Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GTLA members demand safe water for Georgians

After twelve years of hard work, GTLA members Joel Wooten, Robert Killian, John Bell and Pam James continue to give. In 1995, the team of attorneys filed suit against Allied/LCP Plant on behalf of Glynn County. The company was found to have been knowingly polluting the Purvis Creek and Turtle River with PCBs and Mercury. The sites of the pollution became Georgia’s first Superfund Site, a site designated by the federal government as a locations of uncontrolled hazardous waste.

The case was settled in November of 2006 for a total of $50 million plus additional clean-up for the Glynn County water making it the largest environmental litigation in Georgia history. The outstanding work of this team of lawyers earned them the Ogden Doremus Award for Excellence in Environmental Law this past September.

And still this team of attorneys continue to serve this cause. Yesterday, December 11th, they presented $100,000 to several organizations involved in consumer and environmental protection.

Deborah Sheppard, the Executive Director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper one of the organizations to receive the donation said, “These funds will support the Altamaha Riverkeeper and the Altamaha Coastkeeper’s work to protect our coastal, estuary and marsh systems. We are fortunate to have attorneys whose skill and dedications created this legal victory which makes LCP accountable for their damage to the Glynn marshes. Their generous support of our coastal organizations is greatly appreciated.”

Justine Thompson of GreenLaw, another recipient of the donations said, “These attorneys filed this case back in January 1995 and began what was an epic twelve-year battle. We applaud their relentless pursuit of environmental justice on behalf of the health of our citizens, and are grateful for their gifts back to the community.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

Court Secrecy

For Immediate Release
AAJ Press Room

AAJ Seeks Legislative Action to Stop “Court Secrecy”

Washington, DC— Invoked in countless legal settlements, secrecy provisions allow big corporations to prevent the public from finding out about dangerous products that kill and injure people, and the American Association for Justice is fighting back to stop agreements that endanger public health and safety.

As a condition of settling product liability cases, businesses often demand that injured individuals agree to secrecy provisions which prohibit them from disclosing any public safety hazards uncovered during litigation. Court secrecy allows corporate wrongdoers to evade real accountability when evidence of dangerous defects and corporate negligence is routinely covered up. Consequently, irresponsible businesses continue to profit from product sales at the expense of consumer safety.

Congress will be addressing the health and safety problems associated with court secrecy in an upcoming Congressional hearing chaired by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). Among those testifying will be Johnny Bradley of Pachuta, Mississippi, who suffered permanent injuries and became a widower in 2002 when the tread on his Cooper tire separated. Bradley’s attorney, Bruce Kaster, uncovered evidence of Cooper tire defects which had previously been sealed in other cases and continues to remain sealed to this day. Even at this hearing, Johnny Bradley cannot disclose the documented evidence uncovered by his attorney during litigation.

Bradley is also subject to a court secrecy order requested by Cooper Tires, which his attorney has challenged vigorously. Bradley believes these defects are so serious that Cooper would be forced to halt production if they were publicly known.The Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, has scheduled the hearing on “The Sunshine in Litigation Act: Does Court Secrecy Undermine Public Health and Safety?” for December 11, 2007 at 2:30 p.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Chairman Kohl is expected to re-introduce the “Sunshine in Litigation Act” soon after the hearing. Previous versions of Kohl’s bill would have restricted judicial secrecy agreements that conceal dangerous product defects in product liability settlements.Also testifying at the hearing will be Public Justice Attorney Leslie Bailey, University of California law professor and attorney Richard Zitrin, and the Honorable Joseph F. Anderson, a Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.In 2002, then-Chief Judge Anderson led his fellow South Carolina federal court judges in voting unanimously to ban the filing of sealed settlements in their court.

Just prior to the vote, Judge Anderson stated, “Here is a rare opportunity for our court to do the right thing and take the lead nationally in a time when the Arthur Andersen/Enron/Catholic priest controversies are undermining public confidence in our institutions and causing a growing suspicion of things that are kept secret by public bodies.”

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wal-Mart's greed costs employees

By: Timothy Santelli
Atlanta Attorney

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving. With stores popping up all over the nation, the franchise continues to grow at an exponential rate. In 2005, The New York Times said that Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in profit every minute. That’s right. Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in every minute of every hour of every day in profit—not revenue—but profit. That profit margin, 3 times that of Target’s and nearly 11 times that of Cosco’s, apparently isn’t enough for super-giant. Now the corporation is going after its own employees.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story about Deborah Shank, a 52-year old woman who had worked for Wal-Mart for eight years. Mrs. Shank was in a catastrophic car accident seven years ago when a semi-trailer truck hit her, leaving her permanently brain-damaged.

Her husband and her three sons went to court and obtained a relatively small amount of money—considering her damages—to assist in paying for the healthcare costs. The settlement, after court expenses, and other costs, left the Shanks with $417,000 to be put in a special trust for the medical needs that the 52-year old woman would depend on for the rest of her life.
Wal-Mart got wind of the settlement and the mega-corporation sued the Shanks for $470,000—to recoup the expenses it had spent on her medical care. Now, the entire trust fund for Deborah Shanks’ healthcare is going back to the multi-billion dollar corporation.

