November
04
Spotting a Foodborne Illness

 

 

Earlier this month, health officials warned that shoppers at a Costco store in Lynwood, Washington had become sick after consuming the rotisserie chicken salad. In this blog we’ll dive into some of the details of foodborne illness and considerations for bringing a case after consuming a contaminated product.

 

It seems like every month there is a new story of contaminated food and a salmonella or other food-borne pathogen outbreak. Last year 45 people were sickened by E. coli from Chipotle in six regions including Washington and Oregon.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 31 pathogens that are known to cause foodborne illnesses. On top of that, there are a number of “unspecified agents” which have not yet been identified or tracked but may cause foodborne illnesses. The pathogen that causes the most illnesses is the norovirus, which causes an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The second most common pathogen is salmonella.

 

Foodborne illnesses are not only caused by meat, but can also be passed on from fruits and vegetables. Food can become contaminated if it’s washed with contaminated water, or if meat is infected during processing. When large scale foodborne illnesses occur, the CDC typically investigates the outbreak in order to identify the cause and to help reduce further spread. Symptoms of a foodborne illness can include: nausea, abdominal cramps, fever and headaches.

 

The CDC estimates that 47.8 million Americans, or one in six, get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. Approximately 128,000 of those Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from illnesses caused by food. Anyone can be susceptible to foodborne illnesses, but pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.

 

Some ways to prevent foodborne illness include: thawing food in the refrigerator or microwave instead of on the counter, using separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables and refrigerating leftovers as quickly as possible after meals. For more tips, click here.

 

If you have experienced the discomfort of a foodborne illness, you may wonder if you have a case against the corporation whose product sickened you. There is no hard and fast rule. The answer depends on the circumstances of your illness, such as how soon after consuming the product you got sick, if the particular strain of microbe is linked to an outbreak, among others. Proving foodborne illness cases can be difficult – you must show that the food that you ate was contaminated and that it caused you to become sick.

 

 

November
01
CMS Dismantles Binding Arbitration in Nursing Homes

Choosing to put a loved one into a care facility, whether that be an around-the-clock nursing home or a semi-independent assisted living facility, is a difficult and emotional process. For some it may be a relief that an aging loved one will receive the care that they need. Leaving them in the care of strangers at a vulnerable time is undoubtedly anxiety provoking and doing so requires a fair amount of trust. Of course researching the facility can help alleviate many fears, but it’s still likely a major life change for the loved one entering the care facility. As the beloved family member (or their guardian) is being asked to fill out what seems like an endless pile of paperwork, it’s easy to lose focus of all of the forms being presented for a signature or initial. There will be dozens of these forms to fill out and sign—forms for insurance billing, current prescriptions, family and physician contact information, dietary preferences—and that’s just a few examples, the list goes on!

 

The endless forms often include very important, but frequently unnoticed language: an arbitration clause embedded within the fine print. Whether the arbitration clause is overlooked or not fully understood, signing it can severely limit one’s rights should something ever happen while in the facility’s care. Dealing with the stress of moving a loved-one into a facility is tough enough without having to worry about signing away future rights should the facility fail to provide the care they’re being paid for. For years, that single arbitration clause had a huge impact on residents’ and their families when something bad happened under the facility’s care.  That is, until now.

 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the Federal agency that administers the national Medicare program and oversees state Medicaid programs, announced a new rule that any nursing home or care facility that receives federal funding can no longer force their residents to resolve disputes through binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is the processes by which a third-party person or panel will review a claim or case and make a legally-binding decision. The Seventh Amendment grants the right to sue in court and have a case be decided by a jury of one’s peers. With arbitration clauses, nursing homes were able to limit residents from exercising this right, forcing them instead to resolve any dispute through binding arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator has the power to decide how much evidence can be considered and how much to award in damages. The arbitrator’s decision is nearly impossible to appeal. On top of this, the arbitration clauses often include language that grants the nursing home or facility the choice of who the arbitrator will be. There are few situations where the panel is not stacked in favor of the facility, and because of that arbitration clause, it’s been perfectly legal.

 

CMS’s decision affects at least 1.5 million nursing home residents. It is the most substantial overhaul of the agency’s rules on federal funding for long-term care facilities in over two decades. This ruling came after officials across the country urged the government to cut funding to nursing homes with arbitration clauses because they felt that arbitration allowed patterns of wrongdoing to be hidden from prospective residents and their families.

