Archive for August, 2013

Trampoline Parks Under Scrutiny as Injuries Continue to Rise

Friday, August 30th, 2013

The steadily rising rate of injuries at trampoline parks is beginning to sound some alarm bells to authorities. In 2009 alone, 70 injuries were reported out of every 100,000 children under 4 while using a trampoline. Furthermore, 160 injuries occurred for every 100,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14. In all, that is an alarming 98,000 children injured annually just from jumping on a seemingly innocent trampoline.

For those that are unaware, trampoline parks typically are similar to giant warehouses, filled with a series of trampolines. They allow adults and children alike the opportunity to bounce in any direction desired, dunk some basketballs, or do wild acrobatic moves midair. If it sounds like a breeding ground for accidents, this is a correct assumption. Trauma director of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, Dr. Craig Cook recently reported that the hospital is noticing a spike in severe, open wounds that have resulted from trampoline use. He states that these types of injuries are critical, and are normally not experienced unless the individual is in a car crash or war zone.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics made no qualms about speaking their opinion of trampolines, which they wholeheartedly discouraged parents to allow their children to use. Medical evidence has shown that major trampoline accidents can be detrimental to the health of these growing youngsters. Children are suffering severe injuries to their shins, chest, ankles, spine, head, and neck. Some of the accidents have caused significant brain damage as well, which will stay with the children for the remainder of their lives.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, government authorities are starting to take notice and action. Utah and California have both proposed new regulations to tackle these safety risks associated with trampoline parks. Both are considering the requirement of these parks undergoing inspections, similar to other amusement parks. Regulations are also proposed dealing with insurance, injury reporting, and more extensive employee training.

Utah and California are the first attempts in the country to pass legislation on the quickly growing trampoline industry. Medical professionals and advocates are hopeful that other states will follow suit in order to protect children from further harm.

Walgreens Sued for Breech of Privacy

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Not only are consumers feeling the pinch at the cash registers but so is a large United States pharmacy and retailer. The Walgreen Co. was hit for $1.44 million due to a lawsuit brought on by a customer in Indiana.

Abigail Hinchy filed a lawsuit against the Walgreen Co. for a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) breach of privacy. Hinchy claimed her HIPAA rights were violated when Walgreen pharmacist Audra Peterson utilized Hinchy’s medical records to find out if Hinchy passed on a sexually transmitted disease to her ex-boyfriend who is now Peterson’s husband.

Audra Peterson gave the information to her husband and he texted Hinchy about what Peterson had uncovered. According to the HIPAA policy, health care providers must protect the identity and medical records of patients. If identities and medical records have been misused or violated, civil and criminal cases can be brought against health care providers. However, HIPPA does not cover “breech of privacy.” Since Hinchy was contending “breech of privacy,” the Walgreen Co. went after Peterson for negligence but did not feel that Hinchy’s records were violated. The statement made by the Walgreen Co. supports their view on Peterson’s actions in this matter. “The pharmacist in this case admitted she was aware of our strict privacy policy and she knew she was violating it. We believe it is a misapplication of the law to hold an employer liable for the actions of an employee who knowingly violates company policy.”

Although the company believed Peterson’s actions did not invade Hinchy’s HIPAA rights, Hinchy’s attorney Neal F. Eggerson took the case further and won. “In my opinion, health care providers do not take their HIPAA protocols as they should, ” Eggerson said in a statement.

This is not Eggerson’s first case regarding the misuse of medical records. In 2010, he went up against a health care facility in Bloomington. The facility was negligent in sending medical information to a get reimbursement from a collection agency. The settlement in the case was $1.25 million. Again, Eggerson challenged that employers and employees should be negligent in violating HIPAA rights. He refers to this practice as fishing through medical records.

$1.2 Billion Verdict in Nursing Home Abuse Case

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Gary Townsend recently won a $1.2 billion verdict against the nursing home where he placed his mother, Arlene, in 2004. According to court documents, Townsend’s mother fell 17 times during her three-year stay in the nursing home due to lack of supervision in the facility.

