Archive for January, 2014

5 Things to Know if You Suffer a Workplace Injury

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Over three million workers each year will experience a non-fatal occupational injury or illness.  Injuries vary from minor cuts, scrapes, or falls that will require little medical care, to catastrophic and debilitating harm that may leave employees disabled for a lifetime.  Sadly, thousands of Americans die from workplace injuries, including 60 individuals last year in Mississippi alone.

In Mississippi, as in nearly all states, employers with over five employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.  This insurance will cover the medical costs and lost wages of injured employees.  There is no need to prove fault in order to receive benefits.  Workers’ compensation insurance will cover any injury and most illnesses or diseases that arise out of the course and scope of employment.  It does not matter how slight or grave the injury or illness, it will be covered.  Certain employees, such as farm laborers and employees of non-profit charitable organizations are not covered under the law. While it provides broad coverage, workers’ compensation does limit your recovery against the employer.  In some scenarios, injured employees may have a basis for a personal injury lawsuit if the injury resulted from the negligence of a third party.

If you have suffered a workplace injury, you likely have many questions regarding your rights. The following is a list of the top five things you should know concerning workplace injuries or illnesses:

  1. Always report your injury or illness that may be due to your job – you must make an official report to the appropriate party, which could be your HR department, supervisor, or risk-management department, as soon as the injury or illness occurs.  Sometimes, it is not immediately apparent your injury is due to your job, as in the case of arthritis or back problems.  In this scenario, report the injury or illness as soon as the connection is made by your doctor.  You should receive an incident report to fill out.  Make copies of everything along the way.
  2. Visit the appropriate medical provider – in the event of an emergency, travel via ambulance to the nearest trauma center.  For non-urgent situations, you have the right in Mississippi to select one medical provider of your choosing to render treatment.  This provider may make one referral without approval from the employer.  However, any further referrals must be approved by the employer in advance.  Using a different physician, clinic, or hospital could result in your medical bills not being covered under workers’ comp.
  3. Notify medical personnel that you were injured on the job – hospitals and doctor’s offices will require you complete a form that asks whether the injury or illness is workplace related.  Be sure to state that it is, as this will ensure your bills are directed to your employer or insurance company instead of you.
  4. Consult with a workers’ compensation attorney – it is always best to consult with a licensed attorney in your area when you have been injured on the job.  Employers and the insurance company are not always forthcoming with providing the requisite medical and wage coverage. Further, in some instances, you might be entitled to additional recovery outside of the workers’ compensation laws. A knowledgeable workplace injury attorney can ensure you receive the recovery to which you are entitled.
  5. Wage loss payments are capped – if you suffer fewer than 14 days of disability, which is defined as days you are unable to work due to injury, wage loss payments are not made for the first five days.  If you miss more than 14 days, payment will be for all days. Wage loss payments are up to two-third the employee’s average weekly wage, not to exceed $454.42 for 2014.  Disability benefits are also capped over one’s lifetime.  The cap for lifetime disability in 2014 is $204,489.00.

At Barrett Law PLLC, our experienced Mississippi workplace injury attorneys will fight tirelessly to see that you receive the compensation you deserve for your occupational injury or illness.  With decades of experience in the industry, our stellar reputation speaks for itself.  Call Barrett Law PLLC today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

A Future without Car Accidents? New Technologies have Potential to Eliminate Automobile Crashes

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Automobile accidents claim the lives of over 40,000 Americans each year, making them the number one cause of accidental deaths nationwide.  Over 5,500,000 car crashes occur annually, sending millions to the hospital and costing both individuals and states across the U.S. astronomical sums.  Researchers are now speculating that in the future, we may live in a world without car accidents, or with at least a radically reduced number of crashes.  Cutting edge technologies could save tens of thousands of lives a year and alter the face of personal injury law as we know it.  Here is a look at a few new developments in the field of automobile engineering that could bring much needed change to the accident arena:

  1. Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication – this evolving technology, known commonly as V2V, is undergoing testing by numerous car manufacturers. V2V technology is best illustrated through the following scenario: imagine you are approaching an intersection with a green light.  As you reach the intersection, another vehicle runs their red light and barrels towards you, as you remain unaware of the approaching danger. Your vehicle, however, is well aware and takes action to prevent the crash.  It provides you a warning signal then automatically brakes, and notifies the other car as well.  While this may seem like science fiction, it is in fact a scenario that will shortly become a reality.  V2V enables vehicles to emit and receive information from one another, such as speed, direction, and location.  This information will allow all motor vehicles to remain a safe distance from one another.  In fact, researchers estimate V2V will reduce crashes by up to 79%.
  2. Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Communication – linked closely to V2V, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Communication, or V2I, allows cars to interact with the environment, including road signs, traffic, pedestrians, and traffic signals.  V2I will relay important safety information such as roadblocks or poor road conditions, allowing you to avoid potential hazards.  When combined with V2V, V2I communication will decrease accident rates by 81%.
  3. Self-guided Vehicles – the most technologically advanced and the greatest revolutionary potential lies with self-guided vehicles.  Self-guided vehicles are, as the name describes, vehicles that drive themselves.  These vehicles learn roadways and communicate with other cars or trucks on the road.  They require no input from a person in order to navigate roadways safely.  Though it sounds like a thing of fiction, this technology is well along its way in the development process.  Google engineers have been tested self-guided vehicles for years in California and Nevada.  Self-guided vehicles have the potential to eliminate 95% of all car crashes because they remove the element of human error, which is the largest cause of accidents nationwide.

In addition to saving lives, eliminating many injuries, and slashing financial costs, these emerging technologies in the field of automobiles hold the potential to completely alter the field of personal injury law.  Car accidents represent a huge portion of most personal injury attorney’s case loads.  While this sub-field of personal injury law may be severely limited, the potential for a rise in the area of defective products exists.  Self-guided vehicles, V2V, and V2I technologies all eliminate or limit human error as a cause of accidents.  However, accidents may still occur due to failing technologies.  More suits against car manufacturers for defective vehicles could occur in coming years.

Since 1936, Barrett Law PLLC has watched and been a part of many changes in the field of personal injury law, particularly automobile accidents. The attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC will provide you with excellence of legal services and unsurpassed skill.  We will also take the time you need during your first visit to our office with an overview of your legal options and help you to make informed decisions in your case. Call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

Edward Snowden Calls for Reform of Whistleblower Laws

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Edward Snowden, the now notorious former National Security Agency contractor who exposed classified documents to several media outlets, has recently called for more extensive whistleblower protections to protect concerned contractors and employees.  In a live chat transmitted on FreeSnowden.is, Snowden stated that legal channels for raising concerns were not available to him. Had he revealed the NSA programs he deems unconstitutional but classified to Congress, he states he would have been charged with a felony.  Snowden justified his action of approaching news outlets as the only viable choice under current whistleblower laws.

Snowden went on to explain that while NSA employees have access to whistleblowing channels, contractors, such as himself, do not.  Further, Snowden said the current laws do not provide real protections for anyone.  He said that had there been a real process in place where reports of wrongdoing were reviewed by independent arbiters, he would not have had to make the sacrifices he has to expose the facts he deemed necessary to the American public.

Snowden states that due to gaps in the federal whistleblower laws, he cannot return to the U.S. as he would be unprotected.  Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and then Russia, acknowledges that returning to the U.S. would be the best resolution for the government, public and himself.  However, because Snowden is among a group of contractors exempt from current whistleblower laws, he feels a return is not possible.  Snowden believes he would not receive a fair trial absent adequate whistleblower protections.

The saga of Edward Snowden has cast new light on federal and state whistleblower laws.  Much of the controversy stems from an important initial question, is Edward Snowden a whistleblower?  Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, any disclosure made by a covered employee who reasonably believes there has been a violation of any rule, regulation, or law, or gross waste of funds, mismanagement, abuse of authority, or a substantial danger to public health and safety, is protected.  Since Snowden’s leak of documents, numerous lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the surveillance programs Snowden believed to be unconstitutional.