Wal-Mart was able to take this money from a working employee because the mega-corporation includes a provision in their health care plan reserving the right to recoup any money recovered by an employee in a personal injury suit. The Shanks were unaware of this clause.

Making this situation even more outrageously unfair is that Mrs. Shanks paid hefty premiums for the optional health coverage provided by Wal-Mart. While an average full-time employee at Wal-Mart makes $17,114 a year—over 16% of that salary will go back to Wal-Mart for healthcare—healthcare with numerous deductibles. Over 16% is over twice the national average of employee insurance costs.

In Georgia, Wal-Mart is the #1 employer of parents with children enrolled in PeachCare. Every year Georgia’s taxpayers pay nearly $10 million dollars to cover the more than 10,000 children enrolled whose parents work full time at the corporation and still can’t afford insurance.
Yet Wal-Mart profits. At $20,000 a minute.

Six days before Wal-Mart claimed victory, the Shanks 18-year old son was killed while serving in Iraq. Now, with no settlement money, the Shanks’ family, without their son, is relying on Medicaid and Social Security payments for her 24-hour care. Mr. Shanks is working two jobs and barely has time to be with his wife. Her health is declining; she can’t remember that her son was killed in the war, only that he died. A health-care administrator told Mr. Shank that divorcing his wife would benefit the family as she may be eligible for more public aid. The Shanks lost on appeal at the Circuit Court. They hope the US Supreme Court will hear their case.

In just 23 and-a-half minutes, Wal-Mart made the money awarded to the Shanks in profit alone. But it’s not enough for the greedy corporation. They took that money from a working family—a family who lost their son in the war, a family without a mother who can care for her children through no fault of her own.

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful last Thanksgiving. If only the working families in America, like the Shanks, could say the same.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mandatory-Binding Arbitration Swindles Consumers and Employees of their Rights

As Congress nears their Holiday break, consumer advocates and GTLA remain hopeful about a bill authored by Georgia’s Congressman Hank Johnson and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold amending the Federal Arbitration Act.

Countless corporations and companies put a mandatory-binding arbitration clause into their consumer and employee contracts that disallow a defrauded or abused employee or consumer the right to a jury trial—a right guaranteed by the 7th Amendment of our Constitution.

A recent article in Mother Jones magazine about this consumer issue provides several examples of how this affects consumers. The author of the article and her husband had attempted to a buy a used-car. After finding one to suit their needs, they perused the contract. They were surprised to find out that if they had signed on the dotted-line they would not have only purchased a car, they would have signed their Constitutional Rights away if it turned out that they were defrauded by the dealership. Perhaps the car had been totaled by its previous owner; perhaps the car was a lemon.

The couple would have been forced into mandatory-binding arbitration, a costly and in some cases, it can be argued, biased process favoring corporations, leaving them stuck with the result. Unlike our modern court system which allows one side or the other to appeal to a higher court if one feels like they did not receive a fair shake, mandatory-binding arbitration is a one-time deal.

The article provides several other examples of this corporate practice. The restaurant Hooters only hires women after they sign a clause that says they cannot go to a jury for a claim of sexual harassment. Halliburton and the pharmaceutical company Pfiser employ a mandatory-binding arbitration clause in their contracts.

Support from both sides of the aisle has been garnered because of a particularly egregious area that mandatory-binding arbitration can be found—nursing homes. Families trust the facilities to care for their aging parents. Sadly, stories abound of nursing home abuse and neglect. To circumvent a family taking the facility to court over abuse, many nursing homes put into their contracts the mandatory-binding arbitration provision, prohibiting a family to seek justice on behalf of an abused loved one.

The amending of the Federal Arbitration Act would get rid of the mandatory-binding arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts. Arbitration would still be an option, if both parties agreed, but so would the Constitutional right of a trial by a jury of one’s peers—a right that GTLA supports and acts to preserve as it is a bedrock of this nation’s foundation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Illinois Caps on Noneconomic Damages Struck Down by County Circuit Court

Judge Diane Larsen of the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois declared the state’s law on caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional last Tuesday, November 13th. The decision, Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, found that the caps, enacted by the Illinois legislature at $500,000 per case for doctors and $1 million per case for hospitals, intrude upon the responsibilities of the judicial branch of government—thereby violating the guarantee of a separation of powers.

The Illinois legislature has capped non-economic damages three separate times over thirty-one years—and the courts have found each of those efforts to be unconstitutional. Robert S. Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, PC (CCL), argued the case for the plaintiffs. Also representing Abigail Lebron in the matter were Chicago lawyers Jeffrey Goldberg and Todd Smith, as well as CCL lawyer Francine Hochberg. This case will likely be appealed and heard by a higher court

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Ten Most Dangerous Toys

Today’s article, “Unsafe Toys on Shelves,” in the AJC lists the ten most dangerous toys according to Georgia Trial Lawyer and founder of Keenan’s Kids Foundation, Don Keenan. With the holiday season approaching, the attorney and advocate for children is hopeful the list will help families as they purchase gifts for their children.

