The Unintended Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

Every day there are forty-six deaths in the United States attributable to a prescription overdose. In 2011 alone, 16,917 overdose deaths involved opioid pain relievers, with 31% of the deaths including benzodiazepine sedatives as well (CDC WONDER, unpublished data, 2014). In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Although many injuries and medical conditions require pain medication as treatment, prescription drug overdose has become an epidemic in the United States according to the Center of Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden. Prescriptions have increased 400 percent in the last decade. Nebraska has the third lowest drug mortality rate in the United States, however does little to curb prescription drug abuse.

One reason there is such a problem with overdosing on prescription drugs is overprescribing. Unfortunately prescription opioid abuse kills twice as many people as heroin and cocaine combined, and new studies suggest that 3 out of 4 people with a dependence on heroin began with prescription painkillers. Some states have begun to institute a prescription drug monitoring program in order to deal with the problem. In 2013, New York saw a 75 percent decline in the number of patients obtaining painkillers from multiple subscribers after instituting a monitoring program.

If you have an injury requiring prescription drugs, you can avoid falling into the addiction which leads to overdose by taking your medication exactly the way it is prescribed.  Read more

Should I Stop & Render Aid to Accident Victims?

 

We have all done it.  We see someone who has had an accident and needs help.  We stop and offer assistance.  Do we have to stop and render aid?  Can we get into any trouble if we do not?  What if we stop and render aid and do something wrong?  If you actually are involved in the accident, you must stop, ascertain the identity of all involved, identify yourself and render reasonable assistance to any injured persons including ensuring injured persons obtain transport to a physician for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent such treatment is necessary or requested by an injured person.  Neb. Rev. Stat. §60-697.   If you fail to stop and render aid, you risk  Read more

The Three Most Common Car Accident Injuries

One in every 46 Nebraska drivers will be involved in an automobile accident each year, according to the Nebraska Department of Highway Safety.  The most common automobile accident injury is neck strain, commonly referred to as “whiplash”.  Neck strain injuries often occur as a result of the impact felt when a vehicle is rear-ended.  Upon impact, the force of the rear vehicle reaches the driver causing the head of the driver to snap forward and then backwards.  Neck strain caused by this type of injury is often accompanied by other symptoms, Read more

Severe Bleeding Risk Linked to Xarelto

One of the newest blood thinners on the market, Xarelto, has been added to the list of drugs with dangerous side effects.  Xarelto was approved in 2011 as a potentially safer alternative to Warfarin, as Xarelto does not require regular blood monitoring or frequent doctor follow up.  Unfortunately, Xarelto has now shown to be on the same dangerous path as other blood thinners which have severe and lethal risks.  Xarelto was originally prescribed to prevent stroke or blood clots in patients suffering from atrial fibrillation and to reduce the risk of blood clots in patients undergoing knee or hip replacement surgery.  Xarelto was expanded in 2012 to allow the drug to be used as a treatment for deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of dangerous blood clots, caused by uncontrollable bleeding.  Patients who have suffered side effects from this drug can experience high medical debt from emergency visits to the hospital and the costs of ongoing care, as well as lost wages from time away from work.

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Making Summer Safer with Water Safety Tips

The holiday weekend brings friends, family and fun. This summer as you and your family resume swimming and other water sports, remember to be safe. Set water safety rules for your family and make sure you pay attention to weather conditions and forecast. When jumping into the water, jump in feet first, unless the area is clearly marked for diving and has no obstructions. Never mix alcohol with swimming, diving or boating as alcohol reduces the body’s ability to stay warm and affects your reaction time, swimming and diving skills.

Never leave a child unattended around water and always keep a phone nearby for emergencies. Remember that you may not always hear a child in trouble in the water as a child drowning is often not able to splash to alert anyone of trouble. Child drowning is a silent death so designate at least one person to monitor children in the water.   Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use as toys attract children to the water. Always remove pool covers completely prior to use. Don’t be afraid to use flotation devices with your children, however they are not a substitute for adult supervision.

If you will be boating, ensure that there are life jackets for yourself and every person in your party. Make sure someone who will stay on land knows when you leave, your expected route and when you will be back. If you will be skiing, ensure that you keep far enough away from the motor and any moving parts of the boat. Always carry a first aid kit, a flashlight and a whistle in the boat. Be sure that rafts and kayaks are in good condition and avoid areas where the water is very low or has large amounts of debris. Do not overload a raft or go rafting after a heavy rain. Tubes should be checked for stability prior to entering the water.

