Tysons, VA

By Personal Injury Attorney Gary Christmas of Christmas Injury Lawyers

Early in 2020, the United States House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee will hear from five of the nation’s largest e-cigarette companies.

CEOs from Juul, Reynolds America, and NJOY, as well as the Presidents of Logic and Fontem, will testify before the House concerning their role in increasing the rate of youth vaping, as well as their responsibility in vape-related personal injuries.

These five companies account for 97 percent of the $19.3 billion U.S. e-cigarette market. However, this will be the first time that the House has heard from companies other than market-leader, Juul. Subcommittee members are looking for information about how the companies’ marketing techniques may relate to the epidemic of teen-vaping amongst middle and high school students.

Illinois Democrat, Jan Schakowsky, is hoping to hear a measure of accountability on the part of vaping companies. They are widely blamed for hooking children on vaping products through a combination of sweet flavors, nicotine additives, and a misconception that users are only breathing in harmless water vapor.

Federal data shows that more than five million middle and high school students use vape products at least once every 30 days. After a rash of sudden vape-related deaths and illnesses — thousands were treated for this injury that left dozens dead — the Trump Administration finalized policy to reel in the industry.

The administration sought to at least temporarily ban certain flavored vaping products — namely the popular fruit and mint pod-based flavors — but left tobacco and menthol untouched. The policy also avoided regulating disposable, open tank, and e-liquids available in vape shops.

Critics say this amounts to a giant hole in federal vaping regulation. Matt Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says that the Trump rule leaves millions of flavored vape products on the market, including ones popular with kids. He also questions whether popular mint flavors might simply be relabeled as menthol.

Come May, the administration is requiring companies to get approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its products and to prove they offer a public health benefit. The “health argument” was the initial marketing campaign for vaping — that it is better for a person than smoking tobacco.

The controversy has stemmed mainly from new “tobacco product” users — i.e., youth vapers — now addicted to vape-sourced nicotine, in addition to the significant uptick in vape-related deaths and illnesses last year.

Some worry that, under the broader argument that vaping helps people quit smoking, these FDA bans will be only temporary, and that the products most enticing to children will be as available as before, but now with a label of “healthy.”

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By Personal Injury Attorney Gary Massey of Massey & Associates, PC

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, is questioning whether the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is doing its due diligence to protect consumers against dangerous and defective products.

Cantwell worked with minority party staff members of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to produce a report detailing instances where they allege the CPSC has inexcusably failed to protect the American public.

In at least three separate cases, the report alleges, the CPSC showed inappropriate deference to regulated industry interests at the expense of the public that the CPSC is tasked with protecting.

Specifically, the report identifies 200 different instances where wheels fell off a Britax B.O.B. jogging stroller, causing injuries. As a result of the 2018 settlement between Britax and the agency, the company offered the almost 500,000 stroller owners the option to receive a replacement part or receive a 20% discount on a new jogging stroller. The strollers, notably, were not replaced or refunded.

This response came after agency leadership reportedly ignored warnings from its staff, calling for an immediate recall for the defective and dangerous product.

Similarly, a Fisher-Price inclined infant sleeper known as a Rock ‘n’ Play was linked to numerous deaths before the CPSC took any action. In April of last year, Fisher-Price publicly announced that the sleeper was connected to the deaths of 10 babies. It was not until the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to a Consumer Reports study identifying 32 associated infant deaths that the agency mandated a recall by the company.

The committee report also discusses the CPSC’s response to known hazards relating to residential elevators. The report asserts that the agency has shifted responsibility and blame to state regulators and families, away from the manufacturers themselves.

Senator Cantwell alleges that the agency whose mission is supposed to be protecting consumers and families from dangerous defective products is instead cozying up with the industry groups it is tasked with regulating. She reiterates that the public should feel confident in the safety of products available to them on the market and that real remedies should be made in cases of faulty products.

The CPSC declined to comment on the report.

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By Family Attorney Billie Tarascio of Modern Law

Last month, the Arizona Supreme Court issued its final opinion in an emotionally-charged case.

In 2014, Ruby Torres was diagnosed with breast cancer. Out of concern for her future fertility, she wanted to use her eggs and donor sperm to create embryos that she could freeze for use at a later date — after she had beat her cancer.

Torres’ boyfriend, John Terrell, eventually agreed to be the sperm donor for these embryos. They went to an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic to have the procedure done. In the course of this, the two signed an agreement that laid out the controlling terms of the embryos, should Torres’ and Terrell’s relationship change in the future.

The agreement stated that the embryos were joint property and that both partners had to consent for future use of them. Four days later, they married. Seven embryos were frozen.

