Update on Sidewalk Safety & Injury Liability in New York

With the return of winter weather, the New York City Department of Buildings issued a reminder last week to all property owners, landlords and businesses to clear sidewalks adjacent to their property of snow and ice. NYC Administrative Code 16-123 requires that property owners and landlords who are in charge of any building or lot in the city next to a paved sidewalk remove snow, ice, dirt, fallen leaves, branches and any other debris from the sidewalk within four hours of its appearance. If removal is unsafe or will cause damage to the pavement, the owner is still expected to lay sand, sawdust or another appropriate material down and clean the sidewalk as soon as weather permits.

Unfortunately, each year throughout the five boroughs,
thousands of pedestrians are injured when they fall on slippery sidewalks, suffering from traumatic brain injuries, paralysis,
spinal injuries, broken bones, fractures and damage
to nerves and cartilage – especially in vulnerable joints
like knees, elbows, wrists and shoulders.

Unfortunately, each year throughout the five boroughs, thousands of pedestrians are injured when they fall on slippery sidewalks, suffering from traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, spinal injuries, broken bones, fractures and damage to nerves and cartilage – especially in vulnerable joints like knees, elbows, wrists and shoulders. While many of these instances can be attributed to a loss of balance or footing, they can also be caused by the failure of property owners or managers to take necessary safety measures. In addition to the temporary hazards caused by weather, pedestrians are also at risk of injury from an even more common cause of slip and fall accidents: sidewalk defects including cracks, uneven planes, patchwork repairs, missing sections, improper slopes and exposed tree roots as well as hardware defects like poorly installed grates. According to TRIP, a transportation research group based in Washington DC, New York City also has the 6th worst pothole problem of all cities in the United States.

“…In 2003 responsibility for sidewalk injury liability shifted
from the city to property owners. Property owners and landlords must now be able to demonstrate that sidewalks adjoining their premises as well as pedestrian ramps and parking lots are regularly inspected, well-maintained and free of defects.”

While accidents cannot always be prevented, The Department of Transportation has a list of specifications that must be followed by property owners in order to provide reasonably safe sidewalk conditions. Duties include removal of snow and ice, upkeep, fixing broken, uneven and cracked pavement and tending to raised grating that could cause a pedestrian to fall. Previously, the City of New York was responsible for maintaining sidewalks but in 2003 responsibility for sidewalk injury liability shifted from the city to property owners. Property owners and landlords must now be able to demonstrate that sidewalks adjoining their premises as well as pedestrian ramps and parking lots are regularly inspected, well-maintained and free of defects. They must “install, construct, repave, reconstruct or repair” sidewalks to New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications – at their own expense. This change has made it easier for injured individuals to seek compensation for medical costs and other expenses associated with a slip and fall injury when negligence is involved. While the DOT Sidewalk Repair Program replaces more than 2 million square feet of sidewalk each year, they now focus most of this work on city-owned property and only address about 1% of the city’s total sidewalk area each year. DOT relies on property owners to maintain the rest of the sidewalks.

Prior to 2003, in order to file a claim against the city, an individual was required to give actual notice of the defect: written proof that the property owner knew of the condition for a sufficient enough time to have fixed it.

Now only constructive notice is required: proof that the condition existed long enough for the property owner to be aware of it. Property owners are also now required to purchase insurance for personal injury and property damage resulting from improper sidewalk maintenance.

when injury could have been prevented by proper maintenance, the victim may receive compensation for medical expenses and other costs associated with the incident.

Of course, not all slip and fall accidents are a result of property owner negligence, but when injury could have been prevented by proper maintenance, the victim may receive compensation for medical expenses and other costs associated with the incident. Anyone who suffers a trip and fall due to poor maintenance by a property owner should get prompt medical assistance and report what caused the fall immediately. Waiting for too long often means there are no witnesses and no documentation of treatment sought at the time of the accident.

If you or someone you know has suffered from injuries due to unsafe conditions on sidewalks and parking lots, the experienced New York attorneys at Okun, Oddo & Babat can help you. Don’t hesitate to contact us or call us at 212.642.0950 to discuss your case.

