Forward Thinking Law School Adds Brain Injury Course

Some law students not attending George Washington Law School might be a little jealous. The D.C. law school has started to provide the opportunity to learn

NFL brain injury litigation brings attention to many legal implications of TBI.

NFL brain injury litigation brings attention to many legal implications of TBI.

about the legal issues involving traumatic brain injury (TBI).  For me, working at Stritmatter Kessler has been like taking an intense brain injury seminar that never ends.  But a lot of law school grads aren’t as fortunate.

As discussed in previous posts on this blog, the concussion/brain injury class action suit against the NFL is reaching many corners of the professional sports world as well as the legal world. GW Law School is doing more than just reading the tea leaves, as it gives seminars about the medical and legal intricacies possibly involved when a client or defendant has sustained a brain injury.  A plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Kaplen, is teaching the course, sharing that “The legal profession becomes in one way or another the champion because nobody else is there to do it. The lawyer has to become the doctor, has to become the social worker, has to become the neuroscientist and put that together for the individual.”

As Kaplen explains, it’s more important than ever that attorneys who represent TBI clients stay current with the constantly evolving legal and health landscape.

A battle won on the war for clean groundwater

Living near a dairy farm doesn’t sound so bad, right? After all, it would be easier to get fresh milk and cream. Maybe, but if you live in the lower Yakima Valley, you would also get significantly contaminated groundwater with nitrates, bovine antibiotics, and other pollutants. (Nitrates can cause severe health problems such as blue baby syndrome, several forms of cancer, autoimmune system dysfunction, and reproductive problems.) Dairies in Yakima Valley create as much pollution as about 3.1 million people — more than 13 times the entire population of Yakima County.

R&M Haak Dairy, a Washington State industrialized dairy has agreed to settle a federal environmental lawsuit against it. The

Important settlement for dairy farm groundwater contamination in Yakima, WA (Photo: USDA Gov)

Important settlement for dairy farm groundwater contamination in Yakima, WA (Photo: USDA Gov)

settlement will provide clean water for the low-income, minority neighbors for three miles surrounding the dairy – and critically, allow advocates to get detailed information about the environmental impact of area dairies’ impact on the groundwater.

The settlement requires Haak dairy to remove excess manure, drain and dredge a lagoon storing manure, and let scientists then measure straight down to the groundwater to provide further evidence that these lagoons are poisoning the local groundwater.

Public Justice, a national nonprofit consumer protection law firm, sued the dairy and four others for contaminating the groundwater in Washington’s Yakima Valley and threatening the health of surrounding community. Our firm’s Brad J. Moore currently serves as the president-elect of Public Justice. He was on the legal team along with Charlie Tebbutt of Eugene, OR, Jessica Culpepper, staff attorney at Public Justice, and Elisabeth Holmes, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety.  Read more to learn the details of the suit and settlement.

Seahawks’ Super Bowl Triumph & Raising Awareness of TBI

Ok, I admit it, I loved watching the Seahawks score all 43 points against the Broncos during the Super Bowl. But much of the time,

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen with trophy after Seattle's victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen with trophy after Seattle’s victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images

while seeing players crash into each other with abandon and great force, I kept thinking about the possible injury that some were sustaining–including traumatic brain injury (TBI).  This isn’t something that I mentioned, while others around me roared with pride in their 12th man gear.  After all, the last thing I want to be is a kill joy.

However, let’s look at the recent $765 million NFL settlement with 4,500 former players.  That settlement amount sounds like an enormous sum, but is the proverbial drop in a bucket for the NFL, which nets about $9 million annually.  The cold heart fact is that the issue is not going away, given that roughly 20,000 other players likely will or already have suffered TBI as the result of the game.

Here’s hoping that Seahawks’ owner Paul Allen will continue to push for research advances for TBI treatment.  While the $2.4 million that he gave to the Allen Brain Institute at the University of Washington is a great gesture, there is much more that should be done to raise awareness about TBI and high impact sports such as football.