Water sports and activities offer a lot of fun for the entire family, if proper safety precautions are followed. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Firework Safety for Independence Day

fireworks-photos-146

The Fourth of July means many things to America, the most important of which is an opportunity to celebrate the freedom we celebrate in this country.  It is a time for family, friends and fun.  It can also be a dangerous time for children and adults.  Over 550 children under the age of 16 require medical care in the four weeks surrounding July 4th, with more boys than girls becoming injured by fireworks.  The majority of these boys are ages 12 to 15 years.  Although it is important to children to be involved with the fireworks, simple safety precautions can prevent major injuries.  First, remember that children require supervision and should always be kept a safe distance from any fireworks display.  Children under five are too young to safely hold a sparkler on their own and do not understand why the pretty colored wand is dangerous.  Likewise, a baby or toddler will reach for anything brightly colored so avoid holding a baby or toddler while handling fireworks or sparklers.  Even older children require supervision while handling sparklers.  It is also a good idea to keep a bucket of water handy to dispose sparklers in once they have burned out to avoid a child from picking up a hot one off the ground.

It is a good idea to have one designated person to set up and light the fireworks.  Adults should use a taper or firework lighter to light fireworks instead of a cigarette lighter and remember to hold fireworks at an arm’s length or place it on the ground before lighting.  Move away from the fireworks after you light it but be very careful not to slip and fall.  Never light a firework close to your face or loose fitting clothing and avoid drinking alcohol if you will be lighting the fireworks.  Fireworks can have delays in their burn cycles so do not approach a firework until at least one minute has passed since its last activity and do not try to relight a “dud” .    The National Council on Fireworks Safety recommends wearing safety glasses when using fireworks and only lighting on firework at a time.  Bonfires should be at least 60 feet away from any building or structure, trees, hedges or fences.  Never throw fireworks into a bonfire.  It is important to ensure that you gather all of the spent fireworks after the display to prevent any burns, fires or any live fireworks from getting into the hands of children.  Make sure all fireworks are purchased legally and do not try to make your own fireworks as it is illegal and places you and your loved ones in danger.

Accidents happen so if you do experience a burn, flush it immediately with cold water for at least ten minutes and seem medical attention.  Never pull at clothing which may be stuck to a burn and make sure you keep burns clean and covered to avoid infection and aid in the healing process.  Remember that any burn larger than a postage stamp should be treated by a medical professional.  Remember this Independence Day that simple safety precautions can prevent your fun family celebration from becoming a trip to the emergency room. Have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

What to Do After an Automobile Accident

It happens in a second, often without warning.  It can be a short term inconvenience or a life altering event.  Most of us have been involved in some sort of automobile accident in our life.  Even if you are the most careful driver operating a vehicle with a high safety rating, you cannot avoid every accident.  So once you have been involved in an accident, what steps can you take to prevent further danger to yourself, the other driver or anyone else involved in the accident?  First, do not stand in the street and make sure you render aid to any injured persons.  Do not leave the scene of the accident, even if it doesn’t seem serious.  You could be charged with “Leaving the Scene of an Accident”, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony crime , depending on whether the other party claims injuries as a result of the accident and your state’s laws.  It is also important that you document the accident completely.  This includes exchanging insurance information and reporting the accident to law enforcement.   You will also want to take photographs if it is safe to do so without standing where you could be hit by passing traffic.  Photographs can be taken by a digital camera or even a camera phone.

Exchanging insurance information is an important part of documenting the accident.  Make sure you confirm the information the other driver gives you by viewing their driver’s license and insurance card.  Be sure to exchange name, address, phone number, insurance company, insurance policy and make, model and color of the vehicles involved in the accident.  Reporting the accident to law enforcement will also help both drivers confirm the information is accurate and any statements to the police regarding liability or potential injuries.  If you are injured in the accident, seek medical care as soon as possible and follow the recommendations of your treating physicians.  Make sure you keep a good record of where you have treated and any bills or expenses related to the accident.  Reporting the accident to law enforcement helps further document the occurrence of the accident.  As many as one in seven drivers has no car insurance.  This is why it is important to keep your insurance up to date.  If an uninsured driver hits you, you may need to make a claim against your own insurance company.  Do not forget to file your driver accident report, which must be filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten (10) days of your accident in the State of Nebraska.  Make sure you are detailed and note what street you were on, which direction you were traveling and the details of how the accident happened.  You will also want to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses to the accident.

Not everyone is calm and collected at the scene of an accident, but remember to handle yourself appropriately.  Always ask if the other driver is okay and never admit fault.  Be polite and courteous, but do not offer more information than your name and basic insurance information.  Remember that comments made at the scene of an accident can be held against you later.   You may also want to consult with an attorney to determine whether or not you have a claim against the other driver for your injuries and to ensure you get a fair and timely property settlement from the insurance company.  Remember that insurance claims take time to resolve so keep in touch with the insurance company while your vehicle is being repaired in order to ensure that your vehicle is repaired properly and you do not end up owing extra money in car rental fees.    Properly documenting an accident can ensure a smoother insurance claims process and reduce your stress as you prepare to find a new vehicle and get back on the road again.

