We are Now Reviewing Zofran Birth Injury Cases

March 2, 2015 by Jim Higgins

Our firm is currently reviewing Zofran Birth Injury Cases. Zofran is an anti-nausea drug that was originally devolved to help chemotherapy patients combat nausea. It has proven to be very helpful in this area, however, the drug is also often prescribed to help with morning sickness during pregnancy. Unfortunately, the drug was never approved for this type of use and recent medical studies have suggested that unborn children exposed to Zofran during pregnancy have an increased risk of heart defects, cleft palate, cleft lip and other congenital injuries. The manufacture of the drug failed to warn the medical providers and mothers about these side effects. In fact, it appears that the manufacturer promoted this "off-label" use despite there being no FDA approval. An act which they plead guilty to and agreed to pay over 2 billion in fines. If you had taken Zofran during pregnancy please feel free to call our office to discuss your options. We have also put some frequently asked questions below to give you a little more information about the claims surrounding Zofran.


Don't panic. If you are still pregnant you should discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. He or she can explain the risks and help you with any concerns. If you had an uncomplicated birth and a healthy child then you really shouldn't worry. I would suggest talking to your pediatrician to make sure there are no health issues such as an undiagnosed heart defect. However, if you took Zofran for morning sickness and your child was born with heart issues, a cleft lip or cleft palate we would suggest you contact our office. You should also go to your pharmacist and obtain any records you have of medications taken during pregnancy. If you have trouble getting these records we can help.


The lawsuits against the manufacturer of Zofran, GlaxoSmithKline, set forth allegations that go far beyond just unintended injuries from the drug. The allegations include claims that GlaxoSmithKline decided to illegally market this drug while at the same time they withheld important warnings about the link between Zofran and birth defects.


As most everyone knows each state has a time limit to file a lawsuit. However, in Tennessee the statute of limitations is tolled if the injured person is under eighteen (18) years old. As such, if your child has one of these injuries and they are nineteen (19) years old or younger you can still probably file a claim. However, the longer you wait the harder it is to put evidence together so we suggest you contact a Nashville Zofran lawyer as soon as possible.


These cases are taken on a contingency fee basis. This means that you don't have to pay anything unless a recover is made. If a recover is made our fee will be based upon a percentage of the money obtained.

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Former Assistant Public Defender LaBrec Joins The Higgins Firm

February 26, 2015 by Jim Higgins

The Higgins Firm is pleased to announce that Carrie LaBrec has joined the firm. LaBrec will focus her practice in the Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation section of The Higgins Firm. In this role, LaBrec will aggressively prosecute client cases related to nursing home abuse and catastrophic automobile accidents cases.

“Throughout her career, Carrie has been a vigorous advocate for her clients,” said Jim Higgins, managing partner of The Higgins Firm. “Our clients will benefit from her broad understanding of the law mixed with a critical and significant hands-on trial practice.”

LaBrec gained extensive trial experience as a Metro Nashville Assistant Public Defender from 2007 through 2011. During this time, LaBrec represented clients in numerous courtroom proceedings at Criminal Court and General Sessions levels.

After working with the Public Defender, LaBrec augmented her trial work with a respected litigation firm. There, she gained several years’ experience in civil litigation, primarily handling motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, and employment law cases.

LaBrec is licensed in the State of Tennessee and Middle and Western Federal Districts of Tennessee. LaBrec is a graduate of Belmont University and Willamette University College of Law. She is an avid soccer player and a supporter of several humanitarian organizations, including National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). She formerly served as a volunteer and community resource specialist at the YWCA Domestic Violence Center

Finding the Right Tennessee Car Accident Lawyer

February 25, 2015 by Jim Higgins

Commercials, Billboards, Websites…. how can you pick a car accident lawyer that is right for your case? The key to choosing the right lawyer for you and your case is to do your homework. It is always good to ask around. If you know someone that has used a lawyer in a similar case ask how they liked the car wreck attorney and how their case turned out. When discussing the matter make sure to ask questions about the communication with the lawyer. Did his or her office return calls promptly? Did they keep the client informed as the case progressed? Did they include the client on decisions regarding the case?

