Paint Strippers Named as Major Health Risk by EPA

August 29, 2014,

5533610454_e1fbeaa032_b.jpgThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released official evaluations of three chemicals found widely in household products. One chemical in particular, which is used in paint stripping products, was especially condemned. The agency estimates that more than 230,000 American are directly exposed to the chemical in their work. Toxic substance attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail the EPA's report and the health risks of chemical exposure.

Making the problem even more widespread, the EPA notes that the paint stripping chemical is a risk not only to those working directly with it, but also to bystanders in places the product is used. The chemical, dichloromethane (DCM), is also used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, metal cleaning, and degreasing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) designates DCM as a potential carcinogen.

OSHA has specific standards for DHM exposure in the workplace, which varies between industries. There are unique rules for shipyard employment and the construction industry, for example. Those exposed to DCM are at risk of developing several types of cancer, heart conditions, liver problems, central nervous system problems, or irritation of the skin and eyes. These can occur if DCM is in haled or comes into contact with the skin.

Workers' Rights and Employers' Responsibility

Employers are required by federal and state laws to protect workers from toxic substance exposure of any and all kinds. For DCM, this can be done through engineering controls, like isolating the source of DCM and using ventilators, or by personal protective equipment, such as respiratory equipment or clothing. It is also employers' legal responsibility to make sure all their employees understand the identities and hazards of toxic chemicals. All hazardous substances must be labeled and have corresponding safety data sheets. Employees must also be trained appropriately, including information on the dangers of each chemical and how to protect themselves.

There are over 15,000 chemicals OSHA identifies as toxic or dangerous, some of the most insidious being asbestos, arsenic, benzene, diacetyl and lead. Lawsuits regarding exposure to asbestos - which more often than not occurs in the workplace - are now the largest, longest-running cases in the country. Asbestos is a fibrous material found in construction materials like insulation and heat-resistance materials such as automobile brake pads. If the fibers are inhaled, they can implant permanently in the lungs and, over time, cause a specific type of cancer known as mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is almost always fatal, and is only caused by exposure to asbestos. It is a particularly devastating form of cancer because so many people are unaware where, when or how they were ever exposed. Mesothelioma patients are often left confused with many questions about asbestos, exposure, and how it developed into cancer.

Continue reading "Paint Strippers Named as Major Health Risk by EPA" »

Chicago Officials Use Twitter to Tracks Foodborne Illness

August 27, 2014,

twitter-what-are-you-doing.jpgIt seems like every day there is a new recall issued for some type of food contamination - salmonella, E.coli, listeria or other risks of public health. Although the FDA and USDA are trying to ramp up their inspection and enforcement practices, change is simply not coming fast enough to protect those most vulnerable. For their part, health officials here in Chicago are looking to Twitter to help track cases of food poisoning.

Food contamination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have seen too many cases of serious ailment and even death from dangerous and recalled food. Unfortunately, a major hurdle in overhauling the food safety system is how rarely consumers report illnesses to federal or state health departments, making it difficult to track and locate outbreaks. While people may not generally take the time to officially report their sicknesses, they do quite often take their grievances to Twitter.

Foodborne Chi

This is not lost on Chicago health officials, who are using the social media platform to reach out to those users, asking them where they believe the food poisoning came from. More often than not, their information leads to charges against restaurants selling unsafe food. The handle these officials are working under is @foodbornechi.

To help establish a more efficient method of shifting though Tweets, the Chicago Department of Public Health hired the technological collaborative group Smart Chicago. Together, they developed an app that looks through tweets from Chicagoans or linked to the city that may indicate or reference a foodborne illness. The app is also called Foodborne Chicago, and it responds to Tweeters with a link to an online form for reporting further details. Officials want every state to use this technology, so they have made the app's codes available to the public, found here.

The program, launched in March 2013, has already led to more than 130 unannounced health inspections, resulting in critical violations and, in some cases, restaurant closures. Local consumers are excited that the government is taking initiative, actually listening to their complaints and taking them seriously. Anyone who has been to a DMV in Chicago knows that this is not always the case.

Chicago is not alone in using new technologies to track and detect outbreaks; health officials in New York City have taken to monitoring popular online review websites to see if anyone notes cases of illness, and inspect restaurants with complaints against them. Building on this, many officials are attempting to integrate inspection reports into reviewing websites like Yelp, so potential customers have more access to information.

Far-Reaching Potential

These efforts could potentially help detect cases of massive food problems, such as the recent scandal involving a California slaughterhouse that deceived federal inspectors and sold horribly sick cattle. According to the lawsuit, the Rancho Feeding Corp.'s co-owners knowingly distributed cattle with eye cancer and sold beef that had been condemned by the USDA. It is as horrifying and disgusting as it sounds, and the co-owners have been indicted on federal charges of conspiring to distribute misbranded, adulterated, uninspected meat. They are also charged with mail fraud, and face up to 20 years in prison in addition to hundreds of thousands in fines.

This scandal broke in January 2014, launching a massive recall of Rancho's beef (around ten million pounds) from thousands of major stores and brands, including Kroger, Walmart, and Nestle products. The lawsuit alleges that the Rancho co-owners chose to purchase cattle priced much below average because they exhibited symptoms of eye cancer. They decapitated the animals and led inspectors to cattle heads that did not have signs of cancer to deceive them. Rancho also processed cattle that had been condemned by federal inspectors by carving out the "Condemned" stamps from the animals' skin.