However, just because the leaked information served the public interest by exposing potential government illegality does not mean Snowden is protected under the law.  Traditionally, the intelligence community has been exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act.  In 1998, Congress passed the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.  The Act established a procedure for internal reporting within the agencies and through the Inspector General, but has been widely criticized as being ineffectual.  The Act provided no remedy for reprisals and merely identified the whistleblowers, leaving them vulnerable to retaliation.

Under current whistleblower acts, Snowden would not be considered a whistleblower.   For one, the information he disclosed arguably does not meet the criteria.  The surveillance programs he revealed are presumed to be constitutional, and not illegal, given the assent of Congress and the intelligence community.  However, even presuming what Snowden exposed was illegal, he meets a second problem under the law’s definition.  The Whistleblower Act protects public disclosures only if such disclosure is not prohibited by law.  As the information was classified and its disclosure a felony, Snowden would only have been protected had he brought his concerns to the NSA’s inspector general or to a member of the congressional intelligence committee.  Even further, under the current law, it is not clear that intelligence contractors are even protected.

The case of Edward Snowden will likely continue to have an impact on whistleblower laws and cases for years to come. At Barrett Law PLLC, we view the role of whistleblowers as vital to our community.  In Mississippi, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation when they step forward with important disclosures of law violations and may be entitled to compensation.  If you have potential information concerning a violation in your workplace, call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

A Look at the Causes Behind Tractor Trailer Accidents in Mississippi: Part II

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Each year, over 500,000 trucking accidents occur in the U.S. and roughly 5,000 of these accidents result in at least one fatality. Though crashes involving commercial trucks occur less frequently than that between motor vehicles, the chance of serious injury is much higher when a truck is involved. In Part I of this two part series, we examined three of the most common causes of trucking accidents: 1) driver fatigue; 2) distracted driving; and 3) drug use.  This final segment addresses the remaining common causes of tractor trailer accidents.

  1. Speeding – exceeding the recommended speed limit is dangerous in any vehicle, but can be deadly when you are driving an 80,000 pound tractor trailer.  Commercial truckers often speed in order to make tight deadlines and increase profits.  Further, after so many hours on the road, many become overconfident and reckless, leading to negligent speeding.  A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found speed to be a contributing factor in over 23% of the 967 crashes studied.  Trucking companies actually have a way to control their driver’s speed through speed governors. However, they can be costly to purchase and install.  Given the expense, many trucking companies fail to utilize them.  A reputable truck accident attorney can determine the speed at which the driver was traveling at the time of the accident using the “black box” inside the truck.
  2. Failure to check blind spots—though tractor trailer drivers are trained to check blind spots and carefully check all sides before making turns or switching lanes, many fail to do so.  Over 15% of all trucking accidents are caused by the driver failing to adequately check his or her blind spot.  Examining the scene and reconstructing the accident can help your attorney determine whether the truck driver’s negligence in maneuvering caused your accident.
  3. Exceeding hours of service requirements – all truck drivers must adhere to guidelines set out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  These rules dictate how long a driver can be on the road and how much rest he or she must maintain.  Drivers are required to keep a log of their hours.  Due to workplace and financial pressures, drivers often exceed the Safety Administration’s mandatory maximum hours.  This can lead to driver fatigue, distraction, and drug use.  An experienced truck accident attorney will subpoena the truck driver’s log and verify its contents using bills of lading, gas receipts, and trip tickets.
  4. Poor maintenance – particularly in this still rebounding economy, trucking companies have been forced to make budget cuts, often resulting in less than adequate maintenance of their trucking fleets.  The failure to maintain brake pads, check and replace tires, examine axels, supports, and hitches, among other things, can lead to serious accidents.  A truck accident attorney can examine the trucking company’s maintenance logs, which are mandated by state and federal law, to determine whether a lack of proper maintenance contributed to or caused the accident.
  5. Road rage – not only a problem among car drivers, aggressive driving causes nearly 10% of all trucking accidents.  Reasons for road rage can vary from fatigue to agitation at traffic congestion and the inability to speed.  Aggressive driving frequently causes poor driving decisions and erratic behavior.  Witness statements and examination of the accident can help an attorney assess whether road rage was a factor in the accident.
  6. Poor road conditions – heavy rain, snow, ice, and less than ideal road conditions can all play a factor in a tractor trailer accident.  These vehicles are often carrying massive loads, making it more difficult to stop or maneuver through poor road conditions.  Your truck accident attorney can look to weather reports and road conditions in determining the driver’s potential negligence.

