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Understanding the Basics: Spinal Cord Injury

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord is a soft bundle of nerve fibers and associated tissue running from the base of the brain down to the lower back. It is protected by the bones of your spine. It connects your brain to all parts of your body.

The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal: the tunnel formed by holes in the bones of the spine.

Any injury that damages these nerve fibers is a spinal cord injury (SCI).

Types of SCI

A spinal cord injury can cause permanent changes in strength, sensation, and body function below the site of the injury.

The ability to function varies among SCI survivors, depending on the location and severity of the trauma.

Cervical spine injuries affect vertebrae at the top of the spinal cord. Thoracic spine injuries affect middle vertebrae, lumbar spine injuries affect low vertebrae, and sacral injuries occur at the base of the spine.

DAmore Law Group Spinal Cord Injuries Basics video Understanding the Basics: Spinal Cord Injury

Short video from brainandspine.org explains levels of function in spinal cord injuries

Diagnosing SCI

Spinal cord injuries are caused by a trauma to the spinal cord.

Sports injuries, falls, and violence account for some, but nearly half of all spinal cord injuries are the result of car accidents.

Signs of SCI may include:

  • Severe back pain
  • Pressure in the neck, head, or back
  • Weakness or a sudden loss of coordination
  • Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Twisted or oddly-positioned neck or back

Anyone who has experienced significant trauma to the head or neck should seek immediate medical attention: the time between a spinal cord injury and treatment can significantly impact the potential for treatment.

If you suspect a spinal cord injury, do not move the patient unless it is an emergency. Wait for medical help to arrive to ensure the best outcome.

Hidden Cameras Lead to Arrests for Nursing Home Neglect

This post originally appeared in the Legal Examiner

17 nursing home employees were charged with neglect after hidden cameras recorded a shocking pattern of staff neglecting a 56-year-old Huntington’s disease patient.

During one month, eight nurses and nine nursing assistants failed to dispense the bedridden man’s pain medication, failed to provide liquids, failed to handle basic incontinence care, and sometimes, didn’t even bother to check on him.

The footage was at odds with the nursing home’s records; the staff routinely falsified their documents.

This is not an isolated incident.

Two employees of the nearby Erie County Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility were arrested in September.

Damore Law Group Nursing Home camera 300x288 Hidden Cameras Lead to Arrests for Nursing Home Neglect

Small, discreet cameras have made documenting nursing home neglect much easier

A hidden camera in the room of a nursing home patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia revealed a pattern of neglect. The 79-year-old resident is non-ambulatory—totally dependent on nursing staff for basic care.

Two certified nurse aides violated the patient’s personal care plan by incorrectly performing incontinence care, and not using a mechanical lift to transfer the resident.

When they did use a mechanical lift, they violated protocol by using only one person to operate it.

The nursing staff then allegedly falsified documents to hide their neglect.

Relying on hidden cameras to catch nursing home abuse

The use of cameras to catch the perpetrators is very useful for prosecution. It’s also potentially a deterrent for future negligence: if nursing home assistants think they may be filmed, they are more likely to provide proper patient care.

But these cameras are also an intrusion into a patient’s privacy and dignity in an already intrusive situation.

Hidden cameras may be useful for catching nursing home abuse, but it’s a disgrace that they are necessary.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What to Expect: Stages of a Personal Injury Claim

Every person’s case is different: this is a general overview of D’Amore Law Group’s process.

1. Choose an experienced, reputable law firm.

Insurance companies often try to settle injury claims quickly, and for the lowest amount possible (See Delay, Deny and Defend). It is in your best interest to have a free consultation with an attorney before accepting any insurance company settlement.

Before you hire an attorney, check attorney review sites like AVVO for reviews from real clients.

 2. Signing a Retainer and Fee Agreement  

When you hire a law firm, you sign paperwork that allows them to investigate your claim and work on your behalf.Damore Law Group Steps Of Personal Injury claim What to Expect: Stages of a Personal Injury Claim

At D’Amore Law Group, you also sign a Contingency Fee Agreement.

This means you don’t pay attorneys fees unless we are able to secure a recovery for you, and then our fee is a percentage of the total recovery.

