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December 2010

Care for a little lemon, lime or methane in your water? “The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an emergency order after it determined that a natural gas company's operations caused or contributed to the contamination of drinking water in Parker County.”

“It's the first confirmed case of its kind in the Barnett Shale.  …the EPA issued an emergency order to Range Resources…”

“The order alleges that natural gas from a Range Resources well…contaminated two private drinking water wells…"

The company has been ordered to supply the families with clean drinking water, as well as monitors inside their homes to assess methane levels.”

…Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carillo labeled the EPA's action as, “premature."

Excerpted from:  EPA acts after water contaminated by drilling by CHRIS HAWES, WFAA – DFW 12-7-10

Blame it on the rain. “Farmers Insurance filed for a 3.9 percent rate increase in homeowners insurance…”

“The rate hike is necessary to handle the increasing cost of claims in Texas, mostly related to weather losses, said Luis Sahagun, a spokesman for Farmers…”

Excerpted from: Farmers Insurance files for homeowners rate increase in Texas by TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News 11-23-2010

November 2010

Texas Beats Out Florida!  “Texas has reclaimed the distinction of having the most expensive homeowners insurance premiums in the nation, according to new figures from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners”.

“…with an average annual premium of $1,460 for the most common type of homeowners policy sold across the country”.

“Florida was second at $1,390, and the national average was $791. Only five states had average premiums higher than $1,000 a year”.

Excerpted from: Texans paying highest home insurance rates nationwide by TERRENCE STUTZ Dallas Morning News November 17, 2010

Probation Violation.  “An emotionally troubled 16-year-old living in a Manvel residential treatment center died after a restraint was applied in a closet by a staffer — just four days after the home was placed on probation by the state…”

“Michael Keith Owens’ death on Friday night occurred after a Daystar Residential Inc. staff worker tried to physically restrain him.”

"DPFS officials released a report by a Daystar monitor who was after hired by the state after a Tribune/Chronicle investigation in June found some 250 abuse incidents at residential treatment centers…"

“The monitor, Jeff Enzinna…left the facility two months ago. In his Sept. 2 report, Enzinna noted shortcomings with children’s care and pointed out the reliance on restraints. “From reviewing incoming documentation,” Enzinna wrote, “my impression was there was a frequent use of emergency personal restraint and emergency medications.”

“Enzinna also noted that Daystar relied upon a one-size-fits-all type of treatment for children at the facility. “Based upon chart reviews, the treatment plans for behavior problems are essentially the same for all clients,” Enzinna wrote.”

Excerpted from: After Monitor Departs, A Teenager Is Killed by Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune and Terri Langford, Houston Chronicle, November 9, 2010 

…only when it works.  "There is widespread acceptance of the idea that tort law and insurance are intimately related. The growth of liability insurance permitted the expansion of tort liability through the twentieth century, and the expansion of tort law in turn spurred the further development of liability insurance. The compensation objective of tort would not be served without the presence of insurance. First-party insurance obviates the need for tort in some circumstances and, through the collateral source rule, effectively funds contingent fees in other circumstances. And so on.”

“All of these ideas are based on the assumption that insurance works—that companies assess risks, insureds purchase policies against those risks, and the companies pay claims that are within coverage. Unfortunately, the facts about insurance are increasingly at odds with this assumption. Most companies pay out most claims most of the time, of course. But more and more, insurance companies deny valid claims in whole or part and force policyholders and tort victims to litigation to obtain the benefits to which they are entitled.”
Excerpted from: Guest Blogger Jay Feinman: Tort Law and the New Economics of Insurance (Jay Feinman is a  Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers-Camden), TortProf Blog November 1, 2010

October 2010

Dubious Distinction.  “In Texas we like being No. 1…”

“We've been paying among the highest homeowners insurance rates in the nation for as long as anyone can remember.”

The fact is that our current system of insurance regulation favors powerful insurance companies and their lobbyists over consumers and homeowners.”

“The insurance industry's "trust us" message just rings hollow. We've tried it that way; now we need to do it the right way. Maybe then we can truly lead the nation by guaranteeing real insurance protection that all Texans can afford. That would be something all Texans can really be proud of.”

