Trial Lawyers & the Death of Personal Responsibility

It has indeed been a while since I last posted an entry on this blog; here I must apologize for being so “incommunicado” of late. I have been dealing with a couple of health issues, most noticeably an extremely sore left wrist. This is most likely fallout from my accident last March which left me with a severely fractured radius and ulna in my left arm at the elbow. Although that appears have healed quite nicely I continued to have minor pain in the left wrist even after OT. And, in keeping with my understanding that I am my own worst enemy, I then spent time in October digging a trench across my driveway to bury a new electrical line and splitting firewood. This apparently really irritated the wrist and from very early November on it has become more and more tender and less usable. I have seen my surgeon and underwent numerous x-rays as well as a bone scan all of which were inconclusive. For the time being I have the left forearm in an AirCast 24 x 7 and have ceased doing anything which really irritates the wrist. Sadly, typing is one of those things. Thankfully, I decided to try Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking (version 13) and to this day I remain very impressed with the application! It has allowed me to continue typing and its accuracy is improving the more I use it. Without this software I would be unable to type anything except the shortest emails or text messages unless I were to resort to typing with just my right hand.

Regardless, with the start of this New Year I’ve been slowly collecting my thoughts on a number of topics for potential subjects in this blog. Of course, this lousy Alaskan weather has provided me with much frustration as we are now at the tail end of my 3rd consecutive “winter that wasn’t”. But then I’ve railed about this in many previous writings. But something that really got me going while watching TV last week has continued to remain a thorn in my awareness; in this case I’m speaking of the innumerable advertisements for trial lawyers chasing money for medical device/drug settlements. Is it just me or during any given 2 to 3 minute commercial span are we barraged with at least one ad if not more? In the past I largely ignored them but for some reason last week I actually paid a little more attention to just what it is they are advertising. And that is when my anger and frustration truly began to build!
Being largely libertarian in my views it runs counter for me to even consider pushing for legislation to corral any legal activity yet that is exactly what I find myself considering. I know we’ve all heard of ‘ambulance chasers’ and their sleazy pursuit of money; they purport to be looking out for victims when in truth they are interested only in lining their pockets. And let me say up front that I recognize there are good, honest and caring trial lawyers. However, I truly feel a majority do not fall into this category. And nowhere are these sleazy, money-grubbing vultures more prevalent than in attempting to prosecute the medical and pharmaceutical industries. In business must be indeed good given the huge volume of expensive television advertising!

Having a bit of a scientific bent to my education, and that is particularly true in the area of biological sciences, I was truly shocked when I paid attention to exactly what these legal firms are attempting to prosecute. Just to get started, let’s look at exactly what these firms are attempting to do. Even with the extremely laborious approval processes required by FDA for any device or drug to be used in human medicine the very nature of these products virtually guarantees there will be issues. For all of the science and experimentation along with trials that are involved in bringing any new drug, implant or device to the market they cannot cover every possible situation. Therefore, any new medical product is very likely to cause some health issues for a small number of people using them. Yet as soon as there are any verified medical complications from any new drug, implant or device the seedy trial lawyers are on it like a duck on a June bug. Their advertising whips up hysteria and would make one believe that the medical industry is really out to harm people rather than help them. And this is where the initial disconnect occurs.

Somehow, the trial lawyers do not want us to remember that we may have been prescribed a new drug or implant or device as a matter of saving our lives. Even if it’s not to the extent of saving a life, these new items could very well dramatically improve the quality of life for those who use them. Any competent physician will go to lengths to explain potential issues with any new drug, implant or device before recommending their patient consider employing them. Because of this, a patient should go into this decision being as well-informed as possible. And ultimately it remains the patient’s choice. Indeed, this is the responsibility of the patient to be fully informed. But here is where the sleazy trial lawyers are supporting what I believe is a very destructive perspective; they act as though the patient has no accountability in his or her own health. This is flat out wrong!! As adults, we are responsible to ourselves as well as accountable for our actions. If we choose to move ahead with a treatment that involves something brand-new or cutting edge and we have been educated as to potential issues than that choice is ours along with our physicians. In fact, given the availability of information today it is actually easy to educate one’s elf regarding such a situation. Yet the damn trial lawyers would have us believe it is not our responsibility but rather the responsibility of the manufacturer. Nothing could be further from the truth but then these folks rarely deal in “the truth”.

