Alabama Litigation Review

Alabama Litigation Review

Insights & Commentary on Developments in Alabama Litigation

Need A Lawyer? Don’t Believe Everything You Read On A Website!

Posted in Personal Injury, Punitive Damages

personal-injury

Billboards. Television. Radio. Lawyer ads are everywhere. It’s easy to smile and claim expertise. It’s much more difficult to perform the study and hard work necessary to win a complicated case. I’ve written previously that I would never hire a billboard lawyer for a serious case.

What about websites? I believe websites should contain good information for consumers. That’s why I wrote the articles on my firm website. Unfortunately, we have too many lawyers purchasing websites without writing or reviewing them for accuracy. Those sites contain canned content and marketing hype. That creates bad problems for the people who really need help.

For example, a local Huntsville DUI firm suddenly decided it wanted to advertise for personal injury and elder law cases. That firm created new billboards and a new website for their new specialties. However, a look at their website raises serious concerns. Their website has a Personal Injury page. Click on it. It looks nice. But, read to the bottom. That’s where you see the Disclaimer. What? The firm actually has a Disclaimer that tells consumers it intends to refer cases to outside lawyers. The truth — this advertising firm wants your personal injury case just to sign you up for a fee. Maybe the firm will try to negotiate a quick (and perhaps low) settlement. But, another lawyer at a different firm elsewhere will really prepare your case. What’s not on the website? The website does not disclose the “secret” known by many in the Huntsville legal community. The advertising firm has an actual arrangement with a specific other law firm to send personal injury cases to it. The whole process lacks authenticity and transparency. In my opinion, no lawyer should advertise for cases he or she really does not intend to handle to completion. And, no law firm should shadow advertise for another firm.

My problems with that billboard firm’s website don’t stop with what I believe to be a misleading “Disclaimer.” The advertising firm’s website also says it handles Wrongful Death cases. The firm website actually makes that representation. Nothing is more traumatic than losing a loved one. More than any other time — grieving families need to trust the professionals around them. Doctors. Funeral Directors. Financial Planners. Lawyers. Families need to trust these professionals. It’s a very difficult time. So, the new advertising firm claims it handles “wrongful death” cases. I clicked on its website to see. What I found, was troubling. Here is a screenshot of the advertising law firm’s wrongful death page from May 2017:

Screenshot 2017-05-05 13.40.48

If the screenshot is difficult to read, I’ve turned it into a text quote below:

Trust in Our Huntsville Wrongful Death Attorneys

We understand that no amount of money can bring your loved one back, but we make it our mission to try and make sure no other family has to experience the same tragedy. Our firm also works to try to relieve the financial strain of your situation and give you one less thing about which to worry. We believe someone who tragically loses a loved one should not have to shoulder the burden of a financial costs stemming from their loss.

Our firm can work to help you obtain compensation to offset costs such as:

The loss of wages

Suffering

Loss of consortium

Medical bills

Costs of funeral

Our firm offers no-cost consultations. This allows us to explain your rights and options after you lose a loved one in a wrongful death accident. We aim to provide you with the top-notch service you need as you seek justice for your loved one.

Here’s the problem — None of the listed compensatory losses is recoverable in an Alabama wrongful death case. Loss of wages. Loss of consortium. Medical bills. These are considered compensatory damages. And, they are NOT recoverable under Alabama’s current wrongful death laws. So, why is a law firm advertising it will obtain compensation for these items?

In Alabama wrongful death cases, ONLY punitive damages are recoverable. The only damages recoverable for a wrongful death case in Alabama are punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer. The distinction in recoverable damages is critical for your case. If a wrongful death case goes to trial, the deceased’s medical bills and wage losses are not considered in that evidence. They are not recoverable for that claim.

A lawyer who truly handles wrongful death cases should know this law. Alabama is unique in allowing only punitive damages for wrongful death cases. If a lawyer really wants to help a grieving family, he or she will study this law and build their claim based upon it. Otherwise, the lawyer is absolutely failing his or her clients.

