Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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med image.jpgToday we would like to briefly discuss some of the steps you can take to avoid medical errors, in general. Although we help victims of medical errors seek justice and compensation, the best solution is to be informed, so you can avoid ever needing an attorney due to a tragic experience caused by medical error.

Medical errors can leave you or a loved one with severe physical injuries and emotional pain and suffering. As you know, medical errors can happen in a variety of places such as hospitals, clinics, out patient surgery centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies and patient homes. On this blog, we have written about prescription errors, physician errors, nursing errors, and dental errors, to name a few. And these errors typically involve medicines, surgeries, diagnosis, and lab reports. Now we would like to discuss a few steps you can take to help avoid medical errors.

Many medical errors occur when doctors and their patients do not communicate effectively. In fact a recent study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that doctors need to help their patients make informed decisions. Patients who are uninformed will logically be more susceptible to making errors regrading their medical care. So what can you do:

1. Be involved in your healthcare treatment– This could be the single most important thing you can do: participate, be an active partaker in all decisions that affect your health. Research shows that being active in your health care treatment leads to better results.

2. Make sure that you inform your doctor about all medications you are taking, including herbal remedies, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs.

3. Make sure your doctor knows about any allergies or adverse reactions you have had to certain medications. This will help avoid prescription errors, doctors giving you the wrong medication.

4. When your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you read it. Too many times, we pass off illegible prescriptions as “doctor talk.” You must ensure that you read the prescription given to you and that you understand it. Think about it: if you can’t read your doctor’s handwriting, there is a good chance, your pharmacist may not be able to read it either.

5. When you receive your medication from your pharmacist, double check, by asking if the medicine you are being given is indeed the medicine your doctor prescribed. The last thing you want is the wrong medication.

6. Read the label on your medication before you leave your doctor’s office or the pharmacy. If you don’t understand how to take your medication, ask the pharmacist or your doctor.

7. Ask for written information about the side effects that your medication may cause.

8. Regarding hospitals, you should consider choosing a hospital that has treated many patients affected by your same illness. You should also consider asking anyone who comes in direct contact with you, to wash his or her hands (bacteria infection can cause serious illness).

9. When you are discharged from a hospital, ask the doctor to explain your treatment plan.

10. How new is the doctor who is treating you? (Regardless of whether he or she is an emergency room doctor or in-patient doctor.)

We’ve come across a recent article that talks about how “greenhorn” doctors (“newbies”) have casued a serious spike in “fatal medication errors” throughout the United States. A recent study found that in counties with “teaching” hospitals, fatalities due to medication errors spiked each July, the same month that new doctors begin their residency.

Regrettably, even after taking some of the above-mentioned precautions and more, people will still be the victims of medical error. If you are one of those unfortunate people, call Williams Oinonen LLC today, because we will represent your case with zeal and ethics, with a view towards doing what’s best for you, always.
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nursing home.jpgIdeally, long-term health care facilities such as nursing homes will provide your loved one with long-term assisted living that respects their dignity. Georgia law recognizes three types of long-term health care facilities: personal care homes; skilled nursing facilities; and intermediate care homes. Some are privately owned, while others are state-owned. Some receive Medicare/Medicaid funding. And some care for the elderly or children or those who suffer from severe mental and physical challenges. Unfortunately, as the above-mentioned incident illustrates, regardless of who owns the home, or what type of long-term health facility it is, many times your loved one is mistreated (institutionally abused), a reality that really enrages and hurts both the abused person and those who love and care about him or her.

Recognizing an area of needed involvement, the Georgia legislature enacted a bill of rights for residents of long-term health care facilities (O.C.G.A. § 31-8-100). These rights include the right to receive care and treatment, and services, adequate and appropriate for your loved one’s condition; the right to choose amongst different forms of treatment; the right to refuse treamenent; the right to request a different doctor; the right to participate in the care and treatment plan developed for you or your loved one; the right to privacy; and the right to only be restrained in extremely limited circumstances, amongst others.