3. Notice of Representation  

Your personal injury attorney will notify the person responsible for your injury, his or her insurance company, and your insurance company, if applicable.

Once you hire a lawyer, the defendant and insurance companies should not contact you directly.

4. Review and Investigation

Your law firm will gather your medical records, your insurance information, and verify any claims for income loss and other damages. Your lawyer needs all of this information to investigate your claim and assess the value.

5. Demand and Negotiation 

After a thorough investigation, your attorney will make a formal demand for settlement from the at-fault party and his or her insurance company.

The insurance company will make a counter-offer for settlement, accept your demand, or deny your claim.

If the insurance company makes an offer you approve, your claim will be settled. If not, your lawyers may have to file a lawsuit on your behalf.

6. Settlement of a Claim

If your attorneys can reach a fair settlement of your claim, you will sign a release that says you accept the settlement and will no longer pursue this claim.

7. Filing a Lawsuit

If your claim does not settle, and you and your injury attorney mutually determine it is in your best interest, a lawsuit will be filed on your behalf.

This is only an overview of the claim process: your case may be different.

 

 

Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Medicare Ratings to Address Chronic Understaffing in Nursing Homes

Many nursing homes are so understaffed that they may be inherently endangering their patients.

It’s become such a chronic problem that Medicare is making changes to its five-star rating program for nursing homes.

The Obama administration announced plans to expand and strengthen Medicare’s Five Star Quality Rating System (also known as Nursing Home Compare).

Staffing levels factor into a nursing home’s overall rating.

However, that data is self-reported, and impossible to verify. Hidden cameras have revealed a rash of nursing home neglect cases in which records were falsified.

Damore Law Group Nursing Home Compare Medicare Ratings to Address Chronic Understaffing in Nursing Homes

Nursing Home Compare is an easy way to search the records and rankings of over 15,000 nursing homes participating in Medicare or Medicaid.

 

Beginning in 2015, Nursing Home Compare will use payroll records to calculate accurate staffing levels.

It’s is one of several proposed changes aimed at improving health outcomes for patients.

Nursing home officials say inadequate staffing is a problem because inadequate government subsidies make it very difficult to attract, compensate, and retain good workers.

Although this change could potentially force some nursing homes to improve the staff-to-patient ratio, there are almost no federal guidelines for adequate staffing. And individual state rules vary: Washington has no law for staff to patient ratio, Oregon mandates an assigned CNA per patient, and “no less than 1 RN hour per resident per week.” California calls for three hours of care per patient, per day.

Updating Medicare’s rating program may help identify the culprits, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the chronic understaffing that too often leads to neglect in nursing homes.

 

Three Reasons Construction Workers Get Hurt

Thanks to the labor movement and Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA), on-the-job deaths in the U.S. are down 67 percent since 1970. However, there are still dangers, specifically in certain industries.

One in five worker deaths in 2013 occurred in the construction industry.

What makes the construction industry so risky for workers?

1. Heights

796 deaths were reported in the construction industry last year. Of those, nearly 37 percent were caused by falls from scaffolds and other elevations.

Another 10 percent were the result of being struck by an object, such as falling debris, materials, or heavy equipment.

Most construction sites are in a constant state of flux: heavy equipment, machines, and scaffolds are all moving around. Add multiple levels, and you multiply the risk of injury.

Construction Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos 199x300 Three Reasons Construction Workers Get Hurt
2. Long, Intense Hours

Construction workers often do repetitive tasks for hours at a time. They must continuously communicate with other crew members, and are usually on a tight deadline.

This pattern leads to both cognitive and muscular fatigue.

Research conducted by the Center for Construction Research and Training shows these conditions contribute to unsafe work places.

3. Safety Standards Are Sometimes Violated

Construction worksites are organizationally complex. There are usually multiple employers, and both the general contractor and sub-contractors have a legal obligation to keep the worksite reasonably safe.

Employers also have a legal duty to warn workers of the dangers at the site, and properly train their workers to perform their jobs safely.

While most employers want to protect their employees, others continue to take shortcuts. This can expose them to serious dangers even after receiving citations from OSHA for known hazards.