Magnetix 75 Piece Assortment Collector’s Tin $19.99 by Mega Brands Ages 6+ Purchased at Toys R Us HAZARD: Potential for choking injuries. Magnets that are swallowed can connect in the intestines, resulting in tissue damage, infection, and death.

Rocket Pocket Miniature Electric Motorcycle $183.22 by Razor USA, LLC Ages 12+ years Purchased at Wal-Mart HAZARD: Potential for severe bodily injuries or death.

Heelys $29.99 - $79.99 by Heeling Sports LTD Ages 5+ Purchased at Kids Foot Locker HAZARD: Potential for severe head injuries and injuries to others.

Creepy Crawlers Bug Maker $19.99 by Flying Colors Ages 8+ years Purchased at Toys R Us HAZARD: Potential for electric shock and burn injuries.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Sensor Sword with Magic Ring $17.99 by Zizzle Ages 5+ Purchased at Target HAZARD: Potential for eye and other bodily injuries.

Disney Princess Small Dolls - Favorite Moments $19.99 by Toys R Us Ages 3+ Purchased at Toys R Us HAZARD: Potential for choking, small pieces.

Lil’ Snoopy $7.99 by Fisher Price Age 1+ Purchased at Toys R Us HAZARD: Potential for Strangulation.

Elmo’s World: Talking Cell Phone $9.99 by Fisher-Price Ages 18+ months Purchased at Toys R Us HAZARD: Potentially dangerous levels of noise.

Yo-Yo Squeeze Toy $1.29 by Ja-Ru, Inc. Ages 4+ Purchased at KB Toys HAZARD: Potential for strangulation injuries.Hello Kitty Flavored Lip Balms and Nail Polishes $7.99 by Sanrio & Townley Cosmetics Age 5+ Purchased at Toys R Us. HAZARD: Contains the potentially toxic chemical Phthalate. Children can ingest toxins put on lips and fingernails.

To learn more about Keenan’s Kids Foundation and unsafe toys, you can find them on the web at

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lawyers Defend Justice in Pakistan

By: Jay Harvey
President of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association

There is an allegory in today’s news that Americans should note. For every person who has joked of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, who has academically argued that America would be better if there were no more lawyers – there is a foreboding reminder in Pakistan of that for which they are truly advocating.

The protests in the streets of Pakistan this week are something different from others we have watched. The protests in the streets of Pakistan this week are lead by citizens armed only with their knowledge and commitment to the rule of law. The protests in the streets of Pakistan are lead by lawyers.

And the next time someone attacks our system of justice, its judges, and the lawyers that work to serve and protect it and their clients every day – remember this week in Pakistan.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Merk settles with victims of deadly drug Vioxx

For Immediate Release
AAJ Press Room

Washington, DC— American Association for Justice (AAJ) CEO Jon Haber made the following statement today, following the announcement that an agreement between drugmaker Merck and attorneys for thousands of Vioxx victims has been reached:

From 1999 to 2004, when it was pulled from the market, Merck sold $11 billion of Vioxx around the world to people who were purposefully kept unaware of the drug’s dangers. According to Food and Drug Administration scientist Dr. David Graham, the drug contributed to as many as 139,000 heart attacks and as many as 55,000 deaths in the United States.

American Association for Justice attorneys fought ceaselessly for this result – initiating the first suits, being the driving force to uncover Merck's misconduct and negligence and leading the litigation nationwide. These attorneys took on a powerful multi-billion dollar corporation, holding them accountable for producing an unsafe product. The attorneys in the multi-district litigation and coordinated state court proceedings all deserve our thanks and congratulations for their tireless efforts.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Unsafe toys for kids still on shelves

For Immediate Release
AAJ Press Room

“Can’t Protect the Safety of Children” (CPSC) Chair Nancy Nord Should Resign

Washington, DC— Failing to protect the safety and health of America’s children, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chair Nancy Nord should immediately resign, the American Association for Justice said today.

“More than 13 million recalled toys on the market should never have been there in the first place, but they were because Nancy Nord was asleep at the helm,” said Jon Haber, American Association for Justice CEO. “When not asleep, she was flying around the world on the tab of the very industries she is supposed to be regulating. She should be working on keeping unsafe toys from ever reaching the hands of our children instead of allowing corporate manufacturers to put unsafe products on America’s shelves at a record pace.”

Last month, Nord opposed the efforts of Congress to increase her agency’s budget and give it more enforcement tools to stop dangerous foreign toys and other products from flooding the American market.

Nord has even opposed a long overdue ban on lead in children's toys. Lead, most commonly found in bright-colored paints, has been shown to cause developmental delays, impaired hearing and kidney damage, particularly in children.

Last week it was revealed that Nord had accepted free trips sponsored by the fireworks industry and toy manufacturers to a wide range of holiday destinations including New Orleans, Spain and a golf resort in Hilton Head. The corporations were among those whose products are regularly reviewed by the CPSC.

