April 22, 2014

Risk of Exploding Gas Cans in Maine

flame-3-1189018-m.jpgA large percentage of Americans have red polyethylene gas cans in their garages. They are used to refuel chainsaws or lawnmowers or other equipment. Injuries resulting from exploding plastic gas cans (video) are surprisingly common. These injuries may include burnt skin, coma, and limb damage. The treatments required are extensive.

Tragically, about 40% of burn victims hurt due to gas cans are children. Fumes outside the gas can ignite as you pour or fill gas resulting in a flashback fire. Currently, gas cans have safety warnings that tell users to keep them away from flames and electric motors. But these warnings can be inadequate. Moreover, flame arrestors could make them safer.

Some manufacturers do install flame arrestors, but the law doesn't mandate their installation yet. They are small mesh screens that can keep gas cans from exploding. They are installed in the spout of the cans. Shockingly, it only costs 5 cents to include an arrestor in the design of the can and yet some manufacturers will not pay even that much to keep their consumers safe.

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April 15, 2014

The Hidden Danger of Stethoscopes in Maine

stethoscope-2-1080262-m-2.jpgMost Maine residents go to the doctor in hopes of taking care of their health. They don't anticipate that a visit to the doctor will get them sick. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that every day an estimated 1 in 20 patients develops an infection, a good percentage of which happen because pathogens have spread between patients through the hands of health care professionals. There are guidelines recommending all physicians wash their hands before and after a patient visit. However, there aren't similar guidelines that mandate disinfection after the use of medical equipment that comes into contact with patients.

A study by the Swiss director of infection control at University of Geneva Hospital found that people might be getting sick because doctors are not taking adequate precautions cleaning their stethoscopes between patients. The study's author explained that there are no guidelines to clean stethoscopes, even though they carry as much bacteria as a doctor has on his fingertips.

The study was conducted between January 2009 and May 2009 at a Swiss university teaching hospital. The researchers studied three doctors that examined 83 hospital patients. The researchers were analyzing how much bacteria accumulated on different parts of the doctor's gloved or ungloved dominant hand versus on the diaphragm and tube of the stethoscopes. 489 surfaces were sampled to assess bacteria.

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April 8, 2014

Unnecessary Surgery in Maine?

surgeon-3-391477-m.jpgA USA Today investigation uncovered thousands of unnecessary surgeries around America last year. USA Today looked through government records and medical databases and concluded that 10-20% of surgeries are performed unnecessarily in certain specialties. Public attention has focused on unnecessary cardiac stent surgeries, but actually a number of other specialties have also been plagued by unnecessary surgeries.

Some other common operations that may not be warranted by the medical facts are spinal surgeries, angioplasty, pacemaker implants, hysterectomies and cesarean sections. The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed records for 112,000 patients and found that, in a surprising 22.5% of cases, there was no medical evidence to support installing an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, for example.

Similarly, Surgical Neurology International looked at 274 patients with back and neck complaints in 2011. More than 17% of these patients were told they needed surgery although they had no neurological or radiographic findings to show necessity.

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April 1, 2014

Device to Monitor Maine Teens' Texting and Driving

hand-holding-mobile-smart-phone-1417191-m.jpgAdults in Maine and other states know that texting and driving is dangerous. Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in 2011, 387,000 people were injured and 3331 were killed in car accidents due to distracted drivers.

As discussed in other posts, there are a number of distractions that drivers need to avoid, but texting is especially dangerous, and it affects a vulnerable portion of the population that may not understand the consequences: teenagers. Teenagers often think it's no big deal to send a quick text, even when they know talking on the phone is a bad idea.

NTSA has found teens to be six times more likely to crash while dialing a telephone. They are 23 times more likely to crash if they text while driving. Their reaction times start to approximate a 70-year-old driving without a cell phone, which is particularly dangerous because teens are also less likely to have a visceral understanding of the hazards of excessive speed and leaving enough space between cars.