Excerpted from: Op-ed: Consumers pay more while insurances companies sue by Alex Winslow, Fort Worth Star Telegram 10-26-2010 (N. Alex Winslow is executive director of Texas Watch, a statewide citizen advocacy organization.)

Drug pushers. “Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of their drugs.”

“But an investigation by ProPublica uncovered hundreds of doctors on company payrolls who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.”

“To vet the industry’s handpicked speakers, ProPublica created a comprehensive database that represents the most accessible accounting yet of payments to doctors.”

“A review of physician licensing records in the 15 most-populous states and three others found sanctions against more than 250 speakers, including some of the highest paid. Their misconduct included inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care or having sex with patients. Some of the doctors had even lost their licenses.”

“More than 40 have received FDA warnings for research misconduct, lost hospital privileges or been convicted of crimes.”

Excerpted from: Docs on Pharma Payroll Have Blemished Records, Limited Credentials by Charles Ornstein , Tracy Weber and Dan Nguyen, ProPublica, Oct. 18, 2010

Torture chamber. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is mounting a new legal attack on the Obama administration's regulatory…”

“Thomas Donohue, the chamber's president and chief executive, said…’Litigation is one of our most powerful tools for making sure that federal agencies follow the law and are held accountable…”

“The group on Thursday unveiled a new publicity drive with a strong anti-regulation theme, which is designed to complement its legal fight to blunt regulation.”

“…the chamber has been sharpening its knives to attack the administration's efforts to tighten oversight of health insurers, the financial industry, and greenhouse gases.”

Excerpted from: U.S. Chamber Pledges to Take Obama Policies to Court by Mark Hosenball, Reuters 10-7-10

A political centrifuge.  “During the worst of the economic crisis, the nation's most powerful business lobby pleaded with Congress to prop up financial institutions and stimulate the economy with hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money.”

"Make no mistake:… Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen," wrote Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president in September 2008, who at the time pressed lawmakers before their vote on a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.”

“Fast forward to the present. The chamber is now spending millions of dollars on ads trying to elect candidates whose campaigns are based on opposing the very bank rescue and stimulus law it once supported.”

“Not one of the political ads the chamber has rolled out across the country this year commends a lawmaker for voting for the stimulus bill and the bailout.”

Excerpted from: SPIN METER: Government austerity or bailouts? US Chamber of Commerce takes both sides by KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press, LA Times 10-4-10

It says PERSONAL responsibility, not CORPORATE responsibility, GEEZ… “An oil refinery here (Smackover Arkansas) owned by Martin Midstream Partners of Kilgore has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for lapses in safety measures at the plant, with proposed fines totaling $165,600.”

“…Martin plant at Smackover is accused of one willful and 21 serious violations of health and safety regulations. The release said the alleged willful violation was failure to maintain safety information on various pressure vessels used at the plant.”*

“ETALA (East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse) was the brainchild of Kilgoreite Ruben Martin back in 1992…”**

“ETALA…will encourage:  Personal responsibility…”***

*Excerpted from: OSHA cites Arkansas Martin Midstream plant, Associated Press 9-22-10
**Excerpted from the East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse website
***Excerpted from the East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse website

September 2010

Report that bed to the TMB! “…the Texas Supreme Court has narrowly ruled that hospital injuries seemingly unrelated to doctor error can still fall under the state’s stringent medical malpractice caps.”

“…The case centers on Irving Marks, who fell while recuperating from back surgery at Houston’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in 2000.  Marks alleged that a broken footboard on his hospital bed led to his fall and that he should be entitled to sue St. Luke’s for unlimited damages with a so-called “premises liability” claim.”

“Some legal observers say the Marks decision is a perversion of the intent of the Legislature’s health care liability reform. “If the Legislature had wanted to immunize doctors and hospitals from all tort liability, it could have done so," said David Anderson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “But it didn’t.”

Excerpted from: Bed-Mal by Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune 9-22-10

What’s that smell?  After years of so-so success, lawsuits against factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are gaining traction …

Individuals, families and small farmers living next to factory farms have been suing in droves over noxious odors wafting through their neighborhoods that they claim interfere with the use and enjoyment of their property.

The concentrated aspect of CAFOs means that thousands of animals are housed in the same operation. Their waste is shoveled into lagoons and later spread onto fields as fertilizer.

