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National Legal News

IN THE HEADLINES:
BP oil spill cleanup work ends in 3 states
June 12, 2013

According to The American Association for Justice, it has been reported that the BP PLC's massive oil spill has finally ended cleanup work in 3 states that were affected.

The oil spill that took place in 2010 near the Gulf of Mexico has concluded cleanup activitys in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Although this has been reported, there is much work still to be done along 84 miles of Lousiana's shoreline.

As the BP contracters continue their efforts in cleaning up, the Coast Guard will stay on the lookout to report of any kind of oil seen along the Gulf Coast. However, according to the director of the National Wildlife Federation's Gulf of Mexico Restoration Campaign, their goal is to restore the shorelines to as close to the pre-spill conditions.


Apple Antitrust Suit over E-Books Set for New York Trial
June 6, 2013

According to AP, in a civil case where the words of Steve Jobs play prominently, the government and Apple Inc. are set to square off over allegations that Apple Inc. conspired with the country’s largest book publishers to make consumers pay more for electronic books.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote is scheduled to begin hearing the price-fixing case Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

The trial stems from an antitrust lawsuit brought last year by the Justice Department, which accused Apple of helping hatch the scheme at a meeting with publishers in 2009 as it was preparing to launch the iPad. Its purpose was to force Seattle-based Amazon.com – the marketer of Kindle e-book readers – to raise the $9.99 price it had set for the most popular e-book titles because that was substantially below their hardcover prices, the government says.


Class action recommended in Va. coal-gas claim
June 2, 2013

According to AP, a Virginia federal magistrate judge has recommended a class action's coal-gas claim for the landowners in the southwest area to bring upon two energy companies, EQT Production Co. and CNX Gas Co.,. Many of these landowners in Southwest Virginia have been cheated of millions of dollars by these energy companies who have been drawing out natural gas from their properties.

The proposed class action claims was certified by U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargent for four of five property owners. However, there is still a huge number of plausible class action cases against the Pittsburgh based coal-gas companies.


Class-action lawsuit OK'd over asset seizures
May 20, 2013

According to AP, a class-action lawsuit has been cleared by a federal judge to challenge how Michigan state takes hold of assets without the approval of a court so they can mask overdue taxes. However, Judge Nancy Edmunds says this class-action will only be certified for the sole purpose of deciding if the state of Michigan is responsible.

This lawsuit could involve more than 150 parties and was filed by the owner of Copper Canyon. He claims that the state sent their agents to their pub and changed their locks while they got ahold of all their liquor and cash. However, these treasury agents never had an approved warrant by a judge to do so. He said Michigan state violated their rights and resulted in a bad reputation for their business.


Google Investigation by FTC Ends With Voluntary Changes
January 3, 2013

According to New York Times (12/19 Wyatt & Miller), Google was prepared to start the holidays early this week, by settling its antitrust dispute with federal regulators without a harsh punishment. But in shelving its inquiry until January, the Federal Trade Commission has put stronger penalties back on the bargaining table, people briefed on the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it said Wednesday.

For two years, the F.T.C. has been looking into whether Google abuses its market power by favoring its own services over rivals in search results. Google and the agency had been planning to sign a settlement this week that would have said Google would change some of its behavior but that would not have been subject to court action.

After this time, Bloomberg (1/3 Forden) reports that, Google Inc. (GOOG), avoiding a potentially costly legal battle with U.S. regulators, ended a 20-month antitrust probe by pledging to change some business practices and settling allegations it misused patents to thwart competitors in smartphone technology.The Federal Trade Commission voted 5-0 to close its investigation into whether Google unfairly skewed its search results, with the company saying it would voluntarily remove restrictions on the use of its online search advertising platform and offer companies the option to keep their content out of Google’s search results.

A consent decree on patents curbs Google’s ability to seek court orders barring competitors’ products where the company has agreed to license the technology on reasonable terms.

“The changes Google has agreed to make will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of competition in the online marketplace and in the market for innovative wireless devices they enjoy,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said today at a news conference in Washington. “This was an incredibly thorough and careful investigation by the commission, and the outcome is a strong and enforceable set of agreements.”

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Toyota Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Tied to Accelerations
December 26, 2012

Los Angeles Times (12/26 Bensinger, Vartabedian) Toyota Motor Corp., moving to put years of legal problems behind it, has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle dozens of lawsuits relating to sudden acceleration. The proposed deal, filed Wednesday in federal court, would be among the largest ever paid out by an automaker. It applies to numerous suits claiming economic damages caused by safety defects in the automaker's vehicles, but does not cover dozens of personal injury and wrongful-death suits that are still pending around the nation.

The suits were filed over the last three years by Toyota and Lexus owners who claimed that the value of their vehicles had been hurt by the potential for defects, including floor mats that could cause the vehicles to surge out of control.

In addition, Toyota said it is close to settling suits filed by the Orange County district attorney and a coalition of state attorneys general who had accused the automaker of deceptive business practices. The costs of those agreements would be included in a $1.1-billion charge the Japanese automaker said it will take against earnings to cover the actions. Furthermore, New York Times reports (12/26 Vlasic) that Toyota has also agreed to contribute $30 million to finance automotive safety research related to driver behavior and unintended acceleration.

The lead law firm for the plaintiffs estimated that the overall settlement could total $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

“We are pleased that Toyota has agreed to a settlement that was both extraordinarily hard-fought and is exceptionally far-reaching,” said Steve Berman, the lawyer who led the settlement talks for the plaintiffs. The amount a Toyota owner may receive for economic loss will be determined by a settlement administrator.

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Class-action suits challenge Time Warner's modem fees
November 20, 2012

Bloomberg reports (11/14) that "Time Warner Cable has been hit with two-class action lawsuits over the $3.95-per-month modem rental fee it recently began charging customers. The actions, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey and the Supreme Court of New York, charge that TWC did not give customers the 30-day notice of the fee required under existing terms of service, and failed to inform subscribers that digital voice and other advanced services wouldn't work with third-party purchased or rented modems."

These suits took effort on November 1 and asked the the courts to enjoin the company from imposing the fee.

They also have reported that "TWC has said the fee, similar to what many other cable operators charge, will raise money that can be used to improve its infrastructure and services. Some customers label it a rate hike masked as a rental fee. TWC advised customers that they could buy their own modem, but should only use approved Motorola devices. The Motorola units are more expensive than other modems, the suits claim. Additionally, the MSO didn't inform customers that alternative modems would not accommodate triple-play services, so that they could no longer receive voice-over-IP service."

The Daily News also reports that "papers were filed in New York and New Jersey on Wednesday detailing how customers feel the fee is illegal because Time Warner failed to notify customers within 30 days of the fee’s application, according to the New York Daily News. Locally, customers showed their own dismay over the new fee and many said they had no idea it was coming."

Customers do not think this is fair at all and mention that it should be stated if they will be charged. Even without the extra charges, customers have complained that their bills are high enough as is and that Time Warner does not need to make as much profit as they are.

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Visa, MasterCard Fees Deal Opposed by 1,200 Businesses
November 16, 2012

According to Bloomberg News (11/1 Smythe), "Retailer groups opposed to Visa Inc. (V) and MasterCard Inc. (MA)’s $7.25 billion settlement of a lawsuit over merchant credit-card fees said they have garnered support from about 1,200 businesses covered by the deal." It has also been reported that "trade associations including the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Restaurant Association urged U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, New York, not to grant initial approval to the settlement, according to objection papers the parties are preparing to submit."

Washington Post has also reported that "The settlement, estimated to cost the card companies and major banks as much as $7.25 billion, would cover about 7 million retailers nationwide. In an order filed Oct. 24, Gleeson said he will probably approve the deal. That could end about seven years of litigation over an alleged conspiracy by the card companies and banks to fix the “interchange” fees that retailers are charged when customers pay with cards."

Fox Business reports "If the deal receives final approval from U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, it would be the largest federal antitrust settlement in U.S. history, offering nearly 8 million merchants $7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in the interchange, or swipe fees, they pay to process credit and debit transactions. Nearly 1,200 merchants and major trade groups opposed the settlement, arguing that it would strip away stores' legal rights."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Supreme Court Hears Important Consumer Rights Case
November 5, 2012

Recent developments of cases have been brought to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear "oral arguments that could have serious implications for consumers’ access to justice and their right to hold corporations accountable for anti-competitive behavior."