The truck accident experts at Barrett Law PLLC have fought for the recovery of accident victims since 1936.  With an unmatched reputation for legal excellence and zealous advocacy, Barrett Law PLLC will guide your case to success.  Call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule your free initial consultation.

A Look at the Causes Behind Tractor Trailer Accidents in Mississippi: Part I

Monday, January 13th, 2014

A glance at the local news reveals that tractor trailer and other commercial truck accidents in Mississippi are all too common and often deadly.  A few months ago, in Tupelo, a young mother and her two year old daughter lost their lives in an 18-wheeler accident turned tragedy.  The young mother, Olida Acosta, had been parked in a car with her daughter outside of a local business.  The pair was waiting for a family member inside.  Suddenly, a massive 18-wheeler, with no driver at the wheel, pummeled the car.  The vehicle containing Acosta and her daughter was pushed into the commercial building, along with the truck.  It took emergency crew workers over an hour to lift the large truck off of the car, and Acosta and her daughter were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.  Investigators later determined the cause of the accident—the truck driver had exited the vehicle but forgot to put the parking brake on, allowing it to roll into Acosta’s vehicle.

Just weeks ago, a three vehicle accident involving an 18-wheeler led to the deaths of two individuals and injury of another in Desoto.  The vehicles were driving southbound on Highway 45.  Investigations revealed that a 18-wheeler rear-ended the truck in front of it.  The truck then hit the car in front of it.  The vehicles than slid all the way down the quarter mile bridge until the truck caught fire.  It was the fire that killed the two passengers in the pickup truck, and injured the driver of the car.  The driver of the 18-wheeler was uninjured.

As these local news stories illustrate, tractor trailer accidents can be deadly and occur at alarming rates.  Below is Part I of our list of the causes behind tractor trailer accidents in Mississippi.  This list is intended to help you stay safe by anticipating common causes for accidents, and also to aid in your understanding of the problem so if you ever become an accident victim, your chances of recovery are better.

  1. Fatigue—due to heavy workloads and long hours on the road, commercial truck drivers experience fatigue at shocking rates.  Driving an 80,000 pound tractor trailer while tired is a recipe for disaster, as studies show tired driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.  A licensed truck accident attorney can help you to determine whether the driver who hit you was fatigued.
  2. Distracted driving—driver distraction is a huge problem for all drivers, but is exceptionally dangerous when enormous trucks are involved. Glancing down for even a second while driving these mammoth vehicles can lead to a deadly accident. Further, because truck drivers are on the road so often, they are more likely to engage in distracting activities, such as: eating, drinking, talking on the phone, texting, emailing, and shaving or other grooming. A skilled Mississippi truck accident attorney can subpoena phone records to determine whether the trucker was using his or her phone near the time of the accident.  Through witness interviews and scene investigation, your attorney will also investigate whether any other sort of distraction played a role in the accident.
  3. Drug use—a recent study examining the cause of truck accidents found that in 26% of crashes, use of either prescription or illegal drugs affected the driver’s reaction time. Drug use among truckers is notoriously high, and it is imperative that your attorney investigate the possibility drugs played a role in the accident.

The attorneys at Barrett Law, PLLC have helped the innocent victims of commercial truck accidents obtain a full and complete recovery for decades.  At Barrett Law, PLLC, we have the dedication, knowledge, and skill to lead our clients to success.  Call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free consultation.

