Archive for April, 2014

What Rights Do You Have as a Whistleblower?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

When an employee reports a serious problem at his place of employment and his boss responds by terminating the employee, the worker may have a cause of action against his former company.  Depending on the employee’s job, he may be able to get help from OSHA.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handles investigations into certain retaliatory workplace terminations.  Some of the types of reports that lead to wrongful termination claims investigated and pursued by OSHA include:

  • Safety issues in the workplace;
  • The presence of asbestos in schools;
  • Airline infractions;
  • Wrongful actions taken by commercial motor carriers;
  • Consumer product dangers;
  • Environmental concerns;
  • Financial improprieties;
  • Health insurance violations;
  • Automotive defects;
  • Public transportation concerns;
  • Nuclear plant errors; and
  • Securities law violations.

These are only broad categories and there are many types of reported wrongdoing that may lead to a whistleblower investigation.  A person who believes that his termination was the result of a report that he made should contact OSHA as soon as possible after the termination or demotion in pay or responsibilities.  There are other behaviors that qualify as a violation of an employee’s rights as a whistleblower.  When an employer or former employer attempts to blacklist the employee from other jobs or professional organizations, there may be cause for a case.  Other possible violations include:

  • Being denied a promotion or being passed over for overtime;
  • Having disciplinary reports made in the employee’s record;
  • Not being hired on a permanent basis;
  • Reassignment to position that is less desirable than the previous role;
  • Transfer to another location;
  • A reduction in assigned work hours or the hourly rate of pay;
  • Suspension from employment, with or without pay; or
  • Any other actions that are adverse to the interests of the employee.

            A person may file a complaint in person, over the telephone, or through a written communication.  The date of the communication, regardless of the date on which it is received, serves as the date of the complaint.  Generally, an employee must file the complaint within thirty (30) days of the retaliatory action.  There are no specific forms for filing a complaint.  Public employees are not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, with the exception of post office employees.  OSHA evaluates the merits of a filed complaint and then decides whether there is evidence of retaliation based on the following findings:

  • The employee was participating in a protected activity when he acted as a whistleblower;
  •  The employer learned about the employee’s action or had reason to suspect that the employee had reported a violation;
  • The employer took action that was adverse to the employee’s position or wages; and
  • The employer was motivated, at least in part, by the employee engaging in the protected activity.

If OSHA determines that the employer retaliated against the employee, it may attempt to negotiate a resolution with the employer.  If this fails, OSHA may take action that includes issuing on order addressing the following remedies:

  • Mandating that the employer reinstate the employee;
  • Paying the employee all back wages that were lost as a result of the wrongful termination or demotion;
  • Restoring lost benefits; and
  • All other actions necessary to make the employee whole after the wrongful actions of his employer.

In light of the above, keep in mind that the employer does have the right to contest the order.

It is important to contact an experienced whistleblower protection attorney as soon as you learn about retaliatory actions by an employer.  The Mississippi Qui Tam/Whistleblower Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC understand how to work with you and the appropriate regulatory agency in order to get justice for the wrong that was done when your employer took action against you for engaging in a protected activity.  To discuss what happened to you in a free and confidential consultation, call us at (800) 707-9577.

Devastating Knee Injuries Result from Car Crashes

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

There are many serious injuries that may result from a car accident, but the loss of mobility that comes from a knee injury is all-too-common.  Most people do not think about the impact that a knee absorbs every day until damage to the joint leads to an inability to carry out the most basic activities, such as taking your child to the park or driving to work.  When that harm is caused by the negligence of another driver, it is important to ensure that any settlement or award covers the lengthy recovery process and any future surgeries that may be necessary.

In a car accident, the impact forces of the crash may lead the driver or passenger’s knees to be thrust forward into the solid frame of the car, regardless of whether or not the airbags deployed.  Many different injuries may result from this violent action, including:

  • Fractured or broken bones – whether the bones of the knee or the surrounding areas, these injuries may require months of medical treatment and rehabilitation;
  • Hyperextension of the ligaments in the knee which leads to stretching, ripping, and tearing – a person who is twisted in the wreck may experience this type of harm.  There are two common types of ligament injury:
    • o   Damage to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – This is a very serious injury that causes the victim extreme pain and loss of mobility.  Surgery often is necessary with this type of injury and the person may never regain full use of the joint, even with intensive rehabilitation and physical therapy; and
    • o   Damage to the Posterior Collateral Ligament (PCL) – Connecting the tibia to the femur, this ligament at the back of the knee prevents the tibia from extending backwards too far.  Often, it is damaged when a person sitting in a vehicle with his knees bent impacts the dashboard.  A PCL injury is very painful and may lead to the collapse of the knee while the victim is walking, resulting in serious falls.
  • Ruptured tendons; and
  • Dislocation of the knee.

