Soundbites: Message Point Archive by Date2007

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DECEMBER 2007

⇒Fine Print? Hardly. Mandatory Arbitration Clause.  "In its early incarnation, arbitration was designed as a way of resolving disputes outside of the courts, and it's often still used that way when both parties agree to it. But the mandatory arbitration provisions in consumer contracts are very different animals… These sorts of provisions, buried in the fine print of consumer contracts, have become de rigueur in everything from employment contracts to cell phone agreements...Most people don't even realize they've signed one".

"Arbitration seriously tilts the playing field in favor of businesses. Consumers have to pay the arbitrators just to hear their claims, unlike the public courts, where the taxpayers pay the judges. Arbitrators often charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services".

"All of this is especially nefarious given that the vast majority of consumers who attempt to seek justice in mandatory arbitration lose…Public Citizen recently analyzed data the NAF provided to the state of California…Public Citizen found that in 94 percent of 19,000 cases, NAF ruled in favor of the businesses that hired them".
 
"One arbitrator handled 68 cases in a single day, awarding every penny that the big companies were seeking. In one case…the NAF also charged $1500 for a three-page document explaining the arbitrator's decision…". Excerpted from: Suckers Wanted: How Car Dealers and Other Businesses are Taking Away Your Right to Sue, Mother Jones, Nov 26, 2007

⇒Not So Thrilling: Amusement Park Rides "The CPSC has no employee whose full-time job is to ensure the safety of such rides. The agency’s 90 field investigators – who oversee 15,000 products, work from their homes and live mostly on the East Coast – are so overstretched that they frequently arrive at carnival accident scenes after rides have been dismantled".
 
"As a result, critics say, supermarket shopping carts feature a more standardized child-restraint system than do amusement rides, which can travel as fast as 100 mph and, according to federal estimates, cause an average of four deaths and thousands of injuries every year".
 
"State regulators and ride safety advocates say that this record is emblematic of wider problems at the CPSC, whose lagging efforts to keep unsafe toys and other children’s products from the marketplace have created a public outcry and have brought intense congressional scrutiny. Rulemaking by the agency has decreased during the Bush administration, and its officials say that budget and staffing constraints have made the commission vulnerable to industry pressure to adopt voluntary standards, or, in the case of fixed-site amusement park rides, no federal regulation". Excerpted from: On Thrill Rides, Safety Is Optional, Washington Post, Dec 4, 2007
   
⇒Room for Improvement: Texas Ranks 49th out of 50th for Health Care System Performance
"Politics, poverty and illegal immigration intersect here to make health care a thornier issue than in most states. And Texas, with legends of independence and gritty self-reliance, has rarely been at the forefront in creating government entitlements".

"RANKING TEXAS When it comes to health care, Texas is: • 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for the overall performance of its health care system. • Last in the percentage of its residents covered by health insurance. • No. 2 state in the number of people without insurance: 5.5 million. • No. 1 state with the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population between 2000 and 2006. 
SOURCES: The Commonwealth Fund; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Department of Homeland Security Excerpted from: Politics, poverty, immigration entangle Texas health care, Dallas Morning News, 12-5-2007 
 

NOVEMBER 2007
  
⇒Hmmm...TTLA 2003: "Tort Reform" hurts women, children and the elderly. Emory University School of Law 2007  "Tort Reform" hurts women, children and the elderly. "The results from our empirical analysis are consistent with our theoretical predictions. We find that the impact of tort reform varies substantially among demographic groups. When we consider the net effect of all the reforms in our study together, our results suggest that women, children, and the elderly do not enjoy tort reform's benefits as much as men and middle-aged people. In fact, they might even be harmed by reform". Excerpted from: Shepherd, Joanna and Rubin, Paul H., "The Demographics of Tort Reform" (November 2007). Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 07-17
   
⇒Insurance Industry: "We're just misunderstood." The insurance industry has realized it has a public relations problem. That was a prime topic of conversation among 1,600 senior insurance executives at the annual meeting of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America this week in Boston….
 
"Enhancing our image and reputation will not be easy, nor will it occur overnight. But it is possible, and we must make this a priority for PCI and the industry." [said the group’s president] PCI conducted focus groups in Florida this past year….
 
The pollster who conducted the research [is] Frank Luntz, chairman and chief executive of Luntz Maslansky Strategic Research….
[Luntz’ Advice to the Insurers]

• "You're supposed to be about safety and protection. Instead, you're about insecurity and anger."

• "You need to let them know you live in their neighborhoods, and your house was destroyed as well."

