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The horrifying fatal school bus accident in Chattanooga in November that killed five children has highlighted the frailties in the system that make it difficult to track accidents and take steps to effectively prevent similar deadly crashes.

In November, a bus left Woodmore Elementary School with approximately 37 students on board, crashed into a tree, and flipped over. Six children were killed, and several others injured, including six who were injured seriously enough to be rushed to the intensive care unit. The driver of the bus was arrested on charges of vehicle homicide. At least one of the children on the bus was a kindergartner.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), this year alone, there have been at least 700 accidents involving metro Atlanta school buses, or approximately 2 crashes a day.  However, that data may be incomplete.  Officials admit that the database lacks data on many accidents, and this makes it difficult for officials to track accident rates, pinpoint causes, and take steps to eliminate these accidents. Those steps include retraining school drivers, strengthening training and safety standards, and identifying accident trends in particular areas. Better accident data could also help identify dangerous drivers, who can then be removed from the system.

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Atlanta has once again received the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous and risky cities for pedestrians in the United States. This recent designation came via the Dangerous by Design report, which spotlights cities that pose the highest risk of injuries and accidents to pedestrians.

The report is compiled by Smart Growth America, which formulated a Pedestrian Danger Index measure for all major cities in the country. When cities and states were compared, Florida was found to be the most dangerous state, while Orlando was found to be the most dangerous city for pedestrians in the country.

The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta region comes in at number eight on the list, with 839 fatalities occurring between 2003 and 2012. The region had a Pedestrian Danger Index of 119.4. Atlanta fared quite well, however, when compared to Orlando’s 244.3 Pedestrian Danger Index. But the rating clearly indicates that there are a lot of changes needed to help keep pedestrians safer in our city.

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A congressional committee, which has been convened to look at ways to trim the federal budget and reduce budget deficits, has been hearing from physician lobby groups and other representatives of the healthcare industry.According to these people, healthcare costs can be reduced by limiting damages available to patients through medical malpractice lawsuits.As any Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer will tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.Opponents of medical malpractice caps and Atlanta medical practice lawyers know that this is an old trick – raising financial concerns during these troubled economic times in order to limit patient rights to compensation after being seriously injured by medical negligence.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are an essential part of policing the conduct of doctors and other medical professionals. Just as with anyone else in our society, each medical professional should be responsible for their own conduct in causing a personal injury or wrongful death. Further, the presence of such claims forces physicians and other medical professionals to make certain they are both aware of and adhere to appropriate standards of care. In reality, approximately 5% of the physicians commit approximately 90% of the medical errors which occur. However, the medical professional has refused to revoke the medical licenses of medical doctors who are consistently negligent in their care of patients.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has been considering ways to reduce budget deficits, and will be considering healthcare cutbacks as part of those measures.A number of consumer safety groups, including the Alliance for Justice, Center for Justice and Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, Patient Safety America, Public Citizen, and Texas Watch have written a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

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It looks like Governor Sonny Purdue’s plans for tort reform in Georgia have hit the speed breakers sooner than he had anticipated.On March 10th, the senate approved a substantially tamer version of a bill that would have made plaintiffs pay in the case of a losing lawsuit. The original bill had language approved by Governor Purdue, and would have made the state only the second in the country to make plaintiffs responsible for defendant’s legal fees if a lawsuit was dismissed in the early stages. That “loser pays” language has fortunately been deleted from the bill that has now been approved.

It’s not just the removal of the “loser pays” clause from his pet bill that must be giving the honorable governor heartburn.Earlier in 2009, another tort reform bill, this one too a pet project of Mr. Purdue died an early death in the Senate Economic Development Committee.This one related to the granting of civil lawsuit immunity to biotechnology companies who set up shop in Georgia.The governor announced at a meeting of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce earlier this year that biotechnology companies who wanted to invest in the state would be granted civil immunity from lawsuits in the event of an injury, if their products had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.That bill, which had been soundly criticized by citizens’ justice advocates and Georgia personal injury attorneys as being detrimental to consumer interests, seems well and truly dead, and deservedly so.To contemplate removing citizens’ rights to justice and compensation in the event of an injury caused by a pharmaceutical drug or product simply because the drug has FDA approval, is a line of thinking that has just been quashed by the Supreme Court in its recent Wyeth vs. Levine verdict.

Purdue’s insistence that such immunity would open the doors of investment and prosperity to Georgians also rings hollow when you consider that Michigan, which is currently the only state that has such civil lawsuit immunity for pharmaceutical companies, has seen both civil justice and pharmaceutical investment fly out the window, since the bill was passed in that state.To pass a bill like the immunity bill that Purdue was touting, and that too during a recession when citizens need more protection from powerful interests than ever before, would have been a mockery of citizens’ rights.

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Governor Sonny Purdue is at it again – he has proposed legislation aimed at reducing the number of "frivolous" lawsuits," including measures that are clearly aimed at making it harder for plaintiffs to initiate civil litigation against companies.Purdue’s proposals, which he unveiled at a breakfast meeting of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, will mean that plaintiffs have to pay the legal fees of the defendant, in case the lawsuit is dismissed at the earliest stages.Even more disturbing, the legislation will virtually grant immunity to biotechnology companies who have a "significant presence" in the state.That’s political speak for giving big name pharmaceutical companies carte blanche, without the drag of accountability to the consumer. Under the proposed laws, a citizen of Georgia cannot sue a company for a defective or dangerous medical device or drug that has received approval of the FDA.

Purdue’s proposals, not surprisingly were cheered by the 2500 members of the Chamber at the meeting.The initiatives, the Governor believes, will make the state "even more attractive" to biotechnology companies.The last time Georgia attempted to introduce tort reform in medical malpractice, the resulting storm was intense.That move resulted in senate Bill 3, which severely limits the amount of compensation thata patient who has been injured due to the fault of doctors, or hospitals to $350,000 even in the event of death of the patient due to negligence.Many of the provisions of the Georgia Tort Reform Act of 2005 have been removed as violations of a citizen’s constitutional rights.That doesn’t seem to have deterred Purdue, who this time around, intends to protect the pharmaceutical industry. Needless to say, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association has already voiced strong opposition to any such new legislation.

As we’ve seen last week in Minnesota, where a judge has thrown out dozens of lawsuits relating to the Medtronic defibrillator leads, device or drug approval from the FDA cannot and shouldn’t be allowed to come in the way of a person’s right to sue if these approved devices result in injuries.The Sprint Fidelis leads were approved by the FDA, and yet, have caused several deaths and heart injuries, because of fractures or broken wires that caused the defibrillator to malfunction.Now, dozens of injured patients or families of those who died have had their lawsuits dismissed, and their hopes for justice becoming bleaker because of the pre emption doctrine.

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The Tort Reform Act of 2005 may be going up on appeal. In 2005 Georgia legislators saw fit to pass a Tort Reform Act that, among other things, gave emergency room doctors virtual immunity from negligence suits.

That bill provided that the ER staff cannot be held liable for damages unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the doctor or health care provider’s actions showed “gross negligence.”Gross negligence is defined as the absence of that degree of care that every man of common sense, however inattentive he may be, exercises under the same or similar circumstances.Another common definition of “gross negligence” is “reckless disregard for the safety of the patient.”

In addition to this standard of care change, pain and suffering damages in a medical malpractice case were capped at $350,000.Thus, if you are injured as a result of medical malpractice, your right to recover has been greatly diminished.

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