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, is trying to stop an antitrust lawsuit that seeks $875 million on behalf of as many as 2 million Philadelphia-area customers.

Reported by The American Association for Justice, "Comcast v. Behrend falls on the heels of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion – two of the latest barriers preventing Americans with similar claims or injuries from banding together as a class to receive justice and hold powerful interests accountable."

Bloomberg News (11/5 Fisk) reports "The ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, cited in a series of lower-court decisions -- most favoring companies -- will influence the Supreme Court’s view of the antitrust class action facing Comcast and the securities fraud class action involving Amgen, said Gerald Maatman Jr., of Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago." In addition, Comcast "contends a federal judge improperly certified the case as a class-action lawsuit without first resolving whether proof of damages could be determined for the plaintiffs as a group. A Philadelphia-based federal appeals court let the case go forward."

According to The New York Times (11/5 Liptak) this consumer rights case was brought by "cable customers in the Philadelphia area who said they were made to pay too much for their service because of violations of the antitrust laws by Comcast involving its acquisitions and swaps of cable systems." Comcast had asked the justices to address a broad question about how to apply the Wal-Mart decision in other settings. But the court, as it occasionally does, redrafted the question presented by the petitioner, now focusing on whether a trial judge must insist on “admissible evidence, including expert testimony, to show that the case is susceptible to awarding damages on a classwide basis.”

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Supreme Court Hears Important Consumer Rights Case
November 5, 2012

Recent developments of cases have been brought to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear "oral arguments that could have serious implications for consumers’ access to justice and their right to hold corporations accountable for anti-competitive behavior."

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, is trying to stop an antitrust lawsuit that seeks $875 million on behalf of as many as 2 million Philadelphia-area customers.

Reported by The American Association for Justice, "Comcast v. Behrend falls on the heels of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion – two of the latest barriers preventing Americans with similar claims or injuries from banding together as a class to receive justice and hold powerful interests accountable."

Bloomberg News (11/5 Fisk) reports "The ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, cited in a series of lower-court decisions -- most favoring companies -- will influence the Supreme Court’s view of the antitrust class action facing Comcast and the securities fraud class action involving Amgen, said Gerald Maatman Jr., of Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago." In addition, Comcast "contends a federal judge improperly certified the case as a class-action lawsuit without first resolving whether proof of damages could be determined for the plaintiffs as a group. A Philadelphia-based federal appeals court let the case go forward."

According to The New York Times (11/5 Liptak) this consumer rights case was brought by "cable customers in the Philadelphia area who said they were made to pay too much for their service because of violations of the antitrust laws by Comcast involving its acquisitions and swaps of cable systems." Comcast had asked the justices to address a broad question about how to apply the Wal-Mart decision in other settings. But the court, as it occasionally does, redrafted the question presented by the petitioner, now focusing on whether a trial judge must insist on “admissible evidence, including expert testimony, to show that the case is susceptible to awarding damages on a classwide basis.”

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Homeowners Still Without Relief from Chinese Drywall
October 9, 2012

According to Bloomberg News (10/9 Calkins), Taishan Gypsum Co. appealed a September court ruling that ordered the Chinese drywall manufacturer to pay U.S. homeowners for damages caused by harmful chemicals in the wallboard. Although it has been almost three years since Taishan Gypsum's efforts to avoid being responsible for the damage of homes for selling defective drywall, it seems as though it may all be coming to a halt. With Taishan Gypsum's sneaky tactics to refuse accountability for the damages of their defective products, the delays have cost the homes of many homeowners. It has been reported by the American Association for Justice that "as much as 500 million pounds of Chinese drywall has been imported to the U.S." with this Chinese company responsible for "more than 10 million pounds". Therefore, it is estimated that "as many as 100,000 or more homes may have the toxic drywall, and remediation efforts could cost in the billions of dollars."

San Francisco Chronicle (10/9) also reports that the Homeowners Consumer Center is trying to warn all home buyers-investors in The Gulf States to avoid buying a home saying "there is no such thing as an iron clad remediation protocol from the US EPA to fix, or repair a toxic Chinese drywall home-we are urging any type of home buyer, or investor to not purchase any type of residential property that contains toxic Chinese drywall in Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and or Southeast Texas-until the US EPA provides such a protocol."

Bloomberg News also reports that "U.S. regulators recommended that homeowners remove all defective drywall and replace gas-service piping, smoke alarms and other electrical components and wiring that may have been corroded by chemicals in the wall board. Lawyers claim as many as 40,000 customers might have been harmed by the defective Chinese product, which was installed widely in the U.S. Gulf Coast and southern Eastern seaboard from 2005 through 2009."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

HCA's SEC filing confirms federal probe into "cardiology services."
August 9, 2012

In continuing coverage, the Los Angeles Times (8/8, Terhune) reports HCA Holdings Inc., which is "under government scrutiny for allegedly performing unnecessary surgeries and other medical procedures on some Florida patients, has posted healthy profits at its three hospitals in Southern California." The Nashville, Tennessee-based hospital chain "said in a securities filing Monday that officials with the US attorney's office in Miami had requested information about medical necessity reviews for certain 'cardiology services'" at about "10 of its hospitals, primarily in Florida." Overall, the company has "163 hospitals and 110 surgery centers" nationwide.

Bloomberg News (8/8, Nussbaum) notes that the disclosure came Monday after the New York Times reported HCA had "investigated numerous cases in which doctors conducted unnecessary surgeries in its facilities, and wouldn't say if it alerted patients, regulators or insurers about the results." HCA CEO Richard M. Bracken "declined to answer questions about the legal probe or the Times article during a conference call with analysts" to release its 2Q earnings report. However, Bracken did say that the "Times may be preparing more than one story about the company and that the newspaper had also asked about wound-care practices, treatment of uninsured patients and emergency-room procedures."

The AP (8/8, Tanner) notes that the HCA "posted a four-page letter [pdf] on the home page of its website Monday, saying the New York Times 'appears to be making broad points concerning patient care provided at our company's affiliated hospitals.'" The posting also "says that decisions about the need for some heart procedures are 'the subject of much debate in the cardiology community.'"

MedPage Today (8/8, Kaiser) notes that several media reports said that a Florida nurse's complaints prompted the "federal probe of potentially unnecessary cardiac procedures at HCA Holdings." One reported suggested that as many as "1,200 cardiac catheterizations" performed at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce, Florida, "were deemed to be unnecessary."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

FDA: Inappropriate use of prescription pain relievers caused nearly 425,000 ER visits in 2009
August 9, 2012

On its website, CBS affiliate KHQA-TV Hannibal, MO (8/8, Hasch) reports, "Misuse of prescription pain killers has become a leading cause of death across the country." In fact, "according to the federal Food and Drug Administration, inappropriate use of prescription pain relievers caused nearly 425 thousand emergency room visits in 2009. The drugs were blamed for more than 15 thousand deaths that year."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
HCA discloses federal probe of cardiology procedures
August 9, 2012

The Wall Street Journal (8/7, Mathews, Weaver, Subscription Publication) reports that HCA Holdings Inc. announced on Monday that Federal prosecutors in Miami are probing the necessity of cardiology procedures performed at several of its hospitals.

The AP (8/7, Murphy) reports, "The nation's biggest hospital operator also said in an unusual posting on its website that The New York Times may soon run news stories on patient care at its hospitals." The AP adds, "HCA said the civil division of the US Attorney's office in Miami has asked for information about reviews that assess the medical necessity of some interventional cardiology services. It also said the civil division of the Justice Department has contacted HCA as part of a national review of whether charges to the federal government for implantable cardio-defibrillators met government criteria."

In a 3,000-word, front-page story, the New York Times (8/7, Abelson, Creswell, Subscription Publication) (8/7, Abelson, Creswell, Subscription Publication) - based on its review of HCA internal documents - reports the company "had uncovered evidence as far back as 2002 and as recently as late 2010 showing that some cardiologists at several of its hospitals in Florida were unable to justify many of the procedures they were performing. Those hospitals included the Cedars Medical Center in Miami, which the company no longer owns, and the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point." The Times adds, "Questions about the necessity of medical procedures...are not uncommon," but "the documents suggest that the problems at HCA went beyond a rogue doctor or two." However, the Times notes, "HCA denies its decisions at these hospitals were motivated by financial considerations."

