First: Don’t worry–you will still receive your Social Security benefits. The only change will be the method of delivery.
According to an article on WRAL.com, the federal government will be phasing out paper checks for all benefit programs, including Social Security, veterans’ benefits, railroad pensions, and federal disability payments. By next year, everyone will receive their payments electronically, either through direct deposit to a bank account, or onto a debit card.
About 90 percent of people who receive benefits already get them electronically. This change won’t affect those payments; it is only a push to get that hold-out 10 percent away from paper payments. The Treasury Department says that the switch will save the U.S. government about $120 million per year; Social Security will save about $1 billion over the next decade.
Some senior advocates claim that the change will pose a hardship to older people who are accustomed to dealing with a check:
“Treasury acknowledges they have a lot of education to do for people about how these things work,” said David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP. “We’re a bit concerned about how easy it’s going to be to provide education, particularly for some in this older population who are not familiar with debit cards and don’t have bank accounts.”
On the other hand, the director of the Treasury Department’s electronic funds transfer division, Walt Henderson, says that electronic payments are safer and more efficient:
“You think of that paper check floating out there in the delivery system, with personal information on it, it’s much more susceptible to fraud versus an electronic payment,” Henderson said.
Indeed, in 2010, about $540,000 in benefit checks were reported lost or stolen.
While the government is hoping for universal adoption of electronic payments, there is a recognition that some people may not be in a position to easily make the switch. People who are 90 years old or older won’t be required to change, and people can get a waiver if they can demonstrate that using a debit card would impose a hardship.
To read the full article on WRAL.com, click here: Don’t wait for SS check in the mail
To learn more about this issue and how to arrange for direct deposit, visit the Treasury Department’s Go Direct website here: http://www.godirect.org/
The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has published a document listing the ten worst insurance companies in America. To come up with this list, researchers at the AAJ undertook a comprehensive investigation of thousands of court documents, SEC and FBI records, state insurance department investigations and complaints, news accounts from across the country, and the testimony and depositions of former insurance agents and adjusters.
Is your insurer on the list?
AAJ’s List of the Worst Insurance Companies
To read the full report from the American Association for Justice, click here: The Ten Worst Insurance Companies In America
The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has released an eye-opening report called “Do As I Say, Not As I Sue,” which exposes the lawsuit-happy hypocrites of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). It lists the “top 10″ biggest corporate hypocrites, those corporations who work hard to limit our ability to sue them if we become injured by their products or services, and yet use the legal system liberally to sue others when they feel wronged.
Want some examples of the frivolous lawsuits brought by these hypocrites?
Caterpillar, which has been an ILR Board Member since 2005, manufactures heavy machinery and industrial vehicles (such as bulldozers and backhoe diggers). They have been trying to limit the ability of the public to sue them for defective products, violations of environmental laws, and other financial issues. But their biggest potential lawsuit risk comes from asbestos. According to the AAJ:
Caterpillar has spent at least $25 million trying to avoid liability for asbestos claims over the last few decades.26 Most of Caterpillar’s potential liability for the health effects suff ered by dying men and women exposed to asbestos originates from other companies that Caterpillar bought. Caterpillar, like many of the ILR corporations trying to fi nd a way out of asbestos liability, claims it never manufactured asbestos and should not be held accountable for any related health problems now. Yet Caterpillar bought those companies with full knowledge of their liabilities, and even sought insurance on the prospects of future liability.
Actually, Caterpillar also made some of its own products with asbestos, so its claim that it is innocent of any asbestos-containing products. In 2005, a jury in California awarded a Caterpillar bulldozer operator $2.3 million because he developed asbestos-related cancer just from doing his job using Caterpillar machinery.
Hypocrisy: Caterpillar sued Disney—yes, Disney—because it felt that the movie George of the Jungle 2 portrayed diggers as too villainous (because, according to the script, they were trying to destroy the jungle). An Illinois judge ruled against Caterpillar.
2. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is a pharmaceutical and medical device company. Just about every family in America has a Johnson & Johnson product at home: Band-Aids, Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl are just some of the products made by Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries.
Johnson & Johnson has had several high-profile problems that exposed it to potential liability. Most recently, the company was forced to recall DePuy hip implants, as we reported in our blog (DePuy Hip Replacement) and video (DePuy Video). The hip replacements have a high failure rate…and Johnson & Johnson allowed the devices to continue to be implanted despite years of evidence of serious problems. The company has been working to limit its liability, and is hoping to not have to answer to tens of thousands of Americans who have had its defective hip replacement product.
