poor weather.

It's also important to make sure that your young passengers are properly buckled in regardless of the weather and your rate of speed. Children are some of our most vulnerable travelers and rely on parents, guardians and other adults to make sure that they're safe in the car.

As a matter of fact, car accidents continue to be the number one cause of death for Americans between the ages of 3 and 14. It's a proven fact that child car seats can help to reduce the risks of child death in the event of an accident by more than 70 percent. Unfortunately, about three fourths of all children who sit in a car seat are sitting in one that has not been installed properly.

According to the Parents Central, parents should choose a car seat that fits their child's needs. You want to make sure you choose the right one and that it's used every time. Children under the age of 1 should be kept in a rear-facing car seat. When a child outgrows this seat, they should be moved to a forward-facing car seat. Don't advance them based on age, but advance them based on their height and weight. Check manufacturer's manual for more information on a seat's recommendations.

When a child outgrows their forward-facing seat, you may advance them to a booster seat. It's still important to keep them seated in the back seat during this stage. Only when they've grown big enough to fit an adult seat should they be moved to an adult seat belt.

It's all about timing. Make sure your child fits the safety harness they're using and make sure you're using it!

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January 20, 2013

Pedestrian Hit and Dragged for Miles in Nighttime Accident

Police in Asheville are now on the hunt for a fourth vehicle that is believed to have been involved in a recent fatal accident. In this accident, a pedestrian was dragged for approximately five miles after being hit by a number of vehicles, according to the Citizen-Times.
Officers are looking into an accident in which the victim is believed to have been hit by at least 3 cars and then dragged from East Asheville through the outskirts of downtown. The victim's last known address was a homeless shelter on North Ann Street at around 7:00 p.m.

Our Asheville pedestrian accident lawyers understand that the driver of the first vehicle to hit the pedestrian pulled over immediately. That driver reports that two other vehicles struck the man in the mean time. The pedestrian was lodged underneath the third vehicle and was dragged for miles.

"She thought she had a flat tire," said Traffic Safety Unit Officer Ann Fowler. "She did not know that she hit a person in the roadway."

Police officers, and a forensics unit were posted at the accident scene for nearly 4 hours. Weather is believed to be a factor in this accident; it was raining and visibility was low.

According to a local report, the speed limit in the area where the accident happened in 45 miles per hour and the area is not well lit.

"When you drive you are more likely to see something if you are thinking about it," said Dr. Ron Van Houten, PhD, a professor of psychology at WMU. "Whenever and wherever you drive, particularly at night, think about pedestrians."

As a matter of fact, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report that about a quarter of all fatal pedestrian accidents occur before 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. The second more frequent time for these kinds of accidents is between 9:00 pm. and midnight. That means that about half of all fatal pedestrian accidents occur during those 6 night hours.

The time period least likely to see fatal pedestrian accidents is from 3:00 a.m. to 6: a.m. Although it has the lowest number of pedestrian fatalities, it has the highest pedestrian probability of one getting killed in a police-reported accident.

According to recent statistics, about 2 pedestrians are killed for every 10 pedestrian accidents.

Pedestrians, you're urged to do all that you can to make yourself visible if you must walk during the evening hours. Wear bright colors, reflectors and make sure you have a flashlight. Travel as far from vehicular traffic as possible.

It's important for drivers to be extra cautious when driving at night. Pedestrians and bicyclists can easily been overlooked in these dark, low-visibility conditions. Make sure you're aware of who's traveling around you and work to keep everyone safe. Slow it down and keep your attention up. Alert driving habits truly has the power to save lives!

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January 18, 2013

Saving Pedestrians Could Mean Louder Hybrid Vehicles

Just like a deer in headlights.

That's how some pedestrians and bicyclists feel when they encounter new electric and hybrid vehicles. Many of us listen for approaching vehicles. The roar of their engine serves as a warning sign. But when we can't hear these vehicles coming, the risks for accidents increase exponentially.

That's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 is proposing to get these new, quieter vehicles to meet some sort of minimum sound standard.

"This proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," said Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Our Asheville injury attorneys know that hybrid vehicles continue to grow in popularity. With the new wave of quiet and power-efficient makes, these kinds of vehicles are operating much more quietly and are alarmingly difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists to detect.

Under the new proposal, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141, vehicles would not be allowed to be so quiet. Officials want them to be louder so that those around can detect the location, presence and direction of these vehicles -- even when traveling at slower speeds.

David Strickland with the NHTSA says that the proposal would allow carmakers to play with different sounds to help to ensure that the vehicles are heard. This is also an important move for those who are visually impaired and traveling on foot near vehicular traffic.

Officials say that the sounds need to be able to be detected under a number of street noises and noise. This is most important when a vehicle is traveling under 20 mph. It is said that when vehicles travel faster, they make enough noise to alert pedestrians and bicyclists of their approach. Each auto manufacturer would have a number of choices of sounds that it could use, there are virtually no limits to that, but the tones and pitches of sounds chosen must meet a list of requirements. It would also be required to make sure that all vehicles that are alike, under the same model -- would need to make the same kinds of noises.

Regardless of how loud a car may or may not be, pedestrians and bicyclists should always make sure they're aware of their surroundings at all times. While we rely heavily on our hearing while traveling, it's important that we physically look and see what's around us. Try to stay one step ahead of the traffic around you and help to ensure safe travels.

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