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4 posts from November 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When a child drinks cologne, by all means, sue the doctor...

It’s a story that’s easy to miss in the post-Sandy, post-Election Day, “fiscal cliff” news cycle, but one that will stick with you for a while after learning about it. 

A New Jersey appeals court has determined that an emergency room doctor must stand trial for failing to report to the Division of Youth and Family Services that he treated a child who ingested cologne. 

The 3-year-old patient, identified in court papers as “S.A.,” was abandoned by her mother soon after birth in 1998.  The Division (DYFS) placed her in the care of her father two years later.  She was brought to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune in early 2001 by other relatives, who said that she was “walking with an unsteady gait and was observed as lethargic and weak with an unusual odor on her breath.”

From a layman’s standpoint, it appears that the emergency room doctor, Daniel Yu, performed a thorough examination, leading him to conclude (correctly) that the young child ingested cologne.  She was treated and her extended family was on its way. 

Two months after the cologne incident, DYFS received a disturbing report: S.A., still under her father’s care, had been severely burned and beaten.  She had chemical burns on various parts of her body, including her vagina.  At this point S.A. was removed from her father’s custody by the Division.  She was later adopted by the plaintiff in this case, L.A. v. DYFS, A-2726-11, who is identified as L.A. in court papers. 

 

And in 2007, L.A. filed suit – not just against the Division, which evidently had some history with the child’s family – but against Dr. Yu and Jersey Shore University Medical Center.  DYFS settled with L.A. for $5 million.  No suit was filed against the child’s abuser.  

N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10 requires anyone who believes a child is being abused or neglected to contact DYFS.  Mercer County Superior Court Judge Paul Innes didn’t believe that a toddler ingesting a foreign substance was indicative of abuse.  It’s the sort of thing that happens in the happiest of homes from time to time, to the tune of at least 100,000 childhood emergency room visits each year.  The appellate court, however, disagreed with his assessment, and the case will be going forward. 

The medical community fears that if Dr. Yu and the hospital are found liable, doctors and hospital staff will be pressured to report abuse for tiniest of infractions, overwhelming a DYFS system that is already overwhelmed and creating an adverse affect on children’s health and well-being.  The threat of DYFS involvement may discourage parents from seeking immediate care when children swallow things they shouldn’t, mask their child’s symptoms, or even deter them from bringing their child to the emergency room altogether in order to avoid the legal scrutiny and uncertainty to follow. 

The need to reform our legal system isn’t just about the taxes we pay or improving New Jersey’s economy.  It’s also about injecting common sense into real-life situations we all face. 

So, should the doctor and hospital be found liable of malpractice for not reporting that a toddler drank cologne to DYFS, you may want to prepare yourself for a barrage of questions the next time you take your kid to the E.R. for sticking a LEGO in his ear.     

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gas cans and natural disasters become the new face of legal reform

The chaos and heartache brought about by Hurricane Sandy forced New Jerseyans to appreciate the utilities and shelter we often take for granted, and incidentally, renewed our appreciation for gasoline and the containers which store it. 

You may not realize it, but if you used a gas can during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, it was likely manufactured by Blitz, a company in a small Oklahoma town.  And sadly, it's now a relic of the pre-lawsuit abuse era.

Blitz sold more than 14 million cans per year for the last decade, which translates to 75 percent of all gas cans sold in the United States.  Fewer than two incidents per million cans sold were reported, and most involved obvious misuse.  Pouring gasoline from the container onto an open fire was a common theme. 

Of the 62 cases filed since 1994, only two made it to court and only of those cases was successful.  The rest were settled or dismissed, notes a New York TImes report.  Nevertheless, it still cost the Oklahoma-based company $30 million in legal fees, and presumably, higher insurance premiums to cover the additional $30 million paid by their insurance companies.   Sadly, these costs of doing business in America forced the leading manufacturer of gas cans in the United States to close its 117-person operation for good.  Buying domestic also just got a bit harder. 

For New Jerseyans who retained their homes but lost their power, gasoline offered somewhat of a lifeline for those with generators to fill.  And as shelters and motels filled to capacity, generators were able to keep more people in their homes even as temperatures dropped.  A not-so-small silver lining during a catostrophic storm.   

Of course we hope we never see a storm of Sandy's magnitude ever again.  But if we do, the absence of Blitz in our markets may make generator-powered electricity a difficult commodity to deliver.  

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Resources: Donate. Volunteer. Get Help.

Volunteering

Help is needed in the Northern and Coastal parts of the state to sort donations and dispense meals, flashlights, and toiletries.  Jersey Shore Hurricane News has the most up-to-date information about where manpower is most needed, as well as find information about gas stations.  You can find them on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/JerseyShoreHurricaneNews.  The Red Cross also has a mobile app you can use to find blood donation sites.  Access it here to find out where to donate blood.  

Donating

Instantly donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999. Donate online here. For non-cash donations, visit Jersey Shore Hurricane News for the most up-to-date dropoff locations.

FEMA and Small Business Assistance

Those affected by the storm in Atlantic, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union Counties must register with FEMA in order to receive assistance.  You may register with FEMA here.  The Federal Small Business Association may be able to assist those with businesses in the affected areas. 

Hurricane Sandy Resources - Where to Vote

Our thoughts are with our fellow New Jerseyans and those New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Below is a list of resources pertaining to voting, volunteering, donating, and accessing assistance. 

Voting

Eligible voters may cast a ballot at their county clerk’s office during regular business hours today and tomorrow.  (Click here for your county clerk’s location).  

Voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy may vote at ANY open polling location and may cast a provisional ballot.

For displaced voters with access to the Internet or a fax machine, you may vote by email or fax by downloading an application here

For additional questions, please call 1-877-NJVOTER.

Volunteering

Help is needed in the Northern and Coastal parts of the state to sort donations and dispense meals, flashlights, and toiletries.  Jersey Shore Hurricane News has the most up-to-date information about where manpower is most needed, as well as find information about gas stations.  You can find them on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/JerseyShoreHurricaneNews.  The Red Cross also has a mobile app you can use to find blood donation sites.  Access it here to find out where to donate blood.  

Donating

Instantly donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999. Donate online here. For non-cash donations, visit Jersey Shore Hurricane News for the most up-to-date dropoff locations.

FEMA and Small Business Assistance

Those affected by the storm in Atlantic, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union Counties must register with FEMA in order to receive assistance.  You may register with FEMA here.  The Federal Small Business Association may be able to assist those with businesses in the affected areas.