Excerpted from: Litigation against factory farms finds new momentum by Sylvia Hsieh, Lawyers Weekly USA 9-13-10

YUCKFederal officials investigating conditions at the two Iowa mega-farms whose products have been at the center of the biggest egg recall in U.S. history found filthy conditions, including chickens and rodents crawling up massive manure piles and flies and maggots "too numerous to count."

Food safety experts said conditions described in the reports are some of the worst they've seen in decades.  They found:

•Barns with dozens of holes chewed by rodents that mice, insects and wild birds used to enter and live inside the barns;

•Flies on and around the egg belts and hen feeders;

•Manure built up in 4- to 8-foot-tall piles in pits below the hen houses, in such quantities that it pushed pit doors open, allowing rodents and other wild animals access to hen houses;

•Dozens of hens, which had escaped their cages, roaming freely, tracking manure from the pit to other caged parts of the barns;

•Hen houses with significant structural damage and improper air ventilation systems.

Excerpted from: Filthy conditions found at egg producers By Andrew Zajac and P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times 8-31-10

August 2010

What would Judge Roy Bean do? “…our Texas Supreme Court more and more has demonstrated its contempt…for the judgment of citizens who hear the… facts related to legal disputes…In the recent case of Bennett v. Reynolds, eight…judges have sided with the judgment of their own over that of citizen jurors, all to the benefit of a cattle thief.”

“This Wild West story began in San Saba County where several of Mr. Reynolds’ cattle wandered over the line onto property belonging to a corporation run by Thomas O. Bennett, Jr.  Mr. Bennett directed employees…to gather up Mr. Reynolds’ cattle, take them to auction and sell them.

“The jury heard all of Mr. Bennett’s despicable conduct…they resorted to punishing Bennett and his corporation to the tune of $1,250,000 in punitive damages.”

“…Bennett promptly appealed to the Court of Appeals which dutifully upheld the judgment of the jurors and trial court.…Bennett appealed to our Texas Supreme Court.”

“After some mouthing about how Texas really didn’t like cattle rustlers, they [Texas Supreme Court] proceeded to reverse the jury verdict...  In effect, they let the cattle thief off the hook. Who would have thought it? A Texas high court deciding with the cattle rustlers against twelve jurors, tried and true!”

Excerpted from: Senator Carl Parker: The Texas Supreme Court Sides with Cattle Rustlers Over Jurors, Carl Parkerisms Blog, August 12, 2010

Doping“A Houston Chronicle review of medical board records from the past 2½ years showed that of 27 Houston-area doctors disciplined by the medical board for enterprises that authorities say resemble "pill mills," 17 have not been charged with crimes.”

“On the DEA website, the agency has posted a list of doctors across the U.S. it has investigated who were later convicted of drug scams since 2003. Only seven Texas physicians are cited, including two from Houston.”

“Federal investigators declined to comment on why charges had not been filed on other doctors recently disciplined by the medical board. In many cases, law enforcement has chosen the more expedient route of closing down a suspected pill mill by filing a complaint with the Texas Medical Board rather than seeking criminal charges…”

Excerpted from: Why so few 'pill mill' prosecutions? By CINDY HORSWELL, HOUSTON CHRONICLE August 15, 2010

Let us advocate for you or else…“Days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, a conservative nonprofit group called the Institute for Energy Research asked BP to contribute $100,000 for a media campaign it was launching in defense of the oil industry.”

“Although BP took a pass, the group's advocacy arm went ahead…only instead of defending BP, it vilified the company as a "safety outlier"... The campaign's Web site features dozens of images of the burning rig, oil-smeared birds and other environmental devastation from the spill.”

"BP is a victim of its own carelessness," the group's president, Thomas Pyle, wrote as part of the campaign's kickoff…”

“To backers of BP who were familiar with the discussions…it seemed an awful lot like a shakedown. The initial proposal contained no criticism of the British oil giant or its handling of the spill.”

“The case illustrates the murky world of advocacy-for-hire in Washington, where ideological groups wage stealth messaging campaigns with little disclosure of their funding or possible motives. Such arrangements rarely come to light since most advocacy groups are organized as nonprofits that do not have to disclose details about their donors.”
Excerpted from:  BP's fight against energy nonprofit highlights murky world of advocacy-for-hire By Dan Eggen, Washington Post 8-4-10

Voluntary Product Safety. “…when Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of [cereal], the company blamed elevated levels of a chemical [2-methylnaphthalene] in the packaging.”