However, before the embryos could be used, the couple divorced. Torres wanted to keep and use the embryos, so that she could have biological children. Terrell disagreed, stating that he wanted to donate them to another couple.

After a protracted legal battle, the Arizona Supreme Court decided that the agreement the couple had signed was no different than any other contract — the sensitive subject matter notwithstanding. The embryos were to be donated.

In the background, Arizona state lawmakers began pushing legislation that would preempt a situation like this from having a similar outcome in the future. The state enacted a law requiring judges to give viable embryos to the spouse who seeks to allow them to be born, regardless of what a separate contract might say. It’s worth noting that this did not apply retroactively to Torres’ efforts to obtain possession of the embryos.

However, the Arizona law represents the very first of its kind in the nation, which gives preference to a party’s right to have a child. Courts traditionally have sided with a person’s right to decide not to have one.

It is unclear whether this is the start of a trend, but in any case, individuals contemplating an IVF procedure might benefit from considering several key elements. This includes reading any forms before signing them, as well as giving careful consideration to what should happen to any unused embryos. As shown by the Torres case, plans for what should happen in the event of a relationship’s end should also be planned out.

Dr. Art Castelbaum, a reproductive endocrinologist, points out that most patients survive their cancer, but that not every relationship will sustain. He recommends women take sole custody of their embryos and that they freeze not only embryos, but additional eggs, as well.

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By Family Attorney Billie Tarascio of Modern Law

Holidays are often shown as a time of joy and good cheer, bringing the family together to celebrate and relax. However, experts suggest this can be far from the truth.

For many, the holidays can serve as a constant reminder of significant stressors already present in a relationship. One expert, Cam Melick, a licensed clinical social worker in Idaho, describes what he typically sees during the holidays in his profession: significant social pressure on people.

Between the constant ads that tell people to spend money, along with individuals’ personal financial stress, and time constraints when attempting to schedule holiday plans — these issues can easily turn from harmless conversations into heated arguments that, in some instances, may lead to complete breakdowns.

Although a total break of communication and even a relationship itself may seem drastic, a survey completed in Los Angeles, California, found that divorce filings increase by nearly one-third immediately following the holidays.

However, despite the increased time constraints and financial pressure that can occur during the holidays, there are some tips that experts suggest using to avoid these types of common pitfalls. Some strategies for successfully navigating the holidays include creating a holiday budget in advance, so that spouses do not feel external pressure to spend more and more and stretch their finances to an upsetting level.

Additionally, experts recommend that spouses discuss their expectations for the holidays beforehand and create a plan for what activities each partner wants to participate in, which family members they visit, and which family members they may not be able to visit during this season. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, experts recommend the individuals take a moment to recognize their own personal frustrations, as well as being mindful of their partner’s frustrations.

This way, a couple can assess their own needs, the needs of their partner, and create a strategy to reduce stress and plan for holiday success.

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By Immigration Attorney Natalia Segermeister

A controversial ruling in Southhaven, Mississippi has gotten the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union involved.

The ruling claims that a police officer who shot undocumented immigrant Ismael Lopez should not be charged, on the basis that Lopez lacked any Constitutional rights due to his non-citizen status. In this case, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are in question.

Ismael Lopez was from Mexico and had been deported twice to Mexico. Since his second removal, he had returned to the United States. According to court documents, Lopez had prior arrests and an outstanding warrant in Mexico. These details were introduced in court documents because his criminal past as well as his immigration status, the city argued, did not afford Mr. Lopez any constitutional rights. This was the final decision of the court.

The decision of the court concluded that there is nothing to be done in this case, due to Ismael Lopez’s lack of U.S. citizenship at the time of his death. In fact, the court also stated that the Lopez family has no jurisdiction for a case, in which case the U.S. has no obligation to take action, due to the lack of a relationship between Mr. Lopez and the United States.

A grand jury decided that no criminal charges should be brought against the police officer and the city involved in the shooting. Claudia Linares, Mr. Lopez’s widow, was understandably angered by this decision. As a result, she has filed a civil rights action lawsuit on the basis that Mr. Lopez’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ right against unreasonable searches and seizure, while the Fourteenth provides equal protection for all citizens under the law.

Linares’s lawyer, Murray Wells, has told the media that he is disgusted by the claim, stating that this specific interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is, in fact, unconstitutional. Linares is seeking $20 million in damages for Mr. Lopez’s wrongful death.