 

Tracy Morgan and James “Jimmy Mack” McNair: Another Tragedy Caused by Lack of Sleep?

This weekend brought yet another tragedy caused by a truck driver who hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours prior to the accident.  Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) requires truck drivers to take breaks from driving in their hours-of-service rules, it is not uncommon for accidents to occur when drivers violate those rules.  In 2013, these rules were modified to limit the maximum average work week for a truck driver to 70 hours (a decrease from the former 82 hours) with a requirement for truck drivers to take a 30 minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.  The rules were also modified to allow drivers who reach the maximum of 70 hours a week to resume if they had rested 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights when their body clock demands the sleep most – from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m.   The rules allow for 11 hours of daily driving and a 14 hour work day.  Penalties for violations of these rules carry fines of up to $11,000.00 per offense for trucking companies and civil penalties to the drivers of up to $2,750.00 for each offense.  However, the real concern for these rules is highway safety.    According to FMSCA Administrator Anne S. Ferro, “These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research and unprecedented stakeholder outreach. . . The result is a fair and balanced approach that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives.”  The new regulations were estimated to save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year.

That’s what happened to a married couple, their two sons, and an unborn child who were moving from Montgomery County to California in 2012.  Christopher Schmidt, age 30 and his wife, Diana Schmidt, age 28, were moving their family to the Sacramento area to be closer to Diana’s parents.  Diana Schmidt was seven months pregnant.  The two parents were traveling in separate cars, one behind the other, when they were forced to stop for traffic on Interstate 80 which had slowed due to another accident ahead.  A tractor-trailer approaching from behind slammed into the Ford Mustang Christopher Schmidt was driving and the force of that collision propelled the Mustang into the rear of the Toyota Corolla carrying Diana and the children, causing the Toyota to crash into a truck stopped in front of it.  Both cars burst into flames and the entire family, plus their three dogs perished in the crash.  Ultimately, the driver of the semi, Josef Slezak, age 36, pled guilty to four counts of motor vehicle homicide and one count of motor vehicle homicide of an unborn fetus.  Josef Slezak had been asleep at the wheel when the crash occurred and there was no evidence he slowed down as he approached the line of stopped traffic.  Testimony in this case demonstrated that Slezak left Midwest Refrigerated Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about 3 o’clock in the afternoon Central Time on September 8, 2012 and was on-duty until the early morning hours of the crash in Cheyenne County on September 9th, nearly 15 hours later, which would exceed regulations.  My partner, attorney John Inserra, opines “These cases often require extensive discovery to determine hours of service issues, as well as the safety of the tractor/trailer and whether other federal trucking regulations have been violated in a thorough investigation of the claim.”

In the Tracy Morgan accident, Wal-Mart trucker Kevin Roper failed to slow for traffic ahead and swerved to avoid a crash, ultimately smashing into the back of Morgan’s chauffeured limo bus, killing comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair and injuring Tracy Morgan and three other people.  He has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto.  A New Jersey law allows a person who causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours to be charged with assault.  Wal-Mart has stated it would “take full responsibility” if it were determined its truck caused the accident, however stated it believed Roper was operating within federal regulations.  Federal data confirms that Wal-Mart trucks have been involved in 380 crashes in the past two years, causing nine deaths and 129 injuries, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  The Morgan and Schmidt accidents further emphasize the importance of truckers obeying the hours of service regulations not only for their own safety but to avoid tragedies that affect innocent families.

Summer Road Trips: Are your tires safe?

road trip

Summer is here and it is time to plan the family vacation.  When we learn to drive a car, we learn basic vehicle safety.  We are told to check the oil, kick the tires and make sure our fluid levels are steady.  But what about what we cannot easily see?  A vehicle’s tires have been considered to be at the top of the list for safety features in a vehicle.  They help the vehicle maintain steering, stability, traction and, yes, even braking systems.  However, tires can and do fail.  Whether it is from a nail you picked up somewhere along your travels or from abrupt tire failure, this can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle with devastating consequences, especially at high speeds or on the interstate.  Tire defects can include inadequate tire design, poor manufacturing standards, insufficient tire bonding, use of old adhesives, improper cooking temperatures or even contamination during production, caused by moisture, sawdust, grease or rust.  When a tire fails, you may experience anything from tread separation to a tire blowout.  Tread separation occurs when a tire’s belts rip apart from each other.  A blowout can be caused by a puncture or cut to the sidewall of a tire or by a defective rim that cuts into the sidewall or causes the bead to break, ultimately slipping the tire off the rim.  Low air pressure can also cause a blowout.