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March 25, 2014

Mesothelioma in Maine

lost-at-sea-894895-m.jpgMesothelioma is an aggressive, rare type of cancer, often triggered by materials found in the workplace, which gets its start in the thin layer of tissue (the "mesothelium") that surrounds internal organs. Types of mesothelioma include pleural (lung) malignant mesothelioma and peritoneal (intestinal) mesothelioma. Although treatment is available, for many people there is no cure and mesothelioma frequently results in death. In 2009, the US Centers for Disease Control discovered that Maine had one of the highest per capita incidence of mesothelioma of any state. In fact, Maine had more than twice the average rate of malignant mesothelioma cases (27.5%) than in other states.

Why does Maine have such high rates of malignant mesothelioma? Many older Mainers unwittingly contracted mesothelioma from their workplace as young adults because they worked in an industry that used asbestos, a dangerous mineral. Asbestos was used in the 1800s to prevent corrosion and the impact of high temperatures on many types of building materials. People did not realize it was a dangerous product until the mid-1900s.

Maine's history of shipbuilding is associated with asbestos products, which were commonly used in this industry to construct and repair navy and commercial ships and submarines. Other industries once common to Maine have also used asbestos products, in the form of asbestos insulation. Some of the workplaces that used asbestos include paper and wool mills. The risk of asbestos exposure also exists when demolishing older buildings, and construction workers on those projects must take special precautions against exposure. There have even been cases of mesothelioma contracted by a person in the household of a worker exposed to asbestos. Asbestos clings to clothes and can be inhaled by members of a household who interact regularly with someone who brings it home with him or her.

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March 18, 2014

Child Safety in Maine: Graco Recall of Car Seats

seatbelt-602535-m-2.jpgParents in Maine and other states put their infants and children in car seats as a safety precaution. These safety seats can reduce the incidence of fatality for infants (under age 1) in car accidents by 71%. It reduces toddler fatalities in accidents by 54%. Unfortunately, many people believe that their children are safe, when 7 out of 10 children are, in fact, improperly restrained in their car seats. Graco is one of the more popular brands of child safety seats, and many families in Maine rely on this brand to keep their children safe in the event of a car accident. Recently, Graco announced a recall of 3.7 million of the buckles on their car seats in a variety of models because these buckles are faulty.

Apparently the flaw in the buckles arises when food or dried liquids get embedded and stuck in certain harness buckles. This can make the buckles difficult to open or lock them into the latched position even when trying to release the latch. A problem like this could become problematic if there were an emergency. These buckles are not used on every Graco model; they were the ones manufactured between 2009 and July of 2013. Certain car seats, like the Graco SnugRide, were excluded from the recall because of a unique design.

Many different models of the toddler convertible and harnessed booster car seats were affected, including the Argos 70, Argos 70 Elite, Cozy Cline, Comfort Sport, certain My Ride models, Head Wise with Safety Surround and Nautilus models. The buckle types affected are Signature and QT buckles. These are the buckles with rounded red buttons, not the square red button buckles.

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March 11, 2014

Attitudes About Speeding in Maine and Elsewhere

need-for-speed-1397111-m.jpgThe U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a survey entitled "National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behavior." A copy of the PDF document can be downloaded from the NHTSA website by clicking here. This survey offers a sense of the public's attitude towards speeding across the nation. Speeding is defined as going over the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions and it is a common factor in traffic crashes. Maine, along with other New England states, was one of the states with the lowest number of "non-speeders."

To compile the data, NHTSA held 6144 phone interviews among drivers 16 and up. 1137 interviews were conducted with people that use mostly their cell phone, whereas 4507 interviews were held on landlines. There was a slightly larger percentage of interviews conducted with drivers ages 16-34 years old because this group was overrepresented in crashes.

The survey showed that drivers have a wide range of perspectives. The report is divided between a discussion of normative attitudes (what people think should be done) and personal attitudes (what they actually do in their real lives).

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March 4, 2014

Driving Hungover Can Be Just as Dangerous as Driving Drunk in Maine

skylark-always-has-to-have-a-driver-1351165-m.jpgFor years, Maine residents, like all Americans, have been warned of the dangers of drunk driving. Most people know that just drinking some coffee after a night of heavy drinking is not good enough, and assume, when drinking at a friend's house, that waiting there and sleeping off a buzz is safer than getting on the road. However, some recent European studies show that driving with a hangover can be as dangerous as drunk driving, a finding that should affect both how you drink and how you drive the following morning.