Additional Resource: http://www.nyc.gov/html/law/html/home/home.shtml

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Dangerous Drugs: Fluoroquinolone Side Effects

Used to treat mild to moderate bacterial infections, fluoroquinolones
are among the most highly prescribed medications in the United States.

When 33 year old Manhattan resident and Website Manager for the City College of New York Lloyd Balch sought medical attention for a fever and cough in April 2013, his doctor deduced from a chest x-ray that he had a mild case of pneumonia. Bach was given a popular antibiotic, Levaquin and shortly thereafter developed severe pain in his joints and vision problems. Balch continued taking the medication and soon became unable to walk uphill and see clearly. He experienced ringing in his ears, tingling in his hands and feet, uncontrollable shaking and muscle spasms. Doctors who have studied the risks of Levaquin say reactions like Balch’s are not unusual for users of fluoroquinolone antibiotics.

Used to treat mild to moderate bacterial infections, fluoroquinolones are among the most highly prescribed medications in the United States. In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported approximately 23.1 million prescriptions, with an additional 3.8 million hospital patients treated with them via injection. Fluoroquinolones include Cipro, Avelox, Noroxin and Levaquin – the latter being the bestselling antibiotic in 2010. By 2012, however, Levaquin was also the subject of more than 2,000 lawsuits by patients who had experienced severe side effects.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes damage to the nerves that send information from the brain to the spinal cord and throughout the rest of the body.

In August 2013, the FDA issued a notice requiring drug labels and medication instructions for all fluoroquinolone antibacterial drugs to more accurately describe the serious side effect of peripheral neuropathy (PN) experienced by many users. According to the Mayo Clinic, Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes damage to the nerves that send information from the brain to the spinal cord and throughout the rest of the body. Usually occurring in the arms or legs, symptoms include pain, tingling, numbness or changes in sensation of pain, temperature or body position.

Development of PN is only a risk when fluoroquinolones are taken orally or by injection; topical formulations applied to the eyes or ears are not known to cause nerve damage. Symptoms of PN may occur soon after the drug is taken and can last for months or years after use is suspended or may even be permanent.Fluoride, a known neurotoxin, is a central component of fluoroquinolones and can penetrate into very sensitive tissues, entering the brain and damaging the central nervous system. Doctors at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have expressed concern that fluoroquinolones are often prescribed unnecessarily to patients without considering less risky alternatives. Meant for serious, life-threatening bacterial infections, they are frequently prescribed for earaches, bronchitis, urinary infections and other ailments that may go away without treatment or with less potent drugs.

…patients taking fluoroquinolone antibiotics were five times more likely to suffer potentially blinding retinal detachment, kidney failure and tendonitis.

The risks don’t end with nerve damage: In an April 2013 study at the University of British Columbia, Pharmacological Epidemiologist Mahyar Etminian found that patients taking fluoroquinolone antibiotics were five times more likely to suffer potentially blinding retinal detachment, kidney failure and tendonitis. Dr. Etminian expressed concern as well, asserting that the drugs are overused by “lazy doctors who are trying to kill a fly with an automatic weapon.” The American Thoracic Society has issued drug use guidelines that specify fluoroquinolones should not be prescribed as a go-to treatment for non-life threatening conditions, including community-acquired pneumonia. Had Lloyd Balch and other patients harmed by fluoroquinolones known about the risk factors and alternatives, they may have requested a different treatment.

When fluoroquinolone antibiotics are offered for mild conditions
like sinus, urinary tract or ear infections
without any proposed alternatives,
physicians may be negligent in prescribing them
and may be found responsible for resulting pain and suffering.

…it is also a health care professional’s responsibility to provide this information.

Many patients don’t see the mandated FDA warnings on packaging and are not notified by doctors of the potential side effects. While it is always wise to ask about associated risks and possible alternatives when starting drug treatment, it is also a health care professional’s responsibility to provide this information. To avoid further injuries and additional lawsuits, drug manufacturers are now warning patients about fluoroquinolones but, given their potential to harm, it is important that physicians also take the time to discuss their use with patients.When fluoroquinolone antibiotics are offered for mild conditions like sinus, urinary tract or ear infections without any proposed alternatives, physicians may be negligent in prescribing them and may be found responsible for resulting pain and suffering.

