Articles Posted in Counseling

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Orthopedic surgeon discussing revision surgery for recalled artificial hip
I get this question fairly often, and it’s a good one. It usually goes something like this: a person had a total hip replacement several years ago. A few years pass. Then out of the blue the individual receives a letter from the artificial hip manufacturer or from the implanting surgeon explaining that a recall has been issued for the artificial hip components implanted. (And these are the lucky patients; many people who receive an artificial hip that was later recalled never get notification from their doctor, the manufacturer, or anyone. They don’t discover they have a defective artificial hip until the pain, metallosis, or other injury develops.) If I were in this position, and I received a recalled artificial hip, I would want to know: Should I have the recalled hip removed? And should I have the hip removed immediately?

As with most things in life, the answer is not simple.

I have been a product liability lawyer for many years now, and in that time I have spoken with hundreds of people suffering from defective products. I have heard dozens of variations on a similar narrative. While this is neither medical nor legal advice, here are my suggestions:

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I get these calls fairly often. The caller will explain that her lawyer just called out of the blue with an offer to settle an artificial hip or prescription drug case. The person believes the offer is too low. Well, is it? That’s a complex question, and it may be, but there are distinct reasons why the person believes the offer is too low. Let’s take a look at what may be happening:

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

Lawyer explaining settlement terms to client
Often, the problem starts with the lawyer’s failure to communicate. People will tell me that they never hear from their attorney, and then suddenly, after many months or even years have passed, the lawyer will call and quickly explain the terms of a settlement offer then hurry off the phone. This is a mistake. The lawyer should take as long as necessary to fully explain why the settlement number is what it is. In fact, it is important for the lawyer to keep the client updated on developments throughout the litigation. For example, if another plaintiff in the larger litigation loses an important bellwether case, the lawyer should call and report the loss and what it may mean for the litigation and how it might impact settlement (obviously, it’s not good for all plaintiffs if a bellwether case is lost). If the client understands generally how the multi-district litigation is progressing, the client will be more prepared when a settlement offer finally arrives.

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Failed Hips and Harmful Drugs: The Product Liability Podcast

I’ve been writing on this product liability website for three years. I have now published over 200 articles, and two ebooks, and a page with definitions, and another page providing links to other useful websites, and yet another page where I answer “frequently asked questions” about medical devices and prescription medications, and a bunch of other information. I know many of you have benefited from this information because you have called and told me you have benefited. (I really like getting these calls.) I intend to keep writing articles as often as I can while maintaining a full-time product liability practice.

But today I am excited to announce the launch of my podcast:

Failed Hips and Harmful Drugs: The Product Liability Podcast

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I get calls from people who have been badly injured after surgery. If it’s straightforward surgery to repair a torn ACL, the question is whether the surgeon was negligent; if that turns out to be the case, the caller will have a claim for medical malpractice. But what if the surgeon is implanting a device: an artificial hip or knee or hernia mesh or pacemaker? And then after surgery the patient is worse off than before? If this is the result, the next question is this: was the person the victim of a defective product or medical malpractice? Or both?

So What’s the Difference?

Product liability or medical malpractice?Medical malpractice is the legal term for a doctor who has been negligent. This means that the doctor failed to perform the surgery with an expected degree of care and competence. In a phrase, the doctor simply screwed up the surgery. For a plaintiff to win a medical malpractice claim, he or she must show that the doctor failed to perform his duties with a normal “standard of care” typical of similarly situated doctors. This means that surgeons in small towns will be judged against similar doctors in similar towns, while doctors from major research hospitals in big cities will be judged against their similarly situated peers, and of course will be held to a higher standard. The bottom line is this: medical malpractice is the failure to provide competent medical care, causing the patient unexpected injury.

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Unhappy client waiting to hear from her lawyer
This is the question I get most often from people who have hired a lawyer but are not happy with the legal representation. Above almost everything else, good communication is the key to a healthy attorney-client relationship. I try not to be the kind of lawyer who doesn’t return phone calls. I don’t want any of my clients talking to another lawyer about me. And I understand: every client deserves to be updated regularly on his or her case.