You may also want to look at resources on the internet. Client reviews and verdict results are a great source of information. Also, how long has the lawyer been practicing and do they focus on cases like yours? Once you narrow it down to a few choices the next important step is to have a face to face meeting with the lawyer. There is really no substitute for a direct conversation. Also, when you come to the meeting come prepared. You need to be prepared to not only discuss your case with the car accident lawyer but also the lawyer’s experience. In turn, the lawyer should have some questions for you. For instance, I always ask a new client what are their expectations are about the case? What do they want from the case? I need to know that I can meet those expectations and that the client will be satisfied with the services my office can provide. To make the meeting productive you should bring the following:
- Any photographs of the accident scent, damage to vehicles and of any injuries you sustained as a result of the car wreck or other accident
- A copy of your health insurance card and your automobile insurance card
- A copy of the accident report. If you have not obtained this report our office can obtain it for you.
- A copy of any medical records and medical bills you may have
- Any proof you may have of lost wages or other damages

Finally, when you are ready to make your choice and think there is one final yet crucial element: trust. It is difficult to describe but the needs to be a level of trust and comfort between the lawyer and client to ensure the case progresses as it should. The client needs to feel free to discuss any portion of the case with their lawyer and the lawyer needs to give straight forward and honest answers. The answers are not always easy or what the client wants to hear but these cases can be difficult and everyone involved needs to know that each can trust the other to be candid.

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Federal Judicial Panel Asked To Consolidate Xarelto Lawsuits in Federal Court

February 4, 2015 by Jim Higgins

Residents in Tennessee and people all across the country have heard about serious side effects and complications occurring after taking certain medicines such as Xarelto. We count on our medications to make us better and help our lives to be better. Unfortunately, sometimes some medications such as Xarelto can cause dangerous side effects like uncontrollable bleeding and this can lead to serious health problems or even death. If you or someone you care about has suffered serious complications or died after using Xarelto, then you should speak to a Tennessee Xarelto lawyer as soon as possible. They will hear your case and help you get the compensation that is rightfully yours for what you have been through.

In this case, plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits due to Xarelto complications have requested that a panel of federal judges consolidate all of the lawsuits in the U.S. District Court. The plaintiffs stated that the Xarelto complaints have the same or similar complaints and claim that people who used the blood thinning medication in order to help prevent a stroke or a blood clot have suffered uncontrollable bleeding or death. These lawsuits also claim that Bayer AG and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a part of the Johnson & Johnson Company failed to warn doctors and their patients that Xarelto has no antidote to reverse bleeding should significant bleeding events occur in patients. The Johnson & Johnson Company filed their own response urging the court to reject the plaintiffs’ request to consolidate all of the lawsuits.
Representatives for those who previously used Xarelto and their families have asked the panel to assign the fifty cases filed in fifteen different federal courts to U.S. District Judge David Herndon. If panel goes ahead with the request, Judge Herndon would manage pretrial proceedings of the Xarelto multidistrict litigation. . Bayer recommended that the judicial panel assign the Xarelto litigation to U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson who is already managing two Xarelto cases.

Xarelto is an oral medication that has been prescribed as a blood thinner and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help treat deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. The FDA initially approved Xarelto in July 2011 to reduce the risk of blood clots in patients who had knee or hip replacement surgery. In November 2011, the FDA expanded the use of Xarelto to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in patients with atrial fibrillation. As it announced the expanded approval of the drug, the FDA also stated that Xarelto was the first drug since warfarin was approved 60 years ago to treat and prevent the recurrence of blood clots. The FDA approved the use of warfarin also known as Coumadin and Jantoven as a blood thinner in 1954. However, warfarin has vitamin K as an antidote; Xarelto does not have an antidote to stop bleeding should a significant bleeding event occur in patients using Xarelto.

The plaintiffs in this case stated that the aggressive marketing and promotion efforts of Bayer and Janssen helped to increase the sales of Xarelto. The plaintiffs, however, claim that the increased sales also contributed to the mounting number of serious adverse events associated with Xarelto. The plaintiffs’ motion stated that there were 1,080 serious Xarelto-related events, which included 65 deaths, reported to the FDA in the year leading up to June 30, 2012. By the end of 2012, there were 2,081 new serious adverse Xarelto events reported to the FDA. Of those reported, 151 resulted in death, compared to only 56 deaths associated with warfarin.

