December 2010 Archives

December 28, 2010

Recall Total: Toyota to Pay $32.4M Fine

Toyota will pay $32.4 million in fines over the company's bungled handling of recent recalls that affected millions of Toyota and Lexus vehicles, under a deal announced last week.

The 2009 and 2010 Toyota-Lexus recalls were prompted by a number of incidents in which drivers reported gas pedals "sticking" and causing unintended vehicle acceleration. The problem was that the gas pedals were getting caught in the vehicle's floor mats. These "unintended acceleration" incidents grabbed headlines and the instant attention of worried Toyota and Lexus owners. But, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, early recall efforts by Toyota -- related to the pedal/floor mat issue and a separate steering column defect -- were too narrow in scope and didn't go far enough toward fixing the problems.

So, Toyota has agreed to pay the fines in response to the DOT's assertion that the company failed to comply with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act's rules for reporting safety defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The $32.4 in fines adds up to the maximum possible penalty allowed under the law, and it's also the largest recall-related penalty ever paid by a car company, dwarfing the $1 million paid by GM in 2004, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For more information about the Toyota recalls -- and to understand the legal issues behind vehicle defects -- check out these articles from Nolo:

December 15, 2010

Drop-Side Cribs Banned by U.S. Government

Drop-side cribs have been banned under new federal safety regulations announced Wednesday (December 15, 2010) by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Some are calling it the end of an era, given the drop-side crib's huge and decades-long popularity, but others are calling the ban long overdue. In the last nine years, defective cribs have been blamed for the deaths of at least 32 children, and millions of cribs have been recalled during that time -- with many of those recalls involving defects in the drop-side mechanism of different cribs.

The ban applies to the sale, manufacture, and re-selling of any drop-side crib. Service businesses that use or offer cribs (such as day care centers and hotels) will have one year to comply with the ban, by replacing any drop-side cribs with safe and CPSC-approved fixed-side models.

The CPSC recently described the dangers of drop-side cribs this way: "When drop-side hardware breaks or deforms, the drop side can detach in one or more corners from the crib. If an infant or toddler rolls or moves into the space created by a partially detached drop side, the child can become entrapped or wedged between the crib mattress and the drop side and suffocate. Infants can also strangle in the "V" shape formed by a drop side that detaches in an upper corner."

To learn more about crib safety standards, recent recalls, and how to make sure that your child's crib is safe, check out Nolo's recent article Crib Recalls, Safety, and Litigation.

For parents and caregivers who want to ensure that cribs and other baby furniture are up to safety standards -- and not subject to any recent recalls -- the CPSC has set up a special online Crib Information Center at www.cpsc.gov/info/cribs.

December 8, 2010

Unnecessary Stents, Medical Fraud, and a Slow-Smoked Pig

A Baltimore cardiologist's alleged pattern of unnecessarily inserting stents into patients is the subject of a recent U.S. Senate committee investigation and report. The story shines a spotlight on an emerging and disturbing trend in health care: doctors and hospitals churning out procedures that may or may not be necessary, and drug and medical device manufacturers rewarding those high-volume practices. Articles in The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun can give you more details about the Senate report and all the garish attention paid to Dr. Mark Midei for inserting Abbott Laboratories stents into patients like he was going for some kind of record. Those details include 585 stent procedures that weren't medically necessary, and a celebratory $2,000-plus dinner featuring a slow-smoked pig, with the bill paid by Abbott Labs in order to honor Dr. Midei's "achievements," according to allegations. Meanwhile, every single procedure (necessary or not) brought lucrative profits, including Medicare reimbursements.

In non-emergency cases, stents are typically inserted only when an artery is completely or significantly blocked. That's because the use of stents brings serious health risks -- specifically, the increased chance that a patient will suffer blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and internal bleeding. And as the Times article points out, patients who have had stents inserted need to take blood-thinning drugs, and those medications come with their own unique risks. So it's not hard to see how inserting a stent when it's not medically necessary to do so can rise to the level of medical malpractice. Cue the hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed against Dr. Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center, according to the Times.

Looking for more information on the legal issues behind this developing story? You'll find dozens of articles and FAQs on medical malpractice cases and lawsuits involving medical devices in Nolo's Medical Malpractice and Dangerous Products and Drugs sections.