Friday, 15 December 2017

It Only Affects 14,000 Doctors. And Their Patients.

New York’s largest medical malpractice insurance company is owned by its doctors. But pretty soon, it will be sold to Warren Buffet’s profit-hungry Berkshire Hathaway. And that’s gonna be a problem.

That company is Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company, which insures over 14,000 New York doctors and is one of the largest such companies in the nation.

And when its doctors are sued for negligence they hire some of the most competent trial lawyers in the city. Doctors, after all, are not shy about demanding the best.

Many of the current gaggle of defense firms were created from the mid-90s dissolution of Bower and Gardner, one of the largest — if not literally the largest — medical malpractice defense firms in the nation.

Unlike BigLaw firms that do “litigation” these folks actually go out and try cases, and know how to do it well. While every large firm has its bad apples, and this biz is no exception, their reputation is, on the whole, excellent.

So what are the ramifications of this sale to a publicly traded company? For doctors? For patient/litigants? For lawyers?

For doctors, I think this is a losing proposition, regardless of the dollars involved when they get bought out, and my reasoning is simple. Currently, MLMIC owes its allegiance to the doctors that own it and run it. But once sold to Berkshire Hathaway, company loyalty shifts to the shareholders. Warren Buffet, after all, is buying this business for the profits it will make for its shareholders. In fact, the very essence of a publicly traded corporation is that fiduciary duty to the shareholders.

It doesn’t matter if you call that profit motive a bug or a feature of capitalism, that’s the way it is. It’s a plain fact that publicly owned companies and privately owned companies owe their loyalty to different constituencies. Wall Street demands profits, and they don’t care too much whose hide it comes from.

How will this manifest itself? First, by trying to trim costs, of course. And part of that will likely mean trying to trim legal fees.

I fully expect to see a new raft of medical malpractice defense firms, who will pitch their business to Berkshire by undercutting the rates of those that currently lead the defense bar. They will try to trim their prices by focusing more on volume, less on quality. And these firms will hire less experienced (cheaper) attorneys to do the work, so that they can give that lower legal rate to their new masters at Berkshire.

And that will be very bad for the docs.

One of the great advantages that small firms have over large ones is that the small firm lawyer generally knows everything there is no to know about a case — every nuance. But when firms do volume, that nuance is lost. The experienced small firm lawyer that sees a constantly shifting parade of big firms come in on a case with inexperienced lawyers has an advantage.

How does this affect the patients, who are now litigants? Well, if the case is part of a volume practice for the defense firm, it is less likely that a savvy defense lawyer or adjuster will recognize the dangers ahead and move to settle the case. The matter gets prolonged.

Now a case being prolonged isn’t always bad for an insurance company, as they make money by investing the float — those premiums that they have taken in but not yet paid out in claims. The insurance business model is, of course, to take in as much as you can in premiums, pay out as little as possible, and invest the money in the interim.

In my younger days, no medical malpractice case ever settled until jury selection, even if a sponge or clamp was errantly left behind. In recent years, however, the insurance carriers have become more savvy and recognized they could get a discount with an early settlement on clear liability cases, and that this discount (along with savings on the legal fees) might well exceed the interest on the float that they might make by stalling. (If interest rates go up, of course, that could change.)

On the one hand, this delay could be very bad for desperate plaintiffs who might not be able to work anymore. The reality, however, is that this scenario is already exploited when possible.  Desperate plaintiffs don’t do as well, in general, as “tell ’em to go pound sand” plaintiffs. The delay tool is used in some cases, but not all.

But once they get to trial, plaintiffs will magically have the driver’s seat. Now there’s  a jury to be reckoned with. The discount factor for early settlement has evaporated, and settlement demands may become more firm, or even rise (as I’ve done on multiple occasions).

My opinions stem, in part, from the fact that Berkshire owns other insurance companies, one of which is Geico. Geico doesn’t exactly enjoy the best of reputations in New York, and on many occasions I think it has put its own insured at risk of excess verdicts due to a refusal to make early good faith settlement offers.

And one would naturally expect the new MLMIC to follow in those footsteps as they will now answer to the same masters. The problem, however, is that an excess verdict means a hell of a lot more to a doctor than it does to a minimum wage worker with a minimal auto policy.

Will the Gecko treat doctors the way it now treats others that it insures? The best guess from my little corner of cyberspace, is yes. I don’t think that selling itself to Berkshire will end well for the doctors.