I’ve written previous articles about the unique nature of damages recoverable for wrongful death in Alabama. You can read some of these articles on this blog and our law firm website. This legal issue impacts every part of the claim and trial. A lawyer who does NOT understand this area of the law will not prepare your case for the greatest recovery. And, if a settlement is made, such a lawyer may not protect your recovery properly from liens and creditors. Over the years, I have seen many situations where a lawyer cost his or her client money by failing to understand the significant legal issues. These are tremendous issues which affect your claim from day one.

Splashy graphics and lots of promises do not make a good lawyer. No lawyer should suddenly start advertising as an expert in a new area of the law. With law firm websites, the lyrics from the rock song by the Guess Who (or the newer version sung by Lenny Kravitz) ring true — “Colored lights can hypnotize.” Don’t fall for fancy website designs. Don’t fall for promises of money recoveries. Don’t fall for the purchased awards that crowd many law firm websites. If you or your family needs a lawyer, do your homework. Study. Ask questions. Look for real expertise. What you really need is a specialist. To find one, you have to move beyond advertising hype.

Federal Court Invokana Injury Claims Continue To Advance

Posted in Defective Products

Last fall, we asked the question on our other blogWill Invokana Injury Cases Be Centralized? At that time, a growing number of injured patients had filed lawsuits in Federal Courts. Our firm has been investigating potential Invokana injury claims for some time. For background information on the drug Invokana and its associated injuries, you can read more on the Hot Topics section of our law firm website.

Since our posting, a number of events have occurred. First, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all Federal Court cases before Judge Brian Martinotti in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. In January, Judge Martinotti entered an initial case management Order appointing a Federal Magistrate Judge to preside over discovery matters. In that Order, the Judge also indicated a special master or mediator would be appointed early in the case to explore potential settlements. At the end of January, Judge Martinotti entered another Order appointing attorneys to leadership roles on behalf of injured plaintiffs.

In addition to addressing important issues such as discovery procedures, potential settlement negotiations and attorney leadership roles, the Judge has also announced a “Science Day” for July 19, 2017. At that time, the parties will make presentations (in a non-adversarial setting) to educate the court concerning the link between Invokana and reports of injuries such as diabetic ketoacidosis, kidney failure and heart attacks.

The Blackwell Law Firm website and blogs contain several articles about Invokana and the other drugs in its class. These drugs have been associated with serious personal injuries and even deaths. We expect the number of claims involving Invokana injury to increase. You can read our reports and posts here:

If you are an Alabama consumer who suffered injury after taking Invokana or one of its related drugs, we would be happy to answer your questions. Consultations are always free and confidential.

Injury Cases Involving Atrium C-Qur Hernia Mesh Continue To Progress

Posted in Defective Products

IMG-31516

At the Blackwell Law Firm website we have a section called Hot Topics. That section provides news and research related to current legal issues. Many of these issues involve injury from bad drugs or dangerous medical devices. Among those topics — two hernia mesh products. These are Ethicon’s Physiomesh and Atrium’s C-Qur mesh. We are currently investigating injuries by Alabama patients which may be associated with these two products.

Injury cases involving Atrium C-Qur hernia mesh continue to progress in Federal Court. In December 2016, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated the Atrium C-Qur cases filed in Federal Courts across the United States. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty in the District of New Hampshire will now handle case discovery and other pretrial matters. Currently, only a couple dozen injured patients have filed cases. But, many more filings are expected now that the litigation has been consolidated.

Judge McCafferty has issued pretrial orders since being assigned these claims. These include a Case Management Order appointing lawyers to coordinate and manage discovery on behalf of the various injured plaintiffs. These also include an Order involving the preservation of materials from Atrium C-Qur surgeries which could be used as evidence.

As we discussed in the Hot Topics section of our firm website, Atrium’s C-Qur mesh is different than other mesh products. While the product is a polypropylene mesh, it also has an outer coating of gel made from Omega 3 fatty acids (like fish oil). The gel coating was intended to reduce scar tissue formation. Yet, patients suffering problems following the implant allege this coating actually causes severe complications. These complications include inflammatory responses, infections, adhesions and severe pain. Because the Atrium C-Qur mesh received approval through the FDA’s controversial 510(k) process, we believe it may lack sufficient research and study.