 

“The system has helped the nursing home industry reduce its legal costs but it has stymied the families of nursing home residents from getting justice, even in the case of murder”, The New York Times reported. The tragic case of a 100-year-old woman named Elizabeth Barrow who was strangled to death by her roommate in a nursing home was initially blocked from court. In this case, Mrs. Barrow’s roommate, Laura Lundquist, was charged with murder, even though Ms. Lundquist was 97-years-old at the time and suffering from dementia. Ultimately she was deemed unfit to stand trial and the case remains active while Ms. Lundquist is held in a state psychiatric hospital pending an evaluation that finds her capable of standing trial. The nursing home claimed that the women got along well, although they noted in Ms. Lundquist’s file that she was “at risk to harm herself or others”. When Mrs. Barrow’s only son tried to hold the nursing home accountable for failing to protect his mother from a resident known to be a risk to herself and others and take them to court, he was barred by the private arbitration clause.

 

Amidst the arbitration process, the son and his legal team found that the arbitration firm named to decide his case had also handled over 400 cases for the law firm that represented the nursing home. After the private arbiter ruled that the nursing home was not negligent, the son fought to appeal the decision and for his day in court. After six years he ultimately received a trial by asking a judge to declare that he had no right to sign the contract. He argued that although he signed the paperwork that contained an embedded arbitration clause, his mother had authorized him to make only medical decisions for her not legal or financial decisions.

 

Unfortunately, there are many other instances of families being barred from trial due to arbitration clauses. Another family was denied access to justice after their loved one died as a result of neglect: she sustained a head wound that festered in her nursing home, rather than receiving appropriate medical care and attention. Arbitration clauses have systematically dismantled this family’s right, and thousands of others, to hold nursing homes accountable for their negligence and wrongdoing, all in the name of profit.

 

The nursing home industry has already come out against CMS’s recent ruling, claiming this rule is beyond the authority of the agency. They argue that removing the arbitration clause is not necessary to protect residents. Proponents of the rule change have noted that arbitrations often keep poor or embarrassing practices out of the public eye—thereby protecting the nursing home’s reputation and financial gain. Because arbitration is a confidential process, outcomes are not made public as they would be in a civil lawsuit. In a profit-driven market where many nursing homes are consistently understaffed and employees are underpaid, accidents happen. That doesn’t mean that the entities responsible for those accidents shouldn’t be held accountable. Under this new ruling, new individuals that enter a nursing facility will no longer be forced to sign a hidden arbitration agreement if that facility receives federal funding. Should an unfortunate event ever arise, the resident or their family will be able to pursue a civil claim and jury trial, just as the Seventh Amendment provides.

 

Arbitration clauses have not only affected nursing home cases but also consumer and employer contracts. We’ll discuss the rise of arbitration clauses more in an upcoming blog.

 

May
24
Central Oregon Community College Settles Stabbing Lawsuit
posted in: Current Affairs

Central Oregon Community College has settled a lawsuit filed by one of their students over a stabbing incident that occurred on Halloween night back in 2014. The student, James Briles, said in the suit that the had college failed to place him with a new roommate after being notified of his old roommate’s strange and scary behavior, despite multiple requests filed by Briles to the school.

After the requests, Briles’ roommate stabbed him repeatedly, apparently close to a dozen times, causing him to undergo multiple surgeries and spend six days in the hospital.

“COCC’s indemnity provider will be making a payment to Mr. Briles to assist with his medical expenses and ongoing treatment…Both parties are (pleased) to save all involved the need to revisit this tragic event in litigation” said Ron Paradis, spokesman for the college.

Although the settlement amount has not been revealed, Briles originally sought $500,000 in economic damages and $2,500,000 in noneconomic damages. The college maintained that the injuries were caused by a third party outside the school’s control.

The suit alleged that the school knew the roommate posed a safety threat, as Briles had filed multiple requests for a new roommate, and less than a week prior to the stabbing the roommate had screamed violently and repeatedly in the lobby of their college dorm, Juniper Hall. Campus Public Safety responded to the incident, noting that two other students also felt concern for their safety.

The roommate spent months in the state mental hospital after his arrest and pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon. Court records indicate he will be relying on a defense of guilty except for insanity.

May
24
Willamette Valley Brands Hit With Massive Vegetable Recall
posted in: Food Safety

NORPAC and Stahlbush Island Farms, two brands owned by Willamette Valley, are recalling frozen vegetables purchased from a food processor at the center of a massive outbreak of Listeria, after 358 fruit and vegetable products provided by CRF Frozen Foods were believed to be contaminated.

Stahlbush Island Farms is recalling its 10-ounce paper bags of green beans which were sold in the Pasco area, due to processing by CRF Frozen Foods, the apparent epicenter of the contamination. Karla Chambers, owner of Stahlbush Isand Farms, says that although the family farm cultivates 5,000 acres in Oregon, they occasionally have to work with other growers and processors, like CRF.

“That green been equipment is very expensive” said Chambers, “We by far grow and process the majority of products but it’s not uncommon for us to work with a processor”

In a similar recall, NORPAC is recalling bags of mixed vegetables and green peas sold under its Natural Directions label due to their distribution with CRF Frozen Foods.