This scandal centered on one slaughterhouse, however, there are systemic problems in the livestock industry as a whole. The USDA recently announced controversial changes to its poultry inspection program and set new requirements with the goal of reducing salmonella and compylabacter outbreaks from poultry. The program is called the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), and officials estimate that it will prevent 5,000 foodborne illnesses every year.

NPIS is controversial because many consumer groups actually view it as reduction to the USDA's current level of inspection. Indeed, the plan is to shift inspection duties from federal officials to industry employees. The amount of time taken to inspect chickens (140 birds per minute) will stay the same, however the speed for turkey production lines will speed up, from 51 to 55 turkeys per minute. What's more, processing plants will not be required to implement this new NPIS program - they will have a choice to stick with one of the four current inspection programs. More information on this NPIS system and its details can be found here.

Continue reading "Chicago Officials Use Twitter to Tracks Foodborne Illness" »

Millions of Bean Bags Recalled after Child Deaths

August 25, 2014,

555075017_c61c0bdb4c_o.jpgMore than 2.2 million bean bags made by Ace Bayou Corp. are being recalled after two children suffocated to death inside of them. The bean bags, which come in various shapes, colors, fabrics and sizes, were sold at popular stores such as Walmart and Meijer, and online at Amazon. Child product recall lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail this recall and how consumers should fix the defects.

Ace Bayou is located in New Orleans, and sold the recalled bean bag chairs until July 2013, for anywhere between $30 and $100. The two children that died from these chairs, a three year old from Kentucky and a 13 year old from Texas, were found by their families inside the bean bags, suffocated, with foam beads in their mouths and lungs.

The defective bean bags include zipper than can easily be opened, which is how the children crawled into the bean bags in the first place. As mentioned, the bags were sold at many popular stores, including:

• Meijer
• Walmart
• Pamida
• Bon-Ton
• School Specialty
• Wayfair

Anyone who owns an Ace Bayou bean bag should contact the company right away and keep the chairs away from children of any age. Ace Bayou is offering its customers free repair kits that will prevent the zippers from opening, which can be ordered online.

Dozens of different kinds of children's products are recalled throughout the country every month, however, most parents are never informed or aware of how dangerous these products are. One study by Kids in Danger found that just 10% of recalled children's products were successfully corrected, returned, or replaced in 2012. We don't see that dire number going up any time soon without serious intervention from multiple angles.

Furniture is among the most common factors in accidental child injuries and deaths, which is why knowing about recalls and proper assembly is so important. Reporting injuries caused by defective products is also important: on average, it takes about 14 reported incidents and two injuries to initiate a product recall. Incidents, design flaws, and product failures can be submitted to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In addition to monitoring current safety recalls, parents should keep in mind that products they find at thrift stores and second-hand shops may also be unknowingly dangerous. One child safety website notes that at least 12% of thrift and second-hand shops sells children's products that were previously recalled or violate federal safety standards. We recently wrote a post on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of children's product recalls.

How Recalls Work, and Why They Rarely Do

The lack of awareness and enforcement is largely due to the failures in communication between manufacturers, retailers, consumers and the government. As we touched on earlier, in order for a recall to take place, consumers must report incidents to the government, which tracks these in a large database. When enough reports accrue, the government informs the manufactuer that a recall should be made (how seriously they recommend the recall depends on many circumstances). Once the manufacturer decides to issue a recall, it issues a press release and notifies retailers, such as Walmart, to take the product off their shelves and attempt to inform its customers.

Although they should, few people regularly check the CPSC website for recalls, or have updates automatically emailed to their inboxes. We strongly encourage all parents to sign up for a CPSC subscription, so you receive emails every time a recall involves infant or child products. This can be found here.

There have been several large-scale recalls already in 2014. Among them include Car Seats made by Graco (3.8 million) and Evenflo (1.3 million), Pacifier holding clips made by Playtex (1.2 million), and wall mounted lamps (3.5 million) and bed canopies (255,000) from Ikea. Graco also recalled nearly 2 million rear-facing child restraints recently.

Continue reading "Millions of Bean Bags Recalled after Child Deaths" »

Unnecessary C-Sections Plague American Women

July 25, 2014,

1389252857_45cb4464cc_o.jpgOne in three American mothers deliver their first child through Cesarean section and 90% of those women who then have a second child will deliver through C-section again. It has not always been this way: in the 1970s, only 5% of all births were C-sections. The birth injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins would like to take a step back and examine this phenomenon, why it came to be, and how it is harming American mothers.

Many people believe that Cesareans reduce the risk of serious complications for both mother and child, however, a report recently issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not confirm this. Their report actually states that the rapid increase in C-sections has not led to an equivalent decline in complications associated with delivery. In fact, the ACOG expresses deep concern that the procedure is overused in the U.S., and urges doctors to more carefully consider whether a Cesarean is necessary.

Unnecessary C-sections cost more than $5 billion per year, and, more importantly, physically harm patients, sometime fatally. The United States is one of the only places on Earth where maternal mortality (death of the mother during childbirth) is actually rising. The risk of death from C-sections compared to natural delivery is actually three times higher, and is often caused by hemorrhaging, systemic infections, and injury to major organs.