For more information, read our Hot Topics section. Also, we are available for consultation concerning your potential injuries.

Does The Drug Abilify Cause Compulsive Behaviors?

Posted in Defective Products

It’s difficult to believe. Like many people, I had serious doubts. Very serious doubts. Can a drug really cause compulsive behaviors like uncontrollable gambling? Many Abilify victims suffered the doubts of family and friends. Yet, new medical research now supports a link between the drug and these dangerous compulsive behaviors.

WHAT IS ABILIFY?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the drug Abilify (aripiprazole) in 2002 as a treatment for schizophrenia. The Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company developed the drug and partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb to market it.

Only a small number of patients are diagnosed with schizophrenia. So, these drug companies sought FDA approval to market the drug for additional uses. Abilify is frequently marketed, by itself or in combination with other drugs, as a treatment for major depression and other conditions.

Older generation antipsychotics targeted dopamine receptors in the brain. These older drugs had a greater risk of neurologic side effects. More recent antipsychotics like Abilify work on both dopamine and serotonin. Many of these newer drugs block both dopamine and serotonin to control patient symptoms. Abilify works by either enhancing or inhibiting dopamine and serotonin levels to achieve a balance. The drug is often viewed as a stabilizer and used in conjunction with other medications.

ABILIFY AND BLOCKBUSTER PROFITS

Abilify is one of the world’s most prescribed drugs. It has produced billions of dollars in sales for its manufacturers. The drug has topped $6 Billion in annual sales. In 2015, alone, doctors in the United States issued 1.5 million prescriptions of the drug to treat conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and autism-related irritability. Abilify remains a top-selling drug.

ABILIFY RESEARCH AND COMPULSIVE BEHAVIORS

On May 3, 2016, the FDA released a new safety communication about Abilify. What new safety warnings did the FDA issue? This new safety communication warned doctors and patients that Abilify (including Abilify Maintena, Aristada and generic versions) may cause uncontrollable urges, including urges to gamble and binge eat.

The issue of uncontrollable urges is very different than the harm caused by many other dangerous medications. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we have represented patients in many different defective drug claims. We recognize the issues related to Abilify are different and have resulted in much confusion. So, what is the current research related to Abilify and uncontrollable urges?

A 2010 case study published in Australia and New Zealand followed a woman with schizophrenia who took Abilify. After taking the drug, this patient gained extensive weight through compulsive eating and lost thousands of dollars through compulsive gambling. The patient had no prior history of this problem behavior and related to her doctors that she could not control herself while on the medication. The patient’s uncontrollable urges stopped when she quit taking the medication. Later research followed numerous patients.

A 2011 study involved schizophrenia patients given Abilify. Shortly after taking the medication, these patients began suffering uncontrollable gambling problems.

A separate 2011 British study was conducted by the National Problem Gambling Clinic. This study also indicated a relationship between Abilify and excessive gambling.

A 2013 French study examined several patients already in a clinic because of impulsive gambling behaviors. Eight of these patients were given Abilify. Seven of the eight patients given Abilify lost control of their gambling habits.

A 2014 paper also detailed research into Abilify and compulsive gambling. A scientist at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Thomas J. Moore, studied over 1,500 cases involving Abilify and its adverse effects. After conducting his extensive research, he found the association between Abilify and compulsive behaviors was “significant, the magnitude of the effects was large.”

A new 2017 article just released by the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology also indicates a link between Abilify and compulsive gambling. After studying numerous patients, the authors of this study concluded users of the drug demonstrated an increased risk of pathologic gambling.

Does Abilify cause other problems? We are closely studying Abilify and its link to uncontrollable, compulsive behaviors. However, additional studies also indicate the drug may be linked to childhood diabetes. A November 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics indicated that antipsychotic medications like Abilify may substantially increase a child’s risk of diabetes. A separate October 2013 study indicated Abilify may increase the risk of diabetes in children by a factor of seven.

