Massachusetts Lags While Movement To Curb Texting While Driving Gains Steam

Today, as you probably know, was “No Phone Zone” pledge day, a day when Oprah Winfrey dedicated her show to the dangers of using a cell phone while driving and urged Americans to pledge not to use their cell phones in their cars.
The day prior to Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” day, Michigan became the twenty-fourth state to ban texting while driving.
In 2008, nearly 6,000 Americans died as a result of distracted driving and more than 500,000 were injured in accidents caused by distracted driving. Studies show that using a cell phone while driving impairs your driving as much as having a few drinks and increases your risk of causing a car accident by more than 500 percent.
Will more than half the states adopting texting bans before Massachusetts gets around to it?
For a vivid illustration of how texting while driving can cause an accident, watch this illuminating (slight profanely) video of Meredith Viera from the Today Show in a driving simulator:

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Why Your Next Motorcycle Should Have Anti-Lock Brakes

Antilock brakes have become standard on cars, but motorcycles still lag behind in adopting them. Harley-Davidson, for example, only began offering them as an option in 2008, so most bikes out there are unequipped.
Many motorcyclists think they simply don’t need antilock brakes.
Now, however, comes a new Insurance Institute For Highway Safety study that shows motorcycles equipped with antilock brakes are thirty-seven percent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident. If it reduces your risk of dying by more than one-third, I’d say it’s worth springing for the option package.

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E. Coli Poisoning: Pulitzer Prizes, CDC Reports And New Legislation

A little over a week ago, the CDC announced that 2009 saw a decline in reported cases of E. coli O157 poisoning. E. coli O157:H7 is one of the strains of E. coli that is most toxic to humans and can cause one of the severest forms of food poisoning.
Lest the news lead us to become complacent about food safety, the CDC’s announcement essentially coincided with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize committee that Michael Moss, a New York Times reporter, was awarded a Pulitzer for his investigative work in a story about the E. coli poisoning of Stephanie Smith, a 22-year old woman who became infected with E. coli through a hamburger patty.
The E. coli infection left Stephanie brain injured, unable to walk and with a serious kidney condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, that will necessitate multiple kidney transplants over the course of Stephanie’s life.
If you think our government should be doing more to prevent tainted food, like the E. coli that poisoned Stephanie Smith, from making its way to our plates, there’s good news for you: a bill, S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, is currently pending in the Senate that would require more stringent food inspections. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, call Senators Kerry and Brown and let them know you’re in favor of safer food.

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Weekly Roundup Of Personal Injury News

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Do Doctors Downplay Patients’ Reports Of Their Symptoms?

In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “The Missing Voice of Patients in Drug-Safety Reporting,” Dr. Ethan Basch argues that doctors, by discounting and ignoring patients’ complaints about what they perceive as drug side effects may be ignoring data that could lead to earlier detection of dangerous drugs.
More than a few bloggers seem to have had this experience of having a doctor downplay their symptoms.
Doctors need to be more cognizant of the facts that their patients are intelligent people who know their own bodies and when they report a perceived side effect, they might be right, even if the side effect seems far-fetched. Heeding this lesson could reduce the incidence of medical malpractice and get dangerous drugs off the shelves more quickly.

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Back Surgeries Overprescribed?

For once, the tort reform blog Overlawyered.com admits that the costs of healthcare might be driven by doctors’ incentives, rather than greedy medical malpractice lawyers, but, even in this moment of rare insight, Overlawyered can’t resist a slap at the plaintiff’s bar.
In this post, Walter Olson entertains the idea that some orthopedic surgeons might recommend spinal fusion surgeries whose cost approaches $100,000 because the procedures are so lucrative. However, Olson also claims that personal injury lawyers are in collusion with this phenomenon, by referring their clients to surgery-happy doctors.
I, for one, always let the real medical professionals recommend specialists like orthopedic surgeons. And most lawyers are no different.
Scoring this one is difficult. I’d award Olson a point for taking off the ideological blinders and acknowledging, even indirectly, that doctors are not always blameless. However, I have to deduct half a point for the ending of the blog post, with Olson’s attribution of sinister motives to personal injury lawyers.
That means Olson finishes with half a point. The Manhattan Institute is coming up!
PS – Can anyone send me the Journal of the American Medical Association article that Olson references? I was unable to find it.

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Football Head Injuries: A Follow-Up

I’ve previously blogged about the prospect of football helmet manufacturers facing product liability lawsuits for design defects in their helmets and the resulting brain injuries that occur.
This week came news that former NFL lineman Ralph Wenzel has filed a Worker’s Compensation claim that says head injuries he sustained in the course of his NFL career are responsible for his present-day dementia.
Of course, a Worker’s Compensation claim for football head injuries is recourse that is only available to former professional football players, not to college or high school players who sustained brain injuries while playing for fun, rather than as part of their “job” or “work.” But even though these Worker’s Compensation claims are available only to the tiny fraction of football players who played professionally, the consequences could be enormous. The potential liability faced by the NFL in Worker’s Compensation claims relating to head injuries could be $100 million or more. Liability of that scale is big enough to force even a multi-billion dollar empire like the NFL to consider its rules and regulations regarding concussions and other head injuries. Football fans might even see the three point stance abolished as a result!
Worker’s Compensation pre-emption means that former pro football players cannot sue their former teams directly for brain injuries they sustained from their playing (they can however maintain product liability actions against the helmet manufacturers). High schools and colleges need to be alert to the prospect of this kind of litigation because their players are “students,” not “workers,” and Worker’s Compensation laws do not prove a bar to suing them directly. High school and college programs could therefore face even greater liability than the NFL.
It is a startling realization, but legal liability for brain injuries might fundamentally alter the rules of football and transform it place in our culture.
My guess, however, is that the NFL lobbies the California legislature to change the law with regards to football players.

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FDA Approves New Yaz Label Warnings

In a regulatory letter issued yesterday, the FDA approved the use of new warning labels for Yaz birth control. The new warnings advise consumers of the potential risk of serious blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis, from the use of Yaz.
One study, published in a British medical journal last summer, indicated that women using Yaz have a 6.3 times greater chance of developing blood clots than women using other pills that contain levonorgestrel. Other studies, sponsored by Bayer, Yasmine’s manufacturer, have not found such a correlation.

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Another Study Shows Doctors Responding To Profit Motives

We trust doctors. When they recommend a course of treatment or a surgery to us, we think their opinion is a disinterested one, one that is based solely on medical science and that is completely divorced from any financial stake they may have in the outcome.
I’ve previously blogged about how this isn’t always the case. When the Medicare reimbursement rate for a particular surgery falls, doctors perform fewer of those surgeries. I’ve blogged about how doctors might recommend a more costly procedure, even when it raises a patient’s risk of cancer. I’ve blogged about how, when a businessman’s mentality takes root in a medical community, it can double the cost of healthcare.
Now comes a new University of Michigan study showing that doctors with ownership interests in outpatient surgery centers perform twice as many surgeries as their colleagues without any financial stake in the surgery centers. One of the study’s authors, Dr. John Hollingsworth, says, “To the extent that owners are motivated by profit, one potential explanation for our findings is that these physicians may be lowering their thresholds for treating patients with these common outpatient procedures.”
Probably the only thing worse than being a victim of medical malpractice, is finding out you never really needed the operation in the first place.

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