Bloomberg News (8/7, Nussbaum) reports, "Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Bracken said" Monday "on a conference call for analysts that the New York Times was preparing a story that may focus on HCA's medical practices and treatment of uninsured patients. The twin disclosures spurred concern about risks for a company whose biggest shareholder, Bain Capital LLC, was once led by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney." Bloomberg adds, "The US request to HCA is part of a heightened federal push against alleged health-care fraud. The Israel-based generic-drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. said Aug. 3 that it received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with a Latin America bribery probe. London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc pleaded guilty July 5 to illegally promoting two drugs in a $3 billion deal with the Justice Department, the largest settlement ever in a case involving health-care fraud."

The Nashville (TN) Business Journal (8/7, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reports, "As part of their review, the DOJ will scrutinize billing and medical records at 95 HCA hospitals that have occurred since October 2003. The investigation could give rise to claims against the company under the federal False Claims Act, officials noted in the quarterly report."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Many dietary supplements may contain potentially dangerous drugs
August 3, 2012

Consumer Reports (8/3) reports, "Many dietary supplements, especially those that claim to enhance male sexual performance, are spiked with prescription drugs. That's one of the conclusions of our new report on 10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements." As the article notes, the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this month "said tests it conducted on samples of the supposedly 'all-natural' product found that it actually contained sildenafil and tadalafil, the active ingredients in the prescription drugs Viagra and Cialis."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Peg Perego recalling 223,000 strollers over strangulation worries
July 31, 2012

Reuters (7/31) reports that Peg Perego USA is currently recalling about 223,000 baby strollers made between 2004 and 2006 over safety concerns, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. As the story notes, a several incidents involving the Peg Perego strollers have raised worries about entrapment and strangulation. For example, a 6-month-old boy from Tarzana, California died in 2004 from strangulation after his head was caught between the seat and the tray of one of the Peg Perego strollers.

Reported by the American Association for Justice

FDA warns against eating recalled cantaloupe
July 31, 2012

Food Safety News (7/31, Bottemiller) reports, "Following a recall announced over the weekend, the US Food and Drug Administration late Monday warned consumers not to eat whole cantaloupe from North Carolina's Burch Farms due to possible Listeria monoccytogenes contamination." The recall affects "580 cases of cantaloupes [shipped] on July 15 to retail stores in New York and Maine." And "FDA said the cantaloupes were distributed to retail supermarkets, including northeast chain Hannaford Supermarkets, in New York and Maine, but the agency said it was 'likely' that the melons were distributed in other states."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Opinion: ALEC enables corporations to influence environmental policy
July 31, 2012

In an opinion piece in the Earth Times (7/30), freelance writer Melanie J. Martin writes that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) "has been influencing, and in many cases directly dictating, laws that affect everything from education to the environment since 1973." Martin goes on to describe how she finds that ALEC uses numerous lobbying techniques to "strongly influence the creation and passage of laws that privilege only the wealthy few." At one point, Martin quotes the American Association for Justice as saying, "ALEC is the ultimate smoke-filled back room."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Analysis Suggests Fannie, Freddie Could Benefit From Principal Reduction
July 31, 2012

The Wall Street Journal (7/31, Timiraos Subscription Publication, 2.08M) reports that a new analysis conducted by the FHFA suggests allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to offer principal reduction to underwater homeowners could prove beneficial to taxpayers, according to unnamed sources. The data indicated the GSEs could save approximately $3.6 billion more compared to loss-mitigation efforts currently being utilized. The FHFA is almost ready to unveil its decision about mortgage write downs, but to date, the agency has been skeptical about the impact of such a policy, citing increased losses to taxpayers and the fear that more underwater borrowers could strategically default. The Journal notes that the Obama Administration has increased pressure on the agency to allow the policy. For instance, last year, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers, "We think there's a set of cases where it's clearly in the interest of the taxpayer for them to do principal reduction upfront."

The Financial Times (7/31, Nasiripour, Subscription Publication, 448K) also reports Geithner and other Administration officials have endorsed the idea of Fannie and Freddie offering principal reductions. To date, however, FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco has not indicated he will implement the policy. The Times points out the unnamed sources who provided information about the preliminary findings warned that the final data could be different, since the FHFA is still working on its analysis.

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Peg Perego recalls 223,000 strollers amid safety concerns
July 30, 2012

ABC World News (7/24, story 9, 0:30, Sawyer) reported, "A consumer alert now about a huge recall of baby strollers. Tonight more than 200,000 strollers manufactured by Peg Perego are being recalled. There's a risk the child's head will become trapped between the seat and the tray, which could strangle the child. One death has already been reported. Two models, both older, manufactured between 2004 and 2007, are being recalled."

The Wall Street Journal (7/25, Jones, Subscription Publication) reports that Peg Perego USA Inc. is now recalling about 223,000 strollers because of concerns over safety risks. The safety concerns are especially related to the death of a six-month-old baby from strangulation eight years ago in Tarzana, California. The Journal notes that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that the baby was strangled when his head became trapped between the seat and the tray of his Peg Perego stroller.

CNN (7/25, Sperry) reports on its website that in a separate incident in 2006, "a 7-month-old New York girl nearly died from similar circumstances." The story quotes the CPSC as saying of the Peg Perego stroller, "Entrapment and strangulation can occur, especially to infants younger than 12 months of age, when a child is not harnessed. An infant can pass through the opening between the stroller tray and seat bottom, but his/her head and neck can become entrapped by the tray. Infants who become entrapped at the neck are at risk of strangulation."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Ford recalls 421,000 Escapes
July 30, 2012

ABC World News (7/26, story 7, 0:25, Elliot, 8.2M) reported "nearly half a million SUVs, Ford Escapes and Mavericks being recalled after our Phoenix affiliate aired a series of investigations. The cars have what's called a sticky pedal. A defect in the cruise control cable that can cause the cars to speed out of control."

The CBS Evening News (7/26, story 9, 0:20, Pelley, 6.1M) reported, "Thirteen crashes and one death have been linked to this defect." The Los Angeles Times (7/27, Hirsch, Times, 629K) notes that while the recall came "just a week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an inquiry into the problem, noting 68 complaints, including 13 accidents, nine injuries and one fatality," a consumer watchdog group, the Center for Auto Safety, "said the automaker has not acted quickly enough and should be fined."

Bloomberg News (7/27, Naughton, Plungis, 1M) says "almost 424,000 US vehicles with three-liter, six-cylinder engines will be covered under the recall, according to documents Ford provided to NHTSA.." NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said that an "investigation remains open, pending the agency's review of the documents provided by Ford in its recall action." She said, "NHTSA will continue to monitor any future issues...to ensure there are no additional safety risks that warrant further action."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Cargill recalls ground beef following concerns about salmonella infection
July 24, 2012

The New York Times (7/24, Strom, Subscription Publication) reports, "A unit of the giant agribusiness Cargill is recalling about 29,300 pounds of ground beef produced in late May, after it was linked to several cases of salmonella poisoning last month." The Times notes that "the only retailer known to have sold the contaminated beef is Hannaford Supermarkets, which operates about 180 grocery stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire." As the article mentions, "salmonella infections, which tend to be most severe among infants, older adults and the sick, can be life-threatening to those with weak immune systems."

