Aaron Freiwald

Welcome to The Law Matters

This blog is dedicated to thought and discussion about how to make the law matter positively for individuals and families.

PA Supreme Court: Dow Must Face Questions On Brain Cancer Epi
Dow HQ

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that Dow Chemical must produce witnesses to testify about alleged scientific irregularities in epidemiology studies the company sponsored to look at links between vinyl chloride and brain cancer.

In an April 10, 2012 decision, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of Rohm and Haas, now a subsidiary of Dow, which means the opinion of the Superior Court (Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court) stands.

And that means Dow and Rohm and Haas have lost their challenge to a court order compelling Dow to make available certain witnesses to answer questions about whether Dow concealed from epidemiology researchers evidence of workers who had been exposed to vinyl chloride and who later were diagnosed with brain cancer. The reason Dow allegedly concealed such evidence: To weaken the scientific links between vinyl chloride, a key ingredient in the making of plastic, and brain cancer.

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Low Dose Exposure and the Naysayers
BPA plastic bottles

That sounds like the name of a rock band, I know, but the headline actually refers to an important scientific struggle over the health effects of exposures to even relatively small amounts of dangerous chemicals.

BPA (found in plastics). Dioxin (highly toxic byproduct of various industrial processes). Atrazine (a widely used herbicide).

Dangerous chemicals, right? One would think that it would be easy and obvious to associate these well-known chemicals with harmful consequences to human health and also to wildlife. When there is a well-funded, highly motivated lobby resisting the weight of scientific findings, then that lobby can create a scientific debate.

Who could possibly be interested in resisting that highly toxic chemicals, even at lower doses, can have adverse health effects? Why, the chemical industry, of course.

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Graphic Warnings About Teen Smoking
FDA Cigarette Ad

The Surgeon General, whose office in 1964 first announced the adverse health effects associated with smoking, has just issued a new report, “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults.” The findings are unequivocal and frightening: Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable disease and death in this country. And it all starts, overwhelmingly, in the teen years. Here is a link to the full report. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/preventing-youth-tobacco-use/index.html.

The report, easily the size of three volumes of the now defunct Encyclopedia Britannica, is exhaustively detailed in its analysis. Among its key findings:

• Smoking is an epidemic among young people. Nearly one in four high school seniors is a smoker.

• Every single day, nearly 4,000 young people (under age 18) smoke their first cigarette. Of those, about 1,000 become daily smokers. For every three young smokers, only one will quit (eventually) and one will die from a smoking-related disease.

• Scientific evidence linking cigarette smoking and adverse health effects is stronger than ever. Smoking restricts lung growth in young people. It causes heart disease and lung cancer. An estimated 443,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related causes, adding about $100 billion to our national health care tab.

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“Just Close Your Eyes.” Excuse me???
Ultrasound

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s defense of a proposed state law that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion shows just how out of touch some Republican men are. Actually, maybe “out of touch” isn’t the correct phrase. After all, the proposed legislation is all about forcing women to be “touched.”

At a news conference last week, Governor Corbett shrugged off the intrusive requirements of the inaptly-named Women’s Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077), saying, “I don’t know how you make anybody watch, OK? Because you just have to close your eyes.”

Close your eyes? How would the Governor feel if he was required by law to submit to a physical examination of his penis and an evaluation of his erectile function before a physician could write a prescription for Viagra? I suppose he could just close his eyes.

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Tort Reform Hypocrite
Rick Santorum

Now that Rick Santorum is a legitimate contender for the Republican Party nomination, the rest of the country is learning things about this politician that those of us in Pennsylvania have know for a while now. (In 2006, Pennsylvanians tossed him out of the U.S. Senate; the margin of defeat was the largest for any Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania history.)

Rick Santorum was a man of many controversies during his time in the Senate. During his improbable presidential run, he has continued to find ways to attract lightning.

Although his views against contraception have received a lot of attention in the last few weeks, Santorum’s position on tort reform reveals hypocrisy on number of levels. If his candidacy continues and the health-care debate retakes center stage, his tort reform views will become even more important to understand.

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Hot Coffee (A Review)
Hot Coffee (A Review)

Most people have heard something of the McDonald’s coffee case. That is the one about the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself after leaving a fast-food drive-thru and then filed a frivolous lawsuit so she could cash in and make millions from our jackpot jury system, right?

Wrong.

Susan Saladoff’s important film documentary, “Hot Coffee,” shows how powerful corporate interests, aided by the news media, have distorted the story of this case to wage a PR war against the rights of individuals who seek redress in the courts. By making the McDonald’s coffee cup case the poster child for “tort reform,” corporate lobbyists like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and political consultants such as Karl Rove have steered millions of dollars to efforts to sway public opinion against those who have been injured and who rely on the courts to hold wrongdoers accountable.

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Lights, Camera . . . Action?
post-pic

The Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington last week approved S1945, a bill that would require the U.S. Supreme Court to televise its proceedings. This seems like such an obviously good idea.

The High Court is going to hear argument on the constitutionality of Obama’s health-care plan, but only a lucky few will get to hear the proceedings live. Think of the millions of people who watch Madonna at halftime or the next winner of Idol or the Bachelor. Imagine how the country might have focused on the true workings of the Supreme Court if the Bush v Gore proceedings had been televised.

Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court announced that, effective immediately, cameras will be permitted inside all Illinois trial courts. Illinois’ Chief Justice, Thomas Kilbride, explained, “This is another step to bring more transparency and more accountability to the Illinois court system.”

Exactly.

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A Philadelphia Lawyer Story
Photo by Northwest Herald Photo by Northwest Herald

When I first began thinking about writing this blog, I thought: I am a trial lawyer. I am a former investigative journalist. And I live in Philadelphia.

So, naturally, I thought of Andrew Hamilton.

The expression, “a Philadelphia lawyer,” as in, a lawyer who is an exceptionally talented attorney-advocate, can be traced back nearly 300 years, to Andrew Hamilton. It’s been a few years, but his is still a really good story.

In the early-1700s, Hamilton crossed the Atlantic from Scotland and settled in Philadelphia. He met and worked with William Penn and that opened some doors politically. At various times, Hamilton served as Pennsylvania’s attorney general and Speaker of the House of Representatives. He is also credited with helping design the building that became Independence Hall. That’s not a bad list of accomplishments.

Hamilton is best known perhaps for being one of the most highly regarded trial lawyers of his day. One case in particular earned him his claim to fame: his defense in 1735 of John Peter Zenger for seditious libel.

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