Case About Corporate Greed

Issac Ruiz-Caruz, the attorney for Townsend, said that the case was about corporate greed and fraud. The nursing home, owned by Trans Healthcare, one of the largest in the country, left the Auburndale Oaks Healthcare Center short-staffed and under-budgeted, the attorney said after the verdict. Trans Healthcare Inc. along with the management company, Trans Healthcare Management, stopped defending the lawsuit, allowing the court to enter a default judgment of liability.

Liability Judgment Led to Award

Because the judge issued the default liability judgment, the jury only had to decide on the amount of the award for the death of Townsend’s mother, who suffered a fractured hip in the last fall at the nursing home. Court documents indicate that Mrs. Townsend was left in her bed for days after the injury before she was transported to a hospital, where she later died. Trans Healthcare claimed that damages should be limited, as they stopped operating the nursing home in 2004, the jury issued a $1.2 billion award after just over an hour of deliberation, claiming that $1 billion of the award was designed to punish the nursing home. The remaining $220 million in the award was for damages suffered by Townsend.

Jury Saw Value of Life

According to Ruiz-Caruz, Townsend is grateful that the jury saw value in his mother’s life. The jury also saw that funds from the state and federal government designed for the care of patients was diverted elsewhere by the corporation, and that the company diverted assets of the Auburndale Oaks facility after it took over management of the company.

Bulger Found Guilty

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Gangster James Bulger was found guilty on 31 federal counts of conspiracy and racketeering on August 12, 2013. The ruling holds him accountable for 11 murders, in addition to weapon, drug-related, and extortion crimes.

James “Whitey” Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill gang in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1994 he fled a criminal indictment and lived in hiding for over 15 years. In 2011, he was found living in Santa Monica with a girlfriend and was brought back to Boston to face trial.

On Tuesday of last week, the jury began discussions on the trial, asking the judge for clarifications on several phases. After five days of deliberations, the jury ultimately carried down the guilty verdict this afternoon, with a sentencing trial to start in November. James Bulger displayed no emotion to the verdict.

The trial has featured 72 witness and was spread out for more than 30 days. Bulger was supposed to take the stand and testify, but he ultimately declined at the last minute.

The extent of Bulger’s cooperation with the FBI is still an unresolved issue. According to Bulger, prior to the trial he was an FBI informant that was giving information about the Italian Mafia. In exchange, the FBI would overlook his own crimes. Bulger has repeatedly stated that he was not a rat, but he did once claim that he paid an FBI agent for various types of information.

Another issue is what law enforcement is going to do with the $822,000 that they confiscated from Bulger’s apartment. One Boston woman wants to use the money to settle $29 million after she sued James Bulger in absentia. However, another family is claiming that they won $15 million from a 2009 civil judgement. Meanwhile, Bulger is insisting that the money goes to the families of the two people he murdered in 1982.

Another pressing issue that was revealed last month was the murder of Stephen Rakes. One of the charges against Bulger blackmailed Rakes for the ownership of a liquor store. Overall, James “Whitey” Bulger will surely spend the rest of his life behind prison.

Legal Shake-Up with HP Securities Suit

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Hewlett-Packard’s lawyers at Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius have beaten another lawsuit brought against the company in the wake of one executive’s unethical conduct. High-powered plaintiff’s attorneys at Kirby McInerney and Glancy Binkow & Goldberg filed a securities lawsuit in which they claimed that HP had intentionally misled its investors for a period of more than four years. This brought down significant heat on the company, and it was another in a long line of suits relating to the conduct of Mark Hurd, the company’s disgraced CEO.

Hurd took the top role at HP in 2005, and it wasn’t long after that he became entangled in an ugly situation. Taking over as corporate chairman in 2006, Hurd oversaw a period of transition for the company, as it looked to recover from an earlier spying scandal by high-powered executives. Part of Hurd’s plan was to rebuild the company’s reputation by instituting ethics and compliance programs. He even required all employees to agree to a code of ethics that required them to be open, honest, and willing to disclose their business records.

Things turned ugly for Hurd and the company a few years later. In 2007, the company hired Jodie Fisher as its marketing consultant, and Hurd took a particular interest to the former porn star. After she went nearly everywhere with him for a period of more than one year, she left the company and filed a subsequent sexual harassment lawsuit. Though the lawsuit never succeeded in court, Hurd resigned amid allegations that he used company funds to treat Fisher to a number of nice meals. Hurd had covered up the expenses in an effort to hide his affair.