The Wall Street Journal (7/24) reports in its "Health" blog that the USDA has warned of salmonella-contaminated beef linked to a Cargill plant in Pennsylvania after five people got sick. In a press release, Cargill president John Keating remarked, "Food borne illnesses are unfortunate and we are sorry for anyone who became sick from eating ground beef we may have produced."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

FDA warns against contaminated oysters, clams from Long Island harbor
July 24, 2012

The New York Times (7/24, Newcomer) reports in its "Cityroom" blog, "The federal Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to eat oysters or clams that were harvested from Oyster Bay Harbor off Long Island." According to officials, "the bacterial outbreak was a result of unusually warm water in Oyster Bay Harbor."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Legislator criticizes FDA for not recalling Chinese pet jerky treats
July 24, 2012

The Cleveland Plain Dealer (7/24, Miller) reports, "Rep. Dennis Kucinich targeted the US Food and Drug Administration Monday for failing to recall pet jerky treats made in China." Kucinich remarked, "After a weeks-long investigative trip to China and thousands of reports of sick and dying dogs, the FDA still has no answers and offers pet owners no protection." Meanwhile, the FDA says on its website, "Unless a contaminant is detected and we have evidence that a product is adulterated, we are limited in what regulatory actions we can take. The regulations don't allow for products to be removed based on complaints alone."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Bayer HealthCare to pay $15 million to settle aspirin marketing suit
July 12, 2012

Bloomberg News (7/11, Smythe) reported Bayer Healthcare will pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit "claiming it illegally marketed aspirin mixed with supplements." The settlement between the company "and US consumers received preliminary approval today from a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Well-known hospitals test poorly on patient safety
July 12, 2012

Shannon Brownlee of the New America Foundation's Health Policy Program wrote on the Time (7/10) website that while "many people would probably identify places like" Massachusetts General Hospital and the Mayo Clinic as the nation's best hospitals, Consumer Reports last week released "hospital ratings that shed a different light on the quality of care patients are likely to receive at many of the nation's hospitals. These rankings are based entirely on patient safety data, including factors such as mortality, infections, and readmission rates," and "none of the 17 hospitals" at the top of the well-known US News and World Reports ranking were on the list. Brownlee writes that "the most well-known hospitals have surprisingly bad safety rankings." The US News ranking is based "more on reputation than safety, and a hospital's reputation has more to do with the capacity to perform highly technical, advanced surgery than the day-to-day struggle to treat hundreds of patients."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Senate Democrats demand thorough probe of LIBOR-fixing scandal
July 12, 2012

The Financial Times (7/12, Nasiripour, Subscription Publication) reports members of Congress are demanding a thorough probe of the scandal over manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, which may have caused homeowners to pay more interest than necessary on their mortgages. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said, "I think the US government should be just as aggressive in getting to the bottom of this scandal as the United Kingdom has been. ... This was not isolated to London, but affected tens of millions of investors, borrowers and taxpayers in our country as well." Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) added, "Banks manipulating Libor is an enormous issue that not only represents a fraud on bank customers but has an impact on smaller borrowers and lenders around the world and undermines the entire credibility of financial markets."

Congress probing Geithner's role in Barclays' LIBOR fixing. The Washington Times (7/11, Devaney) reports Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), chairman of the House Financial Services oversight subcommittee, "plans to press both American bankers and US regulators as Congress steps up its probe into a interest-rate-setting scandal that has erupted on both sides of the Atlantic." Neugebauer is "particularly concerned about the role regulators may have played in failing to monitor the situation." The Times notes that Barclays, "the world's fourth-largest bank, last week admitted in a $451 million settlement with British regulators to working with other banks to fix the London interbank offered rate, or Libor," and "in a sign this latest banking scandal is picking up steam on this side of the Atlantic, lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill say they plan to grill" Treasury Secretary Geithner and Fed chair Bernanke "over the possible involvement of American firms and regulators in the scandal."

D.M. Levine, in the Huffington Post (7/11) reported that when he was president of the New York Federal Reserve, Geithner "met repeatedly with Barclays officials," and "though the subject of those discussions is unknown, they came at a time when Barclays was also talking to New York Fed officials about problems with an interest rate known as Libor, some five years before the bank agreed to pay $450 million to settle charges that it manipulated that interest rate." According to Levine, "The meetings raise questions about just how much Geithner...knew about the alleged manipulation of Libor...questions he'll have to answer at a Senate hearing later this month."

WSJournal: outrage over Libor scandal is unwarranted. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal (7/11, Subscription Publication) says parliamentary testimony from Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, has shown the London Interbank Offered Rate scandal is a smaller matter than the outrage surrounding it indicates.

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Report: US nursing facilities fall short on compliance with rules on antipsychotics
July 10, 2012

Modern Healthcare (7/10, Zigmond, Subscription Publication) reports, "The nation's nursing facilities have failed to comply with certain requirements related to assessments and care plans for residents who receive anti-psychotic drugs, according to a new study from HHS' inspector general's office." The story adds, "A review of a random sample of records from a previous inspector general's office study of elderly nursing facility residents with Medicare claims for these drugs between January and June 2007 showed that 99% failed to meet one or more federal requirements for resident assessments and/or care plans."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Settlement approved in Wellbutrin generic class action
July 9, 2012

The Legal Intelligencer (7/5, Elliott-Engel, Subscription Publication) reported a federal judge "has approved the national settlement of a multidistrict litigation class action alleging that the generic version of the popular antidepressant drug Wellbutrin was not as therapeutically effective as the brand-name drug. He also took a shot at a landmark US Supreme Court decision in the process." Under the settlement of In re Budeprion XL Marketing and Sales Litigation, generic maker Impax will change product labeling, take other consumer protection steps, and pay $4.5 million in attorney fees and class counsel costs. On Monday, District Judge Berle M. Schiller of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania approved, calling it prudent considering the difficulties a year-old Supreme Court case poses for inadequate-warning claims against generic drugmakers. The Supreme Court's decision in Pliva v. Mensing, Judge Schiller said, means the class "faced the very real possibility of walking away with nothing," since it held "consumers who take generic drugs are stripped of their right to compensation."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
FDA announces new medical device patient-safety plan
July 6, 2012

The Wall Street Journal (7/4, Burton, Subscription Publication) reported that on July 3, the Food and Drug Administration announced a new patient-safety plan in which certain medical devices of a high-risk nature are to bear unique identification numbers.

"The program would apply to most medical devices and cost as much as $68.4 million a year, according to a pending rule proposal made public on the FDA's website," Bloomberg News (7/3, Cortez) reported. "The plan would be implemented over seven years to allow companies, doctors, hospitals and regulators to prepare and spread out the costs." Among the devices covered are "catheters, defibrillators, heart stents and artificial joints."

The AP (7/3) reported that the unique codes would "identify the product's make, manufacturer and lot number. The codes would be stored in a publicly accessible database to help regulators, doctors and companies could monitor safety issues with devices." The agency "will accept public comments on the proposal for about four months before finalizing it."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Study: tort reform has not cut health care costs in Texas
June 22, 2012

The Austin (TX) American Statesman (6/20, Roser) reported, "A new study found no evidence that health care costs in Texas dipped after a 2003 constitutional amendment limited payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits, despite claims made to voters by some backers of tort reform. The researchers, who include University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, examined Medicare spending in Texas counties and saw no reduction in doctors' fees for seniors and disabled patients between 2002 and 2009. A 2003 voter campaign in Texas, and some congressional backers of Texas-style tort reform in every state, however, argued that capping damage awards would not only curb malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs for doctors, it would lower costs for patients while boosting their access to physicians."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Prescription painkillers top car crashes as leading accidental cause of death in US
June 22, 2012

The Daily Mail (UK) (6/21, Allen) reports research by the National Center for Health Statistics found that "Prescription painkillers have topped car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the US." According to the report, "the number of people dying from the pills has tripled since 1980, while the number of car accidents has dropped by one-and-a-half times since that year." In 2008, 41,000 Americans died from drug overdose while 38,000 died in road deaths. Meanwhile, "emergency department visits for prescription painkiller abuse or misuse have doubled in the last five years to nearly 500,000." According to experts, the US has "is a lack of education surrounding the drugs...misconceptions over their use and how they should be managed," and "pharmaceutical industry have introduced some 'questionable practices' in how the drugs are marketed."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Merck accused of targeting children with allergy medicine's marketing
June 22, 2012

The New York Times (6/21, Thomas, Subscription Publication) reports the Public Health Advocacy Institute and 10 other groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Merck is "improperly marketing" Children's Claritin (loratadine) "directly to children using animated characters from the movie 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.'" The groups calls the marketing strategy "dangerous and deceptive, pointing to the inclusion of Madagascar stickers in some boxes of the product, the creation of activity books that parents can download for their children and the enlistment of a team of mothers who blog to hold Claritin-themed Madagascar viewing parties for their children and friends." Noting that the characters are used to promote candy the groups suggest children may confuse grape-flavored Claritin with candy. Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty "said the company was reviewing the matter, but added, 'We advertised in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of Claritin, and not to the children themselves.'"