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Xarelto Litigation on the Rise

January 23, 2015 by Ryan Simmons

Xarelto is one of the latest drugs on the market to come under attack due to its potentially harmful and even life-threatening side effects. The first lawsuit involving Xarelto was filed last August by a Kentucky resident who claims she was hospitalized due to severe internal bleeding caused by taking the medication. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and names Bayer Health Care as a defendant. In her Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the manufacturer knew about the drug’s dangerous side effects and continued to sell it without informing consumers of the risks.

Xarelto (rivaroxaban) is an anticoagulant, or blood thinner, that was introduced in 2011 after receiving its U.S Food and Drug Administration approval. It was approved for use by patients (1) who have had hip replacement surgery or knee replacement surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots, or (2) who have atrial fibrillation for reducing the risk of stroke. It was also approved for treatment of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. The drug is manufactured by Bayer Health Care and marketed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. It is intended to prevent blood clots from forming which can obstruct vital organs. The benefit of Xarelto over other anticoagulants on the market is that it can be prescribed in one uniform dose instead of requiring specific doses for each individual patient.

Unfortunately, there are many side effects associated with the drug. These side effects include internal bleeding, blood clots, embolism, and hemorrhaging. Essentially, the drug can cause uncontrolled bleeding to occur inside a patient’s body; and if that bleeding occurs near a major organ, the blood flow to that particular organ becomes interrupted and can cause it to lose some functionality. These are the same side effects associated with the anticoagulant Pradaxa, which has been on the market since 2010 and has similarly come under attack. Boehringer Ingelheim—the manufacturer of Pradaxa—has paid close to $650 million to resolve the thousands of cases brought against it due to the drug’s harmful bleeding side effects.

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Highway Guardrails Are Killing Drivers, Says Industry Insider

December 31, 2014 by Jim Higgins

Tennessee drivers and drivers all across the United States not only rely on their vehicles to keep them safe, they also expect the roads they are driving on to be safe as well. This includes guardrails on highways helping to prevent accidents and injuries when a vehicle may be out of control. However, sometimes companies that make these products are aware that they have defects and problems. If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in an accident and you suspect defective guardrails may have been a factor, then you should speak to a Tennessee defective auto products lawyer right away. They will listen to your case and help make sure you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

According to this case, Joshua Harmon, a self-described safety advocate, filed a lawsuit against Trinity Industries for defects in their guardrails. He filed this lawsuit following an investigation into the accident of Darius Williams. Williams had run his vehicle off an interstate at eighty miles an hour. A length of the guardrail pierced his door and pushed him into the backseat. Days later the police declared the accident a case of reckless driving and Williams was in intensive care. Harmon claimed U.S. federal whistleblower status in order to sue Trinity Industries.

His lawsuit claims that the Trinity Industries company made quiet changes to their guardrails that were meant to reduce injuries but actually led to possible deadly hazards. He is focused on the part the guardrail known as energy-absorbing end terminal. This is supposed to be on the end of a guardrail and give way when hit absorbing energy in order to slow down an out of control vehicle. Trinity, one of the biggest guardrail makers in the U.S., first gained federal approval in 2000 for its ET-Plus end terminal, now used nationwide.

Harmon’s lawsuit alleges that Trinity changed the ET-Plus’s dimensions between 2002 and 2005 without telling federal authorities. These changes caused the guardrails to lock up and act more like a shiv instead of a shock absorber that could impale cars and possibly the drivers and passengers in them.

Jack Todd, a spokesman for Trinity, states that the company has a “high degree of confidence” in its product. An executive in a 2012 deposition for a patent infringement lawsuit over the ET-Plus said that Trinity had made changes to its end terminal but that they were “cosmetic” and didn’t require new approvals because they didn’t hurt its performance. Todd said Trinity didn’t sell the revised end terminals until they had been crash-tested in 2005 and the Federal Highway Administration had “issued its letter of acceptance.” Trinity claims that Harman can’t claim to be impartial: He and his brother own two small companies that once made and installed generic end terminals based on Trinity’s ET-Plus design. In 2011, Trinity sued for patent infringement. The company also disputed Harman’s eligibility to sue under the federal whistle-blower law, saying he’s basing his allegations largely on public information, not insider knowledge. If Harman prevails in the case, his whistle-blower status could allow him to take about a third of any judgment.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap dismissed Trinity’s objections, saying Harman’s expertise qualifies him to sue as a whistle-blower. A jury will begin to hear arguments in July.