Okun Oddo & Babat specializes in Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence claims. Contact us today or call or call us at 212.642.0950 to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced New York attorneys.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Antipsychotics Prescribed For Elderly Patients

The world’s eighth largest drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, agreed to pay as much as $2.2 billion earlier this month to settle US probes into the marketing of antipsychotic drugs – including Risperdal – to older adults, children and the disabled. According to a New York Times article The Justice Department has determined that the company promoted psychiatric medications for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and may have even offered incentives for physicians to frequently prescribe them.

This latest lawsuit kindles concerns
that antipsychotics are being widely and
improperly prescribed to millions of Americans each year.

The American Chemical Society, based in Washington DC published that Antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal work by blocking dopamine, the chemical in the brain that contributes to high risk behaviors. Use of antipsychotics nearly tripled in the past two decades in the United States, with more than 16 million annual prescriptions for drugs such as Abilify, Clozaril and Seroquel. According to a study by Stanford University in 2008, more than half of prescriptions were for “off-label” use not approved safe and effective by the FDA. This latest lawsuit kindles concerns that antipsychotics are being widely and improperly prescribed to millions of Americans each year.

Particularly worrisome is the use of antipsychotics to treat vulnerable patients, including elderly nursing home residents. The federal government alleges that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries promoted the use of the Risperdal for elderly patients with dementia, despite evidence that this would increase their risk of stroke, weight gain and diabetes. According to an audit by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare claims were filed for antipsychotic drugs for 1 in 7 nursing home residents over the age of 65, with 83% attributed to off-label use.  Antipsychotic drugs are increasingly used to treat problems related to dementia in older adults, though the medication has proven more effective for sufferers of schizophrenia and can cause serious side effects.

Antipsychotics are not the only drugs that are commonly misprescribed among the elderly. In 2011, a study published by the British Medical Journal suggested that the prescription of antidepressants may need to be reevaluated as well. The study showed that adults over 65 who took newer generation antidepressants – known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) including Prozac and Zoloft –  had a greater risk of having a stroke, seizures and higher salt levels in the blood than those who took older medications, known as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). These findings are contrary to the prevailing view that SSRIs are safer than TCAs.

In 2012, antidepressants were tied to a higher risk of falls
for nursing home residents, especially those with dementia. 

While antipsychotics are used to manage psychosis symptoms related to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, antidepressants are used to treat disorders like depression or anxiety and are intended to alter mood. As with antipsychotics, the use of antidepressants has increased since 1990 and has been a subject of much debate. Medical News Today reported that in 2012, antidepressants were tied to a higher risk of falls for nursing home residents, especially those with dementia.

Although all prescription medications can have adverse side effects, physicians and drug manufacturers have an ethical obligation to disclose the associated risks and potential
alternatives to patients or family members.

The American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy reported in 2011 that nearly 50% of nursing home residents are given antidepressants, though there is little knowledge available regarding how antidepressants are prescribed. Many may be dispensed solely on the basis of nurses’ observations or patient’s behavior rather than a proper diagnosis by a doctor.
Although all prescription medications can have adverse side effects, physicians and drug manufacturers have an ethical obligation to disclose the associated risks and potential alternatives to patients or family members.

The prevalence of lawsuits associated with antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs sends a strong message to drug manufacturers that they must practice full disclosure regarding the possible side effects, uses and abuses of psychiatric medications – and practitioners should exercise much greater caution in prescribing them.

Okun Oddo & Babat specializes in Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligenceclaims. Contact us today or call or call us at 212.642.0950 to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced New York attorneys.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Construction Site Injuries, West Side, Manhattan

Four people, including three pedestrians and a firefighter, were injured recently when construction paneling collapsed from a West 40th Street building in Manhattan, sending debris on to the sidewalk below. Earlier that day, the New York City Department of Buildings issued a warning to all workers, contractors and property owners to secure project sites due to anticipated wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour.

Department of Building inspectors on the scene have since found that while strong winds were a factor in the incident, a construction fence meant to secure the materials was not installed properly, according to a CBS News source. Einstein Construction Group, the Texas-based contractor working on the building, received several violations and a stop-work order, though the company head insists they were not responsible.

