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Archive for May, 2011

Holiday death toll on our highways isn’t just a number – those statistics are real victims

Let’s all remember to be careful out there on the roadways as the unofficial start of summer begins

Across the United States, the Memorial Day holiday weekend began last Friday and hundreds of thousands of motorists took to the highways and roadways for vacations, cook-outs, family gatherings and more.

Sadly, traffic accidents involving serious injuries and deaths were also part of this holiday weekend’s travels on our roadways.

One thing to remember is that the highway death statistics that police around the nation will be gathering and announcing in the next week or two are not just faceless numbers. Behind all the statistics, those people who died had names and lives and families and life stories all of their own.

That’s why this is a fine time to remind ourselves to drive carefully as the summer travel season begins so that we can protect ourselves, the people we love and everyone else out there traveling the roads with us.

Stock image of a serious car accident.

Image credit: ©

It’s a great time to remind ourselves not to drink alcohol or take illegal drugs and drive. Alcohol, controlled substances and driving not only don’t mix but they are deadly combinations that bring tragedy and sorrow to thousands of families each year who lose loved ones due to the terrible decisions of impaired drivers.

It’s also a great time to remember that we must pay complete attention to our driving when we are behind the wheel. That means getting rid of distractions that can endanger ourselves, our passengers and everyone else on the roads with us. That means not texting while driving. That means not using hand-held cell phones while driving. That means not eating a big messy sandwich while driving and not putting on make-up or reading the morning newspaper while driving.

It happens everywhere, every day.

It happened Sunday morning on the streets of Los Angeles, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times.

“A 14-year-old victim in a suspected drunk-driving accident early Sunday morning suffered irreversible brain damage and was being kept on life support so doctors could assess whether her organs could be donated, according to Irvine police,” the story reported. “Police identified the victim as Ashton Sweet, a student at Northwood High School.”

The teen was one of four teen girls who were traveling in a car being driven by the dad of one of the girls, the paper reported. The car they were traveling in was struck by a pick-up truck being driven by a 26-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, according to the paper. “By daybreak Monday, friends and strangers were posting condolences and anti-drunk-driving messages on a Facebook page set up in Sweet’s honor.”

The suspect, according to the paper, has had other incidents involving drinking and driving, including a guilty plea in 2009 to “driving under the influence and battery on a police officer or emergency worker.”

In New Jersey, the State Police announced last week that 230 people have died so far this year in accidents on New Jersey highways, which is up almost 18% from the 195 fatalities for the same period last year, according to a story on “Officials say there’s no clear reason for the spike, but an early analysis indicates distracted driving may be a factor,” the Web site reported.

We need to learn from these deaths and find ways to prevent them so that innocent people don’t die on our highways due to the poor decisions of others.

We must remember 14-year-old Ashton Sweet in Los Angeles and learn something from the horrific tragedy that is now upon her family as they prepare to take their young daughter off life support systems after she was critically injured in a crash by a drunk driver.

This is in our hands, every one of us, as we drive on our roadways.

Let us take the responsibility to make better decisions to protect those around us.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer handle serious injury cases every day for our clients who have been injured in similar horrific crashes. We know what these incidents do to families, victims and their lives.

If you or someone you love should be injured in a serious vehicle accident, call us here at MyPhillyLawyer and we will fight for you, help you, answer all of your questions about your case and walk you through the legal maze in fighting for you every step of the way.

When winning matters most, contact MyPhillyLawyer.

MyPhillyLawyer attorney profile: experienced attorney Bill Hobson is here to help you

As he grew up in the 1960s in the Philadelphia suburbs, William Devine “Bill” Hobson saw many of the injustices of the Civil Rights Movement on television and in newspapers and felt compassion toward the people who were marching for their rights.

He felt their pain and he began to think that he wanted to do something with his life that could help people who were in need.

“I saw some of what was going on in the Civil Rights Movement and I saw lawyers as the real shakers and movers in trying to help correct the system,” Hobson said. “I always saw lawyers as advocates trying to right these wrongs.”

Bill Hobson, photo courtesy MyPhillyLawyer

Those beliefs have been with Hobson for four decades during his work as an attorney.