I would not be surprised at all if, within 5 years, a new medical malpractice insurance company is born in New York, once again owned by doctors, with the interests of doctors as its priority, instead of a bunch of Wall Street traders.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018. It was first announced last year.

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Facts About Drunk Driving

As a licensed driver in Georgia, you’re well-aware of the fact that you can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. But how much do you actually know about drunk driving? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Every day, almost 29 people in the United States die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes – that’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016.” The NHTSA continues, “Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely."

In Georgia, the offense of drunk driving is covered under O.C.G.A. 40-6-391. Under Section 40-6-391(a), it says, “A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle” while they are under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it makes him or her less safe to drive. It’s also illegal to drive under the influence of any drug, glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the extent it’s made it less safe for the person to drive.

Now that you have a basic understanding of DUI, let’s take a look at some drunk facts that the average person is not aware of:

  • A DUI can be a misdemeanor or a felony, but most DUIs are misdemeanors.
  • A person can be charged with DUI even if they had little to drink. Their blood alcohol content (BAC) can be less than the .08% legal limit and they can still be charged.
  • Many medications are very dangerous if mixed with alcohol and actually intensify the effects of alcohol.
  • Coffee, energy drinks and a cold shower do not sober a person up, only time does.
  • If a drunk driver is in an accident, they can face criminal charges and a civil lawsuit (personal injury claim) filed by the victims.
  • A felony DUI can trigger removal proceedings for Green Card holders.
  • A DUI typically leads to a driver license suspension for the accused.
  • A DUI can lead to loss of employment, the denial of scholarships, and the denial or cancellation of a professional license.
  • A DUI leads to a permanent criminal record.
  • Stress can lead to alcohol abuse, which can lead to addiction.
  • Alcohol abuse is linked to violence, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
  • Impairment starts after the first sip, so it’s important to never drink and drive!

Hit By a Drunk Driver?

Has your life been turned upside-down because of a drunk driving crash? Even if the drunk or drugged driver is facing criminal charges, you can still file a personal injury claim. To learn more, contact our firm to meet with a Kennesaw personal injury lawyer for free!

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Monday, 4 December 2017

Kids, the Worst Distraction Behind the Wheel?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Distracted driving is dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone.” So, what counts as distracted driving?

“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system – anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving,” according to the NHTSA.

If you’re a parent, or if you’re a babysitter who drives children around, we want to discuss the issue of children being a serious driving distraction. According to an article published by ABC News, “one of the worst distractions might be something parents do every day: driving with kids in the backseat of the car.

Study Finds Kids 12 Times More Distracting

“In a first-of-its-kind study, Australian researchers found that children are 12 times more distracting to the driver than talking on a cell phone while at the wheel,” reported ABC. The study found that on average, parents take their eyes off the road for nearly three-and-a-half minutes during a trip that lasts 16 minutes.

Common kid-related distractions faced by parents:

  • Crying babies
  • Screaming toddlers
  • Children who are fighting
  • Children asking for snacks
  • Children spilling drinks in the vehicle
  • Children dropping toys and asking for them
  • Children throwing objects into the front seat
  • Teenagers who are rowdy in the backseat

If you have found driving with children to be stressful, you are not alone. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid driving with children, though we can minimize trips as much as possible by asking our spouse, friends or family members to watch our children while running errands. Of course, for some parents, this just isn’t an option.

To enhance safety while driving with children you can:

  • Schedule trips during naptime so your child sleeps.
  • Don’t let small children eat solids while you drive as this increases the chance of choking while you’re on the road.
  • Make a rule that you do not pick up dropped items while behind the wheel.
  • Feed your children before you leave the house.
  • If you have children in diapers, make sure they’re changed and dry before heading out the door.
  • Consider investing in a portable DVD player or outfitting your vehicle with one.
  • Never ever text while driving, especially when your kids are in the car.

We hope this information helps you enjoy safer road trips. If you were involved in a car accident in Kennesaw, contact Jones & Swanson for a free case evaluation.

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Friday, 1 December 2017

Cellino & Barnes Divorce Gets Uglier

Sometimes a divorce is amicable. The divorce of Cellino and Barnes, however, is not one of those times.

Back in May I wrote how this large personal injury firm — based in upstate New York but expanded not only to downstate but out to California as well — had collapsed.  Some told me privately that I was jumping the gun, and that collapse was too strong a word for this fight.

I speculated back then that the two main reasons for a firm of this size to collapse were money and ego. It appeared to me at the time, based on press accounts and court filings, that Stephen Barnes had already crossed the Rubicon and that there was no going back in his relationship with Ross Cellino, Jr.

