Week Adjourned: 6.18.10

Top Class Actions

Corexit Surely Didn’t Correct It. Up until yesterday, I was thinking that at some point in the distant future the BP oil spill may begin a positive chapter, the toxic gusher will finally be capped and the clean-up will begin to make a meaningful impact—we may even be fortunate enough to see the return of some species that are currently threatened with extinction—including the fishermen. 

Then, I saw this: a class action lawsuit filed yesterday, alleging that BP and Nalco Holding Company intentionally sprayed “Corexit 9500” dispersant into the Gulf of Mexico with full knowledge of its dangerous toxicity. The suit alleges that the dispersant was sprayed entirely to lessen BP’s financial exposure and cleanup efforts relating to the oil spill. 

Then I thought to myself ‘Wasn’t BP was on the verge of collecting an award for its environmental achievement just days before this disaster occurred? How could any ethically responsible corporate citizen engage in this activity with any kind of knowledge of the dangers?’ Of course the key point here is ethics…or the complete lack of them. 

According to a press release about the suit, “When administered the dispersant, Corexit 9500, attaches to the oil causing both the oil and the chemical to sink below the surface of the water eventually settling to the sea floor. Studies have demonstrated this process will permanently alter the biosystem and food chain in the Gulf.”  (See the above vid from msnbc where Dr. Seth Forman talks about the potential impact on Corexit on the rest of us.)

But it gets worse, if that’s even possible. “This chemical has been banned in the UK for over a decade,” the press release states. “Corexit is four times as toxic as the oil itself. Oil is toxic at 11 ppm, but Corexit is toxic at only 2.61 ppm. Corexit was banned from use in the United Kingdom because it did not pass the ‘Rocky Shore Test’ which assures that it does not cause a deleterious effect or ecological change; in layman’s terms, kill off the entire food chain.” 

Apparently, Corexit 9500 was used to clean up after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. According to the Alaska Community Action on Toxics it has had a negative effect on the health of those who were exposed. “CNN reports that the average life expectancy of the workers who cleaned up the Exxon Valdez spill is 51 years and most of those workers are now deceased,” the press release stated.

Somehow, humor just doesn’t seem appropriate at this juncture.

Top Settlements

The Hartford Racket Club? On a lighter note (talk about relativity) a preliminary settlement was reached in a good old fashioned consumer fraud case. The Hartford Financial Services Group has agreed to pay $72.5 million to some 21,000 plaintiffs as payback for deducting up to 15 percent of the value of claims settlements, which the company disguised as undisclosed annuity costs—these were structured settlements vs. lump sum payouts.

According to AP, the lawsuit alleged The Hartford came up with a scheme whereby its property and casualty companies purchased annuities from its life insurance subsidiary, which then paid a kickback to the property and casualty companies. The company is accused of violating a racketeering law.

The 21,000 people were due payments for claims dating to 1997 involving car accidents, workers compensation and other injuries. They are expected to receive an average of about $3,300 each from the settlement.

The settlement, expected to receive final approval in September, came after extensive mediation and five years of litigation. And surprise, surprise, the case was expected to go to court in September. Of course it goes without saying that the Hartford did not admit to fraud as part of the settlement terms. Nice to know some behaviors can be relied upon. 

$37 Million for Med Mal Victim. Then there is a solitary tale of success. The jury hearing the case of a woman who was permanently injured as a result of receiving steroid injections directly into her spinal cord has awarded her nearly $37 million.

In 2000, Kathleen Ramey, 42 years old at the time, was seeing one Dr. Andrew D. Weiss for chronic neck pain resulting from a car accident. The treatment, steroid injections, resulted in a fluid-filled cavity in her spinal cord. Consequently, she has a crippled arm, walks with a limp, and has weakness in her legs. She may even lose the ability to walk.

As for the good doctor? He is currently serving a 12-year sentence in federal prison for illegal distribution of oxycodone. Nice! Weiss’ medical license was revoked, but he faced no criminal charges. Ok—how does that work? Weiss declared personal bankruptcy shortly after treating Ramey. No comment.

Ok. That’s it for this week. See you at the bar! (Oh yes. That bar).

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