Monthly Archives: March 2015

Noneconomic Damages Cap in South Dakota Has Consequences for Victims of Medical Malpractice

Justice scale on blue background

Could South Dakota become home to doctors guilty of committing serious medical mistakes? Some critics of a 1976 state law say it’s possible.

The South Dakota legislature passed a law almost 40 years ago that capped noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $500,000. These damages include awards for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship and other injuries.

But today, victims of malpractice who have experienced significant losses are speaking out against this cap, which would be up to $2 million had it included an inflationary increase.

One such victim was Jennifer Eastman, who had to go to the hospital on Jan. 4, 2013, to have the stillborn fetus she was carrying removed from uterus. As if the loss of the child weren’t devastating enough, Eastman began bleeding profusely while in recovery, and her body went into shock. The doctor who had performed the surgery had perforated her uterus.

A nurse noticed the problem, despite a second doctor’s examination, and Eastman was rushed back into surgery to have her uterus removed.

Eastman grew up with eight brothers and two sisters, and her own dream of having a large family was dashed when she lost her child and uterus on the same day.

In comments left on Facebook for the Argus Leader article, Eastman admitted that she still suffers to this day from depression, anxiety, night terrors, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which she claims have been diagnosed.

But because of the risky medical malpractice case, and the low award amount capped by the state, Eastman, like some other South Dakota residents, was unable to find a lawyer.

Many of the personal injury attorneys in the state are actually turning victims away because the cases aren’t worth fighting.

Because lawyers take the cases on contingency and front the costs, they are only paid if the victim receives an award or settlement. But that $500,000 maximum doesn’t always cover the hundreds of hours spent contacting expert witnesses and preparing the case.

And if the insurance company sweeps in and takes most of the award, there is sometimes next to nothing left for the victim and lawyer.

Some attorneys have stopped taking medical malpractice cases altogether, despite the fact that at least 80% of such lawsuits have involved serious injury or even death for the victims.

But doctors hold a different view of the cap, saying that it deters frivolous lawsuits.

Dr. Mary Milroy, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, explained that healthcare providers often live in fear of being sued and worry that a lawsuit can damage their reputations and livelihood.

 

“If people judge South Dakota as a dangerous place with no caps, they may not come here to practice,” Milroy said.

In addition to South Dakota, about 30 other states also have laws that restrict what plaintiffs can recover in noneconomic losses.

Penn State Hosts 5K Event For Cancer Research

Athlete running road silhouette
The Pennsylvania State University hosted its first annual Race to Relay 5K event in order to raise money for April’s Relay For Life.

Penn State’s The Daily Collegian reports that on Sunday, March 22nd, more than 200 students participated in the race. The race raised money for next month’s Relay For Life, a 24-hour fundraising event that in turn raises money for cancer awareness and research.

“I really love running for a good cause and I thought Race to Relay would be a good way to do it,” freshman Morgan Gannon said. “I first heard about Relay For Life in high school, and today I’m running with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.”

The participants ran either for themselves or on behalf of an organization, according to senior Toni Mastropieri, the fundraising chairperson of Relay For Life. The intention of the sponsorship was to encourage more students and groups to enter the race as well as the Relay For Life.

“I’m actually running with my organization called SuperHeroes for Kids,” said freshman Paige Campbell. “I always wanted to get involved with Relay For Life and to get more active running races. So this is perfect, because it’s a combination of both.”

The Relay For Life saw over 1,000 students sign up online, and the organizers hope to attract even more people this year.

Two Penn State organizations, the Association of Residence Hall Students and the Blue and White Society, worked with the Relay For Life organizers to create the 5k race. The registration was $15, and they raised over $2,000.

“We felt like a 5K would be great to raise money and be fun,” Mastropieri said. “Although the first year is always the hardest, it turned out really well and we are definitely excited to make it a new tradition every year.”

She went on to say that if April’s Relay For Life reaches its projected fundraising goal this year, it will have raised more than $1 million since 2004. The 5K event itself was planned last April but didn’t come into fruition until last September. 5K events are popular social events and are used often for fundraisers.

“A 5k race is a great distance for any runner and a perfect distance for runner’s that are new to races. Running for an important cause can make the experience even more special and meaningful,” said Ryan Lynn, director of marketing at Gone For a Run. “At goneforarun.com we offer inspirational and motivational running products that are perfect for fundraising and for motivating you to the finish line, including running tees that can be personalized, running knee socks and much more.”