At the Blackwell Law Firm, we have represented numerous Alabama patients injured by dangerous drugs and defective medical devices. We are currently helping consumers in a number of active claims. If you have questions, please call or read our articles. Consultations are always free and confidential.

Are Hernia Mesh Products Causing Personal Injury?

Posted in Defective Products

Hernia Repair Surgeries Are Common

Hernia repair surgeries are among the most common surgeries in the United States. More than a million of these surgeries are performed each year in this country. Hernia repair surgeries can be performed with or without the implantation of mesh. As with mesh used in some other repair surgeries, the question becomes – do the benefits of using hernia mesh for the patient outweigh the risks?

For the last several years, our firm has represented numerous Alabama women injured by transvaginal mesh implants. While that use of implanted mesh involves different issues, the same question arises – is the potential benefit really worth the risks? After years of representing numerous women hurt by implanted transvaginal mesh as well as studying those products and their history, I believe the risks of injury are far too great. Yet, these transvaginal mesh products were approved through the faulty FDA 510(k) process which puts dangerous products on the market without adequate clinical testing. This faulty process has allowed many dangerous and defective medical devices to harm patients across the United States. I could speak at length about our prior work with transvaginal mesh but let me return to the separate topic of hernia mesh.

Why do surgeons use hernia mesh? Surgeons use hernia mesh because hernias have a significant rate of recurrence. Implanted mesh reduces the rate of recurrence and the need for further hernia repairs. So, that’s the potential benefit. Does it outweigh the risks? Mesh complications can be very serious for the patient. Complications from hernia mesh can cause tremendous pain and even disability. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most commonly reported complications for hernia repair surgeries, include:

  • Pain
  • Scar-like tissue that adheres
  • Infections
  • Intestinal blockages
  • Perforations
  • Bleeding

Those are pretty bad complications. They can cause chronic problems in the patient.

Hernia Repair Mesh Products Are Now Being Investigated

Through the years, several hernia mesh products have been used surgically in patients. Now, questions are being raised about two of these products and the potential personal injury they may cause. Both of these mesh products (like so many other dangerous products) received market approval through the faulty FDA 510(k) process.

Atrium C-Qur Hernia Mesh

Atrium first introduced its C-Qur mesh in 2005. Since then, Atrium has introduced several different C-Qur mesh products. All of the C-Qur products are a polypropylene mesh. They contain an outer coating of gel made from Omega 3 fatty acids (otherwise known as Fish Oil).

Patients across the United States have reported problems after hernia repair surgeries using C-Qur mesh implants. Patients and their physicians have raised issues and complaints including:

  • Significant rates of infection
  • Chronic pain, including abdominal pain
  • Perforation of organs
  • Adhesions
  • Inflammatory and allergic reactions

With the increase in adverse reaction reports, some legal commenters are closely watching developments. From experience with separate products marketed through the FDA’s 510(k) process without adequate pre-market clinical testing, I believe it sometimes takes years for problems to come to light. This faulty process allows medical device makers to test their products on innocent and unsusptecting people. That’s terrible. Patients deserve better.

Ethicon Physiomesh

Ethicon is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. The company introduced Physiomesh in 2010. Physiomesh is also a polypropylene mesh product.

In May of 2016, Ethicon announced a global withdrawal of Physiomesh. That is, Ethicon decided to remove the product from markets across the world. Ethicon refuses to use the term “recall” for its action. Regardless, the question becomes – Why did Ethicon suddenly pull its product from markets across the globe? Ethicon pulled its Physiomesh product after an analysis of data from two large European databases indicated an association with much higher rates of recurrence from Physiomesh than other mesh products.

Ethicon has announced it will not sell Physiomesh in the future. With data potentially surfacing about significant problems, that’s probably a wise decision. Yet, that decision does not help the large number of patients already implanted with the product. How does Ethicon intend to help these patients if they are suffering problems or complications?

Investigating Potential Defects and Patient Injuries

Blackwell Law Firm is investigating both of these hernia mesh products. We believe problems with these products are just beginning to surface. We will continue to research both products, including the materials and design of them. You can read more about the products we are investigating on the Hot Topics section of our firm website. We are also available to answer any questions.

