Train Derailments Prompt Federal Call for Sleep Apnea Testing

Pennsylvania has seen its fair share of train derailments in recent years, including the fatal Amtrak crashes in and around Philadelphia in 2015 and 2017. Causes range from human error to safety lapses, mechanical failure, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea was the probable cause of two recent New York-area derailments, prompting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for “the federal government to regulate the testing of the disorder as it relates to commuter railroads,” as reported by Newsday recently. According to the article, Schumer criticized the Department of Transportation for failing to require sleep apnea testing, noting that the cost of the crashes far outweighs the cost of testing. One person died and more than 200 people were injured in the New York area derailments.

If you have been a victim of a train or vehicle accident and would like to speak to an attorney, we offer a free initial consultation. Contact us online or call 215-751-0100 to arrange an appointment.

Federal Government Penalizes 32 PA Hospitals for Allowing Injuries

The state of Pennsylvania reduced Medicare payments for 32 hospitals to penalize them for high rates of infections and injuries, according to a recent news report. The article cited that hospitals were fined for infections related to catheter and intravenous lines, certain surgeries, MRSA and c-diff infections, and injuries such as bed sores and hip fractures from hospital falls.

While such penalties are intended to encourage hospitals to prioritize reduction of the incidents, the story went on to note that seventeen of the hospitals fined had also been penalized the prior year.

An analysis by Kaiser Health News shared that hospitals that treat lower income patients are more likely to be fined, calling the penalties “controversial” because “hospitals that treat sicker patients and those that do a better job of identifying infections” are punished. Patient advocates argue that while the system is not perfect, it helps hold hospitals accountable.

If you have been a victim of what you believe to be injury from medical malpractice, contact us online or call 215-751-0100 to discuss your legal options.

Uber and Lyft Accident Coverages

Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity in Pennsylvania. Their increasing use has led to a new law about the insurance coverages needed in the event of an accident, according to an article in The Legal Intelligencer.

Under PA Senate Bill 984, transportation network companies have a responsibility to make sure their drivers and passengers are covered by insurance. Either the company or the driver can provide that insurance, but it has to be in addition to the driver’s personal policy, noted the article. The transportation company also must cover any gaps in insurance.

The law requires certain levels of coverages for various situations, such as when passengers are present or when they are not but the driver is logged into the transportation network. At minimum, the driver must be covered by a bodily liability policy of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident and $25,000 in property damage. When passengers are present, there must be $500,000 for death, bodily injury and property damage, $5,000 in first party medical benefits for the driver, and $25,000 for passengers or pedestrians.

If you or a loved one are involved in an Uber or Lyft motor vehicle accident, we offer a free initial consultation. Contact us online or call 215-751-0100.

Opioid Crisis in the Nation – and Pennsylvania

The nation’s opioid crisis seems to be an unprecedented level with no remedy in sight.

In fact, a seemingly ironclad case against one of the country’s largest drug distributors hit a wall due to the government’s reluctance to prosecute, reported a recent 60 Minutes segment.  The company in question, McKesson Corporation, was apparently distributing millions of highly addictive opioid pills to pharmacies, including shady Internet operations, without due diligence, according to the segment. Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was unable to hold the company fully accountable.

Nine DEA field divisions and 12 U.S. attorneys worked on the case for two years. Special agent David Schiller and his team sought to “fine the company more than a billion dollars, revoke registrations to distribute controlled substances and put a McKesson executive behind bars,” reported correspondent Bill Whitaker. But the DEA attorneys did not want to take on the lawsuit. Instead, McKesson was fined just $150 million.

It would appear that no community is immune from the opioid crisis. We are currently representing the family of a college student, Cody Albert, who died tragically from an overdose. Albert went into respiratory arrest after ingesting a fentanyl patch prescribed for a friend’s mother. The friend, Zachary Ross, was a known addict, yet obtained the prescription from a local pharmacy anyway. “He is among five people who since 2011 have been charged in state or federal court with supplying drugs that led to fatal overdoses in Lackawanna County,” reported the Times-Tribune.

If you have a wrongful death matter you would like to discuss, we are happy to offer a free initial consultation. Just contact us online or call our office at 215-751-0100.

Elder Abuse Act Passed

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 was signed by President Donald Trump in October after passage by voice vote in the House and Senate.

The Act addressed goals championed by the American Bar Association (ABA) and its Commission on Law and Aging, whose research showed alarming trends in elder abuse in the form of financial exploitation; emotional, psychological, emotional or physical abuse; and neglect. Commission research also showed that just one in 14 cases of abuse is reported to authorities.

The new legislation provides for:

  • The designation of at least one U.S. attorney in every federal judicial district to prosecute elder abuse cases
  • Training on the investigation and prosecution of such cases
  • Appointment of an elder justice coordinator in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
  • Data collection and coordination
  • Enhanced criminal penalties for telemarketing or email marketing fraud
  • Provide for victim assistance by the DOJ

While all of the above involve for criminal prosecution, certain instances of elder abuse may provide an opportunity to secure damages in a civil lawsuit. To schedule a free, private consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania elder abuse attorney, call 215-751-0100 or e-mail us anytime.

