Close up of the Lady of Justice statue

The Privatization of Opioid Litigation

By Dan Aaron

As the opioid litigation continues over the shadow of one of our nation’s most pressing public health crises, some criticism has been levied at private lawyers representing the cities, counties, states, and individuals harmed by the crisis. For example, see the following tweet:

Let’s work out tax and healthcare financing policy county by county, with private lawyers taking a 25% cut every time. Judge Polster seems to like this idea.

The critiques are many, but can be summarized: (1) private lawyers are being enriched; (2) private lawyers are setting opioid policy; (3) private lawyers have misaligned incentives; and (4) private lawyers will not support public health.

Arguably, all these arguments bear some truth. However, do they suggest that the opioid litigation is incorrigibly tainted and tort litigation the improper avenue to address mass torts such as the opioid crisis?

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Photograph of Purdue Pharma headquarters

The Role of Attorneys General in the Opioid Litigation

By Daniel Aaron

People following the opioid lawsuits might have noticed some strange headlines as of late. Virtually every state’s attorney general (AG) is suing Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of the blockbuster drug OxyContin. Purdue filed for bankruptcy and is hoping to settle for “$10 billion.” However, the deal only includes $4.4 billion in cash, which is less than the Sackler family, owners of Purdue, transferred to personal accounts over the past decade. In other words, the amount of money the Sacklers made from the opioid epidemic is more than what they will pay more than forty states to help abate the crisis. Is anyone supporting this deal?

Yes, in fact, and this is where the plot thickens. With several exceptions, support for the deal falls along party lines: Republican AGs support the deal, and Democratic AGs oppose it. Why does a decision about settling with an opioid company appear to be political? What is the role of an attorney general? And are they supposed to defend public health?

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Photograph of a woman lying in a hospital bed holding her newborn wrapped in a blanket

Where Are the Legal Protections for People Mistreated in Childbirth?

By Alexa Richardson

A new study indicates that 28.1% of women birthing in U.S. hospitals experienced mistreatment by providers during labor, with rates even higher for women of color. The multi-stakeholder study, convened in response to World Health Organization efforts to track maternal mistreatment, included more than 2,000 participants, and defined mistreatment as including one or more occurrences of: loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; or being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help. The study newly highlights the lack of legal protections available to for pregnant and birthing people who experience these kinds of mistreatment by providers.

Campaigns like Exposing the Silence have chronicled the outpouring of people’s harrowing birth stories, riddled with abuse and violations of consent. In one typical account, a user named Chastity explained:

I had a room full of student doctors, an OB I never met come in and forcibly give me extremely painful cervical exams while I screamed for them to stop and tried to get away. They had a nurse come and hold me down. There was at least 10 students practicing on me. I was a teen mom and my partner hadn’t gotten off work yet so I was all alone.

Another user named Abriana recounted:

As I was pushing, I got on my side and it was then that I started to feel pain much different from labor pains. I asked, ‘What is going on?’ The nurse replied, ‘I am doing a perineal rub.’ I immediately said, ‘Please stop doing that. You are hurting me.’ The nurse argued, ‘It will help you’ and didn’t move. I asked her again to please stop. I then yelled, while pushing, ‘Get your hands out of me!’ The nurse continued.

The traditional modes of seeking legal recourse have little to offer those who experience these kinds of mistreatment.

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Polar chart depicting state conscience protection laws for abortion (46 states), sterilization (17 states), contraception (16 states), or emergency contraception (5 states).

New Dataset: Conscience Protections for Providers and Patients

Scholarship and public debate about law’s role in protecting health care providers’ conscience rights often focus on who should be protected, what actions should be protected, and when and whether there should be any limitations on conscience rights.

But the how of these legal protections is rarely addressed – that is, when health care providers decline to participate in medical services that violate their deeply-held beliefs, exactly what consequences do state laws protect them from? The new dataset I’ve just released on LawAtlas answers this question in the context of reproductive health conscience laws, and reveals some surprising trends.

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American Opioid Litigation: A Conversation with Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch

Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch

In my last post about recent developments in American aggregate opioid litigation, I teased about a future segment documenting a fantastic conversation with Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch. This post delivers that promise. Professor Burch is Fuller E. Callaway Chair of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law and an expert in complex litigation, mass torts, multidistrict litigation, and civil procedure.

Readers can access her impressive scholarly contributions on these topics here.

As Professor Burch elucidates in her research, the United States civil justice system has witnessed the waning of class certification cases and, concomitantly, the rise of multidistrict litigation (MDL) to resolve high-stakes, aggregate civil disputes.

This trend includes the massive national multidistrict litigation currently pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (Opioid MDL). Unlike class certification litigation, which is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the MDL process is subject to the 1968 Multidistrict Litigation ActRead More

Image of healthcare professionals holding up an anesthesia mask up to you

Can Anesthesiologists Adopt a Public Health Law Framework to Improve Medication Safety?

Recent studies have highlighted the inherent susceptibility for medication errors by anesthesia providers in the perioperative environment. In a prospective survey at Massachusetts General Hospital, investigators identified a concerning potential error rate of 1 in 20 medication administrations, many of which resulted in patient harm.