Real Women, Real Harm

Too many mothers, particularly first-time mothers, are unaware of this. They trust their doctors, and rightfully so, but are not making informed decisions for their own care. Among the consequences of C-sections is the likelihood that all children women have in the future will also be delivered by C-section.

Dr. Chileshe Price, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is the exception to this. She is the mother of two children; the oldest was born through a C-section, her second through natural birth. This is referred to as a VBAC, or vaginal birth after Cesarean. Delivering her first child was extremely traumatic: she was in recovery for six weeks, and the pain made it difficult to rehabilitate and care for her newborn son.

Dr. Price did not want to undergo major surgery and be forced into post-op for her second child. She found it very difficult, however, to even find a doctor who would facilitate a VBAC. Most doctors are concerned about the possibility of a uterine rupture during VBAC, although the actual statistical risk of rupture is less than 1%. To see an outstanding short film on Dr. Price's journey, click this link, which will take you to the New Yorker's piece titled Unnecessary Cut.

Uterine rupture is an emergency situation that can constitute medical malpractice if the physician does not properly anticipate it. Choosing to deliver a child naturally after having a C-section needs to be the right thing from a medical perspective, and it is important to measure the risks and benefits. Of course, if we reduced the amount of first-birth C-sections, second-time mothers would not have to worry about the VBAC in the first place.

Why Progress Is Not Being Made

Some hospitals in California have an 83% rate of primary C-sections in first-time moms. That is a major problem. It is impossible to believe that more than three-quarters of human beings need major surgery to have a child, when just forty years ago, less than 5% required the procedure. What makes this even more difficult to understand is how much we know about the dangers: the first papers expressing concern about the rising C-section rates were published in 1976, so it is far from a new issue.

The truth of the matter is, C-sections decrease doctors' workloads. Many new moms are in labor for up to 20 hours; C-sections take 30 minutes to complete. As Dr. Neel Shah, an obstetrician at Harvard Medical School put it, medical textbooks teach doctors to treat the patient in front of them; but the labor floor does not work like that. Obstetricians in the real world have to treat the patient in front of them while their pager is going off, while three other patients are in active labor, all at once.

Obstetricians have extremely heavy workloads, and C-sections significantly expedite the labor process. This is not being done out of laziness - many of them are ordering the procedure in good faith. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists used to recommend that a normal birth for first time mothers who receive an epidural would be about three hours of pushing. Beyond three hours, and the delivery becomes abnormal.

Doctors throughout the country interpreted this recommendation by ordering C-sections
for most moms who push longer than three hours. The ACOG recognized that this was unintentionally encouraging C-sections, and recently released new guidelines that allow more time for the delivery process. With hope, the new criteria will help drive down the rates.

Continue reading "Unnecessary C-Sections Plague American Women" »

Six Flags Sued After Roller Coaster Accident

July 23, 2014,

six-flags-new-orleans-2.jpgThe Six Flags Magic Mountain in Southern California is being sued by two injured visitors after the Ninja roller coaster they were on struck a tree. The ride partially derailed, leaving everyone on the ride stranded until they could evacuate. The two visitors now suing the amusement park were hospitalized for their injuries. Roller coaster accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins urge anyone injured at a theme park to contact our firm immediately.

The plaintiffs filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, arguing that Six Flags' negligence caused the ride to be unusually defective, hazardous, unsafe, and dangerous. The accident was caused by a free that had fallen on the roller coaster but was not removed. More than 20 riders were stranded about 40 feet off the ground after the ride derailed. They were stuck for nearly three hours.

Six Flags is also accused of failing to provide a safe and fit ride, directly leading to injuries and damages. A branch from the fallen tree hit one of the plaintiffs in the head just before the ride derailed, and he was hospitalized and treated for a minor head injury. He told the LA Times that he heard a loud crack when the tree fell onto the tracks and he ducked down to miss the trunk of the tree, though a branch hit his head causing some bleeding.

California safety officials opened an investigation into the Ninja's derailment, where they collected witness statements and interviewed park personnel. Witnesses described seeing the tree fall across the coaster tracks around 6 PM that evening, when the ride was already in motion and heading toward it. They described seeing the Ninja go into the trees, then hearing a cracking noise followed by a chorus of screaming.

A Brief Overview of Amusement Park Litigation

A similar lawsuit was recently filed against Disneyland Resort, after a man was injured on Splash Mountain. The jury in this case found Disneyland to be negligent and responsible for the accident. Lawsuits against amusement parks are actually quite common, particularly in the summer months when residents in northern states visit in large numbers.

One roller coaster accident at Darien Lake Amusement Park ended in tragedy, when an Iraq War veteran lost his life. Army Sergeant James Hackemer visited the park in 2011, no small feat after losing both legs and part of his hip in Iraq. Despite his lack of body mass, park operators allowed him to go on the Ride of Steel roller coaster. Because of his amputations, Hackemer was traumatically ejected from the roller coaster while it was in operation, later dying from the injuries.

His family sued the park on his behalf, accusing it of inadequately training its ride operators and allowing Hackemer on the ride when he should not have been. Investigators cited operator error as the direct cause of the fatal accident. Darien Lakes does have signs up throughout the park indicating the riders must have two legs to go on rides - particularly roller coasters - however, Hackemer's family stated that no one stopped him before going on the Ride of Steel.