“From Aqua Dots to Thomas the Tank Engines, Americans have lost all faith that Nancy Nord puts the interests of consumers ahead of the businesses that she has sworn to regulate,” said Haber. “She has taken their free trips while allowing millions of dangerous toys into our stores, and it is long past time now for true strong leadership at the CPSC that will protect our children.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Voters in Washington State Cast their Ballots for Consumer Rights

All eyes were on the state of Washington yesterday. Consumer advocates around the nation waited anxiously as voters turned out to voice their opinions by casting ballots on Referendum 67. It seems that Washington, like many other places, has had problems with insurance companies denying or delaying fair and just claims. The referendum allowed the people to decide what should happen.

Referendum 67 basically stated that if an insurer, acting in bad faith, unreasonably denies a legitimate claim, that insurer could be liable for up to triple the amount of damages. An article in today’s Seattle Times said that the Insurance Industry spent a record-breaking $11,400,000 in an attempt to defeat the referendum. More than half of that amount came from the usual suspects-- State Farm, Farmers Group, Safeco Insurance and Allstate Insurance.

Trial Lawyers were among the Consumer Advocates supporting the bill. “Trial lawyers argued the new law would help level the playing field between consumers and insurance companies. They said that under present law, which only allows consumers to sue for actual damages, it benefits companies to lowball and drag out claims.”

Apparently the consumers agreed. Roughly 60% of voters approved Referendum 67. It would seem that unscrupulous business practices by insurance companies do indeed have consequences.

The Insurance Lobby has vowed to attempt to overturn the voice of the people in their next legislative session. But for now, the people of Washington State should enjoy their victory. The people have cast their ballots—and the rights of consumers have emerged victorious.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Administration Assault on Railroad Safety Must End

For Immediate Release

Administration Assault on Railroad Safety Must End, AAJ DeclaresProposed State Law Preemption Contradicts Congressional Intent,
Jeopardizes Public Safety and Victims’ Access to Justice

Washington, DC— The American Association for Justice (AAJ) today declared that the Bush Administration must end its effort to prohibit railway accident victims from pursuing legal action against railroad companies responsible for their injury or death. The latest proposed federal railroad safety regulations continues an unprecedented assault on state safety standards, directly challenging Congressional intent and jeopardizing public safety and victims’ access to justice.

“Embracing corporate irresponsibility, the Administration is blatantly ignoring the recent law passed by Congress and instead proposing a slap in the face to consumer safety,” said AAJ CEO Jon Haber. “This is yet another cynical effort allowing major corporations to evade accountability in the courts when people are killed and injured by their negligence and wrongdoing.”

Despite Congressional action earlier this year to clarify that federal law does not pre-empt state law or causes of action, the FRA has ignored the legislation and instead effectively claimed the power to regulate with the force of law without regard to the will of Congress.

In the preamble to the proposed rule (Docket No. FRA-2006-26175, Notice No. 1) the FRA added language claiming that “[s]ubject to a limited exception for essentially local safety or security hazards, its requirements will establish a uniform Federal safety standard that must be met, and state requirements covering the same subject are displaced, whether those standards are in the form of state statutes, regulations, local ordinances, or other forms of state law, including state common law.”

While in its comments on the proposed regulation the AAJ stated it believes that the language in the preamble has no substantive effect, it must be withdrawn to avoid conflict and possible misinterpretation with the Congressional intent clarifying the issue recently. That legislation stated “that 49 U.S.C. 20106 does not preempt State law causes of action where a party has failed to comply with the Federal standard of care established by a regulation or order issued by the Secretary of Transportation or the Secretary of Homeland Security, its own plan or standard…, or a State law, regulation or order that is not incompatible with 49 U.S.C. 20106(a)(2).”

A copy of AAJ’s letter to the FRA demanding the removal of the pre-emption language is available upon request.


AAJ: 1050 31st Street NW, Washington, DC, 20007

As the world's largest trial bar, AAJ (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) promotes justice and fairness for injured persons, defends the constitutional right to trial by jury, and strengthens the civil justice system through education and disclosure of information critical to public health and safety. Serving members worldwide, AAJ provides attorneys with the information and professional assistance they need to serve clients successfully and protect the democratic values of the civil justice system.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What could be scarier this Halloween?

Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360° prepare to hear a chilling story of lies and deceit as two everyday Americans are haunted by undercover agents in their own church.

Progressive Insurance willingly accepted the premiums that Bill and Leandra Pitts paid them each month for UM Insurance. After a car crash in Henry County that left the Pitts with injuries and damages not covered by the at-fault driver, they turned to their UM coverage to pay for what was left—the coverage that they had dutifully paid for every month.

Progressive Insurance, in an attempt to save a buck, hired two undercover private investigators to follow the Pitts in their community and to their church where the two agents posed as prospective members. Taking the deceit to incredible lengths, the two agents talked their way into a private Bible-study held in a private home and were privy to intimate and personal disclosures of the church members. Progressive hoped that they would discover something that would free them from covering the damages. But they didn’t.

The Pitts, after hiring GTLA member Wayne Grant, have filed suit against Progressive Insurance alleging that the company’s spooky tactics against their own clients went too far. Tonight, Anderson Cooper on CNN will look into the case.

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Georgia, we don't lie and spy in church

Letter to the Editor in response to an article in October 18th's issue of the AJC.

By: Robin Frazer Clark
GTLA Immediate Past President

‘Appalling’ and ‘Reasonable.’ Two completely different words with two completely different meanings. It’s not a coincidence that Progressive Insurance referred to their own conduct as 'appalling,' and then, when faced with accountability Progressive changes its tune to say their conduct was 'reasonable.'

Progressive spied on Bill and Leandra Pitts in church—in their private Bible-Study! Good Georgians trusted these people as fellow worshipers—not undercover agents sent to spy on them so that a greedy corporation could save a buck.

I applaud my colleague for representing this family. Our Civil Justice System was designed for people just like the Pitts. In a time when so many corporations are living large and reporting record-breaking profits, we need the Civil Justice System to ensure that they aren’t expanding their profit margins by swindling families and those in need. This is the only avenue to hold Progressive accountable and to send a message to other insurance companies—Georgia does not tolerate dishonest business practices. Down here, we don’t lie and spy in church.

Drought of Leadership

**Response to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on October 18, 2007.

By: Jamie Bendall
Atlanta Attorney

My patience is drying up like my drinking supply. Commissioner John Oxendine is furiously pumping misinformation from his seemingly still deep reservoir of half-truths regarding the way consumers in Georgia are treated by their insurance companies. It great that he's offended by Progressive's spying on their policy holders in bible study . It would be better if he acted to protect policy holders from these kinds of tactics. Instead he's working right now to prevent policy holders from getting the full benefit of insurance premiums they are already paying for. He's treating insurance companies like they are defenseless, endangered mussels; always seeking to keep them floating on a sea of profits. The people of Georgia are thirsty for Justice and Mr. Oxendine should use his office to see that the benefits of a just insurance industry flow in the right direction. He should support SB 276.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tragedy could have been prevented

Last week a Kentucky jury found in favor of plaintiff Louise Ogborn after she was sexually assusalted in a Louisville McDonalds in 2004.

Ogborn was the victim of a known hoax—that had occurred 40 times previously. At just 18 years old, Ogborn was victimized by a perpetrator impersonating a police officer. While at work, and under the perpetrator’s direction, Ogborn was held prisoner, sexually assaulted and abused for hours.

This tragedy could have been prevented.

McDonalds knew of the hoax and repeatedly ignored its duty to adequately warn the employees of at least 40 previous incidents. When McDonalds became involved in this Civil Justice case, they fought every step of the way against fair compensation for the victim.

The jury of Ogborn’s peers held McDonalds responsible for its negligence resulting in both Ogborn’s false imprisonment and sexual assault. Beyond those findings, the jury even went so far as to write to McDonalds urging that the corporation offer its employees more training concerning sexual harassment and hoaxes.

Our Civil Justice System ensures that people, like Louise Ogborn, who are the victims of the negligence or wrong-doing of others can seek justice and compensation for the harm they’ve suffered.

Louise Ogborn, now 21 years old, has decided to go law school. In a press conference it was said that she is going to law school so that she can work to right wrongs—just as the Civil Justice System promises in our Constitution—Justice for All.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Half-truths and Lies in AJC Letter to the Editor

By: Joe Watkins
President of GTLA

**NOTE** The AJC printed a letter, from an Atlanta area doctor, full of half-truths and lies. Joe Watkins, the President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association responded.

Dr. Stephen D. Leonard, who, according to state records, is not on the staff of any hospital and works in the hair replacement field, paints a dishonest picture about the reality of medical malpractice in the Labor and Delivery Room. He states that doctors are performing C-Sections because they are fearful of a malpractice suit. Absent from Dr. Leonard's accusations is the truth. He fails to mention that a lawsuit will never see the light of day without the testimony of a qualified physician who states, under oath, that the physician involved violated the standard of care. Our law also limits the amount of damages which may be recovered in malpractice suits. Perhaps this doctor from New York should familiarize himself with the Georgia Code before politically spouting his views at the expense of real families dealing with real hardships as the result of medical negligence.

Monday, October 1, 2007

AAJ demand FRA withdraw preemption language from new railroad safety regulation

Immediate Release
American Association for Justice (AAJ)

Proposed Rule Endangers Public by Preempting State Tort Laws,
Eliminating Victims’ Access to Justice

Washington, DC— The American Association for Justice (AAJ) today demanded the Bush Administration halt its effort to prohibit railway accident victims from pursuing legal action against railroad companies responsible for their injury or death.

Addition of this preemptive language by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to a pending safety regulation is yet another example of the Bush Administration’s catering to corporate interests while further endangering the public’s health and safety.

“Once again, the Bush Administration has come down on the side of corporate irresponsibility against consumer safety,” said AAJ CEO Jon Haber. “This is a cynical attempt to allow railroad companies to evade accountability in the courts when people are killed and injured by their negligence and wrongdoing.”