Laminate Flooring With High Formaldehyde Levels Causes Problems for Tampa Woman

Laying ceramic floor tiles - man hands closeup
Laminate flooring is usually a common and cost-effective option for homeowners looking to make some changes around the house. However, following news that several Chinese factories manufactured products containing high levels of formaldehyde, many people are growing hesitant. Now, the experience of a California woman suggests that the responses of certain flooring retailers might only contribute to these problems.Jacquie Shabel originally chose laminate wood flooring to renovate her Tampa, FL rental home. However, after purchasing 59 boxes of the product from Lumber Liquidators in February, she says she almost immediately reconsidered: as soon as it was delivered, the flooring smelled horrible, toxic. With her 5-year-old son Rhys and their three dogs staying at the home while construction was underway, Shabel says she was hesitant to move forward with her project. However, when she contacted the Lutz, FL store where she purchased the laminate flooring, they reportedly assured her that the smell would die down eventually. As a result, Shabel had the product installed.

But while the new flooring looked beautiful, Shabel says the smell never disappeared. Instead, it was so overwhelming that she took her family to a hotel for a few days. Despite spending $3,000 to purchase and install the floors, Shabel eventually hired a demolition crew to remove every plank to return it to Lumber Liquidators. She claims a store representative agreed to give her a refund, but that she would have to speak to the corporate office about her installation and demolition expenses. However, when Shabel arrived at the store with the wood, she says the manager refused to refund her money because the wood was no longer in the boxes she had purchased it in. The corporate office also refused to issue her a refund.

Numerous homeowners across the country are currently facing similar situations after a recent 60 Minutes report revealed that some Chinese companies are producing laminate floors that may be dangerous. After going undercover at three such factories, the report claimed that the glue used to bind the wood particles in the core of the laminated boards contained excessive levels of the cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde. As many as 30 of 31 boxes of the product were labeled compliant when they were not.

For its part, Lumber Liquidators objects to the testing performed by 60 Minutes, stating that it does its own testing and stands by the safety of its products. However, the company is now offering free air quality testing and says they will replace the flooring if necessary. Unfortunately, this might not be enough for many homeowners, who may now begin installing vinyl flooring, hardwood flooring, carpeting or tile. At the very least, they will likely prefer to turn to a different retailer.

A class action lawsuit has been filed in California and another is in the works in Florida at the Knopf Bigger law firm. Partner Andrew Knopf says the latter case is still open to affected consumers, but cannot compensate plaintiffs for any physical injuries or illnesses. He also reminded consumers that class action lawsuits take time, meaning that any demolition projects or health treatments should proceed immediately rather than waiting for a legal victory.

Meanwhile, Shabel will not be participating in the class action lawsuit. Instead, she has hired a crew to install new tile to complete the renovations she began over a month ago. A representative from Lumber Liquidators told her local TampaNews 10 that they were looking into her complaint.

Chiropractic Care Can Lower Overall Medical Costs, New Data Suggests

Yoga pose, Abstract color background
New data from Optum, a health care consulting agency, suggests that if spinal manipulation is not included during the management of a non-surgical spinal episode, the total cost of care will be higher.

The data set, which covers a two-year span, projected that — had the reported 14.7 million non-surgical spinal episodes begun with chiropractic care — there would have been a total savings of about $1.3 billion.

“Musculoskeletal conditions rank amongst the costliest in health care and are a top concern for all stakeholders – patients and payers, alike,” states Gerard Clum, DC, a spokesperson with the non-profit Foundation for Chiropractic Progress in a press release. “Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) provide evidence-based, cost-effective care, which includes spinal manual care appropriate for the management of these conditions and other health concerns.”

In the United States, DCs deliver more than 94% of spinal manipulations, which, as the Optum data indicates, can have several benefits when performed within the first 10 days of a spinal episode. A few advantages include reduced overall costs and lower need for additional treatments, such as prescriptive medicine and surgery. Experts at the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress reason that if chiropractic care is performed first, the costs per episode can be reduced by as much as 40%.

In addition to lowering the cost of spinal episodes and improving a person’s recovery process, chiropractic care has been shown to have several other benefits. A systematic literature search published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics discussed 21 different studies which found that “chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation” can reduce the intensity of a headache, frequency of headaches, and their duration. Other studies have found that chiropractic care can even improve digestive issues and patients’ immune systems.

“Chiropractic care advances the opportunity for optimal outcomes across care delivery, quality and cost,” said Dr. Clum in the statement. “The Optum data further validates the value of chiropractic care and acceptance of the rising trend: chiropractic first, medicine second, and surgery last.”

Convenience Store Chain Adds New Warehouse and Company Headquarters in San Antonio

warehouse
Only days before its commercial leases expire on a warehouse in Schertz, TX, San Antonio-based CST Brands Inc. is unveiling a 365,000-square-foot distribution on the city’s Northeast Side. According to local news sources, the company plans to use this big change to fuel a significant expansion plan throughout Texas.Located at 19500 Bulverde Road, the new warehouse is more than three times the size of their previous facility, featuring 42,000 square feet of refrigerated space. The company plans to store around 4,744 unique products, including 528 types of candy and 900 grocery items, which will service around 600 of the convenience store retailer’s locations.