Darien Lake Amusement Park agreed to settle the lawsuit in an undisclosed amount, however it is reported that his daughters will receive seven-figure funds when they turn 18. In addition to inadequate training, Darien Lakes was also accused of recklessness and negligence.

Not all amusement park lawsuits are successful in court, however. A woman recently attempted to sue Great America after she sustained a wrist injury while riding bumper cars. A bumper car struck her own head-on, causing her wrist to break. She consequently sued the park for failing to take the necessary precautions to stop such an accident, however the California court ruled that her wrist injury was a foreseeable and assumed risk of bumper cars.

Other accidents, though minor in nature, can be successfully pursued in court because they were outlandish or not assumed risks of the ride. For example, a woman in Pennsylvania recently won her case against Palisades Park after she slipped at the water park and injured her knee. The woman was taking her infant son down a kiddie water slide and slipped on the mattress-like pad at the bottom of the slide. She fell against a hard object in the pool, causing a deep laceration to her knee that exposed knee tissue.

Continue reading "Six Flags Sued After Roller Coaster Accident " »

Lead Paint Companies Ordered to Pay Over $1 Billion

July 14, 2014,

2763836301_2e5b68e0df_o.jpgSherwin-Williams, one of the largest and most-recognized paint companies, was recently ordered to pay $1.15 billion to fund a program aimed at addressing the health risks of lead paint exposure in California homes. Sherwin, along with two other major paint companies, was found liable for selling lead paint despite knowledge of its dangers. Lead paint exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail this decade-long case, and how it will impact California residents.

The case was originally filed in 2000, on behalf of California residents in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and seven other cities in the state. The final $1.15 billion settlement was ordered by a California Superior Court Judge, who stated that the public had a right to be free from the harmful effects of lead in paint. We have seen first-hand the effects of lead poisoning, and can say without doubt that lead-based paint has caused harm to entire communities, considerably interfering with quality of life.

The paint companies at issue - Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products, and NL Industries - are accused of continuing to sell lead-based paint even after becoming aware of its dangers. The health effects of lead exposure are now well-known and medically and scientifically documented, especially among children.

The $1.15 billion will establish a government-run program that will benefit those California residents who continue to be exposed to lead-based paint. Due to limited resources, the current government programs have not been able to meaningfully reduce the number of California homes containing lead paint.

Because of this widespread failure, the court order targets homes in the 10 previously-mentioned jurisdictions that have the greatest risk of lead poisoning to children. The program will reach out to residents, send trained inspectors to their homes, and educate them on the risks of lead paint. The judge stated that there are thousands of children in California whose lives will be significantly improved, or even saved, through this lead abatement plan.

The paint companies plan to appeal the decision, however. The three companies at issue claim that they did not fully know about the hazards of lead-based paint until it was officially banned in 1978. How true this is has been subject to much debate.

Real Stories From Real Victims

We have worked with many victims of lead poisoning over the past 35 years, and know first-hand how dangerous it can be. Children exposed to paint in their homes demonstrate severe developmental delays, and even small amounts of lead can cause serious problems. Importantly, children under the age of six are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, which manifest through their mental and physical development. At high levels, lead poisoning can even be fatal.

Lead-based paint is the most common source of lead poisoning in children, however, adults who work in auto repair shops, do home renovations, and work with batteries may also be exposed. Some of the major signs of lead poisoning in children include:

• Learning difficulties
• Hearing loss
• Sluggishness and fatigue
• Loss of appetite and weight loss
• Abdominal pain, constipation or vomiting
• Irritability

Symptoms are similar in adults, but can also include:

• Miscarriage or premature births in pregnant women
• Mood disorders
• High blood pressure
• Muscle and joint pain
• Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
• Declines in mental functioning

In a typical lead exposure case, parents notice symptoms in children and bring their child to a pediatrician. Depending on the severity of symptoms, the doctor may or may not immediately identify lead poisoning as the cause, but will run blood tests and x-rays to be sure. Once lead poisoning has been confirmed, the doctor usually notifies public health officials, who perform lead tests in the home.

The first step in treating lead poisoning is to remove the source of exposure, such as sealing in or removing lead paint. Local health departments can best recommend ways to reduce lead in your home. For more severe cases, medications can be prescribed to treat and help cure poisoning.

Continue reading "Lead Paint Companies Ordered to Pay Over $1 Billion " »

Four Drowning Deaths in Chicago Last Weekend - And How to Help Prevent Them

June 17, 2014,

1092398900_d37f68a64c_b.jpgThe weekend of June 13th, 2014, four Chicago children died from drowning, ages three to nine years old. In Chicago and most of the Midwest, there are only a handful of summer months and - rightfully so - families do their best to make them best of warm weather.

Unfortunately, this makes children vulnerable to drowning and pool accidents, which can be deadly. Pool drowning lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look into these cases and what can be done to prevent more from happening.

Two of the children were in pools - the three-year-old in a relative's private pool and the four-year-old in his family's suburban country club. The youngest victim was at a family gathering and was playing in a large above-ground pool when the accident occurred.