In one study, a professor from the University of the West of England asked participants to drink alcohol the night before taking simulated driving tests. The morning after their drinking, they had to drive in a simulation involving both urban and rural settings. The participants were legally sober and 'drove' for 20 minutes. However they had a large number of mistakes and deviations in both speed and driving position. They crossed over the central line more frequently. They sped too much. Most disturbingly, they had slow reaction times.

In a larger study conducted in the Netherlands, which was presented at the 2013 Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs conference, 47 participants that had spent the night before drinking an average of 10 drinks took a 1-hour simulated highway driving test. They were tested in the morning and found to have no alcohol in their bloodstream at the time they took the tests. However, their ability to drive was dramatically impaired, comparable to somebody with a BAC of .05 (which is the legal limit in some other countries such as Australia.)

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February 25, 2014

Preventable Medical Errors in Maine

airbus-a380-1064682-m.jpgDoctors in Maine are trusted with important decisions about peoples' lives every day. However, it has been found that doctor's errors kill thousands and hurt millions of Americans, including Maine residents. Most people wouldn't travel by air if there were 365 jumbo jet disasters every year -- one a day. But most people agree to be admitted to the hospital for necessary medical procedures. You should be aware that 210,000 hospital patients die every year from medical errors that could have been prevented -- the equivalent of 365 jumbo jet disasters.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States -- third only to heart disease and cancer. Medical errors comprise such things as improperly performed surgeries, preventable infections, medication errors, and misdiagnosis. It has been difficult for researchers to reach consensus on just how damaging these medical errors are.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report called To Err is Human. The report estimated that 44,000-98,000 people die every year due to medical mistakes. Other researchers have made similar findings. For example, the Society of Actuaries found that 1.5 million patients are hurt due to medical mistakes. In 2010, the Office of The Inspector General estimated that 180,000 Medicare patients die every year from mistakes made by medical professionals. And last September, the Journal of Patient Safety found that the earlier death count was wrong and that it is closer to 210,000-400,000 deaths per year.

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February 18, 2014

Side Impact Protection for Children in Maine

car-767377-m.jpgThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed that side impact testing should be added to the child seat safety standard for children under 40 pounds. In the past, protecting children in crashes has not been a priority for automakers. However, side impact crashes can present serious injuries and harms. If this proposal moves forward, it could have a strong, positive impact for children in Maine and bring child car safety closer to the protection already required for adults.

Over a period of years, NHTSA has found side impact crashes are the second most frequent type of crash. They add up to slightly less than a third of total crashes. Similarly, researchers from the University of California at Irvine have evaluated injury patterns among kids 4-9 years old. They found that many serious injuries sustained by children were the result of side doors getting deformed.

In 1997, the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety discovered that 32% of child deaths under the age of 12 happened because of side impact crashes. When implemented, the NHTSA rule will save more than 18 children per year and cost child seat manufacturers only 50 cents through wider side wings and more padding.

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February 10, 2014

Maine's Record of Driver Safety

snowy-road-3-1116432-m.jpgRecently, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Motorists Association and MADD revealed that Maine drivers are among the safest drivers in the United States. Although this is encouraging news, our former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap made a good point: "When you speak with a family of someone who's been lost in a car crash, that's a pretty helpless feeling." At Briggs & Wholey, our attorneys see the aftermath of tragic car accidents every day. Dunlap notes (and we agree) that there's always room to do better.

According to Dunlap, there are a number of programs that have helped Maine become such a safe state for drivers. Among other things, we have strong driver education and diligent efforts by law enforcement agencies. For example, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety meets with students to work on projects to help improve the driving performance of those who hold learner's permits.

Maine also puts money into drunk driving enforcement programs. This includes special funds for roadblocks and patrols to ensure impaired drivers are kept off the road. It also includes more reliable testing equipment across the state to measure blood alcohol content. Police officers are trained to evaluate whether drivers are under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, too.

