November 30, 2010
At least 30 banks since 2000 have escaped federal regulatory action by walking away from their federal regulators and moving under state supervision, taking advantage of a long-standing system that allows banks to choose between federal and state oversight, according to a Washington Post review of government records.
The moves, known as charter conversions, highlight the tremendous leverage that banks hold in their relationships with government supervisors.
The financial crisis has pushed regulatory reform high up the agenda of the Obama administration and congressional leaders. Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary nominee, sounded the theme at his confirmation hearing yesterday, calling for a “stronger, more resilient system.”
Some regulatory experts say that eliminating the opportunity to switch regulators is critical to strengthening oversight.
The number of public enforcement actions nearly tripled last year as federal regulators struggled to contain the spreading financial crisis. The actions typically require banks to make major changes that improve their financial health and reduce the risk of failure. But because regulators cannot prevent charter conversions, banks also have the option of changing their regulator.
Article: Washington Post
An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a fatal 2007 Houston office fire announced Wednesday that it will drop its legal argument that the victims’ families aren’t entitled to a payout because the deaths were caused by smoke pollution, not the fire’s flames.
In a news release provided to the Houston Chronicle by the Insurance Council of Texas, Great American Insurance Company announced it will no longer ask a Houston federal judge to find that three deaths caused by the smoke, fumes and soot from the March 2007 fire set by a nurse working in the building will not be covered by the policy because there is a specific exclusion for “pollution.”
Federal court records showed Great American had not yet pulled its legal request Wednesday night.
Randy Sorrels, a Houston lawyer who represents several family members in wrongful death lawsuits from the fire in a six-story atrium building on the North Loop, said Wednesday that this changes nothing for the families.
He said publicity stemming from news stories about the Great American legal request reached around the nation and created a “firestorm” over the Great American argument. He suspects that is one reason the insurance company is now announcing it has reached an agreement with its policyholder on the matter and will not seek a court declaration.
The spokeswoman for Great American could not be reached late Wednesday.
The policy is held by building owner Boxer Property Management Corp. Great American is an excess insurance carrier on the building.
Sorrels said he still expects Boxer and its insurance companies to argue that the families should not be paid by insurance because the fire was intentionally set. Sorrels said he can prove there were code violations and an inadequate warning system.
Don Jackson, a Boxer attorney, said Great American dropping this action means he can get back to proving the building was safe and the fire was entirely the fault of the arsonist.
Texas health officials ordered a recall Thursday of every product ever shipped from a Plainview peanut processing plant since March 2005 after inspectors discovered the food production area had been contaminated.
Inspectors found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a food production area at the Peanut Corp. of America’s Plainview plant, authorities from the Texas Department of State Health Services said Thursday.
The plant’s air handling system was not completely sealed and was pulling debris from the infested crawl space onto exposed food products in production areas. It was unclear whether products may have reached consumers as distributors took steps to pull items from stores shelves before they could be sold.
Although the plant began operations in March 2005 and employed 30 people, state health inspectors did not visit until last month because they didn’t know about the facility, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the department.
He said the company failed to apply for a Texas license, which would have triggered an inspection — and inspectors had no way of knowing about it.
“Given the volume, we don’t have the luxury of doing a lot of detective work to find other manufacturers without a license,” McBride added, noting only 34 health inspectors are available to visit more than 17,000 food manufacturers in the state.
Most of the products processed at the plant were shipped to other food manufacturers, who used the items as ingredients, McBride said. He said inspectors have a list of potential end manufacturers but were not releasing names until they have confirmed those companies were actual customers.
Los Angeles city officials and downtown developers who evicted or harassed about 100 low-income residents of the Alexandria Hotel must pay almost $1 million to house and compensate the victims under a settlement announced Thursday.
The agreement followed a December 2007 lawsuit by 10 longtime residents of the once-elegant hotel at Fifth and Spring streets and a federal judge’s order last year that the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency locate and assist the displaced — and potentially homeless.
The lawsuit — filed against hotel owner Ruben Islas and his Amerland Group development firm, Logan Property Management, the city and the CRA — alleged that the defendants “systematically and intentionally worked to remove the long-term tenants of the Alexandria and replace them with non-elderly, non-disabled and non-African American tenants.”
Under the settlement, the defendants must provide $400,000 for those kicked out of the hotel, ostensibly to allow for renovations, or subjected to power, water and elevator cutoffs aimed at driving them out.
