Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dallas Morning News Endorsements, Pt. 1

Just a few years ago, if you went to the Dallas Morning News (DMN) to read the political endorsements you’d see nothing but Republicans. Today, the DMN is reflecting the changes in Dallas County voting. Here’s a brief review of the first round of endorsements:

Criminal District Court No. 2 – Don Adams “has won praise from both sides of the courtroom and has significantly lowered his court's cost-per-disposition ratio by handling more pleas and jury trials.”

Criminal District Court No.3 - Gracie Lewis “A broader, more thoughtful perspective helps make Judge Lewis the better choice.”

Criminal District Court No. 4 – Judge John Creuzot “He is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat-again…Regardless of what letter is next to his name, Judge Creuzot's performance merits his re-election.”

Civil District Court No. 14 – Eric Moy√© “He has experience that the younger Republican can't match.”

Civil District Court. No. 95 – Ken Molberg “We questioned him closely, and his answers satisfied us that Mr. Molberg can become the latest example of a North Texas judge to make the transition from political warfare to effective and impartial judicial leadership.”

Civil District Court No. 162 – Judge Lorraine Raggio “Judge Raggio is fair and thorough, and she should be returned to the bench.’’

It’s not surprising to see that the DMN endorses these strong candidates who all happen to be Democrats. It is, however, more surprising to see that the paper stepped out of a comfort zone to recommend a John Ames for Tax-Assessor Collector over longtime seat-holder David Childs. Problems and lack of progress in the Childs administration led the DMN to say, “We expect that Mr. Ames will build on what good work Dr. Childs has done and make the county office even better.”

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see how the news rates other candidates. While I’m pleased to see so many Democrats earning the paper’s praise, as an attorney I want to make sure that we are assured of the most qualified, most impartial judges – regardless of party.

For more information on the candidates and to read their responses to the DMN questionnaire, go here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One-Fourth of Texans Don’t Have Insurance

It’s worse around here:

“…the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Texas' overall uninsured rate of 25.2 percent, and its 20.2 uninsured rate for children, continued to be the highest in the country.”
- From the Houston Chronicle

California ranks higher in numbers than Texas, but percent-wise is still doing better.

It’s not like every state has an equal problem. According to the Temple Telegram, only 8.3 percent of residents in Hawaii and Massachusetts were uninsured between 2005 and 2007.

For information on each county, check out Texas Medical Association’s Table of Uninsured Rates for all Texas Counties here. It’s a little outdated, but it gives a good idea of just how bad it is for Texas’ families.

Don’t Be Misled: Decrease in Uninsured Does Not Signify Improvement

The Census Bureau is reporting that for the first time since W came into office, the number of uninsured Americans has decreased. In 2006, 47 million families were uninsured. Today, that number is 45.7 million. Hurrah for the one million families who now have coverage, but what about the nearly 46 million more who don’t?

“The numbers represent a kind of scorecard on President Bush's stewardship of the economy at the kitchen-table level. However, they only go as far as the end of last year, before the current economic downturn started gathering force. Indeed, they could come to be seen as a snapshot taken at the high point of the administration's tenure.”
MSNBC Census: Number of uninsured dropped in 2007


I’m sure that the current administration would like the public to view these numbers as a sign of its success and of improving economic conditions. Ha! Only an idiot would believe that. God knows, the Bush administration has run out of time to make a difference. I’m praying our next president can and will.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sunset Commission Says TRCC Flawed, Harmful

Thank God.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is recommending that the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) be abolished.

Their report, the full text of which can be found here, minces no words: “Current regulation of the residential construction industry is fundamentally flawed and does more harm than good.”

Consumer groups stand with the Sunset Commission. Here’s what Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch, had to say:

“Like many of the homes built by bad builders in our state, the TRCC is beyond repair. We need to scrap it, go back to the drawing board, and implement a process that truly protects homeowners.

“We endorse the Sunset staff’s recommendation to bring an end to the TRCC as we currently know it. Lawmakers should replace the feckless TRCC with real reforms that ensure builder accountability, quality building standards, and true oversight and regulation of the homebuilding industry. Instead of a builder protection agency like the TRCC, homeowners need an agency designed to serve their needs.

“Consumers need real protections against unscrupulous builders who build shoddy homes, and the TRCC has never provided homeowners with that kind of protection. Indeed, homeowners – not builders – are the ones regulated by the TRCC.