To those of us who toil daily in the trenches of the operating room, this come as no surprise, for we are the only type of healthcare provider that prescribes, dispenses, premixes, repackages, relabels and administers the medications, independently and without secondary verification or use of technologic support. In one sense this may seem to be an advantage, for if there are fewer intermediaries, such as pharmacists or registered nurses, there are fewer humans to make a mistake. On the other hand, more intermediaries or additional verification might identify previously unrecognized errors. Read More

US servicemembers pictured from behind, saluting

“Homecoming” to a History of Servicemember Experimentation

Much ado has been made about Amazon’s new hit, “Homecoming,” which recently received three Golden Globe nominations, including one for best drama series. The psychological thriller, directed by “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail and starring Julia Roberts, has been characterized as “an irresistible mystery-box drama” and “the good kind of ‘what the hell is going on here?’ TV.” Tim Goodman described the show, which was adopted from Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg’s Gimlet Mediacult hit” podcast of the same moniker, as a “dazzling” play “on memory, the military industrial complex, conspiracy and unchecked government privilege.”

The series revolves around novice caseworker Heidi Bergman’s (Roberts) experiences administering the Tampa, Florida-based Homecoming Transitional Support Center (HTSC). HTSC is a privately-run, Department of Defense (DoD) contract facility, which purports to assist combat-traumatized servicemembers readjust from the battlefield and reintegrate to civilian life. Indeed, Bergman opens the drama’s aptly-titled pilot, “Mandatory,” by explaining to her “client,” three-tour-combat-veteran Walter Cruz (Stephan James), that the treatment facility is “a safe space for you to process your military experience and re-familiarize yourself with civilian life in a monitored environment, which, just means getting you situated now that you’re back home, rear-wise, health-wise, basically, I just work for you.” Read More

Forced Christian Arbitration Agreements Trivialize Health Care

It is no secret that more and more for-profit companies and non-profit organizations are using binding religious arbitration agreements as a means to bypass legal liability. It has been reported that entities that have little or no religious purpose, such as bamboo floor vendors and vocation cabin rental agencies, have quietly inserted binding arbitration clauses into everyday agreements. In the event of a dispute the consumers or victims cannot take these entities to a secular court, but rather to a religious tribunal that claims to be capable of settling any dispute using their interpretations of the Bible. A common reaction against these questionable practices follows this line of critique: shouldn’t religious arbitration, if tolerated at all, only be used for disputes concerning religious or spiritual matters on which the secular courts cannot adjudicate? What does buying bamboo floors or renting a vocation cabin have anything to do with Christian doctrines?

Unfortunately, these questions cannot adequately challenge the religious reasoning behind Christian arbitration agreements. This is due to the counter-intuitive fact that, according to relevant biblical texts, disputes settled in a so-called Christian arbitration tend not to be about important spiritual matters, but trivial matters instead. Here is the text pertaining to lawsuits among Christian believers:

“When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! 4    (1 Corinthians 6: 1-4)

At first look, these verses seem to make a strong case for Christian arbitrations. However, upon a closer look, it could be argued that Christians can still settle disputes with others in court under certain circumstances. Verse 1 suggests that Christians shouldn’t “dare to go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints,” but it only excludes the court system if we assume that the judges at the civil courts are all “unrighteous sinners”. What if they’re not? What if some judges turn out to be devout Christians in private or possess “righteous” and “saintly” qualities? The remaining verses all point to the scope of judging powers the believers are entitled to, since they are to judge the entire world and even angels. Nonetheless, the structure of these rhetorical questions is meant to convince the believers that because they are qualified to judge angels, trivial earthly matters should be a piece of a cake. Since the disputes between Christians are not at all about angels or the whole world, these lines essentially imply that the matters that fall under the purview of Christian arbitrations are precisely trivial matters pertaining to this life on earth, not complicated spiritual affairs. Read More

The Accessibility Police: How the ADA Education and Reform Act Hinders ADA Enforcement and Burdens Americans with Disabilities

By Shailin Thomas

Recently, the House of Representatives voted on and passed the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 — an update to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.). The bill changes the process by which private citizens with disabilities and disabling medical conditions can bring lawsuits to enforce statutory access requirements for places of public accommodation. Under Article III of the ADA, “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182. This covers attempts to explicitly discriminate against those with disabilities, refusals to make reasonable modifications to accommodate them, and failures to remove physical barriers to access for them — unless removing those barriers is not “readily achievable.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A). One of the primary enforcement mechanisms for these provisions is private litigation brought against non-compliant establishments by those negatively affected by violations. See 42 U.S.C. 12188.

As of late, however, there has been growing concern in Congress that this private enforcement avenue is too often abused by plaintiffs bringing unjustified or opportunistic lawsuits, and this is the issue the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 seeks to address. Under the proposed bill, lawsuits can no longer be immediately brought against non-compliant establishments. Instead, someone aggrieved by a failure of adequate access must send formal, written notification to the establishment and provide at least four months for the owner to begin dismantling the offending access barrier. Only then — if the owners fail to start the necessary improvements for four months — can a lawsuit be brought. Proponents of the bill believe these additional barriers will curb frivolous and abusive ADA lawsuits brought to enforce accessibility requirements against unsuspecting businesses unaware of their violations.

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