“Dozens of consumers reported a strange taste and odor, and some complained of nausea and diarrhea. But Kellogg said a team of experts it hired determined that there was "no harmful material" in the products.”

“Federal regulators...are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene.”

“The information gap is hardly new. When the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, it exempted from regulation about 62,000 chemicals that were in commercial use -- including 2-methylnaphthalene. In addition, chemicals developed since the law's passage do not have to be tested for safety. Instead, companies are asked to volunteer information on the health effects of their compounds…”

Excerpted from: U.S. regulators lack data on health risks of most chemicals By Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, 8-2-2010

July 2010

Watch what you eat… "In Texas, Peanut Corp. of America operated a processing plant in Plainview that was not registered with — and therefore never inspected by — state health officials. Health officials eventually shut the plant because of unsanitary conditions."

"So far, the agency [Texas Department of State Health Services] has found about 350 companies that were not properly registered with the health department. But there's still a lot of looking to do to check whether some of the more than 55,000 businesses registered with the state comptroller manufacture or process food…."

Annual effects of food-borne pathogens in Texas:
•    6 million people get sick.
•    26,000 are hospitalized.
•    400 people die.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Texas Department of State Health Services

Salmonella cases in Texas
•    Before 2008: Texas had a yearly average of 3,000 to 3,500 salmonella cases.
•    In 2008, there were 4,500 cases.
Source: Texas Department of State Health Services

Excerpted from: Two years after peanut scare, little regulatory change, By Tim Eaton, Austin American Statesman 7-26-10

Run it, break it, fix it.  "A confidential survey of workers [commissioned by Transocean] on the Deepwater Horizon...before the oil rig exploded showed that many…were concerned about safety practices and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems.
…workers said that…they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

"Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, “which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance …
“Run it, break it, fix it,” another worker said. “That’s how they work.”

"Only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially “risky” situation without reprisal."
“This fear was seen to be driven by decisions made in Houston…”

“The company is always using fear tactics,” another worker said. “All these games and your mind gets tired.”

Excerpted from: Workers on Doomed Rig Voiced Concern About Safety By IAN URBINA,
New York Times 7-20-10

Please excuse our mess…“State auditors found muddled chains of command, incomplete or missing files and a massive backlog of cases when they dug into the enforcement process at the Division of Workers' Compensation…The audit is ongoing, but it supports the claims of former employees who exited the division this year amid complaints of stalled action on dozens of cases against physicians accused of abusing the system.”

“…hundreds of cases in which medical quality reviewers recommended doctors for sanction or removal from the system sit untouched, unsupervised or lost in a paperwork jungle. According to the audit, 81 cases were never logged, more than 20 percent of cases were closed without clear documentation, and 661 enforcement cases have been open for an average of 15 months without action. One case has been open since 2006, and more than 60 cases are assigned to staff members who were fired last year.”

Excerpted from: State Audit Finds Massive Backlog at Workers' Comp by Elise Hu, Texas Tribune 7-16-10

Doomed to repeat the past. “BP went on to invest more than $1 billion upgrading the Texas City refinery. Earlier this year, it said its recordable injury rate there had declined every year since 2005…”

“But OSHA, the federal overseer of workplace safety, tells a different story.”

“After a six-month inspection of the Texas City refinery last year, OSHA hit BP with an $87 million fine, the biggest in the agency's history. About $57 million of what OSHA describes as "failures to abate" hazards similar to those that caused the 2005 explosion, which killed 15 people.”

“The agency had inspected a refinery in Toledo, Ohio…in 2006, uncovering problems with pressure-relief valves. It ordered BP to fix the valves. Two years later, inspectors found BP had carried out requested repairs, but only on the specific valves OSHA had cited. The agency found exactly the same deficiency elsewhere in the refinery. OSHA ordered more fixes and imposed a $3 million fine."