“We look forward to working with the Sunset Commission and the Legislature to develop real solutions to the problems facing Texas homeowners”


As attorneys know and, unfortunately, many consumers find out, the TRCC’s dispute resolution process to settle issues between homeowners and builders is a disgrace and waste of time. Recent legislation designed to increase penalties on negligent builders has done nothing to relieve the nightmares that homeowners are having, since the Commission has no power to enforce.

Of course, the TRCC sees it differently. The Quorum Report's Daily Buzz posted the TRCC response to the Sunset Commission on Tuesday. The TRCC worries that if it is abolished, “Texas families will be left to fend for themselves if an issue arises with their home.”

Let’s be honest. Texas families have been alone on this front for a long time without help and in most cases, with hindrances, from the TRCC.

Without the TRCC, at least homeowners can proceed directly to the one arena where they still stand a chance – the courtroom.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Baby Trend Car Seat Recall Reminds Parents: Be Responsible, Be Safe

My grandchildren have brought much joy and much concern about the safety of children’s toys and car seats. Since the arrival of our first granddaughter, our family has weathered the recall woes of Mattel, the Thomas the Train tragedy (no mommy, not that one!), and even a recall of a part on one of the supposedly highest rated car seats on the market.

Today, Baby Trend, Inc. http://www.babytrend.com/ announced the recall of nearly 6,000 Latch-Loc car seats. It seems that the “locking pawl” can detach during a severe crash. This, of course, defeats its purpose and endangers the occupant.

When problems persist to the point that manufacturers are willing to admit some fault, or at least some flaw, these recalls give them an opportunity to issue a warning. As a responsible consumer, it’s important to be aware of these recalls. Not surprisingly, most recalls are not announced on the evening news. You can stay on top of manufacturer notices by checking out these sites on a regular basis. And, always mail in registration cards for products so that when a recall is issued, you can be notified.

Here are some websites that will help you stay informed:


Recalls.gov U.S. Government portal for recall information http://www.recalls.gov/

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls and product safety news site. http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html

U.S. Food & Drug Administration recalls, market withdrawals and safety. Alerts .http://www.fda.gov/opacom/7alerts.HTML

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service information about recalls and public health alerts that involve meats, poultry and egg products. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_RECALLS/

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) defects and recalls site. http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/

Consumer Affairs.com - an independent Web-based consumer news and resource center. http://www.consumeraffairs.com/recalls/recalls.htm

Consumer Reports blog about safety. http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Truckers’ Poor Health: More Accidents Waiting to Happen

The trucking industry is under fire once again for its inability to self-regulate. This week the U.S. Government Accountability Office announced the findings of its investigation into commercial drivers license holders and serious medical conditions. Given many in the industry’s disregard for regulations, the findings are, sadly, not surprising.

Following a 12-state study, the Government Accountability Office stated, “our analysis of commercial license data from DOT and medical disability data from the Social Security Administration, Office of Personnel Management, and Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor found that about 563,000 of [commercial drivers] had commercial driver licenses and were determined by the federal government to be eligible for full disability benefits.”
I’m not insensitive to people with health conditions, but there are good reasons why drivers with disabilities shouldn’t be allowed on the road. For years the government has issued warnings that fell on deaf ears. According to the Dallas Morning News, “hundreds of deaths and injuries” have been “blamed on commercial truck and bus drivers who blacked out, collapsed or suffered major health problems behind the wheels of vehicles that can weigh 40 tons or more.”

No state is safe as medically-unfit drivers have been found in all fifty states. Texas is listed in an AP article as one of 12 states “where drivers were sanctioned most frequently for breaking medical rules, such as failing to carry a valid medical certificate.”

The AP article also provides a list of cases, including the New Orleans bus wreck shown in this photo that killed 22 people . In this instance, the driver was seen slumped in his seat shortly before the crash. “Investigators said he was treated at least 20 times in the 21 months before the accident for various ailments.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Bad Truckers on the Border

Police in Weslaco, Texas are on the hunt for a trucker suspected of causing an accident that killed four people on the Pharr International Bridge five months ago. Allegedly, the 18-wheeler was entering the United States, when the driver made a U-turn that sparked the series of events leading to the fatalities.

Officials on the U.S. side of the border are looking for the 18-wheeler.

Mexican authorities don’t believe it exists.

Texas Combats Truckers Working for Cartels

Texas’ Governor Rick Perry announced a new plan to stop smuggling operations bringing drugs and illegal immigrants across the border from Mexico.