In New York, site employees injured in construction accidents
can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits
through the Workers’ Compensation Board.
If the negligence of an individual or organization contributed to the accident, they may also file a third-party injury accident claim.

Filled with obvious and hidden safety hazards, construction sites are among the most dangerous work environments in the US, posing serious risks to both workers and non-workers in the area. Although site managers and employees are trained to maintain safe conditions, thousands of people are injured or killed on or near construction sites each year by falling debris, unstable platforms, large machinery and hazardous materials – including exposed wires and gas lines, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Those injured on construction sites are typically workers, with OSHA reporting that US construction workers suffered almost 93,00 injuries on the job in 2009 and continue to incur the most fatal injuries of any occupation.  In New York City, the Bureau of Labor Statistics sites construction as the second-most dangerous industry, surpassed in fatalities only by the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

The recent construction accident illustrates how dangerous – and unpredictable — construction sites can be for non-workers as well. Many projects, including those in the populated five boroughs, take place in high traffic areas where pedestrians are walking through, around or below construction activity. Another incident in early October 2013 put pedestrians at significant risk when a crane malfunctioned at a midtown Manhattan high-rise, leaving 13,500 pounds of concrete hanging 30 stories above the street for several hours. Fortunately, workers were able to lower the load to the ground manually and no one was injured.

Both recent incidents in Midtown have been attributed by site managers to faulty equipment and dangerous weather conditions. However, as is often the case, they may have been prevented or alleviated by following standard safety regulations including those mandated by the state and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Inspection requirements, job safety programs and federal and state laws all seek to prevent accidents on construction sites and promote safety awareness. While not always the case, injuries at or around sites can be caused by the negligence of a third party who has failed to follow regulations.

In New York, site employees injured in construction accidents can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits through the Workers’ Compensation Board. If the negligence of an individual or organization contributed to the accident, they may also file a third-party injury accident claim. However, when a non-worker is injured, their only option for compensation may be a personal injury lawsuit. Construction accidents involving bystanders are handled in much the same way as other personal injury cases. The injured party files a lawsuit against the responsible party – whether it is an individual worker or employer, contractor, site manager, property owner or the manufacturer of equipment — and must prove that their negligence caused the accident and resulting injuries.

If you or someone you know has suffered from injuries or loss of life involving a construction site accident in New York, the experienced New York attorneys at Okun, Oddo & Babat can help you. Don’t hesitate to contact us or call us at 212.642.0950 to discuss your case.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

The Current State of e-discovery and Social Media Websites

In September 2012, Twitter gave a sealed document to a New York criminal court containing three months worth of tweets and data from an Occupy Wall Street protester’s Twitter account. Both the defendant, charged with disorderly conduct, and Twitter filed motions to stop the subpoena but were denied by the judge.

The case has led Twitter to seek a finding in higher court to deny responsibility for users’ posts and avoid future subpoenas – and has led to much discussion among court and government officials regarding discovery of litigation evidence on social media websites. Discovery is the process by which each party in a lawsuit can learn what evidence the opposing side has relevant to the dispute in preparation for trial. In 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil procedure recognized “electronic discovery” or “e-discovery” as the legal term for the process of identifying and collecting electronically stored information (ESI) as evidence, including emails, documents, databases, audio and video files, website content – and social media data.

Those in the justice system familiar with the current state of e-discovery share a consensus that officials should act now to ensure that the process is handled expertly and inexpensively going forward. In a 2010 report, Electronic Discovery in the New York States Court, the NYS Unified Court expressed concern about the cost and lack of consistency in handling e-discovery. They noted that ESI is often more difficult to identify and preserve than hardcopy evidence and can be modified or deleted, so new spoliation of evidence laws are needed. In early 2013, the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules met to discuss and propose new e-discovery rules that would better standardize the processes involved in obtaining electronic information.

All forms of social media, including posts and messages on Twitter, Facebook and other popular sites, have complicated legal discovery. According to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 50% of Facebook users desire to keep data regarding their relationships, communications, photos and interests private. Many individuals assume that what they post is protected by privacy laws and is not discoverable, though the reality is courts continue to find that individuals generally do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy on social media sites — regardless of their privacy settings.

