South Carolina Injury & Accident Lawyers

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Guardrail Safety WhistleblowerWhen Joshua Harman decided to take on Trinity Highway Products LLC, questioning their redesign of a highway guardrail used on interstates across the United States, he was determined to expose what he saw as a safety hazard.

A 2005 redesign of the company’s ET-Plus end terminals had changed the action of the guardrail, Harman believed, turning it into a dagger when impacted, instead of a shock absorber.

Trinity’s ET-Plus had met federal requirements when it was assessed in 2000, but the changes had not been submitted for review, Harman’s case alleged.

Harman and other whistleblowers can take on corporations such as Trinity under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows a person with knowledge of fraud to sue on behalf of the government. Harman’s case alleged that Trinity was aware of the dangers caused by the modified guardrails but didn’t notify the Federal Highway Administration.

The Jury Ruling & Fine

In June 2015, a Texas federal judge slapped the company with a $663 million judgment, based on a jury’s October 2014 decision that held Trinity liable for defrauding the Federal Highway Administration. The ruling found that Trinity had changed the ET-Plus design, never mentioned the modifications, and falsely certified that the FHA had approved them.

In the wake of the jury trial, at least 30 states, including South Carolina, stopped installing the ET-Plus guardrails until further safety testing could be performed. The South Carolina DOT says it had installed thousands of guardrail terminals, as the ET-Plus systems are called, before the court ruling, and can’t pinpoint exactly where the faulty systems are on South Carolina highways.

Informally, state officials believe that most of the guardrails recently installed were Trinity’s ET-Plus units, and they are now facing the prospect of locating all the units and determining the cost of replacing them.

That’s the action that Harman hoped to see when he stepped forward with the lawsuit. He wanted to get the faulty guardrails off the roads. And, as the whistleblower who faced Trinity on his own when the federal government opted not to participate, Harman was allotted 30% of the award, or about $199 million.

Speak to a Lawyer First

It takes determination to blow the whistle on fraud, and it can come at a high cost. Speaking out can take a toll on family dynamics and jeopardize your career. As with Harman’s case, the process can also take years and be incredibly stressful. He spent a lot of time traveling around the country, talking to accident victims and collecting evidence. Then the case went through the court process.

The best way to handle a whistleblower situation is to seek advice from attorneys knowledgeable of the issues involved in filing under the False Claims Act. If you’re thinking about taking action, righting a wrong, and revealing fraud, you need a lawyer who can guide you through the process and one who will support you in what may be a challenging period.

It may be challenging, but whistleblowing works. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that 43% of fraud within organizations is discovered through tips from knowledgeable insiders. Most whistleblowers come forward with information because they want to do the right thing.

If you’ve witnessed questionable practices and believe that you can make a difference by telling your story, consult with the lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm about blowing the whistle. Call 1-888-440-3211 to schedule a free consultation. Or fill out our online case evaluation form.

HDL WhistleblowerA Hilton Head doctor was one of three whistleblowers who exposed health care fraud being committed by Health Diagnostic Laboratories (HDL) of Richmond, VA, and Singulex Inc., of Alameda, CA. Three cases were filed in South Carolina against the companies under the False Claims Act, which allows people with evidence of fraud to sue corporations on behalf of the U.S. government.

Because it can be risky to uncover fraud and expose the people or businesses behind it, provisions in the False Claims Act state that the person bringing the case — the whistleblower — may be awarded up to 30% of the funds recovered.

HDL and Singulex were accused of paying doctors $10 to $17 for referring their patients for blood tests, even if they weren’t medically necessary. The two companies were billing federal programs, including Medicare, for the tests and then sharing the profits with physicians in a kickback scheme that labeled the money as processing and handling fees.

That brought another law into play: the Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits paying money in order to get referrals for services covered by federally funded programs. The statute is intended to ensure that a doctor’s judgment isn’t clouded by under-the-table financial incentives.

Multimillion-Dollar Settlement Reached

The U.S. Justice Department announced in April 2015 that HDL and Singulex agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements with the government, with HDL paying $47 million and Singulex paying $1.5 million. Federal attorneys said the large settlement was proof of their determination to work with whistleblowers who come forward to defend the integrity of the health care system.

The case was also cited as a victory for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), which was put into action in 2009 by the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two offices was formed to target Medicare and Medicaid fraud, and since its establishment, HEAT has recovered more than $23.9 billion through False Claims Act cases.

Get an Attorney on Your Side

The three whistleblower cases in South Carolina prompted a federal investigation, and HDL CEO Tonya Mallory was sued by the U.S. federal government, along with four other defendants named in the case. This action followed the earlier settlement from HDL and Singulex and could mean Mallory will be responsible for paying millions in civil penalties.

The Department of Justice got involved in the process early, stepping into the South Carolina whistleblower suits and then continuing its investigation and working to hold the company heads personally responsible for the systematic fraud perpetrated through the kickback scheme with physicians.

Those who suspect a fraud is being perpetrated against the U.S. government, and against taxpayers, are well advised to seek the advice of a law firm experienced in preparing whistleblower complaints. Government lawyers often struggle under large case loads, and when the relator’s (whistleblower’s) disclosures are well drafted by a private law firm, the government is more likely to intervene in the case and bring their resources to bear against the defendants.

At the Louthian Law Firm, we’re ready to provide wise counsel to those who may have grounds to file a whistleblower claim, and all such discussions are strictly confidential. A consultation with one of our lawyers is free. Please call 1-888-440-3211 to set up a meeting at our firm, or simply fill our contact form and an attorney experienced with whistleblower cases will be in contact.

