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Tiger Woods "easy" back surgery hurts some tort victims

Tiger Woods “easy” back surgery hurts some tort victims

Tiger Woods announced today that he has undergone successful back surgery and expects to be back playing golf this summer.  Good for him. This is bad news for golf fans who passionately root for or against Tiger.  But it is also bad for personal injury victims who are bringing a back injury claim in front of a jury.  Why?  Because juries get constant evidence from athletes that back injuries and back surgery is not a big deal.  Some will equate Tiger Woods to 58 year-old Mary Smith when she has a discectomy and fusion for a herniated disc after a car accident.

Why Tiger’s Surgery and Expected Recovery Misleads Juries

There are a number of reasons why the comparison is unfair.  First, not all back injuries are created the same.  Tiger had a microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve.  That is light years from, say, a herniated disc suffered by great trauma.  But some jurors view back surgery as back surgery regardless of the severity of the injury. Second, Tiger is a professional athlete who dedicates his life to keeping his body in the best possible shape.  Tiger won’t even share his workout secrets.   He will also get stunning medical care.  The best doctors and ridiculous amounts of medical attention you and I would never see. Finally, Tiger’s getting surgery in the first place is probably something you and I never would have gotten in the first place.  Why?  First, we are not violently swinging a golf club at pretty much the speed of light.   So I can probably still workout and work around the same injury that Tiger needs to get taken care of so he can perform on a world class level. Continue reading →

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Maryland appellate opinionsMark Mixter and James Farmer are two Maryland tort lawyers that just don’t like each other.   There are lots of attorneys that don’t like each other.   Lawyers are probably more confrontational and competitive than your average bear.  If you doubt this premise, go watch a lawyers’ league softball game.   So add this natural tendency with the intensity of litigation and people are going to find reasons to get upset unless you are ultra thick skinned.  (One resolution of mine in 2014 is to develop some thicker skin all the way around.)

When these two lawyers fight, it goes deeper and litigation apparently follows.  The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently  affirmed the dismissed defamation, libel, slander and intentional inflection of emotional distress claim that one had filed against the other.  You can find the opinion in Mixter v. Farmer here if you are interested.  Something about someone writing a letter to other lawyers saying disparaging things or something.   I started to read – mostly out of prurient interest – but I realized I must have something better to do.  (So I wrote this point instead?)

This is apparently the second case between these attorneys that has found its way to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.   The last one involved a case that settled but one of lawyers became so mad that he sought and received a sanctions order against the other.   The appellate court reversed the order of sanctions.  So a whole lot of trees were burned and blood pressure was raised in a battle over a little more than $3,000.

I’m not real judgmental about this kind of stuff.   You rarely know what really happened in these battles and, typically, but not always, it takes two to tango.  The line between fighting for a principle and merely acting out of spite can sometimes be a fine and blurry line.  But it is such a waste of energy and resources for talented lawyers to spend their time sniping at each other, or worse, this.  Every time I want to start World War III over something that is ultimately stupid, I go home and kiss my wife and kids and get perspective on what really matters.

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There have been some interesting developments in the da Vinci Surgical Robot litigation.

da Vinci Class Action Lawsuit Update

We reported last year on the efforts of some plaintiffs’ lawyers to combine existing and future da Vinci lawsuits into a type of class action lawsuit known as an MDL. An MDL groups similar cases together in federal courts for convenience and efficiency. Those cases would be handled by one judge and would have consistent general discovery, but would then have individual trials unless there was some sort of global da Vinci settlement. Well, the petition for MDL-2381, In Re: Intuitive Surgical, Inc., Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System Products Liability Litigation was denied on August 3, 2012. The original petition included four cases spread out over four states. The JPML denied the petition we think correctly, noting that the cases were “straightforward personal injury or wrongful death actions.” Essentially, there were very few cases, and those cases would rely on largely unique and individual facts that were better suited to a standard and stand-alone lawsuit. The plaintiffs would have had a better chance (though not a great chance) if they had argued for consolidation of specific subsets of injuries—for example, hysterectomies. However, the reports thus far indicate that there are several different causes of injury, even for hysterectomy procedures. This was the right decision.

Victim Stories

NBC recently aired a report featuring the stories of many victims of the da Vinci. Click here for the eye-opening broadcast.

Intuitive Surgical Wins the First Trial

The maker of the da Vinci robot won the first reported trial. Filed in Washington state, the plaintiffs argued that Intuitive negligently trained a doctor who used the robot to perform a prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland). The surgery caused kidney failure, brain damage, and eventual death. However, the device’s manufacturer was able to successfully argue at the five-week trial that the doctor was solely at fault. Though unsuccessful against the manufacturer, the case settled against the doctor before trial.

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Another new Maryland lead paint decision

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed a $5.1 million (reduced to $1.25 million by the cap) lead paint verdict in a 91 page opinion written by Judge Shirley M. Watts.

The first 58 pages of this opinion are facts. But there are two real issues: (1) did plaintiff’s expert, a pediatrician, have the necessary qualifications to render the opinions that the lead exposure at defendant’s property caused the brain injuries alleged in this case, and (2) did the trial court properly sanction the defendant and his lawyer for alleged willful discovery violations.

I don’t care much about the latter issue because I’m just not a big fan of monetary sanctions against counsel. I’m real interested in sanctions like spoliation instructions and other sanctions that actually give a tactical advantage. But the retail value of the paper used demanding monetary sanctions is greater than the actual amount of sanctions against counsel that have been awarded and paid. The issue in this case is interesting – the opinion breaks down in painful detail – but it is ultimately as useful to me as my recollection of the Baltimore Orioles 1979 batting order. (I do, however, recommend reading the details about these sanctions for the entertainment value. I’m amazed that Judge Watts did not even comment in an off-hand way about the trial court’s findings of extreme discovery violations. I would not have the same discipline.)