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Changes in CMS Reporting

December 23, 2014 by Ryan Simmons

Four hundred and forty thousand people die every year from preventable medical errors. According to the Journal of Patient Safety, this figure is up from 98,000 deaths since 1999, making preventable medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States. Furthermore, research suggests that one in three patients admitted to the hospital will experience some medical error during their stay and such errors will cost the United States tens of billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, however, earlier this year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services discreetly stopped reporting this information.

Sometime during the middle of 2014 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stopped releasing information related to the occurrence of medical errors at heath care facilities, which they call “hospital-acquired conditions.” These conditions include such things as leaving a sponge or other foreign object inside a patient’s body and giving a patient the wrong blood type. Patients used to be able to access this information on the CMS Hospital Compare webpage.

Fortunately for patients, federal regulators will reverse their decision and once again provide the information to the public. According to CMS spokeman Aaron Albright, "We are working to make it available as a public-use file for researchers and others who are interested in the data. It's been requested, so we will make it available." This is good news for those who might be getting elective surgery, for example, as they can better assess different hospitals in order to find the best fit.

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Tennessee Woman Files da Vinci Robot Lawsuit over Botched Procedure

December 3, 2014 by Jim Higgins

According to a recent lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that due to a faulty robotic surgery performed in 2011, by an improperly trained surgeon, she has suffered from tremendous pain and injuries including an anastomotic leak and a rectovaginal fistula, which she needed additional surgery in order to fix the problem. The plaintiff also claims that the da Vinci Company knew about the risks and injuries associated with robotic surgery but did not properly warn patients about the dangers involved. According to her claims, Intuitive Surgical Inc, the producer of the da Vinci Surgical System told surgeons that they would no longer be competitive if they did not perform surgeries using the da Vinci Surgical System.

You can watch an interview on the case here:

The Food and Drug Administration allowed the da Vinci Surgical System to be sold in 2002 under the premarket notification process that does not make trials or safety measures mandatory. They did require surgeons to receive extensive training if they used the system. In 2002, the seventy question exam and three day training that Intuitive Surgical originally had became a ten question online exam and one day of training. This meant that the surgeons were not properly trained to perform the robotic procedures.

A study done in 2013 revealed that even though Intuitive Surgical Inc. stated that robotic surgical procedures were safer and more-effective than non-robotic surgical procedures, the complication risks were actually the same.

There have been seventy reported deaths linked to robotic surgery complications since 2009. The plaintiff is seeking general damages, medical expenses and additional compensation for her loss of income and distress.

In Tennessee and all across the United States, when we go to the doctor or a surgeon to have a surgery performed or to be treated, we expect that the doctor will warn us about possible risks and that the surgery will help us to feel better or to enhance our quality of life. Unfortunately, however, sometimes doctors are aware of risks but fail to inform their patients and this can lead to serious injuries or the need for additional surgery. If you or someone you love has been injured after having da Vinci Robotic surgery, then you should speak to a Tennessee personal injury lawyer right away. They will hear your case and get you the compensation you need for your injuries.

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Arbitration Agreements

November 26, 2014 by Ryan Simmons

The decision to move a loved one into a nursing home or assisted living facility can be a complicated and emotional one. Many factors go into making such a decision, and typically people are in a fragile state of mind when it comes time to actually do so. Unfortunately, this is also the time when nursing homes can try to take advantage of you by having you sign important legal documents, such as arbitration agreements, while concealing it as part of the normal admissions process.

Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution whereby legal disputes are resolved outside of the court system. In arbitration, the two parties to the dispute choose a neutral third-party to hear the case and determine the outcome. Each side presents evidence and testimony, and the arbiter ultimately makes a ruling on the case. The decision of the arbiter is final and binding. Much of the process of arbitration proceeds just as a normal trial would; however, there is one significant difference. By agreeing to arbitration you waive your right to a jury trial. And because juries are typically more sympathetic to an injured patient than arbiters, monetary awards are often dramatically lower than those awarded by juries. This is not something that nursing home administrators inform patients of before they have them sign such agreements.

Nonetheless arbitration agreements are continually being slipped into the long list of forms presented to patients before they receive any treatment and regarded as just another part of the standard admissions process. Unfortunately, due to the typically dire circumstances attendant with admission to a nursing home, patients and their loved ones do not possess the requisite time or mental state to fully understand what they are signing. Thus, legal battles over the legality of arbitration agreements ensue.

