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truck-945364_1280-300x183The U.S. Department of Transportation is halting its effort to better diagnose and evaluate truckers suffering from dangerous sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a major safety issue among commercial truck drivers as well as railroad workers. Here is the lead paragraph from a recent Bloomberg article discussing this sudden announcement:

The Trump administration is halting a year-old effort to seek better ways to diagnose truckers and railroad workers who have sleep apnea, a health condition linked to deadly accidents.

What is sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder. A person suffering sleep apnea will have interruptions in his or her breathing during sleep. How can sleep apnea affect driving? Truckers must be very alert while driving on our highways. By impacting sleep, the disorder can greatly affect daytime alertness, performance and fatigue. Our firm has seen the tragic results of these problems in past cases.

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Personal Injury - Blackwell Law Firm
We trust our doctors. We should. Most doctors are dedicated to helping people. In Huntsville, we are fortunate to have excellent medical professionals.

This post is not about those dedicated doctors (the vast majority) who treat and help their patients. This post is about the rare (but extremely harmful) doctor who earns his/her living not by treating patients — but by selling biased and false opinions for insurance companies in an effort to mislead courts and juries. These paid insurance experts are usually not local. And, they usually don’t provide treatment to real patients. Every profession has a few bad apples. When it comes to these “paid biased experts,” their impact harms the entire justice system.

I’ve cross-examined these biased, paid experts for many years. A recent news article in Nevada highlighted a doctor in that state who was banned from testifying by two local judges. In banning this paid expert, the Nevada judges issued a blistering opinion. The judges found the paid expert gave opinions based “heavily on speculation and other irrelevant factors.” They also found the insurance expert had a “history of personal bias as to some treating physicians and extreme bias” against plaintiffs.

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In a recent video advertisement a local Huntsville attorney claimed that your specific legal problem did not matter. He had the attorney for you. That attorney repeated his claim over and over, inserting very different legal needs each time. “It Doesn’t Matter (INSERT LEGAL PROBLEM), We Have Your Lawyer.” It’s a ridiculous ad. It’s an ad fishing for attorney fees.

Think about your legal need. Complicated Elder Law Issue? If you need advice in that area, you better consult an attorney with practical experience in tax issues, with knowledge of Medicare matters, and with a working background in Trusts and Estates. I would. Personally, I would never go to a lawyer that said his firm could service any and all legal problems. I’ve seen too many horror stories in my decades of practicing law where families were torn apart because their loved one had an Estate document prepared by a lawyer who did not fully understand all the issues. Serious Personal Injury? While any lawyer can try and settle a case, not all lawyers can really settle or complete a case for its maximum value. You should trust a serious personal injury case to a serious lawyer with years of experience studying injury law issues, handling damages claims at actual trials, dealing with complex experts, and preparing injury claims for trial and appeal. The level of attorney expertise can make a big difference in the final result. And, in contested cases it can make a difference between winning and losing. I have received too many phone calls over the years from people who had their personal injury claims ruined by a billboard lawyer who lacked the skill, courage or desire to prepare a serious case. Immigration Matter? The issue is too important for anyone but a specialist. Real Estate Transaction? An error preparing complicated transactional documents could cost you and your family greatly.

The local attorney who says your claim does not matter because he has an attorney for it, really does want your case. He wants all your cases badly enough to claim specialties across the board. Until recently, his firm website advertised for wrongful death claims but did not accurately or fully discuss the unique nature of Alabama law on this issue. And, his website contains an actual disclaimer for personal injury claims — a disclaimer that reveals his firm needs to associate a trial lawyer on these cases.

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Would speed limiting devices in commercial trucks save lives? Yes. We believe these devices would prevent many needless personal injuries and deaths on our highways. At our firm, we have helped many families hurt in commercial truck crashes. We have seen the tragic results of collisions involving huge commercial vehicles.

We believe speed limiting devices in commercial trucks are a good idea. Most trucking industry professionals also recognize the benefit of these devices. What do others think? A recent article in the Insurance Journal starts with the following:

Years of pleas from parents whose son was killed by a speeding tractor-trailer, buy-in from some truckers and the promise of fewer highway deaths convinced U.S. officials in September to propose requiring speed-limiting devices on all large rigs.

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Workers Compensation - Blackwell Law Firm
Who enjoys doctor’s visits? Almost nobody. Most people view doctor’s appointments as times of stress, anxiety and confusion. Yet, these appointments are essential to your health and healing following a personal injury.

You need to make the most of your doctor visits. Appointments can be hard to schedule. And, you may only get a few minutes with the doctor before his/her next appointment. So, here are six tips to help with your doctor visits.