The toddler was initially wearing inflatable floaties on his arms, but took them off when he got out of the pool. The floaties were not put back on him before he got into the pool a second time. As at most gatherings, his parents and siblings were busy talking and playing with other family members, when all of a sudden the three-year-old was out of sight. His family told the Chicago Tribune that the incident took only a few seconds, however, the boy was pronounced dead in the emergency room.

The four-year-old was at a country club in St. Charles, Illinois when the drowning occurred. It is still unclear whether or not there as a lifeguard on duty, however the coroner determined his death was tragic accident.

Two brothers also fell victim to drowning accidents over the weekend when they were swimming gin a large water-filled area in western Indiana. The brothers, eight- and nine-years-old, were pronounced dead in the later evening hours. Their relatives told the press that they were playing with friends who urged the boys to swim into the open area that had been excavated and filled with water. Soon after they entered the pit they started to struggle to swim and their friends ran for help, which came too late.

How You Can Help

Pool accidents are extremely common in the U.S., as is unintentional drowning and other water-related accidents. According to the CDC, and as evidenced by last week's drownings, males are significantly more likely to die in drowning accidents than females. Children aged one to four have the highest rates of drowning, most of which occur in swimming pools.

For every child who suffer fatal drowning accidents, another five are taken to emergency rooms for treatment, including substantial lack of oxygen that can require long-term, even lifetime care. Particularly in small children, lack of oxygen can cause severe brain damage such as learning disabilities, memory problems, and even permanent loss of basic functioning.

These statistics do not take into account boating-related accidents, which more frequently affect older men, and take about 350 lives per year. Not surprisingly, alcohol use is a large factor in boating accidents, and is responsible for about one in five reported boating deaths.

Other factors that influence drowning risk include:

• Lack of swilling skills - formal lessons significantly reduces drowning risk
• Barriers, such as fencing, stop children from accessing pools. Four-sided isolation is best
• Lack of close supervision. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly, even in the bathtub.
• Location: most children drown in pools, and adolescents and adults in natural waters.
• Life jackets, like helmets, are less than attractive but extremely necessary.
• Seizure disorders. Drowning is actually the leading cause of unintentional injury and death for those with seizure disorders, with most occurring in the bathtub.

Continue reading "Four Drowning Deaths in Chicago Last Weekend - And How to Help Prevent Them" »

Dozens Charged for $260 Million in Medicare Fraud

May 14, 2014,

afternoon-walk-1.jpgWhistleblower lawyers at Pintas & Mullins announce that 90 people have been charged for generating over $260 million worth of false Medicare billings. The fraud was discovered by a federal task force, and among those charged are at least 16 doctors. Our whistleblower attorneys explain this case and detail what you can do to stop Medicare fraud.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a joint effort established in 2007 by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department. This most recent strike was conducted in Miami, Tampa, and Los Angeles, among other cities.

In Los Angeles, several doctors were arrested for receiving kickbacks - or cash incentives - to refer Medicare patients to companies that sold faulty wheelchairs and other medical equipment. Those charged in Tampa were part of an alleged scheme that defrauded Medicare for $12 million. The Tampa suspects billed Medicare for services at healthcare clinics using names of patients who actually lived near Miami, nearly 300 miles away.

Unfortunately, Medicare and Medicaid fraud is quite common, which is why the government has set up a dedicated task force to help stop it. Individuals, too, are able and very much encouraged to turn in people defrauding the government in any way.

Whistleblowers and Qui Tam Actions

The False Claim Act allows private citizens to sue on behalf of the government when they know that a company or person is defrauding a government spending program, such as Medicare. This is a huge problem for many reasons, most notably because it hurts one of our country's most vulnerable populations, the elderly.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder states that Medicare is a "sacred compact with our nation's seniors," and in order to protect it, "we must remain aggressive in combating fraud." Most nursing home residents rely on Medicare for their health coverage, which they direly need.

An important note to those with loved ones in nursing homes using Medicare: residents in Medicare or Medicaid-certified nursing homes have certain rights and protections under the law. The nursing home must inform residents of these rights and explain them in writing. More information on these rights may be found here.

Lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act are considered "qui tam," or "whistleblower" actions. On behalf of whistleblowers, attorneys like our team at Pintas & Mullins bring qui tam actions involving government fraud, and the government investigates the situation to decide if it will take part in the lawsuit.

Whistleblowers may bring lawsuits when the government has made payments based on false claims, false certifications, or if the government has not been paid money owed to it. The False Claims Act does not apply to situations where the government simply made an unwise decision, and does not apply to cases of mistakes or negligence.

If a whistleblower is aware of blatant fraud and a lawsuit results, that whistleblower is entitled to between 15 and 25% of any money the government gains back. For example, a former employee of a roofing company resigned in 2009 because he believed the company was acting unethically. He worked for the roofing company for over 20 years, and his complaints were never addressed, so he reported his concerns to the federal government.

Continue reading "Dozens Charged for $260 Million in Medicare Fraud " »

Jury Sides with Woman Claiming Baby Powder Caused Ovarian Cancer

12795954293_399fde367a_c.jpgIn a lawsuit brought by a woman in South Dakota, the jury recently ruled that Johnson & Johnson should be held liable for selling a product - talcum powder - that caused her to develop ovarian cancer. The jury decided that the company should have warned women of this risk. Talc powder attorneys at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look at this case and others like it.