However, these worthless individuals are doing far more harm than just what I mentioned above. Healthcare in America is one of the top 3 topics in politics today regardless of philosophy or party affiliation; everyone knows the system is broken. Without question there is plenty of blame to be assigned to everyone and everything in this realm. But just stop and considered this for a moment: every time a medical company brings a new drug, implant or device to market they have a huge fund set up because they know when there are any issues whatsoever the trial lawyers will be there to exploit them. The amount of money in these funds is staggering; it is often billions of dollars. While I do have many issues with the medical industry I can also understand that having to keep these funds available for what is now almost inevitable legal action adds enormous amounts to the cost of doing business. These same firms regularly spend billions and billions of dollars each year on research and development; this alone adds huge costs to any product that does make it to market. But having to set aside such huge amounts of money to handle litigation also adds an awful lot to the cost of our healthcare. I am not an apologist for the medical industry and certainly not the pharmaceutical industry. As I stated earlier there’s plenty of blame to go around for the current mess we call healthcare. But from my perspective, so many of the parasitic trial lawyers exist only to line their own pockets under the guise of protecting victims from the evil, capitalistic worshiping medical industry.

Sadly, based on the number of TV advertisements for such legal firms, there must be a lot of folks out there who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. I’m probably being a bit too hard on the trial lawyers in general but just ask anyone who is gone through a divorce in a court of law. There’s an old saying that speaks exactly to this; “the only winners in a divorce case are the lawyers”. One could take the aforementioned, remove “divorce”, replace it with “medical malfeasance” and the truth would remain. And that is just a real shame. After having really paid attention to these trial lawyer-based groups prosecuting what they claim is medical malpractice I have a new appreciation of something I heard while living in Southeast Michigan. Question: what is a busload of trial lawyers at the bottom of Lake Michigan? Answer: a good start!

So what could be done to improve this situation? Without question, we need some kind of regulations regarding the filing of class action lawsuits driven mainly by trial lawyers against the medical industry. It frustrates me no end that I find myself advocating for more government regulations! But I really do believe that for us to honestly fix our current healthcare disaster a piece has to involve controlling lawsuits and especially the amount of profit they bring in for the trial lawyers. But beyond that we, the people of this great country, need to once again embrace personal responsibility and accountability. If most of us did truly value integrity and practice such mores there would be far fewer trial lawyers making huge sums of money on the back of our medical industries.

Rain and Responsibility

The past couple of evenings I’ve been able to lie awake in my bed and listen to the sound of rain tapping on the metal roof. I’ve always loved this sound but I really enjoy it now because of the metal roof; it truly brings out the sometimes steady and other times not so steady drum of the rain drops. Given the dearth of precipitation this past year the soothing sound of rain drops striking the roof are truly appreciated. But there is even more to love about this sound as it signals an easing of the drought conditions in this area and is assisting the firefighters in their heroic efforts to control the wildfires of Alaska. Although it truly took a while Mother Nature has finally seen fit to bathe this area in some much needed moisture!

Across the past two days I’ve reported 0.94” of rain to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) and while July is the third wettest month of the year in Talkeetna we now have 2.41” of precipitation. Given we’re just 18 days into the month and showing 2.41” we’re 67% of the way to the normal rainfall total with 13 days remaining so with a bit of luck we might make the average rainfall total for July. If this happens it will be the first month in 2015 that we’ve reached or exceeded the monthly rainfall amount.

Sadly this is a bit late for the victims of the fires in June and early July and comes on the heels of more information released about the inexcusable stupidity and utter disregard for safety displayed by the perpetrator of the Sockeye Fire, one Greg Imig, along with Amy Dewitt whom both live in Anchorage. No, they have yet to be arraigned but Imig reportedly confessed to burning trash on that fateful Sunday morning which quickly escaped his control and began what would become the Sockeye Fire. The couple claimed they called 911 when the fire was already out of containment but they gave no location or their names. In addition, they apparently left in huge hurry leaving a chainsaw, gas cans and jack pads for a motorhome behind. Spent fireworks were found at the scene but they are not believed to be the primary source of the fire.

But there is more to this story that provides damning evidence regarding the utter negligence of this duo. Imig was apparently an on-air meteorologist at one time; given the conditions that Sunday morning any rational person would have recognized the utter stupidity of having open fires but a meteorologist should most definitely have known better. There were Red Flag warnings all over the state and any sensible person would have realized the immediate danger of any open flames. Yet this individual decided to ignore common sense and all the warning and burn open brush piles..?!?! Because of this pair’s rank idiocy 55 dwellings were destroyed, many more damaged, an uncounted number of animals threatened and some apparently killed, hundreds of acres of boreal forest incinerated, multiple forced evacuations were implemented and hundreds of firefighters risked their lives spending days fighting a completely unnecessary fire.