 

Settlement Paperwork: Don’t Expose An Injured Client To More Harm

Posted in Personal Injury

Settlement Terms Are Important

A recent LinkedIn conversation about settlement terms raised an important issue. The topic — A defendant adds additional (and unacceptable) terms to a release document.

Lawsuit Release

The issue is far too common. Here’s the scenario. The lawyers agree to settle an injury claim. Maybe the lawyers reached a settlement informally and confirmed it with letters or emails. Maybe the lawyers reached a settlement through mediation. Where that occurs, the mediator typically has the parties sign a short settlement memorandum with the basic terms. In both situations, the defendant paying money to a plaintiff will typically require a “general release” of the claims. And, the defense attorneys will prepare or provide this release when the settlement is paid. That’s fine. An injured plaintiff receiving compensation will certainly release or give up his/her claims upon payment.

Yet, far too many defense lawyers stick additional terms in these “release” papers. In essence, the release becomes a much more extensive contract creating potential liability. How many injury attorneys ignore additional and unacceptable terms? How often do these attorneys expose their injured clients to the potential of future liability? It happens far more often than you think. Face it, many mass advertising lawyers spend zero time protecting their injured clients from more harm. When an attorney appears on television in a cape and does not appear in court, it’s a safe bet he or she is not reading settlement paperwork to protect the client. These lawyers advertising fast checks for people in wrecks make the quickest settlement possible. They don’t advocate for maximum compensation. They don’t negotiate costly medical liens to save the client money. And, they don’t read or review settlement paperwork that can create future problems. That’s wrong.

A Lawyer Who Advocated For His Client

The LinkedIn discussion involved a recent Florida workers’ compensation case. Here is the short version of the case — The parties reached a settlement at mediation. At that time, they signed a short agreement. This mediation agreement required the injured plaintiff to sign a “general release” and “resignation” of her employment. The final release and resignation document would be prepared by the defendant. So far, nothing is unusual. The injured plaintiff gets paid and signs a general release of her claims. Plus, here the plaintiff would also resign her employment upon receiving payment. For a number of reasons, the parties to workers’ compensation claims sometimes agree to employment termination at the time of settlement. Again, nothing is unusual about that.

The problem began when the injured plaintiff’s attorneys received the final paperwork — the “general release” and “resignation.” This final paperwork was much more extensive. The defendant’s attorneys had added broad indemnity language. This language actually gave the defendant rights to sue the injured plaintiff in many future situations. So, instead of receiving money and dropping claims, the injured plaintiff was now actually promising to pay the defendants upon certain contingencies. The lawyer for that injured party did the right thing. He refused to sign the paperwork and filed a motion to enforce the mediation settlement. On appeal, the court agreed with him.

Negotiate Specific Terms In Advance

The truth is — some cases do have issues beyond a simple payment and simple release of claims. If they do, the time to discuss these issues is during settlement negotiations. For example, in car wreck cases the injured person may have liens or subrogation claims against them by medical providers. A defendant who pays money for the car wreck may want assurances the injured plaintiff’s counsel will handle those liens so no medical providers file lawsuits. We frequently handle car accident claims and understand that issue. But, you don’t want a defendant adding potential indemnity claims for a host of unrelated issues. Another example relates to confidentiality clauses in settlement paperwork. Some cases involve issues that the parties wish to remain confidential. That’s fine. But, confidentiality needs to be discussed during settlement negotiations for a couple reasons. First, confidentiality provisions can create tax issues. Second, between the time of the initial agreement and the final paperwork containing the surprise confidentiality clause, the parties or their counsel may have told numerous people about the settlement.

If you need a personal injury attorney, seek experienced counsel. Seek an attorney who knows a courtroom. Seek an attorney who will work hard in every phase of your case. Our firm carefully reviews the settlement paperwork for all clients. We consider this an essential part of helping and protecting our clients.

Chamber of Commerce Hypocrisy on Drug Advertisements

Posted in Defective Products, Personal Injury

The article in The Hill begins:

The nation’s leading business group is mounting a new attack on advertisements run by trial lawyers that tell consumers about the negative side effects from medical drugs and devices.