Recently, Governor Cuomo signed a bill amending New York’s protective order statute, allowing individuals who are not party to a lawsuit to object to discovery of evidence associated with them. While ESI and social media discovery concerns were not behind this decision, it will certainly have an impact on what is considered discoverable in online communities. For example, an individual involved in a child support case claims a low income. In a private Facebook message, a friend mentions an expensive trip they took together recently. With this new ruling, if this message is discovered as evidence in the case and the friend is subpoenaed, he would have the right to object.

Every minute, social media users create massive amounts of data. According to Founder & CEO of Domo.com Josh James, Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content; Tumblr blog owners publish 27,778 new posts; YouTube users upload 48 hours of new video; Foursquare users perform 2,083 check-ins; Flickr users add 3,125 new photos, and Instagram users share 3,600 new photos.

Clearly, as social media sites increase in popularity, so does the need to address issues of e-discovery and preservation of social media data. As court and government officials become more aware of the need for standardized rules in the process, so too should the over one billion social media users gain a better understanding of what they should – and should not—share in online communities.

Additional Sources:
www.americanbar.org 
www.pewinternet.org 

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Type 2 Diabetes Risk: Antipsychotic Drugs and Children

The use of second generation antipsychotic drugs (SGAs) appears to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes in children, according to a 2001-2008 study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. While it was previously known that SGAs could double adult users’ chances of developing diabetes, the study suggests that children who are prescribed them are three times as likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this year, the study examined the state-provided, anonymous medical records of approximately 43,000 youth under 24 years of age in Tennessee. About 29,000 were recent initiators of SGAs while 14,000 matched controls were receiving other treatments. Researchers found an estimated 16 additional cases of Type 2 diabetes per 10,000 children taking antipsychotic drugs for one year, with increased risk from cumulative dose.
SGAs, also referred to as atypical antipsychotics, are used in the treatment of severe mental health conditions including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and mania. By altering the effects of natural chemicals in the brain including serotonin and dopamine, they regulate mood, emotions, sleep, appetite and other aspects of behavior. While side effects vary by individual drug, SGAs generally cause weight gain, changes in blood sugar level and increase in insulin resistance which all heighten the risk of diabetes.

The use of antipsychotic drugs in children is becoming more and more common. Since 2002, prescriptions for patients under 17 years of age have increased 65% — from 2.9 million to 4.8 million—according to the US Food & Drug Administration. While the FDA has approved SGAs such as Abilify and Seroquel for treatment of schizophrenia, many young people are now prescribed them for bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression and other mood disorders when other psychiatric medications including antidepressants, lithium and psychostimulants are available.

The researchers in the AHRQ study excluded any children who suffered from conditions that could only be treated by SGAs, noting that all those involved were taking antipsychotics for non-psychosis related mood, attention or behavioral disorders. Dr. Wayne Ray, professor of Preventive Medicine and a senior author of the study, said the findings should make doctors more cautious about prescribing antipsychotics to children. “If it turns out that the child does ultimately need an antipsychotic, they should be carefully monitored for metabolic effects and the dose should be as low as possible for the shortest amount of time,” he said. Given the additional risk, why would a doctor choose to prescribe SGAs when alternative treatments are available? One Rutgers University study in 2010 found that children from low income families receiving Medicaid are four times as likely as the privately insured to be prescribed anti-psychotic medication because they do not have access to the best known alternatives: cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling.

In July,16 State Medicaid directors released a study recommending states require second opinions, outside consultations and other methods to ensure SGAs are not improperly prescribed. Some states including Florida and California have already put laws in place restricting doctors from dispensing SGAs to children. Without authorization from the state, children younger than 3 in Texas cannot receive antipsychotics and Arkansas now requires parents to give informed consent before a child is prescribed an anti-psychotic drug.