Are Schools Liable for Sports Injuries?

It’s sports season at schools around the country. As sports teams kick into high gear, so do the possible sports-related injuries. When players are injured, should the school be held responsible? One recent decision said “no.”

In the incident cited by the lawsuit, Sheldon Mann was playing football for the Palmerton Area School District when he was hit hard, reported the Daily Item. Despite showing concussion-like symptoms, he was put back in the game where he suffered another violent hit. Sheldon was ultimately diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.

Sheldon’s parents sued the school and the coach. They claimed that, by requiring him to continue to play after the first hit, the coach violated his “constitutional right to bodily integrity,” with the article noting that “[t]he law provides that a local agency such as a school district could be liable under the constitution for creating a danger to a citizen who, like a student, was under the control of a government body.”

The lower court ruled in favor of the coach and school, dismissing the case. When brought to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the article noted, the judge ruled that, “while there was ‘ample evidence’ to suggest the coach was guilty under a state-created danger theory of liability, the parents and student still could not prevail” due to “qualified immunity,” meaning in 2011, when the injury happened, the dangers of concussions were not fully known.

Do you know someone with an injury that you believe is the result of someone’s negligence? Contact Shaffer & Gaier online for a free consultation, or call us at 215-751-0100.

Research Discovers a Way to Prevent Infections in Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries

A new study in Nature Neuroscience has identified why the immune system tends to shut down in patients with spinal cord injuries, opening them up to potentially deadly infections.

Led by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the eight-year, multi-site study found that nerve pathways between the spinal cord and the adrenal glands, along with a hormone-mediated link, contribute to abnormally low white blood cells and spontaneous pneumonia. “This could lead to new treatments to prevent or reduce infections in patients suffering with these injuries without antibiotics, thereby reducing disability and mortality,” said principal investigator Dr. Jan M. Schwab, Ohio State Neurological Institute.

If you have a loved one with a spinal cord injury that you think may have come from someone else’s negligence, we welcome you to contact us online or call us at 215-751-0100.

How Dangerous Are Pennsylvania Amusement Rides?

After an Ohio State Fair ride recently fell apart in midair, a Pennsylvania journalist took a deeper look at the safety of rides in the Commonwealth. His findings, published in the Morning Call, revealed exactly how little information is publicly available.

In Pennsylvania, there are 1,400+ amusement ride inspectors certified by the state Department of Agriculture. Most inspectors are private, however, and evaluate rides at the amusement parks or carnivals where they work. Despite that fact, the system seems to be working, noted industry officials. “State data from last year show six of 496 reportable injuries on Pennsylvania amusement attractions were related to mechanical issues. The others were attributed to rider behavior, operator error or a combination.”

Inspections are scheduled every 30 days or when a portable ride is reassembled. Yet the Department of Agriculture website does not provide details, only the inspection date. Plans are to redesign the site to be able to publish additional information. In the meantime, concerned consumers can look for a placard displayed at the ride with the date of the last inspection. Consumers also can seek records from their state regulator through public record laws.

If you or a loved one has been injured on an amusement ride, it’s best to consult an attorney who is experienced in that area of the law. Shaffer & Gaier is happy to schedule a free, private consultation anytime. Call 215-751-0100 or send us a meeting request through our website.

PA Nursing Home Fines Jump in 2017

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is cracking down on nursing home safety, as evidenced by a jump in fines, reported Lancaster Online. State records show 108 penalties and $774,750 in fines for roughly the first half of 2017, as compared to 18 penalties and $65,750 in fines for all of 2014. The increased oversight is part of a philosophical shift that the department announced in October 2016.

The department has been taking anonymous complaints and visiting nursing homes more frequently. Offenses range from technical violations for water that’s too hot to more serious penalties where inadequate care resulted in harm to residents, and sometimes death.

If you suspect an elderly loved one in a nursing home may be the victim of neglect, talk to an experienced elder injury attorney. Contact us online or call 215-751-0100 so we can talk about your legal options.

Injured PA Workers May Receive More Benefits

A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court changed how injured workers are evaluated, opening the way for extended workers’ compensation benefits. “The court’s decision eliminated the practice of using the American Medical Association guidelines to place a cap on benefits paid out to severely injured workers,” reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Until now, workers’ compensation law allowed companies to revisit injuries two years later and evaluate them as a percentage based on the AMA guidelines. If an injury fell below the 50 percent threshold, companies could reduce or cap the payments.

It’s important to note that a work injury doesn’t always fall solely within the realm of workers’ compensation benefits: if the injury happened because of a defective product/equipment or someone’s negligence, you could receive damage awards for medical costs, missed work or pain and suffering.

At Shaffer & Gaier, consultations are always free. Contact us online or call 215-751-0100, and we’ll discuss the details of your case.

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