The Austin Bureau of the El Paso Times reports:


Standing with U.S. Border Patrol sector chiefs from Texas, Perry said that cartels have started coercing commercial truck drivers into hauling narcotics and humans. Starting now, he said, Texas will aggressively pursue drivers who fall prey to that temptation and permanently revoke their commercial drivers' licenses.

According to Perry, Border Control has already caught over 400 truckers hauling nearly 2,000 illegal immigrants and more than 112,000 pounds of drugs.

One wonders: how many of these truckers are abusing the illicit substances they’re hauling?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sprains, Strains and Other Confusing Diagnoses

Sitting in the doctor’s office following an injury, you try to listen to every word he or she says while laying out the facts about the cause of your pain. Some terms are familiar; some sound like a foreign language. You leave thinking, what does all that really mean?

Cut through the confusion with some easy definitions for common injuries:

  • Sprain. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another. Common locations for sprains are your ankles and knees.
  • Strain. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. People commonly call strains "pulled" muscles. Hamstring and back injuries are among the most common strains.
    Source: Mayo Clinic
  • Fracture. A break or crack in a bone.

Healing time for sprains, strains and fractures vary from person to person. It is a general rule that strains take less time for recovery, because injuries to areas which have a good blood supply, like muscles, heal faster. Since ligaments have very little blood supply, they take longer. Fractures to bones with a greater blood supply are also known to heal more quickly than injuries to bones with a lesser supply.

  • Contusion. A bruise, or contusion, is caused when blood vessels are damaged or broken as the result of a blow to the skin (be it bumping against something or hitting yourself with a hammer). The raised area of a bump or bruise results from blood leaking from these injured blood vessels into the tissues as well as from the body's response to the injury. (from Medicinenet.com)

Spinal injuries have a set of terms all to themselves. Many are interchangeable and some are used differently from doctor to doctor. Rather than focus on terms, it’s important to understand the source of the pain to determine the best course of action.

Dr. Peter Ullrich, Jr. provides a list of terms used to describe spinal disc abnormalities in an article on spine-health.com, these include:

  • Pinched nerve
  • Sciatica
  • Herniated disc (or herniated disk)
  • Bulging disc
  • Ruptured disc
  • Torn disc (or disc tear)
  • Slipped disc
  • Collapsed disc
  • Disc protrusion or degeneration
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Disc disease
  • Black disc

According to Ullrich, the diagnosis determines the pain generator. The key factor in the clinical diagnosis is to determine if the patient has a pinched nerve or if the disc space itself is generating the pain. These two common conditions produce a different type of pain.

  • Pinched nerve. When a patient has a symptomatic herniated disc, it is not the disc space itself that hurts, but rather the disc herniation is pinching a nerve in the spine. This produces pain that is called radicular pain (e.g., nerve root pain, or sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc, or arm pain from a cervical herniated disc).
    On Spine-health.com, this type of condition is referred to as a herniated disc.
  • Disc pain. When a patient has a symptomatic degenerated disc (one that causes low back pain or other symptoms), it is the disc space itself that is painful and is the source of pain. This type of pain is typically called axial pain.
    On Spine-health.com, this type of condition is referred to as a degenerative disc disease.

As with all injuries, the diagnosis determines the treatment. By providing your doctor with accurate descriptions of your physical limitations, pain and degree of suffering, he or she will be able to combine that with medical testing to pinpoint the source of your problems. Treatment for each injury varies. Pain caused by a bulging disc will not be resolved by treating a muscle sprain, and surgery may not be appropriate in many cases.

Before considering any treatment, make sure to discuss it thoroughly with your medical care provider.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vioxx Appeal Verdicts Are a Slap in the Face to Consumers

From the AP:

“Appeals courts in New Jersey and Texas on Thursday scrapped verdicts against the drugmaker Merck & Co. Inc. stemming from some of the earliest trials involving its once popular painkiller Vioxx.

A Texas court reversed a $26 million verdict against the drug company stemming from the first trial. The court found no evidence that Robert Ernst suffered a fatal heart problem from a blood clot triggered by Vioxx. He had been taking the now-withdrawn drug for eight months before being stricken in May 2001.”

Despite the fact that Merck pulled Vioxx off the shelves voluntarily after its own studies found that the drug doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke, the company refuses to accept responsibility for the lives it has claimed. After the Texas appeal verdict, it’s painfully clear that our conservative courts are more than happy to protect deep pocketed pharmaceutical companies at the risk of consumers’ lives.