A victim of a car accident may be entitled to compensation for the harm that he suffered.  The types of economic losses that may be recovered include:

  • Medical expenses – These include the immediate costs of emergency medical treatment as well as the bills that come with long-term medical care and rehabilitation.  They should take into account the possibility of additional surgeries as the damaged knee joint deteriorates.  There also needs to be compensation for necessary equipment that must be purchased as a result of the accident.
  • Lost wages – A person may suffer from a loss of a paycheck as the result of time spent in recovery.  If the victim cannot return to the job that he held before the accident, then the settlement or jury award must reflect this changed circumstance, including the loss of reasonably anticipated future wages and benefits.
  • Miscellaneous costs – There are a myriad of additional costs that result from a severe crash, including alternative transportation costs and the need for professional help to assist the victim in doing things that he could have done himself prior to the crash.

In addition to these damages, a person who has suffered from extreme pain and the permanent alteration of his life brought about by a serious knee injury may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering.  These are considered non-economic damages and are intended to cover at least some of the emotional pain that results from a severe injury.  Many times, people do not realize the devastation that a severe crash may bring until they cannot play with their children or climb the stairs without being in agony.

The victim of a car accident who has endured a debilitating injury needs attorneys who will fight on his behalf.  The hardworking and experienced Mississippi Personal Injury Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC have the skill and commitment to get you the best results possible.  To schedule a free initial consultation, call us at (800) 707-9577.

Mississippi Truck Accident Attorneys Discuss Braking Problems in Large Trucks

Monday, April 21st, 2014

A fully loaded tractor-trailer may weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and this may increase to 95,000 pounds with the proper permit.  In Mississippi, a commercial truck may haul a trailer that is 53 feet in length.  What this all means is that the brakes on a commercial truck must be in good working condition to bring this vehicle to a stop in time to avoid a serious accident.  When there are any problems with the brakes, the consequences may be deadly for other drivers and passengers on the road.

The impact forces when a commercial truck hits a passenger vehicle mean that the smaller vehicle bears the brunt of the damage.  Brake failure leads to many such crashes every year.  Although there are times when stopping in time is not possible based on the circumstances of the accident, driver or trucking company negligence often contributes to this type of collision. 

There may be a defect in the braking system that could have been corrected if the vehicle were properly maintained and inspected before heading out on a Mississippi road.  Some of these problems include:

  • A torque imbalance in the brakes that causes the brakes to lock-up when applied forcefully;
  • Crystallization of the hydraulic fluid or allowing the fluid to drop too low;
  • Leaks in the fluid lines that are not repaired;
  • System defects that lead to the depowering of the front brakes;
  • Faulty valves and gauges;
  • Poor brake pressure;
  • Worn calipers and pads that should have been replaced;
  • Excessive wear of the brake drums;
  • Overheating of the entire braking system;
  •  Imbalance in the tires that causes an uneven application of the brakes;
  • Tire wear that leads to a blowout, leading to the ineffective application of the brakes; or
  • Other mechanical defects.

            Although federal regulations require routine maintenance and repair of commercial motor carriers, many times these inspections and repairs take the truck off the road for a significant period of time, so trucking companies and drivers will take short-cuts that lead to brake failures.

            In addition to mechanical defects that should have been found and corrected, braking failures may result from the following negligent actions:

  • A trucking company may have been so eager to get a driver on the road that it failed to ensure that the driver had the training and skill to stop a specific type of truck;
  • A distracted driver fails to observe circumstances that require the application of the brakes;
  • ·A driver who was over-tired had slowed reaction times, leading to a delay in applying the brakes;
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol created a dangerous situation;
  • Impossibly tight delivery schedules led to reckless or aggressive driving, including speeding; or
  • An overloaded trailer exceeded the braking capacity of the tractor-trailer.