Fast Growing Uber is Defendant in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Ride apps like Uber and Lyft are growing in popularity as more look to their smartphone apps to get quick and sometimes cheaper taxi service.  The business model of these rapidly growing companies is to serve as the middleman, matching riders with willing drivers. Meanwhile, companies such as Uber are cashing in at the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. However, Uber and its relatively new counterparts face mounting legal challenges.

Uber, a ride app, is growing in popularity as it faces increasing legal challenges.

Uber, a ride app, is growing in popularity as it faces increasing legal challenges.

Take, for example, the recent a wrongful death lawsuit filed in San Francisco of a family against an Uber driver and Uber. The defendant driver, Syed Muzzafar, claimed that he was driving the streets of San Francisco on New Year’s Eve. In fact, he was busy looking at the driver side app to inform him of his next rider’s location. When turning a corner, Mr. Muzzafar hit a family, which led to the death of a six year old girl, after his car hit the girl, her brother and her mother. Uber denies responsibility, claiming that Mr. Muzzafar was not on duty for Uber and thus the accident didn’t occur as the result of an Uber trip. Uber also points out that its drivers are independent contractors and not actual employees. So its reasoning is that it cannot be responsible for these contractors’ torts committed off duty.

Does Uber’s argument sound right? Perhaps there are gaps in the way insurance companies are writing these policies. However, it seems clear that the apps encourage unsafe driving practices, as its drivers are required to constantly check their smartphones and stay in proximity to the locations with the greatest demand. Are the drivers’ roles delegable to the extent that Uber can deny responsibility for their accidents while cashing in on all of their rides given?

TBI Victims are Three Times More Likely to Die Early

We often see serious car accident victims diagnosed with concussions. They seem fine initially, however, after a six months or a year pass after the car crash, some of our clients notice an emergence of symptoms.  They notice that they have problems with memory loss, unusual mood swings and aggression, along with signs of cognitive  impairment such as poor attention and difficulty with communicating. These are symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI), which often never go away.

Researchers now believe that TBI patients are 3 xs more likely to die before 56 yrs old.

Researchers now believe that TBI patients are 3 xs more likely to die before 56 yrs old.

A study that spanned over 41 years old shows that those who sustain TBI are almost three times more likely to die young than those who never suffered any brain injuries. This is according to a JAMA Psychiatry article that came out earlier this month. In fact, it states that people who have suffered from head injuries are almost three times more likely to die before reaching 56 years old. Before this study, the category considered at greatest risk for dying early was patients with psychiatric disorders.

Traumatic brain injuries such as concussions have also been studied extensively in sports, after more evidence has shown that people who have a history of TBIs may be more likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to premature death.

Researchers think that TBI affects the brain’s neural network, which accounts for cognitive difficulties.  What the co-director of the Center for Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Exeter explains, “People with head injury need monitoring all the time in case they become suicidal.”  

Along with suicide  a whole constellation of problems call for loved ones and the medical professionals to remain attentive to anything that might lead to an untimely death of the TBI patient.

National Safety Regulations for Buses Trying to Catch Up with Aviation Standards

Have you ever driven on a highway and wonder how safe a bus was? Those private bus companies with fleets of massive coaches that carry senior citizens or a group of boy scouts that sometimes swerve in and out of lanes are finally getting a closer look. According to an article on CNN.com, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 52 bus companies and 340 vehicles on Dec. 12, 2013.

Canadian based bus operator allowed driver to far exceed 70 hr work week. Bus crash in OR last year resulted in 9 passengers killed. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police

Canadian based bus operator allowed driver to  exceed 70 hr work week. Bus crash in OR last year resulted in 9 passengers killed.
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police

This was part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA)  an eight-month effort, called Operation Quick Strike, which focused on the safety of motor coach operations. Operation Quick Strike spanned the entire country, employing 50+ highly trained investigators to review the safety standards and practices of 260 of the most questionable bus operators.  These companies were targeted based on safety data and roadside inspection.

Recall the tragic accident in Oregon about a year ago last December, when nine passengers were killed and 39 were injured in a bus accident. Investigations revealed that the B.C. based motor coach carrier with U.S. operations allowed its driver to far exceed the 70 hour work limit.