Additional Sources:
www.ahrq.gov
www.fda.gov

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

The SUM Bill and Insurance Law

In June 2012, the New York State Legislature passed an amendment to the Insurance Law that would protect car insurance policyholders and their loved ones from injuries caused by uninsured and underinsured drivers. The SUM bill requires that a driver’s SUM insurance limit match their liability coverage — unless the driver chooses to decline the cost of the added protection. The amendment was later vetoed by Governor Cuomo in December 2012.

In New York State, drivers are currently required to carry 25/50/10 in bodily injury and property damage liability on their policy. This means that $25,000 is the maximum amount payable for bodily injury per person; $50,000 is the maximum payable per accident; and $10,000 is the maximum payable for property damage including the other driver’s vehicle as well as street signs, buildings, light posts, etc.

If an accident is deemed your fault, in theory your insurance policy will compensate any parties injured by your carelessness. The problem occurs when the negligent party has little or no insurance on the car. Often the most dangerous drivers have low policies because risk-factors (including previous accidents, speeding citations and DWIs) have given them high premium rates. Others are just trying to save money by lowering their insurance coverage; NY is 4th in the nation for auto insurance costs according to a 2013 report by the Insurance Information Institute.

Whatever the reason, many individuals are paying the minimum of $25,000 – hardly enough to cover a serious accident. In 2010, the National Safety Council reported the average cost of an accident with disabling injuries is over $70,000. SUM (Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist) coverage allows individuals to “supplement” the insurance of negligent drivers who cause an accident. For example, if the victim has liability coverage of $100,000 with SUM benefits while the driver at fault has the state minimum of $25,000, the latter would be considered “underinsured.” The victim could then receive the $25,000 from the negligent driver’s insurance company as well as $75,000 from their own. Such was the case in a 2012 lawsuit that energized the issues surrounding SUM insurance. In June 2010, 24-year old Johns Hopkins graduate Kaitlynn Fisher was killed in an intersection collision in Baltimore, Maryland. Fisher’s estate asserted a liability claim against the driver and her own insurer, Progressive, for compensation and SUM benefits. Progressive declined to pay out the benefits claiming that Kaitlynn was the negligent party, thereby creating a highly-publicized controversy. A lawsuit against the surviving driver determined that Kaitlynn was not the negligent party and the case was eventually settled.

In August 2012, a New York Times article referred to the incident as “The Auto Insurance Case That Blew Up on the Internet.” Aside from being a PR nightmare for Progressive insurance, the case also caused many officials and individuals to take a closer look at car insurance and policyholders’ understanding of it – particularly with regard to SUM coverage. The law remains that insurance companies do not have to offer more than the state required minimum of $25,000 unless a policy holder requests more body liability coverage. The new amendment would have required insurers to provide increased SUM coverage matching the chosen liability limits, though individuals could opt to decline it via a waiver or statement. In lieu of Governor Cuomo’s decision, a debate over whether the amendment protects responsible motorists or is unfair to consumers continues. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) says the amendment keeps taxes low for New Yorkers because underinsured drivers will not have to rely on benefits like Medicaid. Others, including The New York Public Interest Research Group praise it for potentially reducing auto fraud by medical companies who have a history of excessive billing, while United Policyholder (UP) feels it encourages people to be more financially literate and take more interest in how their coverage works. The bill’s sponsors are currently moving on a modified bill to address the governor’s concerns.

Opponents of the amendment like Governor Cuomo and the group New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud believe the law will unfairly increase insurance rates for NY drivers who already pay more than the national average. The governor stated in his veto message that “consumers should be free to choose what level of SUM coverage makes sense to them” and should not have to “affirmatively opt-out of such coverage.”

Despite the debate, many drivers remain unaware that SUM coverage exists. For a comparatively small premium (usually around $50-$100 per year) SUM coverage can protect those involved in an accident from the low insurance policies of negligent drivers. If an individual is injured by a driver with no insurance, an expired policy, a stolen car or a hit and run, SUM insurance will be their only compensation. The founder of UP, Amy Bach, points out that while awareness is low and insurers undersell SUM coverage, if drivers knew about it they would likely opt for it as a “common-sense” addition to their policy.