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Electronic medical records offer benefits to public health officials
June 19, 2012

The New York Times (6/19, D5, Freudenheim, Subscription Publication) reports, "The growing prevalence of electronic medical records has had an unexpected benefit: By combing through the data now received almost continuously from hospitals and other medical facilities, some health departments are spotting and combating outbreaks with unprecedented speed." The story cites "Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the Obama administration's national coordinator for health information technology," and "Dr. Seth Foldy, a senior adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" stating the public health benefits of EHRs. Specifically, health information exchanges are providing information "in real time" allowing public health agencies to see the rise and fall of disease outbreaks, and "health care providers are required to provide pertinent data electronically to local and state public health officials, who feed into a national digital network coordinated by the C.D.C. in Atlanta."
California court

Reported by the American Association for Justice
GAO to release report on government's safety standards for cell phones
June 19, 2012

The Washington Post (6/19, Kang) reports in its "Post Tech" blog, "The Government Accountability Office will release a report July 24 on its review of the federal government's safety standards for cell phones." This "expected report offers one reason for why the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Friday took the first steps toward updating the agency's 15-year-limits for radio frequencies from mobile devices." The commission "puts limits on the specific absorption rates of the devices -- which is the measure of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body during cell phone use."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Three months later, homeowner benefits seen lagging from national mortgage settlement
June 14, 2012

Ben Hallman wrote in the Huffington Post (6/13), "As part of the national mortgage settlement signed in March, five large banks -- Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial -- agreed to offer at least $10 billion in loan forgiveness, or principal reduction, to some of the estimated 11.1 million homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth." Yet, "three months later, the banks' progress in distributing that relief is slow, said housing counselors at 12 agencies, mostly in Florida." The banks have made few principal reductions, instead focusing on principal forbearance, where the bulk of a loan comes due in a lump-sum payment. Hallman claimed settlememt provisions are partly to blame. "For starters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giants that control about 60 percent of the mortgage market, have refused to participate in principal reduction except in very limited circumstances, despite arm-twisting by the Obama administration".

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Alere recalls heart attack, drug use tests that fail FDA standards
June 14, 2012

Bloomberg News (6/13) reported, "Alere Inc. is recalling 897,000 tests used to detect heart attacks and drug use because of quality control flaws." In detail, "The 650,000 cardiology tests are used to diagnose heart attacks and manage heart failure, while 247,000 Triage Tox tests are used by hospitals to identify 11 different substances including acetaminophen, cocaine, and marijuana." But "the tests failed to meet interim US Food and Drug Administration quality guidelines during an inspection that is continuing."

The Boston Herald (6/13, Kantor) reported that, according to the company, "A total of 650,000 individual tests -- including 456,000 Alere Triage BNP tests, 2,000 Alere Triage D-dimer tests and 192,000 Alere Triage cardiology panel tests -- have been recalled," most of them made in 2011. Overall, "customers have indicated that 317,000 of such tests require no action because they were either used or will continue to be utilized due to the lack of an alternate testing method, with the balance, or 81,000 tests, either requiring refund or replacement."

The Boston Business Journal (6/13, Donnelly, Subscription Publication) reports, "Alere stated it does not anticipate any additional recalls associated with the inspection. The company is ramping up production of the tests, and reports it will incur increased manufacturing costs as a result."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
WHO says diesel fumes cause lung cancer
June 14, 2012

The New York Times (6/13, A8, McNeil, Subscription Publication) reported, "Diesel fumes cause lung cancer," the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) "declared Tuesday, and experts said they were more carcinogenic than secondhand cigarette smoke." The organization's "decision, the first to elevate diesel to the 'known carcinogen' level, may eventually affect some American workers who are heavily exposed to exhaust. It is particularly relevant to poor countries, where trucks, generators, and farm and factory machinery routinely belch clouds of sooty smoke and fill the air with sulfurous particulates."

The Los Angeles Times (6/13, Cart) "Science Now" blog reported that John Froines, "a professor of public health at UCLA, said that Tuesday's announcement will be difficult to refute because the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is known to be conservative and careful about its pronouncements."

CNN (6/13, Hellerman) added, "The IARC has for more than two decades classified diesel engine exhaust as a 'probable' carcinogen -- a cancer-causing agent -- but until recently there was no clear evidence linking it to higher cancer rates." However, two recent studies "found an increase in lung cancer rates among workers exposed to diesel exhaust underground, with greater exposure linked to steadily higher cancer rates."

The AP (6/13) noted, "The US government, however, still classifies diesel exhaust as a likely carcinogen. Experts said new diesel engines spew out fewer fumes but further studies are needed to assess any potential dangers."

Reuters (6/13, Kelland) reports that in a statement, the IARC said, "The working group found that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer and also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer."

AFP (6/13) reports that Christopher Portier, chairman of a working group at the IARC, said, "Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Study: FDA may be inadequately informing healthcare providers about recalls
June 6, 2012

Reuters
(6/5, Seaman) reports on a study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, which found that about once every month the FDA recalls drugs that are potentially harmful, although they could improve on communicating this to doctors and patients. The study's authors, in a letter to the Archives of Internal Medicine, wrote, "Despite recent efforts by the FDA to address the drug recall burden, health care providers may be inadequately informed about clinically important recalls that threaten patient safety." The piece cites an FDA spokesperson, who was unable to address why notifications were not sent in 18 cases.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Senate fails to move Paycheck Fairness Act
June 6, 2012

The Senate on Tuesday failed to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women. Much of the coverage this morning indicates that the bills failure was not unexpected, and that Democrats saw the debate as an opportunity to put Republicans on the defensive on an issue of great importance to women. The AP (6/6, Kellman) reports Senate Republicans blocked the measure, which fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance and adds that President Obama "and his congressional allies aren't finished appealing to women on the No. 1 concern for all voters: the cash in their wallets on the heels of recession." The AP notes that for Democrats "passage wasn't the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women's issue, this one overtly economic after a government report showing slower-than-expected job growth."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Tide to add lid latch to keep children out of detergent packets
May 29, 2012

The AP (5/25, Ball, Merchant) reported, "The maker of Tide Pods will create a new double-latch lid to deter children from accessing and eating the brightly colored detergent packets, a company spokesman said Friday. Procter & Gamble spokesman Paul Fox said the Cincinnati-based company plans to create a new lid on tubs of Tide Pods 'in the next couple of weeks.'" The reason is the number of poisoning incidents, attributed to the attractive colors of the small packets.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Senate has approved a rush of bipartisan legislation in recent months
May 29, 2012

The New York Times (5/26, Weisman, Subscription Publication) reported, "For the Congressional chamber where bills usually go to die, the Senate is on something of a roll, passing bipartisan legislation, confirming nominees -- and potentially isolating House Republican leaders who have made Senate inaction a centerpiece of their political appeals." By "big bipartisan majorities," the Senate has recently "passed legislation to overhaul the postal system, pay for a multiyear transportation program, renew the Violence Against Women Act, streamline drug approval rules at the Food and Drug Administration, extend the life of the Export-Import Bank and ease financing for business start-ups. It has confirmed 19 judges and has put the Federal Reserve Board at full strength for the first time since 2006."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
CDC finds states spent just 3 percent of tobacco settlement on control efforts
May 25, 2012

The Washington Times (5/25, Wetzstein) reports, "States have collected billions of dollars from tobacco companies but spent only 3 percent of it to combat smoking -- a less-than-robust response to the high costs of health care associated with smoking," according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding that "of the $243.8 billion in tobacco money received from 1998 to 2010...states spent only $8.1 billion, or 3.3 percent, on 'tobacco control.'" The CDC had recommended that the states spend "12 percent minimum, or $29.2 billion...on smoking-prevention efforts."