The BP Oil Spill Settlement Dispute Continues

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Though the four year anniversary of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill is rapidly approaching, some individuals, businesses and nonprofits have still yet to receive settlement funds for their losses attributed to the disaster.  As the worst offshore oil spill in history, the event sparked thousands of suits against industry giant BP, along with Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co.  BP settled with most private plaintiffs back in 2012, but the settlement has become the source of much controversy, and BP is still fighting to see it rescinded.

Back in December of 2012, the United States District Court in New Orleans entered an order granting final approval of a settlement for plaintiffs in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and some parts of Western Florida that met financial formulas detailed in the settlement agreement.  The settlement was initially estimated at $8 billion but left uncapped.  It is now estimated to exceed $9.6 billion.

Though most thought this would be the end of the saga, just months later BP began to file an onslaught of motions attempting to halt the payout process being conducted by Deepwater Horizon Claims Administrator, attorney Patrick Juneau.  BP alleged that payments were being made to fictitious claimants and businesses, for fictitious losses that were not related to the spill.  After several hearings, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected each claim.

BP filed an initial appeal to the Fifth Circuit disputing Patrick Juneau’s method for calculating payments, specifically stating he was applying an incorrect standard for determining business losses.  A three judge panel ordered that Judge Barbier reconsider some of the settlement terms regarding calculation of losses for businesses.

BP then filed another appeal, requesting the Fifth Circuit throw out the settlement unless Judge Barbier requires businesses to prove their losses were directly caused by the oil spill. This time, the Fifth Circuit rejected the appeal.

The divided three judge panel affirmed Judge Barbier’s 2012 ruling.  The appellate court found that Judge Barbier did not err in failing to determine whether eligible claimants have actually suffered any injury from the spill.  The court held that no laws or case precedence requires a district court to safeguard the interests of the defendant, when in most settlements the defendant can protect its own interests at the negotiating table.

BP has now requested the appellate court reconsider its January 10th decision.  The company argues in its filing that the Fifth Circuit erred in affirming the district court’s approval of the 2012 settlement.  It said the court’s January 10th ruling will force the company to pay out millions of dollars to businesses that were not actually harmed by the oil spill.  Lawyers for the company urge that the court should not have upheld Judge Barbier’s certification of the class as it was ill-defined.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have publically stated that they believe BP undervalued the settlement and how many claimants would be eligible for payment.  Accordingly, the embattled giant is now searching for any and all means to escape full payouts under the settlement.  Many have questioned the wisdom of BP’s decision to continue to challenge Judge Barbier’s rulings, as he is also handling a separate suit against BP and has wide latitude to assess fines under the Clean Water Act.

Barrett Law PLLC has been involved in much of the litigation stemming from the BP oil spill and has successfully helped many claimants recover from their losses.  Though the time for filing a claim for damages for many individuals and businesses has now passed, if you suffered damages from the spill and would like more information concerning your rights, call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

Mississippi Whistleblower Attorneys Examine The Top 7 Whistleblowers of All Time

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Whistleblowers are often figures of much controversy.  Some whistleblowers are viewed as selfless martyrs; individuals who risk their careers and sometimes even lives to expose what they deem are illegalities occurring in an organization.  Others are considered to be traitors or defectors, electing to blow the whistle for personal gain.  Still more question the potential financial motivation of whistleblowers in qui tam cases.  Given the widely varying public attitudes towards whistleblowers, some famous whistleblowers are held in coveted esteem while others have achieved a state of notoriety.

The following is a list of the seven most well-known whistleblowers of all time.  These whistleblowers all share two common traits—they risked their jobs to reveal truths and became famous for it.  Aside from these shared factors, the outcome of their whistleblowing varies widely, with some ending up in prison and exile while others were immortalized by Hollywood.