Because we are a country of laws, or were before the recent administrations decided they know better than our founders, this must be allowed to play out in our court system. Somehow I have a feeling the real pain for these incomprehensibly stupid people will come in the form of the soon to be filed civil actions. This is how our system works and we need to allow it to take over and proceed. Assuming this pair is to blame, and with Imig’s confession of guilt it seems a given, they should feel the full weight of the legal judgments against them.

All of us wonder why someone would undertake such dangerous actions in the wake of so many warnings; it just seems incomprehensible. Sadly, I fear this is yet another example of the PC driven solipsism that seems to be sweeping the world. So many people are so powerfully inculcated to just live within their own heads and serve only their own interests and needs; we’re becoming a culture that almost refuses to look outside ourselves. In such a scenario if one wanted to ‘enjoy’ burning trash and debris then just do it; such individuals never even consider the potential consequences of their actions except as it might affect themselves. Perhaps if our numbers were just tiny fractions of what they are currently we could get by with such a mindset but this is not the case. Human beings tend to live in groups and as such it becomes necessary to not just think about one’s own needs but to think also about the good of the group. Yes, this does require more effort, at least until one trains one’s self to automatically figure the group’s needs and safety into one’s mental calculus, but it is necessary for people to exist in close proximity and especially in large numbers. Yet paradoxically, as we continue to increase our numbers, a large portion of us put ourselves ahead of all others and continue to be focused upon just our own wants and desires. This trend is not something that is wise yet somehow we have generations of folks who follow its path; often to the detriment of their fellow human beings.

Perhaps we are reaching a tipping point of sorts when we must all sit back, take a deep breath and look into ourselves with as much objectivity as possible and ask; “Am I really concerned about the needs and safety of my fellow human beings?” After all, in the end we are all the same and in this together. Personally I’ve found I have no choice but to accept assistance from others and this only increases as we age. Maybe it is time to really evaluate just how much empathy we have for our fellow human beings? Living in Alaska one of the things I truly admire is what I call ‘the fierce sense of freedom and independence’ so pre-eminent in so many of the people. But along with this comes the undeniable acceptance that at times we all need a hand. Alaskans in general manage to balance this so very well; we cherish our independence and freedoms but we are also among the first to offer assistance to those truly in need. In this sense the lower48 and, indeed, the rest of the world could learn a bit from those of us who call ‘The Great Land’ our home.

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

Close up of burned Boreal Forest

A Helpless America..???

I’m going to change the focus of this blog with this piece although it does have ties to learning to live successfully in south central Alaska.  A buddy of mine who blogs on this site recently posted some thoughts about the uncivilized behavior in large SE cities tied to the approach of another winter storm.  I completely agree with his thoughts and observations but wanted to take some of the reflections a bit further.  Like Pete I was shocked to see and read about the uncivilized behavior in some SE cities regarding ‘runs’ on grocery stores to grab food before the predicted storms arrive.  I saw similar when I lived just north of Cincinnati; when NWS would predict just four inches of snow the days leading up to the storm would see long lines in groceries, full grocery store parking lots and short stocks of many items.  Although I grew up in Michigan I can relate to the southerners not wanting to have to drive once the storms hit.  Up north we always laughed at their inability to negotiate just a few inches of snow; however, once I experienced a few of these storms I understood the issues.  Said storms almost always start with ice and then sometimes change over to snow.  I’d dare even the most savvy northern driver to safely navigate two to four inches of snow atop a glaze of ice!  And these cities are not equipped to handle such storms with respect to salting, sanding and plowing.

But my issues don’t center on this situation but rather the entire concept that people seem ‘driven’ to clear out groceries in the event of an approaching storm.  Are so many folks literally living day by day purchasing the food they need for each meal just prior to when they need it..?!?!?  My sense is ‘no’!  Virtually all of use have refrigeration and I’d wager most fridges have at least some food items in them; if not why are people paying for the electricity to operate them?  In addition I’d bet most people have at minimum a few cans of soup, some rice or pasta, some cans of fruit and vegetables along with maybe some cans of meat or fish and additional food like peanut butter, oatmeal, bread, crackers and similar.  If you have even just some of the aforementioned you have food for days if not longer!!  Sure, it may not be up to the standards you’ve become accustomed to enjoying but it’s not like you’d be eating garbage, either!  I’d wager half the world would kill to be eating that type of cuisine on a daily basis.  While mixing a can of tomato soup with some rice and adding some cheese may not be gourmet fare its solid, sustaining food.

