2014: The Year of the Recall


As we reflect on the year that was in 2014 one industry dominated the headlines in the field of consumer safety and not for good reasons. The automotive industry recalled more vehicles in 2014 than in any other year. The New York Times reports that more than 60 million vehicles were recalled in the United States in 2014, more than twice the prior record year of 2004. There were about 700 recall announcements affecting the equivalent of one in five vehicles on the road today.


The year of the recall was highlighted by the massive General Motors ignition switch defect recall that has been linked to at least 42 deaths. Here is an informative timeline of how that defect was discovered and covered up before finally being exposed and officially recalled. A compensation fund was finally set up to compensate those affected by the defective condition.


The Takata exploding airbag crisis came on the heels of the G.M. ignition switch defect recall. As of November, 11 automakers had recalled more than 14 million vehicles because of rupture risks to airbags manufactured by component supplier Takata. We highlighted a New York Times article regarding secret tests conducted by Takata when it discovered and covered up the problem. At least 139 injury claims have been received regarding the airbag defect which can spew metal or chemicals into the occupant compartment upon deployment of the airbag.


The good that has come from all of this is that automakers may be realizing they need to promptly address known safety issues instead of trying to sweep them under the rug. Also it appears manufacturers are trying to go above and beyond the minimum required recall letter to notify affected owners. Given the number of affected vehicles the most important thing you can do is search the vehicles you own for any active recalls.

Airbag Maker Takata Believed to have Conducted Secret Tests on Airbags


The New York Times reports that two former Takata employees say that the company secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags in 2004. These employees claim that two of the 50 airbags tested had their steel inflators crack during testing, which can lead to a rupture of the inflator and failure of the airbag in a crash.


The former employees stated that the result was so startling, that engineers began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall. However, instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflators in the trash.


The secret tests, which have not been previously disclosed, were performed after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays during summer 2004 at Takata's American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the former employees said. This testing took place four years before Takata, in regulatory filings, says that it first tested the problematic airbags. The results from the later tests led to the first recall over airbag rupture risks in November 2008.


Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag's steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys in a crash. The airbags are inflated by means of a propellant, based on a common compound used in fertilizer that is encased in the canister which together is known as the inflator.


The article also highlights manufacturing quality control issues that arose as Takata struggled to keep up with demand for its airbags. Emails show workers raising concerns that airbag units were being delivered to automakers wet or damaged because of transportation mishaps. Closed-circuit television footage shows forklifts dropping stacks of the airbag units.


Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blame Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that ruptured or spewed metal or chemicals. Takata is one of the world's largest suppliers of airbags, accounting for about one-fifth of the global market.

New Study Finds Malpractice Reform Weak on Savings


The Washington Post is reporting that a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine debunks the myth that medical malpractice "reform" correlates with health care savings. Specifically the study disproves the notion that medical malpractice lawsuits drive physicians to order other unnecessary tests and supposed legal reforms reduce such wasteful spending.


The study looked at three states that have implemented some measure of medical malpractice "reform" (Texas, Georgia and South Carolina). The study compared these "reform" states with neighboring states which have lower barriers for bringing malpractice lawsuits. Researchers reviewed more than 3 million Medicare claims for three main metrics: how often ER physicians ordered advanced imaging studies — the most common defensive medicine procedures ordered by ER doctors (and among the most expensive), the rate of inpatient admissions following ER visits, and total charges for an ER visit.


If the so called "tort reforms" freed up doctors to take fewer defensive measures it would be expected to see reductions in those metrics. However, the results found nothing really changed in these three states. Only Georgia exhibited a small reduction in charges per patient. The article notes that another recent study found that defensive hospital orders accounted for just 2.9% of hospital costs, mostly attributable to additional days of hospitalization.


These studies shed important light on the myths widely perpetuated by insurance companies and other supporters of "tort reform". Such laws often have the chilling effect of preventing those who have been legitimately wronged from achieving justice and eroding the 7th Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases.

Settlement Reached for Stryker Hip Implant Patients - Additional Claims Require Action to Join Settlement


On November 3, 2014, a global settlement program involving Stryker’s Rejuvenate and ABG II modular hip implants was executed before and announced by Superior Court Judge Brian R. Martinotti in Bergen County, New Jersey. The settlement was finalized after four months of negotiations before retired United States Magistrate Judge Diane Welsh in Philadelphia. Stryker and plaintiffs’ counsel appointed by Judge Martinotti reached agreement on behalf of an estimated 3,000 patients who were implanted with the modular Rejuvenate or ABG II implants and have undergone a revision surgery. Counsel from the parallel federal Multi-District Litigation proceedings in Minnesota subsequently joined the negotiations and are signatories to the Agreement.


Clients of Maschka, Riedy and Ries are among those with claims involved in the settlement. The settlement provides for gross base awards of $300,000 per failed implant and provides for significant additional compensation for claimants who suffered complications during revision surgery and for other damages, including future surgeries caused by complications. The settlement also provides compensation for individuals who need a revision but are medically unable to undergo the surgery. There is no overall cap or fixed fund for Stryker's liability under this settlement program, and the settlement payments are expected to exceed $1 billion. Claimants will begin receiving their awards in the summer of 2015.


It is believed there are many more potential claimants who have yet to be identified and can benefit from this settlement. If you had total hip replacement surgery involving a Stryker hip implant, you may be entitled to compensation. Time is of the essence. The Settlement Program is complex. Please contact Maschka, Riedy and Ries today for a free consultation.


Seven Maschka, Riedy & Ries lawyers named “Super Lawyers/Rising Stars” in 2014


Super Lawyers/Rising Stars is a listing of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.


Jerry Maschka, Jack Riedy, Marc Christianson, and Jim Fleming were named Super Lawyers and Jed Chronic, Jennifer Lurken and Nick Maxwell were named Rising Stars. They were selected in the following areas: Maschka for Personal Injury Plaintiff, Riedy for General Litigation, Christianson for Personal Injury Defense, Fleming for Criminal Defense, Chronic for Personal Injury Plaintiff, Lurken for General Litigation, Maxwell for Personal Injury Plaintiff.


Each year Super Lawyers selects attorneys using a patented multiphase selection process. Peer nominations and evaluations are combined with third party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process for the Rising Stars list is the same as the Super Lawyers selection process, with one exception: to be eligible for inclusion in Rising Stars, a candidate must be either 40 years old or younger or in practice for 10 years or less.


With 11 lawyers, Maschka, Riedy & Ries is a firm that counsels clients in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice, civil litigation, bankruptcy law, criminal law, real estate and estate planning. More about the firm can be found on its Website: www.mrr-law.com