Let’s look at some reasons why your lawyer may not be returning your calls:

  • Your lawyer is doing lawyer things.
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Should I Fire My Lawyer?Occasionally I get calls from people who tell me they are unhappy with their product liability lawyer and want to fire that lawyer and hire someone else.

So should they? Let’s look at it.

Injury Litigation Can Be Highly Stressful

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Diabetes Drug InvokanaDiabetes is a serious condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar. Over 29 million Americans currently suffer from the disease. Of the newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults, around 95% are for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces enough insulin but cannot use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes results in high blood sugar levels which can cause long-term health problems. So what does all this mean? From the perspective of pharmaceutical companies, it means there is a massive market for Type 2 diabetes drugs. Enter the latest diabetes “wonder drug,” Invokana.   Continue reading →

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Health Insurance Subrogation
If you are injured by a defective or faulty medical device or medication, you may be able to recover damages from the responsible manufacturer. Depending on the facts of your case, these damages can compensate you for things such as medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages. In cases where the manufacturer acted in particular nasty ways, such as burying a product study which showed an increased risk of injury, punitive damages may even be possible.

For plaintiffs who are able to obtain a damage award from the responsible medical device or pharmaceutical company, they understand they will not be able to keep every penny received. For example, some of it will go to their attorney (if they have one) and some of it may be subject to taxes. But sometimes, an unexpected “bill” comes from their health insurance company.

Why Do I Have to Pay My Health Insurance Company?

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Choosing an Out of State Product Liability Lawyer
So should you hire an out of state attorney? This is a question many people must answer, including those injured by a failed medical device or a prescription drug. I have had several clients who were initially skeptical about hiring an attorney who practiced 500 or 2,000 miles away. And I get it.

For many types of cases, choosing an attorney in your hometown or in your state is best. Do you need to set up a will with powers of attorney? Ask around and call the good lawyer who lives down the street or across town. Going through a divorce? Have a traffic ticket? Did someone breach a contract? Find someone in your city who comes highly recommended.

But what about product liability? Specifically, what about medical device or prescription drug cases? You need to find the right person to represent you, even if that person practices law in another state or across the country. Let’s look at some pros and cons of hiring an out of state product liability lawyer:

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Health Insurance Liens

When a device or drug maker pays money to an injured person for a defective product, several costs must be repaid from these funds. There will likely be medical liens, expenses of litigation, attorney’s fees, and health insurance liens. You can get an overview of these cost repayments in a post I wrote last year. In today’s post I want to take a closer look at health insurance liens (and the related concept of health insurance “subrogation”), mainly because health insurance companies can take a big bite out of your product liability settlement funds. Best to understand this unpleasant news upfront.

How Do Health Insurance Liens Work?

Hernia Mesh SurgeryIf you have health insurance, much of the cost of your medical care will be paid by your health insurance plan. Let’s say you need revision surgery to remove defective hernia mesh. The total cost of the surgery is $36,000.00, but under contracted payment rates between the hospital and your health insurance company, the cost is reduced to $24,000.00. Under your agreement with your insurance company, it pays $20,000.00 for this surgery and you pay a total of $4,000.00 in “co-pays” (that is, the amount you must pay “out of pocket” under your health insurance plan). So far so good.

A week after the surgery, while you recover from the operation (and watch afternoon commercials asking if you have been injured by defective hernia mesh), you receive a letter from your health insurance provider asking specific questions about how you were injured. The health insurance company is trying to figure out if a third-party is ultimately responsible for your injuries and thus for the costs of your revision surgery. The insurance company may want to know if you are pursuing a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the hernia mesh. It is no secret that the health insurance company is looking to be reimbursed for the payments it made for your mesh revision surgery. The moment you file a lawsuit against the product manufacturer, your health insurance company will submit a “lien” identifying its claim to some of the settlement funds. And trust me, these companies will not let this claim go lightly; they will pursue reimbursement aggressively, and you will most likely have a contractual responsibility to pay the health insurance company from your settlement funds. In fact, if possible the insurance company will expect to be repaid 100% of the costs it paid for your health care caused by the negligence of others. Continue reading →