The mission of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association is “To promote a safer and healthier society, to assure access to the civil justice system by those who are wrongfully injured and to advance representation of the public by ethical, well-trained lawyers.” Okun Oddo & Babat partner, David Oddo is an active member of the NYSTLA.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

A Landlord’s Failure to Maintain Property

Recently, a Bronx Housing Court Judge sentenced a Bronx landlord to 30 days in jail for neglecting to make needed repairs on his apartment building. While the landlord claimed he was unable to make needed repairs to his apartment building due to lack of funds, he was unable to prove this claim in court. His 12-unit Bronx apartment building had more than 300 open violations and the building is considered, according to an article by Denis Slattery in the New York Daily News on October 9 to be “one of the 200 most distressed structures in all of New York City.” Slattery’s article also states that as a result of the landlords negligence, the city has spent over $100,000 fixing water leaks, providing heating fuel, removing lead and on other emergency repairs. He quotes the commissioner of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, RuthAnne Visnauskas as saying “If you neglect your property and your tenants, disregard your legal responsibilities, and defy court orders, we will seek the maximum penalties available under the law,” HPD is responsible for developing and maintaining the city’s affordable housing units. The agency is headquartered in Lower Manhattan, and includes smaller branch offices in each of the city’s five boroughs.

It is a landlords lawful responsibility to maintain their property. These responsibilities are outlined in many laws and codes which are enforced by the HPD and include issues regarding heat and hot water, bed bugs, infestation, carbon monoxide detection, mold, and lack of window guards. Potential housing code violations and tenant rights and responsibilities are available on the HDP website.

Last month the Daily News also reported on a tenant lawsuit in Manhattan Housing Court over an uninhabitable apartment in Lenox Avenue, citing collapse ceilings and walls, rat infestation and mold.

Many landlords fail to ensure for a tenants’ safety. Tenants who have concerns regarding landlord neglect may choose to seek the legal advice of a lawyer who handles tenant and landlord disputes. If you or someone you know has suffered illness or injuries or from apartment accidents and from landlord negligence, the experienced New York attorneys at Okun, Oddo & Babat can help you. Don’t hesitate to contact us or call us at 212.642.0950 to discuss your case.

Article by Madeline Mohr for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013.
This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Cardiovascular Disease, Heart Surgery and Wrongful Death

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for New York citizens and the worldwide population. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2008, 17.3 million people died due to CVD, representing 30% of all global deaths. According to the New York State Department of Health’s comprehensive report, The Burden of Cardiovascular Disease in New York, approximately 40% of NYS deaths in 2008 were caused by CVD.

Often called “heart disease,” CVD includes a number of conditions that affect the heart and circulatory system. Common types are:

  • Coronary Heart Disease: Build-up of fatty deposits on blood vessel linings
  • Congenital Heart Disease: Malformations of heart structure existing at birth
  • Congestive Heart Failure: Failure to pump enough blood throughout the body
  • Pulmonary Heart Disease: Slowed or blocked blood flow into the lungs
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease: Complication of untreated strep throat / rheumatic fever

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention projects heart disease will remain the leading cause of death globally for the next 20 years, more people are living with CVD than ever before due in part to heighted awareness, medical improvements and less invasive procedures. For some, illness and death due to CVD can be prevented simply by a healthy, conscientious lifestyle. Known and modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease include tobacco use, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.
In addition to preventative behavior by individuals, proper pre-care by a doctor is necessary to detect abnormalities in the heart. If a condition is left undiagnosed, it may worsen over time without treatment and can lead to heart attack, stroke or other serious illness and injury. Signs of heart disease medical professionals often mistake for more minor conditions include trouble breathing, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, high blood pressure and pain in the left arm. Once a heart condition is detected, operations may be necessary. As with any surgery, there are risks involved in cardiac operations.

Complications can arise due to a number of factors, including:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Tissue damage
  • Severing of the aortic valve
  • Hematomas
  • Heart valve damage or dysfunction
  • Neurological complications
  • Damage to surrounding blood vessels
  • Infection, excessive bleeding or blood clotting
  • Inadequate surgical techniques or inexperience of the surgeon

While cardiac surgeons are among the most highly trained specialists in the medical industry, human error or bad judgment can be a factor in the success of surgery and recovery. Miscalculations can be life-threatening and there are cases when medical professionals do not provide proper care, increasing the risk of further illness, injury or even death. After an operation, close monitoring, medication adjustments and progress evaluations are vital factors in the recovery of a cardiovascular surgery patient. It is important for doctors to notify the patient of any ongoing risks they may have, particularly if additional treatments are needed or they lead a physically demanding lifestyle.