Bicycling in South CarolinaSouth Carolina is in the top 5 states for bicycle fatalities. (See our recent infographic for more facts and figures about bicycling in the Palmetto State: One step we could take to increase safety for cyclists is enactment of a 3-foot passing law.

Skeptics of the 3-foot laws say enforcement is difficult, especially if there is no collision between the vehicle and the bicycle. Proponents, on the other hand, say the collection of fines is not the point — the point is to increase awareness by drivers that they must safely share the road.

When states consider such legislation, a public dialogue ensues, putting the issue of bicycle safety top of mind. Once the 3-foot law is enacted, a public education campaign typically follows, again bringing attention to the topic and causing motorists to be aware that they are expected to alter their driving behavior.

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wood-flooring“60 Minutes” aired an expose about some Lumber Liquidators flooring products having illegal and dangerously high levels of formaldehyde.

It’s important to note that only some products have been implicated as potentially harmful. They were manufactured in China, and lab tests found levels of formaldehyde that exceeded (in some cases up to 20 times) acceptable limits. The “60 Minutes” report sampled laminate flooring sold in California, Virginia, Florida, Texas and Illinois.

So far there have been three class-action lawsuits filed, two in California and one in Florida. They allege violations of federal and state laws, false and deceptive advertising and labeling, and violations of expressed and implied warranties.

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Bicycle Helmet Safety - South CarolinaEach year, the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) conducts a campaign to increase awareness about brain injuries — their causes, costs and treatment.

It’s not just a matter of putting some comfy foam padding between your head and the hard, rough ground. Brain injuries from a sudden bike crash are similar to those that can be sustained in a car crash: Although the vehicle stops moving, the tissue inside the skull doesn’t. A helmet helps the head slow down gradually by cushioning the blow with specialized foam that crushes and doesn’t bounce back, and the plastic shell helps by allowing the head to slide over the ground so the neck doesn’t get wrenched.

Continue Reading: Bicycle Safety in South Carolina

prescriptions-fdaAccording to its own website, the FDA “is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, and medical devices.”

But does the FDA protect the public? As recently reported by Slate magazine:

“When the FDA finds scientific fraud or misconduct, the agency doesn’t notify the public, the medical establishment, or even the scientific community that the results of a medical experiment are not to be trusted. On the contrary. For more than a decade, the FDA has shown a pattern of burying the details of misconduct. As a result, nobody ever finds out which data is bogus, which experiments are tainted, and which drugs might be on the market under false pretenses. The FDA has repeatedly hidden evidence of scientific fraud not just from the public, but also from its most trusted scientific advisers, even as they were deciding whether or not a new drug should be allowed on the market. Even a congressional panel investigating a case of fraud regarding a dangerous drug couldn’t get forthright answers. For an agency devoted to protecting the public from bogus medical science, the FDA seems to be spending an awful lot of effort protecting the perpetrators of bogus science from the public.”

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jeep-suv-fireWe hope to see continuing news reports on what consumer activist Ralph Nader called “a modern day Pinto for soccer moms.” He was referring, of course, to the notorious Ford Pinto exploding gas tanks.

In October of 2009, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to initiate a defect investigation into and recall of all 1993 – 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, designed with the fuel tank located behind the rear axle. They cited research showing that between 1992 and 2008, there were car accidents that included 172 fatal fire crashes, causing 254 fatalities, in these vehicles.

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Columbia, SC MalpracticeWhen comedienne Joan Rivers died last August during what was described as a routine outpatient procedure, some people began to wonder what went wrong. Now Rivers’ daughter has filed a multimillion-dollar medical malpractice lawsuit against the clinic and the two doctors and three anesthesiologists who treated her mother, alleging that their negligence triggered a coma and her mother’s death from brain damage caused by a loss of oxygen.

Just as parents have discovered that kids can and will access the Internet for more than the Encyclopedia Britannica, hospitals and patients are discovering that medical staff use their electronic devices for researching things unrelated to patient care — things like shopping on eBay, posting on Facebook, personal calls and texting — all while they are supposed to be giving direct and undivided attention to the patient.

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As a longtime cycling enthusiast and a bass-playing wannabe, not to mention a personal injury lawyer, I had several reasons to read with interest and concern about the terrible bicycle accident involving U2 frontman Bono.

Bono was enjoying a Sunday afternoon ride in New York’s Central Park on November 16, 2014, when he swerved to avoid hitting another cyclist. Variously referred to as a “high energy bicycle accident,” a “cycling spill” and a “bike fall,” the crash caused serious injuries which have led to Bono’s recent statement that he fears he may never play the guitar again.

If you’re one who thinks a bicycle wreck is likely to result only in scrapes and bruises, especially if a car is not involved and the rider was wearing a helmet, consider this: Bono’s eye socket was broken; his shoulder blade was fractured in three places; his left arm was shattered in six different places, with the bone tearing through his skin and leather jacket; and a finger was broken.

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Did Santa leave a moped at your house this year? These motor bikes have become increasingly popular forms of transportation for adults as gas prices have soared. Kids love ‘em because, under South Carolina law, they can enjoy the freedom of the road at only 14 years of age. And DUI offenders are grateful to be able to operate a vehicle which doesn’t require a driver’s license, insurance or payment of property taxes or fees.

Some or all of this could change in South Carolina if legislators are successful in amending moped laws this year. The first regular session of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly will convene on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Over the last two weeks, hundreds of bills have been pre-filed in the House and Senate, several of which seek to strengthen the regulation of mopeds.

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