In the News

  Runaway Car Kills California Family

It looked like a scene from a movie but was horrifyingly real. A Lexus driven by a skilled California Highway Patrol Officer was careening out of control on a crowded San Diego highway at speeds up to 120 miles per hour. The driver, Mark Saylor, could not stop the car which finally plunged down an embankment killing him, his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law.

The California Highway Patrol managed to recover the brakes, accelerator and floor mats from the charred remains and hypothesized that the accident might have been caused by the accelerator sticking to the floor mat. According to the Los Angeles Times (September 30, 2009), Toyota acknowledged that it had received complaints about the floor mats causing uncontrollable acceleration since 2004.

This recent accident created negative publicity that triggered a recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including Camrys, Priuses, and Tundra pickups. Until the floor mats can be replaced by the manufacturer, Toyota advises owners of the affected vehicles to remove the driver's floor mat and not replace it.

Toyota recommends that drivers take the following steps if a vehicle continues to accelerate rapidly after the accelerator pedal is released. Try to dislodge the floor mat from the accelerator pedal if this can be accomplished safely and pull over and stop. If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, step firmly on the brake pedal with both feet. Shift the transmission to neutral and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road. If you cannot shift into neutral, either turn the engine off by depressing the stop/start button for at least three seconds or turn a conventional key-ignition to the ACC - not off -position.

All-Weather Mat Interfering with Positioning of Accelerator Pedal An out-of-position all-weather floor mat interferes with the position of the accelerator pedal.

The National Highway Safety Administration list of recalls from 1999 to the present includes multiple manufacturers, illustrating that this problem extends beyond the current Toyota recall. If you suspect a defect that constitutes a safety hazard, report it to the NHTSA - it may save your life or the life of someone else.


McDonald’s Is in Hot Water Again

When you think of McDonald’s, you think of burgers. But the chain is also becoming widely known for the scalding temperatures of its hot coffee and tea and its failure to properly secure the lids on cups holding these hot liquids. Some customers have suffered severe burn injuries as a result, and these injuries can be physically and emotionally agonizing. An outline of the well-known Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurant case found on the Oklahoma Bar Association website states that the company had received more than 700 reports of burns at its stores, primarily by its coffee between 1983 and 1994.

According to a report in the New York Daily News (July 30, 2009), Miriam Richardson of the Bronx filed suit against a McDonald’s in Mount Vernon, New York. She claimed that she was injured after receiving her breakfast order and two teas with improperly secured lids from a drive-through window. The tea from both cups spilled into her lap, burning her upper thigh badly enough to require treatment in a hospital.

Another recent case was filed against a Pennsylvania McDonald’s when a boy was burned after being handed several coffee cups in a cardboard tray at the drive-through. The claim reported in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (March 30, 2009) indicates that one of the lids was not placed securely and the boy suffered second-degree burns on his leg and thigh after the coffee spilled into his lap.

Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants has become one of the most famous product liability cases in the United States. In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck was a passenger in her son’s car when she bought a container of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through window. While she was removing the lid, the coffee accidentally spilled resulting in third-degree burns to her groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. As a result of her injuries, she required a skin graft and spent seven days in a hospital, incurring medical costs of $11,000.

Liebeck originally sought to collect $20,000 from McDonald’s but was offered only $800. At the trial, documents showed that McDonald’s had received over 700 reports of people burned by its coffee, settling claims for a total of approximately $500,000. Additional evidence established that McDonald’s served its coffee at temperatures ranging from 180o to 190o, temperatures high enough to cause third degree burns. Liebeck was awarded $160,000 for compensatory damages and $480,000 for punitive damages, a total of $640,000.


Warning to Denture Wearers: Fixodent and Poligrip May Cause Serious Health Problems

Lawsuits against the manufacturers of Fixodent and Poligrip continue to climb as more denture wearers report suffering from zinc poisoning and neuropathy.