Excerpted from: As CEO Hayward Remade BP, Safety, Cost Drives Clashed by GUY CHAZAN, BENOIT FAUCON and BEN CASSELMAN, WSJ 6-3010

Sir, your self-assurance is not reassuring.  “A shareholder proposal calling for Exxon Mobil to prepare a report regarding the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a technique widely used in completing natural gas wells, received 26.3 percent of shareholder votes.  Company management opposed the proposal, saying the practice is safe, despite concerns by environmental groups that it can potentially cause groundwater contamination…”

"Most of what's in those frack fluids are in many household products," Tillerson [Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO] said. "There's not anything in there that's particularly exotic."
Excerpted from: Exxon CEO defends offshore drilling, McClatchy 5-27-10

June 2010

Defining legitimate.  “If BP had not voluntarily agreed to pay compensation for purely economic losses, victims who were fortunate enough to avoid personal injury or property damage may have been out of luck in seeking redress in court. They would have to show much more than that BP was negligent in its operations.”

“Indeed, plaintiffs would have to grapple with restrictive notions of proximate causation and well entrenched rules that limit recovery for negligent interference with prospectively advantageous relationships. Whether purely economic losses were compensated could have had less to do with what the law requires than with bad publicity, good trial lawyering, political pressure and corporate responsibility. This is what lurks behind the word "legitimate."
Excerpted from: OP-ED - Tort laws would make it hard to win relief from BP by VINCENT R. JOHNSON, (Johnson is a professor at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio), Houston Chronicle 6-20-10

A fairy tale:  Once upon a time a walrus, a polar bear & a penguin lived in the Gulf of Mexico… “We would not have drilled the well the way they did,” said Rex W. Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil.”

“It certainly appears that not all the standards that we would recommend or that we would employ were in place,” said John S. Watson chairman of Chevron.”

“It’s not a well that we would have drilled in that mechanical setup,” said Marvin E. Odum, president of Shell.”

“After weaving for a bit, Mr. McKay [BP] said meekly: “We are sorry for everything the Gulf Coast is going through. We are sorry for that and for the spill.”

Although most of the Congressional fire was aimed at BP…the other executives came under criticism…particularly for the response plans that they prepared for a major spill in the gulf. The five companies submitted virtually identical plans to government regulators and to the committee. The 500-page document…refers to measures to protect walruses and gives a phone number for a marine biologist who died five years ago.

Excerpted from: Oil Executives Break Ranks in Testimony By JOHN M. BRODER, New York Times 6-16-10

Notoriously severe actualities.  "Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the Insurance Information Institute…will tell the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee….that a proposed increase in the limits for environmental liability from an oil spill….is beyond the capacity of the insurance industry.”

“Collectively, the impact could be less drilling…. These rigs could be relocated to some other part of the world where operating costs are lower.”

“He said that “raising the limit to $10 billion will significantly increase the demand for such coverage, and increase exponentially the risk and uncertainty…”

“The reason, Mr. Hartwig said, is that “very low probability but extreme severity events are notoriously difficult for insurers to underwrite.”
Excerpted from: Liability Cap Hike Could Drive Drillers Out of U.S. Waters By ARTHUR D. POSTAL National Underwriter - Property & Casualty, June 8, 2010

May 2010

Less risky in hindsight. “A trial judge should not have cut the contingency fee in a personal injury case from $6 million to $600,000, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held this week.”
“The reduction in attorneys’ fees “was much too steep a decrease,” Wilkinson wrote [Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote for the 4th Circuit panel], remanding the case to the federal court in Raleigh, N.C.”

“Successful outcomes often make risks seem less risky in hindsight than they were at the time, and the court should not have ignored those risks merely because at some later point in litigation the defendant found it in its interest to settle,” the opinion said.”

Excerpted from: 4th Circuit: Judge erred in slashing contingency fee, Baltimore Daily Record by Alan Cooper, May 19, 2010.

Fair and Objective or Weak and Ineffective.  “…the failure to seriously discipline rogue doctors [by TDI’s Division of Workers Compensation] over a period of several years has resulted in an open revolt by staff. The spiked cases are just a sample of the hundreds of cases reviewed over the years by physician fraud investigators Bill Nemeth, the worker's comp division's former medical advisor, and Ken Ford, its former assistant medical advisor. Nemeth quit serving as medical advisor in 2007, citing frustration over what he termed a lack of action on valid fraud cases. Ford resigned in March, after the termination of Lockhart and a nurse paralegal, Ronnie Glenn, who also was fired for “clandestine” research, records show. In April, the current medical advisor, Howard Smith, notified Bordelon he would be resigning at the end of May. Also leaving is Clark Watts, a doctor and attorney who reviewed cases as a consultant for the division.”
Excerpted from: The Workers' Comp Whistleblowers, Texas Tribune 5-12-10

Sue Baby Sue. “Sessions [Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama], probably the Senate's most ardent supporter of tort reform, found himself extolling the virtues of litigation -- against BP. "They're not limited in liability on damage, so if you've suffered a damage, they are the responsible party," said Sessions, sounding very much like the trial lawyers he usually maligns."

