Podcast: How drug distributors flooded America with opioids

As the opioid crisis continues to worsen, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The widespread abuse of prescription painkillers led to the surge in opioid abuse, and those prescribed pills were distributed by some of the country's largest corporations. The Center for Investigative Reporting has this podcast on how it happened and why drug distributors ignored warnings of widespread abuse. There's also a transcript of the podcast available.

2 NTL members settle tractor-trailer case for $45 million

National Trial Lawyers Top 100 member Stuart N. Ratzan, NTL Top 40 Under 40 member Stuart J. Weissman, and attorney Evan Gilean of Ratzan Law Group, P.A. of Miami reached a $45 million settlement in a wrongful death case involving a tractor-trailer.

After a four week trial in Broward County, Florida, it was revealed that a major highway construction company had no safe system or plan for getting heavy construction vehicles safely off of its median construction sites and onto Interstate 75.  The plaintiff alleged that, after months of complaints from the motoring public, along with an official “Verbal Warning” on May 20, 2015, from the Florida Department of Transportation regarding highway construction vehicles interfering and disrupting traffic, Ranger Construction Industries, Inc., on May 28, 2015, left a fully loaded, 80,000 pound tractor trailer alone in the median of I-75, unsupervised, without any instructions on how to exit the area, at approximately 11:30 p.m., with no lighting.  Ranger Construction allegedly provided the tractor trailer no safe way to exit the median construction site. Based on e-mails uncovered by the plaintiff’s legal team, which proved that rather than acting on the complaints and official FDOT warning, and rather than looking inward to determine how to fix its system and comply with the FDOT contract rules, Ranger Construction supervisors and managers simply blamed the truck drivers and the motoring public for the problems construction vehicles were having entering and exiting the medians. Ranger Construction allegedly did nothing to fix the danger it was imposing on the roadways.

At trial, the plaintiff argued that Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. not only put lives at risk of harm and death, but also violated the terms of its contract with the Florida Department of Transportation requiring Ranger to provide construction vehicles a safe means of exiting median construction sites on I-75.  Based on the circumstances, including the provisions of its contract, the plaintiff argued that the only safe way off of the I-75 median construction site that night was with a lane closure, proper supervision, lighting, and the assistance of Florida Highway Patrol. Instead, Ranger Construction and its supervisor allegedly chose to leave truck driver, Juan C. Calero, unsupervised in an area he had never been to before, in complete darkness.  Ranger loaded up the flatbed tractor trailer with a full load of concrete barrier wall and instructed truck driver Calero to drive approximately one mile south, to the Miramar Parkway Bridge, for unloading.

According to the plaintiff, Mr. Calero improperly and recklessly exited the median construction work zone.  Mr. Calero, facing northbound in the median, attempted to make a u-turn crossing all four southbound lanes of I-75 impeding oncoming traffic.  While Mr. Calero attempted this dangerous maneuver, Raymond Astaphan’s Mitsubishi struck the tractor trailer shearing off his roof and killing him on impact.  He had no time to react or avoid the tractor trailer.  Raymond was a 29-year-old medical student from the island of Dominica.  His passenger, Patrissia Rolle, suffered significant injures.  Also killed in the wreck was a 17-year-old driver of another vehicle.



2 NTL members named to SuperLawyers and Rising Stars

The personal injury law firm of Hupy and Abraham is proud to announce that National Trial Lawyers members Jason Abraham and Robert Domol have been named to the 2017 list of Wisconsin Super Lawyers and Rising Stars. The Super Lawyers list provides visibility to attorneys who exhibit excellence in the practice of law.

Attorney Abraham joined Hupy and Abraham, S.C. in 1993 and was named shareholder in 1999. Shortly after, the firm’s name was changed to Hupy and Abraham. Attorney Abraham’s extraordinary talents handling personal injury cases have resulted in him obtaining approximately $350 million by settlement or trial.
Attorney Domol, who serves clients in Appleton, Wisconsin, joined Hupy and Abraham in 2014. Since then, he has been dedicated to providing the best service and results to each and every one of his clients.

Best Lawyers® recently announced the 2018 “Best Law Firms” ranking Swope, Rodante P. A. as a Tier 1 (the highest ranking possible) firm for its personal injury litigation - plaintiffs and insurance law practices in the Tampa Bay area.

The firm has been included in the annual U.S. News – Best Lawyers® Best Law Firms report since the first edition in 2010. To be eligible for a practice area, law firms must have at least one attorney recognized by Best Lawyers® in that same practice area and region. Swope, Rodante P. A. partners and National Trial Lawyers members Dale Swope, Brandon Cathey, Angela Rodante and Stephanie Miles were all recognized by The Best Lawyers in America© this year as well.

Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC of counsel and National Black Lawyers member Elizabeth H. Huntley has been named a 2017 “Women Who Shape the State” honoree by This is Alabama.

Huntley was recognized at the third annual Women Who Shape the State Awards Luncheon in Birmingham on November 9. She is also featured on AL.com and will be listed in the November issue of Birmingham Magazine.