So on to the real issue: the qualification of the expert. The court found that even though the pediatrician was a licensed doctor and all, he really was not qualified or even prepared to render an opinion in this case. He had limited experience in treating kids with lead paint poisoning, never evaluating or diagnosing children with lead exposure or even following the progress of kids with lead exposure. In fact, he did not even recall treating a child for lead poisoning. His qualifications, distilled down to their essence, appear to be that he is a pediatrician who keeps up with the medical literature.

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We have the technology to essentially create bone. Just extremely cool. Drug and medical device companies come up with some unbelievable stuff that have really changed the world. Most of these companies are doing great work. Admittedly, I just focus on the negative. But it is worth nothing that most of these companies have changed the world and decreased human suffering. That is great thing.

But…. there is a but. Bone grafts, as cool as they are, have to be done right or the cure is going to be worse than the original problem. Medtronic is a company that, in my opinion, has a history of taking shortcuts that hurt patients. Most prolifically in recent years was the way they botched their defibrillator leads. The cases would have been worth billions but the Supreme Court completely bailed them out with an awful preemption ruling.

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Our firm just got a huge 2-1 win in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals today in Buckley v. Brethren Mutual.

The plaintiff’s lawyer in this case, who later referred the case to us, settled the underlying tort claim against the at fault driver for $100,000. She had the client execute a general release that did not mention any exclusion for the underinsured motorist claim. Everyone agreed that the claim was worth more than the $300,000 UM limits but Brethren Mutual – I would argue – really tried to hose their insured in a way that I don’t think the likes of State Farm, Allstate, and their brethren (get it? Brethren?) never would. The trial court granted Brethren’s motion for summary judgment. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed.

I’ll try to break down the entire case later, hopefully tomorrow. Meanwhile congratulations to us, especially our client, Rod Gaston who handled the case, and John Bratt who wrote a great brief for us.

You can find the opinion here.

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Starting Monday, the ridiculous pass that mopeds and scooters in Maryland have been given on the most basic safety precautions will end. Moped and scooter drivers now must equip their death traps by wearing a helmet and some kind of eye protection. Scooter drivers must also register their vehicles and have a valid drivers’ license or a moped/scooter permit.

Maryland was one of the few remaining states that did not require a license, registration, and insurance for mopeds (or mo-peds? I can’t decide).

It seems just insane to me that drivers of motor scooters and mopeds – who otherwise are required to follow the same laws as bicyclist – were not required to wear a safety helmet. I have to admit, I just learned this fact today. I also wonder how many of the scooters and mopeds were used as an end-run around the driver losing his license after a DWI? I think technically the law was that you were precluded from driving a moped if you were under 16 or your license was invalid. But, if you don’t need a license to drive one, who is really going to hold anyone’s feet to the fire on that? Anyway, that is all water under the bridge. Maryland has now moved into 2012.

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I have gotten a lot of interesting comments on the “Progressive did not tender policy limits in wrongful death case in Baltimore” Internet firestorm. One fascinating idea set forth from one commenter is that this becomes the insurance industry’s McDonald’s coffee case. The commenter dismisses the notion but it is interesting. Could anyone have predicted that case would still have legs 17 years later?

Is it okay to frame the whole insurance industry for this? They are guilt of plenty. Wouldn’t the ends justify the means? Not for nothing, I think Martin Luther King would disagree that the ends would justify the means. He attacks the issue in a lot more serious context than uninsured motorist coverage, I’ll tell ya that.

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The Maryland legislature is unlikely to jump right into Maryland’s pit bull controversy in spite of what is described as a bipartisan support to overturn the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that imposes strict liability for pit bull owners in dog bite cases, according to the Maryland Daily Record.

While the General Assembly is almost sure to debate the court’s ruling in Tracey v. Solesky, the legislature has apparently decided that the special session is not the time or place to address anything other than the budget crisis.

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The Baltimore Sun has an article this week about Columbia criminal attorney Clarke F. Ahlers attempt to unseat Judge Lenore R. Gelfman and Judge William V. Tucker on the Howard County bench in November.

I don’t know Ahlers. I know he was a former Howard County police officer who taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law for a time. I’m not floating around in Maryland criminal law circles but the impression I have is that he is well liked and well respected. So Ahlers is right, he probably would make a good judge. That is not a canned, obligatory throw away line: I really think he would be a good judge.

But what exactly are the issues in the campaign? Well, I went to Ahlers’ website. He has a category devoted to the issues. Oh good, I thought, let’s see what they are.

There are no issues. There is a lot of talk about the Constitution but, really, are there judges out there running on an anti-Constitution platform? He also wants and new courthouse, and he was in private practice. Most of the page is devoted to the serious criminal/police cases he has handled. A great resume but not exactly an explanation of the issues.

There is, however, a quote from Thomas Jefferson about blessing of judicial elections and a bit of a lecture for those of us who oppose judicial elections in Maryland:

    Those who favor a purely appointed system of judges believe citizens are too dull to manage their own lives without government’s direction, and are unqualified to select those who would sit in judgement of them.

I think this populist argument is the best arrow in the quiver of judicial elections. But it is weak. I certainly don’t think opposing local judicial elections is a sign off on the idea that citizens are too dull to manage their own lives with government direction. In fact, the connection of the two is – respectfully (hey, particularly respectfully if Ahlers wins!) – intellectually lazy. I can favor having police officers without being in favor of a Gestapo. I can favor taxes without being in favor of socialism. I can favor Joe Flacco without calling him a top ten NFL quarterback.

Clearly no one agrees that we should select every governmental position? Should we vote on who should be the Howard County Chief of Police? How about the Superintendent of Schools? Are we so lazy that we don’t care who can arrest us and who teaches our children?

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