…"They're not too big to fail," Sessions said. "If they can't pay and they've given it everything they've got, then they should cease to exist."

Excerpted from: Dana Milbank: Through oil-fouled water, big government looks better and better, Washington Post 5-4-2010

April 2010

⇒Offshore fireball.  “Even before the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, government investigators had cited myriad potential safety violations involving fires aboard other offshore drilling rigs and platforms that resulted in more than 20 injuries and two deaths since 2007, records and statistics show.”

“Mark Tranfield, a consultant…who provides inspections and training for offshore companies worldwide, said he believes lax rules and less coordinated enforcement in the Gulf of Mexico create a more potentially dangerous…”
European countries established tougher safety rules and mandatory training…when the Piper Alfa production platform blew up in the North Sea, killing 167, Tranfield and others said.
“You have all these regulations in the rest of the world, and in the United States, there's nothing,” Tranfield said.”

Excerpted from: Many potential fire violations found offshore, By LISE OLSEN Houston Chronicle, 4-27-2010

Talk about bad timing. . “Amid accusations that it defrauded investors, Goldman Sachs is set to pay more than £3.5 billion ($5.4 billion) in compensation to its staff for the first three months of the year, The Times of London reported”.

“The report comes after a civil lawsuit filed against Goldman last Friday contained damaging allegations whose reverberations are just beginning to be felt. In the lawsuit, the Securities and Exchange Commission contends that Goldman misled investors who bought a mortgage-related instrument known as Abacus 2007-AC1 by not disclosing that the security was devised to fail”.

Excerpted from: Goldman Said to Pay $5.4 Billion in Compensation, NYT 4-19-10

The Neighborhood Bully. “To leading lawmakers and even some insurance industry experts, State Farm hasn't exactly been like a good neighbor in recent dealings with state regulators.”

“The state's largest property insurer shows no sign of compromising on its marathon legal battle over the state's ruling that it overcharged homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars”.

“The insurer – which had an improved bottom line in 2009, according to figures released by the state – has yet to pay a penny to policyholders.”

“After filing twice in eight months to increase rates, company officials gave a cold shoulder last month to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin, who suggested State Farm needed to give its customers a break.”

“…State Farm will take Geeslin and the TDI to court in an effort to keep the agency from publicizing documents related to the rate spikes, which represent a statewide increase of 13 percent.”

“One industry insider with close ties to many legislators said he was "amazed at how belligerent State Farm has been in dealing with the Insurance Department." He also voiced concern that the disagreements could lead to legislation next year that would put a tighter grip on insurance company premiums.”
Excerpted from:  State Farm stiff-arms Texas regulators, but insurer says it's protecting clients By TERRENCE STUTZ, Dallas Morning News April 13, 2010

⇒Wrecking a dismal safety record.  "The blast happened on Monday afternoon…, killing 25 people."

"The cause of the explosion is still unknown but a build-up of methane gas, mixed with coal dust, is the likely culprit.

Massey Energy…has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars this past year for repeated violations . They have been given 122 violations so far in 2010, 58 last month alone. The company's CEO Don Blankenship says, "this particular mine has had more violations than some of the others, but hasn't had a loss-time accident until these fatals this year." Excerpted from:  West Virginia Governor Maps Out Mine Rescue Mission, (ABC) 4-7-10

March 2010

⇒TDI v. The Good Neighbor.  “An unprecedented move by the Texas Department of Insurance to publicize recent rate hikes by State Farm Insurance sparked a legal challenge from the company…”

“The legal action followed the Insurance Department's decision to post on its Web site two State Farm rate proposals – filed over the last eight months – that increase homeowner premiums an average of 13 percent for the company's 1.2 million Texas customers.”