And in the final analysis, let’s get real here; the average human can last for at least two weeks and probably three to four without food…period.  Sure, it’s not comfortable and one does run out of energy and struggles with other effects after maybe five days of starvation but it’s not completely debilitating.  So having to subsist on just Mac and Cheese or pasta and mushroom soup or peanut butter on bread is hardly the end of the world.  So just what drives people to run and strip stores bare with the approach of a winter storm..?  I suspect at least part of the mania is fed by the lame-stream media hyping the approaching conditions and ‘we the people’ being willing to let them lead us around by the nose instead of thinking clearly and critically about the event.  The worst of these winter storms ‘paralyzes’ a large SE city for no more than five days and generally for less time; as I stated any of us can easily go five days without any food.  So why the mass rush on food and supplies?  Sadly I’m sure some of it is because as a people we Americans have become wimps with little ability to actually care for our basic needs.  I see two facets to this group:  1) those who are so used to be given things they have no ability to truly understand what they require to survive, and 2) those who only know how to survive using a high degree of technology.  I know a lot of folks in the latter category; if they cannot pull a processed meal from the freezer and pop it into the microwave they are helpless regarding preparing a meal.  And, yes, I was once in this category myself long ago; sadly many males remain so even at advanced ages.  Obviously things had to change when I moved to rural south central Alaska because the closest grocery of any size is 60 plus miles to the south; however, I have been self-reliant regarding my meals and all ‘domestic’ chores since my middle twenties.  I only needed to step up my preparations by a notch or two after relocating up here.  No, I do not hunt for my food but if I was forced to do so I could and I also know how to butcher wildlife if I was forced into doing so to eat.  Sadly I’d bet I’m in the 1% of American males being able to make such a claim…

Those in the former category are largely products of the ‘nanny state’ and showcase all that’s bad about cultivating such a system.  Yes, there are folks in this group that have seen truly horrific times and are just using the system to regain their ‘footing’ such that they can move ahead; for them I gladly give up my taxes that support such functions.  But there are many who just subsist on handouts and would be completely incapable of surviving without a government supplying them with food, drink, a roof over their heads and the like.  These people are ill-equipped to survive large-scale disasters of any kind because once their handouts are gone they lack skills to allow them to fend for themselves; after all, the government has always been there to prop them up.

This is something all Americans should reflect upon as I believe it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the country will face a truly massive disaster that quickly overwhelms all government assistance.  Iran is known to be test firing intermediate range missiles from the decks of ships; now imagine if they could put even a modest sized nuclear warhead on such a ship based missile.  It would be child’s play to sail the vessel to American coastal waters and launch the missile such that it detonated at a very high altitude over the central US.  The resultant EMP would likely fry 80% to 90% of solid state devices without shielding.  This means no cell phones, no broadband, no TV, no radio; in addition most vehicles on the road rely on some form of solid state device to operate the engine.  If this is only 70% of the total vehicles imagine 7 out of 10 cars, SUVs and trucks unable to operate.  Now understand that grocery stores stock just three days worth of perishable goods and not much longer for non-perishable foods.  If the trucks cannot run then how will groceries get their product?  The military has spent millions hardening their gear against EMP but if this event affected most of the lower 48 are there enough of them to maintain order when people begin to go hungry?  The mob mentality that has raised its ugly head in advance of some winter storms would hardly be a pale shadow of what would happen within a week of such an attack and happen in any and most likely all large cities.

This is just one plausible scenario that could wreak havoc upon our technologically based society; there are many tens of others.  As a people we are ill-equipped to survive such occurrences yet as we progress we become even less able to endure such disasters and more dependent upon government for our day-to-day needs.  This is a sure path to eventual chaos yet we seem locked into this dead-end.  And so I find myself once again reviewing my own preparations and find even them lacking although compared to most Americans I am very well prepared.  Even though I can make this statement I take no pleasure in it because there are so many Americans without a clue as what life might be like without our technological base.  If you think life without sat TV or cell phones or your computer is unthinkable you might want to reflect upon life without electricity.  Sadly few folks can do this accurately because they’ve never been without the electrical grid; trust me, its amazing just how many things require electricity in our world.  This is the classic case of not realizing just how important something is until it’s no longer available…  Our forefathers knew how to supply themselves with food and shelter from a variety of sources; sadly we as a civilization have become ‘one trick ponies’ in this important skill set.  In our current existence this seems superfluous but I guarantee you that should the worst occur there will be millions of people wishing they’d learned just a bit more about general survival skills…