            Many times, the negligent actions that led to a severe crash are a combination of a number of different factors, such as deterioration of the brakes combined with speeding and a trailer that exceeds weight limits.  In addition to being unable to stop in time to avoid hitting another vehicle, braking problems may lead to a loss of control of the tractor-trailer or uneven application of the brakes, causing the truck to jackknife or rollover.  These dangerous crashes lead to severe injuries or fatalities on the roads of Mississippi nearly every day.

            A truck accident may lead to debilitating injuries and the need for long-term medical treatment.  Many times, a person never will be able to get back to the quality of life that he enjoyed before the accident.  The compassionate and hardworking Mississippi Truck Accident Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC have the experience to get our clients the compensation that they deserve for the harm that was done to them.  To schedule a free consultation at your convenience, call us at (800) 707-9577.

Black Box Technology Impacts Truck Accident Cases

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As technology continues to advance, one of the most well-known aspects of the trucking industry may be disappearing, or at least becoming a lot less relevant to determining the movements of the truck and driver prior to a serious accident.  For decades, truck drivers, who are carefully regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), have kept paper log books in order to record vehicle information, cargo details, miles traveled, routes traversed, and mandatory rest periods.  As new tractor-trailers are being manufactured, they are coming off the assembly line with digital data recorders that keep track of many different types of information, so the log books, which were frequently altered, are becoming obsolete. 

A black box may record the following information:

  • The location of the truck throughout its trip based on a built-in global positioning system (GPS);
  • Distances traveled each time the truck was operational;
  • The average rate of speed;
  • The length of time when the truck was not being driven;
  • Brake application details;
  • ·Tire pressure;
  • The rate of speed immediately prior to a crash; and
  • Other electronic information that may be used to recreate the conditions of an accident.

            There are electronic data systems that are linked into the onboard communication of the truck.  Therefore, if a truck driver gets into a serious accident and sends an e-mail to the trucking company stating that he had fallen asleep behind the wheel, that correspondence might be preserved in the black box.  Other important information might be contained in this communication log, such as driver reports about potential problems with the truck and the trucking company’s response that the driver should ignore the issue and complete the trip.  All of these details are used to build an effective case against the negligent parties.  When the data is electronically recorded, there is a lesser chance that information has been altered.

In addition to maintaining the black box, federal regulations require that there is a back-up system that maintains recorded information.  Therefore, even if the accident is severe enough that the black box is damaged or destroyed, much of the information may be preserved in another source.  This could be used to demonstrate a pattern of behavior prior to the crash.

Due to the critical nature of much of the information recorded in a black box, it is important to obtain possession of the data as soon as possible.  Under certain circumstances, a trucking company is within its rights to destroy the information in an electronic log after a certain period of time has passed without a request from a third-party for the data.  Therefore, it is crucial to send a spoliation of evidence letter (warning the other party not to destroy potential evidence) to the trucking company or truck owner as soon as possible.  This letter effectively puts the defendants on notice that the information is going to be needed and it must be preserved as evidence in the case.

Depending on the type of data collection system in the box at issue in the accident, it likely will be necessary to obtain software from the manufacturer in order to collect the important data.  An expert will then be needed to interpret the date and formulate a comprehensive picture of how the driver and/or trucking company’s negligence was the direct cause of the harm suffered by the victim of the crash.

The knowledgeable and dedicated Mississippi Truck Accident Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC understand how to construct a strong case against a negligent truck driver or trucking company.  We will work with you and your family to develop a legal strategy that will get the best results possible based on the facts of your case.  To discuss what happened to you or your loved one, please call us at (800) 707-9577 for a free and confidential consultation.  We only receive our fees if we recover compensation for you.

Chevrolet Impala under Investigation for Brake Problems

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for investigating claims of dangerous faults in motor vehicles in the United States.  Over the past few months, there have been many different problems with vehicles on the road across the country that have been featured on the front pages of nearly every major print news source.  General Motors has faced a number of serious allegations after purportedly mishandled recalls that led to serious accidents and more than a dozen deaths.  Now, a consumer complaint has prompted the NHTSA to investigate potential braking problems in the Chevrolet Impala.