Members of Congress also demanding the removal of the pre-emption language include House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), who represents the Southern California district that suffered a major commuter railroad accident with multiple fatalities in 2005.

The FRA relies upon Section 20106 of the Federal Rail Safety Act to claim that its rule preempts any state law governing railroad safety, despite the fact that Congress specifically reiterated that the provision does no such thing less than two months ago. According to the Congressional Conference Report the provision, “does not preempt State law causes of action where a party has failed to comply with the Federal standard of care.” The FRA’s attempt to claim otherwise is tantamount to an Administration declaration of the power to regulate with the force of law without regard to the will of Congress.

“President Bush is blatantly ignoring the law passed by Congress just weeks ago,” said Haber, “Unless stricken from the final rule, this preemptive language will only serve the interests of corporate wrongdoers looking to evade accountability for risking the lives of millions of people on our nation’s railroads.”

A copy of AAJ’s Petition for Reconsideration and the Congressional letters demanding the removal of the pre-emption language are available upon request.

Bill Schulz
202-944-2806 (Direct Dial)
AAJ Press Room

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ill-conceived insurance industry proposal is 'bad public policy'

For Immediate Release:
September 27, 2007 from the American Association for Justice.

Washington, DC— A groundbreaking new report on health courts by Case Western Reserve University professors Max Mehlman and Dale Nance finds that health courts would be burdensome, prohibitively expensive and would come at the expense of injured patients. The report prepared under a grant from the American Association for Justice Robert L. Habush Endowment, finds that health courts would require the creation of new and costly bureaucracies that would be controlled at every level by the insurance industry. For more information, see the full Executive Summary. View the Health Courts fact sheet.

Proposals to create special “health courts” are the latest in a series of attempts to eliminate or drastically reduce the rights of injured patients. “This report exposes the health insurance industry’s latest attempt to deprive patients of their rights,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber. “Not only will so-called health courts force patients to seek compensation from bureaucracies dominated by unaccountable insurance companies, but they will also drive up costs. In the end, patients will not be safer and negligent hospitals and doctors will not be held accountable for medical errors.”

The report finds many critical flaws in the health courts concept, including:

The authors conclude the health courts concept is misguided and encourage proponents to abandon it as “bad public policy.”


Contact:Bill Schulz 202-944-2806 (Direct Dial)240-678-9398 (Cell)AAJ Press RoomNew Report Says “Health Courts” Bureaucracies Offer Big Financial Burdens and Loss of Patient Rights

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mom and child kicked off airplane

Tune in to Dr. Phil tomorrow, September 18th at 5:00 pm to hear more about the case of a mother and child who were kicked off an airplane because of a flight attendant’s intolerance.

Kate Penland and her 19 month old toddler, Garrin, both from Atlanta, set out to visit Kate’s father in celebration of Father’s Day on June 16th of this year. After sitting through a nearly 11 hour weather delay in Houston, they boarded their last leg, a Continental Flight to Oklahoma City. Garrin, the toddler, was understandably a bit irritable and tired. His mom, Kate attempted to divert his attention by pointing out the plane next to them through the window. As they pulled from the gate, Garrin said, “Bye-bye plane,” several times.

According to Ms. Penland, the flight attendant, Erika Sikorski, told Kate that she needed to "shut your baby up." Ms. Sikorski made it clear that she didn't want to deal with Garrin for the hour-flight to Oklahoma City. When Kate said she would do the best she could to quiet the child, Ms. Sikorski responded by saying, "It’s called Baby Benedryl!" Kate told the flight attendant that she was not going to drug her child. Ms. Sikorski said that they were bothering the other passengers. When the passengers disputed this, Ms. Sikorski said that the plane was "her plane" and she was in charge. She then apparently reported to the pilot that Kate had threatened her and needed to be removed from the plane.

With absolutely no investigation or verification by the pilot, it was announced that they were returning to the gate and that Kate and Garrin would be removed from the flight. The mother and her toddler were taken from the plane and stranded, again, in Houston until the next day. Ms. Penland said that she requested to retrieve her checked baggage so that she could provide care to her toddler and to herself and was refused.

Kate Penland attempted to contact Continental Airlines several times and was ignored. She then asked for help from GTLA member Steve Goldman and he is now representing her. Tomorrow on Dr. Phil, Kate Penland will tell her story.

When this story first broke, similar stories began to emerge about Passengers' Rights on an airplane-- especially in this post 9-11 world. For more information regarding what is being done on Federal level to address these concerns visit The Coalition for Airplane Passenger Rights.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Oxendine Should Support Consumers

By: Joe Watkins
President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association

The case of a couple whose own insurance company, Progressive, sent undercover Private Investigators to spy on them at private Bible Study is heartbreaking to say the least—but, sadly, not all that surprising, given the antics of some insurance companies. In this case, rather than paying out the UM insurance coverage for which the couple dutifully paid premiums every month, Progressive engaged in reprehensible measures in an attempt to save a buck.