The most recent claim asserts that HP misled its investors by having an ethics policy in place while also employing a chairman who completed ignored those policies. A last-ditch effort to bring down the company over the Hurd controversy, this claim was dismissed after a judge found that invalidating a company’s ethics policy on the simple basis of one man’s missteps would render nearly every corporate ethics policy useless.

City Once United in Grief, Now Divided in Legal Issues

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters of an elite firefighting team perished in an Arizona wildfire. The lives lost included some firefighters in permanent positions and some in temporary positions. However, no one can deny that death and loss know no class nor employment classification. The shared grief in the community permeated the entire Prescott, Arizona population.

Since then, it was discovered that the town of Prescott will not be paying full benefits to the families of the temporary firefighters lost in the tragic event. City officials of “America’s Hometown” have been facing criticism as well as kudos for their decision.

At the crux of the problem is the law as it stands. Being that the temporary firefighters do not, under the current law, qualify for full benefits, the city officials are legally bound to maintain the status quo. Any variance from the current legislated rules would require an altering of said rules. The city’s legislature is not prone to doing that as it would create a huge financial burden on the city’s residents. In addition, as it stands, providing full-time benefits to temporary firefighters would be illegal.

On the other hand, the widow of one of the lost “temporary” firefighters insists that her husband had been working full-time shifts, morally, if not legally, entitling him to full benefits.

The benefits currently being presented to the families of the lost firefighters include:

  • Tax-Free lump sum of $328,000
  • Social Security Benefits
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Free student tuition at Arizona colleges
  • At least $15,000 donation from the 100 Club of Arizona
  • Coverage for additional burial and travel costs
  • Health Insurance premiums for a year
  • A portion of additional donations still coming in

Benefits allowed only for “permanent” firefighters include:

  • Health Insurance
  • Increased Life Insurance
  • Their annual salaries

In addition, banquets, barbecues and a concert are being promoted to benefit the families of the perished firefighters.

What began as an extremely sad loss of humanity, has evolved into a fight for benefits that are not legally valid and a sad struggle that is not benefiting anybody.

Internet Payday Loans Not Tolerated by New York State

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

While payday loans may be a common service in most states, they are illegal in New York and over a dozen other states in the nation. This explains why you won’t see shops advertising this type of loan anywhere in New York State. However, providers of payday loans have found a way to promote their services to New York residents simply by using the Internet. This doesn’t make their loans any more legal. In fact, even a company based in another jurisdiction is not allowed to offer payday loan services to New York residents.

The practice of offering payday loans to New Yorkers through the Internet has been going on for several years now. But Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally decided to take action against those who use the Internet to try to circumvent the laws. Cease and desist notices have been issued to 35 providers of payday loans who do business illegally in the state.

While online payday loans are advertised as a good solution for those who need to borrow some cash until their next paycheck, they do carry extremely high interest rates. Some online payday lenders targeted by Governor Cuomo’s cease and desist letters charged annual interest rates as high as 1,095 percent. Those who use their services are often borrowers who have had credit problems in the past or who are unable to get a loan through a legitimate bank or financing company.

Online payday loan companies have been the target of much criticism recently, not only because of the high interest charges, but also because of business practices that are seen as highly unethical. For example, some companies will intentionally hide the cost of borrowing by putting it in small and almost unreadable type on their website. Others will debit only the financing charges from the borrower’s bank account, which gives the impression that they are paying off their loan, while in reality they must take action themselves to pay off the principal.

In a further effort to crack down on illegal payday lending, Governor Cuomo is considering disabling automatic debits from personal bank accounts in New York, which will frustrate the efforts of online payday lenders who often use them to take payments for their loans.

California Labor Laws Called Into Question Once Again

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Employees facing harassment in the workplace find themselves in a difficult position: seek relief and risk more abuse, or suffer in silence. Understanding the options can help make the choice clear. But what can an individual hit with such harassment do when the abuse doesn’t target personal traits such as ethnicity, religion or age?