An additional $550,000 in damages was agreed for the 10 named plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Hilda Quintana, 72, who has lived in two rooms of the historic hotel for more than a quarter of a century, was one of the 10 who fought to stay.
Article: LA Times
Medical negligence at the troubled Beatrice State Developmental Center led to the death last month of an 18-year-old with mental disabilities, the woman’s family says.
David Manes says that his daughter died after at least 10 missteps by staff, and Manes blames the center’s management, according to a copy of the claim obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. Lincoln attorney Jefferson Downing planned to file the claim against the state today.
Manes is seeking $1.75 million for his daughter’s suffering and the pain her death caused.
“We’re really adamant that everybody understands that the administrative staff there at the time Olivia was there needs to be held responsible for the actions that led to her death,” David Manes said on Wednesday. “They did not follow federal mandates.”
A spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on Wednesday. But state officials acknowledged in a report issued last week that Manes’ seizure was mishandled.
Olivia Manes died early on Jan. 16, about three hours after she began having a seizure. Manes and his wife Tina Manes say the death may have been prevented had she not been taken off of seizure medication that she had been taking for nearly a decade or if more trained medical staff had been present that night.
“The biggest thing I want to know is, why did they take away Olivia’s meds?” Tina Manes said.
This claim is the latest in a string of problems for the center. The state is expected to lose $29 million in annual, federal funding to run the center, and it could take two years to regain federal certification.
David Manes’ claim is largely based on the state’s own investigation into the care his daughter received before being transferred to a Beatrice hospital and dying. The state investigation revealed a bumbling response to his daughter’s seizure and led the state’s chief medical officer to declare last week that the center was too dangerous for “medically fragile” residents, 45 of whom have been transferred to hospitals.
Olivia Manes’ death came seven months after the state promised, in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, to provide better care to residents of the center. The settlement was reached after Department of Justice investigators uncovered about 200 cases of alleged neglect and abuse at the center from late 2006 to late 2007 and said the center had a “cultural undercurrent that betrays human decency at the most fundamental levels.”
Article: Columbus Telegram
A Vector Group Ltd. unit must pay about $700,000 to the family of a retired trucking-company supervisor who died of lung cancer after smoking for 55 years, a Florida jury ruled.
A state court jury in Fort Lauderdale concluded today that Vector’s Liggett Group LLC is liable for Joseph Ferlanti’s death in 2004. Ferlanti, who smoked Chesterfield cigarettes made by Liggett, died at age 81, according to Todd McPharlin, the family’s lawyer.
Mrs. Ferlanti referred questions to McPharlin, who said, “This is an absolute victory. We’re very happy with the jury’s verdict. This is another example of the long history of the deception by the tobacco industry of the dangers of smoking. The jury recognized this.”
Leonard Feiwus, representing Liggett, would say only “we intend to take an appeal.”
Instead of telling consumers in the 1950s that its cigarettes were dangerous, Liggett officials chose “to put profits over lives,” McPharlin told jurors in closing arguments yesterday.
The verdict is the second in Florida in less than a month against a cigarette maker accused of misleading consumers about its products’ health risks. Another Fort Lauderdale jury ordered Altria Group Inc. Feb. 18 to pay $8 million to the family of another smoker who died of lung cancer.
The verdict in the Altria case was the first in thousands of lawsuits filed after the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate a $145 billion punitive-damages verdict awarded by a Miami jury to a statewide class of smokers in 2006.
The 8,000 cases pending in the state are split up among cigarette makers including Altria Group Inc., Reynolds American Inc. and Vector Group Ltd. The cases are slated to be tried in courthouses across the state in coming months and years.
Ferlanti’s case wasn’t part of the class-action because it was filed after the November 1996 cutoff for such claims, McPharlin said.
In a blow to the movement arguing that vaccines lead to autism, a special court ruled on Thursday against three families seeking compensation from the federal vaccine-injury fund.
Both sides in the debate have been awaiting decisions in these test cases since hearings began in 2007; more than 5,000 similar claims have been filed.
In the three cases, each decided by a judge called a special master, the court found that the families had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by substances in the vaccines — either the measles virus in the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or its combination with thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was used in most childhood vaccines until 2001.
In a case pitting the family of Michelle Cedillo, a severely autistic child, against the Department of Health and Human Services, the judge ruled that the Cedillos had “failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction, or that the M.M.R. vaccine can contribute to causing either autism or gastrointestinal dysfunction.”