What is surprising is Commissioner John Oxendine’s condemnation of Progressive’s conduct. He was quoted on 8-30 in the AJC to say, “Georgia policyholders should expect an open and honest relationship with their insurance company…We have to act promptly to protect the consumer.”
While we applaud Commissioner Oxendine’s stance, in this instance, concerning Progressive’s obviously inappropriate conduct, the Commissioner, unfortunately, is not always so supportive of Georgia’s consumers. Indeed, Commissioner Oxendine is adamantly opposed to a bill to protect consumers who elect to purchase UM coverage.

SB 276, authored by Senator Cecil Staton (R), allows for the stacking of elective UM coverage on top of liability insurance when you are in a serious accident. Consumers think that the premiums they pay on this optional insurance already do that, like they do in 23 other states.
But here in GA you don’t always get what you pay for.
SB 276 would ensure that you do.

Commissioner Oxendine opposes SB 276 and instead sides with the insurance industry. I hope that during this upcoming legislative session he will reflect upon his words “Protect the consumer,” stop protecting the ruthless insurance companies, like Progressive, and stand up for the people of Georgia, as an elected official should.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Civil Justice System Works

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Media Release
(404) 376-3495, Rebecca DeHart

Atlanta-- The administrative law judge, Roy Pearson of Washington DC, who sued a drycleaners over a pair of lost pants—lost in court today. He was ordered to pay all of the court costs that the owners of the drycleaners incurred throughout the ordeal.

This news comes as no surprise to the President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA), Joe Watkins. “Just as we anticipated, the Civil Justice System worked. The Judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of the drycleaners—and against the man at the center of this ridiculous business dispute.”

Pearson filed suit against the drycleaners for $54 million after alleging that they lost a pair of his pants. “The suit itself was ludicrous. As an attorney for 30 years, I am aware of the dangers that this type of sensationalism can generate. The general public cannot help but be engrossed in its details. Now that the decision has been reached, the general public can bask in what is just another example of the Civil Justice System accurately and fairly working for us all,” said Watkins.

The attorney representing the drycleaners was Chris Manning, a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the national affiliate of GTLA. AAJ has been sharply critical of Judge Pearson’s lawsuit. In April, AAJ CEO Jon Haber called on the District of Columbia Bar Association to conduct a disciplinary investigation of Judge Pearson for his conduct in this matter. Haber and AAJ President Lewis “Mike” Eidson pledged to support the defendant’s defense fund and encouraged the AAJ membership to also contribute.

Judge Bartnoff, who presided over the case, ordered Pearson to pay the court costs of defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of the drycleaners.

“It is our hope that the resolution of this case garners as much media attention as it did when it was filed. The public deserves to know how the Civil Justice System works on their behalf,” said Watkins.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

A Lost Pair of Pants

By: Joe Watkins
President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association

Reading and hearing about the D.C. Administrative Law Judge who is suing his dry cleaners over a pair of lost pants is distressing, to say the least. It's obviously ridiculous, but this lawsuit is not only silly -- it's dangerous.

Cases like this give lawyers a bad name. Big Business and others who are out to dismantle the Civil Justice System jump all over these tabloid-like stories as proof of why we need to eliminate corporate accountability. They say our legal system is out of control. One lawsuit like this one automatically makes every lawsuit "frivolous." And nothing could be farther from the truth.

As an attorney for 30 years and as President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, I am aware of the dangers that this type of sensationalism can generate. The story is so far-fetched that the general public cannot help but be engrossed in its details.

What the public does not get to hear enough about are the everyday cases that go in front of judges and juries that uphold the Constitution's promise of justice for all. More truly newsworthy are cases that have assisted in pulling dangerous pharmaceuticals off the shelves of drugstores, cases that have forced clothing manufacturers to discontinue flammable children's pajamas, and cases that led to greater ingenuity in auto manufacturing when side-saddle gas tanks were found to be explosive. These are just a few instances among many where the Civil Justice System protects us all.

The public also rarely sees stories about the lawyers who are compassionate and generous community leaders. For example, Scott Delius, an Atlanta trial lawyer, is voluntarily serving in Afghanistan and assisting in the building of a criminal justice system there. He also has begun a charitable donation effort to collect clothes and toys for the Afghan children he has met. Gary Hays, another Atlanta trial lawyer, has done incredible fundraising for cancer research through his "I Will Make A Difference Campaign." Giving back to the community -- wherever that may be -- is a proud tradition of our profession.

The case of the missing pants most likely will continue to get press in the weeks to come as it awaits a hearing. When this ridiculous case gets before a judge, I am confident it will be dealt with in a manner that will make us proud of our Civil Justice System. Let's hope the media fully reports the result in this case, so that all can see, accurately and fairly, how our Civil Justice System truly works for us all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Welcome to the Wild Wild West

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Media Release
(404) 376-3495, Rebecca DeHart

In an effort to appease the business community the NRA threw them a bone—the biggest bone they could find. The new substitute to HB 89 not only includes the SB 43—which allows employees to carry firearms onto their workplace parking lots-- but completely eliminates vicarious liability from Georgia law.

