Recently in Legislative Issues Category

May 31, 2012

Gun Deaths Versus Motor Vehicle Deaths in Virginia

There are more gun deaths than motor vehicle related deaths in Virginia and 9 other states then in the rest of the United States. According to a 2009 federal government analysis there were 836 gun deaths and 827 motor vehicle related deaths in Virginia. Many believe this is the case because in the United States firearms are not subject to federal health and safety regulations. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the organization assigned to regulate and enforce the limited gun laws in the U.S., yet it has none of the health and safety regulatory powers given to other federal agencies.

The other 9 states where gun deaths surpassed motor vehicle deaths are:

Alaska: 104 gun deaths, 84 motor vehicle deaths
Arizona: 856 gun deaths, 809 motor vehicle deaths
Colorado: 583 gun deaths, 565 motor vehicle deaths
Indiana: 735 gun deaths, 715 motor vehicle deaths
Michigan: 1,095 gun deaths, 977 motor vehicle deaths
Nevada: 406 gun deaths, 255 motor vehicle deaths
Oregon: 417 gun deaths, 394 motor vehicle deaths
Utah: 260 gun deaths, 256 motor vehicle deaths
Washington: 623 gun deaths, 580 motor vehicle deaths

May 17, 2011

To Prevent Hospital Infections the FDA is Proposing New Guidelines For Cleaning Medical Devices

Endoscopes.bmpThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing new guidelines for the cleaning of reusable medical equipment, which if not done properly, can cause infections at hospitals and other medical facilities and doctors offices.

The new guidelines would require manufacturers to provide detailed instructions on how to clean any medical device that will be reused on multiple patients, properly. The guidelines would also provide cleaning instructions of those devices for health care professionals.

These guidelines are being implemented because when these instruments are not cleaned and/or sterilized properly, they could carry bodily fluids and other materials from one patient to the next and therefore; cause infections. These infections can be life threatening and should be avoided, and with these new guidelines, they could potentially be avoided.

A report released by the FDA, from January 2007 to May 2010, they received 80 reports of inadequate cleaning of endoscopes and 28 reports of hospital acquired infections that were most likely spread by endoscopes. Endoscopes are small cameras that are inserted into the body. They are most commonly used in colonoscopy procedures, but can also be used on ears, nose and throat procedures.

The FDA has a public workshop scheduled for June 8 and 9th of this year, to discuss the draft guidelines with manufacturers, health care providers and other government agencies, after which, the FDA would draft a final guidance. Guidance are recommended procedures that are recognized as federal standards.

May 9, 2011

Cameras Being Placed on Maryland School Buses

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In a study conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education, in February 2011, there were 7,028 violations recorded during one single day, for drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses with flashing lights. The study was conducted on 65% of Maryland's bus drivers. 4,000 of these violators were oncoming drivers, who failed to stop. 2,665 drivers passed the buses from behind on the driver's side and 366 drivers passed the buses on the passenger side.

Violating the law in Maryland, currently has a fine of up to $1,000 and three points on your driving record, if a police officer stops you, after failing to stop at least 20 feet from the school bus that has the flashing red lights operating.

Therefore, a new legislation is being passed in Maryland, where cameras would be placed on the buses by county police and the department of education to catch these violators. The violators would be fined $250. No points would be added to ones driving record and it would not be considered a moving violation, but the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) could refuse to register or suspend the registration of vehicles in cases where the fines we unpaid.

March 3, 2011

Product Liability Lawsuits Over Automobile Seat Belts Can Continue

Seat Belt Buckle.jpgOn February 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs can pursue product liability lawsuits against automakers that used lap-only seatbelts, even though federal regulations deemed them to meet the minimum standards of safety.

The new ruling will allow for wrongful death lawsuits to be brought against all car manufactures. The ruling also opens the doors to discussions over other products that only meet the minimum federal safety standards in the United States.

The new ruling will also push the automobile industry away from meeting the minimum of safety standards and move them more towards using the best available safety technology.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision was unanimous and was written by Justice Stephen Breyer.

January 28, 2011

Pharmaceutical Companies Are Responsible for the Most Federal Fraud Lawsuits Filed in the U.S.