This change is only the latest for CST Brands, which has seen significant progress in recent years. For example, the company opened 38 stores in the U.S. and Canada last year. Now, CST Brands is planning to build another 35 to 40 locations in the coming year and will need facilities to support this further growth.

According to company representatives, the smaller size of their previous, leased warehouse was already limiting their operations. By doubling the size of their storage facility, the company hopes to improve the freshness and quality of their store’s inventory. However, despite their increase in size, CST Brands may soon miss some of the benefits of leasing a warehouse.

Then again, CST Brand’s change could be beneficial to the San Antonio area: because the company’s trucks made more than 90,000 store deliveries and covered about 2.6 million miles, they expect to hire three dozen additional warehouse workers to support their operations.

Other changes to the company include the addition of approximately 146,000 square feet of office space, which will serve as CST’s future headquarters. Their current headquarters are located at the Valero corporate campus in Palo Alto, CA but only take up 83,000 square feet. The new location will feature a prototype Corner Store, which will allow the company to test new products, train employees and serve customers in the area.

CST Brands attributed the purchase of its new property, which cost $43 million, to $2 million in property tax abatements and cash grants from the city and county. These incentives will require CST to retain an existing 305 full-time jobs and create an additional 100 new positions. The company’s relocation is expected to be completed by June 2016.

OSHA Rejects Arizona’s New Set of Fall Safety Standards

Man Examining and Repairing Rotten Leaking House Roof
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has rejected a new set of fall safety standards drafted by the Arizona state legislature, saying the standards don’t take adequate measures to protect workers.

According to the Phoenix Business Journal article, workplaces, such as residential construction sites across the state, must now adhere to OSHA’s own standards for fall protection and safety. While Arizona can still draft regulations of its own, federal officials say it’s unlikely this will happen.

Falls are the number one cause of death for workers in the construction industry. In 2013, the most recent year with available data, 13 people died on construction sites throughout Arizona, with five of these deaths stemming from slips, trips and falls.

Under federal fall protection regulations, all Arizona workers are required to wear safety harnesses while working at any height above six feet; Arizona’s regulations, which were first instated in fall 2012, only required these harnesses for heights about 15 feet or higher.

While OSHA’s rejection of Arizona’s fall protection standards is intended to better protect workers from falls, many who work in the state’s construction industry say that following OSHA’s standards might do more harm than help.

In fact, requiring safety harnesses for workers at heights more than six feet is theoretically more dangerous “because residential construction sites use wood, which doesn’t make a strong anchor point for workers to tie off their harnesses,” a statement from the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona said.

OSHA officials will now monitor construction sites throughout Arizona to make sure they follow federal regulations rather than the rejected state standards, the Phoenix Business Journal reports.

Millennials Inspire Recent Apartment Boom in Downtown Wilmington

modern apartments with a blue sky
Located just 30 miles south of Philadelphia on I-95, Delware’s largest city has become a hot spot for area millennials.

Wilmington’s downtown district, formerly known for its pawnshops, check-cashing stores, and abandoned buildings is being reinvigorated by developers who are constructing hundreds of apartments geared towards young professionals seeking the perks of center-city living, including car-free commutes and easy access to public transit.

Buildings that were once vacant or underused for many years are being demolished or completely renovated in order to meet the growing demand. As a result, city officials say there has been a sharp increase in the number of available residential units in center city.

Developers are racing to erect some 380 apartments in the Market Street area, known as city’s main commercial strip. The apartments are scheduled to be completed in two phases, between June 2015 and August 2016. The series of projects related to the construction of these units represents a total investment of $91 million.

The new apartments are designed to appeal to millennials — those born beginning in the early 1980s — who have inspired a nationwide trend and increased demand for transit-orientated development in metropolitan areas across the country, such as Wilmington.

“People want to live, work and play in the same community, and developers are responding to that,” said Michael J. Hare, a senior vice president at the Buccini/Pollin Group, developer of the downtown projects. “We believe the time is right for urban living.”

A number of buildings are in the process of being converted, including 627 North Market, a former department store building was most recently used by Delaware State University but has not been occupied since 2011.

The 47,000-square-foot building will undergo reconstruction of three floors with the addition of a fourth. In June 2015, the building will boast 40 one-bedroom apartments, three studios, and three two-bedroom units with average rental rates of $1.70 per square foot.

In order to meet, if not exceed demographic demands, all new housing units will be for rent only, and are within walking distance of public transit and area attractions. In recent years, the downtown area has experienced a surge in bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Millennials are happy with how downtown Wilmington is changing.