The consumer complaint that led to the NHTSA investigation was that the 2014 Impala has a defect that leads to the activation of the emergency braking system without warning.  The complaint states that the activation of the braking system led to a sudden stopping of the car when it was traveling at 40 miles per hour, which led to the vehicle being rear-ended.  The complaint prompted the NHTSA to investigate whether the defect is widespread throughout the more than 60,000 2014 Impalas on the road.  If the investigation does lead to a determination that there is a widespread defect, then the NHTSA can trigger a recall.

Generally, when the NHTSA has determined that there is a vehicle flaw that impacts many cars or trucks because of a design or manufacturing defect, it may determine that the nature of the hazard necessitates a widespread recall and issue an official order.  However, the auto manufacturer may challenge the NHTSA in a federal district court.  While the car manufacturer has the right to challenge the order, the NHTSA has the right to go to court to enforce the order and compel the recall.  Once a case has been filed by either the NHTSA or the car manufacturer, the burden lies with the agency to prove that there is a defect that warrants the recall because it poses a serious threat to the safety of consumers.  Depending on the circumstances, even though the auto manufacturer is contesting the finding of the NHTSA that there is a safety risk from the defect, they may need to send notice to all consumers in possession of the potentially dangerous vehicle about the alleged hazard.

            Although the NHTSA is empowered to order a recall if an official investigation reveals a defect that is present in many vehicles, the auto manufacturer may choose to recall specific vehicles based on its own findings without agency intervention.  The auto manufacturer should have learned the relevant facts through:

  • Internal testing protocols;
  • Vehicle inspection policies;
  • Analysis of information gathered through a number of data systems; and
  • Review of all facts in a comprehensive and organized process.

One of the problems with the handling of the GM ignition switch defect was that the executives at the company did not have the proper protocols in place to rapidly respond to the potential danger. 

The protocols and policies that control whether or not a recall will take place are fine for the auto manufacturer and the agency, but it leaves consumers at the mercy of the executives and the regulators.  Often, serious accidents occur while the battles are being played out.

The news is full of stories of the massive recalls by auto manufacturers for defects that could lead to dangerous crashes, severe injuries, and even death.  The compassionate and knowledgeable Mississippi Personal Injury Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC will work with you to help you understand what caused your accident and how you can get justice for the harm that you suffered.  In order to schedule a free case evaluation, please call us at (800) 707-9577.  We only receive our fee if we recover compensation for you.

University of California Agrees to $10 Million Whistleblower Payment

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

In order to end litigation surrounding a whistleblower-retaliation case brought against the University of California – Los Angeles’ orthopedic surgery department by its former chairman, the UCLA Regents have agreed to a payment of 10 million dollars to compensate the former chairman for his role in exposing industry payments to UCLA doctors that may have jeopardized patient health.  The case arose out of consulting payments made to doctors at the David Geffen School of Medicine, as well as other financial connections between large medical companies and UCLA.

Dr. Robert Pedowitz asserted in legal filings that he reported conflicts of interest that existed when medical industry representatives made payments to medical professionals that might lead to patient care that was not in the best interest of the patient.  Dr. Pedowitz alleged that UCLA, the Regents of the University of California, and fellow surgeons, as well as senior officials in the university system, failed to take appropriate actions when informed about these problems and subsequently retaliated against Dr. Pedowitz by demoting him, excluding him from certain grant applications, and taking other actions that were adverse to his professional interests.

Although UCLA denies any wrongdoing and asserts that patient care was not compromised and that there were no financial improprieties or retaliation, the Regents agreed to the settlement in order to avoid any further litigation.

The allegations of wrongdoing relate to the influence that a medical device manufacturer might have on a surgeon who had a financial connection to the medical company.  In addition, there was the possibility of compromised research when the doctor conducting the study was receiving money from a medical company that was invested in a particular outcome of the research.  Dr. Pedowitz reported that the university also would benefit financially from certain research results if it led to the commercially successful pharmaceuticals or medical devices.

This whistleblower-retaliation case comes at an important time because the Physician Payments Sunshine Act will go into effect in the fall of 2014.  This component of the new healthcare law requires disclosure of financial connections between doctors and healthcare companies.  For many patients, a doctor who was receiving a quarter million dollars per year in consulting fees from a medical device company who then strongly recommends a treatment based on a product or drug manufactured by that company might not be trusted.  The issue of informed consent is critical for proper patient care and it is difficult to separate large financial incentives with neutral treatment recommendations.