[Department spokesman Jerry Hagins] “Hagins said the decision to publicize State Farm's rates is partly the result of the company filing increases so close together – a move that state regulators warned could cause "instability" in the home insurance market.”

"We're disappointed that we've encountered resistance from State Farm on this," Hagins said.” 
Excerpted from:  State Farm sues Texas over Web posting of its rate hike requests By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News, March 31, 2010

May I have some regulation with my salad?  “Food-borne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion a year…an average cost of $1,850 each time someone gets sick from food, a report by a former Food and Drug Administration economist says.” [Robert Scharff, a former FDA regulatory economist and now a professor of consumer science at Ohio State University.]

“The costs include medical services, deaths, lost work and disability. They are based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA.”

“Scharff hopes policymakers can use his methodology to determine which regulations would give the biggest bang for the buck…," he says.”

“…consumers are spending $85 billion on the consequences of unsafe food for every $1 billion the government is spending to prevent it," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety coordinator for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.”
Excerpted from: USA pays price for food-borne illness: $152B a year by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, March 4, 2010

⇒No end in sight.  “The number of middle-class Texans without health insurance increased 41 percent between 2000 and 2008, with nearly 500,000 middle-class workers no longer covered through their job or private insurance, according to a study released today by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation”.

“Insurance premiums for family coverage rose 76 percent in Texas between 2000 and 2008, while median income in the state declined 4 percent. Nationwide, costs for a family insurance policy rose 81 percent while income fell 2.5 percent”.

Excerpted from: Middle-class Texans slammed by loss of health insurance by Dianna Hunt, Fort Worth Star Telegram 3-17-10

Baiting-and-switching. “The Toyota situation should be a wake-up call for Texas policymakers: The decades-long campaign by insurance companies and multinational corporations to shift responsibility for consumer protection away from independent judges and common-sense juries…has put families at risk in their workplaces, on the highways and in our healthcare system”.

“…when patients' legal rights were severely restricted…by the [Texas]Legislature in 2003, an office of patient protection was created. It was a bait-and-switch. The agency's funding never materialized, and two years later the office was shut down entirely before it ever had a chance to help a single patient”.

Excerpted from: Op-ed - Texas must stop protecting public safety on the cheap by N. Alex Winslow (Texas Watch), Fort Worth Star Telegram 3-11-10

⇒Advice: Take your own toothbrush & toothpaste & aspirin & soap…“…a consumer advocate with Medical Billing Advocates of America, looks at medical bills for a living. Among the excessive charges she's seen: A patient in Florida was billed $140 dollars for one Tylenol pill; a patient in South Carolina was billed $1,000 for a tooth brush…”

“Consider this: For every dollar the nation spends on health care, 50 cents is wasted.”

“According to a 2008 report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper's Health Research Institute, wasteful spending accounts for $1.2 trillion of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care in the United States.”

Excerpted from: Health care industry sick with medical waste by John Bonifield, CNN Medical Producer, March 3, 2010

February 2010

⇒Preventable Harm. “Nearly 50,000 US medical patients die every year of blood poisoning or pneumonia they picked up in hospital, a study has shown…according to the study, led by researchers from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy at Washington-based Resources for the Future [published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.]”

“...the two hospital-acquired infections -- also called nosocomial infections -- account for about one-third of the 1.7 million infections US patients pick up every year while in hospital…”

“They are also responsible for nearly half of the 99,000 deaths a year from hospital-acquired infections reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Excerpted from: Infections in US hospitals kill 48,000, cost billions, UPI February 23, 2010

⇒The cost of no oversight. "When [state] investigators do cite facilities for serious problems, nursing home operators rarely face sanctions. In some cases, the state repeatedly threatened to suspend or revoke the licenses of facilities with chronic problems, yet Texas rarely took action against those nursing homes.

DADS [Department of Aging and Disability Services] also is failing to enforce a state law that requires nursing homes to report details about every resident who dies. State officials are supposed to analyze the fatality reports to publicize problems and trends, but that research isn't being done.

Meanwhile, serious complaints against nursing homes have increased in Texas. Complaints about problems that put residents in “immediate jeopardy,” the most serious type of complaint, rose 26 percent since 2006, to more than 950. Complaints of “actual harm,” the second most urgent type of complaint, rose by 10 percent since 2006, to nearly 6,300."