The object and purpose of Georgia’s patient bill of rights is to ensure respect for the dignity and self determination of each person living in a long-term health care facility. Additionally, because the legislature recognized the special circumstances in which these vulnerable people find themselves, and their potential to be abused and neglected, Georgia law allows you or a legal guardian to sue for damages for any violation of the Bill of Rights. Also, you should know that you may bring a suit, without exhausting administrative remedies.

Institutional abuse comes in many forms. Be on the look out for signs of mistreatment such as an unexplained or unexpected death of a patient; a serious injury such as broken bones; unexplained sores, welts and bruises; infections; unusual weight loss or weight gain; extreme dehydration; choking/gagging; and illnesses such as chronic aspiration/aspiration pneumonia (the elderly are particularly susceptible to this); and poor personal hygiene. A good lawyer will understand not only how to spot abuse but also how to uncover abuse through records request, testimony and other avenues.

Another reason you need a good lawyer to deal with nursing home abuse is the fact that there are so many laws and causes of action which apply to this situation. For example, and as stated, most long-term health care facilities receive federal and state funding, so Medicare/Medicaid regulations will apply. However, although Georgia law provides a private cause of action, many applicable federal laws such as 42 U.S.C. § 1395 do not. But the fact that a federal law does not provide a private cause of action does not mean that the standards established by those regulations cannot be used to demonstrate that a long-term heath care facility violated a standard of care it owed to your loved one.

Furthermore, you may have several different causes of action (legal claims) against the long-term health care facility. For example, you may have a professional negligence claim. This typically involves negligent conduct of a nurse or medical care provider. When a medical provider is responsible for injuring you or a loved one, hospital’s may be liable for those inujuries under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which means the employer of the negligent nurse/physician/medical provider is held liable. This type of claim is classified as a medical malpractice claim; that means that a host of procedural and substantive issues are involved. If your lawyer fails to follow “particular” procedural rules, your claim could be thrown out of court, forever.

Or, you may have an ordinary negligence claim, which typically does not involve an expert opinion or the tricky rules associated with professional negligence (malpractice) claims. Or, you may have a premises liability claim or a breach of contract claim or a class action claim. As you can read, a good lawyer is necessary to properly apply the facts of your case to all the applicable Georgia and federal laws and regulations, to ascertain which claim(s) you may have, and of those claims, which ones provide you with the best opportunity to maximize your recovery.

Ultimately, the outcome of you case will depend on many variables.
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Dog Bite Rock.jpgRecently, a pit bull attacked a pregnant woman who lives in Cobb County, Georgia. The pit bull initially attacked the woman’s dog but then attacked her. Luckily, the courageous woman kicked the dog and then grabbed its neck to protect her unborn child. We hope that both the mother and child are okay.

Everyday dogs attack people and leave their victims with serious injuries ranging from serious head trauma, facial lacerations, permanent disfigurement, broken bones, severe scarring, and sometimes death. In Georgia, as with everywhere, many times the victims are young children and the elderly. And as a person that has experienced several dog attacks, I also understand how psychologically traumatizing (long term) a dog attack can be. You/your loved one deserve to be compensated for the injuries and damages caused by dog bites, and vicious dog attacks.

We have written about dog attacks before on this blog. In that article we focused on the nuances of Georgia law that may prohibit you from maximizing your recovery, if you do not choose your lawyer wisely. In this article however we want to focus on what you should do immediately after being bitten by a dog, to help protect you and others, and to maximize your recovery for the injuries caused by dog bites, and vicious dog attacks. Whether you live in Dekalb County, Cobb County, Fulton County, Floyd County or Whitfield County, as long as you live in Georgia, you need to consider taking the following steps after being attacked (bitten):

1. Immediately seek emergency medical attention for your injuries;

2. Identify the owner of the dog that bit you and get his or her name, address, home telephone number, and social security number (if possible);