In May of 2009, Bill joined MyPhillyLawyer and has been working with our team ever since to represent our clients with compassion, energy, drive and a wide range of legal expertise.

“I try to do the simple things for clients,” he said. “I find the simple things go a long way – like calling them back when they call and leave a message. I try to explain the legal process in non-legal terms and represent and advise my clients throughout the litigation system that is biased against the plaintiffs.”

“In court, in front of the judge and jury, I try to break it down and show how a serious injury affects the life of the patient, my client,” Hobson said. “I present the case in the words of my client and carefully detail how the injury that they suffered has had an effect on his or her active lifestyle.”

Becoming a lawyer became an obvious path early in his life, he said. “I think I honestly became a lawyer because I enjoy advocacy, debate, arguing and presenting a case. Actually, there’s also a little bit of a theatrical aspect. I often thought I wanted to be an actor but had no serious chance to make it in Hollywood. So I thought I would try my persuasion skills in the courtroom.”

His legal career has been varied and fascinating so far.

His first work as an attorney after law school was when he began a tour of active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served as a Lieutenant in the JAG Corps (Judge Advocate General). As a JAG officer, he represented or prosecuted members of the Coast Guard in Court Martials and other legal actions. Most of his work there was defense work for clients.

“What was amazing about the whole JAG experience is that within a week of graduating from law school, I was in a courtroom handling cases,” Hobson said. “It was very unusual, a very rapid introduction to the law in a courtroom.”

Five years later, he left his work with the JAG Corps and went to work in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., as a criminal prosecutor with the State Attorney for Broward County. There he was involved in more than 50 criminal cases in front of juries through the juvenile, major felony, drug trafficking, and sex crime divisions.

He also served in Miami, Fla., on the President’s Task Force for Drug Interdiction and as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney during the 1980s, working with federal attorneys to prosecute drug cases with the help of the Coast Guard.

In late 1988, Bill returned home to Philadelphia and worked for legendary attorney, James E. Beasley, taking on cases involving medical malpractice, product liability, premise liability and general plaintiff’s litigation. He has successfully brought cases which garnered verdicts of more than $1 million in medical and products liability cases.

By 1991, Bill went out on his own, developing a solo legal practice in Chester County while also providing risk management consultant services to health care systems with the aim of improving patient care and avoiding malpractice claims.

In 2009, he joined MyPhillyLawyer, bringing his legal skills and expertise to our growing team.

Two past legal cases remain seared in his memory.

The first involved a verdict against a Spanish gun manufacturer, which made copies of a gun made by an American maker. “My client was leaving the shooting range with one of the Spanish guns,” he said. “He had it holstered. It was a semi-automatic model that had a safety and when the gun was dropped accidentally, three rounds went off. It took off two fingers and the thumb on my client’s right hand. He was a graphics artist and the injury was career-changing.”

“Not only did we get a significant jury verdict, but I kept asking the defense if they were aware of other similar injury incidents involving this same gun and they kept denying it.”

This was all before the Internet, when Hobson had to cold call other attorneys around the country to find out if this was happening to other victims.

“We were able to find other cases with the same model of gun and were able to win the case” on behalf of his client.

In another case, his client was a man who fell in a ditch while working and went to a hospital for treatment. But because the man’s injury was labeled as a worker’s compensation case, the hospital made him wait in the emergency room for a long time. He went home, not knowing he was bleeding internally into his lungs. He was taken to another hospital where they had to do emergency surgery to save his life. Hobson sued the first hospital for medical malpractice on behalf of his client and won a $1 million verdict.

“That award was given because the jury was inflamed that the hospital treated him the way they did,” Hobson said.

A graduate of Malvern Preparatory School, Hobson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American history from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his law degree from the Widener University School of Law in 1980.

As a teen-ager, he worked in the former Hobson & Owens furniture store, which was owned by his grandfather in Bryn Mawr. His father, Abraham Hobson, was a dentist in Bryn Mawr.

Bill grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne along with seven brothers and a sister. He’s a member of St. Patrick’s Parish in Malvern.