“What happens is many manufacturers in the region purchase bulk organic produce from CRF and repackage for private-label branding” said Amy Wood, spokeswoman for NORPAC.

So far eight people have been infected by strains of Listeria, although no cases have been a result of Stahlbush or NORPAC’s vegetables.

CRF Frozen Foods, a food producer which packages products sold under multiple names and brands, sits on 8000 acres at Thremile Canyon Farm in Boardman, Oregon, and is also the site one of the largest dairies in the nation, as the manure from the dairy is used to fertilize the crops.

The US Food and Drug Administration has also traced a closely related strain of Listeria back to an unrelated farm in Oregon.

“[the] FDA is working to identify other parts of the relevant supply chain that may have product relating to this outbreak, however [the] FDA is prohibited by law from releasing publicly certain information about supply chains, which may constitute confidential commercial information.” Said the agency in a press release.

Consumers with recalled products are encouraged to discard the items or return them to a store for a full refund.

May
24
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Seeking Drivers Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

A U.S District Court judge in Oregon has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to give illegal immigrants access to short-term driver’s licenses.

The suit, which named Democratic Governor Kate Brown and leaders of the state Department of Transportation as defendants, sought to restore a 2013 law passed by the Oregon Legislature which provided for access to short-term licenses for illegal immigrants. The law was overturned in November 2014 by Oregon voters under Measure 88.

The refusal to issue drivers licenses is considered unconstitutional by many, as immigration regulation is done at the federal level, and not a “legitimate state interest” according to the suit, which was filed on behalf of five illegal immigrants from Mexico. The lawsuit also claims that refusal to issue licenses is “arbitrary” and “capricious” and “motivated, at least in part, by animus towards Mexicans and Central Americans.”

Ann Aiken, The U.S District Judge presiding over the suit, wrote that she lacked the authority to compel the state to issue driver’s licenses, and also noted that the original 2013 law, SB 833, never actually went into effect as an Oregon Law, which means that even if she invalidated Measure 88, there would still be no law to officially grant these individuals driver’s licenses.

“As such, the state defendants are not refusing to issue driver cards because a referendum motivated by discriminatory animus prevents them from doing so; they cannot issue driver cards because no valid, existing Oregon law authorizes them to do so.” wrote Aiken.

Aiken’s decision was supported by the office of Oregon’s attorney general, who had previously submitted a motion to dismiss the suit, noting that the state “agrees that enacting a driver card program would have benefited (the plaintiffs) and would have been good policy for the state [but that] the relief the plaintiffs seek – the enactment and implementation of SB 833 – cannot be imposed on the state by the federal court in this action”

Oregon had previously allowed residents to get a driver’s license regardless of legal status, but the practice was discontinued in 2008 due to the federal REAL ID Act, which required residents to prove legal status to get one.

May
17
Former nurse indicted for abusing 2 more patients

Police are asking any other victims to please come forward –

BEAVERTON, Ore. (KOIN) — A former nurse accused of sexually abusing patients was indicted on more charges Monday in connection with 2 newly identified victims.

Alex Woolner, 37, was arrested in April and charged with sexually abusing patients and accessing their cell phones.

See More @ http://koin.com/2016/05/16/former-nurse-indicted-for-abusing-2-more-patients/

May
11
Judge Won’t Dismiss CIA Interrogation Law Suit
posted in: Current Affairs

A federal judge in Spokane Washington said that he won’t dismiss a lawsuit filed against two Washington state psychologist who helped design interrogation techniques for the CIA’s war on terror. The decision marks an important set forward in a case surrounding the treatment of terror suspects and is likely to include previously undisclosed information on how the government treats terrorist suspects.

The ACLU sued the two psychologists last year on behalf of three former CIA prisoners, accusing them of endorsing and teaching torture tactics under the guide of science. The suit alleges that the two have no expertise on al-Qaida and devised the interrogation program from experiments conducted on dogs in the 1960’s, and a psychological theory called “learned helplessness”

“The defendants committed war crimes” said Dror Ladin, an attorney for the ACLU “This case is about the treatment of prisoners.”

The attorney for the defendants claims that they simply designed a program, but were not involved in carrying it out, noting that “the government controlled every facet of the decision making process” adding that the defendants “did not decide who was dealt with or how”.

The interrogation program has since been discontinued and widely discredited.

Judge Justin Quackenbush said that he would allow the suit to move forward, which alleges the two defendants aided and abetted the enhanced interrogation program.

The three prisoners who are the subject of the suit were alleged to have been interrogated at a CIA-run prisons, including one in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit”, where prisoners are subjected to isolation, darkness, and extreme cold water. One was later found dead from hypothermia.