3. Take photographs of your injuries and preserve any torn clothing;

4. Detail, in writing, what happened to you (if you are in a condition to do so), being as specific as possible;

5. Do not talk to any insurance adjuster!

6. Contact a good dog-bite lawyer; and
7. Immediately contact your county’s animal control authority. Here is a list of a few:

a. Fulton County Animal Control, click here
b. Dekalb County Animal Control, click here
c. Cobb County Animal Control, click here
d. Gwinnett County Animal Control, click here
e. Whitfield County (Dalton, GA) Animal Control, click here
f. Floyd County (Rome, GA) Animal Control, click here

Your animal control authority can do a few things to help you. First, if a dog bites anyone, it must be quarantined to see if it shows signs of rabies or being vicious. Second, animal control can determine if a citation can be issued against the owner and then, animal control can issue a citation or ensure that a citation is issued against the owner of the dog that bit you. Reading our other article will demonstrate the importance of the citation with respect to a violation of local leash laws and your ability to maximize recovery for your injuries.

As stated, contact a lawyer immediately, tell the lawyer about the incident, and get feedback. Typically dog bites cases involve homeowner’s insurance coverage and you will need a good lawyer to deal with this process because the insurance companies’ goal is to pay you as little as possible for your injuries. That means the company will attempt to convince you to settle your case before you understand the full extent of both your injuries and your legal options.

You also need a good lawyer to protect you from your own health insurance company. Many times your health insurance company will seek reimbursement for medical expenses it paid on your behalf. A good lawyer will know how to shield you as much as possible from this situation. Other issues may involve worker’s compensation and federal assistance. The best option is to find an attorney who has effectively handled dog-bite cases.

Your compensation will ultimately depend on the facts of your case as they apply to Georgia law, and the extent of your injuries, especially long term. You need a lawyer who will maximize your negotiating position and demonstrate a conviction to take your case to trial, to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.
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Hospital.jpgThis article, briefly, deals with an important issue in the context of injuries suffered at a hospital due to medical negligence. The question is simple: is your case a medical malpractice case or a case of ordinary negligence on behalf of the hospital? The answer may be extremely complex and requires a keen attorney in this field. The distinction is significant because it will determine whether a significant portion of your compensation, for your injuries, will be restricted to a medical malpractice “cap.” In Georgia, there exist a “cap” on recovery in medical malpractice cases. The Georgia Legislature unfortunately implemented “tort reform” legislation which harmed patients by placing a $350,000 cap (ceiling) on non economic damages (injuries) that anyone receives due to medical malpractice. That means, in Georgia, if you are a victim of medical malpractice, the compensation that you receive for your pain and suffering that cannot be proven by recorded data such as medical bills, rehabilitation, loss wages, and so forth, will be severely limited.

Currently, medical malpractice “caps” are being challenged. But until this cap is overruled or modified, you will need an attorney who can, if possible, manuever around the medical malpractice claim (cap), to give you a stronger chance at higher compensation for your injuries.

In Georgia, “simply because an alleged injury occurs in a hospital setting, a suit to recovery for that injury is not necessarily a medical malpractice action.” For example, if a hospital employee commits a negligent act that injures you, the fact that the employee such as a registered nurse has expert medical credentials does not, by itself, mean that your case is a medical malpractice case and thus subject to the above-mentioned $350,000 cap. One of the determining factors is whether the negligent act required expert medical “judgment.” It’s complicated but one thing is for sure: the unique facts of your situation, as applied to Georgia law, must be scrutinized by a knowledgeable attorney to determine whether your case may be a case of ordinary negligence, instead of medical malpractice. For example, was your injury caused by the failure of a hospital employee to carry out a physician’s instructions or some other administrative or clerical act? Or perhaps the hospital had policies and procedures that were not complied with or failed to implement polices and procedures that comply with established law. Or perhaps the medical equipment that caused your injury was inadequate: in Georgia, hospitals have a duty to provide equipment reasonable suited for its intended uses.

