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.

On Monday, November 3, 2014, a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based orthopedic device manufacturer, Stryker Orthopedics and Howmedica Osteonics Corp., agreed to pay at least $1.43 billion to settle lawsuits pending around the United States.  The lawsuits were filed by thousands of patients who received two (2) different defective hip implants, which were recalled by Styker in 2012 due to corrosion and other various problems.  Defective hip litigation has seen several large settlements over the past few years, with John & Johnson agreeing to a $2.5 billion settlement just last year to settle some 8,000 lawsuits from patiets alleging that the company’s metal ball-and-socket hip implant caused them injury or had to be replaced or removed entirely.

The Styker settlement will include all pending state and federal claims, and will include plaintiffs from 39 different states.  The claims include corrosion which occurred in the patients’ bodies causing illness, as well as removing and replacing the implant with a new device, a procedure known as a revision.  According to attorneys who lead the settlement negotiations,   “[t]he settlement represents one of the largest medical device settlements with an unlimited compensation fund.”  Stryker expects to make most of the payments under the settlement by the end of 2015.

The law firm of Hollis Wright is currently representing numerous individuals who have been injured by these Stryker productsComplex litigation against large medical device manufacturers demands specialized legal experience.  If you or a loved one believe you have been harmed by a defective medical device or product, contact the firm of Hollis Wright for more information and evaluation.

While Halloween is a night of fun, the special circumstances surrounding trick-or-treating and parties mean a variety of opportunities to commit actionable negligence. Here are a few thoughts on protecting yourself from liability on Halloween:

  1. Don’t leave open candles anywhere outside. While your sidewalk may look great lined with real lanterns, this creates a foreseeable risk that someone could accidentally knock them over or that a child’s costume could catch fire.
  1. Keep pets inside. Even if your dog is normally well-behaved, strangers, Halloween costumes, and props can cause your dog to get scared or territorial and lead to a dog bite incident. Especially if your dog has had a history of biting (even one time), a dog bite could expose you to liability.

Have you been injured while driving or riding in a GM manufactured vehicle? As of August 2014, GM has set up a settlement program to compensate persons injured in several recalled cars. The problem noted in the recall is an ignition defect which cuts power to the airbags, power steering, and brakes. In these cases, the ignition switch moves out of the “run” position, resulting in a partial loss of electrical power and turning off the engine. These issues can cause an accident or make an accident far worse. As of September 22, 2014, the official death toll from the ignition defect stands at twenty-one (21). 143 alleged death claims have been filed, out of 675 total filed claims.

The affected models include:

Buick

Cadillac

Chevrolet Oldsmobile Pontiac

Saturn

Lacrosse

(2005-2009)

CTS(2003-2014) Camaro(2010-2014) Alero(1999-2004) G5(2007-2010)

Ion

(2003-2007)

Lucerne

(2006-2011)

Deville(2000-2005) Cobalt(2005-2010) Intrigue(1998-2002) Grand Am(1999-2005)

Sky

(2007-2010)

DTS

(2006-2011)

HHR(2006-2011)

Grand Prix

(2004-2008)

SRX

(2004-2006)

Impala(2000-2014)

Solstice

(2006-2010)

Malibu

(1997-2005)

Monte Carlo (2000-2007)

 

If you were injured while driving or riding in one of these vehicles, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. The compensation expert hired by GM to manage the recall settlement has stated that GM will only accept claims until December 31, 2014. The settlement manager has also stated that GM has not placed a cap on the payments, so anyone with an eligible claim has an opportunity to recover damages. Those with an eligible death claim will automatically receive $1 million in addition to the awarded amount.

Eligible claims must meet the following criteria:

  • The injured party must have been a driver of or passenger in one of the car models (and years) listed above;
  • There must be a physical, personal injury—GM is not compensating for property damage;
  • The airbags must not have deployed—if the airbags deployed, then this ignition defect was not the cause of the accident.

Finally, the compensation program will not consider driver negligence in determining eligibility for a settlement award.  The law firm of Hollis Wright is currently representing numerous clients with potential GM claims.  Complex litigation against large pharmaceutical companies demands specialized legal experience.  If you or a loved one believe you have been harmed by a transvaginal mesh device, contact the firm of Hollis Wright for more information and evaluation.

 

Additional authors: Alison Almeida

One intensifying social controversy concerns the vaccination of children. A June 2014 article in the journal Pediatrics reports that 1 out of 10 parents in the United States are refusing to vaccinate their children. The momentum of the so-called “Anti-Vac” movement has been aided by the endorsement of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, who publicly claims that vaccination is the likely cause of her son’s autism.

In 2000, the Center for Disease Control announced that measles had been eradicated in the United States. In May of 2014, the CDC proclaimed that the number of measles cases in the country is the highest it has been since the disease was eliminated, opining that unvaccinated individuals travelling abroad have brought the disease back to the States. Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” has also made a comeback in the last decade.

With many states across the country requiring parents to provide documentation of their children’s immunizations prior to allowing those children to attend school, a constitutional controversy, which will likely be addressed by the United States Supreme Court at some point, is brewing.