Let me start — I don’t like modern attorney advertising. Locally in northern Alabama, we have an attorney on television advertising for automobile accident injury cases who refuses to help injured people in court. And, we have outside lawyers running ads for drug cases who are not even licensed in Alabama.

I find most of these ads distasteful. I don’t disagree with the complaints about them. Yet, the Chamber of Commerce’s approach is pure hypocrisy. While attacking television advertisements from lawyers, the Chamber has done nothing to reduce deceptive drug company advertisements. The Chamber is protecting the drug companies who rush deadly and dangerous drugs to market for huge profits. As one attorney noted:

The attack ad [by the Chamber] is really inappropriate primarily because it tries to say ‘let’s keep the real side effects private and doctors will prescribe it.’

Will the fight between the Chamber of Commerce and advertising lawyers heat up? According to the article, the Chamber claims lawyer advertisements related to Xarelto were deceptive and resulted in 30 patients suffering injury when they stopped taking the medication after seeing such advertisements. My question — Why isn’t the Chamber raising questions about the huge number of patients who saw television advertisements from Xarelto’s manufacturer, began taking the drug and then suffered an uncontrolled bleeding injury? Why isn’t the Chamber raising questions about direct advertising from drug manufacturers that understates or completely ignores very serious risks?

We need to examine both sides of drug and medical device advertising. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) responded to the Chamber’s push against lawyer advertising by noting:

the pharmaceutical industry has been fighting for decades to continue advertising and selling their products while doing everything to avoid accountability when those drugs hurt patients.

The Chamber and the manufacturers of defective medical products cannot have it both ways. They want to advertise directly to prospective patients. They want consumers to see ads touting an easy cure with a pill. At the same time, in Alabama and many other states, the manufacturers are protected from liability by the Learned Intermediary Doctrine. Under this Doctrine, a drug maker basically fulfills its duty to warn users of a drug’s risks by warning the prescribing physician. In other words, the duty to warn of dangers by drug makers runs to the doctor not the patient. Should this doctrine still protect drug manufacturers who are making sales pitches directly to the public by television advertisements? I don’t think so. Others have questioned the continued application of this defense as well.

Our system for approving and marketing drugs needs an overhaul. Too many dangerous drugs are rushed to market by manufacturers who know the serious risks but hide the facts from the FDA. Then, the same companies market these drugs directly to consumers by television. That’s wrong.

For drug companies, patients have become numbers instead of people. Unfortunately, some lawyers and marketers seeking volumes of clients have the same view. It’s wrong on both sides. Patients injured by dangerous drugs or defective medical devices need dedicated attorneys to advocate on their behalf.

If you are seeking legal counsel for an injury, ask questions. Will you have an attorney who will talk to you throughout the case? Will you have an attorney who will study your medical records and injuries? Is the attorney you called simply going to refer you elsewhere? Will the attorney stay involved in your case? We do. Has the attorney you called handled these cases? We have. You should be satisfied with the attorney you hire. If you are not fully satisfied, talk to several attorneys before making a decision that could greatly impact your future.

Should Alabama Elect Appellate Judges Differently?

Posted in Personal Injury, Supreme Court of Alabama

A recent lawsuit challenges Alabama’s state-wide method of electing appellate court judges. National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed retired Federal Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson about the lawsuit. McPherson previously served the Federal Court in Montgomery.

McPherson answered questions from the NPR host about the new election lawsuit. Alabama elects appellate judges in state-wide elections. The lawsuit alleges this state-wide process is a violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act. As McPherson explained in the NPR interview, minorities are not currently represented on Alabama’s appellate courts.

I’m not an expert on the Voting Rights Act. I will let McPherson discuss that issue. However, I have long advocated a change to our appellate election system so that judges could be elected by districts rather than state-wide. I wrote a prior blog post which discussed the issue in 2010. I welcome McPherson’s discussion concerning diversity and representation on our appellate courts.