  1. Daniel Ellsberg – responsible for the leak of The Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg is one of the original large scale whistleblowers.  Ellsberg leaked over 7,000 that documents to the New York Times that demonstrated how three presidential administrations and the military lied about the Vietnam War.  Ellsberg faced a life sentence for violating the Espionage Act, but avoided prison time after the judge declared a mistrial due to the Nixon administration’s actions in bugging his psychiatrist’s office.
  2. Peter Buxton – Buxton was an epidemiologist working for the U.S. Public Health Service.  He uncovered what is now known as the Tuskegee Experiment, wherein the USPHS deliberately withheld treatment to hundreds of African American men infected with syphilis so that they could study its effects.  His vital information led to cessation of the program and payouts of over $10 million to victims’ families.
  3. Jeffrey Wigand – this brave whistleblower worked for tobacco company Brown & Williamson.  With his biochemistry Ph.d. Wigand uncovered the tobacco company’s manipulation of nicotine levels and false information concerning its addictive properties.  Wigand was the subject of the movie “The Insider.”
  4. Bradley Manning—army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning downloaded more than 250,000 classified State Department documents, pictures, and videos, and provided them to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.  The information provided a disturbing look at some military actions.  Manning pled guilty to 10 of 22 counts of violating military orders and will serve many years in prison.
  5. Edward Snowden – currently the most well known whistleblower, Snowden leaks documents that revealed the National Security Agency is collecting phone records for millions of Americans and internet companies offer the NSA access to their servers.  Wanted for numerous felony charges, Snowden fled the country and has currently been granted asylum in Russia.
  6. Mark Whitacre – Whitacre rose to fame when he became involved in a lysine price fixing scheme taking place at Archer Daniel Midland in the 1990s.  Whitacre served as a mole for the FBI, collecting evidence that resulted in the conviction of three ADM executives.  Whitacre was later himself convicted for embezzlement and tax fraud, and served a sentence longer than that of the ADM executives.  His story was the basis for the movie “The Informant,” in which he was played by Matt Damon.
  7. Mark Felt – better known as “Deep Throat,” Felt shared insider information concerning the Watergate scandal with reporters and in turn helped to bring down President Nixon.  Felt was later convicted for his actions as an FBI agent, which he readily admitted to publically.  President Reagan pardoned Felt in 1981.  Felt kept his identity as “Deep Throat” secret for years and continued to deny that he was in fact the informant up until 2005.

At Barrett Law PLLC, we understand the role of a whistleblower is not an easy one.  For decades, we have helped to ensure brave whistleblowers receive the protections to which they are entitled and monetary compensation for their efforts.  For more information on qui tam/whistleblower cases, call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

Whistleblowers Speak Out Against Alleged Wrongdoing at Veterans Hospital

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Over the past few years, an alarming number of whistleblowers have filed disturbing complaints concerning the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, located in Jackson, Mississippi.  The allegations raise serious questions about the hospital’s management practices and ability to care for veterans.  Due to the high number of complaints, their serious nature, and their likelihood of truth, congressional hearings are being held on the matter.

The problems brewing within the VA hospital were first brought to light in 2009 thanks to a whistleblower employee.   The Office of Special Counsel, in a letter sent to the Whitehouse last year, said that the initial 2009 report by a whistleblower alleged that the staff failed to properly sterilize and clean medical equipment that is routinely reused, such as scalpels and bone cutters.  The VA investigated the case and substantiated many of the allegations concerning a lack of adequate cleaning and sanitizing.  It vowed to take steps to correct the problem.

Less than two years later, however, a whistleblower employee named Gloria Kelley, who chose to identify herself, claimed the problems at the VA persisted.  Ms. Kelley worked in the Sterile Processing Department and stated that the incorrect procedures placed both employees and patients at risk.  Though her complaint was referred to the VA for investigation, they did not interview her.  The VA stated that it did not substantiate the allegations, but the Office of Special Counsel felt that the VA’s conclusion was unreasonable.

Since that time, many more whistleblowers, comprised of a diverse group of at least seven former and past employees, have made a variety of allegations concerning patient care. This past November, a congressional hearing was held wherein two whistleblowers described a shocking culture of negligence within the hospital system.

