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Plenty of Warning Signs before Egg-Salmonella Crisis

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Years before eggs from a family-run farm in Iowa sickened more than 1,500 people, there were plenty of signs that all was not well at the DeCoster-run farm. In fact, Alex “Jack” DeCoster, who owns Wright Country Egg, one of the firms involved in the Salmonella-contaminated egg scandal, had found himself faced with civil fines, penalties, inspections and lawsuits over the years. These complaints have had to do with labor violations and environmental violations, and violation of workplace safety and health standards.

Back during the Clinton administration, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected a DeCoster-owned farm at Turner in Maine, they found deplorable working conditions. To their horror, workers, mostly undocumented Mexican laborers, were not provided gloves to handle dead chickens and feed. The workers lived in cramped and filthy trailers, and had no protection against bacteria exposure. In fact, inspectors had described the facility as little more than a “dangerous sweatshop.” Iowa authorities have frequently cited a DeCoster hog farm as a “habitual violator” of water rules. In the midst of all these violations, there were accusations of workplace sexual harassment. The company paid out a multimillion dollar settlement to settle claims that undocumented female workers from Mexico were being subjected to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

This was far from an ideal American workplace, and it’s not surprising that the deplorable hygiene conditions at the facility ended in a nationwide salmonella outbreak. The FDA now says that if its new egg safety rules, which went into effect in July, had been in place earlier, this food poisoning epidemic could have been avoided. Food poisoning class action lawyers find that highly doubtful. The FDA has a good record of inspections, but a poor record of following up on those inspections. The agency levies few and pitifully low penalties, and has no powers to initiate a recall.

American Airlines Mechanics Union Threatens to Quit Aviation Safety Program

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

There is much distrust right now between the mechanics union at American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration over a safety program that encourages airline workers to report safety violations to the agency. The program is called Aviation Safety Action Partnership or ASAP, and it encourages airline employees including mechanics, pilots and others to come forward when they observe safety violations, and report these to the Federal Aviation Administration in return for immunity from punishment. Not every report by an airline employee will be eligible for inclusion in the ASAP. A report must not be falsified, and cannot involve intentional misconduct or drug or alcohol use.

The basis of any program like this is obviously trust between the workers and the aviation safety agency. That trust has been sorely lacking here is illustrated by a threat issued this week by American Airlines mechanics union, the Transport Workers Union, warning that the union would quit the ASAP. At the heart of that threat is a complaint that American Airlines workers who came forward with information about safety violations have, far from the agency's promise, actually been the subject of further investigation.

The Transport Workers Union is citing at least 16 instances in which workers came forward with information about violations, which should have shielded them from investigations. Instead, the FAA actually initiated enforcement action against these employees, the union says. According to the FAA, all 16 reports that the union has cited were rejected because they did not meet the criteria for inclusion in ASAP.

This union-airline tussle is only the most recent in a series of disagreements involving American Airlines and Federal Aviation Administration. In 2008, the agency grounded hundreds of American Airlines jets in order to check them for electrical safety. American was forced to cancel thousands of flights and incurred severe losses. The airline has an axe to grind with the FAA, and hence this new threat about quitting the ASAP. Anything that discourages the disclosure of airline safety information is of great concern to California aviation lawyers.

Seatbelts on Buses May Soon Be Mandatory

Friday, August 20, 2010

If the Department of Transportation has its way, some types of bus will be required to have seatbelts soon. Spurred by a series of fatal bus accidents over the past couple of years, the DOT is moving towards mandating seatbelts on large motor coaches.

The rule will not cover all buses, as many Las Vegas vehicle accident lawyers had hoped it would. It would not apply to city transit buses that are used for local transportation. It would apply only to large motor coaches that are used for intercity or interstate transport. According to the Department of Transportation, this is because most deadly bus accidents occur on highways, and not on urban streets. In fact, according to a study by federal officials, approximately two-thirds of all bus accidents are single vehicle accidents. Approximately 75% of the fatalities in these accidents could likely have been prevented if the passengers had been buckled in at the time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admits that bus accidents killed 36 people in 2008, and wearing a lap and shoulder belt could minimize the risk of being killed in a bus accident by over 77%. Bus travel has become increasing popular in the country. In 2008, 762 million passengers rode motor coaches. That was an increase of 1.5% over 2007. According to authorities, that number is likely to have since risen. The recession has meant more people opting for more affordable means of transportation.

Las Vegas bus accident lawyers had hoped for a rule that also required seat belts in all school buses. It's a fact that school bus accidents are relatively rare, but when these do occur, children may be at a serious risk of injury or death. More and more states have begun to mandate seatbelt use even in back seats of passenger vehicles, and it makes no sense that children in school buses continue to remain unprotected.