Cardiovascular disease treatments and surgery can save lives but when surgeons and their staff make errors or exercise inadequate medical judgment, it can also end up causing serious harm and in some cases, wrongful death. Evaluating whether medical negligence is involved – whether pre-, during, or post operation – requires the expertise of experienced lawyers. An individual or family that has suffered by inadequate medical care may choose to pursue legal action against the medical professionals involved.

Okun Oddo & Babat specializes in Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence claims. Contact us today or call or call us at 212.642.0950 to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced New York attorneys. 

Additional Sources:
http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/diseases/cardiovascular/
www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/ ‎
http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/
Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Effectiveness and Reliability of the Drugs Presently Prescribed to Treat Hypothyroidism

According to a recent publication in the Wall Street Journal, some sufferers of hypothyroidism and several associated activist organizations are calling for more thorough screening tests and more effective treatment of the condition.
Though studies regarding alternative therapies and medications show conflicting results, Michelle Bickford, the 36 year old founder of the advocacy group, ThyroidChange, insists she experienced higher energy and less anxiety, depression and fatigue when she was prescribed a less commonly distributed, animal-derived medication. Bickford had been taking the popular levothyroxine prescription for hypothyroidism since the age of 11 but reports minimal alleviation of her symptoms until the switch.
Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical Center Jeffrey Garber, on the other hand, believes, “The vast majority of people are fine on the standard therapy.”

While thyroid patients and medical professionals may be at odds over what, if any, further research is needed, the complaints have called into question the effectiveness and reliability of the drugs presently prescribed to treat hypothyroidism.

Earlier this year, the brand Levoxyl recalled 52,000 bottles of levothyroxine due to a bad odor.
Uncertainty about stability and potency in a second batch of the drug led to another recall, potentially causing a shortage of the drug for the remainder of 2013.

Another levothyroxine brand, Synthroid has a long history of problems, including a class action lawsuit in the 1990s claiming millions of patients were overcharged for the drug, as well as more recent concerns over batch potency and stability.

Low potency of hypothyroid medication can cause serious harm to patients who depend on them, including little to no relief of symptoms and exacerbation of the condition. In such cases, patients may opt to take more than the recommended amount of the drug and an overdose is possible.

Thyroid disease affects 15 million people in the United States. The American Thyroid Association reports that approximately 50% of sufferers are not even aware that they have it, attributing it to other issues they are experiencing like aging, menopause or depression. The thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the back of the neck, controls the body’s metabolism. It affects the functioning rate of cells, tissues and organs and controls heart rate, weight, temperature, energy level and muscle strength.
Thyroid malfunctions can happen in one of two ways.

The first, hypothyroidism, involves too little production of the thyroid hormone, causing the body to function at a lower rate.
Hypothyroidism is the most common type of thyroid disease, affecting 11 million Americans in 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control. Symptoms include:
• Fatigue
• Memory loss
• Depression
• Difficulty concentrating
• Coarse, dry skin and hair
• Intolerance to cold
• Constipation

Too much of the thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) causes the metabolism to function at a higher rate. Symptoms include:
• Nervousness
• Irregular menstrual cycles
• Weight loss
• Irregular heartbeat
• Increased metabolism
• Nervousness
• Perspiration

After the age of 35, The American Thyroid Association recommends anyone with a family history of testing positive for thyroid disease be evaluated every five years. Doctors can provide a definitive diagnosis with a simple blood test to measure the levels of thyroid hormones TSH, T-4 and T3. If a doctor fails to diagnose or improperly treats thyroid disease, the patient can experience severe consequences including heightened lethargy, depression, anxiety, weight gain, hair loss, bulging of the eyes, and hypoglecemia.

Sources:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324635904578644532652110970.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20130510-713949.html

http://nahypothyroidism.org/

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013.
This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.