McPherson believes district-based elections will increase minority representation on our appellate courts. I agree a district-based system would make our courts more diverse. I believe elections based on districts would bring several improvements. In my 2010 post titled Three Ideas for Reform In Alabama’s Judicial System, I discussed benefits of electing Alabama Supreme Court justices by district. As I noted:

Alabama voters presently elect the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court as well as all 8 associate justices in statewide elections. On several occasions, proposals have been made to elect the 8 associate justices by district. Does our current system allow a candidate to neglect certain areas of the state and focus on major media areas when running for office? Does it allow a candidate with very little practical experience simply to run an advertising campaign statewide? By focusing on districts, it would seem more likely that the successful candidate had developed a reputation for quality legal skills within their local community. It might lessen the ability of less qualified candidates to gain election through mass advertising efforts aimed simply at building name recognition. Moreover, it could provide local courts in that district with a specific justice who could respond to emergency issues.

Partisan judicial elections already compromise the integrity of our judicial system. Research suggests a significant relationship between political contributions and the decisions of judges in actual cases. Are judges who receive significant contributions biased? Maybe or maybe not. But, the acceptance of huge outside contributions creates a perception of bias. We deserve a judicial system free of bias or perceived bias. In recent decades, Alabama’s judicial elections have drawn substantial partisan financial contributions from parties with cases before the court. This influx of campaign money also allows candidates who lack experience or qualifications simply to run a massive television campaign.

Want the best appellate judges? Local lawyers know the individuals in their field who possess the best legal skills, the individuals with the most trial experience and the individuals with the proper temperament to be appellate judges. District-based elections would increase the likelihood a candidate with peer respect as an outstanding lawyer or jurist, would be elected. District-based elections would also lessen the likelihood a candidate with outside money could simply mount a successful, slick television ad campaign. And, district-based elections might provide needed diversity on our appellate courts from all areas of the state.

While I’m no expert on the Voting Rights Act, I do want my personal injury clients to have a voice in a court system free of outside or partisan contributions. I want appellate judges who tried cases in their communities and understand the trial process. We are asking these judges to make decisions about trials that impact our citizens. It is essential we have a system that is fair for all.

Diversity Jurisdiction: Speculation On The Amount In Controversy

Posted in Federal Courts

I have not discussed Federal court diversity jurisdiction in a long time. Yet, the issue is important for attorneys handling significant injury claims.

A SHORT DEFINITION OF FEDERAL COURT DIVERSITY JURISDICTION

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Generally, Federal courts have jurisdiction of claims under the U.S. Constitution, treaties and Federal statutes. Federal law provides Federal courts with a type of jurisdiction called diversity jurisdiction. In short summary, Federal Courts have diversity jurisdiction of state law claims where:

(1) the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000; and,

(2) the parties are completely diverse in their citizenship.

Diversity jurisdiction protects defendants of one state from being sued in a “supposedly hostile” local court in another state. Does the idea of local hostility or bias remain valid in our era of travel and commerce? It’s debatable. Whether or not foundational support for diversity jurisdiction remains, the practice remains an important part of our system.

I’ve previously discussed the diverse citizenship requirement as applied to corporate defendants. This is a significant and complex issue as many corporations have operations and offices in multiple states. Today, I’m discussing a specific issue related to the “amount in controversy” requirement. That issue, the misuse of Requests for Admissions by defense attorneys to create an amount in controversy claim.

DIVERSITY JURISDICTION AND CLAIMS INVOLVING SUBSTANTIAL INJURIES OR DAMAGES

Some local lawyers only practice in state court. They avoid Federal Court. I feel differently. I believe lawyers specializing in injury and damage claims should understand both Federal and Alabama courts. While the majority of our firm’s cases are in Alabama courts, we do have a significant number of claims in Federal court. And, I’ve had trials in both courts.

Because we handle cases in both forums, local lawyers have retained us to help with their Federal court cases. Typically, the local lawyer will sue a foreign defendant in an Alabama court. Then, the defendant will remove the case to Federal court. Afterwards, the local lawyer will hire us to help.

All our current bad drug and dangerous medical device cases are filed in Federal Court. Why? Because these claims usually involve a foreign manufacturer and no local defendant. They also typically involve a substantial injury or death.