“This change in law dwarfs what so-called Tort Reform, SB 3 did in 2005,” said Geoff Pope, an attorney in Atlanta. “Vicarious liability has been a fundamental aspect of Georgia law since we've been a state. Changing such a basic legal concept requires far more thought, consideration, and deliberation. Doing this as a last-minute add-on to the ‘Take Your Gun to Work” bill is the antithesis of thoughtful, responsible government.”

Vicarious liability, in its simplest form, recognizes the relationship between employer and employee. Employers reap the benefits of their employees—their actions, their time and their labor, not to mention the profits from their work. In exchange, the employer is responsible for their employee and their actions when that employee acts negligently on the job. If the employee harms a third party, that third party has the right to pursue justice through not just the employee—but the employer as well. If a FedEx truck runs over a child, FedEx can be held responsible. If a drunk airline pilot falls asleep and crashes a plane, that airline is also responsible. If a construction crew skimps on safety and builds a deck that later collapses when people stand on it, the construction company is also responsible.

“Eliminating vicarious liability separates the employees from the business or corporation. Employees will be listing in the wind without any protection from the business for whom they made a profit,” said Chan Caudell, an attorney in Cornelia. “Over two hundred years of responsibility and accountability will be thrown in the trashcan.”

Beyond the cases above, eliminating vicarious liability would also eliminate business to business accountability. Business A has millions of dollars in merchandise that needs to be shipped in a truck to its new headquarters. On the road, another corporation’s truck hits Business A. The driver was negligent and clearly at fault. The merchandise is ruined. Business A is out millions of dollars—and Business B, although negligent, would no longer be held responsible.

“Eliminating vicarious liability punishes Georgia’s workers. Workers will sweat through their workdays knowing that their employer legally will hang them out to dry if something were to go amiss,” said Robin Frazer Clark, President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. “Business will no longer be accountable to other businesses. Employers will stop buying insurance coverage for their employees because it will no longer be necessary and the state of Georgia will become the Wild, Wild West.”

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Georgians may pay premiums on insurance coverage they never see

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Media Release
(404) 376-3495, Rebecca DeHart

Georgians pay premiums on coverage they may never see
Georgians will actually get what they pay for with the passage of SB 276

Atlanta-- Insurance companies in Georgia collect premiums on Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM) Coverage and may never pay it out—even if you are in a catastrophic accident. In a year that the Insurance Companies are raking in record profits (“Insurers’ profits skyrocket”, AJC, 3-27-2007) consumers continue to pay for elective UM Coverage (UM is not required by law), thinking that if they were a victim in an accident they may need to access that money, and often, they cannot.

Lauren Anderson, a 23-year old in Augusta found out about this the hard way. She was hit by a drunk driver—who had 2 prior DUIs. Her injuries were catastrophic—with damages over $200,000. She lost her spleen, she is permanently disfigured, and continues to suffer with a host of other medical problems caused by the accident.

The driver had a $100,000 policy. Lauren had a $100,000 UM Policy that she had chosen to purchase with her regular coverage. Lauren was able to collect the $100,000 on the driver’s policy, but because of current law, Lauren could not access her UM policy leaving her with tens of thousands of bills unpaid and medical conditions she will be dealing with for the rest of her life.
What Lauren didn’t know was that UM Coverage can only be used if the motorist is completely uninsured or if the coverage they purchased is more than the at-fault driver’s coverage. Had Lauren had a UM policy for $150,000—she would only have been able to use $50,000.

Lauren thought she was electing to purchase UM Insurance—and paying monthly premiums on that insurance—just in case something happened to her. She thought she would get what she was paying for. Now this young woman hit by a drunk driver is incredibly in debt. SB 276 would change this scenario.

Under the proposed law, SB 276 authored by Senator Cecil Staton, you would be able to access your UM Coverage as it would allow you to stack your coverage on top of the at-fault driver’s to the extent of your damages. SB 276 ensures that Georgians will get what they pay for. Twenty-three other states, including our neighbors Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina have similar measures that allow consumers to actually get what they pay for.

“Sadly most people don’t know that they can’t access this coverage until they are in a bad wreck,” said Chan Caudell an attorney in Cornelia. “Often I get calls from people who are injured, missing work, and don’t know how to cover their bills and feed their families. They thought the insurance they had chosen to purchase would help them. Unfortunately, I have to tell them it won’t. SB 276 would change that.”

Not surprisingly, the big insurance companies oppose SB 276, they say that it would increase premiums for UM Coverage. The industry’s own numbers show that SB 276 would increase the premium for $25k in UM Coverage no more than $3.70 a month. And UM coverage is NOT mandatory under GA law, so no one will be forced to pay higher premiums under SB 276.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has just recently come out against the bill—citing different numbers every time. He said that SB 276 would have minimal benefits (Morris News Service, 4-11-2007). To Lauren Anderson those benefits would have been great.

Georgians deserve to get what they have paid for. SB 276 is good for consumers.

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