Interrogation practices by the CIA have long been shrouded in secrecy, having just recently become the subject of law suits, as well as political and citizen-level outrage. Reports showing sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and beatings, all of which went far beyond the legal limits without yielding lifesaving intelligence.

The ACLU claims that not only did the psychologists have a hand in developing the methods of interrogation, but also took part in torture sessions to test the program. Interrogation methods included slamming prisoners into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, starvation, and various kinds of water torture. The psychologists, who operated a company based in Spokane, were paid $81 million dollars over several years for the program’s development.

May
11
Kids Can Sue Over Climate Change Negligence, Says Oregon Judge
posted in: Current Affairs

In a recent ruling by an Oregon Judge, a group of youngsters won a major battle in their continuing effort to sue the federal government over climate change. The Judge, Thomas Coffin, a Federal District Court Magistrate Judge, ruled against the federal government’s motion to dismiss the case, finding in favor of the 21 young plaintiffs who brought the suit.

The lawsuit is just one of the many efforts led by the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, who filed similar petitions and lawsuits in every state in the country. Complaints allege that the United States Government has known for half a century that greenhouse gases and use of fossil fuels cause global warming and climate change, yet have done nothing about it.

“If the allegations in the complaint are to be believed, the failure to regulate the emissions has resulted in a danger of constitutional proportions to the public health” said the Judge, calling the lawsuit “unprecedented”.

The suit is based on the doctrine of public trust, similar to that of the Clean Water Act, under which governments must protect commonly held elements, including waterways and seashores for public use. This lawsuit argues that such protections should extend to the climate and atmosphere as well.

“This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth,” said Kelsey Juliana, lead plaintiff in the suit.

Three fossil fuel industry trade associations named as defendants in the suit have called the case a “direct substantial threat to their business.”

April
20
Antioch Mayor Helps Save Man’s Life After Car Crash
posted in: Auto Accidents

Wade Harper, Mayor of Antioch, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area, is being praised as a hero after his efforts earlier this month helped save a man suffering from serious injuries related to a high-speed crash with a work van on California’s Highway 4.

Harper, passing by the wreck after a city council meeting, noticed the smoking car and some slight motion from inside the vehicle and stepped into action, calling first responders and staying at the scene to comfort the man trapped inside the vehicle until help arrived.

“Lori Ogorchock was already on the phone with dispatch. I told her to tell them we need code 3 ambulances and the guy is pinned in the car. I said we need a fire extinguisher which someone from the community brought to the scene. Firefighters and police did much more than I did. I just assisted and I waited to talk the victim through it who was in and out of consciousness….As someone in law enforcement for 24 years, I stepped into action and tried to assist where I could until others arrived,” said Harper.

The driver, who Harper helped keep conscious until first responders arrived, was driving his pickup truck at a high rate of speed when he side-swiped a city council woman’s car, sending him into the rear of a construction truck occupied by two men. The driver hit the construction truck so hard that the front end of his pickup truck became wedged into the back of the vehicle.

“My first thought was…call an ambulance, make sure they’re breathing, make sure they’re okay. That just kicked in right away” said Harper. Turns out his instincts were correct, and his actions helped save both the driver and the two men in the construction truck, who survived and were taken to the hospital for additional treatment.

Mayor Harper’s actions help remind us of the value and importance of being a Good Samaritan, and lending a hand to members of our community in need. Step in and take action. We can all make a difference, and sometimes even save a life.

April
20
Fisher-Price Recalls More Than 30,000 Cradle Swings Due To Fall Hazard
posted in: Recalls

Fisher-Price announced a recall of approximately 34,000 cradle swings spanning three separate models earlier this month due to a potential falling hazard. Models of the CHM84 Soothing Savanna Cradle ‘n Swing, CMR40 Sweet Surroundings Cradle ‘n Swing, and the CMR43 Sweet Surroundings Butter Friends Cradle ‘n Swing are all subject to the recall. Owners are encouraged to review their swing’s product number found on the seat under the pad to determine whether their swing is affected.

The Cradle n’ Swings came equipped with two different swinging motions – rocking side-to-side, or swinging head-to-toe, and six different speeds from low to high. Swings were manufactured in Mexico and sold at stores nationwide including Buy Buy Baby, Target, Amazon, as well as other retail storefronts and websites from about November 2015 to March 2016 for approximately $170.

Fisher-Price issued the recall shortly after receiving reports of two models experiencing issues with the seat peg coming dislodged from the seat, causing the seat to fall. No injuries have been reported.

Consumers should discontinue use of the swings immediately and contact Fisher-Price for revised assembly instructions. You can reach Fisher-Price at 1-800-432-5437 between the hours of 9am to 6pm or online at www.service.mattel.com and clicking on “Recalls & Safety Alerts” for more information. If your child has been injured due to this defect, consult with a qualified attorney to understand your rights.

For updates on the recall please visit the CPSC recall site.

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