A more in-depth discussion of the appeals can be found on Texaslawyers.com. Mark Lanier, attorney for the plaintiff, found that the appeals court judges opinion is "judicial activism for corporate America." This type of judgement from Texas’ higher courts isn’t unusual.

Houston plaintiffs lawyer Tommy Fibich, a partner in Fibich Hampton & Leebron who has settled all of his 250 or so Vioxx suits, says the 14th Court opinion in Ernst is a reflection of Texas' conservative courts.

"They look askance at every plaintiff's verdict. . . . Mark Lanier knows the rules on causation, and he and I thought he had met those under the Texas rules," Fibich says. "Our courts are conservative. It's like they try to find a reason to reverse a case these days."

Fibich says it's a sad day when appeals courts "substitute themselves for the judge who tried the case and the jury who heard the evidence determination."

The Houston Chronicle echoes these sentiments in an editorial on May 31, 2008, claiming that the "Houston appellate court usurps role of trial judge and jury."

What’s it going to take to make sure consumers are safe?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Big Rigs, Drug Problems

Last week the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “the investigative arm of Congress,” released a report, titled "Motor Carrier Safety: Improvements to Drug Testing Programs Could Better Identify Illegal Drug Users and Keep Them off the Road.” It brings to light a problem in the trucking industry that we in the legal field have suspected for a while. Truckers are finding ways around the drug testing process and positive testing suspension regulations so that they can keep driving.

The offenses of Jerry Reed’s “Snowman” in Smokey and the Bandit are nothing compared to the way these guys drive.

The GAO’s report focuses on two areas:
1) the factors that contribute to the challenges of drug testing drivers, and
2) possibilities for addressing these challenges.
(for highlights of the report, click here)

Unscrupulous drivers and carriers know that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is overburdened. According to the GAO study, FMCSA reviews “touch about two percent of the industry.” The known limited resources promote a lack of adherence to federal regulations among some companies, particularly ones with six or fewer drivers. Led by profits, drivers want to stay on the road longer (despite 11 hour rules) and to do so, many take drugs. Without constant supervision by the FMCSA, these drivers skirt the law and endanger ordinary citizens.

An investigation by Lisa Myers for MSNBC highlights some of the main flaws of the current system, including job hopping. The scariest part of the MSNBC report includes monitored CB radio conversations at truck stops where truckers are buying and selling crack and cocaine.

The Dallas Morning News has been following the trucking industry since 2006, after its seven-month investigation written about in the series Road Hazards. According to a recent article in the DMN, the GAO report confirms its findings. The DMN adds:
"In 2006, 4,995 people were killed nationwide and 106,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks, the report noted. Statewide, about 500 people are killed each year in crashes involving large trucks.

Although mechanical problems, speeding and driver fatigue are the most frequent factors in fatal accidents involving big rigs, studies have also found that drugs or alcohol substantially increase the risk of accidents. The trucking industry blames passenger cars for causing the majority of accidents."

While Texas is one of seven states that has a database of drivers who have failed drug tests, it is also known for low reporting from carriers. Only drivers who have Texas CDLs are reported. The DMN article states that just over 13,000 entries are in the database.

Two states, North Carolina and Washington, are ahead of the game: following a positive drug test, a driver’s CDL is disqualified. Texas – and the FMCSA – could learn from their methods. The GAO recommends similar actions on a national level and that such a suspension only be lifted after a driver has completed the return-to-duty process. These suspensions would be regulated by medical review officers, rather than carriers, to ensure full compliance. Along with a national database of drug testing offenders, this would address job-hopper and state-hopper problems as well as owner-operator concerns.

Congressional action is necessary to see these changes enacted. They are long overdue. I hope that these recommendations of the GAO are not taken lightly, so that in the future each of us will be safer on the road.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Glasses of Milk Mourn the Loss of Oreos

From the Chicago Tribune:

Several lanes of Interstate Highway 80 were shut down for hours overnight after
a truck hauling Oreos crashed into a median, spilling tons of the chocolate
cookies across the highway, police said.

The crash occurred at about 3:40 a.m. Monday on I-80 just east of Morris, said Master Sgt. Brian Mahoney of the Illinois State Police.

The truck was westbound, hauling about 20,000 pounds of Oreos, when the driver lost control and the rig hit a median before veering into the eastbound lanes. The impact ripped the trailer open, spilling its cargo across the eastbound lanes of the highway, he said.