“Just in three short years, the night life has definitely increased,” said Mackenzie Wrobel, a 26-year-old law clerk who works at the Superior Court of Delaware in downtown Wilmington. “They are making more of an effort to keep things open later.”

Patrick Goldring, a 25-year-old IT consultant who lives downtown but commutes to work in the Philadelphia suburbs, agrees. “I think they are trying to make it like New York City where you get off work, go to happy hour, get drunk, walk to your apartment and not have to worry about trekking all over town,” he said.

K-Cup Inventor Says He Regrets His Famous Invention

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Business Insider reports that the coffee industry is worth an estimated $100 billion U.S. dollars worldwide. Of this amount, a considerable portion is spent on K-Cups, the single-serving coffee pods that are used in Keurig machines and other coffee makers. But this trend may not be as convenient as it seems: research shows that K-Cups have a disastrous effect on the environment, due to their lack of recyclability and the amount of waste they create. Now, even the creator of the famous coffee pod is speaking disapprovingly of his invention.John Sylvan originally pictured K-Cups as the perfect option for constricted work spaces. His product, a small sealed cup filled with ground coffee, works in conjunction with a specially-designed Keurig machine, which is often smaller and faster than a traditional coffee maker. The machine pokes a hole through the lid, fills the pod with water, and then forces a cup of coffee out using water pressure. Since 1998, the Keurig Green Mountain company has sold more than 45 million of these machines and 30 billion K-Cups, which they claim make fresher, faster and more consistent cups of coffee.

However, this sheer level of use is part of the problem: Mother Jones has reported that in 2013, enough K-Cups were produced to encircle the equator 10.5 times. While this yielded nearly $5 billion in annual revenue for Keurig, research shows that most of these products wound up in landfills. To make matters worse, the pods are made from plastic #7, which is made from four different layers of material and can only be processed by special recycling facilities.

This problem is especially problematic in Canada, where an estimated 40% of homes have a single-serving coffee brewer. As the North American country is one of the biggest coffee-consuming nations in the world, this means that millions of K-cups are sent to Canadian landfills every year. This only contributes to the high level of waste already associated with the coffee industry: just like the coffee pods, plastic stir sticks, Styrofoam cups and other products are not recyclable. In contrast, more traditional coffee filters can be recycled.

Because of these facts, Sylvan recently admitted that he regrets creating the K-Cup in an interview with the Atlantic. While Keurig has pledged to make all of its K-Cup packs recyclable by 2020, Sylvan says he doubts this promise, claiming that the company has rejected his suggestions for sustainability. Meanwhile, Keurig has publicly considered incorporating polypropylene into their current materials and redesigning the product.

The situation is confusing, particularly to consumers who may not have all of the facts. However, Sylvan says the choice is in the hands of the Keurig user. “From a personal standpoint, it saves 20 seconds of your day,” he told the Atlantic. “What’s that worth?”

West Virginia House of Delegates Hammers Out Details of Aboveground Storage Tank Act Amendment

White oil storage tanks
West Virginia’s House of Delegates recently held public hearings to seek input from citizens on a proposed bill that would make amendments to the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.

On March 6, many of the same people who had advocated for last year’s Aboveground Storage Tank Act to be passed returned to the podium in the House of Delegates Chamber in Charleston to argue against the new amendment, which seeks to loosen many of the law’s regulations, according to the West Virginia Metro News.

Throughout every state, aboveground storage tanks are subject to regulations at a federal, state and local level. West Virginia legislators hastily drafted and passed the Aboveground Storage Tank Act, or Senate Bill 373, in the months following Freedom Industries’ leak of MCHM into the Elk River in January 2014. The chemical spill resulted in a tap water ban for thousands of people that lasted several days.

The proposed amendment, Senate Bill 423, would roll back the law’s reach to focus primarily on 10,000-gallon aboveground storage tanks located in close proximity to a water supply, the West Virginia State Journal reports. The bill also outlines provisions for secondary spill containment, prevention and response plans.

The bill’s supporters say it allows for a more efficient, focused scope by only monitoring the most at-risk aboveground storage tanks. However, its critics note that loosening the original law’s terms would make it easier for tank spills and leaks to take place.

Speaker Sherry Tulk, in particular, raised criticisms over the math used to draw up the bill’s zones of critical concern.

“(The amendment would work) if you know for a fact it’s going to be stringent enough to ensure that contamination could not happen,” said Tulk. “I would add that if it is, how is it Freedom Industry tanks that contaminated the water a year ago are not included in those areas of concern?”

West Virginia’s House Judiciary Committee intends to vote on the bill soon; the 2015 legislative session ends March 14.