The AP (5/25, Felberbaum) reports, "While states on average have never spent as much the CDC would like, the total has declined dramatically in recent years."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Mortgage fraud task force steps up work
May 25, 2012

The Washington Times (5/25, Seper) reports, "The Justice Department has expanded its ongoing effort to uncover the mortgage fraud and abuse that helped precipitate the 2008 financial crisis, offering 'substantial financial help' to corporate insiders willing to serve as whistleblowers." The Times continues, "The department's Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) working group announced new resources Thursday in an ongoing effort to investigate misconduct, including the launch of a website to report fraud, the creation of a coordination team to facilitate investigations under way around the country, and a solicitation of 'insiders' to help in those probes. 'The RMBS website is a new call to those insiders who know about fraud that occurred in the RMBS market, who know it's time to expose that fraud, and who want to help us hold accountable those individuals and institutions who broke the law in pursuit of bigger paydays,' said acting Associate Attorney General Tony West."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
FDA says it will review azithromycin study
May 18, 2012

Reuters (5/18) reports that, following the release of a study indicating that azithromycin may be linked to increase risk of death in certain adult patients, the US Food and Drug Administration said that individuals should not discontinue use of the drug without consulting a physician.

On NBC Nightly News (5/17, story 8, 2:40, Williams) NBC's chief medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, MD, said, "There have been isolated reports from the FDA of problems with this drug with heart disease. Researchers at Vanderbilt have found the drug could increase the risk of sudden cardiac death in some patients."

Meanwhile, on ABC World News (5/17, story 6, 1:50, Sawyer), ABC News medical editor Richard Besser, MD, said, "The researchers found that in a million patients taking" the drug, "there were 45 more deaths from heart disease. The risk is higher for those with heart problems."

Medscape (5/18) reports that the FDA also indicated that it "will review" the "new study," which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The agency, "in its announcement...reminded clinicians that QT interval prolongation, which can trigger an abnormal and sometimes fatal heart arrhythmia called torsades de pointes (TdP), has been linked not only with azithromycin but also with other" macrolides. The agency "said that it would update the public on any new information on azithromycin or the potential risk for QT interval prolongation after it reviews the NEJM study."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
CDC lowers recommended limit for lead exposure in children
May 17, 2012

The New York Times (5/17, A24, Hartocollis, Subscription Publication) reports, "For the first time in 20 years, federal health authorities have lowered the recommended limit for lead exposure in young children, which they say could add 200,000 children to those believed to have unsafe lead levels in their blood." The recommendation, "announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday and applicable to children under six, lowers the threshold to five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, from 10 micrograms per deciliter." Christopher Portier, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, "said that the new standard was based on the lead levels in the highest 2.5 percent of children and that it represented a shift in policy, to a public health approach focusing on prevention, from a more clinical approach to lead poisoning."

USA Today (5/17, Weise, Young) reports, "The new guidelines are based on recommendations made by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention work group." As many as "365,000 more children across the USA will be considered at risk of lead poisoning under" the "new guidelines."

The AP (5/17, Stobbe) reports, "Under the old standard, lead poisoning in children had been declining in the US. Experts estimated that somewhere between 77,000 and 255,000 children had high levels of lead, though many of them are undiagnosed."

The Wall Street Journal (5/17, Martin, Subscription Publication) reports that even low levels of lead in a child's bloodstream can cause symptoms, such as hyperactivity or stomachaches, according to Portier, who said, "We don't see any research that suggests a threshold for the effects of lead in children."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

National malpractice payouts last year totaled $3.68 billion
May 14, 2012

On the InjuryBoard blog (5/10, Stratton), an entry noted that while healthcare costs "have quadrupled in the last 20 years, and are estimated to be well over" $2 trillion, medical malpractice awards "have gone up less than 1% a year since 1992, and represent in 2011 just $3.6B in total payouts." Last year's payouts were 25% below the high-water of $4.6 billion, set in 2003. That amounts to one-quarter of one percent of 1% of the nation's healthcare expenditures.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Baby items such as bottles, pacifiers linked to thousands of injuries
May 14, 2012

The New York Times (5/14, O'Connor) "Well" blog reports that research "in the journal Pediatrics highlight several under-recognized causes of injury in young children: bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups, which cause thousands of injuries to the mouth and teeth every year, often when toddlers topple over while holding them in their mouths."

The Washington Post (5/14, Huget) "The Checkup" blog reports that researchers found that over a 20-year period, "more than 45,000 young children had sustained injuries" linked to baby items such as bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers that were "serious enough to warrant emergency-room treatment."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (5/14, Kalson) reports, "Some 83 percent of the wounds were cuts or bruises to the mouth and face or dental injuries after children fell while using the products. Two-thirds of the injuries occurred among one-year-olds, who tend to be unsteady on their feet and prone to tumbles."

The CNN (5/14) "The Chart" blog reports, "One in five (19.9%) injured children had a pacifier in their mouth, and in 14.3% of the cases, a sippy cup was involved."

MedPage Today (5/14, Baron-Faust) points out, "This study is the first to use a nationally representative sample to examine injuries associated with these products, the authors stated."

Button batteries may be life-threatening if swallowed by children. USA Today (5/14, Healy) reports that button batteries "accounted for 84% of the battery-related hospital emergency department visits by children from 1990 to 2009, and once ingested, they can be life-threatening," according to a study in Pediatrics. "The increase in emergency department visits coincides with the introduction of the 3-volt 20-millimeter lithium battery into the marketplace," which "is more powerful and can cause tissue damage much more quickly."

The Wall Street Journal (5/14, Mathews, Subscription Publication) explains that if the batter sticks in the esophagus it can produce burns and even perforations. It also points out that the study made use of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
House Democrats back overdraft fee legislation
May 11, 2012

The Hill (5/10, Schroeder) reported in its "On The Money" blog that 38 House Democrats have signed on to Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-N.Y.) Overdraft Protection Act, which "would limit when and how banks can charge people who try to spend more money than their accounts can handle." The Hill quoted Maloney saying, "With the rise of debit cards and the constant presence of swipe-card terminals to pay for everything from a tank of gas to a candy bar, it's easier than ever to overdraw an account and incur an overdraft fee. It is quite clear more needs to be done in the area of consumer disclosures and to help consumers avoid multiple overdrafts."

Reported by the American Association for Justice

Abbott settles Depakote marketing dispute with DOJ, states for $1.6 billion
May 8, 2012

Abbott Laboratories reached a settlement with the Justice Department and several states over illegal marketing practices for its anti-seizure drug Depakote, in which Abbott will pay $1.6 billion in criminal and civil fines. The announcement generated heavy media coverage, including a brief mention on ABC World News.

ABC World News (5/7, story 8, 0:30, Sawyer) reported, "Tonight one of the largest drug companies, Abbott Laboratories has agreed to a staggering settlement. Today $1.6 billion in criminal and civil fines for improperly marketing the anti-seizure drug Depakote in nursing homes. The company convinced the nursing homes to use the drug to treat aggression in dementia patients, despite the lack of credible evidence that the drug was effective for that use."

The New York Times (5/8, Schmidt, Thomas, Subscription Publication) reports, "The settlement comes as the Justice Department and the states have increased scrutiny of the sales and marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies, particularly in cases in which they market drugs for uses that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration."

The Wall Street Journal (5/8, Loftus, Kendall, Subscription Publication) reports that in addition to the fines, Abbott would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating a federal drug law.

The Washington Post (5/8, Aizenman) notes the settlement "is the second-largest in a string of multimillion-dollar payouts in recent years resulting from stepped-up enforcement by the Justice Department and state investigators against drugmakers that 'misbrand' their products. The company will to plead guilty to one misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding. Abbott also agreed to a five-year probationary period in which it must report any probable violations of the law to the probation office."

The Chicago Tribune (5/8) reports, "As part of the settlement agreement, North Chicago-based Abbott said it would pay $800 million to resolve civil cases brought by federal and state governments, $700 million in criminal penalties and $100 million to states to resolve consumer protection matters. The company will to plead guilty to one misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding. Abbott also agreed to a five-year probationary period in which it must report any probable violations of the law to the probation office."

The Chicago Sun-Times (5/8) reports, "The company admitted that it trained a specialized sales force to promote Depakote in treating dementia because the drug was not subject to federal regulations designed to prevent the use of unnecessary medications in nursing homes

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Wells Fargo may face DOJ Penalties over fair lending
May 9, 2012

Bloomberg News (5/9, Keoun, Campbell) reports, "Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), the largest US mortgage lender, said federal prosecutors may seek damages and penalties after investigating whether it violated anti- discrimination laws while financing homeowners. 'The Department of Justice has advised Wells Fargo that it believes it can bring claims,' the bank said" Tuesday "in a regulatory filing, without elaborating on potential allegations. 'We believe such claims should not be brought and continue seeking to demonstrate to the Department of Justice our compliance with fair-lending laws.'"