Hypocrisy: According to the AAJ report, in 2007, J&J sued the Red Cross– yes, the ever-helpful Red Cross—over its use of the red cross symbol. Johnson & Johnson objected to the symbol’s use on fi rst aid kits and other disaster-preparedness items created by the American Red Cross. The company sought not only the destruction of the kits, but also punitive damages against the charity and payment for its own legal fees. The American Red Cross, which was first established in 1881 by Clara Barton, had amicably shared the red cross symbol with Johnson & Johnson for more than a century.
The American Red Cross responded to the suit by saying, “For a multi-billion dollar drug company to claim that the Red Cross violated a criminal statute that was created to protect the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross – simply so that Johnson & Johnson can make more money – is obscene.” A judge eventually ruled for the American Red Cross.
We’re in a time when corporations are trying to use political leverage to reduce their liability for products that hurt the average person. They claim that they are fighting to reduce the costs of legislation, frivolous lawsuits, and unreasonable jury awards. And yet, the cost savings benefit only the corporations… and they insist on being able to pursue their own lawsuits. People who are seriously injured, perhaps even fatally, are treated as little more than a nuisance to be dismissed and denied.
Other companies named in the AAJ report are Honeywell, FedEx, Dow Chemical, General Motors, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, and Prudential. Each story seems more outrageous than the last. As the report states:
At the heart of this double standard is their corporate creed that profi ts come before people. It justifi es decisions to keep defective drugs, bulletproof vests, and cars on the marketplace, even when corporations know people may be injured or killed. It justifi es the decision to find a way to profi t off the insurance policies of dead soldiers, to dump harmful pollution, or to deny an individual’s insurance claim. And it justifi es the apparent hypocrisy behind their belief that courts are not for individuals seeking accountability for such decisions, but only for businesses seeking to maximize profits.
It is the right of the corporations of ILR to seek what they believe to be justice in a court of law. However, these corporations must recognize that this right to justice belongs not just to big business, but to all Americans.
We’d like to encourage everyone to read the AAJ report. Then, if you believe (as we do) that this is unfair to average citizens, then please contact the people who represent you in government. Tell them that you oppose legislation that reduces liability for corporations and limits your ability to receive compensation for your serious injuries. You can find the contact information for your representatives here: U.S. House of Representatives. And you can find the contact information for your senators here: U.S. Senate. For North Carolina state congress, click here: NC General Assembly.
To read the full article from the American Association for Justice, click here: Do As I Say, Not As I Sue
Everyday, 65 million family caregivers in this country fulfill a vital role taking care of a chronically ill family member. Along with doctors and specialists, family members are an important part of the caregiver team. Family caregivers are the most familiar with their sick loved ones’ medicine regimen… they are the most knowledgeable about the treatment regimen… and they understand best the dietary and exercise regimen. They are often there, in the care-giving trenches, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week… often without a vacation or break.
Every year since 1997, presidents have signed proclamations designating November as National Family Caregivers Month. Coordinated by the National Family Caregivers Association, November is set aside as a time to thank, support, educate, and empower family caregivers. The goal is to raise awareness of family caregiver issues, celebrate the efforts of family caregivers, and increase support for these unsung heroes.
In 2009′s National Family Caregivers proclamation, President Barack Obama said:
“The true strength of the American family finds its roots in an unwavering commitment to care for one another.”
Top Ways to Celebrate National Family Caregivers Month 2011
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, you can participate in National Family Caregivers Month, too, even if you are not a caretaker yourself.
At HensonFuerst, we recognize the love, dedication, and self-sacrifice of family caregivers. They get no external rewards for their hard work. All rewards are internal, the satisfaction of knowing that a family member in need was given the best, most considerate care possible. It isn’t an easy road to walk, but along the way, the view can be beautiful.
This month, during National Family Caregivers Month, we wish peace and strength to all family caregivers.
Here at HensonFuerst, we are big fans of scientific research. Scientists are some of the unsung heroes of society. So it is with all due respect that we find ourselves having to say: Was this research really necessary?
Decades of research have shown that drivers who drink alcohol have an increased risk of being involved in a car wreck. By now, it seems intuitive to say that any alcoholic or drug-induced impairment affects judgment and driving ability. Which is why we’re not sure why this research research was necessary. It seems like more money being spent to state the obvious
According to an article in ScienceDaily, researchers at Columbia University examined the link between marijuana use by drivers and risk of a car wreck. Results showed that drivers who test positive for marijuana or report driving within three hours of marijuana use are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in motor vehicle crashes. They also found that the more marijuana smoked, and the more frequently it is smoked, the higher the risk.