Throughout trial, several doctors were called to analyze the woman's ovarian cancer and whether or not talcum powder was involved in its development. After examining samples of her cancerous tissue, the physicians did find talc powder in her cancer cells and determined that the two were linked. The jury ultimately agreed that J&J failed to warn consumers about the product's association with ovarian cancer.

One of these physicians, a doctor at Harvard University, estimates that talcum powders is a likely factor in about 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer every year. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in females, taking about 15,000 lives per year.

Talcum powder, better known as baby powder, has been used for decades to treat a wide array of skin issues. Talc-based body powders are also sometimes used for feminine hygiene, which is what led to the plaintiff's ovarian cancer.

The plaintiff in this case had used talcum-based products for hygiene for about 30 years, and claimed that she never once saw a warning about the risk of cancer development. The first time she ever heard about this risk was in 2006, after her diagnosis.

The first talcum-related ovarian cancer lawsuit was filed in 2009, by a woman in Mississippi. After it was filed the Mississippi attorney general launched an investigation into Johnson & Johnson's talcum-based products and the company's promotion of them for feminine hygiene.

Studies Confirm

The National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health recently funded a study that aimed to determine the actual incidence of ovarian cancer caused by talcum powder. Researchers found that using talc powder increased the risk of cancer development by between 36 and 41%. The study authors advised women to immediately stop using talcum-based products.

Continue reading "Jury Sides with Woman Claiming Baby Powder Caused Ovarian Cancer " »

Baby Gates Sending Thousands of Children to Emergency Rooms

4938743911_d47a26945b_o.jpgChild injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report on a troubling statistic about ever-popular baby gates. New studies show that nearly 2,000 children are treated in emergency rooms in the United States every year due to these gates.

The new study was conducted by the Nationwide Children's Hospital, which focused its data on children under six-years-old who were injured from gate-related injuries. Baby gates are commonly used to keep small children safe, but the gates themselves can be hazardous.

Fortunately, most injuries did not require hospitalization, but there were several thousand fractures and brain injuries. The Executive Director at nonprofit advocacy group Kids in Danger stated that the gates oftentimes do not hold weight properly, causing it to fall over.

Currently, there are no federal safety regulations for baby gate design. This surprises many people (and should!) because these products can be found in nearly every home with children in it. Safety standards are only voluntary, so manufacturers can choose not to include various features like wall installation hardware.

Child safety advocates note that many injuries may be caused by parents who use the wrong type of gate. Some products come with hardware that requires installation into a wall; this is the only type of gate that should be used at the top of a staircase. Pressure-mounted gates are better used to separate rooms or at the bottom of stairs, but they should be regularly checked for a secure fit, so that what is meant to protect children does not accidentally harm them.

Most of the children injured by these gates were boys over the age of two, and about 16% of all injured children suffered concussions. Experts believe that injuries related to baby gates are on the rise because parents are using them more often - which is a good thing, if they are installed and maintained properly.

And they are on the rise: between 1990 and 2010, the number of children injured by baby gates quadrupled. One of the study authors noted that the public needs to do a better job determining where the gates are installed, and ensuring they fit securely.

A tip from the experts: use gates in homes with children aged six months to two years, make sure that all hardware-mounted gates are used at the top of the stairs, and pressure-mounted gates at the bottom or between rooms.

Continue reading "Baby Gates Sending Thousands of Children to Emergency Rooms" »

Major TVM Lawsuit Updates

judge-hand-with-gavel-5.jpgTransvaginal mesh attorneys at Pintas & Mullins have several updates to report on concerning the massive litigation against manufacturers. Most recently, American Medical Systems agreed to pay $830 million to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by women injured by the transvaginal mesh implants. Just a few days earlier, a woman in Texas was awarded $1.2 million for the injuries she suffered from the TVT-O sling.

The $1.2 verdict was the first award against Johnson & Johnson for this TVT-O sling implant. Vaginal-mesh products like this were implanted in women to treat stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP), however, the implants were rushed through the FDA approval process and turned out to be extremely defective.

Defective may even be putting it mildly. As discussed in prior posts on this blog, TVM products have caused extremely severe, painful, and often permanent injuries in women who were implanted. Further complicating the issue, the manufacturers overwhelmingly failed to inform physicians and patients that these implants were defective, causing hundreds of thousands of women to undergo mesh procedures without being fully aware of the risks.

Due to this glaring negligence, all nine companies that made these TVM products are now facing massive litigation from injured women. Among the injuries these devices have caused include: implant erosion, forced surgeries, hysterectomies, scarring, organ perforation, uncontrolled bleeding, infections, and other irreversible damages.

Johnson & Johnson alone is currently facing over 12,000 lawsuits for improperly designing TVM implants. In 2013, another jury ruled that the company had to pay a single plaintiff $11 million in damages. The device at issue in that case was the Prolift, which was implanted in women to support sagging organs. This type of condition is common in older women whose pelvic muscles and organs weakened after childbirth and pregnancy.

FDA Warning & $830 Million Payout

The American Medical Systems (AMS) settlement comes on the heels of the Texas case. This company is facing over 22,000 lawsuits over their products. Just a few days before, the FDA announced that it was reclassifying vaginal mesh products as high-risk devices.