Q: What Industry do you think is the leader in Federal Fraud Lawsuits in the United States?
A: Pharmaceutical Industries.

Photo credit: mconnors from

According to a report released by False Claims Act comes from pharmaceutical companies. The report shows that Drug Companies are the leader in Federal Fraud Lawsuits. Defense Companies accounted for 11% of fraud settlements, this makes them the second highest in federal fraud lawsuits, in the United States.

Public Citizen was founded in 1971 and serves as the people's voice in the nations capital. It is a nonprofit organization responsible for being the voice of many in all aspects of the government. They go before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the court systems. They challenge various agencies, such as pharmaceutical, nuclear and automotive industries.

The report analyzed civil and criminal settlements under the False Claims Act at the state and federal levels since 1991 in order to determine the leaders in federal fraud suits.

The False Claims Act is a law that allows people who are not affiliated with the government to file actions against federal contractors they accuse of committing claims fraud against the government. People who file under the Act stand to receive a portion of any recovered damages. This act provides a legal tool to counteract fraudulent billings turned in to the federal government. The original False Claims Act was passed in 1863 and it has since been revised. The last revision was in 1986 and since then almost $22 billion has been recovered by the federal government.

Out of the almost $22 billion recovered since 1986, 75% of the money and 73% of the cases happened in the last 5 years. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) files most of these fraud cases that are brought against the pharmaceutical companies. Most of these cases are for attempting to market medications that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is illegal under federal drug regulations for a company to promote their products that have not been approved by the FDA.

In 2009, Pfizer was fined $1.2 billion for illegally marketing the painkiller Bextra. This is currently the largest criminal fraud fine in history. The second highest was Elan Pharmaceuticals. It was fined $203 million for illegally marketing the epilepsy drug Zonegram.

July 26, 2010

Ticketed in Maryland: What Are Your Options?

Once the ticket has been written, you have two easy steps you can take: Pay the ticket or appear in court.
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When you are issued a ticket and the officer checks the "Notice to Appear" box, you have three of the following options:
- Plead "guilty" and pay the fine. Be aware however, that a plea of guilt results in the charge becoming part of your driving record. You have 15 days to pay the ticket. If the ticket is not paid within 15 days, you will automatically receive a trial date set by the court.
- Wait for trial notice and appear in court. At trial, you and the officer that issued the ticket have the opportunity to appear in court and testify in front of a judge. If you are found guilty, you have the right to an appeal within 30 days. If you do not appear at your trial, the Motor Vehicle Administration will suspend your driver's license.
- Plead "guilty with an explanation". This option gives you the opportunity for a hearing. At the hearing you can request that the fine be reduced or waived.

"Must appear" tickets are given for more serious infractions, such as, driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, driving on a suspended license, etc. , according to the District Court of Maryland.

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a new law that will come into effect on January 1, 2011. This new law requires anyone who wants a trial to formally request one. The state will no longer automatically send you a trial date notice for a traffic violation. Once the law goes into effect, you have 30 days to respond by either, paying the fine, requesting a hearing or requesting a trial date. When you request a trial date, the District Court will give you a date and time to show up in court, in front of a judge. You may bring witnesses and any evidence to prove your case.

The previous law was changed because the courts were receiving complaints from various jurisdictions about officers wasting time appearing at trials where the defendants did not appear. The new law states that failure to take one of the above options means the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) can and will suspend your license.

July 6, 2010

New Traffic Laws Go Into Effect in Virginia

Seat Belt Fasten.jpgAs of July 1st, 2010, there are two more traffic laws that are going into effect in Virginia.

The first law is the "Seatbelt Law". The Seatbelt Law is an expansion of a law that is already in the books. It states, that persons up to the age of 17 must wear seatbelts at all times, regardless of where they are seated in a vehicle. If this law is violated, Police Officers can pull you over and issue a citation of $25.00.

The second law is called the "Move Over Law". This law applies to emergency and law enforcement vehicles, as well as tow trucks and maintenance vehicles. The law requires drivers to move over a lane when passing a vehicle flashing amber lights. If this law is violated, it will be punishable as a traffic infraction.