Outside of his legal practice, he remains active as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

He and his wife, Lisa Masterson- Hobson, an RN, have been married for 26 years. They have six children and live in Malvern.

“My passions are my family – my children and my wife — and my work,” he said.

He stays busy raising his children and enjoying the study of American history, especially during the Civil War.

The truth about medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania: tort reform is not the answer unless you want to give up your rights

Pa. court report shows medical malpractice case filings down for 6th straight year.  Here’s what that means to you, your family and your legal rights

Have you been hearing the hype from the Pennsylvania Legislature that more legal reforms are needed to protect doctors and hospitals from outrageous lawsuits in the world of medical malpractice cases?

Yes, that’s what they’re talking about again, but the problem is that it’s just not true, according to a story in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In fact, for the sixth straight year, the number of medical malpractice case filings in Pennsylvania is actually down from 1,533 in 2009 to 1,491 in 2010, according to a new report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. Reports for medical malpractice cases dating back to 2000 are also listed by the agency, showing the actual declines over the last six years.

Image credit: ©

“In 2002 — the year malpractice lawsuits peaked at 2,904 — new rules designed to weed out frivolous lawsuits took effect, and experts credit those rules with the decline in lawsuits in the years that followed,” the Tribune-Review reported. “One requires plaintiffs to get another doctor in the same field to sign off on the claims, showing the suit had merit. Another requires malpractice claims to be filed in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred. That prevents lawyers from filing cases in counties where they believe juries will be more sympathetic, lawyers said.”

Present law states that “ if a jury finds a company or doctor liable — even 1 percent — the company or doctor could have to pay an entire multimillion-dollar verdict if other defendants cannot pay,” the newspaper reported. “The proposed Fair Share Act, which passed the state House, would hold defendants responsible only for the portion of the verdict a jury assigns to them if it is less than 60 percent. Defendants judged to have a liability of more than 60 percent could still pay an entire award.”

The problem with proposed rules like this is that they artificially limit damages that are available to a plaintiff who is grievously injured by the mistake of a doctor, nurse or hospital, and that’s just not fair.

How bad is this for victims?

In Texas in 2003, a legislative “reform” movement initiated damage caps in medical malpractice cases that limit damages for pain and suffering to $250,000. That means that no matter how horrific the injuries are for a patient, no matter their age, no matter how hugely their lives are changed by their injuries, all they can receive at most for pain and suffering is $250,000.

If that was you or someone in your family, would that be enough if you could no longer hold your children, take them for a walk, ride a bicycle, enjoy a game of golf or do any of the other activities we can take for granted?

Of course not.

One of our clients, a 52-year-old man, went in to a hospital for a routine procedure and a doctor stabbed a needle into his spine improperly, rendering the man a paraplegic. Since the man was already on medical disability in an unrelated case, he would suffer no lost wages from his horrific additional injuries, so he could not sue for damages such as lost wages. If he lived in Texas, that cap of $250,000 for pain and suffering would be so unjust it is ridiculous.

Through no fault of his own, he is unable to move his legs ever again. He is propelled in a wheelchair and has to wear diapers. He can’t be active outdoors like he was before his medical procedure.

Such damage caps not only harm patients but they unfairly reward doctors and hospitals for their negligence. Who is to say that certain cases are arbitrarily worth certain amounts for damages, even after your life is turned upside down?

If you could estimate that man’s damages for pain and suffering at $30 million, and juries do it all the time, then why is it fair that the patient has to settle for only $250,000 in a place like Texas? It’s especially galling when you realize that a doctor and hospital in Texas would only have to pay the $250,000 arbitrary amount of damages because they have extra legislative protections.

This is wrong that people are harmed and have long-term, intense, life-changing pain and suffering and that politicians and the medical profession want to somehow give doctors and hospitals special protections from paying for their horrific mistakes.

This, unfortunately, is a slippery legal slope. If damage caps on pain and suffering are enacted here in Pennsylvania in medical malpractice cases, then it might only be a matter of time until such arbitrary limits can be foisted on all of us in auto accidents cases and other types of legal fights.

It’s almost unconscionable in so many cases if we were to limit someone’s pain and suffering recovery to only $250,000.