 

Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Allstate learns a $22 million-dollar lesson: the story of a bad faith lawsuit

This week, Allstate Insurance settled a bad faith claim for 22 million dollars.

The settlement, the largest bad-faith settlement in Pennsylvania history, is important because Allstate may finally be forced to re-think the notorious practices of denying legitimate injury claims.

A car crash results in catastrophic injury

Patrick Hennessy was a passenger in Ryan Caruso’s car when Caruso rear-ended another vehicle, and then stalled out in the road.

Mr. Hennessy was pushing Caruso’s car to the side of the road when he was hit by another vehicle, driven by Shawn Robertson, Jr.

The second crash crushed Mr. Hennessy. After months of intensive treatment, the young man’s leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Robertson, the driver of the car that hit Hennessy, was uninsured. However, since Caruso’s rear-end collision had started the chain of events that led to Hennessy’s injury, attorneys argued that his insurance company should cover the damages.

Allstate makes a big mistake

Mr. Caruso had $250,000 worth of coverage from his insurance company, Allstate.

He expected—very reasonably—that Hennessy’s medical bills alone were significantly more than that, so his insurance company would turn over the policy maximum $250,000 and be done with it.

Allstate refused to pay the claim, despite several opportunities.

By refusing to pay on the insurance policy, Allstate put its insured on the hook for Mr. Hennessy’s injury.

That is called “bad faith.”

When you buy insurance, you enter into a contract with the insurance company. You pay them, and they are required to:

  • Fully and promptly investigate your claim
  • Consider all of the circumstances supporting your claim
  • Respond to all requests for information or communication in a timely matter

Bad faith” means that the insurance company is failing to uphold its end of that contract. Read more about bad faith claims.

Last year, Mr. Hennessy’s case against Caruso went to trial. A Philadelphia jury issued a $19,145,000 verdict.

Mr. Caruso assigned his rights for a bad faith claim against Allstate to Mr. Hennessy and his attorneys, which allowed them to go after Allstate for the verdict above the policy limits of $250,000.

This week, Allstate settled that claim for $22 million.

That’s 88 times the amount of the original claim, which it should have paid five years ago.

“It was a protracted but ultimately successful battle between a young man with a catastrophic injury and the largest insurance company in America”

- Mr. Hennessey’s lawyer, Matt Casey

Allstate, America’s biggest insurance company, is well-known for their method of processing insurance claims: delay, deny, defend.

First, it denies the claim for insurance benefits. Then, it delays paying out as long as possible. When the injured person is desperate, Allstate makes the lowest possible offer. If the injured doesn’t accept that offer and seeks the help of an attorney, Allstate defends its case as long as possible. It forces seriously injured people to jump through hoops just to get their rightful benefits.

We hope that bad faith cases like this will force Allstate to stop this abhorrent practice.

 

Soccer Players file a Class Action Lawsuit against FIFA for Brain Injuries

A group of parents and soccer players has filed a class-action lawsuit in United States District Court in California against the Fèdèration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), as well as other U.S.-based soccer associations.

The suit alleges that FIFA, and a few American soccer organizations, have been negligent in developing policies to evaluate, manage, and treat head injuries.

FIFA is responsible for the “Laws of the Game” followed by almost every soccer group.

“… FIFA has failed to enact the policies and rules needed to protect soccer players… We believe it is imperative we force these organizations to put a stop to hazardous practices that put players at unnecessary risk.” – Plaintiffs’ attorney Steve W. Berman, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not seeking monetary damages. Instead, they request changes to FIFA rules, including:

  • Limiting “headers” for kids under age 17;
  • Changing the substitution rules so a player can come off the field after sustaining a head bump;
  • Providing medical testing for soccer players who competed as far back as 2002, and are now feeling the effects of concussions; and
  • Instituting a procedure that would involve a medical professional to determine if a player should be permitted to continue playing.

Evidently, FIFA’s brain injury guidelines suggest that players are responsible for self-diagnosis. Although FIFA posts guidelines about preventing and treating concussions, it does not have rules directing their treatment.