• "You need to make them see that you will make them whole again. That's what they want."

• "If Trent Lott comes to you with a claim for his house that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, pay it."

Excerpted from: 'Image is everything, insurers say,' 11/03/07, New Orleans Times Picayune
 
  
⇒Newsflash: Prop 12 Didn't Deliver, 'Ya think?   In its' October 19th issue, The Texas Observer provides an accurate and thorough assessment of the the distribution of doctors in Texas since the passage of Proposition 12. Below are a few highlights:
 
• "As of September 2007, the number of counties without obstetricians is unchanged - 152 counties still have none..."

• "Nearly half of Texas counties...have no obstetrician, neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon."

• "...21 Texas counties have no physician of any kind."

• "The TMA counts 186 new obstetricians in Texas since Proposition 12 passed.... Collin County...gained the most obstetricians." (34)

• "The pattern of doctors' opting to practice in more affluent, urban areas holds true for Texas' overall gains in neurosurgeons (36) and orthopedic surgeons (185) since 2003." 
Excerpted from: Baby, I Lied, The Texas Observer, October 19, 2007
 
⇒How do you spell relief? R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N:  Although the volume of prescription drugs and drug ingredients coming into the country from foreign manufacturers in developing nations such as India and China has exploded in recent years, the Food and Drug Administration's budget for foreign inspections has not kept pace and will be lower in 2008 than it was in 2002, according to congressional investigators.

As a result, foreign drug and drug ingredient makers are inspected on average once every eight to 12 years, while American-based manufacturers must be inspected at least once every two years.

In addition, the investigators reported, FDA officials generally do not bring their own translators, and so in countries such as   China they rely on company-supplied translators to conduct inspections. They also have to tell foreign manufacturers in advance that they are coming, while FDA inspectors can go into American plants at any time unannounced. 
Excerpted from: FDA's Foreign Inspection Budget Lean, Washington Post, 11/1/07
    

OCTOBER 2007
   
⇒Just Beneath the Surface...  Many Texans may not realize that the state's Railroad Commission is charged with regulating the safety of natural gas and oil pipelines.  Critics say the commission often acts as though it doesn't realize it, either.

Consumer advocates have questioned the commission's effectiveness and its ties to the industry it oversees in the wake of natural gas explosions that have killed at least nine North Texas residents and injured more in the last decade.

Now, documents produced as part of a lawsuit in an explosion last October that killed an elderly Wylie couple show that a top commission staffer changed an investigator's report, which had the effect of steering blame away from an underground pipe coupling that critics say should never have been used in Texas' notoriously shifting soil.

The commission has considered ordering the couplings' replacement, but chose to study them first. They remain in use under 100,000 North Texas homes.
Excerpted from: State official says report's shift away from
coupling as factor is based on evidence, not influence, Dallas Morning News, Oct 21, 2007. (Note: WFAA-TV reporter Brett Shipp and producer Mark Smith examined the possible hazards posed by outdated natural gas couplings & explored why regulators dropped a proposal to require replacement of the couplings.
This article is based largely on WFAA's research.)
 
⇒Pleeeeeeease WASH your hands!  Nearly 19,000 people died in the United States in 2005 after being infected with virulent drug-resistant bacteria that have spread rampantly through hospitals and nursing homes, according to the most thorough study of the disease’s prevalence ever conducted.

The government study, which is being published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that such infections may be twice as common as previously thought, according to its lead author, Dr. R. Monina Klevens.

If the mortality estimates are correct, the number of deaths associated with the germ, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, would exceed those attributed to H.I.V.-AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema or homicide each year.
 
The study also concluded that 85 percent of invasive MRSA infections are associated with health care treatment. Previous research had indicated that many hospitals and long-term care centers had become breeding grounds for MRSA because bacteria could be transported from patient to patient by doctors, nurses and unsterilized equipment.  Numerous studies have shown that busy hospital workers disregard basic standards of hand-washing more than half the time.
 
This week, Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, called for hospitals to begin publishing their compliance rates for hand-washing. Excerpted from: 'Deadly Bacteria Found to Be More Common', New York Times 10-17-2007
 
⇒A Few Bad Apples... Did you know that only 5.9 percent of doctors are responsible for 57.8 percent of medical malpractice payments? The largest majority of doctors - 82 percent - never make a malpractice payment.