Reform supporters say it is all aimed at making sure that doctors and hospitals can afford to stay in business, that their expensive malpractice insurance is harming their livelihoods.

Baloney. Instead, if doctors and hospitals were more careful, more dedicated to patient care and avoided causing such injuries to their patients in the first place, then sympathetic juries wouldn’t be rewarding millions of dollars in pain and suffering awards to deserving  injured victims.

We don’t need arbitrary limits for someone else’s pain or suffering. That’s what juries are there to decide, based on the merits of a case. Yes, once in a blue moon juries don’t get it right, but in the vast majority of cases the system works. Yes, there are cases out there where juries sometimes incorrectly award an outrageous sum in a case, but that’s actually very few and far between in reality.

On the other side, there are also cases where a jury didn’t necessarily understand a case and they fail to give a deserving plaintiff a damage award. It works both ways.

This is a true, god-awful  mess that we have, but limiting the rights of victims who have been seriously harmed is no way to fix it.

So what do all of these new court statistics mean and why should this be important to you, a health care consumer?

What the lower numbers of medical malpractice court filings mean is that the claims of the tort reform lobby are wrong – we don’t need any new laws that restrict the rights of injured people to sue for damages in medical malpractice cases because the alleged problem – a soaring number of cases – just isn’t so.

The rate of cases is actually declining, as the report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts clearly shows.

Instead, what is not needed is the creation of arbitrary damage award limits that would tragically harm patients who have been grievously injured by doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, hospitals and other medical professionals who made mistakes in their care. Those victims should not have to face arbitrary damage award limits due to no fault of their own.

The claims by hospitals, medical professionals and their lobbyists that such cases are hampering the abilities of medical professionals to do their jobs is outrageous. What’s outrageous is if a patient is injured by a medical mistake and cannot recover an adequate amount of damages to pay for their life-changing pain and suffering.

We have seen too many cases where a patient went in to a hospital for a routine medical procedure and came out with life-changing injuries due to a medical mistake, such as lack of oxygen during a procedure, to birth injury cases where a child was severely injured and will never live a normal life.

Those are the people who deserve to have damage awards that will help them and their families as they work to survive their grievous injuries. Those people need not face arbitrary damage award caps or rules that are really designed to protect insurance companies and medical professionals at the expense of injured patients.

Six straight years of a declining number of medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania is graphic proof that the system is working well as it stands today. Damage caps and other new medical malpractice “reforms” are not needed.

Instead, such changes will harm patients who have been injured and make their lives more difficult.

If you or someone you love is ever injured in such a case, you certainly wouldn’t want them to be subject to an arbitrary damage award limit for their horrific injuries. It just would not be fair and it would hurt victims all over again.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer will stand by you if ever you or a family member is ever injured in a medical malpractice case that results in serious injuries.

We will fight every fight on your behalf and we will be your advocates, your trusted advisers and your experienced and skilled counsel every step of the way.

When winning matters most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

Injured on the job? Time to call a lawyer to protect your legal rights

Every day, many thousands of workers are injured on the job in the U.S. and require medical treatment or hospitalization.

And when those injuries occur, many times workers aren’t adequately covered by insurance or cared for by their employers.

They are injured and then their legal rights aren’t protected because they don’t have someone who is looking out for them as their personal legal advocate. Insurance companies and employers don’t want injured victims to secure legal advice and counsel.

A worker is treated by rescue workers at the scene of a workplace injury in this stock photo. Image credit: ©

But that’s exactly when you need to bring in a caring, compassionate and skilled attorney to ensure that your injuries are properly treated, that your income isn’t adversely affected and that your legal rights are completely protected.

It happens all the time to workers in factories, stores, mines and a myriad of other workplaces.

The 29 coal miners who died April 5, 2010 in an explosion in a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia perished due to problems and safety risks that were caused by their employer, according to a state report that was released today. The 120-page report, which was produced by a team of independent investigators who burrowed through mounds of records related to the tragedy, “echoed preliminary findings by federal officials that the blast could have been prevented if Massey had observed minimal safety standards,” according to a story today in The New York Times. The report “put the blame squarely on the owner of the mine,” the paper said. “The story of [the] Upper Big Branch [mine] is a cautionary tale of hubris,” the report concluded. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking.”