As part of the whistleblower complaint that was initially filed in 2011, Dr. Pedowitz agreed to step down from his position in the orthopedic surgery department, effective immediately.  He had been recruited into the position of chairman in 2009, but was demoted in 2010, after he had raised concerns about the improper financial practices.  One of the protections of bringing a whistleblower complaint is that a complainant’s job is protected.  However, settlements often involve a separation agreement because it is difficult for parties who were involved in contentious and protracted litigation to be able to resume a productive work relationship.  Many whistleblower claims that are resolved prior to this point may result in the complainant resuming his job duties, particularly if the whistleblower case led to widespread changes in policy.

When an employee has done the right thing and reported serious problems only to find himself being retaliated against by his employer, it is important to get the right legal help as soon as possible.  The knowledgeable and hardworking Mississippi Qui Tam/Whistleblower Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC are committed to getting the best results possible for our clients.  Please call us at (800) 707-9577 to schedule a confidential and free consultation about the wrongdoing that you have experienced.

Types of Compensation in Workers Compensation Cases

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

When a worker is injured on the job, it is likely that the person will receive some type of compensation in order to heal from his injuries while he is unable to work.  Most businesses in Mississippi with more than four employees are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage, with some limited exceptions for charitable organizations and several other employers.  The type of compensation that a worker can receive depends on the nature of the injury and the long-term prognosis.

There are three types of benefits for an employee injured while performing work-related duties, although only two of these benefits are mandatory under the current terms of the act.  These are:

  • Medical Benefits – The employee is entitled to have his medical bills paid for any injuries reasonably related to the work activities.  An employee cannot be made to pay for the copayment under these circumstances.  Many times, the employer will attempt to force the employee to go to a “company doctor,” but the employee has the right to choose his physician.  The benefits should cover doctor’s bills and hospital charges, necessary nursing care, medications, rehabilitation, required medical devices and equipment, and travel reimbursement.
  • Wage Benefits – An employee who is unable to work because of the injury is entitled to compensation.  Under Mississippi law, an employee may receive up to two-thirds of the weekly wage that he was earning prior to the injury.  The compensation must be paid out to the employee every two weeks.  In addition, the determination of the treating physician will dictate whether the compensation is temporary, permanent, partial, or full.  There are times when a person may be out entirely, but a complete recovery is expected, in which case the employee will receive temporary full benefits.  An employee who never will be able to work again will receive permanent benefits for a period of up to 450 weeks.  There may be an employee who can work on a part-time capacity, but may not return to full-time employment and they will receive a pro-rated, or partial, permanent benefit.  Workers’ compensation payments are tax-free, so that covers some of the discrepancy between a full-time salary and benefits.
  • Vocational Benefits – There are times when an employee’s injury will prevent him from returning to the same type of work that he performed before the accident.  Under these circumstances, there may be an evaluation about whether training or education could prepare the employee for another type of work.  The employer can agree to this vocational benefit or the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission could order it.  The benefit for vocational rehabilitation will not exceed $10 per week for 52 weeks.  At this time, employers are not required to provide coverage for this benefit, but it is recommended.

In addition to these benefits, the family of an employee who is killed on the job may be entitled to receive death benefits.  The surviving spouse may receive a lump sum benefit, a payment for funeral expenses (as determined by statute), and weekly benefits for dependents.  These dependents must have qualified as such at the time of the employee’s death.  Depending on the circumstances, the beneficiaries may be a spouse, the employee’s children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, or grandparents.  The beneficiary has the burden of proving that he or she is entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

An employee who is injured on the job may believe that workers’ compensation will cover all of his needs without any further action, but the employer and insurance company are motivated to limit the payout as much as possible.  The experienced and dedicated Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC are prepared to fight to get you the maximum benefits to which you are entitled.  Call us at (800) 707-9577 for a free consultation.

How Does the NHTSA Investigate Defect Claims?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) operates as part of the Department of Transportation to promote safety through establishing standards and acts as an investigatory agency when there reports of defects.  Recently, the agency has been in the news regularly based upon the high profile recall cases and the harm that was done when auto manufacturers failed to respond quickly and appropriately to dangerous vehicle defects. 

Although some car manufacturers may voluntarily issue a vehicle recall, often these events are triggered by the NHTSA going to court and getting an order.  The NHTSA may decide that it is important for a recall when:

  • A motor vehicle, or any equipment that is used in the structure or mechanics of a vehicle, which includes tires, fails to comply with an established Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard; or
  • There is a defect caused by a design or manufacturing problem, rather than an issue that only affects a few vehicles, that impacts the overall safety of the vehicle.