Fortunately for the patients, there are a number of legal arguments which, if successful, will prevent the enforcement of these agreements. The first is the issue of unconscionability. If the court deems the agreement unconscionable, it means that the contract does not “conform to the dictates of conscience.” In other words, the agreement is so unreasonably unfair that the court will refuse to enforce it.

Another avenue of defense is the concept of “authority to sign.” Not just anyone is allowed to sign a contract on behalf of another person. However, nursing homes routinely have whoever accompanies the resident to the facility sign the paperwork, regardless of their relationship to the patient. This type of signature is not valid. Only a person specifically designated to make decisions regarding another’s legal choices can validly sign an arbitration agreement waiving the other’s right to a jury trial. Importantly, a person designated to make health care decisions of behalf of another is not also automatically empowered with the right to make decisions regarding arbitration. Seven state supreme courts agree that the decision to arbitrate is not a health care decision. Unfortunately, this has not stopped nursing home facilities from fighting to enforce their invalid agreements at the expense of the rights of their residents.

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National Airbag Recall

October 24, 2014 by Ryan Simmons

News of the massive airbag recall is making waves across the automotive industry this week as new estimates suggest that over 7.8 million vehicles are potentially affected in the United States alone. Recent reports indicate that four people have been killed and over one hundred and thirty nine have been injured due to the defective Takata airbags.

The Japanese airbags in question contain a metal canister filled with chemical propellant that, when the airbag is deployed, can explode. The propellant causes the canister to rupture, which in turn can cause shrapnel to discharge into the cabin of the vehicle at speeds of over one hundred miles per hour. Accordingly to the results of a recent investigation, Takata has allegedly known about the defective airbags since 2004, but declined to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the time. Takata has blamed the defect on, among other things, rust, faulty welds, and dropped chewing gum; however the Japanese supplier has not announced its final conclusion as to the cause of the defect.

The airbag recall was first announced in April 2013, when only six makes of vehicles were thought to be affected. Expanded recalls were announced in both July and October of this year. To date, eleven additional automakers have been added to the recall list. The following is a complete list of the make, model and year of all the affected vehicles:

Acura: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 - 2003 CL
2002 - 2003 TL
2003 - 2006 MDX
2005 RL

BMW: 627,615 potentially affected vehicles
2000 - 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 - 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 - 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 - 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 - 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 - 2006 M3 Convertible

Chrysler/Dodge: 371,309 potentially affected vehicles
2003 - 2008 Dodge Ram 1500
2005 - 2008 Dodge Ram 2500
2006 - 2008 Dodge Ram 3500
2006 - 2008 Dodge Ram 4500
2008 Dodge Ram 5500
2005 - 2008 Dodge Durango
2005 - 2008 Dodge Dakota
2005 - 2008 Chrysler 300
2007 - 2008 Chrysler Aspen

Ford: 58,669 potentially affected vehicles
2004 Ranger
2005 - 2006 GT
2005 - 2007 Mustang

General Motors: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 - 2005 Pontiac Vibe
2005 Saab 9-2X

Honda: 5,051,364 potentially affected vehicles
2001 - 2007 Honda Accord
2001 - 2005 Honda Civic
2002 - 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 - 2011 Honda Element
2002 - 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 - 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 Honda Ridgeline
2003 - 2006 Acura MDX
2002 - 2003 Acura TL/CL
2005 Acura RL

Infiniti: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 - 2004 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 - 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 - 2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45

Lexus: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 - 2005 SC430

Mazda: 64,872 potentially affected vehicles
2003 - 2007 Mazda6
2006 - 2007 MazdaSpeed6
2004 - 2008 Mazda RX-8
2004 - 2005 MPV
2004 B-Series Truck

Mitsubishi: 11,985 potentially affected vehicles
2004 - 2005 Lancer
2006 - 2007 Raider

Nissan: 694,626 potentially affected vehicles
2001 - 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 - 2004 Nissan Sentra
2001 - 2004 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 - 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 - 2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45

Pontiac: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 - 2005 Vibe

Saab: undetermined number of potentially affected vehicles
2005 9-2X

Subaru: 17,516 potentially affected vehicles
2003 - 2005 Baja
2003 - 2005 Legacy
2003 - 2005 Outback
2004 - 2005 Impreza