This is important because the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that over 10 million people age 12 or older are estimated to have driven under the influence of illicit drugs in the prior year.
The analysis indicates that 28% of fatally injured drivers and more than 11% of the general driver population tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, with marijuana being the most commonly detected substance.
We believe that it is important to crack down on all forms of impaired driving, regardless of whether the impairment is due to marijuana, prescription drugs, alcohol, texting, or even talking on a cell phone. Impairment is impairment. It seems that a better use of research funds would be to find more ways to get people to understand that message, and to prevent impaired driving in the first place.
To read the full article on ScienceDaily, click here: Marijuana Use May Double the Risk of Accidents for Drivers
To learn more about what you can do in the event of a car wreck injury, visit our website at http://www.lawmed.com/. If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.
According to an article on MSNBC.com, Ford reports three vehicle fires and one injury related to the fuel tank strap problem.
The recalled vehicles are:
Ford will notify owners in mid-September and recommend that the fuel tank straps be replaced with versions that have a greater resistance to corrosion. In addition, dealers may install a cable support under the strap an an interim repair, or a steel reinforcement over the existing straps as a permanent repair.
For more specific information, visit the recall page from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) here: Ford truck recall information
Anyone who has ever been severely injured in an accident, had surgery, or been diagnosed with a chronic illness knows that one of the most difficult parts of a doctor’s visit is trying to explain the quality and severity of your pain. Now, researchers are working to make that process easier for patients and their doctors.
“Pain research is very difficult because nothing allows the physician to see the patient’s pain directly,” says Werner Ceusters, MD, professor of psychiatry in University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and principal investigator on a new National Institutes of Health grant, An Ontology for Pain and Related Disability, Mental Health and Quality of Life. “The patient has to describe what he or she is feeling.”
Anyone who has ever lived with pain knows that describing it is no easy task. Typically, the first step is for the physician to ask about severity: On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain, and 10 is pain severe enough to send you to the emergency room, how would you describe your pain. That might be easy to rate the pain at the moment, but if you go 3 months between doctor appointments, it doesn’t suffice. Some pain spikes to level-10, but settles back at a level-5. And sometimes, living for months or years with level-6 pain can make a person feel helpless and hopeless.
The next step is to describe the pain. Healthcare workers sometimes offer a list of acceptable adjectives: Burning, stabbing, aching, sharp, dull. That doesn’t begin to cover it. What if the pain is like nothing you’ve ever felt, and the only word that seems to describe it is, simply, pain? What if the pain feels like tiny trucks are driving over your bones–does that description make sense to a doctor?
In an article in ScienceDaily, researcher Ceusters says:
…each patient’s subjective experience of pain is different. Descriptions of pain therefore lack the precision and specificity that is taken for granted with other disorders, where biomarkers or physiological indicators reveal what health-care providers need in order to assess the severity of a particular disorder.
An added complication is that people have different vocabularies, different linguistic capabilities, and different cultural backgrounds, all of which can affect how people evaluate and describe pain. That’s why Ceusters is beginning to find ways to describe pain in uniform, formal ways. His research, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, will study data gathered from thousands of patients with chronic pain in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel, and Germany.
In the end, the goal will be to represent what pain is, and how it relates to body parts, activities, and functions. According to Ceusters:
“Our goal is to create a software program that will allow all pain specialists to express themselves in crystal clear terms,” he says, “We will create a symptom checklist that can be understood by computers. We have to define the terminology of pain.”
For people whose lives are defined by pain, that is a worthy goal that could eventually lead to a greater understanding and treatment of a variety of chronic pain conditions.
We are proud advocates for nursing home residents, who often live at the mercy of abusive or neglectful staff. Now, there are rumblings in the media that people with autism may become victims of institutionalized abuse, as well. And two of the most illustrative articles have been published in The New York Times (NYT).
In April 2011, in an article titled A Generation of Autism, Coming of Age, the NYT reported that experts believe that there is a coming wave of people with autism who will soon be in need of adult services, due to the explosion of children who were diagnosed in the 1990s. It has been estimated that there will be about 500,000 children with autism who will become adults in the next 10 years. According to the article:
Services for adults with autism exist, but unlike school services, they are not mandated, and there are fewer of them. Combined with shrinking government budgets, the challenges are daunting.
“We are facing a crisis of money and work force,” said Nancy Thaler, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services. “The cohort of people who will need services — including aging baby boomers — is growing much faster than the cohort of working-age adults that provide care.”