The NHTSA reviews the reported problems in the vehicle in accordance with safety standards for the safe operation of a vehicle, including equipment failures relating to tires, brakes, engine parts, and lighting components.  In addition, the safety analysis may look at the features of the vehicle that are intended to keep drivers and passengers safe, such as seat belts, air bags, structural reinforcements in convertibles, and even motorcycle helmets.

A safety defect that might justify the NHTSA pursuing a mandated recall includes an issue in the vehicle that poses a measurable risk to consumers as a result of the operation of the motor vehicle.  Some common types of defects include:

  • The vulnerability of the fuel system in a vehicle to damage during a crash that would result in the spilled gasoline and fire hazards;
  •  Steering columns that may break or become non-functional during operation of a vehicle, leading to loss of control;
  • Gas pedal or accelerator components that may stick or malfunction, leading to uncontrolled acceleration;
  • Improper design of the wheel base and height of the vehicle leading to increased rollover risk;
  • Malfunctioning windshield wipers that lead to decreased visibility;
  • Improperly manufactured seats that may shift or fall backwards during operation of the vehicle, especially the driver’s seat;
  • Faulty wiring systems that may lead to risk of fire or loss of function;
  • Defects in child safety devices and equipment; and
  • Problems with air bags functioning properly.

There are many different types of defects that pose a significant risk to occupants of the vehicle or other people.  However, there are some widespread problems that do not lead to a recall order.  These include problems that are frustrating, but have no major safety risk.  A model year with a malfunctioning radio or MP3 control or equipment that deteriorates far faster than components in other vehicles, which necessitate replacement, but likely will not result in bodily harm, will not be pursued.

Once the NHTSA has received a complaint that triggers a response, there is a four step process that is managed by the Office of Defects Investigation, which includes:

  • An initial review of the consumer complaint and any other available information that supports the existence of a potential defect;
  • A review of any petitions involving a group of individuals or other groups, as well as any safety-based recalls that may have been initiated by the vehicle manufacturer;
  • Active investigation into the possible defects; and
  • Oversight of a recall once a safety-related defect has been found.

Safety defects lead to many injuries and deaths before the problem has been corrected.  Although the NHTSA plays an important role, for those who been harmed by a defective component or piece of equipment, it is critical to find someone to fight for them.  The skilled and dedicated Mississippi Personal Injury Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC will work to get you the compensation that you deserve.  Please call us at (800) 707-9577 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Supreme Court Debates Issue of Free Speech and Whistleblower Protections

Friday, April 4th, 2014

            The United States Supreme Court has heard arguments in an interesting case that involves First Amendment protections for free speech and the interplay with whistleblower protections.  There are a number of gaps in whistleblower protection laws, particularly when the employee works for the state or federal government.  Many of the protections for government employees do not extend to every worker or only address the actions of specific government agencies.  This case, Lane v. Franks, 13-483, is expected to be decided by June 2014.

            This case deals with the issue of what protections exist for employees who testify in court against their employers.  The philosophy behind the various whistleblower protection laws is that an employee should not be punished for doing the right thing and reporting wrongdoing in the workplace.  However, what happens when no specific law applies to a particular employee who is drawn into legal proceedings against his employer and is subpoenaed to testify.  In the case of Edward Lane, who was employed by an Alabama community college program, he was fired.

            Mr. Lane began working as a director of a college youth program in 2006.  Shortly after he began his new position, he learned that state representative Sue Schmitz was on the payroll, but did not regularly appear in her listed capacity.  As a result, Mr. Lane terminated Representative Schmitz, but was warned that the action could lead to the termination of his own job.  Soon thereafter, Mr. Lane was subpoenaed to testify in a legal action against Schmitz.  He was terminated after testifying at the first of two fraud trials.  Both the federal district court and the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Lane, with the district court finding that the First Amendment did not protect Lane testifying as an employee and the 11th Circuit upholding the lower court’s decision.