The federal agency issued two proposed orders that would, first, reclassify the mesh products as "high-risk" devices, and second, would require manufacturers to apply for pre-market approval with the agency before sale. The FDA confirmed that there are significant risks associated with TVM implants, and aims to make them more safe and effective and protect vulnerable patients from harm.

In addition to J&J and AMS, seven other companies manufactured TVM implants, including C.R. Bard, Boston Scientific, Coloplast, Cook Medical, and Neomedic. At present, about 45,000 TVM lawsuits are pending in federal court - a number that continues to grow by the day.

AMS had previously set aside $250 million to cover the TVM litigation, so this most recent announcement pushes the total settlement costs to about $1 billion. The company will also be paying for all plaintiffs' legal fees.

Continue reading "Major TVM Lawsuit Updates" »

Postal Worker Attacked by Loose Dog

April 17, 2014,

2325986418_7b348b3bcc_b.jpgAn Oregon postal worker recently filed a lawsuit against the owner of an abnormally dangerous dog after the canine attacked her, causing serious facial injuries. More than 5,000 postal workers are attacked by dogs every year in the United States, posing a significant risk to hard-working employees. Dog bite attorneys at Pintas & Mullins recommend a few ways dog owners can help prevent serious incidents like this.

Dog attacks are a nationwide issue, not just for postal workers but for anyone in the vicinity of a dangerous or loose dog - nearly 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and half of these incidents involve children. According to the CDC, about one in five dog bites result in injuries that require medical attention.

The Oregon case involves a postal worker who was delivering mail in a neighborhood in Eugene when she was attacked by a Siberian Husky. The dog was on a leash, but had escaped the grasp of its owner. As stated, the woman suffered serious injuries to her face and is now seeking over $180,000 in damages related to the medical care she required.

Large dogs like Siberian Husky, Rottweilers and German Shepherds are not inherently more likely to bite or attack people than any other breed - but if they do, they cause significantly more harm than smaller breeds purely because of their size and power.

Any type of dog has the potential to bite if they feel they or their property or family are threatened. Bites and attacks are largely preventable, however, if owners took the necessary steps. Here are a few tips for owners to prevent dog bites and attacks:

• Work with a veterinarian and trainer when you first bring a new dog into your household

• Be sensitive to cues that a child is apprehensive about a dog, or visa versa

• Spay/neuter your dog to reduce aggressive tendancies, and do not play aggressively with it

• NEVER leave young children alone with any dog

• Properly socialize and train your dog, and seek professional advice about undesirable behavior

• Teach children basic safety tips about unfamiliar dogs or how to properly act around them

• Immediately report stray dogs

In the instance of postal workers, dogs can often perceive them as a threat because they are entering their territory. Dog owners are urged to keep their dog inside, away from the door, and in another room when a postal worker arrives. It is important to note, however, that dogs that receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods frequently turn into aggressive dogs.

Continue reading "Postal Worker Attacked by Loose Dog" »

Best App for Athlete Concussion Help

April 7, 2014,

9400289014_b19d818b62_c.jpgThere are now many different types of smartphone applications that aim to help parents, coaches and others on the sidelines manage athletes who suffer a concussion. Although the influx of different apps is promising and indeed very helpful, it can be difficult to determine which one is best or which type of assessment tool is right for your specific situation. Traumatic brain injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins outline a few tips on how to choose the right app for you and your family.

A team of researchers recently conducted a review of 18 of the best mobile concussion assessment applications, 13 of which were free to download. The authors noted that these apps should not be used as a 'do-it-yourself' guide in place of a physician, but should be a tool to help players with suspected concussions seek and provide accurate information to medical providers.

Researchers ranked the apps, which were designed for public use, in three different categories most important in concussions: balance, TBI symptoms, and memory function. Each of the areas had a ranking system of zero to two - two meaning all necessary diagnostic information was complete, and zero meaning there was no information.

The apps that scored the highest in completeness were designed around the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 2, which is the international standard for concussion diagnosis. Among the best was an app called "Concussion," which scored twos in memory function and symptoms, and "ImPACT Concussion Awareness Tool." Two of the analyzed apps scored zeroes in all three categories, however.

Now for a few tips on choosing the best app for your unique purposes:

• Make sure the app is intended for public use and not just for medical professionals

• Many of the best apps were endorsed by a recognized agency or organization, such as the Concussion in Sport Group

• The worst apps had advertisements or commercial messages

• The best apps also contained references to best practice standard and had clear contact information for support

One of the apps studied, created by Hockey Canada Concussion Awareness for Kids, was designed specifically to educate children on sports concussions (though, as the name implies, it is intended almost exclusively for hockey players). Another was an easy-to-use mobile version of the King-Devick test. Among the best were: the "Concussion Recognition and Response," and the "Concussion App from Sports Safety labs LLC."

Too often, high school and college athletes continue to play in games after suffering a concussion or other type of TBI. In fact, a new study concluded that more than half of high school athletes with concussions play despite their symptoms and without informing coaches of their injuries.

Most states now have laws that aim to prevent unrecognized concussions, however, young athletes are still trying to hide their symptoms simply because they want to stay in the game. In other words, they consider the short-term consequences of leaving the game more important than the possibility of long-term repercussions. If a concussion is left untreated, or if further injury is inflicted on top of a concussion, the results can be devastating or even fatal.