No one was looking out to protect them in that mine.

Sometimes workplace injuries occur through incidents that appear to be truly accidental.

Earlier this week, a tree trimming worker in Lancaster County died when he fell from the bucket of the cherry-picker truck that he was using to trim trees, according to an Associated Press story from the (Lancaster) Intelligencer Journal/New Era newspaper. The victim, a 40-year-old York man, “was working in the truck’s bucket, about 50 feet up, when a pivot on the bucket broke and he fell to the ground,” the story reported.

Outwardly, incidents like this appear to be a tragic accident.

But a skilled attorney can help get to the bottom of such a tragedy and find out critical details, such as the condition and maintenance records of the bucket truck and the training of the crew, to help a grieving family recover adequate damages for the horrors they are experiencing through the shocking death of their loved one. If a company didn’t adequately protect its workers and a terrible injury or death occurs, a skilled attorney can help make it right for a family that is left behind.

In Yakima, Wash., a company was fined $5,200 earlier this week in connection with a industrial blast last December that injured several workers inside a warehouse, according to a story in the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper.

The explosion at the Hops Extract of America plant in Yakima occurred after several bolts were not properly installed on high-pressure equipment in the facility, according to a report from the state Department of Labor and Industries. One worker was critically injured and several other workers were treated and released for their injuries after the blast, according to the paper.

These kinds of incidents and injuries happen across the country to workers who simply came to work to do their jobs.

About 3.3 million workers were injured in workplace accidents in 2009, the last year that complete statistics are available, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s down from 3.7 million injuries in 2008, according to the agency.

In addition, 4,340 workers died on the job in 2009, the last year that complete government statistics are available, according to the BLS.

All of these incidents and statistics serve as grim reminders that workers must have a legal advocate in on their side when they are injured in a serious workplace accident.

Here at MyPhillyLawyer, we have handled thousands of such workplace injury cases between the attorneys on our skilled staff.

We stand ready to talk with you about your case and your debilitating workplace injuries to help you recover and get back on your feet both physically and economically.

Let our broad experience and our caring, professional and expert legal staff work to help you and your family make your way through the legal challenges ahead as you heal.

When winning matters most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

Swimming pool season is here: are the pools that your family swims in safe?

Increase the safety of your family and guests and reduce your legal liability

The unofficial start of summer – the Memorial Day holiday weekend – isn’t even here yet and already there have been 37 drownings and 38 near-drownings across the U.S. so far this year, according to government statistics.

That’s a lot of tragedies and the peak swimming season hasn’t even begun for most communities in the nation.

To better protect and prepare your family and your property, and to protect your legal rights and liability in connection with swimming injuries, there are several key issues you should keep in mind.

Image credit: ©

Image credit: ©

First, whether it is your own pool, a private pool, a public pool or a pool that operates through a business, hotel or any other establishment, always watch children at all times to be sure they are safe, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its Pool Safely safety campaign.

An average of 385 children under 15 years of age died annually in the U.S. due to pool or spa drownings from 2005 through 2007, according to the CPSC.

As a homeowner, you must be vigilant, pro-active and firm about setting safety rules and enforcing them so that guests and family members aren’t accidentally injured or worse.

Here are some key pool and spa rules from the group, Safe Kids USA, to adopt at your home so that you can protect yourself, your family and your guests:

*Actively supervise your children around water at all times, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.

*Be sure that your pool has four-sided fencing at least four-feet-tall all the way around it. as well as a self-closing, self-latching gate. This protects a child from being able to access your pool and enter it when no one is around. It also protects you from legal action by shutting your pool off to non-authorized users. Be sure to also cover and lock your hot tub when it’s not being used to protect others and to protect yourself legally.

*Safe Kids USA also recommends installing a door alarm, a window alarm or both to alert you if a child wanders into the pool area unsupervised.

*Teach your children and any young visitors that they should never, ever go near the water if an adult is not nearby and directly watching them.

*Enroll your child in swimming lessons after age 4, the group also recommends. Be sure that they know how to tread water, float and stay by the pool wall.