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February 3, 2014

Is the Weekend the Worst Time to Be Hospitalized in Maine?

ambulance-1334533-m.jpgSurvivors of serious accidents do not always have a choice about what day of the week to go to the hospital in Maine. However, when scheduling surgeries or other treatments that require hospitalization in advance, what days are the best? It turns out that patients who are hospitalized on Friday or the weekend must stay in the hospital longer than those patients who are admitted on other weekdays for the same medical concerns. This can be expensive.

But is this only a financial concern? Actually, no. Patients who have to stay in a hospital setting longer have a higher likelihood of enduring a complication.

Multiple studies have shown that weekend hospitalizations result in a higher likelihood of death. For example, Canadian scientists found that patients who suffer an ischemic stroke and are consequently admitted to the hospital over the weekend are more likely to die within seven days than are those admitted on a weekday and who stay in the hospital only on weekdays. Johns Hopkins also found that older adults hospitalized for head trauma over the weekend are more likely to die than their weekday counterparts -- even when their injuries are not as severe.

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January 27, 2014

The Danger of Generators in Maine

after-the-storm-631372-m.jpgWinter storms in Maine are known to cause power outages. Utility crews may work to restore power in connection with an outage caused by one ice storm, only to have another wet snowfall cause a new power outage. Many Maine families use generators to compensate for these power outages. However, a recent study found that operating a generator for 18-plus hours may lead to high CO (carbon monoxide) exposures. It does not matter if the generator is placed in the garage. Generator use for a prolonged period leads to a higher rate of CO poisoning.

CO is an invisible killer. Portable generators produce a lot of CO. There have been 755 recorded deaths throughout the United States from CO poisoning associated with generators between the years of 1999 and 2011. Many of these fatalities occurred during power outages. Even though there are increasingly more striking warnings about the hazard of CO poisoning linked to generator use, homeowners continue to use portable generators, placing them wherever they feel is appropriate.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been working on a solution using computer simulations and now recommends the use of an engine with new technology that has a reduced CO emission rate. The reduction would delay and slow the worsening of symptoms, which would give occupants time to realize the danger and leave their houses. The CPSC noted that this was a complex task, in which all factors that could influence airflow were considered. Until use of such a new engine becomes widespread, there are numerous suggestions from the Red Cross on buying and using generators safely.

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January 20, 2014

Lower Back Pain in Maine

working-girl-515333-m-2.jpgLower back pain is a bigger problem in Maine and elsewhere in the United States than you might think. It can be gradual and chronic. Or it can happen suddenly, while you are bending over to pick something up. Why does this happen? And what is the impact on society?

The nerve supply to the spine holds some of the answers to questions regarding pain. While you can feel some pain in the spine, the threshold for feeling it is relatively high. Sometimes tension that has been building in the muscles over time without being sensed consciously causes the back to spasm. However, more often stress and inflammation builds in the joints. At some point -- perhaps when you are bending over-- the body, specifically the muscles, protect an inflamed or misaligned joint by not letting you bend.

Recent brain scan findings from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine even suggest that it is possible to predict with about 85% accuracy whether low back pain will persist based on whether a patient has a specific marker in the axons that allow one's brain cells to communicate. It's believed that treatment with medication early on can make long-term chronic pain less likely.

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January 13, 2014

Evidence of Prior Professional Discipline in a Maine Medical Negligence Case

dental-mirror-809184-m.jpgIt can be difficult for a patient who is injured at the hands of a healthcare provider to learn that the provider has a history of behavior that has not been up to professional standards. But can you bring in evidence of disciplinary action taken against a health care provider when suing for negligence in Maine? A 2011 case arose that addressed this question.

In the case, a Maine oral surgeon treated a woman in 2002. Her tooth was removed and she needed to get a partial denture.

She was referred to the oral surgeon. The referral document mentioned pain and swelling. Upon examination, the oral surgeon stated he thought it was an infection and gave her antibiotics. When she came back 11 days later, she had new symptoms. Her gums had a different texture.

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