1. Be Friendly. I know — this is obvious. It “goes without saying.” But, sometimes being friendly is not easy. If you are hurt on the job in Alabama and getting workers’ compensation, then your employer (or its insurance carrier) picks the doctor. Often, these insurance carriers schedule and cancel your appointments with very little concern for you. That process can be extremely frustrating. In other personal injury cases, like car accidents, you get to pick your doctor. Yet, scheduling and waiting for appointments can still be frustrating. How many people can still easily smile after sitting a couple hours in a patient waiting room? How many people can still smile after repeating their story to, yet, another person in another medical office. Any number of issues and inconveniences can sour your mood before you ever see the actual doctor. Don’t let outside issues cause you to be unfriendly or confrontational with the doctor. Trust me — It will not help your treatment or your case.

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Personal Injury
The process was intended to be simple. The steps meant to be clear. You suffer a work-related accident and injury. You notify your boss of that injury. Your employer then communicates the accident or injury information to its insurance carrier. And, the insurance carrier arranges for you to see a doctor. Simple? While it should be simple, it often is not. Many injured workers face hurdles getting necessary medical care. In some cases, it is the employer creating hurdles. In others, it is the insurance carrier.

I recently prepared for the deposition of a plant nurse in a case where the employer created several hurdles to medical care. Why would an employer delay or refuse to start the medical treatment process for its injured employee? An employer may have several reasons to delay care or ignore injury problems. Some employers have insurance policies with high deductibles. A few large employers in Alabama qualify as self-insured. In both situations, an employer may be looking at its out-of-pocket costs. Other employers simply don’t want to file a claim and risk a premium increase. Regardless of the reason, employer delays in medical care harm you the most.

An article in the Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) journal detailed the story of one company cited by OSHA for “medical mismanagement” because of these issues. The article is titled OSHA Cites Pilgrim’s Pride for Medical Mismanagement and Other Safety Hazards. An OSHA area director was quoted in the article:

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photo by U.S. Air Force
Is the ban on texting and driving in Alabama effective? In a recent post, I discussed two shortcomings with Alabama’s current distracted driving law.

  • Our current law is limited in application. Our current law applies to portable devices removable from the car. And, it applies simply to texting or typing activities. As I discussed in my prior post, the use of electronic devices has expanded far beyond simple texting or typing activities. In our practice, we’ve seen accidents caused by drivers actually surfing the internet while driving. We even had one client hurt by a driver who was watching a movie on a portable device while operating a car. Our law should be written to encompass unreasonably dangerous distractions beyond the simple act of texting. I understand – we cannot anticipate every bad act. But, we can keep the law up to date with advances in how people use portable devices.
  • Our current law contains minimal penalties. What is the first-time offender penalty for a texting and driving citation? It’s $25. The penalty for texting and driving in Alabama provides almost no deterrent to drivers.
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Image by drneelesh
Recent research shows a dangerous problem with many newly approved drugs. Life-threatening side effects are common in the years following FDA approval. An article titled “Study: Side effects emerge after approval for many US drugs” details the new research. The article’s opening paragraph sums it up:

Almost one-third of new drugs approved by U.S. regulators over a decade ended up years later with warnings about unexpected, sometimes life-threatening side effects or complications . . .

This new study followed all prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2001 through 2010. The drugs flagged because of serious post-approval problems included medications for common medical problems such as arthritis, infections, blood clots and depression. The study’s lead author (an associate professor at Yale University) said “the large percentage of problems was a surprise.” As for me — I’m not surprised.

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photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission
The Problem Of Distracted Driving

Distracted drivers cause many deadly car accidents on Alabama highways. Despite efforts to educate the public (and especially young drivers), accident statistics continue to show a growing problem. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) reported:

a 14 percent increase in traffic fatalities over the past two years — the largest two year increase in more than 50 years.

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Blackwell Law Firm - TBI Cases
Many patients with a “mild” traumatic brain injury (TBI) continue to suffer problems lasting years beyond their initial injury. Sometimes, the problems are permanent. TBI patients suffering long-term problems know their injuries are anything but mild. They are serious. The word “mild” is a clinical term and it is deceiving. The problems these injury victims suffer are both serious and life-altering. This is what the Brain Injury Association of America says about the term “mild” when applied to a TBI:

The term “mild brain injury” can be misleading. The term “mild” is used in reference to the severity of the initial physical trauma that caused the injury. It does not indicate the severity of the consequences of the injury.

A guide published by the State of Michigan to help TBI victims with their recoveries lists many of the long-term problems these patients suffer. They include: