South Carolina Injury & Accident Lawyers

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Some sentimental songs appeal to our natural instinct to make our homes a warm and safe haven for loved ones and/or to return to such a place. If your vision of cozy holiday décor includes scents of the season wafting from flickering candles, you may be adding an element of danger not intended by the songs’ lyrics.

According to a December 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association, the risk of home fires caused by candles jumps significantly during the winter holidays, both because candles are frequently lit during this time and because of the combustible seasonal decorations also in the area. Twelve percent of home candle fires occur in December, 1.5 times the usual monthly average. The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve.

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buzzed-driving“What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening, what’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening . . . .” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 70’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar posed the question. And I have the answer:

“The buzz” is achieved by drinking alcohol to a BAC level of 0.01 to 0.07 percent, less than the 0.08 BAC of drunk driving. And “what’s a-happening” is that lots of folks are going to be doing it between now and New Year’s Day and getting behind the wheel. They’re going to think – mistakenly – that because they are only buzzed, rather than drunk, they’re unlikely to cause an accident.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, however, have found that even “minimally buzzed” drivers are more often to blame for fatal car crashes than sober drivers. After analyzing statistics from the nationwide Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), they concluded: “There appears to be no safe combination of drinking and driving . . . .” There is no sudden transition from sober (blameless) to drunk (dangerous). Rather, the progression is even and linear from a BAC of 0.01 to BAC 0.24. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause a fatal crash.

Thus, the campaign to reduce highway deaths has expanded to include, in effect, DWB as well as DWI. Take the online campaign of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in partnership with AdCouncil. Readers are urged to take the following pledge:

  • I’m going to be smart;
  • I won’t drive while buzzed.
  • Even just one too many drinks can impair my driving and lead to devastating consequences. It’s just not worth it. Buzzed driving is drunk driving, so I’m going to make sure I make responsible choices that don’t endanger myself and others.

So far, more than 18,000 people have pledged not to drive while buzzed. But that’s just a drop in the mug, so to speak, considering the millions of people on the roads during the holiday season.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2 to 3 times more people die in alcohol-related wrecks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day than at other times of the year. Forty percent of traffic fatalities during the holidays involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 31 percent for the rest of the year.

From November 26 to November 30 this year, seven people were killed in traffic accidents in our state, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. Within the next two weeks, two more high-fatality holidays will occur and it’s likely that the statistics this year will follow the usual pattern. It’s such a shame: the late-year holidays should be times of joy and celebration, not occasions that will forever after be linked to many families’ last memories of their loved ones.

If you or your loved ones are harmed by a negligent driver – whether it’s someone with a BAC over the legal limit or a party-goer who “just” has a buzz on – call the Louthian Law Firm. With more than eight decades of combined legal expertise, we’ll be glad to set up a free initial consultation so we can review the details of your accident and give you seasoned advice after the holiday season’s happenings.

Early one morning in late August, an 82-year-old woman wandered away from her Batesburg, SC, nursing home. She was found nearly eight hours later; fortunately, she was unharmed. If this incident had occurred during winter weather, or if she had wandered into the path of a vehicle, the outcome could have been tragic.

In elder care terminology, this nursing home resident “eloped.” The National Institute for Elopement Prevention and Resolution defines elopement as “when a patient wanders away, walks away, runs away, escapes, or otherwise leaves a care-giving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.” Another term sometimes used is “critical wandering.”

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On Sunday, November 16, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston hosted an observance of A Day of Remembrance for victims of traffic accidents. In 2012, 863 people lost their lives on South Carolina highways, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: 38% were occupants of passenger cars; 27% were in pickup trucks or SUVs; 1% were in large trucks; 13% were motorcyclists; 14% were pedestrians; and 2% were on bicycles.

But the MUSC day of remembrance was not just a local event. The third Sunday of November each year is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Starting with a 1995 advocacy movement under the umbrella of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims, the initiative has increased to include countries on every continent around the world. Promotion by the World Health Organization (WHO) led to an endorsement of the World Day by the United Nations in 2005.

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lung-cancerWith November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the 20th being designated as the Great American Smokeout, a day on which smokers are encouraged to make a plan to quit, we were especially interested to learn that South Carolina ranks third worst in the nation for combating lung cancer, according to a survey by Wallet Hub.

Wallet Hub, whose goal is to help consumers and small business owners make better financial decisions and save money, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the CDC, the EPA, the American Cancer Society, and other sources. They looked at such things as air quality, price of cigarettes, cigarette taxes, number of smokers, lung cancer rates, and smoking bans, among other factors. Here are some of the other rankings for the Palmetto State when it comes to lung cancer:

  • South Carolina ranked 42nd in cigarette taxes,
  • 39th in lung cancer mortality,
  • 51st in cigarette prices,
  • 32nd in the percentage of smokers who attempt to quit,
  • 43rd in new lung cancer cases per capita,
  • 45th for smoking bans,
  • 46th for top-rated hospitals for cancer,
  • 15th for lung cancer mortality,
  • offering residents a 16.6 percent chance of surviving lung cancer.

In terms of making better financial decisions, I guess this data could say South Carolina is a good state for smokers to live in because cigarettes are cheap here and smoking is tolerated in most places. It could indicate this is a good state in which to set up a pulmonary medical practice, since there are lots of potential patients. But for employers concerned about productivity, this survey confirms what American Lung Association statistics say about the real cost of smoking in South Carolina: The annual cost of smoking to the state in direct healthcare expenditures is $1.6 billion, more than $1 billion in workplace productivity losses and $2.3 billion for premature deaths, for a total cost to the state’s economy of nearly $5 billion per year.

Lung cancer accounts for about a third of all cancer deaths, killing more people than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to the American Cancer Society. In South Carolina, 3,480 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in 2010 and 2,712 people died from the disease.

Those of us who represent victims of medical malpractice are concerned about the potential for misdiagnosis of lung cancer, either by a doctor’s diagnosing it as something else or by overlooking it altogether on X-rays or scans, either of which can lead to a deadly delay in timely treatment. Some studies have shown that as many as 25% of lung cancers are missed by radiologists when first looking at X-rays. Sometimes lung cancer is misdiagnosed as tuberculosis or a fungal infection. Another error is to note an abnormality but then fail to track it or to do further diagnostic testing. It is also possible for a pathologist to misread a biopsy sample by identifying the wrong cancer type or stage of progression.

About 230,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. The percentage of people who survive at least one year after lung cancer is detected is 43% and the five-year survival rate is 17%. But the sooner it is detected and appropriate treatment begun, the better the odds for the patient.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people age 55 to 80 who have smoked a pack a day for 30 years or more, or 2 packs a day for 15 years, or who have quit within the past 15 years should receive screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans every year. That screening should be done until the person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that would shorten their life or prevent them from being able to have surgery for lung cancer. If you’re a long-time smoker, has your physician been following these guidelines?

According to the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), ”If you are considering lung cancer screening, it’s important that it is done at a cancer center that can provide the complete support and resources needed for the screening, as well as evaluating the images, managing the results, and diagnosing and treating cancer.” This should be troubling for South Carolinians, since our state ranked 46 for top-rated cancer hospitals.

If you are a smoker, the American Cancer Society has lots of information about resources to help you stop. On November 20, join the Great American Smokeout. If you or your loved one has been the victim of a misdiagnosis or medical error which led to a wrong or delayed diagnosis of lung cancer, call the Louthian Law Firm at 1-888-440-3211 or go to our website for more information.

In 1791, James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights to provide constitutional protection for individual liberties and prevent the abuse of governmental power. Nearly 200 years later, in 1987, the federal Nursing Home Reform Law was written to include the guarantee of certain rights to some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens — nursing home residents. All nursing homes which participate in Medicare or Medicaid must meet the requirements of this bill of rights. Additionally, some states – South Carolina included – have enacted state laws to protect the rights of residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult care homes.

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On November 2, 2014, a Minnesota patient detached a metal bar from his hospital bed and used it to attack four nurses; one nurse suffered a collapsed lung, another broke her wrist, and the others had cuts and bruises . . . as well as bad memories of the night.

While some people might view the frightening event as an oddity, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare workers are some of the most likely workers to be attacked while on the job. According to OSHA, two out of three (on-the-job) physical assaults happen in the medical care and social service industries, and the numbers are going up. A survey underwritten by the Foundation of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) found that the number of crimes increased by nearly 37 percent in just two years, from just under 15,000 in 2010 to more than 20,500 in 2012. Reported crimes included simple assault, larceny and theft, vandalism, rape, sexual assault and homicide. Even more disturbing than this increased number of violent crimes in healthcare settings is the likelihood that many incidents are not reported – at least one half, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates.

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beatlesWhen I get older, losing my hair, many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out ’til quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?

This Beatles tune became familiar to most Baby Boomers back in 1967. Some may still be asking these questions, but others are more worried that in their later years their medical symptoms will be misread by their physicians, attributed to normal aging instead of disease or treatable conditions.

“If you believe that your family doctor or specialist is ready to successfully handle your increasingly complex health care needs as you age, you are very likely wrong,” writes Bruce Brittain, a geriatric care consultant. Geriatrics is the medical specialty focusing on the health care needs of “the elderly” (frequently defined as those over the age of 64). The Baby Boomer generation began turning 65 in 2011, a slow-motion explosion which Brittain warns will create “77 million cranky old sex addicts with multiple medical complaints, worn out body parts but less hair.” His characterization may be debatable, but his conclusion isn’t: “There won’t be nearly enough trained geriatricians–and I’m talking about a huge gap because the number of geriatricians is shrinking–to provide appropriate care. The end result will be millions of misdiagnoses, over-medication (already a troubling problem), unnecessary and expensive procedures (likewise) and a reduced quality of life for millions of Boomers who would otherwise do quite nicely with correct care.”

There are currently about 7,600 certified geriatricians in the United States, representing just 1.2% of physicians in the country. That’s somewhere around one for every 2,600 Americans age 75 and older, according to the American Geriatrics Society. Ideally, there should be one for every 300.

Question #1: Why don’t more doctors in training become specialists in this field where the number of patients is growing exponentially?

First, it is not an especially lucrative specialty. A geriatric physician can expect to make about $200,000 per year, while other specialists average $400,000. Medicare and private insurers have established reimbursement caps, so many general practitioners briskly churn through a large caseload each day to maximize their income. To properly diagnose an elderly patient who presents with multiple complaints, a physician needs to spend time questioning and listening, something that many health care professionals avoid because it cuts down on their billable opportunities. In America, doctors are rewarded for procedures, not conversations.

Second, the curriculum at most U.S. medical schools treats geriatrics as an elective, not a required field of training. And, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, out of the 145 medical schools in the U.S., only 11 have a geriatric department. In Great Britain, every medical school has a department of geriatrics, as do one half of Japanese medical schools.

Medical school curricula have been slow to adapt and offer specialized instruction in the diagnosis and treatment of the aged. Dr. Adam Gordon, a consultant and lecturer in geriatrics at England’s Nottingham University Hospital, said, “Most medical school curriculums evolved in the last century, when the type of medicine we practiced was very different. And the way to teach doctors of old was to teach them about the heart, lung and liver and hope that they’ll somehow learn to join up the dots.” Yikes!

Question #2: What’s so different about treating older patients?

Would you take your two-year-old to your own physician? More than likely you would seek the expertise of a pediatrician. Advocates for the elderly say that geriatric medicine is as different from routine medicine as pediatrics is.

To begin with, older patients are likely to have multiple chronic conditions that overlap. A doctor may be challenged to assess which condition is implicated by a newly reported symptom. Elderly people often have multiple underlying disorders, such as hypertension or diabetes, that increase the potential for harm if a complaint is misdiagnosed. Even when a proper diagnosis has been made, the appropriate treatment of an elderly patient is likely to be different because older bodies absorb drugs more slowly and respond differently to certain protocols than younger bodies.

General physicians may dismiss some symptoms, regarding them as normal signs of aging. Things like confusion, unsteadiness, muscle weakness or gait oddities may be assumed to be typical characteristics of the elderly rather than signs of depression, nutrition or hygiene problems, or a urinary tract infection. Certain diseases are much more common among the elderly (diastolic heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus) and may be more readily recognized by a geriatric specialist.

Conversely, doctors should take into account the natural effects of aging and not mistake pure aging for disease. For example, slow information retrieval is not dementia.

If a rose is a rose is a rose, isn’t a doctor a doctor? In a word, no. Dr. Joseph G. Ouslander, Founding Director of the Boca Institute for Quality Aging in Boca Raton, Florida, said, “I’ve worked with some truly outstanding physicians during my career but I’ve seen cases where they poison or misdiagnose their elderly patients due to ignorance of geriatric medicine.”

Question #3: Are there any solutions to the problem of the shortage of geriatric specialists?

Actually, South Carolina established an innovative program to attract more doctors with specialized training in geriatric medicine to our state. In 2005, the South Carolina General Assembly approved the first Geriatric Loan Forgiveness Program in the country. It offers up to $35,000 per year in loan forgiveness for those receiving training in an accredited geriatric fellowship, in exchange for their establishing and maintaining a geriatric or geropsychiatric practice in South Carolina for five consecutive years immediately following completion of fellowship training. With the average medical resident carrying a debt of $170,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this is a powerful incentive. Since 2006, 23 physicians have received loan forgiveness awards to establish practices in South Carolina, increasing the number of geriatricians in the state by over 50%.

Navigating safely through our later years is a challenge, and that includes finding a physician who correctly diagnoses and treats the physical and mental afflictions encountered in those years – one who takes the time necessary and who has the training and skills required and who doesn’t misread us when we’re 64 . . . or 74 . . . or 84 . . .

If you or your elderly loved one has been the victim of medical negligence or misdiagnosis, contact the Louthian Law Firm at 1-888-440-3211. We will help you seek truth and find justice.

stryker-hip-implantsAt the annual conference of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons earlier this year, Mayo Clinic researchers reported that 2.5 million Americans are living with artificial hips, surgically implanted when their natural joints degenerated or were fractured. Most of these patients found themselves with a new lease on life after their surgery, able to resume the normal activities they had enjoyed before their hips gave out. For thousands, however, the hip replacement devices led to disappointment, debilitating pain, and do-over surgery.

According to the FDA, between 1992 and 2011, nearly 40,000 patients suffered ‘adverse reactions’ from metal-on-metal hip joint replacements, including the Stryker Rejuvenate Modular-Neck and the ABG II Modular-Neck devices. The adverse reactions included metallosis (the release of metal ions into the tissue and blood stream); necrosis (premature tissue death); osteolysis (bone dissolution); and pain and loosening of the hip implant, requiring revision surgery. In 2012, Stryker announced a recall of these two products. Thousands of lawsuits followed.

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This is a question currently being debated in South Carolina courts in the case of Alberta Major v. City of Hartsville. Ms. Major was a student at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina in December of 2008. In walking on the city-owned sidewalk and adjacent grassy area on a street corner near campus, she stepped in a rut created by cars short-cutting the corner, injuring her ankle and incurring the cost of medical treatment and physical therapy. She sued the City for failure to maintain and repair the defect.

However, the Tort Claims Act provides that governmental entities are not liable for a loss arising out of a defective highway, road, street, causeway, bridge or other public way if they did not receive “actual or constructive notice” of the problem. The Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the City of Hartsville, writing, in essence, that even if the City might have known that there was a general condition caused by vehicles cutting across the grassy corner, they did not have constructive notice of the particular depression, rut or hole that caused Major’s ankle injury.

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