Two-thirds of doctors who made 10 or more malpractice payments were not disciplined at all by their state medical boards. Only 8.61 of doctors who made two or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board
Source: Center for Justice & Democracy 'Spotlight on Justice' 
 
⇒It's Football Season..."TLR" Fumbles . . Last week the self-styled "Texans for Lawsuit Reform" website featured as a model supporter, a doctor whose record was far from stellar.
 
In a Houston Chronicle column from September 30th, reporter Clay Robison turned up information that the doc in question has had multiple lawsuits and complaints filed against him. According to the article, the Texas Medical Board accused him of providing substandard care for seven patients over the years, and in one case, the Board reprimanded said doctor and fined him $7,500 for a misdiagnosis that may have cost a 16-year-old girl her leg. The doctor is now retired, with complaints still pending against him.

According to Robison, "None of his professional problems was mentioned on the TLR Web site, but his profile was removed last week, within an hour after I informed a TLR spokeswoman about them."
Source: 'Failure to do a background check backfired on group,' Houston Chronicle, September 30, 2007 
 

SEPTEMBER 2007
 
⇒Chamber Chatter.  President and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, “has repeatedly criticized Eliot Spitzer, [then] New York attorney general, who has brought prosecutions against brokerage firms, insurance companies and mutual funds.”
 
Said [now New York Governor] Spitzer, “I think he is a shill for guilty people, and Tom Donohue has never once found a crime that he couldn't justify, as long as it was committed by one of his dues-paying members.”  Source: Center for Justice & Democracy 'Spotlight on Justice'
   
⇒Drug Safety Study: Losing Ground:  The number of serious adverse events and deaths attributed to prescription medications has nearly tripled since the Food and Drug Administration initiated a system in 1998 to make it easier to report significant side effects according to the report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
 
Researchers at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Huntingdon Valley, found twenty percent of drugs accounted for 87% of adverse effects, and the biggest offenders were painkillers and drugs that modify the immune system to treat arthritis. "The clear finding is that we are losing ground in terms of drug safety, and that ought to be of great concern," said Thomas J. Moore who led the study.

Adverse events are those defined as resulting in death, a birth defect, disability, hospitalization or requiring intervention to prevent harm. The number of such events grew from 34,966 in 1998 to 89,842 in 2005. During the same period, the number of deaths rose from 5,519 to 15,105. 
Excerpted from: Adverse drug reactions rise sharply, study finds, LA Times, Thomas H. Maugh II, September 11, 2007
 
⇒Insurance Claims: 90% Good Hands, 10% Boxing Gloves.  Insurers often pay 30-60 percent of the cost of rebuilding a damaged home -- even when carriers assure homeowners they're fully covered, thousands of complaints with state insurance departments and civil court cases show.

Paying out less to victims of catastrophes has helped produce record profits. In the past 12 years, insurance company net income has soared -- even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
Excerpted from: Home Insurers' Secret Tactics Cheat Fire Victims, Hike Profits, 08/03/07, Bloomberg.com.
 
⇒Mattel's Definition of 'Timely'.   The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that manufacturers must report all claims of potentially hazardous product defects within 24 hours, with few exceptions.  Mattel Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Eckert said in an interview that the company discloses problems on its own timetable because it believes both the law and the commission's enforcement practices are unreasonable. Mattel said it should be able to evaluate hazards internally before alerting any outsiders, regardless of what the law says.

You have to put it in context," he said. Mattel isn't withholding anything from regulators, he said, adding that the only question is "whether we reported the issue in a timely manner."
Excerpted from: Safety Agency, Mattel Clash Over Disclosures, Wall Street Journal 9-4-2007 


 
AUGUST 2007
 
⇒#1 Reason for Responsible Alcohol Sales.  Texas led the country in the number of drunken driving fatalities last year with 1,354, statistics released Monday by the U.S. Department of Transportation show. According to the Department of Transportation, there were 13,470 deaths nationwide last year involving drivers and motorcyclists with blood levels of .08 or higher, the legal limit for adults in the U.S.   Excerpted from: 'Texas leads nation in drunken driving fatalities,'  Dallas Morning News (Wire Reports) 8-21-2007
 
⇒D'oh! It’s Medical Errors, Stupid…  "Medicare will no longer pay the extra costs of treating preventable errors, injuries and infections that occur in hospitals, a move they say could save lives and millions of dollars."

"If a patient goes into the hospital with pneumonia, we don't want them to leave with a broken arm," said Herb B. Kuhn, acting deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and it says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year - about 270 a day."

"Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, an expert on patient safety who was the top health official at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1994 to 1999, said: "I applaud the intent of the new Medicare rules, but I worry that hospitals will figure out ways to get around them. The new policy should be part of a larger initiative to require the reporting of health care events that everyone agrees should never happen. Any such effort must include a mechanism to make sure hospitals comply." Excerpted from: Medicare Says It Won't Cover Hospital Errors by Robert Pear, The New York Times, 8-19-2007

 ⇒Who's Watching the Watchers?  "The unfortunate news that another 9 million toys tainted with lead paint or dangerous small magnets were recalled on August 14 underscores many problems. First, parents should understand that the government itself does not test products to ensure that they comply with mandatory standards -- that's left up to manufacturers." 

" The CPSC lacks the leadership, the money, the staff and the legal authority it needs to protect us from dangerous imported or domestically-produced products. This should also serve as a wakeup call to Congress that the headless CPSC needs a safety-oriented chairperson, more money, more authority and more staff." Excerpted from U.S. PIRG: http://www.uspirg.org/issues/toy-safety

 ⇒Over 90% of TLR PAC Contributions Come From Just 6 Donors.  "Mark McCaig of Texans for Individual Rights. “Campaign finance reports filed this week by Texans for Lawsuit Reform reveal that that more than 90% of the contributions to their political action committee came from just six donors. Additionally, these reports reveal that nearly 40% of contributions to the TLR PAC during the reporting period came from homebuilders."

"Mark McCaig, President of Texans for Individual Rights, stated 'While Texans for Lawsuit Reform claims to be a grassroots organization with over 15,000 members, their campaign finance reports show them to be nothing more than a front group for a small group of wealthy businessmen.'” Source: Texans for Individual Rights Press Release, 7-19-2007

 ⇒Straight from the Horse’s Mouth.  An impressive survey of Texas district court judges, just published in the Baylor Law Review that addresses frivolous lawsuits, jury behavior and the need for “tort reform” found:

  • Over 83% of the Texas district court judges had observed not a single instance of a “runaway jury” verdict on either actual or exemplary damages during the preceding 48 months.

"The survey results confirm that most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of frivolous filings by people who have no business suing, and plaintiffs with legitimate suits are much more likely to be under compensated than to receive any windfall. Two primary goals for tort jurisprudence are for the victim to receive full compensation and to deter the tortfeasor, and when victims are not fully compensated and tortfeasors are not deterred, neither goal is met."  Excerpted from: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Judicial Observations of Jury Behavior and the Need for Tort Reform Baylor Law Review, [Vol. 59.2] 2007 


 JULY 2007

 ⇒Poll - hold corporations accountable.   The American Association for Justice distributed the following press release on July 12, 2007.  New Poll Reveals Voter Anxiety about Corporate Misconduct, Support for Strong Civil Justice System to Ensure Accountability and Fairness(Washington, DC)— A national poll of 2008 voters by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. reveals significant anxiety concerning corporate misconduct and large support among voters for a strong civil justice system to ensure corporate accountability and fairness. T he poll’s findings concludes:

  •  Americans are deeply worried about their nation’s future, and concern about corporate misconduct is a major source of their anxiety. “Worried swing voters,” who see corporate irresponsibility as a central problem, may play a pivotal role in the 2008 election.
  • Voters support the civil justice system as an important remedy for corporate misconduct, and reject legal “reforms” that restrict plaintiffs’ ability to hold corporations accountable and obtain fair restitution.
  • Voters will support candidates who defend the civil system over candidates who assail “frivolous lawsuits” and advocate “tort reform.” Pro-civil justice candidates not only command overwhelming support from swing voters, but also appeal to significant blocks of Republicans.

“This poll demonstrates overwhelming voter support for a civil justice system ensuring that those who have been injured by the wrongdoing or negligence of others can receive justice and fair compensation – even when taking on the most powerful interests,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber. “It shows wide support among voters for a vital civil justice system continuing to provide a level playing field for people to hold corporations accountable when they seek to evade responsibility for their misconduct.  Excerpt: American Association for Justice, press release on July 12, 2007

⇒Small-business owners don't lose sleep over frivolous lawsuits.  "Still, research by legal reform advocates suggests that most small-business owners don't lose sleep over frivolous lawsuits. A survey released in May by the Institute for Legal Reform found that more than half of small-business owners said they were "not too concerned" or "not at all concerned" about getting sued, and in 2006 members of the National Association of Manufacturers ranked fear of litigation last on a list of 10 factors hurting their businesses."  Excerpt: After the $54M Dry Cleaner Lawsuit,www.businessweek.com, July 9, 2007.