Reuters reports that a Swiss billionaire has been convicted of negligence in the deaths of 2,000 people working for his company Eternit, a Swiss building material maker.  Stephen Schmidheiny was sentenced to 18 years in jail for intentionally not installing safety measures at Enternit plants in Italy, to prevent workers from becoming sick.  More than 6,000 people have filed claims against Eternit in the four towns where the company operated plants.

The lack of safety measures in Eternit plants led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people, from cancer caused by asbestos exposure, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, and thousands of other cases of chronic asbestosis and other illnesses over the past four decades.

Italian victims’ association Osservatorio Nazionale Amianto said, “This verdict encourages the battle by victims and their families for a world without asbestos and without that thirst for profits that sacrifice human lives.”

According to a report by the BBC, the Department of Education in England has released a report on mesothelioma risks for children, prepared by the Committee on Carcinogenity.  The Committee on Carcinogenity is an independent organization that advises the British government on cancer issues. 

In its final report the Committee found that “(b)ecause of differences in life expectancy, for a given dose of asbestos the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age five, compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about five times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.”

The report explains that “(f)rom the available data, it is not possible to say that children are intrinsically more susceptible to asbestos-related injury. However, it is well recognised… that, due to the increased life expectancy of children compared to adults, there is an increased lifetime risk of mesothelioma as a result of the long latency period of the disease.”

About 75% of schools in England have some buildings containing asbestos.  The Department of Education is struggling to figure out how to handle this difficult situation and protect English school children from this asbestos hazard, and ultimately how to eliminate the risk of English children contracting mesothelioma as adults. 

According to Forbes. the Supreme Court of Oklahoma struck down a tort reform package the Oklahoma legislature passed in 2009.  The single law included numerous tort reform provisions, including a cap on non-economic damages and the requirement that an expert affidavit be filed with the petition in certain negligence cases.

The Supreme Court ruled that the law violated a constitutional requirement that a bill deal with a single subject.  The purpose of the law is to prevent a lawmaker from adding provisions to a bill that a lawmaker would feel log-rolled into agreeing with, in order to pass the provisions of the bill the lawmaker agrees with.

This news comes just days after a report out of Tulsa, by KJRH, that two more of Dr. Scott Harrington’s patients have tested positive for hepatitis.  If you have not previously seen the reports, Dr. Harrington is a dentist in Oklahoma who infected 80 patients with HIV and hepatitis, by using unsanitary conditions, including the use of dirty needles on patients.  The doctor is protected by damage caps the Oklahoma legislature put on these types of negligence cases.  The nearly 7,000 patients the doctor treated and the untold number of people infected by his horrible practices (negligent acts), are not able to obtain full redress for their injuries because of what the Oklahoma legislature has done.

The action of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in striking down this onerous law, is a positive step in the right direction for the people of Oklahoma.

Since the symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to those of other cancers and because mesotheliomas often mimic other types of cancer, diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult.

The diagnostic process begins with a review of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination. Radiographic examination by x-ray and/or CT scans or MRIs is usually performed. These radiographic findings may reveal pleural changes or stomach fluid that raises suspicion for mesothelioma.

If large amounts of fluid are discovered, then the fluid may be drained to see if abnormal cells are present. If cytology is positive for cancerous cells, then a biopsy is usually needed to confirm the diagnosis of mesothelioma. A biopsy is where a doctor surgically removes a tissue sample for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. A biopsy may be performed in different ways, depending on where the abnormal area is located. For example, small incisions may be needed in the chest or abdomen to obtain tissue samples for examination.

Mesothelioma treatment is primarily based on the staging of the tumor, as well as the age and health of the patient. Options may include chemotherapy, radiation, and in some cases, surgery.