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By Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Wilson of Matthew Wilson Attorney at Law

It was in November of 2019 that the federal government moved closer to passing marijuana legislation.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. This means that if someone was caught committing what is a marijuana offense today, instead of facing high fines and lengthy jail sentences, they would only receive a ticket, similarly to those handed out for traffic infractions. However, it is unclear if the bill is likely to get much further.

The bill that was passed is known as the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019”. In its short form, the bill is known as simply the “MORE Act”. If passed, the law would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act. This schedule also lists drugs such as LSD and heroin. The bill would also impose a five percent sales tax on cannabis sales through the Cannabis Justice Office, an office that would be created for that very task.

However, many people are predicting that the bill will not get much further than the House, and there is a good reason why. The bill must be passed by the entire House, and then the Senate. Of these two moves, gaining approval in the Senate would likely be the most difficult. The Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, and the party has never favored any type of marijuana legalization or decriminalization before.

Even if it does pass through the Senate, it will then go to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. Trump has always been extremely vocal about his criticism towards marijuana and has even paid for ads displaying the harmful effects of the substance.

Those that are hoping for marijuana legalization may have to wait to see what happens with the 2020 election. Many of the candidates support decriminalizing the drug, if not fully legalizing it.

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By Criminal Defense Attorney David Clark of David Clark Attorney at Law

In 2018, a new piece of criminal justice reform legislation called the First Step Act was signed into law by Congress.

The First Step Act creates the opportunity for prisoners to work for an early release by engaging in good behavior, job training and counseling. It includes valuable correctional reforms, such as providing inmates access to important medication-assisted treatment and prioritizes placing inmates in facilities closer to their homes.

The act also deviates from the antiquated structure of minimum sentencing and allows judges or juries to decide prison terms that they feel are appropriate for the crime and the criminal. This unique and revolutionary law aims at reducing recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.

The First Step Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan and presidential support. In the time since its passing, the legislation has been put to the test as to how effective it can be in practice. Since December 2018, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has seen an increase in 1,700 volunteers within the system. Moreover, 2,471 fair sentencing orders have been granted, 124 compassionate releases have been approved, and 382 elderly offenders have been given the opportunity to serve the remainder of their sentences under home confinement.

Twenty new contacts have been made between employers and the BOP, critically assisting the Ready to Work initiative that provides employment and community reintegration to former inmates.

While the benefits of the First Step Act remain clear, some drawbacks have also become apparent. For example, prisoner Joel Francisco, who was originally serving a life sentence for the distribution of crack cocaine, became involved with the First Step Program 14 years into his sentence. After demonstrating good behavior and engaging in career training and counseling, Francisco was granted an early release. Shortly thereafter, he was accused of a brutal stabbing murder in Providence, Rhode Island.

Francisco’s story is a perfect example of the slow and challenging process of implementing effective criminal justice reform. Even with solutions that exhibit overwhelming stories of success, crime continues to be a prevalent issue in American society.

The benefits of the act may be lost or overshadowed in the wake of cases like Francisco’s where tragic recidivism would not have occurred if not for the First Step Act. Only time will tell whether the First Step Act will eventually be viewed as a success or failure in the slow process of criminal sentencing reform.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Hung Nguyen of 770GOODLAW, H.Q. (Alex) Nguyen Law Firm, LLC

Humans — not computers — may stand in the way of robocar progress, a recent article reveals. In fact, a study by Axios shows that people caused 81 out of the 88 self-driving car accidents reported in California since 2014. With over 55 companies acquiring permits to test self-driving cars in California alone, more data will surely follow.

Although the testing of robocars is increasing, how quickly self-driving cars enter mainstream roadways depends largely on how humans behave. So, where does this leave someone who is involved in a self-driving car accident — can a robocar be sued? A driver’s negligent conduct often is the cause of a car accident. But, when the driver is a robot, or a combination of both robot and human interaction, where liability lies becomes less obvious.

The unique mix of technology and human involvement in the operation of robocars opens the door to liability concerns. As a result, arguments regarding product liability and employer negligence arise in robocar accident scenarios. The manufacturers of self-driving cars, as well as the developer of the robocar technology, might find themselves subject to liability.

In addition to arguments regarding product liability, vicarious liability arguments may be made regarding the driver’s employer. Where the employer of a negligent human driver fails to offer proper training, the employer’s negligent conduct may give rise to liability.

As testing of robocars continues, the impact human involvement has on self-driving vehicles will continue to be tested as well. With numerous parties potentially liable for self-driving car accidents, it appears the question of whether you can sue a robocar is a question that will likely not be answered anytime soon. What is clear is that for the individual involved in a robocar accident, there are liability arguments to be made and legal recourse to be had.

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