One Such Case

Consider a recent incident at a California Costco which led to hostility toward a worker and his subsequent termination in mid-July. The employee, who worked for Warehouse Demo Specialists – workers responsible for delivering samples to Costco shoppers – needed to use the restroom. With no relief available despite repeated attempts to locate a supervisor, he closed down his station. Returning ten minutes later, he was challenged by the store’s loss-prevention officer, who then verbally abused the worker in front of other security personnel, making the worker so uncomfortable he was told to go home by human resources.

Ex-Employee Now at a Loss

He hasn’t returned to Costco since he was instructed to leave. Despite Costco’s ability to relocate him, the worker claims, he was fired under pretense and now believes he faced harassment and wrongful termination just for needing to use the bathroom. Returning to Costco without an official reprimand of the security guard he dealt with has left the worker with anxiety attacks – and fears that the loss officer’s roaming job means he could face the same situation at another store.

Is Relief Achievable?

The main concern with this individual’s situation is that the security personnel who made him so nervous insulted his honesty, not his personal origin or his beliefs. But even so, verbal abuse is unacceptable under state and federal law, as it can create a hostile work environment that constitutes harassment and impedes workers’ ability to do their jobs. Employers who don’t wish to be held accountable for the bad acts of their employees should take these incidents seriously. When they fail, the affected worker should look for options, more informed and ready to make their case.

‘Stop and Frisk’ Policy Ruled Unconstitutional

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy has been ruled to be unconstitutional by Judge Shira Scheindlin, due to its violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Although this ruling does not bar future implementations of stop and frisk policies, it places a higher burden on police agencies to demonstrate that these policies do not disproportionately target minorities.

The debate over New York’s stop and frisk policy has been centered on its impact on minority groups, as over 80 percent of those individuals stopped were black or Hispanic. Its opponents claimed, and Judge Scheindlin agreed, that the policy amounted to one of “indirect racial profiling.” Furthermore, the effects of the policy had a negative impact on the ability of targeted individuals to conduct their lawful business in the public areas of the city. Judge Scheindlin took especial exception to the fact that the reasons given by police officers for initiating a stop and frisk were often vague and subjective on the part of the reporting officer.

However, Judge Scheindlin did not forbid the city from continuing the policy, albeit under the guidance of an independent monitor to rectify the current program’s constitutional errors. Furthermore, Scheindlin has ordered the use of body cameras on some police officers as a method to effectively record future stop and frisk actions in order to evaluate the department’s compliance with her orders.

Although the immediate effects of this decision are limited to New York City, the notoriety of the case is likely to have an impact on other police departments with similar programs in place. Civil rights advocates may be encouraged to file lawsuits alleging similar racial bias in the implementation of stop and frisk policies in other jurisdictions, making the creation and implementation of racially neutral policies extremely important.

Because the city intends to appeal this judgment, the question of whether or not New York City’s current stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional remains open. Because of this, the long-term fate of this policy, both for New York City and other jurisdictions is unknown. Ultimately, stop and frisk policies will continue to be the subject of serious legal debate for some time to come, especially if other jurisdictions face constitutional challenges to their own policies.

Reform Bill Signed by NC Governor

Monday, August 19th, 2013

On August 12th, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that will require voters to show an official photo ID in order to vote at the polls, scaling back the early voting period and ending one-stop registration for early voters. Early voting would be scaled back from 17 to 10 days, a significant figure in a state where 61 percent of voters used early voting in 2012. Accounting for this, the law requires the total voting hours to remain the same by increasing hours of the polls and opening more early voting sites. The law will take effect in 2016, and voters will only be able to use their in-state driver’s license, US passport, or military ID as form of ID for registration.

Democrats have criticized this measure, saying that it effectively suppresses young voters, hispanics, and blacks. These three groups are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed lawsuits on the same day the bill was past, claiming that under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the bill discriminates on the basis of race and is therefore illegal. Approximately one third of North Carolina’s voters without state-issued IDs are black, and blacks make up one fourth of the states population.

Voting rights changes are underway. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a landmark case, making North Carolina able to change its voting laws without approval from a three-judge panel of a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or from the Department of Justice, something that had applied to jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination against minority groups.

Advocates say that the North Carolina law is “common sense” and that it is supported by around 70 percent of North Carolinian residents and will safeguard against voter fraud. Thirty-four states require a type of ID to vote, and North Carolina would be the 20th state to require a photo ID.