The hearing was held by the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations.  Two whistleblowers provided key testimony: Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, M.D., a former physician of family medicine at the facility, and Dr. Charles Sherwood, M.D., the former chief of ophthalmology at the VA hospital.  Both doctors had complained to the Office of Special Counsel concerning misdiagnoses, poor sterilization, understaffing, and other management practices that jeopardized patient safety.

Dr. Hollenbeck said that a high number of unsupervised nurse practitioners outnumbered the doctors by a ratio of three to one.  The lax attitude allowed these nurse practitioners to prescribe narcotics without physician oversight and absent the required Drug Enforcement Administration registration numbers.  This practice was in violation of numerous federal and state laws as well as the VA’s own regulations.  Hollenbeck said that veterans were frequently misdiagnosed due to the shortage of physicians and the frequency with which nurse practitioners did the job, causing them to suffer needlessly and, at times, die.

Dr. Sherwood, who worked at the VA for thirty one years, felt the VA’s performance based model for senior executive services has led to an emphasis on pay and job security, which comes at the expense of the safety of patients.  The performance based model has recently been scrutinized by congress.

Other evidence of a culture of neglect emerged during the hearing.  One poignant story concerned a patient who was also a VA employee.  This patient never saw a physician for over two years, despite repeated requests.  He was seen solely by nurse practitioners.  It took a cancer diagnosis and removal of his entire stomach to finally see a doctor, and then the doctor refused to provide him with leave from work, resulting in his termination from the VA.

The VA hospital has refused to comment on specific cases but has stated that it is reviewing the findings of the Office of Special Counsel and remains dedicated to its mission of providing high quality care to veterans.

Since 1936, Barrett Law PLLC has protected Mississippi’s brave whistleblowers in their quest to stop illegal and unethical behaviors. Under Whistleblower Protection Act, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation and can be rewarded for shedding light on unlawful practices.  To stop workplace injustice, call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation.

Winter Weather Creates Dangerous Road Conditions in Mississippi

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Several arctic blasts have plummeted temperatures across Mississippi to record lows.  These frigid temperatures have lead to icy roads and numerous accidents.  Recently, in Pearl River, Mississippi, an astonishing thirty accidents occurred around I-59 in Pearl River County within one hour.  Tragically, an infant and two adults died due to the wintry conditions along Highway 11 near Picayune.

Earlier in the year, in Northern Mississippi, a storm resulted in extensive loss of power and downed tree limbs.  Over 5,000 homes in Hernando and DeSoto country were without power.  With this winter mix, a slew of accidents occurred.  A six vehicle accident involving multiple injuries took place in DeSoto County at the Coldwater River Bridge.  Meanwhile, in Olive Branch, three separate accidents transpired in a short 45 minute time span on Highway 305 and 78.

The icy road conditions lead DeSoto County and other counties across the state to implement a Inclement Weather Policy, which states that in the event of an accident which does not result in injury, and no drugs or alcohol were suspected, the drivers of the vehicles should exchange information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance data.  The drivers should then arrange a time to meet at the local law enforcement office.  Drivers have ten working days from the day of the crash to file a report.  Inclement weather policies such as this allow officers to focus their attention and resources on those who require medical assistance following a crash.

Forecasters predict Mississippi, along with much of the country, will continue to grapple with harsh winter weather in the coming weeks.  The following is a list of tips to help you stay safe on the roadways when the temperatures plunge:

  1. Wait it out – if it is sleeting, snowing, or likely that ice exists on the roads, the best way to avoid a potential accident is simply waiting for conditions to improve.  If staying home is not an option, listen to the news or radio before you leave to determine what roadways are the safest and which might be closed.  Avoid bridges as these are often the first places to freeze.
  2. Decrease your speed – when poor road conditions exist, travel below the speed limit to help maintain control of your vehicle.  High speeds and slick roads can cause serious accidents, spiraling even experienced drivers into a fishtail from which they may not be able to recover.
  3. Follow a slide – icy roads can cause vehicles to slide.  If you are caught in a slide, turn your wheel in the direction you are sliding.  This is the best way to correct it and regain your traction.
  4. Avoid constant braking – when driving on black ice, applying your brakes can actually cause you to slide.  Antilock brakes function poorly on snow or ice and will often lock up your wheels.
  5. Exercise caution and maintain vigilance – ice is particularly deadly for drivers because it is not always visible.  Be acutely aware of your surroundings when driving on potentially icy roads.  Further, remember that if you are struggling to drive on an icy road, chances are the other vehicles around you are as well.  Be on the lookout for other vehicles sliding towards you or into your lane and practice defense driving.

The seasoned personal injury attorneys at Barrett Law, PLLC want to see Mississippi drivers stay safe this winter by knowing the steps for managing icy road conditions.  If you or a loved one does get into a car accident, Barrett Law, PLLC can help.  The attorney team at Barrett Law, PLLC will zealously fight for your full recovery.  Call us today at 1 (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation. 

New Report Ranks Mississippi Among Most Dangerous States for Drivers

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Recently, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released a report ranking Mississippi among the eleven most dangerous states for drivers due to a lack of safe driving regulations.  This coalition of business and safety groups made the alarming finding that more states have a lack of basic safety laws than have strong safety regulations.  The report illustrates a direct correlation between regulation and lives saved.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety ranked each state based on adoption of the fifteen safety laws considered critical by the organization.  After analyzing the safety laws employed in each state, the report provided color ratings according to the level of regulation.  Eleven states, including Mississippi, received a “red rating,” which reflects poor protections. The complete list of states receiving this red status are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  Ten states received the highest “green rating.”  These top safety states are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.  Washington, D.C., also received the coveted green ranking.  All remaining states fell into the “yellow rating” category, meaning they had some necessary regulations on the books but not as many as recommended.

The fifteen safety laws considered optimal by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety include: driving while texting bans; requiring booster seats for children; mandating helmets for all motorcycles; and allowing officers to ticket any passenger not wearing a seatbelt without another offense having first taken place.  Additionally, there are seven laws relating to teen driving, including night restrictions, and three related to impaired driving.

Illinois and Oregon were the top two states, each having adopted twelve out of the fifteen recommended safety regulations.  South Dakota had the fewest safety laws, with just two regulations that restrict nighttime driving among young drivers and prohibit open containers.  The organization found that two laws in particular, both related to teen driving, were the least adopted.  They are: setting sixteen as the minimum age to obtain a learner’s permit and nighttime restrictions on teen driving.  Just eight states prohibit learner’s permits for those under sixteen and only eleven have nighttime restrictions on teen driving.

According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Mississippi needs to pass the following laws to ensure maximum driver safety in our state:

  1. Require booster seats through age seven
  2. Mandate sixteen as the minimum age for a learner’s permit
  3. Enact 30-50 hours supervised driving provision
  4. Strengthen nighttime restriction provision for new drivers
  5. Ban passengers with new drivers
  6. Strengthen cell phone restriction provision
  7. Set eighteen as minimum age for unrestricted license
  8. Pass law banning open containers
  9. Require ignition interlock for every offenders
  10. Pass an all driver text messaging ban

According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, crash data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration demonstrates the effectiveness of safety regulations.  For instance, in 2012, seat belts saved the lives of an estimated 12,174 passengers.  The use of safety belts increased in states that passed laws allowing ticketing for failure to wear a safety belt even when no other offense had taken place.

Since 1936, the team of legal professionals at Barrett Law PLLC has represented the victims of all types of car, truck, and motorcycle accidents.  At Barrett Law PLLC, we care deeply about the safety of Mississippi drivers and hope to see more important safety regulations passed in the coming years so that our roadways become among the safest in the nation.  If you have been injured in an accident, contact Barrett Law PLLC today at 1 (800) 707-9577 for a free consultation.