And now we see this from the Buffalo News:

Money continues to roll in by the millions of dollars — but there’s no harmony between battling law partners Ross M. Cellino Jr. and Stephen E. Barnes.

On Tuesday, Barnes accused Cellino of trying to burn the Cellino & Barnes law firm “to the ground,” regardless of how many employees are hurt.

But if you think burn to the ground is harsh language, it doesn’t compare to this Barnes comment that comes in legal filings over whether a receiver should be appointed to resolve deadlocked issues regarding the dissolution of the firm. As per Cellino, Barnes said:;

“I don’t give a f–k, I will burn the place to the ground and start over with one lawyer. I have the resources. F–k it, f–k Steve and f–k Daryl. Let all these f–king lawyers spend the next 20 years with Steve”

On the flip side of this nastiness is Cellino’s allegation in a November 29th affidavit that Barnes has already set up his own competing law firm and has used Cellino and Barnes assets/personnel to assist in doing so.

The TV and radio ads continue, by the way with an astounding $4.6 million spent from in 2017 through the end of November. In that same Cellino affidavit, he says that it makes no financial sense to continue spending money on a brand that will soon cease to exist. And they spend about $65,000 per month on pay-per-click advertising.

That’s a lot of money, in case you were thinking of following in their footsteps. But remember that money doesn’t buy happiness.

An old proverb states that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I’m not sure why that’s limited to women, however, as the emotions related to betrayal, ego, rejection, insult and revenge are all very powerful and cause people to do crazy things. That happens in relationships both personal and business.

This fight, with over 200 documents filed already, won’t be ending soon (or happily).


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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Sleighbells on the Square - Saturday, December 9

The Marietta and Cobb County areas are looking more and more festive as we enter the holiday season. With Thanksgiving behind us, the next exciting event on the calendar for the Jones & Swanson staff is the Annual Sleighbells on the Square 5K/1K Tot Trot. This is the 17th Annual Sleighbells event and is scheduled for Saturday, December 9th on the Marietta Square.

While Sleighbells is a Peachtree Qualifying race and is USATF certified, it’s not meant only for serious racers. Anyone can attend and walk or run the race along with so many others in festive Christmas spirits.

Sleighbells on the Square 2017

We look forward to this event each year and are sponsoring, along with others from the community and the Cobb County Bar Association. The race raises funds for the Children’s Emergency Fund – an organization that works with the Cobb County and Marietta City School Districts in assisting students and their families with emergency financial needs. The Children’s Emergency Fund has played an integral part in the lives of countless children and their families, and it is a program that Jones & Swanson actively and proudly supports.

As always, the course begins and ends in historic Marietta Square – rain or shine. Participants will travel through Marietta neighborhoods before returning to the square for the award ceremony. All participants receive a long sleeve moisture wicking shirt and jingle bells on shoes are encouraged!

For more details about the event, please visit Registration, schedule of events, parking information, and packet pickup can all be found on the website.

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Turkey Frying Safety

The holidays are notorious for sparking an increase in injuries, leaving many people struggling to handle the financial, emotional, and physical consequences of these unexpected accidents. While they are meant to be a joyous time, holidays such as Thanksgiving do unfortunately see an increase in these incidents. Many people have adopted the tradition of deep frying their turkey for Thanksgiving, as it is generally far faster than using an oven. However, by using a fryer of this size, you are risking quite a lot--though we do not recommend against using a deep-fryer for your turkey, we suggest you are careful to ensure you have a safe Thanksgiving.

Consider the following safety tips for deep frying your turkey:

  • Always deep fry outside and away from anything flammable, such as a wooden deck, plants, etc. Keep the fryer in a place with good ventilation.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of where the fryer is in order to avoid knocking it over.
  • Properly thaw the turkey, as the moisture could risk an explosion.
  • Follow any and all instructions specific to your fryer.
  • Protect your skin and eyes from oil splatters.
  • Keep an eye on the fryer’s temperature.

Contact Our Marietta Personal Injury Attorneys Today

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident this Thanksgiving season, look no further for a trusted Marietta personal injury lawyer than ours at Jones & Swanson. We understand no one plans to be injured during this happy time, which is why our legal team wants to take the reins on your behalf. We will ensure we do everything in our power to deliver you the most positive and successful results possible for the compensation you deserve.

Don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our firm by calling (770) 884-6652.

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