The annual “Women Who Shape the State” program recognizes women in different industries from across Alabama who are contributing to their communities and setting an example by their efforts. Out of dozens of nominations, only 30 women were chosen for this year’s class.

2 NTL members settle tragic fatal crash lawsuit

National Trial Lawyer Diplomat and Executive Committee Member Gabriel F. Zambrano, and National Trial Lawyer Member David J. Zappitell, of Zappitell Law Firm of Delray Beach, FL, prepared for trial a catastrophic tractor trailer versus motor vehicle crash that resulted in the deaths of three minor children. The Spanish-speaking surviving father retained Gabriel F. Zambrano to investigate and prosecute the case under Florida’s Wrongful Death statute as Personal Representative of their Estates.

In the dark, pre-dawn hours of March 17, 2015, a mother of three children and her fiancée were driving on Florida’s U.S. 27 in rural Palm Beach County, Florida. A 45-foot-long sugar cane trailer had decoupled, or unhitched, from a tractor trailer and was blocking the southbound lanes of travel on U.S. 27. Having disengaged, and being without power, it had no operational lights. Federally required conspicuity tape was obscured, missing, covered in dirt or mud from sugar cane fields where it was regularly utilized. The operator of the tractor trailer had not yet returned to the disabled sugar cane trailer when the five occupants of the southbound vehicle encountered the disabled obstacle at highway speed. Without operational lights or power, and with retroreflective tape obscured, they violently crashed into the abandoned trailer.

Following their collision, a sole daily commuter who was attempting to overtake them in an adjacent lane also encountered the disabled trailer resulting in a violent crash and extensive damage to his Ford F-150 pick-up truck. He exited his vehicle to witness an unloaded 18-wheeler coming at highway speed toward the sugar cane trailer. The professional driver attempted evasive measures to avoid impacting the trailer and came to rest after striking the disabled Ford. The parties disputed the role of this tractor trailer in the aftermath of the original impact.

Tragically, the mother, age 39, and her three children, ages 14, 16 and 17 were pronounced dead on the scene. The passenger was catastrophically injured and transported via helicopter to a regional trauma center in Delray Beach, FL. The children were survived by their biological father who brought claims under Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute. The mother and catastrophically injured passenger were represented by separate counsel and the cases were consolidated for discovery purposes.

Plaintiff contended that the sugar cane trailer was not properly maintained by the owner, Okeelanta Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Crystals Corporation. These allegations included a failure to comply with applicable Federal Motor Carrier Regulations imposed upon owners and operators as adopted under Florida law. Plaintiff also alleged that the tractor trailer operator was not sufficiently qualified or experienced to haul a commercial trailer which combined with poor maintenance and safety procedures in the resulting decoupling. Plaintiff also alleged the owner and employee operator of the unloaded 18-wheeler, a Brown Trucking Company rig from Lithonia, Georgia, was negligent in their operation of the tractor trailer on the morning of the violent crash.

The plaintiff claimed and discovery revealed sufficient evidence to grant a claim for punitive damages against the sugar cane trailer owner. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount days before a scheduled punitive damage proffer in which the court could have ruled on the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to plead punitive damages.

Opioid commission member calls commission a 'sham'

President Trump's bipartisan commission on opioids is a "sham," according to a report on CNN. Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy says no one is willing to "do anything about it." The president declared the opioid epidemic a 90-day public health emergency last October, but didn't make any funding available to treat the problem. Critics say Trump's declaration was ineffective, and hasn't slowed the number of overdose deaths from opioids. "This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," Kennedy told CNN. "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it. You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."

America's most influential lawyers and law firms announced

The Trial Lawyer, the official magazine of The National Trial Lawyers, has announced its lists of the most influential lawyers and law firms for the past year.

The RoundTable is made up of America’s 50 most influential civil plaintiff and criminal defense lawyers. Nominations are accepted from the magazine’s readership, and each lawyer is evaluated for his or her professional achievements, trial results, and ability to make a difference in the legal community.

The Forum is comprised of the 25 most influential civil plaintiff law firms in the United States. Readers may also nominate firms for The Forum, and each firm is also evaluated for professional achievements, trial results and effective impact in the legal community.

A list of the newest members of The RoundTable and The Forum is available by clicking on the hyperlinks. The lawyers and law firms will be honored at the Trial Lawyers Summit being held February 4-7, 2018 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in South Beach, Florida.

WSJ columnist accuses plaintiff attorneys of 'smelling cash' over opioid crisis

In a commentary at the Wall Street Journal, media strategist Dennis Kneale accuses plaintiff attorneys of "smelling cash" from the opioid crisis and threatening the livelihood of pharmaceutical companies. Kneale says Big Pharma "has an image problem: The industry has been tainted by the opioid crisis." He goes on to estimate that lawsuits related to the crisis could grow into hundreds of billions of dollars, and compares it to the costly settlement reached 20 years ago with the tobacco companies. You can read the commentary in its entirety here.