Basically, all the above-mentioned issues fundamentally challenge the adequacy of the services and facilites provided to you rather than challenge the expert medical judgment of a hospital employee. As stated, this area of Georgia law can be very tricky. Your lawyer must understand these distinctions, and more, to effectively represent you.

You should also consider that the characterization of your law suit as a medical malpractice claim or as an ordinary negligence claim means a lot with respect to the procedural requirements that your attorney must navigate through, in order to avoid having your case thrown out of court. The law has made medical malpractice claims tough from the start. For example, by law, if you do file a medical malpractice claim and your attorney fails to attach an expert affidavit to your complaint, then, your complaint is voidable, not void. That means, if the defense team notices that your attorney failed to comply with the law, then they may move to have your case thrown out of court. If your case is thrown out, then you will most likely be forever barred from filing the same medical malpractice complaint. But there are exceptions, especially if the defense team failed to notice the missing affidavit upon answering your complaint. Again, the rules are tricky and tedious.
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SUV.jpgWhen the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) first came into being, automakers were heavily regulated as then head of NHTSA, Joan Claybrook, a Ralph Nader protégé, went after dangerous vehicles like the Ford Pinto. Claybrook, who has been aptly described as the “most ardent champion of consumer protection and the common good,” has spent most of her life working to save the American consumer from one of the most significant dangers on the market today: SUV rollovers.

Recently retired as president of the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, she has worked on auto safety issues for over forty years and was the head of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration during the Carter administration.

Scientifically, Claybrook explains that rollover crashes should be well survivable: “Forces felt by an occupant who has a rollover pretention restrain and who does not contact the roof are not as violent as those experienced in a frontal impact crash.”

Claybrook asserts that the physics of rollover crashes are indisputable. In her testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2008, she explained the elements of a rollover: “Rollover crashes occur over a 4-6 second time interval, whereas other crashes are over milliseconds. Consequently, the forces acting on occupants are relatively mild and the focus becomes threefold: (1) whether the restraint properly and safely keeps the occupant in the survival zone of the vehicle; (2) whether the vehicle structure maintains the occupant survival space; and (3) whether the portals of ejection, e.g., side windows, stay intact thus preventing exposure to partial ejection.”

Yet despite the fact that rollover fatalities can and should be avoidable, there has been a long history of the American auto industry resisting safety standards that would mitigate such fatalities. Additionally, “in this era of active products liability litigation and frequent media coverage of product safety issues, it is surprising that one kind of product-related accident has caused thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries but has received virtually no legal attention.”
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Thumbnail image for rollover.jpgThe alarming fact is that each year, more than 10,500 people die in SUV rollovers, and another 24,000 to 30,000 are seriously injured. And, families will keep being torn apart until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enforces a “comprehensive dynamic rollover standard that covers belt performance, door and glazing retention, and roof crush” and enforces adequate roof crush testing.

Several decades ago, rollover crashes were few: in 1969 there were just 1,400 deaths in rollover crashes because pickups were primarily driven as work vehicles and the SUV was not yet marketed as a passenger-carrying vehicle. But over the course of the latter end of the 20th century, the auto industry commenced on a strategic advertising campaign to convince the public that SUV’s were “the station wagon of the future.” Thus, a product originally suited for off-roading, outdoors terrain, became a ubiquitous sight driven by everyone from hip hop stars to soccer moms on urban freeways and suburban cul-de-sacs across America. As a result of this, families are losing loved ones at a rate of over 10,000 per year.

Starting almost two decades ago, the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) alerted the industry that utility vehicles were rolling over at five times the rate of passenger cars. Currently, although rollovers account for less than three percent of passenger vehicles in all police-reported crashes, they make up about twenty three percent of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest report documents that in 2007, there were 10,194 fatalities in rollover crashes, accounting for approximately 1/3 of all highway occupant fatalities.” As of this year, “motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of people aged 3 to 33, and rollover crashes account for a disproportionate and unnecessary number of these deaths.”

