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August 2010 Archives

When Can A Party To A Lawsuit Keep His Or Her Name Undisclosed

Today's Legal Intelligencer reported on a Montgomery County case filed in the U.S District Court which ruled that the plaintiff must disclose his identity and cannot hide behind a "John Doe" pseudonym. This case addressed the age- old question (at least for some of us) of when can a party to a lawsuit not disclose their name. Perhaps the most famous case using a pseudonym is  Roe v Wade. In the matter of Doe v Meglass the plaintiff alleged that the school district and police of Upper Merion Township had circulated flyers with his name, address and driver's license photo accusing him of being a suspicious person who is known to hang around the local schools. No accusations of illegal conduct were made and the man does not have any prior criminal history. The obvious implication is that the man is a pedophile even though the flyer said that he had not approached anyone "to this point". Mr. Doe filed a civil rights action against the Township claiming that these false accusations have branded him a pedophile and are a violation of his 14th amendment rights. Lawyers for Mr. Doe asked the court that he be allowed to remain unidentified under the pretense that if his name appeared on the lawsuit it would only cause further harm since all filings are accessible to the public and of course, as the Intelligencer would attest, to the newspapers. Mr. Doe went so far as to say that if the court required him to disclose his identity he would drop the suit. Lawyers for the Township and the police department opposed this request claiming he did not show any special circumstance that would entitle him to more privacy than any other person filing a lawsuit. The defense lawyers cleverly argued that his assertions were no different from a person who files a sexual discrimination suit and must address her alleged perpetrators. Judge Sanchez ruled against the plaintiff on the basis that he did not show that he would suffer irreparable harm or a specific injury. His ruling affirms the principle that the public has the right to know, and only under very rare circumstances will the need for secrecy outweigh the public's interest. The judge did consider the fact that the plaintiff's day in court may be terminated by his ruling if he does drops his suit. However, this did not carry the day. Dennis F. Feeley

Obesity Costs The Nation $147 Billion Annually

A year or so ago there was a lawyer who sued McDonald's or was it Burger King? - Anyway the thrust of the suit was that the fast food culture is killing us and it's got to be stopped. The fast food industry should take some responsibility for our inability to take care of ourselves. Tort reform advocates came out in droves. What, don't we have the right to over indulge and eat what we want? Just another example of a system gone out of control. Maybe this was going a little too far, but a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a report this week which is "food for thought" www.cdc.gov . Based on recent a survey of 400,000 people, 72.5 million of us are just plain fat. That's 26.7% of the population. And, yes I am one of those whose doctor has said should lose weight. At least I work out everyday like a madman - not that this is an excuse. The CDC has said that this number is probably conservative since people have a tendency to fudge a little when it comes to their weight. The cost of this obesity in hard cold dollars is about $147 billion a year. According to Dr. Frieden who is the director of the CDC, get ready for more people to start getting sick and dying from all the complications associated with this disease. Programs to educate consumers have been unsuccessful so far.  What can we do about it? Aside from it burdening our health care system, it's sad to see those we love suffer from this problem. At the risk of sounding like one of those liberals who want to tax and spend this is a serious issue that we must deal with - now. Many of the states with the highest levels of obesity like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are also states with the highest levels of poverty and lowest standards for education. Fruits, vegetable and good sources of protein are expensive by comparison to bulk carbohydrates. When I go to the grocery store with my wife on the weekends and look at the stuff in people's carts I am astounded. How could it be that we still feed kids sugar-coated carbs for breakfast? Part of the answer has to be restraint and a generational shift. We have to get through one solid generation of kids who eat right in order to make it part of our culture. The experts also say that states like Colorado, which is the healthiest, have developed a culture of exercise with walking paths and running trails and biking. Short of us all moving to Colorado we have to start teaching and educating our children on eating right and exercising but it has to start with us big people first. Dennis F.  Feeley

Patients Receiving High Doses Of Radiation During Brain Scans

Recently I posted and the Morning Call published a column (Head to Head) where Paul Carpenter and I squared off on the issue of whether lawyers were responsible for patients receiving too much radiation. Carpenter's misinformed theory was that doctors were afraid of being sued by lawyer (presumably like me) and so they ordered unnecessary testing. Now this - a new piece of equipment used to perform tests to detect strokes called a CT brain perfusion scan is causing people to lose their hair suffer from confusion and increase their risk of brain disease and cancer. The reason according to the New York Times www.nytimes.com is improper training and a design defect in the scanner made by GE Healthcare. Hundreds of cases are being reported, most of them at this point are in California and Florida. According to the Times the FDA is considering an investigation, and up until the time of this report was unaware of these reported incidents.  Most of these tests are administered in the radiology department of your local hospital. Up to 13 times the recommended doses have been reported. At least one hospital spokesperson has said that is it likely that these incidents are nationwide but as yet unreported. GE is claiming that the technicians are not being properly trained and the hospitals are saying that certain automatic settings which are intended to allow the machine to regulate the dose based on a patient's weight are anti intuitive and actually increase the dosage rather than lower it. It is also a well know fact that higher doses produce better pictures. Many people have developed hair loss in the form of a circular band running around their head about 3 to 4 inches wide. Some hospitals have tried to blame other causes like diet for the hair loss. Huh? Isn't the Frankenstein circle around the patients head a clue? One hospital is offering hair pieces. The uncertainty of the long-term prognosis for these patients is scary. Apparently the test, when used by properly trained technicians, and when properly adjusted produces good results. If you or someone you know has experienced these types of problems consult with your doctor since many of these cases have gone undiagnosed. I certainly hope Paul Carpenter has read this piece, but somehow he will still manage to blame lawyers for this mess. At Cohen & Feeley we handle cases involving defective medical equipment and medical negligence. Dennis F. Feeley

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