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Everyone has seen the advertising campaigns geared against texting and driving. Moreover, numerous states have enacted legislation which makes it illegal to text on your phone while you drive. While those ads and laws have certainly helped curb distracted driving on our roads, is their focus too limited? Should we consider not only the conduct of the person receiving the text, but also the conduct of the person sending the text?

The Ruling

In a recent opinion from the New Jersey Court of Appeals, three judges agreed with the general proposition that you can be liable if you text someone who you know is driving a vehicle and that person is subsequently distracted and gets into a wreck. In September 2009 a young man was driving down the road as he and his girlfriend were exchanging text messages. The plaintiffs, a married couple, were driving in the opposite direction on their motorcycle. As the young man drove down the road, he became distracted from the flurry of text messages and he allowed his truck to drift across the double center line and hit the plaintiffs’ motorcycle head-on. Seventeen seconds elapsed from when the young man received the last text message until he dialed 911 to report the incident.

After hearing thirty-seven days of trial testimony and deliberating for four days, a Texas jury determined that Johnson & Johnson was liable for defectively designing their metal-on-metal hip implants. The lawsuit alleged that Johnson & Johnson aggressively marketed their Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip implants for use by younger, more active patients because the metal-on-metal implants were long-lasting, durable and safe despite being aware of the design flaws in the implants, which caused them to fail more frequently and quickly than expected, leading to injuries including tissue death, bone erosion and high levels of metal in their blood. The five Plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit collectively received a $502 million judgment which was comprised of $142 million in compensatory damages and $360 million in punitive damages. The verdict will be split amongst the Plaintiffs based on the severity and impact that each Plaintiff suffered as a result of their individual injuries.

Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson has vigorously stated since the massive verdict was returned that they will appeal the result. One of the many issues that will certainly be raised on appeal is Texas’ law which caps punitive damages. This means that on appeal the $360 million punitive damage award could be reduced to as low as $10 million.

However, despite a pending appeal and a possible overall reduction in punitive damages, the recent verdict is still an overwhelming triumph for Plaintiffs who suffer from defective metal-on-metal hip implants. Most notably, the recent verdict marks Johnson & Johnson’s first trial loss regarding the use of metal on metal artificial hips. In a prior trial in the same multi-district litigation (“MDL”), Johnson & Johnson was successful in defending a single Plaintiff suit based on its argument that it was the surgeon who installed the implant’s fault instead of the defective implant itself. However, based on this most recent verdict it appears the tide has begun to change in favor of the Plaintiffs, and Johnson & Johnson will no longer be able to overlook its defective product and place blame on the implanting surgeons.

If someone were to walk up to you and offer you $1,000 today, with the expectation that you pay them $3,000 in a month or a year you would likely look at them with shock and dismay. Why should I pay 200% in interest on my original loan, you might ask. However, you might take a second look at this offer if you are under the duress and financial hardship that many plaintiffs find themselves in when they are out of work and unable to pay their medical bills and living expenses after an accident. Your tune may change if you are faced with default notices and collection creditors are calling your house non-stop. This is exactly what the lawsuit lending industry is betting on, that you will overlook their astronomical interest rates and fees based on your dire financial situation. The lawsuit lending industry has been able to skirt federal and state regulations in this area by labeling their lending practice as “nonrecourse financing.” Essentially, lawsuit lenders bet on the final outcome of a case by loaning money to plaintiffs and as a result are able to operate within Alabama without a license, and without regulation or oversight by the Alabama Banking Department.

The lawsuit lending scheme is relatively simple. Lawsuit lenders give cash advances to individual plaintiffs that are facing financial hardships in order for the plaintiffs to cover medical and living expenses while their case is being litigated. It sounds like a pretty great deal when you’re down on your luck. However, lawsuit lenders are anything but a plaintiff’s white knight. These lawsuit loans typically come with sky-high interest rates, fees, and charges which can amount to as much as 200 percent of the original loan value. By attaching these massive fees and interest rates to the original lawsuit loan, plaintiffs are often left with little to no recovery from the personal injury claim. In fact, in some situations, plaintiffs actually lose money in an effort to resolve their personal injury claims.