Why are SUV rollovers so deadly? The primary reason lies with the design of the vehicle. The narrow wheel base and a high center of gravity, gives them the propensity to ‘trip’ even at a low rate of speed when it grazes a curb, slightly swerves or hits a soft shoulder. However the most fatal feature of the SUV occurs from the result of the rollover: roof-crush. Without roll bars or other reinforcement, the top of the SUV roof crushes down on the heads and necks of the passengers when the full weight of the vehicle lands on it. When that happens, fatal consequences occur.

If the roof is too weak, the vehicle support pillars will collapse, crushing the roof and doors, including areas which hold the seat belt mechanism in place. The doors and roof, pushed down like an accordion, will cause the seatbelts (attached to the top of the roof and window) to break, no longer holding the passenger in place. Additionally, the crushing roof will cause the windshield and side windows to break open, creating portals where occupants, without the protection of working seatbelts, will be ejected. Consequently, two outcomes generally occur: either the passengers will be fatally ejected from the vehicle; or the roof will crush down onto the heads and spine of those trapped inside.

Despite these risks, the auto industry refused for decades to reinforce roofs or even acknowledge the deadly dangers of roof crush despite pleas from numerous consumer rights groups. Furthermore, over the past several decades despite empirical evidence to the contrary, the auto industry systematically denied the dangers of roof-crush and deliberately pressured federal regulators and lawmakers to otherwise protect the public from this avoidable product design.
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Thumbnail image for Camry.jpgYesterday the United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned owners of recalled Toyotas to immediately stop driving their vehicles and take them into the Toyota dealership for immediate repair.

Mr. LaHood testified before Congress that Toyota was slow to address the safety problems with its gas pedals and it took pressure from the U.S. government that forced Toyotal to recall millions of its vehicles.

LaHood described Toyota as being “a little safety deaf” during the investigation and reported that Toyota was so resistant that it took federal safety officials from the U.S. government travelling to Japan to “wake them up” to the very seriousness of the danger.

Lahood further reported to Congress that the recall occurred because of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal government agency that worked to protect consumers from these dangerous vehicles by meeting with the top officials of Toyota in Japan.

LaHood also stated that the U.S. government considered civil penalties to Toyota but would not provide specifics. Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook said Toyota has been resistant to regulation for a long time and been extremely secretive.

On Monday Toyota apologized about the problem and announced a repair which will insert a steel piece into the gas pedal to resolve excess friction that can cause the pedal to become stuck.

Federal data show these complaints against Toyota have doubled last year alone.
A government survey of Lexus owners found dozens of reports owners pressing hard on the brakes but failing to stop the sudden acceleration of their vehicles. This led to a Toyotal recall for 55,000 Lexus vehicles in 2007. Then in August a California Highway Patrol officer and his family were killed in a high-speed crash aboard a 2009 Lexus ES350 which hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, struck another SUV vehicle, drove off an embankment, rolled several times, and exploded in flames while a family member was calling 911.

Since that time, there are increasing reports of runaway acceleration Toyota and Lexus vehicles not on the recall list. In October, Toyota recalled more than 4 million vehicles and the recall has since grown to more than 5 million vehicles. Congress has now launched an investigation into the risk to the public and federal safety officials are widening their investigation of Toyota’s sticky gas pedals.

In Georgia, Toyota manufacturers would be held strictly liable for claims in these defective product actions. The law in Georgia seeks to protect the consumer by shifting the burden of the loss to the wrongdoer, i.e. the manufacturer of the defective product that caused the injuries. The essential elements of this legal claim are: first, the manufacture of the product (Toyota manufactured the cars); second, a defective product (the vehicles are in fact defective hence the recalls); third, an injury to a natural person proximately caused by the defect (multiple Toyota owners suffered injuries due to this defect); fourth, a sale of the product as a new product (Toyota dealers sold these new vehicles off their dealership lots); and fifth, the existence of the defect at the time the product left the manufacturer’s control (the defect was present when Toyota sold the car to consumers.)
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