  • Surgery: Surgery alone has not been an effective tool in treating mesothelioma. However, there has been some success when surgery is used in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. Delivering radiation and chemotherapy after a radical surgery has led to extended life expectancy in certain populations, with some patients surviving more than five years. As part of a curative approach to mesothelioma, radiotherapy is also commonly applied to the sites of chest drain insertion to prevent growth of the tumor along the track in the chest wall.
  • Radiation: Although mesothelioma is resistant to curative treatment with radiotherapy alone, radiation treatments are sometimes used to relieve symptoms caused by tumor growth. Radiation therapy, when given alone with curative intent, has never been shown to improve survival from mesothelioma.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the only treatment for mesothelioma that has been proven to improve survival in trials. The most common chemotherapy treatment is a combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed (brand name Alimta). The combination of these two was proven effective in the landmark study published in 2003 by Vogelzang and colleagues that showed a statistically significant improvement in survival from 10 months in the patients treated with cisplatin alone to 13.3 months in the patients’ treated with a combination of cisplatin and Alimta. The study also showed improvements in the quality of life and lung function tests of the patients in the combination group.

Despite treatments, mesothelioma has a poor prognosis since there is no known cure for this disease.  The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.  If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma contact Jeff Nicholson to discuss your legal options.

According to an article in the Austin American Statesman titled “Tort Reform Not The Tonic It’s Touted To Be”, one of the claims used to pass extreme medical malpractice tort reform in Texas was totally unfounded.  The legislature in Texas passed sweeping medical malpractice reform in 2003 that took away the rights of Texans injured by medical malpractice to pursue recovery for their injuries.  Legislators claimed tort reform was necessary to prevent an exodus of doctors from Texas.

A study done by Hyman, Silver, Black and Myungho Paik titled “Does Tort Reform Affect Physician Supply? Evidence from Texas,” (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2047433) found that a possible reason for a decline in the number of doctors in Texas was not medical malpractice laws, but rather the fact that Texas has a large number of individuals with no health insurance.  Doctors are attracted to areas of the country where they can get paid for their services – not surprising.  From the article:

“In 1998, Texas had about 82 percent as many doctors per capita as the national average. In 2003, the year tort reforms took effect, it had 80 percent as many. And in 2011, it had about 79 percent as many. If tort reform had really made Texas a magnet for physicians, the gap between Texas and other states would have narrowed. In fact, the gap widened a bit.”

So now Texans have less doctors and if a Texan is seriously injured by a doctor, the State of Texas picks up the bill, rather than the responsible doctor’s insurance company.  Way to go Texas.

According to a story on the USA Today website, a jury in Las Animas County Colorado awarded the family of a high school student who suffered a severe brain injury while playing high school football.  The claims in the lawsuit are similar to claims in suits filed by former NFL players against the manufacturer.  The victim received a concussion in football practice, which led to severe brain damage and paralysis on his left side.

According to a story on the Legalnewsline.com, two congressmen have introduced a new tort reform bill in Washington.  Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas and Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced the so-called “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2011″.  As reported in the previous article, there are no studies showing that there is a lawsuit abuse (ie. frivolous lawsuit) problem, but that has not stopped these two Congressmen from charging forward with their bill.

Smith was quoted as saying, “(l)awsuit abuse has become too common in American society, partly because the lawyers who bring these cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose”.  That statement is wrong, lawyers fund lawsuits for plaintiffs and do not fund lawsuits that are frivolous, because they will not get their money back.  Smith goes on to say that, “(p)laintiffs lawyers can file frivolous suits, no matter how absurd the claims, without any penalty”.  As I said, the penalty is the lawyer loses the money he put into the lawsuit.  Getting a lawsuit off the ground can be a substantial endevor, and taking a case to trial costs serious money.  If lawyers take frivolous cases they will go broke.  Smith continues, “(m)eanwhile, defendants are faced with the choice of years of litigation, high court costs and attorneys fees or a settlement. Our legal system encourages frivolous lawsuits while defendants are left paying the price even when they are innocent”.  

The bill would require mandatory sanctions, under the Federal Rules, for lawyers who file lawsuits with no basis in Federal Court.  According to the article, the proposal “reinstates mandatory sanctions for attorneys who file meritless suits and forces them to pay the defendant’s attorneys fees and court costs. It also reverses a 1993 amendment that allowed parties and their attorneys to avoid sanctions for making frivolous claims by withdrawing them within 21 days after a motion for sanctions has been served”.  Similar to the bill in Texas, reported below, the measure does not require sanctions for defendants who pursue meritless defenses.  The bill appears to be another solution to a non-problem.

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