Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

Gun dealer settles for $850K

Perry J. Bruce purchased ten guns between 1994 and 1997 from Jon K. Sauers of Sauers Trading in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and dozens from other gun shops in the area. The guns were sold to Bruce legally–he had no record–but Bruce would then go on to illegally resell the guns on the street for a profit, eventually leading to his conviction for gun trafficking in 1998. On April 19, 1999, one of those guns was found by a child under a parked car; that child proceeded to shoot and kill 7-year-old Nafis Jefferson. So, given that someone illegally sold a gun to someone who eventually negligently left on the ground where it was found by someone who then negligently (or worse) killed someone, the mother, with the help of the Brady Center and co-counsel Mark LeWinter, sued… Sauers, who legally sold the gun, and Rossi, who manufactured the gun, and Taurus, which bought Rossi. (Taurus was sued because they failed to “recall and retrofit” the gun with safety devices–as if a Philadelphia thug who leaves his gun under a parked car was going to turn in his illegally possessed gun to be outfitted with a childproof lock.)

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports,

Sauers testified in a deposition in the Jefferson case that he complied with state and federal law, properly filling out all forms in each sale to Bruce.

But he never asked Bruce why he was buying all the guns.

Asked why he never questioned Bruce, Sauers replied in the deposition: “I don’t know what my reason would be to ask him. I didn’t think it was any of my business.”

Sauers settled out of the suit for $850,000. I still haven’t seen an explanation in the Brady Center materials what Sauers was supposed to have done differently, though they emphasize that Bruce was unemployed and used his welfare card for identification. (Is the state of being poor is reason enough to preclude someone from buying a gun?) “There is a risk of liability that is now real for gun sellers all across the country,” the Brady Center’s Dennis Henigan said, and we couldn’t say it better ourselves. (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Dealer settles suit over gunplay”, Aug. 24; AP, Apr. 21; our gun coverage).

Batch of reader letters

Four more entries from our correspondence stack on our letters page. Topics include: why autopsies don’t figure more prominently in malpractice cases, whether the legal climate deserves all the blame for the shrinkage in Philadelphia obstetrics, what happens when you tell your homeowners’ insurance company that you run a controversial website, and another lawsuit challenging the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Suffer the Poor

The practice of obstetrics is not easy. Doctors who deliver babies face long, late hours, life-threaatening complications that can spring up in a split second without warning, and the constant threat of litigation for events beyond their control. Now, the malpractice crisis is making it even harder, with doctors in crisis states like Pennsylvania finding themselves in a manpower crunch thanks to the exodus of obstetricians from the state. Not only are doctors leaving, but hospitals are shutting down their obstetrics departments:

According to the 2003 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Survey on Medical Liability, 12.5 percent of OB/GYNs in Pennsylvania have stopped practicing OB and 57.5 percent have made some change in their practice because of issues with affordability or availability of liability coverage, including relocating, retiring, dropping OB, reducing number of deliveries, reducing amount of high-risk OB care, or reducing gynecological surgical procedures.

Those statistics, however, do not come close to revealing the extent of the current problem of obstetrician supply in the five-county Philadelphia region, which lost 25 percent of its staffed OB beds between 1993 and 2003, according to Delaware Valley Healthcare Council President Andrew Wigglesworth. Within the past 18 to 24 months, he says, the region lost 10 hospital OB departments, including those at MCP, Methodist, Nazareth, Warminster, Mercy Fitzgerald, Episcopal and Elkins Park; while OB services were also lost from hospital closures including City Line, Sacred Heart in Norristown and Community Hospital in Chester.

That means longer hours and a greater proportion of riskier cases for the hospitals and doctors who remain. Which means they’re more prone to errors. It also means that they can no longer spread themselves as thinly as they once did. Hospitals that once staffed inner city public health clinics are can no longer spare the staff to do so, leaving the poor without easily accessible prenatal care. Remember that the next time you hear John Edwards say that he has spent his career helping the down and out.

Call it a settlement practice

Glimpses of the world of shareholder litigation: “Shareholder suits are a big part of the practice at [Colchester, Ct.-based] Scott & Scott, but in the firm’s seven years of existence, none has gone to trial, [firm attorney Neil R.] Rothstein said.” (“Commerce Bancorp sued over indictments”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jul. 7).

Pennsylvania obstetrics

Consider having your baby somewhere else: hit hard by the state’s malpractice crisis, the “five-county Philadelphia region [lost] 25 percent of its staffed OB beds between 1993 and 2003, according to Delaware Valley Healthcare Council President Andrew Wigglesworth. Within the past 18 to 24 months, he says, the region lost 10 hospital OB departments, including those at MCP, Methodist, Nazareth, Warminster, Mercy Fitzgerald, Episcopal and Elkins Park; while OB services were also lost from hospital closures including City Line, Sacred Heart in Norristown and Community Hospital in Chester.

“Liability issues have put extraordinary pressure on OB programs in southeastern Pa., while well over 50 percent of practicing obstetricians in the region, perhaps closer to 75 percent, have become employees whose liability coverage is paid for by hospitals, says Wigglesworth, who adds that the trend toward employed OB status in southeastern Pa. has accelerated over the past three and a half years. ‘It is clear that, without the intervention of hospitals to employ and cover obstetricians in the region, we would have an extraordinary crisis, in terms of availability of OB services,’ he says…

“Wigglesworth [notes] that liability costs alone have approached two-thirds of the reimbursement level. …’Surviving’ OB programs in the region are mostly represented by teaching hospitals, including Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), Pennsylvania Hospital, Einstein, Hahnemann, Jefferson and Temple.” (Christopher Guadagnino, “Obstetrician scarcity in Pennsylvania”, Physicians News Digest, May)(via Donna Rovito) (& letter to the editor Aug. 16).