Virginia joins 38 other stated that already have enacted the "Move Over" laws for highway workers.

June 7, 2010

Asbestos Regulations in Maryland

Asbestos.gifAsbestos: a naturally occurring mineral found in certain rock formations, mined from open pit mines. Most of the asbestos used in the United States comes from Canada. Three kinds of asbestos are most commonly found in the US: Chrysotile, "white asbestos"; Amosite, "brown asbestos" and Crodifolite, "blue asbestos".

Asbestos was used in more than 3000 different products, ranging from pipe insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, brake pads, plasters, adhesives, paint, packing materials for valves, roofing materials, etc. Asbestos fibers were wonderful to use because they were durable, strong, flexible, and most importantly resistant to wear.

Concerns with Asbestos:
In the early 1960's evidence began to emerge showing that certain diseases were rampant among asbestos workers. These workers were ones that worked in mills, manufacturing facilities, painters and shipyards. These people were heavily exposed to airborne fibers. They were at high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

The diseases most common are asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and digestive system cancers. Fibers may be inhaled or ingested. The fibers are small and can remain in the air for various hours. These fibers have no color or smell and therefore; are difficult to detect. Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition where the lungs become scarred, breathing becomes difficult and the disease may worsen even if the person stops working with asbestos. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer to the lining of the lung and/or abdominal cavities and is always fatal. None of the asbestos related diseases have early warning symptoms and are usually diagnosed years after the disease begins to develop.

Regulating Asbestos:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates Asbestos. They brought to law a Clear Air Act to produce regulations to regulate air pollutants hazardous to health. These regulations are called the Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. Asbestos is one of the air pollutants that is being regulated by the act. Asbestos in schools is also regulated by the EPA, but specifically by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). Under AHERA schools are required to inspect buildings for asbestos and develop a plan to manage asbestos. The department inspects Maryland's public and private schools.

Asbestos is regulated by states and by the federal government. The State of Maryland regulates how persons work with asbestos and also regulates those who train persons to work with asbestos. The EPA regulations cover four basic asbestos activities:
1) Removal, repair, or encapsulation of asbestos containing materials;
2) Approval of asbestos training;
3) Regulation of persons accredited to perform asbestos related activities;
4) Asbestos in schools.

May 27, 2010

Medical Malpractice Reform

medical malpractice 2.jpgThe medical malpractice system exists so that patients injured by the negligence of medical personnel can sue for their injuries. To date, it is the only opportunity for victims of medical malpractice to address their injuries in a legal and meaningful matter.

Medical malpractice lawsuits do not drive up healthcare costs. In fact, the present system saves thousands of additional patients from avoidable deaths and it provides fair compensation to those affected.

About 44,000 to 98,000 people die as a result of medical malpractice each year, according to the Institute of Medicine. These deaths can be avoided. Medical errors by health care personnel need to be prevented in order to lower this alarming number of deaths.

Tort reform may actually harm patients by focusing on costs over patient safety. In addition, the award caps that want to be implemented can also put a maximum price on a person's potential for injury compensation. This would pull some attorneys toward certain cases with higher damage caps and away from other malpractice lawsuits with less monetary value, ultimately harming many of those who truly need legal representation and financial help with continuing medical costs. This in turn does not provide a solution to the health care crisis in the United States. These limits to medical malpractice litigation instead, try to curb legal rights and costly verdicts, but do not address the prevention of medical errors.

Patients have a duty to keep better track of their own medical histories and review their medical records. Doctors also need to be questioned about anything unfamiliar or that seems unnecessary.

Victims of medical negligence deserve their day in court. They need financial compensation for their injuries and future healthcare costs and needs. If you or someone you know has been a victim of medical negligence, contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal rights and options.

May 19, 2010

The Supreme Court Rule Out Life Sentences for Some Juveniles


On May 17, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that teenagers may not be locked up for life without the possibility of parole if they have not killed anyone. This decision was made by a 5-4 vote. It was decided that the Constitution requires that juveniles serving life sentences must at least be considered for release. The Court must give the opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

In the state of Maryland over 2,300 inmates are serving life sentences, that is almost 10 percent of the prison population. Nationwide, however, one of every 11 prisoners is serving a life sentence that is about the same rate as in Maryland. In 2005, 132,000 people were serving life sentences and in 2009 this number jumped to 140,610. This jump is believed to be due to tougher policies on crime.