In addition to adversely affecting the individual plaintiff, lawsuit loans also distort the litigation process. A lawsuit loan plaintiff faced with a settlement offer must not only consider the amount they will have to re-pay to their health insurance for any medical treatments the plaintiff may have received as a result of the accident, but they must also factor in the cost of paying off their high-interest lawsuit loan. The result is that the plaintiff may reject a reasonable settlement offer on the off chance that they may obtain a higher verdict in court in hopes that they can pay off their medical expenses and high-interest loan and possibly break even. This choice can jeopardize the chance of any recovery and put the plaintiff’s attorney in a precarious situation, because litigating their case may result in a verdict that is lower than the pre-verdict settlement offer or a judgment in favor of the defendant. Therefore, by injecting a third party into the litigation process, plaintiffs often forgo reasonable compensation in an effort to get out from under their impending lawsuit loans.

Johnson & Johnson has faced several lawsuits over the past year alleging that Johnson & Johnson knew there was a link between their antipsychotic drug, Risperdal, and abnormal breast growth. Risperdal is a very powerful antipsychotic drug that Johnson & Johnson peddled to pediatric doctors for use by children even though the drug lacked certain approvals from federal regulators. Thus far, Johnson & Johnson has been hit with four separate jury trials all alleging that Johnson & Johnson not only knew that children prescribed Risperdal could develop a condition known as gynecomastia, but also that Johnson & Johnson failed to properly warn and/or disclose the risks of abnormal breast growth in adolescent boys prescribed Risperdal.

The Previous Three Jury Trials

In February 2015 the first Risperdal case was taken to a trial by jury. The jury returned a $2.5 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs determining that Risperdal did in fact cause the plaintiffs injuries and that Johnson & Johnson failed to provide proper warnings. In the second case, the jury was less convinced as to the causal link between the drug and the plaintiff’s adverse condition. While the jury did agree that Johnson & Johnson failed to provide adequate warnings, the jury was not convinced that Risperdal caused the plaintiffs to develop abnormal breast growth. As such, the second jury awarded no damages against Johnson & Johnson. The third case began October 15, 2015 and the trial is still ongoing. Lead counsel for the young man who developed female breasts after taking Risperdal as a child stated recently that “Risperdal [is] a powerful antipsychotic drug which was promoted and marketed even though it wasn’t indicated for children.”

Volkswagen has recently been hit by a wave of skepticism as news of the company’s emissions scandal shocked the United States. Volkswagen Group, also known as Volkswagen Aktiengasellschaft, is the second largest car manufacturer in the world. In addition to the well-known Volkswagen brand, the company also sells cars under its subsidiary brands such as Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Audi, and Porsche. As of May 2015, Volkswagen Group was valued at a substantial $126 billion, ranking 67th on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands.

What cars are affected by the emissions scandal?

In early 2014, two students and two professors at West Virginia University received a $50,000 grant to study the emissions tests on three diesel cars: the VW Passat, the VW Jetta, and the BMW X5. The studies revealed that the BMW X5 performed at or below federal emissions standards. However, the Volkswagen test subjects did not fare so well. The VW Passat exceeded U.S. emissions standards by a factor of 5 to 20, while the VW Jetta exceeded U.S. emissions standards by a factor of 15 to 35. In May of 2014, the West Virginia scientists reported their findings to the EPA.

picture from http://www.drugdangers.com/ivc-filter/lawsuit.htm

What are IVC filters and when are they used?

Intra Vena Cava (“IVC”) filters are small spider-like devices that are implanted in the veins of patients in the hope that the filters will stop blood clots from reaching the patient’s lungs and other vital organs. IVC filters are designed to capture blood clots that occasionally break free from the deep veins inside a patient’s body before the blood clots can reach the patient’s lungs and cause a decrease or a complete stoppage of blood flow to the patient’s lungs. However, hundreds of reports from across the nation indicate that the devices may fracture or break after implantation resulting in serious injuries and in some cases death.