Shareholder lawyers in Hevesi heaven

Citigroup announced the other day that it was paying an unexpectedly munificent $2.65 billion to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of investors in WorldCom, the telecom stock which collapsed after being hyped by Citigroup analyst Jack Grubman. (Mark Hamblett, “Citigroup Settles WorldCom Litigation”, New York Law Journal, May 11). According to a New York Sun editorial, two law firms noted for their work in shareholder class actions — Barrack, Rodos & Bacine and Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman LLP — “stand to share a legal fee of up to $144.5 million for representing the lead plaintiff, the New York State comptroller, Alan Hevesi, in the case against Citigroup.” As it happens, both law firms donated generously to the political campaigns of Hevesi and his predecessor, Carl McCall. And while a chunk of the settlement will indeed flow into the coffers of New York state and city pension funds to compensate them for their losses in WorldCom stock — holdings worth around $306 million at their peak — it turns out that the same public entities own $1.6 billion in stock in Citigroup itself, which was hurt by the litigation (and which of course is also a major New York employer). In fact, the Sun notes in its detailed analysis of the affair, that “stock is worth about $45 million less now than it was before Mr. Hevesi’s heroics,” a sum that may or may not exceed what the city and state wind up gaining by recouping some of their WorldCom losses. (“Citigroup wake-up call” (editorial), New York Sun, May 11).

Read On…

Update: PPA litigation

In 2000, after a study raised concerns of a possible connection with hemorrhagic stroke, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of phenylopropanolamine (PPA), a stimulant long widely used in over-the-counter decongestants like Alka-Seltzer Plus and Contac, as well as in appetite suppressants. Lawyers rushed to file suits blaming drugmakers for strokes and other ills suffered by persons who had used the once near-ubiquitous compound (see Apr. 6-8, 2001; Oct. 28, 2003). Earlier this spring the Los Angeles Times ran a long piece summarizing (and uncritically endorsing) the plaintiffs’ case (Kevin Sack and Alicia Mundy, “A Dose of Denial”, Mar. 28). However, juries thus far have found that case considerably less persuasive: last month a Philadelphia jury returned a defense verdict in a case against Glaxo SmithKline over its Contac 12 hour medication (representing the plaintiff: the senatorially well-connected Kline and Specter). In three trials so far, that leaves the score at 0-3 in favor of the defense. (Melissa Nann, “Defense Wins Pennsylvania’s First PPA Verdict”, The Legal Intelligencer, Apr. 6). Update Jan. 21, 2006: further setbacks to litigation.

Cosmetics settlement challenged

“A proposal to settle a nationwide class-action lawsuit by giving $175 million worth of high-end department-store cosmetics away for free may be in jeopardy following a move by the attorneys general of 11 states to challenge the deal. Critics warn the settlement would enrich class-action lawyers with up to $24 million in fees but could leave individual department-store customers with either nothing or little more than a tube of lipstick — maybe even in an unpopular color.” (Josh Gerstein, “11 States Seeking To Scupper Deal In Cosmetics Case”, New York Sun, Apr. 5). For our earlier coverage, see Jul. 21, 2003 (“A Lipstick-Up”). More: Monica Yant Kinney, “Cost of primping is a tad less dear”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 3 (reg). Update: see May 19, Dec. 3; Mar. 14, 2005: judge approves settlement).

“Database tech helps lawyers scoop up clients”

Lawyers as paladins of privacy, cont’d: After her son was erroneously arrested, Julie Danielson checked her mail and was “shocked to see at least 12 envelopes — postmarked only hours after her son’s arrest — from defense attorneys offering their services. The lawyers had been eager recipients of a jailhouse e-mail list supplied daily by the county sheriff. … The couple was astonished that Riverside County [California] deputies failed to call them when their son was arrested — though contact and medical information was in the young man’s wallet — yet managed to inform people who wanted his business.” One envelope was emblazoned “Experts in Drug Charges”. “In New Jersey, which sends information companies who have registered with the state daily updates of who’s been arrested, a Supreme Court committee recently tightened its rules on the content of direct-mail solicitations after hearing complaints ‘in a volume too great to ignore.’ One man had received 22 letters from lawyers.” (AP/CNN, Mar. 29). More on direct-mail: Jul. 15, 1999. And: Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Grogan explores how police accident reports serve as grist for lawyer solicitation of injury suits (“Lawyers Sow the Seeds of Lawsuits”, Apr. 5)(reg).

On Pa. court sleaze, a kind of hush

Profile of a maverick attorney who after decades of fighting machine corruption and courthouse politics in Pennsylvania is now working for malpractice reform in the state: “[Bob] Surrick is upset about the silencing of the print media because of the fear of libel suits. He said that during the 18 years that Gene Roberts was the Philadelphia Inquirer’s executive editor, the newspaper won 17 Pulitzers, which was unheard of for a newspaper. But during the 1980s (while Roberts was still editor) Surrick said that the judges and justices started the business of suing their critics, particularly the print media critics, for libel, effectively silencing the Inquirer; after Roberts left, the newspaper no longer did investigative reporting on the judiciary. ‘If the media — the guardian of the truth about what is going on in government — does not tell you, who is going to tell you?’ Surrick asks.” (Eileen Laskas, “Whatever Happened to Bob Surrick?”, CountyPressOnline (Phila. suburbs), Jan. 28) (via Donna Rovito’s Liability Update Information Network). For more on the kinds of legal trouble you can get into by criticizing Pennsylvania judges, see Oct. 24-25, 2001.