July 2007


Article in the NY Times says that 6 years after the tragedy, ground zero workers still don’t have adequate health care available to take care of the diseases they have contracted or will contract from their exposures after 9-11.  Ground zero workers have contracted various respiratory and digestive ailments related to their exposure to various substances at ground zero.  In addition, the government does not even have a good estimate as to what it will take to provide the care the workers need.  The GAO issued a report raising concerns that a NIOSH estimate of costs issued last year, has major faults.  The estimate for the cost of the program is expected to rise by several $100 million over the next couple of years.  The report also found that ground zero workers from outside of the New York area do not have access to adequate health care to help with ground zero related illnesses.   

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Sauder is recalling dangerous tv stands  sold at Walmart between January 2005 and May 2007.  There have been 43 reports of the tv stands collapsing.  In addition several injuries have been reported, including a torn rotator cuff, a concussion, a broken arm, an injured finger, and a 6 year old with a bruised shoulder which happened when the tv stand collapsed on the child.  The tv stand can collapse because of a defect in the way the metal legs connect to the lower shelf on the stand. 

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Article in the Insurance Journal regarding an asbestos screening in Dallas, to test workers for asbestos disease.  The article said the screening was paid for by a $250,000 grant from the state of Texas.  The grant covered screening 300 people.  The waiting room at the screening overflowed, as many more people showed up than there was room for, and not all people who wanted a screening were helped.  Texas recently passed lawsuit reforms, which legislated away the right of sick workers to pursue asbestos manufacturers for causing disease, in most cases.  Asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The lawsuit reform in TX halted free screenings provided by attorneys – the way most people were able to find out if they had asbestos disease.  The result of lawsuit reform in Texas is that ordinary people aren’t getting the care they had before the reforms and the state is having to pick up the bill.  And as evidenced by the story, they are not even able to handle picking up the tab.

The quote from the story says it all: “People are hurting and sick, and they’re looking for any way to get help”.

Have you ever been denied on a health insurance claim? Ever spent hours on the phone with insurance reps who seem to be looking for a reason to deny your claim. There is a great article on CNN.com with tips on fighting your health insurer.

Besides giving step by step advice on how to argue your case, it also includes the story of someone who lived this nightmare. Todd Robinson’s insurer denied $200,000 worth of medical bills on his son, who suffered from adrenoleukodystrophy. Mr. Robinson spent huge amounts of time fighting the insurance company, time he could have spent with his dying son.

The Insurance Industry spokeman quoted in the article says that denials are “infrequent” and usually the fault of doctor’s improperly coding the bills. Right. The Insurance Industry spokesman said he was “surprised” to hear that an insurer denied Mr. Robinson’s $200,000 claim, but is “sure the company has learned from that experience”. I guess it is just tough luck for Mr. Robinson that he was used as a learning experience.

Ground Zero workers are suffering from a panoply of illnesses, ranging from lung disease, cancer and mental illness – caused by their exposures and experiences during the aftermath of the 9-11 disaster.  An insurance fund was set up to pay for these types of illness and injuries, but to date has only paid one claim, according to a story in the Washington Post.  $45,000 was paid to a worker who fell off a ladder. 

The fund has spent $74 million fighting the claims of workers injured at the sight.  This is a real tragedy.  The people who responded to the scene of one of the most sickening disasters in our country’s history are now being treated like they have done something wrong.  They are losing their homes and unable to pay for the medical attention they need.  We are spending millions of dollars fighting them, rather than helping them.  Sick, sick, sick.

Home Depot and five companies who manufactured “Tile Perfect Stand ‘N Seal Spray-On Grout Sealer” face over 160 lawsuits alleging lung damage from exposure to the product, according to an article at Law.com.  Two have died after inhaling the product and others have been hospitalized. 

The ingredient which created the problem in the product, Flexipel, was manufactured by Innovative Chemical Technologies – a small company based in Georgia.  The MSDS on Flexipel says the product should not be aerosolized.  However, the product was aerosolized in Stand ‘N Seal.  The lawsuit claims that the product was not pulled from Home Depot’s shelves until 19 months after it was evident there was a problem with the product – based on numerous reports of product users being hospitalized.     

 stand n seal

Article on Law.com regarding a ruling out of the Federal Appeals Court for the DC Circuit that emotional distress damages are considered income and are therefore taxable, unlike damages for physical injury which are not taxable.  Maritta Murphy was awarded damages for emotional distress and loss of reputation.  Lower courts said these awards were in the nature of a physical injury and were thus not income and not taxable. 

The appeals court concluded that taxable income includes compensatory damages for non-physical injuries.  In the opinion Judge D. Ginsburg states, “Murphy no doubt suffered from certain physical manifestations of emotional distress”; but the award was for mental pain and anguish and injury to professional reputation.  The court separated out the physical injury component that is necessarily involved in an emotional distress injury award and totally ignored the physical aspect.  They could have evensaid that a portion of the damages were non-physical, say a random percentage, but instead decided to call the whole thing a a non-physical injury.

Edit:  Here is a great in-depth discussion of this case at Taxprof Blog.