Lessons from the HP Sexual Harassment Scandal

Thursday, August 12, 2010

By now, Mark Hurd's tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard is old history. Last week, Hurd resigned from his position as CEO of one of the world's biggest computer companies, after a contractor made allegations of sexual harassment against him. That sexual harassment claim resulted in an investigation by the company’s board of directors. The harassment claim has since been settled for a confidential amount, but the board of directors decided that Hurd behaved inappropriately by fabricating company expense accounts, and failing to disclose a relationship with a contractor that constituted conflict of interest.

However, it is what has happened since the resignation that will continue to interest California employment lawyers. A couple of media publications this week broke the news that the woman who made the harassment complaint, Jodie Fisher, had done a few soft core porn films in the past. Up until that news leak, lawyers for Jodie Fisher had presented her as a single mother with a son who until recently held the position of the vice president of a commercial real estate company.

It's interesting to imagine what the consequences of Fisher's sexual harassment lawsuit would have been had the news of her porn film past made headlines before Hurd’s resignation, or even when she had just filed her sexual harassment claim. Unfortunately, it looks like Ms. Fisher will continue to feature in lurid media accounts of the sexual harassment claim that brought down a HP CEO, with plenty of breathless tidbits about her scintillating past. The trend can already be seen in the way media publications are taking the news of her past and running with it. Already questions are being asked about whether the HP board of directors was too quick in getting Mark Hurd to resign. There is an underlying theme to these questions - the past of the accuser.

Ultimately, Fisher's past doesn't really matter. The claim is settled, and Hurd is out. But the media salivating about Fisher's past, proves to Los Angeles employment lawyers that women who file sexual harassment lawsuits can often find themselves being treated like the accused.

Swimming Pools and Injuries - Drowning, Diving Injuries, and Slips

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Swimming pools offer a refreshing summer activity, but safety should be a priority. Supervision of children is paramount, as almost 3000 adolescents aged 14 or under were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2004 for drowning related incidents. For the age group "4 and under", the death rate is higher than other groups, and the statisitices indicate that boys are more likely than girls to drown. (Injury Facts, 2004 edition, National Safety Council, 2004)

Drowning is not the only type of serious incident that can occur in a swimming pool. Diving into a pool has resulting in numerous head, neck, and back injuries. However, diving boards are not clearly to blame. A study from the American Institutes for Research indicated that  57% of all pool diving accidents occur in water four feet deep or shallower and according to the Spinal Cord Injury Information Network and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, less than 10% of all swimming pool diving injuries involve a diving board. Diving boards, when properly positioned, maintained, and supervised can be safe and fun.

Running on a pool deck can be especially dangerous, as water on the deck can make for a slippery surface, causing a person to fall into the water, crash into patio furniture, or slip onto a concrete surface with high force.

For homeowners and guest, setting and abiding by safety rules can help reduce any incidents. For pool parties with many children,  it is wise to have someone dedicated to watching the pool, perhaps even hiring a lifeguard. Following these steps can decrease the liability in pool injuries, and prevent the worst case scenarios.

Risks of Gastric Lap Band Surgery

Monday, August 02, 2010

A former doctor, who worked at the renowned New York University Langone Medical Center Surgical Weight Loss Program, has gone public about the risk to patients from lap band surgeries. Doctor Neelu Pal worked for three months at the center in late 2005 and early 2006. During those three months, she says she saw Doctor George Fielding and Doctor Christine Ren perform gastric band surgeries on as many as 20 patients in a single day. She complained to the hospital authorities about the risk to patients from stressed doctors, but her complaints were overlooked.

So, Doctor Pal did the next best thing. She began telephoning patients who were scheduled for gastric lap band surgery at the center to inform them about the risks of surgery. When the authorities at the hospital found out about this, her services were terminated. She has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the center.

Some of her allegations have since been corroborated by an investigation by the New York State Health Department.

Her concerns have not gone unnoticed in Arizona, either. The gastric lap band surgery business is a booming one. The number of overweight people in the US, desperate and ready to undergo surgery to lose weight, is too high for any slowdown in this industry soon. The number of such people ready to go under the knife to be slim is bound to increase, if federal authorities give approval for the surgery to be used in teenagers as young as 14 years of age.
Doctor Ren happens to be one of the investigators who participated in a clinical trial sponsored by Allergan, to study the effects of the surgery on teenagers. Allergan has now filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration seeking permission to market the device to teenagers. If the company gets the approval it needs, we could have more numbers of teenagers signing up for the surgeries, ill aware of the risks. These risks could be grave if the procedure is being performed in an assembly line lap band factory.

Child experts have been concerned about the safety of teenagers having gastric lap band surgery. There is a potential danger in attaching a plastic device around the stomach, and expecting the organ not to erode overtime. There have been no tests to confirm the long-term effects of the surgery in teenagers. With approximately one in every five American teenagers overweight, these are real concerns to Arizona medical malpractice lawyers.

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