Damore Law Group Brain Injury Soccer Lawsuit 300x198 Soccer Players file a Class Action Lawsuit against FIFA for Brain Injuries

A class action lawsuit alleges that FIFA has failed to create policies that diagnose and treat brain injuries in soccer players.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) typically result from a violent blow or jolt to the head. Mild TBI may cause temporary brain dysfunction, while more serious TBI can result in physical damage to the brain, such as bruising, bleeding, and torn tissue.

According to the plaintiffs’ court documents, nearly 50,000 high school soccer players suffered head injuries in 2010.

That’s more head injuries in soccer than in baseball, basketball, softball, and wrestling—combined.

The defendants have 60 days to answer the complaint, and at that time a judge will determine whether or not the case will proceed.

 

 

Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How a doctor + a camera = $190 million dollars – Part 2

Part 2 of a 2-part series that originally appeared in the Legal Examiner. 

The real cost of a lawsuit

Sex abuse cases are very difficult for victims – and for the people helping them.

They’re second only to death claims as the most difficult cases for a law firm to take on.

Obviously, the main concern is the victims. But don’t think this is easy for their legal team. For each case, attorneys and paralegals spend hours and hours over many months to gather the (legally required) information. They read thousands of pages of medical records, prepare photographs and video exhibits, contact clients and defense counsel, interview witnesses, and take recorded statements.

In this case, one firm alone interviewed about 2,000 former patients. There are 8,000 involved in the suit. The law firms will now spend years sorting this out.

It’s a second-hand experience of a very traumatic event, over and over and over.

Aside from the toll of the work, it’s hugely expensive to mount even one lawsuit.

It’s often years before the firm gets paid: they front the costs of mounting a lawsuit (which are significant), and pay the lawyers, the paralegals, secretaries, administrators in the meantime – in addition to the basic costs to keep an office going.

Yes, the law firms will be paid for their time and expenses. If they weren’t, who would help these victims?

What happens to the $190 million?

The law firms will create a damages matrix, which is as complex as it sounds.

Each plaintiff will be interviewed individually, and have her medical records examined by lawyers and psychologists.

Each will be placed into one of four categories, depending on the trauma level. The funds will be distributed accordingly, for the estimated future mental and physical care, based on the trauma level.

The judge approved this settlement and distribution plan. A second hearing is set for October 2, and will address legal fees and expenses of any settlement.

This may sound like a cold, calculating way to resolve individual traumas. And it is – by necessity.

There is no reparation here: no one can undo these violations, or repair the damage to the victims and to the community.

Money is the only common language we have with corporations. No criminal charges will be filed against Johns Hopkins. Its corporate press releases about “regret” and “moving forward” are nice, but they don’t help the thousands of people affected.

Monetary compensation is the only tool we have to get justice. And using it is the best way we have to ensure that this won’t happen again.

 

Part 2 of a 2-part series that originally appeared in the Legal Examiner. 

 

 

 

How a doctor + a camera = $190 million dollars – Part 1

This post originally appeared in the Legal Examiner. 

The Background

Dr. Nikita Levy had been a gynecologist for Johns Hopkins for 25 years when one of his colleagues noticed something strange about the pen he wore around his neck.

It was a camera.

Dr. Levy had been secretly filming his patients while he administered pelvic exams, performed pap smears, and examined women in their most vulnerable states. Police found more than 1200 videos at his home and office that he saved from a variety of small recording devices he’d stashed around his office.

More disturbing are the reports that Dr. Levy asked women to fully disrobe for routine exams, and that he reportedly examined them without gloves. Nurses were often not present during the exams, violating a longstanding recommendation of the American Medical Association.

The Lawsuit

Last year, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 8,000 women the late Dr. Levy (he killed himself after being exposed last year) is believed to have violated. Among them are at least 60 children.

Attorneys for Johns Hopkins offered to settle the case, rather than proceeding to trial, for a total of $190 million dollars.

Abuse by a doctor = medical malpractice

This case is unusual: even though it’s a class action – meaning the lawyers work on behalf of all of the victims together – it’s a medical malpractice case.