There are warning signs, however.  If your vehicle experiences unusual shaking when you are driving, an unusual thumping or vibration, sudden pulling of the vehicle to one side (often referred to as “radial pulling”), or you notice uneven or excessive tread wear; you should have your tires checked.  You should adhere to your vehicle’s maintenance schedule for rotating, aligning and balancing your tires and between maintenance check to ensure your tires are properly inflated and not losing air pressure.  A common way to check your tire treat is by placing a penny between the tread grooves in the tire with Abraham Lincoln’s image facing upside down and forward.  If Lincoln’s hair is partially visible, it is time to replace your tires.  If his entire head is visible, you have lost most of your traction and should have your tires replaced immediately.

Unfortunately, a recent report by ABC News revealed that many recalled tires remain on the road today due to a badly flawed governmental recall system.  When you replace a tire, take note of the tire’s Department of Transportation (DOT) Tire Identification Number (TIN), imprinted on the sidewall of the tire.  The first 7 or 8 digits disclose information regarding the tire size and the manufacturer; while the last four digits reveal the week and year it was made.  You can also search for tire recalls on Safercar.gov.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also provides an avenue to sign up for updates on tire recalls on their website or by following the agency on Twitter or Facebook.

Driving on safe tires means you can keep yourself and your entire family safe while in your vehicle.  With a few minor precautions, you can make that summer family road trip safer and more enjoyable.

Injured at Work: Do I have more than one claim?

 

hurt at work

It is Monday morning and you report to your job as a file clerk in a major corporation.  You go to the filing cabinet to get a file and trip over a drawer that was left open again, despite numerous complaints to management about the number of times this has happened and the danger it presents.  You have tripped over this drawer before, which is often left open because the file cabinet doesn’t close correctly and is due to be replaced.  You and other co-workers have put in requisition forms to your supervisor to replace the cabinet, but the budget is tight this year and the company has not replaced it.  Usually you just stub your toe or stumble and catch yourself, but today you actually fall and break your ankle and twist your back while falling.  What are your rights?  Who will pay your medical bills?  Who will pay your salary while you are off work?

In Nebraska, your only option against your employer is workers’ compensation under the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine.   Plock v. Crossroads Joint Venture, 239 Neb. 211, 475 N.W.2d 105 (1991).  Despite the fact that your employer failed to replace the filing cabinet and/or disregarded your complaints and didn’t make any changes in procedure, you will not have a lawsuit against your employer outside of workers’ compensation.  There is no claim for an intentional tort against your employer in the State of Nebraska.  The exclusive remedy doctrine provides a “give-and-take” remedy for addressing work-related injuries in which the employee relinquishes the right to sue an employer in civil court in exchange for specific and guaranteed benefits under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, regardless of fault.  Benefits usually include payment of medical treatment under a specified fee schedule, as well as “indemnity” payments to help compensate the worker for lost wages.

If you are injured at work, workers’ compensation will generally cover your injuries, with certain limited exceptions such as if your employer has entered into an express contract with a third-party to indemnify the third-party for the loss.    Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Kaiser Ag. Chem. Co., 229 Neb. 160 (1988).   Railroads are governed by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act  of 1908 (FELA), rather than workers’ compensation, which falls under a different set of guidelines.  Even though workers’ compensation is your exclusive remedy for the negligence of your employer, you may have other claims.  Should your injuries be the fault of a third party, you may be able to seek compensation from the third party.  In this case, the workers’ compensation carrier may still pay your bills, however they are entitled to recovery of their payments from any settlement with the negligent party.  The employer is, however, protected from the third-party defendant’s attempts to seek contribution against an injured employee’s employer or co-workers.

If an employer subject to the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act fails to carry workers’ compensation insurance or an acceptable alternative, it loses the protection of the exclusive remedy.  In this situation, an employee can choose whether to accept the guaranteed benefits under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act or to pursue a civil action directly against the employer.  Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-145(3).   The employer’s non-compliance with the law operates as a Waiver of Exclusive Remedy.

So now that you know who will pay for your injuries, what is your responsibility as an injured employee?  First, you must timely give notice of your injury to your employer.  The law says this must be done “as soon as practicable” in writing, describing the details of your injury including the time, date, place and cause of the injury.  This notice is not necessary if your employer has “actual” notice of the injury, such as if the employer is present at the time of the injury.  Thompson v. Monfort of Colo, Inc., 221 Neb. 83, 375 N.W.2d 601 (1985).  Once your employer is notified of the injury, it is their responsibility to file a First Report of Injury with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court and open a claim.

It is important to note that your claim must be filed within two years of the date of your accident or two years from the last payment for compensation of medical or indemnity (wages).  Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-137.  If you or a loved one has suffered an injury at work, you should have your claim evaluated by an attorney who handles workers’ compensation and is familiar with the specifications of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.