IVC filters are usually implanted in patients who are at risk for having a sudden blockage of a major blood vessel, known as a pulmonary embolism, and are either unable to take anticoagulants or the patient has taken anticoagulants but they have failed to properly prevent the patient’s blood from clotting. The IVC filters are supposed to be a safe alternative which prevents blood clots from forming in a patient’s blood vessels. However, in April of 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study comparing the treatment of patients presenting with an acute pulmonary embolism and a high risk of recurrence using a retrievable IVC filter plus anticoagulants versus using anticoagulants alone. The study revealed that “the use of a retrievable inferior vena cava filters plus anticoagulation compared with anticoagulation alone did not reduce the risk of symptomatic recurrent pulmonary embolism at 3 months.” Furthermore, the study suggested that patients with IVC filters may be twice as likely to suffer from a serious, and sometimes fatal, pulmonary embolism than patients who were prescribed anticoagulants alone. Therefore, the study suggests that IVC filters should not be used in cases where patients can be treated with anticoagulation.

On Monday, August 28, 2015, a Geneva County jury awarded $3.8 million in damages to three people who were struck by a car driven by a “buzzed” driver. The accident occurred on October 15, 2013. Randell and Donna Heard were driving from Hazel Green, Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida when 16-year old, Timothy Joel Thomas, ran a stop sign and crashed into their vehicle. The collision seriously injured Randell and Donna Heard as well as a 16-year passenger in Thomas’ vehicle.

During trial, Thomas testified that he may have consumed between one and three tallboys before getting in the vehicle and driving down the road. The evidence proved that Thomas’s blood alcohol content at the time of the accident was .059, which is well under the legal limit to charge Thomas with Driving under the Influence (“DUI”). In Alabama the legal limit of intoxication for a DUI depends on the person’s age. For anyone that is under the age of 21, such as Thomas, the legal limit for a DUI is having a blood alcohol content of .02% or higher. For anyone 21 years of age or older the legal limit is .08% or higher. Therefore, although Thomas did not face criminal charges for DUI, he still faced civil liability for the damages that he caused by driving buzzed. Generally, buzzed driving is classified as driving with a blood alcohol content between .01 to .07, and although technically you may be under the legal limit, driving while buzzed can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.

In fact, the attorney’s representing the 16-year old passenger of Thomas’ car stated that “buzzed driving” played an integral part in the case. After deliberating for less than an hour and a half the jury found Thomas liable and returned a $3.8 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Randell Heard received $850,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. Donna Heard received $450,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. The 16-year old passenger received $500,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. This case stands as a reminder that even though you may not feel intoxicated, if you are going to drink, drink responsibly, because under the law in Alabama if you drive buzzed you may be subject to civil liability.

In the past month, at least three new lawsuits have been filed over birth defects parents allege were caused by Zofran, the popular anti-nausea medication prescribed for off-label use during pregnancy by mothers.  This case, filed in California Superior Court on March 30, 2015, follows two others: one filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on February 12, and another in the District of Massachusetts on February 16.  Each case alleges congenital abnormalities, including heart defects, after the mothers were prescribed Zofran for nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy…a use not approved by the FDA when the drug was approved for market.

The court cases allege, among other things, that the maker of the drug, GlaxoSmithKline, has received more than 200 reports of birth defects in children who were exposed to Zofran during early pregnancy.  Glaxo is also being accused of improperly marketing Zofran to treat pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, and one lawsuit even notes that Glaxo previously agreed to pay $3 billion to settle charges with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the marketing of a number of other medications.  This prior settlement with the U.S. government included allegations that Glaxo had improperly marketed Zofran to treat morning sickness…the very same claim now asserted by the plaintiffs.