77 percent of inmates in prison for life sentences in Maryland are African American, making it the state with the largest share of Black prisoners serving life sentences Nationwide. Of the 269 people that are serving life sentences in Maryland for crimes committed when they were juveniles, 226 are black.

In the state of Virginia, about 2,100 inmates are serving life sentences, nearly 6 percent of the prison population. About 62 percent of the 2,100 inmates are black. Of the 107 people that are serving life sentences in Virginia for crimes committed when they were juveniles, 87 were black.

Federal Prisons in D.C. have about 5,400 out of 200,000 inmates serving life sentences.

Nationwide, 48 percent of criminals serving life sentences are black, 14 percent are Hispanic and 33 percent are white.

The increase in inmates service life sentences without the possibility of parole has increased much rapidly nationwide. In 1992, 12,400 were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole and now that number in 2009 has risen to 41,000.

May 12, 2010

Buckling Up Pays Off in Maryland

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), the Maryland State Highway Administration's Highway Safety Office, the Montgomery County Police Department and the Prince George's County Police Department are in the third year of their Buckle Up for a Buck Program.

Prince George's County leads the state in motor vehicle deaths, according to the Highway Safety Office, and therefore in the weeks prior to Memorial Day weekend police officers in both P.G. County and Montgomery County were handing out hundreds of dollars to motorists who had all occupants of their vehicles wearing seat belts.

This program is intended to draw attention to the value of seatbelts. Between 2004 and 2008 an estimated 620 people died in motor vehicle accidents in P.G. County. The state of Maryland has had a primary seat belt law in affect since October 1, 1997. The law requires the use of seat belt for the driver and front seat passenger, and any other passenger under the age of 16 must be secured by a seat belt or a child safety seat. The fine for an adult not using a seat belt is $25, the fine for a child under the age of 16 not being properly restrained is $48.

March 29, 2010

The Use of Hand Held Cell Phones While Driving Is Banned in Maryland, D.C. and V.A.

On March 23, 2010, The Maryland Senate passed legislation making it illegal for drivers in the state of Maryland to use hand held cell phones while driving. 20 other states, including the District of Columbia and Virginia have implemented a similar ban. U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood says that some states have even banned the sending and receiving of text messages while driving as well. These states are requiring drivers to use hand free devices/blue tooth headsets.

The implementation of these laws in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are taking us a step closer to banning cell phone use all together while driving. The National Safety Council blames 1.4 million automobile accidents a year on drivers who use their cell phones while driving, whether it is texting or simply talking on the phone.

The fine for the first offense would be $40.00, but would not apply to emergency calls.

These laws provide a platform for education and enforcement efforts for safer roads in Maryland. 17,344 young drivers in Maryland were involved in automobile accidents in 2008, this number represents 18.2 percent of total crashes in Maryland. Out of these, 106 resulted in deaths. It is no wonder that the Department of Transportation continues to push for stronger traffic laws.

Maryland, is however, the fourth safest for Teen drivers in the United States. Neil J. Pederson, a Safety Representative for the Maryland State Highway Administration and Governor's Highway Safety says, "there is room for improvement and we have more work to do to protect and educate the State's youngest and arguable most vulnerable drivers."

March 23, 2010

Estranged Spouses Waiting to Get Divorced Because of the Recession in MD, VA and DC

Breaking up is hard to do in time of Recession. Divorce has become something that some couple can not reach because of the decrease in house values and the increase in unemployment. Often, there is not enough money to hire attorneys, pay for separate households, fight for child custody and go to court.

A growing number of couples are deciding to wait until this economic storm passes to get divorced. Some are even taking new approaches, and living together as they separate in order to make ends meet.

David Goldberg, a divorce attorney in Gaithersburg, Maryland says he has a lot of files just sitting in his drawers because people can not move forward with a divorce. He has worked with families for over 40 years and says that he has never seen a time like this one. He has experienced that a lot of divorced couples are also having to file for bankruptcy in order to get by.