            The Supreme Court now is considering arguments that the First Amendment offers protections against retaliation for these employees.  In previous cases heard by the Court, the Justices have found that the First Amendment only protects individuals who are speaking out in the capacity of private citizens and not in their roles as employees testifying about their jobs.  Although many of the Justices seemed to believe that protection for employees reporting about government wrongdoing was very important, even if that information was learned while working for the government, the question seemed to be how broad the protection should be.  There are many instances where offering testimony in court is part of the job duties of an employee, for example a criminal investigator who routinely appears in court to present evidence in ongoing cases.  The issue appeared to be whether First Amendment protections should be extended so far that these instances were covered.

            It appeared that some of the Justices were making a distinction that if testifying in court was not part of the job description of the employee, then in the moment when he was testifying as the result of a subpoena, he was acting as a private citizen.  This position was supported by the deputy solicitor general arguing on behalf of the Obama administration, who asserted that the First Amendment protections should be extended to government employees except for those who routinely investigate and testify in court.

            This case is being closely monitored by organizations that work towards whistleblower protections against retaliation.  Whistleblower laws have been evolving over many years.  Depending on the decision of the Supreme Court in this case, there may be more changes to ensure that all employees are encouraged to report instances of misconduct and fraud.

            The Mississippi Qui Tam/Whistleblower Attorneys at Barrett Law PLLC are dedicated to maintaining our skills in these types of cases as the law continues to change.  We work hard to ensure that our clients get the benefits of these protections.  If you have been the victim of retaliatory actions by your employer, call us at (800) 707-9577 to learn how we can help you.

BP Oil Moving on As Victims Continue to Suffer

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The fallout from the April 20, 2010 explosion and oil spill at the Macondo Prospect where oil churned out into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days continues to negatively impact the residents, fishermen, and business owners living or working in the Gulf.  Recently, BP Oil has made some strides in its efforts to thwart payouts while it reaps the benefits of new business prospects.

After taking strenuous legal actions to prevent victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from recovering damages under and agreed-upon settlement, BP America appears to be moving forward to a profitable future as Gulf Coast residents continue to face the emotional, physical, and economic toll of the environmental catastrophe.  In March 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it was lifting its ban on awarding government contracts to BP.  In addition, BP announced, with triumphant colors flying, that the Gulf Coast clean-up had been completed.  Although this has been loudly denounced as incorrect, BP seems to believe that it has the right to start raking in the money while others continue to suffer.

The EPA announced that BP’s commitment to company-wide improvements in ethics and safety policies was sufficient to warrant the lifting of the ban, less than four years after the horrific blowout and oil spill.  BP has entered into a five-year deal with the EPA that will permit BP to enter into oil exploration leases for the deepwater areas in the Gulf of Mexico, where the evidence of the disastrous spill is still present.  Although this agreement merely allows BP to compete for the federal contracts, it is tantamount to welcoming BP back into the Gulf.

 In addition to earning back the right to compete for federal leases, despite the obstructionist legal tactics pursued by the company in fighting the settlement, BP has declared the Gulf Coast clean-up complete, even though it is far from over.  In an editorial piece that was published in a number of Gulf Coast papers, the chairman of BP America, John Mingé, stated that the active portion of the shoreline clean-up had been completed.  In response to this bombastic statement, the Coast Guard issued an official statement that the clean-up effort still was ongoing.  Mr. Mingé claimed that BP had spent $27 billion on the clean-up and that any additional claims for more environmental clean-up were merely attempts by individuals and businesses trying to get money for their causes.

BP has claimed that its about-face on fixing the harm that the Deepwater Horizon disaster caused is the result of greedy lawyers and improper claimants.  However, legal experts have commented on the absurdity of BP coming out swinging against the very deal that its legal experts assisted in crafting and promoted. The legal wrangling of BP has had some negative consequences for Gulf claimants as new rules about the payment of claims are drawn up.  Many claims have been delayed.  For those victims who have been suffering the consequences of the BP spill for four years now, the delays and turnabouts have caused them to wonder if they ever will get closure for the harm that they suffered.

Despite the assertions of BP Oil that the only reason it is fighting various aspects of the settlement is because of unscrupulous attorneys and greedy businesses, the fact is that real people continue to suffer financially, physically, and emotionally as the result of the negligence that led to one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.  The dedicated BP Oil Spill Attorneys at the Mississippi firm of Barrett Law PLLC remain committed to getting justice for oil spill victims.  To schedule a time to discuss your case in a free consultation, call us at (800) 707-9577.