Recent research by scientists with the University of Colorado, Stanford University, and London’s Royal Free Hospital reveled that when taken during pregnancy, Zofran does in fact cross the placenta to reach the developing fetus, and remains longer with the baby than the mother due to a longer half-life (i.e., the elimination rate of the drug in the body).  This was not the first study done regarding these issues.  A previously published study from the journal Clinical Pharmicokinetics, showed that samples taken from 41 women given Zofran prior to surgical pregnancy termination procedures revealed much higher concentrations of the drug within fetal tissues than was anticipated.

Big Pharma has taken it on the chin recently in several trials across the country, with juries awarding millions in damages to individuals who’s health and lives were ruined by defective drugs rushed to market with “reckless indifference” to the health and safety of patients.  Amid growing concerns over FDA oversight, and lack of transparency in the testing and studies for new drugs, two juries in the last 30 days in Philadelphia have awarded $2.5 million against Johnson & Johnson for claims associated with use of its long marketed Risperdal medication, while Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. was hit with $2.3 million in damages to a former teacher who developed bladder cancer after using the company’s diabetes drug, Actos.

The Takeda award amounted to $300,000 in compensatory damages for the plaintiff’s medical expenses, as well as an additional $2 million for pain and suffering related to his cancer diagnosis.  This is the not the first case where Takeda has been accused of, and found liable by a jury, of endangering the health and welfare of potential patients and users of its drugs.  On April 7, 2014, Takeda and Eli Lily where hit with a $9 billion jury verdict related to the same drug, Actos, for failure to disclose and warn of the drug’s potential to cause cancer.  On appeal, that award was cut to $36.8 million; however, this recent award is the fifth jury award against Takeda related to Actos.  Juries in California and Maryland have also awarded a combined $8.2 million against Takeda for its handling of the drugs.

Another Philadelphia jury ordered Risperdal drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, to pay $2.5 million to a 20-year old autistic man from Alabama who developed size 46 DD breasts as a young teenager due to his long time prescribed use the drug.  This condition, called gynecomastia, was never warned about the manufacturer, who now faces thousands more lawsuits in Philadelphia, California, Missouri, and other locations across the US.  Juries aren’t the only problem for J&J related to Risperdal however; in 2013, the company paid $2.2 billion to settle federal and state criminal and civil charges related to illegal marketing of the drug.  Gynecomastia is the growth or enlargement of male breast tissue. The psychological and social injuries can be devastating — especially when gynecomastia affects adolescent males. Many doctors recommend surgery to reduce breast tissue. In mild or moderate cases, liposuction may be an effective option. In severe cases, however, a surgical procedure called a mastectomy may be necessary to remove breast tissue and excess skin.

Civil law can generally be divided into two categories: substantive and procedural. Many substantive laws are commonly experienced and understood by the general public. For instance, the tort of negligence is present in everyday occurrences such as car wrecks, and breaches of contract can occur in virtually any type of business dealing. Procedural laws, on the other hand, are often much more mysterious to a layman, simply because they regard the actual nuts and bolts of how a lawsuit is administered by a court.

An example of procedural law exists in the distinction between state courts and federal courts. Most lawsuits are handled in state court, because the only way a federal court can hear a suit is if (1) the parties to the lawsuit are from different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, or (2) the case primarily involves an issue of federal jurisdiction, rather than state jurisdiction. Though this may sound basic enough, there can be much dispute. If the case is held in federal court, there may also be a dispute as to which state’s laws the court should apply.  This issue most commonly arises when the accident or injury happens in one state, but the lawsuit is filed in a different state because of where the plaintiff and/or defendant reside.

A federal court case in the Northern District of Alabama currently being handled by the law firm of Hollis Wright provides a nice illustration of the juggling act between substantive and procedural laws. In this case, the plaintiff, a resident of Alabama, is suing the manufacturers of a surgical robot for injuries he sustained while undergoing surgery in Tennessee. The defendants did not dispute that the case should be held in federal court; rather, they maintained that the federal court should apply Tennessee’s statute of limitations, which is only one year, over Alabama’s, which is two years. If the federal court employed Tennessee’s statute of limitations, the plaintiff would have been time-barred from bringing his suit.