Sunday, December 30, 2018

Court of Appeals finds Tennessee punitive damages cap unconstitutional

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently held that the Tennessee statute capping punitive damages is unconstitutional.  Courthouse News Services has the story here.

FDA No Longer Pursuing Rule Update to Require Generic Drug Makers To Warn Of Known Side Effects

Back in November, 2013, I posted that the FDA proposed a new regulations that would allow (and presumably encourage) generic drug manufacturers to add or update the safety warnings on their products.  In a nutshell, the key is that generics are required to use the exact same label and warnings as the brand name manufacturers.  They can't deviate and update the warnings on their own. 

You would think that manufacturers interested in making sure their products are safe would welcome the new rule.  However, because the current system works to immunize generics manufacturers, a change that would work to make the products safer would also open the door to possible liability.  Thus, as you would expect from those who are more interested in profits than safety, the manufacturers hired a consulting firm  to conduct a cost-beneift analysis of the consequences of the new rule.  And, not surprisingly, the analysis concludes that the change is not good for consumers.  You can read the report here.  Then, go here for a report by Center for Justice & Democracy (called "America’s Unaccountable Generic Drug Industry; How Legal Immunity Could Be Making You Sick") which explains how deficient the current system is. You can then form your own opinion.  For more on this issue go here, here, here, here and here (video).

In April 2015, the New York Times published story stating that
The pharmaceutical industry mounted a new challenge on Friday to a federal plan that would require generic drug companies to take the initiative to update their labels to warn consumers whenever health risks were discovered, a shift that would expose the companies to legal liability.

During a public meeting at the Food and Drug Administration, the industry proposed instead that the F.D.A. itself should decide whether new warnings on drug labels are required and, if so, order companies to make the changes. But consumer advocacy groups said the companies were trying to shift responsibility to an agency that lacks the resources to track the vast array of drugs on the market.
Not much has happened since. The rules were supposed to have been finalized in December 2015, but the FDA delayed taking action until July 2016.  Yet, no action was taken, and two weeks ago, despite years of work, and calls from both inside and outside of the agency to ensure accurate and up-to-date warnings are provided to consumers by generic drug manufacturers, the FDA posted a notice announcing the withdrawal of the proposed rule involving label changes.

AboutLawsuits has the story here.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Mississippi and Kentucky adopt exoneration requirement for malpractice claims against criminal defense attorneys

Some jurisdictions have recently abandoned the view that a convicted criminal defendant who wants to recover for malpractice against his or her former lawyer has to prove that he or she was actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.  My most recent post on this is here.   Some of those, however, still require that the plaintiffs show they were exonerated through the criminal process (or what some call "post conviction relief").  In other words, in cases in which a convicted defendant wants to sue a former lawyer alleging they would not have been convicted but for the negligence of the lawyer there are three approaches:  requiring that the defendant show actual innocence, requiring that the defendant show post conviction relief (but not necessarily innocence) and not requiring anything other than the typical elements of a torts claim.

In two recent decisions, the Supreme Courts of Mississippi and Kentucky have decided to adopt the approach that requires "exoneration" for the malpractice claim to proceed.

The case in Mississippi is called Trigg v. Farese, and you can read the opinion here.  In it, the court concludes that "We join the substantial majority of courts in holding that, because these allegations would entitle the plaintiff to relief from his underlying conviction, he must first pursue them through the criminal-justice process. In other words, a convict must “exonerate” himself by obtaining relief from his conviction or sentence before he may pursue a claim against his defense attorney for causing him to be convicted or sentenced more harshly than he should have been. To the extent prior decisions of this Court or the Court of Appeals suggest otherwise, they are overruled."

The case in Kentucky is called Lawrence v. Bingham, Greenbaum,Doll, LLP, and you can read the opinion here.  In it, the court adopted the following articulation of the Exoneration Rule: "to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a professional malpractice case against a criminal defense attorney, the convicted client must plead in his complaint that he has been exonerated of the underlying criminal conviction. He or she need not prove actual innocence, but they also may not rely solely upon a claim of actual innocence in the absence of an exonerating court decision through appeal or post-conviction order. Further, the statute of limitations on the legal malpractice claim does not begin to run until the postconviction exoneration occurs."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Kentucky Supreme Court Holds Med Mal Review Panel Law is Unconstitutional; while Puerto Rico enacts a similar law

On November 15, 2018, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that Kentucky’s Medical Review Panel Act was unconstitutional. The Act established that all potential medical malpractice suits must first be presented to a three person medical review panel before the case could be filed in State court and that only after the panel rendered its decision (or after nine months if it had not rendered a decision) that the Plaintiff could file suit in State Court.  The case is called Commonwealth of Kentucky v Claycomb and you can read it here.

The TortsProf Blog has a comment here in which, without opining on the constitutionality of the act, Prof. Chris Robinette argues the bill is (or was) a bad idea.

JD Supra has a story about the decision here

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the governor signed a law creating panels composed of 3 people--including a health expert, a public advocate, and a lawyer or former judge--to review medical malpractice claims.  Claimants, with an exclusion for the indigent, will be required to post a bond-like payment with the panel.  If the panel finds evidence of malpractice, the money will be returned.

This is a horrible idea and really bad news for the victims of medical malpractice in Puerto Rico.  It will not only delay their claims, it will make it very difficult for them to find legal representation and to get access to justice. 

Even though time and time again, studies have shown that the reasons for doctors leaving a jurisdiction of practice are rarely related to exposure to liability, the legislature and the governor argued the bill is meant to stem the exodus of doctors from Puerto Rico.  What they fail to recognize is that there is a general exodus from Puerto Rico largely caused by a long economic crisis which was made worse by the devastation caused by recent hurricanes. 

I agree with Prof. Robinette that there are better ways to handle the concern over frivolous claims.