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Fire-retardant chemical makers, tobacco firms used deception to sidetrack "fire-safe" cigarettes, boost sales
May 9, 2012

The initial installment of a four-part Chicago Tribune series (5/6, Callahan, Roe) claimed that it would reveal "a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility." The campaign's deceptive tactics "started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents."

The Chicago Tribune (5/8, Callahan, Roe), next reported that the tobacco industry, trying to defeat proposals that cigarettes be made "fire-safe," extinguishing automatically when not being smoked, "instead promoted flame retardant furniture -- shifting attention to the couches and chairs that were going up in flames." It "launched an aggressive and cunning campaign to 'neutralize' firefighting organizations and persuade these far more trusted groups to adopt tobacco's cause as their own. The industry poured millions of dollars into the effort, doling out grants to fire groups and hiring consultants to court them." A former tobacco executive, Peter Sparber, "helped organize" the National Association of State Fire Marshals, then "shaped its requests for federal rules requiring flame retardant furniture and fed the marshals tobacco's arguments for why altering furniture was a more effective way to prevent fires than altering cigarettes."

The third installment of the Chicago Times series (5/9, Roe, Callahan) reports that the chemical industry has "manipulated scientific findings to promote the widespread use of flame retardants and downplay the health risks, a Tribune investigation shows. The industry has twisted research results, ignored findings that run counter to its aims and passed off biased, industry-funded reports as rigorous science."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
LaHood calls for federal distracted driving ban
April 30, 2012

Secretary LaHood's call for a national distracted driving ban garnered coverage from one national service, while Texas outlets carried more general pieces on the Secretary's San Antonio visit. Coverage of LaHood's remarks ranged from slightly critical in the Reuters piece to slightly positive in reports seen on local television.

Reuters (4/27, Forsyth) reports that US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, while in San Antonio, pushed for a national law banning the use of cell phones while driving. While speaking at an anti-distracted driving summit, which was attended by medical personnel, government officials, and safety advocates, LaHood characterized distracted driving as a "national epidemic" and said that a federal ban would be the way to prevent it. LaHood said that he doesn't think other distracting behavior, such as eating or applying make-up, should be banned by the federal government since "not everyone does that." LaHood added, "But everyone has a cell phone and too many of us think it is OK to talk on our phones while we are driving."

New survey finds distracted driving a growing problem. WRC-TV Washington (4/26, Wilkins) reported on its website, "New statistics from the NTSB show just how big of a problem distracted driving in work zones really is in the Washington region." A new survey released "by Transurban-Fluor, in partnership with AAA Mid-Atlantic, shows that 40 percent of drivers in work zones use their cell phones." NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman commented, "NTSB issued a recommendation last December recommending to states that they ban talking or texting on the phone while behind a wheel, except for emergency situations."

The Washington Post (4/26, Halsey) reports, "With miles of highway construction underway in Northern Virginia, the region's police officers say work-zone accidents have increased dramatically because drivers are using mobile devices to talk or text." A new survey by AAA and Transurban "of 409 police officers who patrol Northern Virginia's roadways, found that cellphone use was to blame in one in three work-zone accidents." Approximately "80 percent said banning cellphone use behind the wheel would dramatically reduce road accidents." The article also notes last year's recommended ban on all cellphone use while driving from the NTSB.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Medical conference session says malpractice not the cause of unnecessary care
April 26, 2012

The Boston Globe (4/26, Conaboy) reports in its "White Coat Notes" blog from the Avoiding Avoidable Care conference that "the message of one panel discussion might have seemed out of place: Medical malpractice is not a primary culprit in the rising cost of medical care." Indeed one expert said that "Malpractice is 'such an unimportant element of what is going on,'" while another said that "the practice of defensive medicine...was not a significant driver." Instead, defensive medicine was attributed "to a cultural fear of uncertainty and anxiety about getting something wrong and being blamed for it, rather than the fear of being sued."

The Washington Post (4/26, Kliff) reports in its "Wonkblog" blog from the same conference, "It turns out we're in the middle of an epidemic -- a tonsillectomy epidemic, to be more specific. ... The number of tonsillectomies performed spiked by 74 percent between 1996 and 2006" to "more than a half-million children in the United States," but "there's no evidence they work for most children." The story explains, "the aim of this conference...is to better understand why we use medicine that doesn't make us any healthier. And it's a pretty tough question to answer, even when you focus on just one, simple procedure." Proposed explanations include patient demand, physician income, and medical education.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Stronger laws appear effective in encouraging teens to use seat belts
April 24, 2012

HealthDay (4/24, Preidt) reports, "Teen drivers and passengers are more likely to use seat belts if they're in states with primary-enforcement seat belt laws, often promoted as 'click it or ticket' laws," according to a study published in the April 19 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health. The study notes that "primary seat belt laws have been proven to reduce death rates in traffic collisions" and "revealed that teens in states with secondary laws were 12 percent less likely to wear a seat belt when driving and 15 percent less likely to do so as a passenger than teens in states with primary laws."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
NHTSA investigating 5,000 school buses for stalling
April 24, 2012

The AP (4/23, Durbin) reported, "The federal government is investigating 5,000 school buses from the 2008 model year that could stall without warning." No injuries or accidents have been attributed to the school buses under investigation. However, "in at least three cases, high-pressure oil lines that connect the oil pump to the fuel injectors allegedly failed on International CE-brand buses." The recall was made public through a posting on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website on Sunday.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
FDA warns doctors on fake Avastin
April 23, 2012

The Wall Street Journal (4/21, Rockoff, Weaver, Subscription Publication) reported the FDA is warning doctors and medical practices in 13 states that they may have purchased fake Avastin, which could hurt patients or, at the least, be ineffective. The FDA identified a company called Richards Pharma, or Richards Services, Ban Dune Marketing Inc., or Warwick Healthcare Solutions as the source. Some of the drugs may have been labeled as Altuzan, a Turkish brand of Avastin. Calling the warning an indication of how pervasive drug counterfeiting has become, the Journal pointed out that some doctors may buy drugs from foreign sources so that they can increase their profits by billing insurers for the more expensive Avastin.

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Questions raised on whether medical device industry embraced safety reforms
April 19, 2012

The New York Times (4/19, B1, Meier, Thomas, Subscription Publication) reports, "As doctors scramble to understand the risks posed by a flawed heart device component made by St. Jude Medical, the episode is raising a bigger question -- whether the $10 billion heart device industry has fully embraced promised safety reforms." In 2005, "the industry was shaken in 2005 by disclosures that a major maker of heart defibrillators, Guidant, had not warned doctors about a potentially fatal flaw in its products," and "now the same issues that dogged device makers seven years ago are resurfacing amid a controversy over how St. Jude Medical has handled disclosures about a problem component, a wire -- or lead -- that connects a defibrillator to a patient's heart."

Reported by the American Association for Justice
Seven Massachusetts hospitals plan to take new approach to malpractice claims
April 18, 2012

In a front-page story, the Boston Globe (4/18, A1, Kowalczyk) reports, "Seven Massachusetts hospitals plan to offer patients harmed by medical errors a prompt apology and financial settlements before they resort to lawsuits, part of a major new initiative to improve the state's cumbersome medical malpractice system."

The AP (4/18, Salsberg) reports, "The program, called Disclosure, Apology and Offer, targets 'defensive medicine' -- a term describing often unnecessary or excessive tests and procedures ordered by doctors wary of being sued by their patients. Many experts consider defensive medicine to be among the top drivers of soaring health care costs nationwide." According to the AP, "the Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents nearly 24,000 physicians, planned to announce the initiative on Wednesday and hopes it will promote a less confrontational atmosphere between patients and doctors when medical mistakes occur and speed resolution of disputes."

The Boston Herald (4/18, McConville) reports that the program "won't entirely prevent litigation, the proponents said. Patients who have received bad medical care can still sue." However, "advocates say this approach has the potential to transform the medical system, where doctors now sometimes order excessive tests to protect themselves."