THE MISUSE OF A REQUEST FOR ADMISSIONS TO CREATE DIVERSITY JURISDICTION

What is a Request for Admissions? One lawyer refers to Requests for Admissions (RFA) on his blog as follows:

Requests for Admissions are sort of the red-headed stepchild of the discovery process.

.  .  .

But RFAs can provide a good avenue in which to firmly establish undisputed facts at trial.

Lawyers use “discovery” to develop their claims. Typically, discovery involves Interrogatories which ask questions that must be answered under oath and Requests for Production which ask the other party to produce documents or items for inspection. Many lawyers neglect Requests for Admissions. Yet, a good RFA can be a very valuable tool to establish facts before trial. An RFA can narrow the actual factual disputes for trial.

Yet, defense attorneys sometimes misuse RFAs in an effort to establish diversity jurisdiction so they can remove a case from a local court to Federal court. How do defense lawyers misuse the RFA process for this purpose? Here are a couple specific requests from our recent cases:

  • Admit that you waive any amount of damages entered in this lawsuit in excess of $75,000.00.
  • Admit that you will not accept any award of damages over $75,000.00 in this lawsuit.

While the amount in controversy can be unclear in some cases. In other cases, it can clearly be less than $75,000.00. Although the controversy may clearly and reasonably involve less than $75,000.00 at this point, nobody would turn down more money should future events change matters. Current facts (which can easily be admitted or denied) and unforeseen future events, are very different. Nobody wants to limit their future actions. That’s why a RFA asking a lawyer to take some future action is improper. When we receive these improper RFAs, we typically respond similar to the following:

Objection. This does not request the admission of an existing fact. This cannot be determined until discovery has been completed, the trial of the matter is heard and a jury award is rendered. Moreover, the intended purpose of Ala.R.Civ.P. 36 is not discovery but to facilitate proof of material undisputed facts. Irons v. LeSueur, 487 So.2d 1352 (Ala.1986); Evans v. Insurance Company of North America, 349 So.2d 1099 (Ala.1977). This supposed “request” attempts to create an obligation of affirmative future conduct by the Plaintiff in the proceedings in this case.

If Federal courts are to remain courts of limited jurisdiction, strategic defense lawyers should not be able to expand jurisdiction arbitrarily. Likewise, strategic defense lawyers should not be able to limit an opponent from unforeseen future acts beneficial to their clients. My guess – most defense lawyers know these requests are improper and hope to catch a plaintiff’s attorney unfamiliar with the law. We have received and objected to these requests multiple times. Only one defense lawyer has challenged our objections. And, that challenge did not end well for the defense attorney. If you are going to represent clients in cases of substantial injuries or damages, you need to understand both Federal and state courts as well as the jurisdictional issues between them.

The Danger Of Distracted Driving

Posted in Personal Injury

Where do I get my blog topics? Usually, I write about legal issues I’m handling. Sometimes, I write about legal issues in the news.

At our firm, distracted driving is a frequent topic. We are currently helping two people seriously injured by a driver who crashed into them at a high speed while searching the song list on her cellphone. We recently helped another client injured by a driver searching through his glove compartment while driving in rush hour traffic. In the last 20 years, the number of injuries caused by distracted drivers has skyrocketed.

Distracted driving is a major safety issue on our roads and highways. Our firm devotes a section of our website to the topic. In that section, we discuss the major types of distracted driving and their causes. I’ve also written a series of posts on the firm’s blog – Alabama Injury Lawyer Blog. These posts discuss several issues related to distracted driving. To learn more, read the following:

Blackwell Law Firm – Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving:  Why Texting Is Especially Dangerous

Distracted Driving:  Much Worse Than Reported

Distracted Driving And Commercial Trucks:  A Deadly Combination

Distracted Driving Shatters Lives

Distracted Driving:  Parents Must Lead By Example

The Blackwell Law Firm is dedicated to obtaining the maximum compensation available for families dealing with an injury caused by a distracted driver. Our firm also believes in reducing distracted driving by educating drivers and discussing available vehicle technology. We welcome a discussion related to distracted driving and highway safety.