In his decision, the special master, George L. Hastings Jr., ruled that the government’s expert witnesses were “far better qualified, far more experienced and far more persuasive” than the Cedillos’. Although the family had to show only that the preponderance of evidence was on their side, Mr. Hastings ruled that the evidence was “overwhelmingly contrary” to their argument.
Article: NY Times
new study concludes that hundreds of young children in the District experienced potentially damaging amounts of lead in their blood when lead levels were dramatically rising in the city’s tap water.
In some high-risk neighborhoods, the number of toddlers and infants with blood-lead concentrations that can cause irreversible IQ loss and developmental delays more than doubled after harmful levels of lead began leaching into the city’s drinking water in 2001, according to the findings. The peer-reviewed study, obtained by The Washington Post, is to be published soon in Environmental Science and Technology, a journal on advances in chemical and environmental research.
Authors of the study, at Virginia Tech and Children’s National Medical Center, said their findings raise concern about the 42,000 D.C. children, now ages 4 to 9, who were in the womb or younger than 2 during the water crisis. Those children might be at risk of future health and behavioral problems linked to lead, the report said.
Article: Washington Post
The plant in Georgia that produced peanut butter tainted by salmonella has a history of sanitation lapses and was cited repeatedly in 2006 and 2007 for having dirty surfaces and grease residue and dirt buildup throughout the plant, according to health inspection reports. Inspection reports from 2008 found the plant repeatedly in violation of cleanliness standards.
Inspections of the plant in Blakely, Ga., by the State Agriculture Department found areas of rust that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to get through, unmarked spray bottles and containers and numerous violations of other practices designed to prevent food contamination. The plant, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America of Lynchburg, Va., has been shut down.
A typical entry from an inspection report, dated Aug. 23, 2007, said: “The food-contact surfaces of re-work kettle in the butter room department were not properly cleaned and sanitized.” Additional entries noted: “The food-contact surfaces of the bulk oil roast transfer belt” in a particular room “were not properly cleaned and sanitized. The food-contact surfaces of pan without wheels in the blanching department were not properly cleaned and sanitized.”
A code violation in the same report observed “clean peanut butter buckets stored uncovered,” while another cited a “wiping cloth” to “cover crack on surge bin.” Tests on samples gathered on the day of that inspection were negative for salmonella.
The inspection reports were provided by Georgia officials in response to a request made by The New York Times under the state’s open-records act.
Two inspection reports from 2008 found the plant out of compliance with practices for making sure “food and non-food contact surfaces were cleanable, properly designed, constructed and used.”
Article: NY Times
November 29, 2010
Bad faith by an insurance company means that a disabled lawyer will receive attorney fees incurred during the 10 years he fought for long-term disability benefits.
Zbigniew Slupinski, formerly of Weil Gotshal & Manges, prevailed in his lawsuits in 2005 and 2006 against the First Unum Life Insurance Co. for long-term benefits, but he was denied fees and prejudgment interest by Southern District of New York Judge Thomas P. Griesa.
However, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Griesa erred and it reversed him in Slupinski v. First Unum Life Insurance Co., 05-5849 and 06-4178-cv. The appeal was decided by Judges Amalya Kearse, Guido Calabresi and Robert Katzmann, with Judge Kearse writing for the court.
Slupinski was working for the firm as an associate in August 1991 when, while on business in Poland, the taxi he was riding in collided with another vehicle. Slupinski was thrown from the taxi into the street, where he was run over by another car. He suffered several injuries, including what turned out to be permanent damage to his left arm.
Despite a number of operations, when Slupinski tried to resume work at the firm after retuning to the United States, severe pain and memory loss left him unable to do so. He stopped working in December 1991.
First Unum initially paid long-term disability benefits but on Dec. 1, 1995, it informed Slupinski that it was terminating his benefits based on the word of two physicians who found the lawyer was capable of working full time because he could “sit/stand/walk” for eight hours at a stretch.
He was given 30 days to respond to the denial and was in the process of marshaling the opinions of several other physicians he had seen when, 28 days into the response period, First Unum said it would not continue benefits past Jan. 1, 1996.
Judge Griesa rejected First Unum’s argument that Slupinski only claimed he was in severe pain after he was told benefits would be terminated. He said the record “overwhelmingly supports plaintiff’s claim that his severe and chronic pain prevents him from engaging in ‘any gainful occupation for which he is reasonably fitted.’”
Article: Law.comNewer Posts »