Paulene Foster, a federal worker from Olney, Maryland says she had to wait a year to get divorced because of precarious finances. She had to share her house with her estranged husband - he lived in the basement, while she lived upstairs. She finally filed for divorce last month with a $105 check after having to go to a self-help law clinic in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Other couples have to face the reality that they owe more on their family home than they would get if they sold it. In the past, couples were able to divorce quicker because they had enough equity in their homes so that both spouses could re-create lives not so different from their old ones. Now more divorced people go from homeowners to renters.

The National Marriage Project states that in 2008 (the first year of the recession) a modest decline in divorces was reported due to the Recession. That was about 838,000 divorces granted in 44 states. In 2007, however, 856,000 divorces were finalized, at a time when there was a growing economic strain in the United States. This shows a link between tough times and divorce.

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that some families are pulling together in this time of economic turmoil, and others are postponing divorce until there is a rebound in the economy and home values. The cost of a divorce can range from $100 on a do-it-yourself basis with little dispute to up to $20,000 or more for a divorce that ends up going to court.

Kirk Wilder, a lawyer in Manassas, Virginia says that in some cases, spouses are not fighting for the home, but are more willing to let the other spouse keep the home. That is a huge change from years pasts.

In the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia it is a little easier for spouses to divorce since they can live in the same house during the required separation period, while in the State of Maryland spouses must be physically separate and living in separate residences for a required full year.

In other words, the longer this severe economic downturn continues, the larger the backlog of divorces will be.

March 17, 2010

As Health Care Cost in the United States Rise Malpractice Awards Fall

Since the creation of the National Practitioner Date Bank in 1990, which tracks medical malpractice payments nationwide, the number of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of physician was the lowest in 2009.

Even as doctors and their supporters urge Congress to revamp medical malpractice as part of a health care system overhaul, payments in malpractice cases continue to go down.

Maryland currently has a cap of $575,000 for non-monetary damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Similarly, Virginia has a cap of $1.5 Million for total damages. Washington, D.C., however, has no cap on awards for pain and suffering for victims of medical malpractice.

The report, The Public Citizen, states that just one out of 57 deaths in the United States are compensated, meaning that between 83 percent and 98 percent of deaths from medical negligence did not result in a damage award, based on estimates of medical errors and deaths from malpractice.

The argument is that damage awards are a major reason for the soaring malpractice insurance premiums doctors have to pay. The threat of being sued and facing a big damage award forces doctors to practice defensively, which in turn drives up the cost of healthcare.

Patients and their survivors are finding it harder and harder to find attorneys that are willing to take on malpractice cases because the financial awards are too small, specifically for people who are retired. It is believed that this is because certain damage awards weigh heavily on lifetime earnings.

President Obama did say, however, that he is open to incorporating lawsuit reform and other GOP ideas into the health care legislation, according to the Associated Press.
Therefore, once the new health care reform goes into effect we will see how malpractice awards will be affected.

February 26, 2010

Medical Malpractice Non-Monetary Damage Cases in Maryland and Virginia are Capped

The personal injury bar won a decisive victory recently when the Supreme Court of Illinois struck down a state law limiting damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases, finding that the law interferes with the power of the judicial branch to reduce jury verdicts.

The decision stems from a case in which plaintiffs alleged malpractice against a hospital and a doctor involved in the delivery of a baby that suffered brain-damage. The proposed law advocated by the health care industry, would have limited non-monetary damages to a $1 million recovery against the hospital and its personnel and to a $500,000 recovery against the individual doctor.

Maryland currently has a cap of $575,000 for non-monetary damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which is being challenged by [name some trial lawyer association]. Similarly, Virginia has a cap of $1.5 Million for total damages . Washington, D.C., however, has no cap on awards for pain and suffering for victims of medical malpractice.

The Illinois case featured several prominent Washington, D.C. players, such as professor and attorney Michael Gottesman who teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center, and Attorney Robert Peck, who heads the Center for Constitutional Litigation located in the nation's capital. They both argued the case on behalf of the injured party. Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Washington Attorney with law firm Gibson Dunn, argued for the defense.