The driver was not hurt, but police had to shut down the eastbound lanes for several hours while the cookies were cleaned up, Mahoney said. The wreckage had been moved to the side of the road and lanes had reopened by about 6 a.m.
Precious cargo as Double Stuf Oreos may be, thank goodness that they were the only casualties.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Faulty Facts Blazed Trail for Tort Reform

Advocates for your right to hold medical practitioners accountable for mistakes never had a chance. A KDFW news investigation learned that much of the argument for tort reform leading up to the passing of Proposition 12 in November 2003 was based on exaggerated facts and blatantly incorrect information.

After the law was passed, a group of Texas law professors began studying medical malpractice insurance trends for a period of 17 years and found that there had been no increase in claims. Fox also reports that Texans’ For Lawsuit Reform statistics used during the campaign claimed that lawsuits were raising doctors’ medical malpractice insurance rates, but in reality rates were increasing because insurance companies had been undercharging doctors.

“Did reform really work?” asks the investigation. “Most Texans probably couldn’t
say.”

Two things are certain: Texans lost their right to fair compensation after medical mistakes and insurance companies kept a whole lot more money in their pockets.

For more information about the study, click here or visit http://www.myfoxdfw.com .

The FDA and Pharmaceutical Companies: Who’s Protecting Consumers?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to protect American families before pharmaceutical products go on the shelves. Lately, the FDA is getting a lot of press and a lot of heat for failing to keep faulty products off the market.

Take Heparin for instance.

In November 2007, actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins were given a near-fatal dose of the blood-thinner, Heparin. Instead of the 10 units the twins should have received, they were given a dose 1,000 times stronger. Why? Because adult dose Heparin and infant doses are stored in very similar vials. The mistake is not uncommon – six newborns in Indianapolis were also given overdoses. Three died.

According to an AP article, 7,000 Americans die each year from medication errors.
Now living in the nightmare of drug-related mistakes, Quaid said, “his family's brush with tragedy underscores the need to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable through lawsuits, a remedy that is becoming increasingly problematic for injured consumers.”
Pharmaceutical companies are now arguing before Congress for protection from their own mistakes. They are proposing that federal regulation should preempt the filing of failure-to-warn lawsuits under state law. Lawyers will soon be testifying regarding the same issue before the Supreme Court this year in a case from Vermont (Levine v. Wyeth (Lawyers USA No. 9934602) Vermont Supreme Court No. 2004-384. Oct. 27, 2006).

In the last few months, the FDA has come under fire again regarding Heparin. Like every other American company rushing to China to save money on cheap labor and manufacturing, pharmaceutical companies have jumped on the bandwagon. And, like toys and dog food, consumers ultimately pay the price of these dangerous drugs. Doses of Heparin made in China were linked to 81 deaths and hundreds of allergic reactions. Before releasing the Heparin to hospitals, neither Chinese authorities nor the FDA checked the facilities making the drug. After the deaths and injuries, the FDA did not order a total recall of drug made in China, fearing that there would be a shortage. As of last week, U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that processes were now in place to ensure the safety of Heparin in the United States.

The United Auto Workers of America (UAW) have put together a campaign to urge Congress to get the FDA back on track and out from under the influence of pharmaceutical companies. Here’s what they recommend:

  • Tell Congress to protect the public by not allowing scientists with ANY financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry to be voting members on advisory committees that evaluate drug safety.
  • Urge Congress to require better surveillance and warning labels regarding serious side effects of new drugs, and to require a waiting period before direct-to-consumer advertising can begin.
  • Tell Congress to provide adequate funds to the FDA for drug safety programs, and to make sure the pharmaceutical industry does not subvert these programs.
Addresses and more information about writing your congressperson can be found here.

Check out the UAW’s other consumer action issues here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

95th District Court: Vote Molberg

After the Dark Ages of an almost all Republican Courthouse, the 2006 Election ushered in a bright change in Dallas County. For persons injured by the negligence of others – and their insurance companies – there is again the opportunity for the injured party to obtain a fair trial. This next round of elections brings a new crop of candidates to the courthouse, many of whom I’m proud to support.

One candidate in particular stands out: Ken Molberg. Molberg, a longtime fixture in Texas Democratic politics is running for the 95th Civil District Court. His experience as a litigator and his expertise in the area of labor and employment law are unmatched. Those, along with his great skills as an organizer and his easygoing nature make him a quick study and a fair justice.

Take a moment to learn a little more about Ken at www.kenmolberg.com. Come November, make sure to give him your vote.