Toyota: 877,000 potentially affected vehicles
2002 - 2005 Lexus SC
2002 - 2005 Toyota Corolla
2003 - 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 - 2005 Toyota Sequoia
2003 - 2005 Toyota Tundra

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Stryker Rejuvenate and ABG Hip Implant Lawsuit Update

October 23, 2014 by Jim Higgins

The people of Tennessee as well as many people all across the country have heard reports about problems with hip implants causing pain and other serious side effects. Many people with these Stryker hip implants may also have needed additional surgery to correct the problems. If you or someone you know has recently had a Stryker hip implant and then experienced pain and problems as a result, then you should speak to a Tennessee personal injury and Stryker hip implant lawyer as soon as possible. They will hear your case and see to it that you get the compensation that you may be entitled to.

You can watch a recent interview about these lawsuits below:

The Federal Judge in charge of managing the Stryker Rejuvenate and ABG II Hip recall lawsuits issued an order last week increasing the collection of cases to be set for early jury trials. These hip implants have been on the market since 2009 and were recalled in 2012. This order by the judge is considered a good sign that the cases are moving forward quickly.

The Stryker Rejuvenate and ABG implants are not metal on metal hips like some of the other hip implants that have been recalled in recent years, however, the injuries a person might suffer are similar. Each kind of implant can cause metal to leak into the hip tissues which can lead to inflammation, pain, and ultimately the failing of the implant. This can cause a medical condition known as metallosis.

The Stryker hip implants leak metal caused by an improperly fitted joint in the stem of the implant. The metal on metal implants that were recalled, such as the DePuy ASR and Smith & Nephew R3, leak metal from the interface between the metal cup and the metal ball on the femur. If a patient needs surgery these types of implants the can be more invasive and serious than the metal on metal hip implants. This surgery means that the doctor would have to remove the stem from the person’s femur as well as remove the cup and the ball. Removing the stem part of the implant from the femur may require the femur to be spilt or broken in order for the stem to be taken out. This may lead to a longer recovery process for the patient.

An estimated one hundred out of four thousand cases have reached settlements with Stryker. Based on these settlements, it is apparent that Stryker is offering a sufficient amount of money to people that they are willing to take a settlement. These lawsuits are not class action suits so the people are allowed to determine if they wish to settle or go to trial. There have been no jury trials thus far in Stryker lawsuit cases.

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Medicare Nursing Home Ratings Misleading?

October 3, 2014 by Ryan Simmons

The process of choosing a nursing home for your ill or aging family member is often times a difficult and time-consuming one. Everyone wants to ensure that their family member is well cared for physically as well as emotionally. Many people even spend months poring through brochures and informational booklets in an effort to find the best fit for their loved one. The Medicare star rating awarded to many nursing homes and assisted living facilities is frequently a determining factor in the search. People generally trust this rating and place a great deal of faith in the rating system. Unfortunately, Medicare’s ratings have been found to be awarded based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

The New York Times recently examined the Medicare rating system, which rates over 15,000 nursing homes across the country on a scale from one to five. Evidently, the ratings are based primarily on unverified, self-reported data. Of the three factors used to determine a ranking, only one—the results of annual health inspections—relies upon independent evaluation. The other two factors—staff levels and quality statistics—are self-reported by each nursing home and generally accepted at face value by Medicare.

Oddly, the ratings system does not account for several other important factors, such as quantity or severity of state fines, number of consumer complaints filed with state agencies, and the number of lawsuits filed against a facility. Each one of these factors, however, is potentially more significant than a nursing home’s staff levels or quality statistics. Thus, a five star Medicare rating could be misleading residents and their family members as to the true nature of the facility. As reported by the New York Times, “of more than 50 nursing homes on a federal watch list for quality, nearly two-thirds hold four- or five-star ratings for their staff levels and quality statistics,” which improves their overall rating. Consequently, a facility could inflate their staff numbers to earn a higher “staff level rating” in order to improve its overall score. The result is a number of nursing home facilities with excellent staffing numbers are being awarded overall score of four- and five-stars even though other serious issues exist at the facility.

While Medicare ratings can give some indication of a facility’s overall status, there are many other factors to consider when choosing a nursing home for you or your loved one. As previously stated, it is important to look into state fines and disciplinary actions as well as state consumer complaints. In addition, it is helpful to get a more personal feel for a facility by going to visit and interact with the staff members. That way you will better understand the quality of care being provided.

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