*Know CPR and know how to respond properly and quickly to any type of water emergency in your pool, spa or hot tub on your property.

*Don’t allow the use of bottles or glass dishware near the pool to prevent injuries.

*Don’t allow anyone to run or play near the edge of the pool. Accidents can and do happen.

*Don’t allow consumption of alcohol or drugs around the pool, especially for any adults who are there in a supervisory role with children.

*Use non-slip materials on the surfaces around the pool to prevent accidental falls into the pool.

*Use a properly-sized pool cover when the pool is unoccupied as another layer of protection from accidental drownings.

*Be sure that anyone who gets into the pool knows how to swim and understands you safety rules.

*Check local pool safety requirements in your town and be sure that you adhere to them to limit your legal liability.

*Equip your pool with proper handrails and ladders at each end for safe entry and exit from the pool.

*If you have a diving board, be sure that the pool is sufficiently deep to protect from serious diving injuries.

*Mark water depths on the sides of the pool so visitors understand how deep it is and can stay within their comfort levels.

*Constantly check for damaged fasteners, protruding bolts and other safety issues that could cause injuries to protect your legal interests.

*Have needed safety equipment on hand by the pool, including life preservers, rescue ropes and a first aid kit, and be sure you are trained in using them all.

Not all accidents and incidents happen at home, however. If you are visiting a pool that is maintained by another individual or a business, you need to understand your legal rights if you are injured due to improper maintenance, facilities or other problems.

Meanwhile, there are other dangers in pools, including entrapments – where a person is trapped by the powerful suction of an underwater pool drain that prevents them from surfacing and getting air.

According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2009, there were 94 reports of pool, spa or whirlpool entrapment incidents that left 12 people dead and injured another 79. About 75% of those victims were under 15 years of age and 50% of the cases involved swimming pools. The victims died or were injured due to broken or missing outlet covers on the drains, which allowed them to be held against the drain underwater due to the pressure of the draining water from which they could not escape.

Such tragedies led in 2007 to the passage of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act), named for a little girl who died in such an accident in 2002 in a hot tub. Virginia Graeme Baker was the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III. The law, which went into effect in December of 2008, mandated new requirements for pool and spa safety and led to the national promotion of pool safety efforts.

This past March, the CPSC issued a press release describing how some pool drain covers that were believed to comply with the P&SS Act might have been improperly tested, leading users of some drain covers to have covers that might not have an adequate level of protection. The investigation into the improper testing is continuing.

“The CPSC is working to ensure that the public is not endangered by unsafe drain covers in pools and spas,” the agency said in the press release. Gravity drainage systems and large, unblockable drain covers are not part of this investigation.

“CPSC urges pool and spa owners to contact their service providers and product manufacturers for additional information on the testing and certification of drain covers” in the meantime, the agency said. “Heightened caution should always be exercised by pool operators, parents and caregivers in keeping children away from pool and spa drains and other openings. The risk to swimmers from a non-compliant drain cover is greatest in shallow kiddie pools, wading pools, or pools or spas with single main drain systems.”

Just last month, a Connecticut pool contractor pleaded guilty to a charge of criminally negligent homicide – a misdemeanor – in connection with the 2007 death of a six-year-old boy who died in a pool entrapment incident, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal this week. The boy, Zachary Cohn, was entrapped underwater by a drain in the pool the contractor installed at the boy’s home.

The contractor, David Lionetti, the president of a Stamford, Conn.-based pool company, was originally charged with manslaughter after his company “failed to install a required safety device” that would have shut off the pump if a person or object were caught in the drain, the story reported.

The case highlights some of the critical legal issues involving swimming pools and safety.

If you or someone in your family is injured in a swimming pool accident or incident, the skilled and compassionate personal injury attorneys here at MyPhillyLawyer are available to help you and discuss your case and legal options.

Be safe, be careful and enjoy the upcoming summer season.

Legal update: Contaminated pastries from Rhode Island bakery kill two, dozens sickened

What you need to know about your legal rights when it comes to commercially-prepared foods and protecting your family from foodborne pathogens

Two elderly people in Rhode Island have died since March and dozens of other people have been seriously sickened due to apparent Salmonellosis infections after they ate pastries from a bakery that didn’t properly refrigerate the pastry ingredients.