Sexual abuse by a doctor is medical malpractice. Some people object to medical malpractice lawsuits because they feel that a doctor shouldn’t be sued over a “mistake.”

Sexual abuse can’t be excused as an error in judgment. It isn’t a subjective medical decision.

It’s particularly heinous because it doesn’t just injure the body: it can be extremely damaging psychologically and emotionally. It’s worse when the abuser is an authority or safety figure.

One former patient wrote that she and other victims must now live with the fact that their doctor viewed them “not through the clear eyes of a physician but through the filthy lens of a depraved pervert.” 

Widespread violations by a doctor who accesses the most personal, private aspects of women’s lives and bodies are not just damaging the victims: they’re damaging to the entire community.

This case is important because it’s about more than one very sick doctor. For health care to be effective in any way, it is absolutely imperative that the medical facilities to be safe.

Johns Hopkins was responsible for its patients’ safety, and now it must be held accountable.

 Yes, Johns Hopkins is at fault.

  1. The doctor was an employee of Johns Hopkins;
  2. While he abused thousands of women at a Johns Hopkins facility;
  3. In the presence or vicinity of other Johns Hopkins staff;
  4. For at least 8 years before anyone stopped him.

Consider, too, that Johns Hopkins and its insurer decided against a trial: it settled the claim for nearly $200 million.

Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that a defendant does not offer a settlement of this size without any culpability.

Without a trial, the public may never know what Johns Hopkins knew about Dr. Levy, or when they knew it. But it is easy to speculate on what the hospital may want to hide – questions that would certainly come up in a trial:

  • Is it likely that Dr. Levy just decided one day, 15 years into his career, to start abusing women?
  • It’s AMA policy to have a nurse present during OB-GYN exams: does Johns Hopkins have that policy?
  • If so, not one of the dozens of nurses that must have worked with him over the years ever questioned his procedures?
  • How many other doctors or staff members knew or had suspicions about Dr. Levy?
  • Is it possible that no one ever complained about him?
  • Or how many complaints did the hospital ignore?

Hospitals have been known to hide evidence of sexual abuse by their staff because they’re more interested in protecting their reputation than protecting their patients.

Some have even kept the sex abuser employed for years after they are aware of the sexual abuse against patients.

I can’t say that’s the situation with Johns Hopkins. Since there’s no trial, they don’t have to produce their records on Dr. Levy.

Bottom line: Johns Hopkins’ lawyers and insurance adjusters calculated the risk, and the potential damage to their medical reputation if they were to go to trial; they determined that this was a fair settlement.


This post originally appeared in the Portland Legal Examiner

 

How a doctor + a camera = $190 million dollars – Part 2:  the real cost of a lawsuit, and what happens to the $190 million 

Details on the lawsuit can be found at drlevyclassaction.com 

 

Almost 90% of Elder Abuse Cases Have this in Common

Elder abuse: intentional mistreatment that causes harm, or creates a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder.

Experts agree that elderly women are abused at a higher rate than men. And the older the person is, the more likely she is to be abused.

Dementia also increases the risk of elder abuse. Nearly half of all people over 85 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Who Are the Abusers?

A big majority—estimates run as high as 90 percent—of abusers are family members.

That’s a shockingly high percentage. Abusers, usually adult children, spouses, or partners, are more likely to have drug and/or alcohol problems, mental illnesses, or feel burdened by their care-giving responsibilities.

Signs of elder abuse are often missed because:

  • There is a lack of training on detecting this type of abuse – especially in families.
  • The elderly victim is reluctant to report the abuse for fear of retaliation, or because he doesn’t want to get the abuser in trouble.
  • The elder is not physically able to report the abuse.

Damore Law Group Elder Abuse 300x215 Almost 90% of Elder Abuse Cases Have this in CommonIt’s important to remember that elder abuse happens in private homes as well, but abuse and neglect in nursing homes and long-term care facilities is still a big problem.

One survey of certified nursing assistants found that 17% of CNAs admitted to pushing, grabbing, or shoving a nursing home resident. More than half said they had yelled at a resident, and 23% had sworn at or otherwise insulted a resident.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net