According to a study that appeared in Neurology (June 4, 2008), researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center reported neurological abnormalities resulting from excess zinc levels in four patients with dentures who were chronic users of Fixodent and PoliGrip. Zinc can be absorbed through the gums, skin, or intestines (if small amounts of the denture cream are accidentally swallowed).

Symptoms of zinc poisoning include:

  • Numbness, tingling, burning, or unexplained pain in the extremities
  • Decreased strength and ability to move feet or legs
  • Sensation of “wearing a glove” when handling items
  • Lack of balance
  • Decrease in walking stride
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Abnormally low levels of copper in blood

There are an estimated 35 million denture wearers in the United States, many of them elderly. Without warning labels, the majority are unaware of the risks incurred when they use these denture creams.


Stronger Warnings Ordered for Arthritis Drugs Enbrel, Remicade, Humira, & Cimzia

The Food and Drug Administration recently ordered that four major rheumatoid arthritis medications must place stronger warnings on prescribing literature regarding potential fungal infrections associated with the drugs. The infection, known as histoplasmosis, begins in the respiratory system with symptoms similar to the flu. If not diagnosed in its early stages, the infection can spread to other organs of the body and ultimately cause death.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body's immune system attacking the joints which results in severe pain and swelling. The four medications suppress the immune system to help prevent it from attacking the joints. The fungus takes advantage of the weakened immune system caused by the arthritis medication to infect the body.

The FDA found that 240 cases of patients taking the medications reported developing the fungal infection. Among that group, 12 people ultimately died from the infection. This prompted the FDA to order warnings of the infection to be placed in the "black box" of the drug's prescribing literature. The "black box" on prescribing literature is reserved for the strongest warning information concerning the drug.

The full Associated Press story, "FDA orders stronger warnings for 4 arthritis drugs", can be found on Yahoo!.


CNN Article Warns Against Becoming a Surgical Victim

A CNN article by Elizabeth Cohen provides tips to help minimize the risk of becoming a victim to surgical error. It suggests persistence and the constant involvement of the patient and patient's family in the surgical process to ensure the doctors and nurses know who the patient is and why they are in the hospital.

The suggestions include researching the hospital and doctor prior to the scheduled procedure, alerting everyone to the reason you are in the hospital, having the doctor initial the surgical site, confirming that site, and training a personal advocate. The entire story can be found on CNN's website here: Don't become the victim of a surgical error.

Vioxx Lawsuit Payments to Begin Next Month

When the Sun-Sentinel wanted to know about the Vioxx settlements, they contacted Dan Cytryn. In the Sun-Sentinel article linked below, Dan Cytryn comments on the relatively low payouts to individual Vioxx claimants.

Merck & Co. is expected to pay $4.65 billion to resolve approximately 50,000 lawsuits that stem from its production of the painkiller Vioxx. Settlments are expected to range from $5000 to a few million dollars.

More information on the Vioxx settlement can be found here: www.officialvioxxsettlement.com. The entire Sun-Sentinel article can be found here: Merck to start payments in Vioxx lawsuits.


Allstate Ranked Worst Insurer for Consumers

The American Association of Justice has released a research report detailing "the tough tactics [insurance companies] use to increase profits." The study, entitled "The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America: How They Raise Premiums, Deny Claims, and Refuse Insurance to Those Who Need It Most," lists Allstate as the worst insurer for consumers for "instructing its agents to employ a 'boxing gloves' strategy against its policyholders" and "placing profits over policyholders". Allstate is followed by Unum and AIG respectively as second and third worst.

According to the American Association of Justice, the investigation included the analysis of thousands of legal documents and financial filings such as court documents, litigation and discovery materials, testimony, complaints, SEC and FBI records, and news reports.

You can read the article full article by Ray De Lorenzi, "Allstate Ranks As Worst Insurer For Consumers: by clicking here. The full report can be found here, "The Ten Worst Insurance Companies In America: How They Raise Premiums, Deny Claims, and Refuse Insurance to Those Who Need It Most."