Continue reading "Best App for Athlete Concussion Help" »

Minor League Baseball Players Sue MLB for Wage Violations

April 3, 2014,

7632338498_d081455444_c.jpgWage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on the recent lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB) over long-standing wage violations. The suit now includes former players from 17 different minor league teams, and specifically cites violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The former players are claiming that they and their peers are powerless against the reign of the MLB organization, and that they are required to put in obscene hours of work for abysmal pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted in 1938, and states that employees may not be paid less than the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

Among its provisions, the FLSA also requires all employees to be paid overtime (time-and-a-half) for any work performed beyond 40 hours in a week. Legal and sports analysts confirm that baseball franchises are not exempt from the FLSA, so it is very unlikely that the MLB will be able to have the suit dismissed right away.

This case, Senne v. MLB, is interesting for many reasons: most relevantly because college football players at Northwestern University recently won the right to unionize. Athletes from different disciplines are starting to voice their grievances against the sports culture that is inextricable from American life. NFL players want recognition of and protection from repeated, dangerous head injuries; college players are fed up with a corrupt payment system; and baseball players wish to be paid for their immense labor.

The Northwestern case may not be the best parallel, but it is certainly interesting to consider. In that decision, a director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players on scholarship were employees of the university, and should have the right to unionize to leverage for larger scholarships, better healthcare coverage, and other benefits. This was based on the stipulations of the National Labor Relations Act, and Northwestern plans to appeal the ruling.

The exploitation of athletes is nothing new - there are countless movies and stories about the hardships they endure for the love of the game. "It's supposed to be hard," Tom Hanks' character exclaims in A League of Their Own, "if it were easy, everyone would do it."

At present, the base salary for a minor league baseball player is $1,100 per month - less than a full-time fast food worker. There is no minor league union, like there is now for Northwester players, so negotiating a pay raise, one would imagine, is quite audacious. Minor leaguers throughout the country live in the smallest, most crowded apartments, must shop at Walmart, and eat pizza and ramen for fuel. They sleep on air mattresses and are expected to put in long days as professional athletes.

Long days often turn into long nights; for an evening game, players typically show up at noon to practice, the game starts at seven, and is finished around ten or eleven at night. The schedule is the same throughout the season, six days per week. They are not paid overtime, are able to take very few days off, and if they complain, are fired without severance. Only a few will ever make the majors.

In any other conventional industry, this would be illegal, which is exactly the point minor leaguers are trying to make now. They are undoubtedly spurred by the massive increase in major league baseball players' salaries: since 1976, big league salaries have risen by over 2,000%, while minor league salaries increased only 75%, failing even to keep up with inflation.

Continue reading "Minor League Baseball Players Sue MLB for Wage Violations" »

Worker Nearly Killed by Chainsaw Kickback

April 2, 2014,

8002037965_b6e9b4aad9_h.jpgA tree service worker in Pennsylvania is alive to tell a horrifying tale. The 21-year-old was just released from the hospital after his own chainsaw tore into his shoulder and neck, missing vital arteries by mere centimeters. Workers' compensation attorneys at Pintas & Mullins are happy to report that he will make a full recovery, and are here to help anyone injured in a similar accident.

The 21-year-old, Jason Valentine, is employed by Adler Tree Service just north of Pittsburgh. On that March day, he was in a pine tree cutting at an unusual angle to avoid hitting active power lines. In the blink of an eye, the chainsaw kicked back and entered his left shoulder and sliced into his neck still running.

Fortunately, several of his Adler co-workers saw the terrible accident and rushed to his assist him, calling an ambulance to the scene. It was critically important, his doctors note, that his co-workers did not try to remove the chainsaw from his neck whatsoever. They were able to detach the blade from its motor - to ensure the saw did not start running again - but left the blade and chain precisely where it landed in his neck.

First responders arrived at the scene and brought him to a nearby hospital. According to CNN, he was awake and alert the entire ten minute ambulance ride. After an hour of surgery and 30 stitches, doctors told his family that the blade was just a quarter of an inch away from his carotid artery, which carries blood to the brain.

His trauma surgeon stated that this type of injury typically causes extraordinary damage, severing the spinal cord, airway or esophagus and causing paralysis or death. In Valentine's case, the saw missed all major organs and arteries, slicing through muscle and soft tissue instead. He will take a few days to recover but hopes to get back to his job as a "tree climber" as soon as possible.

The Aftermath - How to Help your Workers' Comp Case

If you or someone you love was injured while on the job, you may be able to file a workers' compensation claim to help you pay for any medical bills or lost wages. How you go about filing such a claim is very important. Here are a few tips:

• First, report the precise injury to your employer as soon as possible. If your employer does not respond, write out a report and send it to them.

• Call a lawyer who deals with these types of cases. Whatever you tell your attorney is confidential, so be sure to tell them exactly what happened in detail.

• Make sure to go to all follow-up doctor and physical therapy appointments. Having documentation of your injury and its severity is very important, and will do more to prove your case than anything else.

• Lastly, do not speak to anyone except your doctor and attorney about the accident. Your employer's insurance company will do everything in its power to try to minimize your injury and pay as little as possible to you and your family. If you post about the injury on any social media sites - even if they are listed as "private," - they will know.

Continue reading "Worker Nearly Killed by Chainsaw Kickback " »