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

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 .

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 Come November, make sure to give him your vote.