The FMCSA and advocates are seeking to impose the same type of safety standards to the tour bus industry as are imposed on the aviation industry, as it carries roughly the same number of passengers.


Drivers Who Kill Cyclists — Getting Away With Murder?

Cars vs. Bikes: Car drivers are generally favored when involved in a bike accident.

Cars vs. Bikes: Are car drivers who cause bike accidents getting off too easily?

Our law firm continues to see an increasing number of clients injured in serious bike-car crashes. When rushing to switch lanes or to pull into a parking spot, too many drivers are still not conditioned to look for cyclists. Is this because the prevailing attitude is one of greater forgiveness to those driving cars rather than those riding bikes? This is a question that Daniel Duane ponders in a recent NY Times Opinion piece.

Duane mentions meager penalties against drivers, including a teenager who ran down a 49 year old cyclist John Przychodzen and killed him. The teenager only received a $42 citation for an “unsafe lane change.” After all, the young driver was not driving while under the influence nor was he deemed to be driving recklessly.

Sadly, however, the story about the Seattle cyclist fatality is not rare and is found throughout the country in virtually every city.  Duane points out the fact that the laws and societal norms have not caught up with the statistics: Cycling is the second most popular outdoor activity in the U.S. next to running. We are a country with 57 million cyclists and a growing number who commute regularly. Yet, people have mixed feelings about cyclists who attempt to share the road with drivers. Contributing to drivers’ resentment is the fact that many cyclists flout the rules of the road.  So, while cyclists’ violations are not usually enforced (but see the last blog post), the offending drivers’ are also let off with slaps on the wrist.

Each of us can do our part to keep the statistics of injured or killed cyclists on the road from growing, while we advocate for laws to encourage safer cycling. With the days getting shorter and wetter in the fall, please remain mindful that there are likely others around you on two wheels.

Warning to Cyclists: Speeding may get you a ticket

Speeders on bikes get tickets too.

Speeders on bikes get tickets too.

A recent article in the Seattle Times cautions cyclists to observe the speed limit. Those who sped too fast down Fremont Ave. N. near B.F. Day Elementary School got pulled over with a speeding ticket. The area is a school zone with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. The speed demons on bikes who got caught will have to pay$103 for each citation, granted a bit less than the $189 citations for speeding drivers.

The important message to cyclists is that a speeding bicycle is dangerous too. Take, for example, the cyclist who ran down a pedestrian in San Francisco. The 71 year old pedestrian was killed, when a cyclist sped down a hill in the busy Castro District in San Francisco and struck the man at a crosswalk. The victim was just walking with his wife on a walk signal, as the 37 year old software developer ran into him.  The cyclist pled guilt to the first felony vehicular manslaughter on a bicycle in this country.

As the article points out, a Seattle pedestrian was also a fatal victim after a bicycle struck her on the Cedar River Trail. That cyclist got off, unlike the aforementioned SF cyclist.

In 2011  there were 457 road deaths in Washington state, 64 pedestrians and 11 bicyclists were killed, according to NHTSA. While roughly 1% of the speeding tickets issued in the first nine months of this year were to bicyclists, we may see this number creep up if speeding cyclists don’t take heed.

Kids Break Bike Helmet Laws Too Often

Each year in this country bike accidents involving head injuries lead to at least 150,000 emergency department visits and almost 400 deaths. This is based on a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  According to the CDC, approximately 33 million children ride bicycles for nearly 10 billion hours each year.KidsandBikeSafety-1

Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida presented an abstract with compelling data: Despite a California bike helmet mandate, only 11 percent of Los Angeles County children treated for bike-related injuries were wearing a helmet. Specifically, children older than age 12, and low-income and minority children were less likely to wear a bike helmet.

“Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs…” said study author Veronica F. Sullins, MD.

Regional studies highlighting racial or ethnic and socioeconomic differences may help identify at-risk populations within specific communities, allowing these communities to more effectively use resources, explained Dr. Sullins.

“Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs,” Dr. Sullins said.

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