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Consumer Reports: post-market surveillance needed for medical devices
April 17, 2012

Jim Guest, President of Consumer Reports, wrote the editor of the New York Times (4/13, Subscription Publication), "Your article about malfunctioning heart defibrillators (' Troubling Flaws in Heart Device Shake Industry,' front page, April 7) is just the latest example of how medical implants can become ticking time bombs because of weak federal oversight." Guest says "we need a comprehensive post-market surveillance system so safety problems can be detected sooner and patients can be notified when devices turn out to be defective or dangerous." He concluded, "This year, Congress should give the F.D.A. the tools it needs to assess devices more carefully and track what happens to patients once these devices are on the market. It's time to bring some common sense to medical device oversight."

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Kennedy wants oil speculators banned from commodity markets
April 13, 2012

In a New York Times op-ed (4/11, Subscription Publication), former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, founder, chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation, argues that "'pure' speculators -- investors who buy and sell oil futures but never take physical possession of actual barrels of oil" should be "banned from the world's commodity exchanges, which could drive down the price of oil by as much as 40 percent and the price of gasoline by as much as $1 a gallon." Kennedy added, "Federal legislation should bar pure oil speculators entirely from commodity exchanges in the United States. And the United States should use its clout to get European and Asian markets to follow its lead."

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People who smoke menthol cigarettes may face increased risk of stroke
April 11, 2012

MedPage Today (4/10, Gever) reports, "People who smoke menthol cigarettes were more likely to have a history of stroke than smokers who prefer regular cigarettes, an analysis of federal health survey data indicated." Investigators found, "among 5,167 current smokers participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2008," that "those who reported that they usually smoke menthol cigarettes were more than twice as likely to have had a stroke as those smoking nonmenthol cigarettes."

HealthDay (4/10, Mann) reports that "for women and non-blacks, the risk was more than three times higher." However, "no elevated risk was seen between mentholated cigarette smoking and high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure and the lung disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the researchers said." These "findings appear in a research letter published April 9 in the Archives of Internal Medicine."

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J&J explores ways to increase supply of cancer drug
April 11, 2012

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (4/10, Cortez) reports, "Johnson & Johnson...said it's exploring ways to resume making the cancer medicine liposomal doxorubicin [Doxil] by September after a production shutdown at a supplier last year contributed to a shortage." A company spokeswoman said that "J&J plans to transfer the manufacturing to another supplier," and added, "J&J...may be able to boost its supplies of the drug sooner by having Ben Venue formulate the medication, then transfer it to another company for the filling and packaging of the product."

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Study: most data on hospital infections unavailable to public
April 6, 2012

Forbes (4/6) reports, "Hospitals across the country are using near-total discretion in the way they disclose infections that occur as a result of surgeries, cause over 8,000 deaths annually in the US, and cost an additional $10 billion per year to the healthcare system, a new study underscoring the need for public reporting standards has found." The study, "published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, and authored by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shows that only 21 states currently have legislation that requires monitoring and public reporting for surgical site infections." The researchers found, "of those, only eight states actually make the data publicly available, and only a total of 10 procedures – out of 250 possible types of surgeries - get reported."

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Court mulls severability on third day of healthcare reform arguments
March 29, 2012

The Supreme Court's third day of hearings on the Affordable Care Act generated a great deal of coverage, which had to compete with other high-profile stories for air time. None of the three networks led their newscasts with the healthcare story last night, though they did devote more than 13 minutes to their coverage of the arguments and general topic of healthcare reform.

Much of the reporting over the past two days depicts the court as ideologically driven, and implies or asserts political considerations impel the court's five Republican-appointed justices to oppose the President. The AP (3/29, Sherman), reports, "A Supreme Court seemingly split over ideology will now wrestle in private about whether to strike down key parts or even all of President Barack Obama's historic healthcare law. ... Questions at the court this week days showed a strong ideological division between the liberal justices who seem inclined to uphold the law in its entirety and the conservative justices whose skepticism about Congress' power to force people to buy insurance suggests deep trouble for the insurance requirement, and possibly the entire law."

Despite the widespread belief that the individual mandate, or even the whole ACA, will be overturned, a great deal of coverage was positive in tone towards the Administration's healthcare policy. For instance, ABC World News (3/28, story 4, 2:20, Moran) reported the ACA "does a lot more" than just require everyone have health insurance, including "help people pay for prescription drugs, cover...pre-existing conditions," and "allow young Americans to stay on their parents' plan until they are 26." ABC added, "Today, conservatives argued that if the requirement that everyone has insurance is struck down, all that must go too."

Brian Williams, on NBC Nightly News (3/28, story 2, 3:50), said, "President Obama's healthcare law...might be on life support. Today's focus was this, how much of it can be salvaged if the court throws out the controversial requirement that all Americans be forced to buy health insurance?" Justice Correspondent Pete Williams added that if the mandate is found unconstitutional, "the justices seem to agree that more parts of the law should go with it, and many of them suggest tossing out most of it." According to Williams, "The best hope for the Obama Administration would be...that the justices would find it so hard to decide what to throw out and what to keep that they simply let the entire law stand, but...that seems a dim prospect."

On the CBS Evening News (3/28, story 2, 3:20, Pelley), Jan Crawford reported that the "liberal Justices...pushed to save the rest of the massive healthcare law." Crawford added, "Opponents argue that without everyone buying insurance, the rest of the law doesn't work, including one provision that bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions and a second that prevents companies from hiking up premiums based on a person's medical history. The Obama Administration concedes those two popular provisions can't be paid for unless everyone in the country buys health insurance."

Adam Liptak, in a front-page article for the New York Times (3/29, Subscription Publication), says the justices "moved from the high theory of constitutional interpretation to the real-world consequences of what various rulings would entail." According to Liptak, Justice Breyer "seemed to agree that the Supreme Court is not well-suited to editing the balance of the law should the mandate fall" when he commented, "I would stay out of politics. That's for Congress, not us."

USA Today (3/29, Wolf, Heath) reports that the justices "appeared torn...over how much of" the ACA "they will have to kill off if they decide that the" mandate is "unconstitutional." According to USA Today, "The justices are in the midst of considering at least four options if the insurance mandate falls: keeping the rest of the law intact, eliminating the insurance market changes that are dependent on the mandate, eliminating the Medicaid expansion, or killing the entire law. They also could invent a solution of their own making."

The Los Angeles Times (3/29, Savage, Levey), in an article titled "Supreme Court Appears Poised To Nullify Entire Healthcare Law," reports that the court "appeared ready to strike down...the entire law, invalidating a major piece of domestic legislation for the first time since the Depression." The Times says this is a "prospect" that was "unthinkable to many experts as recently as last week." According to the Times, "The court's five-member conservative majority...appeared openly hostile to its scheme for mobilizing the federal government to achieve universal healthcare."

The Hill (3/29, Pecquet) reports, "Senate Democrats opted to go on offense Wednesday, suggesting a ruling against the law would tarnish the Supreme Court's credibility." Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, "The court would not only have to stretch, it would have to abandon and completely overrule a lot of modern precedent, which would do grave damage to this court in credibility and power."

Politico (3/29, Nocera) reports Paul Clement, the lead attorney for the states challenging the ACA, "expressed confidence Wednesday that the Supreme Court could overturn the entire health law." Clement said, "Our basic submission is if you find the individual mandate unconstitutional, it's really much better to just tell Congress, look, try and fix the problem, don't just try and fix the statute that's left here."

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Consumer Reports study faults safety record of medical device
March 29, 2012

The Minneapolis (MN) Star-Tribune (3/29, Walsh) reports on a study by Consumer Reports finding that "while tens of millions of American consumers live with medical devices implanted in their bodies, many of these implants have never been tested for safety. In fact, according to the story, manufacturers are often required to do nothing more than file paperwork and pay a user fee before bringing their products to market." The story cites "the US Food and Drug Administration's 510(k) approval process," allowing device makers to "get clearance to market a device that is 'substantially equivalent' in safety and effectiveness to another lawfully marketed device when used for the same intended purpose."

In its coverage the Los Angeles Times (3/29, Terhune) cites "the Lap-Band weight-loss device," as well as "surgical mesh, metal hips and certain cardiac devices" and a report by the Institute of Medicine finding that "the current approval process for medical devices was flawed" and calling on "the Food and Drug Administration to develop a new regulatory system to ensure patient safety." In response, the FDA issued a statement saying that it "continues to strengthen how we review devices, including the science that supports that review."

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