Excerpted from: Slow action on nursing home problems by Karisa King, John Tedesco & Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, San Antonio Express News, 2-14-10

⇒Well Said. “…let's all stipulate that "tort reform" is one of the most blatantly anti-democrat concepts to have hit the legal system in the past century. It takes control over damage awards in many civil cases away from local judges and juries and gives them to state politicians, who often are just shills for their corporate campaign contributors and lobbyists. It protects corporations from punishment for their worst excesses. It diminishes good incentives for corporate carefulness and increases bad incentives for shoddy work and services.“
Excerpted from: Tort Reform Is Anti-Democratic (And Ingeniously Marketed) by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic 2-10-10

Calculating Medicine’s ERA.  “Electronic medical records that follow patients from doctor to doctor. Hospitals with instantaneous online access to lab results and health histories. Disease researchers with a state’s worth of field data at their fingertips. It all hinges on a single question: Can Texas physicians go paperless?”

“Some doctors are embracing e-records technology on their own. Others are being brought around to it…They’ve got a powerful coalition…urging them on — and laying the foundation for an electronic superhighway for Texas medical records.”

“Right now, baseball managers have more statistics, more data, on their players than doctors do about their patients,” says Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Health Alliance, the chief advocacy group for the Texas e-records initiative. “For performance, for quality, for efficiency, for research, the doctors, the labs, the hospitals need to be able to exchange information.” Excerpted from:  Paperless Medicine by Emily Ramshaw, Texas Tribune 1-28-10

 January 2010

Technology + Radiation - Regulation = Failure to Protect Patients.  “At a 2007 conference on radiation safety, medical physicists…warn[ed] that radiation oncology “does indeed face a crisis.” The gap between advancing technology and outdated safety protocols leaves “physicists and radiation oncologists without a clear strategy for maintaining the quality and safety of treatment…”

“Government regulators have been slow to respond. Radiation accidents are chronically underreported, and a patchwork of laws to protect patients…are weak or unevenly applied, creating an environment where the new technology has outpaced its oversight…”

“In this largely unregulated marketplace, manufacturers compete by offering the latest in technology, with only a cursory review by the government…Radiation-generating machines are so ubiquitous that used ones are even sold on eBay.”  Excerpted from: As Technology Surges, Radiation Safeguards Lag by Walt Bogdanich New York Times 1-27-10

Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.  “A legal loophole could be letting gas drillers inject fluids with high levels of benzene into the ground in gas-rich regions such as North Texas' Barnett Shale, a study by an environmental group finds.”

“Although Congress regulated the use of fluids containing diesel fuel to extract gas from the ground, many other petroleum distillates that are not restricted have far higher benzene levels and pose a greater risk to people, the report [Drilling Around the Law] by the Environmental Working Group said.”

"Companies are basically doing an end run around the law," said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the Environmental Working Group…”

"…a spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission, said in an e-mail that the agency does not ask drilling companies operating in Texas what is in the fluids they inject into the ground…"  Excerpted from: Loophole lets gas drillers inject chemical; Texas official says water untainted By Randy Lee Loftis, Dallas Morning News 1-20-2010.

 Junk Science or Junk Lawsuit?  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is considering a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency challenging EPA's plans to regulate greenhouse gases, according to chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.”

“Asked at a news conference today whether the chamber would sue EPA to roll back its recent decision that greenhouse gases are pollutants that endanger public health and the environment, Donohue said, "Maybe."  Excerpted from: Chamber of Commerce Considering EPA Lawsuit, by Kenneth T. Walsh,  US News & World Report, 1-12-2010

  ⇒$weet Revenge.  "From costlier checking accounts to higher credit card fees, banks are scrambling to find ways to compensate for…revenue that could be lost because of the tougher rules and requirements.

"This isn't about a money grab," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president for government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable…

And because banks will no longer be able to jack up people's credit card rates willy-nilly, he said, that will expose issuers to more risk, thus creating more costs.

That's one way of looking at it. Another is that banks are cheesed because lawmakers are showing some uncharacteristic backbone when it comes to consumer protection, and they're turning the screws because, well, they can."  Excerpted from: Banks take revenge for new consumer rules by columnist David Lazarus, LA Times 1-6-10