The incident is another in a series of food poisoning cases that occasionally occur across the nation, providing an excellent reminder that we all have to be vigilant about the food we buy and feed to our families.

The Rhode Island case involves the sale and consumption of special cream-filled holiday pastries from DeFusco’s Bakery in Johnston, R.I., according to a story earlier this week in The Boston Globe. Lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of at least 18 victims who ate the pastries and were sickened, the story said.

Image credit: ©

Image credit: ©

The pastries were apparently infected with Salmonella bacteria, which cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after infection.

The bakery was ordered to stay closed by state health inspectors last month after inspectors found “many food-safety violations at the bakery, including two unrefrigerated buckets of custard used for the pastries, pastry shells in cardboard boxes that previously held raw eggs, and utensils and equipment that weren’t being sanitized,” according to a story in The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

The Rhode Island health department investigation into the spreading illness reports in March and April quickly determined that the illnesses were related to pastries that came from the bakery, according to a press release from the agency.

The agency issued a recall of all baked goods from the bakery beginning on March 25 and listed all of the Rhode Island stores, restaurants and other organizations that sold the special zeppole cream-filled pastries.

At least 79 cases of related illnesses were reported, including one in Massachusetts, from March 14 through April 7 of this year, according to the agency. Thirty of the victims were hospitalized. Forty-eight victims were confirmed by lab tests to have suffered salmonella poisoning, the agency reported. Two of the victims – both elderly – died.

The pastries were also distributed and sold in other bakeries, according to the agency.

Salmonella infections can be very serious, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.

About 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States each year, leading to about 400 deaths annually, according to the CDC.

Young children, the elderly and people with immune system weaknesses are most likely to suffer severe infections, according to the CDC.

“Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces,” according to the CDC. “Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs, but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom.”

To prevent Salmonella, the Vermont Department of Health recommends these basic guidelines:

  • Always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before eating, before and after preparing food, and after using the toilet, changing diapers or playing with pets.
  • Make sure all food products from animal sources are thoroughly cooked, especially poultry and egg products. Egg yolks should be firm. Meat and poultry products should not be pink.
  • Do not eat raw or cracked eggs, unpasteurized milk, cheese made with unpasteurized milk, or any other unpasteurized dairy products. Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated and thoroughly reheated.
  • Avoid contaminating any food that will not be cooked with food products from animal sources. For example, wash your hands and all utensils and surfaces that have been in contact with raw poultry before you make a salad. Stuffing should never be stored in poultry
  • When caring for a person with Salmonella, promptly and properly dispose of, or launder, any material that becomes contaminated with stool. Thoroughly wash your hands after such contact.
  • Young children and other people with special needs may require extra help with hand washing after using the toilet.

Salmonella, of course, isn’t the only foodborne pathogen that can hurt you.

An E.coli 0157:H7 outbreak in late 2006 killed three people and sickened at least 200 others (confirmed cases, not including people who didn’t seek medical attention) after they ate fresh spinach which was contaminated, according to the CDC.

Part of the problem in the Rhode Island cases, according to a story in The Providence Journal, is that there are only seven food inspectors in the state’s Office of Food Protection – and they have to cover some 8,000 food-related businesses, from restaurants to grocery stores to bakeries, cafeterias, farm stands and more.

“And as news reports continued about people who fell gravely ill, some began asking whether Rhode Island is investing enough money in food inspections,” The Providence Journal story reported.

That’s not uncommon to have state agencies that are pushed to their limits with responsibilities, especially in the tough state budget climates that are being seen across the nation.

What this all means is that we all have to be even more careful about the food we buy to be sure it is safe for our families.

At the same time, if you or someone in your family is ever seriously sickened and hospitalized due to food they have eaten from a commercial food outlet, whether it be a restaurant, bar, grocery store or other source, then it would be wise to protect your legal rights and speak with a qualified, caring and compassionate attorney to review your case.

Food poisoning can be a very serious illness and if not treated quickly, it can lead to much more severe health problems or even death.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you. Call us and talk with us about your case.