And any time there is institutional care, there is the possibility of abuse or neglect that can lead to harm. The second NYT article, published yesterday (A Disabled Boy’s Death, and a System in Disarray), highlights what can happen when the system goes wrong. According to the article:
…on a February afternoon in 2007, Jonathan, a skinny, autistic 13-year-old, was asphyxiated, slowly crushed to death in the back seat of a van by a state employee who had worked nearly 200 hours without a day off over 15 days. The employee, a ninth-grade dropout with a criminal conviction for selling marijuana, had been on duty during at least one previous episode of alleged abuse involving Jonathan.
Stories like this may make families want to keep the child/adult at home, that may not always be possible…and it may not even be best for the individual with autism. Family members may lack the physical, emotional, or financial resources to give the kinds of support their loved ones need to thrive. It’s never too early to start thinking about what might be needed to ensure a future. According to the NYT article published in April:
…many states are providing more support for people with autism who live with their families. They are also giving families greater flexibility and control over budgets with so-called consumer-controlled services, which reimburse families that hire friends or relatives, rather than outside caregivers, for regular care. …
Some families have pooled their own money and entered into cooperatives with other families, a challenge that can take years. Families with children who have developmental disabilities “are relentless advocates and have been the most successful at garnering resources and services,” Ms. Thaler said. “I think it may be the vulnerability of people with developmental disabilities that evokes in families and professionals a level of extraordinary empathy that makes them powerful advocates.”
According to Don Meyer, the founder and director of the Sibling Support Project: “Parents need to share their plans for their special-needs child with their typically developing kids. After Mom and Dad are no longer there, it is likely it will be the brothers and sisters who will ensure their sibling leads a dignified life, living and working in the community.”
For parents facing this challenge, the advocacy group Autism Speaks offers a free guide called the Transition Tool Kit, which include information about community living, employment, educational opportunities, housing, legal matters to consider, and other resources.
At HensonFuerst, we believe that every human being deserves respect and to live in a safe atmosphere. If you believe a loved one–a child or an adult–has been abused while in someone else’s care, feel free to call us for legal guidance. We’re always available by phone at 1-800-4-LAWMED, or via our website at www.lawmed.com.
If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.
The HensonFuerst Bicycle Safety PSA Contest is back—and better than ever! The members of the law firm are again challenging North Carolina students to use their imaginations and create videos about the importance of bicycle safety. And for the first time, a second age category is being added to the contest. In addition to the contest for students in grades 9 to 12, a second contest welcomes students in grades 6 to 8.
Last year’s winner, Terrell Grice, received a Mac laptop for his outstanding entry and donated it to his video production class, known as The TAG Crew, at Douglas Byrd High School in Fayetteville. “We’ve been using the laptop for more videos, public service announcements, educational bits, and more,” said Grice, who hopes to attend the New York Film Academy and to someday produce feature-length films.
More Categories and New Rules
This year, the contest is expanding to include two age categories: grades 6 to 8 and grades 9 to 12.
Students who want to enter a public service announcement (PSA) should make their video 29 seconds long and address the importance of bicycle safety. Entries must be submitted no later than Monday, April 18. They will be judged on students’ abilities to analyze the topic and produce a quality video.
Look Mom—I’m on TV!
Prizes will be given to the students who produce the first-place entries in each age category. The winning students can choose between Apple MacBooks with movie-making software OR $1,500 gift cards to a local electronics store. The winning students’ schools also will receive monetary donations. Of the two winning entries, one will be selected to air on local television during May.
To see a complete list of rules, watch last year’s entries, and vote for your favorite videos, visit www.LawMed.com/contest/.
ALS is a thief. It robs its victims of the ability to move arms and legs, to eat without choking, to breathe. Eventually, this insidious disease robs them of life, and steals the future from their families.
ALS has robbed me of friends. These losses motivated me to become a board member of the Catfish Hunter Chapter in North Carolina. As a member of the board, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and talking with people with ALS, their families and caregivers, and the staff of this amazing organization. In the face of the physical cruelties of ALS, the caregivers and Catfish Hunter Chapter staff are among the most loving and supportive people I’ve ever met. The work they do can be classified as a daily miracle, seemingly tireless and always an inspiration.
At HensonFuerst Attorneys, our mission is to raise as much money as possible for the local chapter, and to provide funds for the caregivers and families of ALS patients. I am pleased to be captain of the HensonFuerst walk team this year’s Walk to Defeat ALS, and I encourage friends, relatives, and coworkers to help by joining the Bob Fuerst Team, or by donating funds in any amount to help us provide the financial support that is so desperately needed. The more people we can enlist and the more funds we can raise, the sooner we can bring an end to this horrible disease.
To join our team for the 2011 ALS Walk, or to donate to the team, click here: Bob Fuerst Team