Japanese Automakers Recall Over Three Million Cars Due to Risk of Airbags Exploding

Carmaker logosSeveral of Japan’s largest carmakers announced on Thursday, April 11th, the recall of 3.4 million vehicles because of a defect in the passenger side airbags. According to a recent news release posted by American Honda, “it is possible that the passenger front airbag inflators in affected vehicles may deploy with too much pressure, which may cause the inflator casing to rupture and could result in injury.” The recall affects top-selling Japanese cars including, but not limited to, the Toyota Corolla and Camry, the Nissan Maxima, and the Honda Civic and Odyssey. Both Honda and Toyota have received reports of incidents where the airbag deployed under pressure and the casing ruptured. However, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths.

The airbags were supplied by Japan’s Takata Corporation, a company that supplies airbags and seatbelts to many of the major automobile manufactures, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Ford. According to news releases, all of the vehicles covered by the recall are model years 2000 to 2003. Toyota is expected to recall over 1.7 million cars manufactured between 2000 and 2004 that were sold in North America and Europe. Honda is recalling about 1.14 million vehicles, Nissan is recalling 480,000 vehicles, and Mazda is recalling 45,500 cars, all sold worldwide.

Consumers can find out if their Toyota or Honda is affected by the recall by going to the company’s  website and entering the vehicle identification number.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, April 11, 2013; Reuters, April 11, 2013

Proposed Legislation to Require Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Benefits to Include Coverage for PTSD

CT General Assembly logoFollowing the Newtown school tragedy, a number of emergency response workers and teachers were unable to return to work because of the emotional repercussions of what they witnessed at the scene. In response, the Connecticut Labor & Public Employees Committee introduced Senate Bill No. 823, “An Act Concerning Severe Mental or Emotional Impairment and Workers’ Compensation Coverage”.  The legislation would amend the Connecticut workers’ compensation laws to allow for claims based on emotional trauma. The current law limits workers’ compensation claims to workers who suffer physical injury. If the physical injury also results in emotional pain and suffering, the claimant may also collect for these injuries. The amendment, if passed, will most likely restrict claims based on emotional trauma to employees who are exposed to death or maiming while at work.

The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research provides the following summary of the pending legislation:

“This bill makes an employee eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if:

1. the employee’s employment caused the employee to witness the death or maiming, or immediate aftermath of the death or maiming, of at least one person;

2. the death or maiming was caused by an intentional act of another person, and not a natural cause; and

3. a licensed and board certified mental health professional diagnoses the employee with a mental or emotional impairment and determines that the impairment originated from the employee witnessing the death or maiming, or its immediate aftermath.

Except for special circumstances related to police officers and firefighters, current law does not provide workers’ compensation benefits for mental or emotional impairments unless they stem from a work-related physical injury or occupational disease.

The bill also extends all workers’ compensation benefits to (1) police officers who suffer a mental or emotional impairment caused by using, or being subjected to, deadly force in the line of the duty and (2) firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by witnessing the death of another firefighter in the line of duty. Current law limits the benefits in these instances to treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.”

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is opposed to the bill largely because of the likely impact on municipal budgets. There is also concern that the changes would result in abuse of the workers’ compensation system by workers who witness trauma at work and file fraudulent emotional distress claims. The Insurance Association of Connecticut (IAC) is also opposing the legislation.

To read the full text of the bill see File No. 53 at the Connecticut General Assembly website.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Blocks State From Recovering One-Third of Disabled Teens Settlement

Seal of U.S. Supreme CourtIn the U.S. Supreme Court case of Wos v. E.M.A., (No. 12-98, March 20, 2013)  the court ruled that the Federal Medicaid Act pre-empts a state’s authority to recover a portion of a Medicaid beneficiary’s personal injury settlement  when the settlement does not designate the amount attributable to payment for medical care. The ruling prevents North Carolina from being reimbursed for the $1.9 million that was spent on a child’s medical treatment.

The 13-year old girl in this case, identified as E.M.A., suffered severe injuries during her birth. In 2003 E.M.A. and her parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. Although expert witnesses estimated the damages to be in excess of $42 million, the insurance policy limits of the physician and the hospital largely determined the amount of the settlement. After the family settled the case for $2.8 million, the State of North Carolina claimed a third of the settlement.  The law of North Carolina allows for the Medicaid program to recover up to one-third of the total amount of any settlement or judgment in a medical malpractice case. However, the settlement did not identify the amount of the $2.8 million that accounted for medical vs. non-medical damages. The trial court ordered that one-third of the settlement be placed in escrow pending the determination of  how much the North Carolina Medicaid program was entitled to be re-imbursed.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the law of North Carolina conflicts with the federal statute.  “The Medicaid anti-lien provision prohibits a State from making a claim to any part of a Medicaid beneficiary’s tort recovery not ‘designated as payments for medical care.'”