Is Orange County Injecting Itself Into a "Judicial Hellhole"?

gunther.jpgOur stuck-up neighbor to the north, Los Angeles County, is among America's leading "Judicial Hellholes," which is what the American Tort Reform Association calls finalists on its annual list of the nation's most unfair civil court jurisdictions. But don't gloat too hard, Orange Countians, because we made the list of jurisdictions to watch.

R. Scott Moxley's Weekly investigation of October 2006 revealed that David Gunther--the ex-drug dealer, dead-beat dad and burglar pictured here--had made a small fortune by recasting himself as a handicapped rights advocate. Targeting small Southern California businesses, Gunther ferreted out their technical violations of state and federal laws designed to guarantee wheelchair access (most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act), threatened a lawsuit and walked away with up to $16,000 from each entrepreneur. Gunther called it "civil rights" work on behalf of the wheelchair-bound; his victims called it a "shakedown," "con game" and "extortion plot."

"In addition to more ADA lawsuits, the county is serving as an experimental jurisdiction into which a new mass tort is being injected," ATRF president Tiger Joyce says in a press statement. "A first-of-its-kind lawsuit claims that the popular wrinkle-reducing treatment Botox is unsafe, despite FDA approval 20 years ago and better than 15 million treatments worldwide since then for which reports of serious adverse effects have been very rare."

Joyce's heart is probably in the right place, but he is not telling the whole story.
A lawsuit over a mishap involving a Newport Beach trophy wife's pincushioned mug would be one thing--in fact, reading Joyce, you may think he is referring to the 2003 lawsuit brought by  Irena Medavoy, the wife of former movie studio chief Mike Medavoy, against Botox maker Allergan of Irvine and her own physician because, she claimed, the drug did some very unhealthy things to her after she tried to fix her face. Served the rich bee-otch right, many  scoffed at the time.

But in February none other than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- wait, let me add this for emphasis -- PRO-BUSINESS BUSH ADMINISTRATION U.S. Food and Drug Administration included Botox on a list of its own, the 2008 Safety Alerts for Human Medical Products. According to the FDA: "Botox and Botox Cosmetic (Botulinum toxin Type A) and Myobloc (Botulinum toxin Type B) have been linked in some cases to adverse reactions, including respiratory failure and death, following treatment of a variety of conditions using a wide range of doses."

The Feds were quick to add the reactions could have been related to overdosing and there was no indication that defects with the products were the cause. They've approved low doses of Botox to treat blepharospasm (involuntary blinking of the eye), cervical dystonia (involuntary contractions of the neck muscles), hyperhidrosis (excess sweating), strabismus (crossed eyes) and, yes, wiping out moderate to severe facial frown lines.

But the most severe adverse effects were found among children given Botox to treat spasticity in their limbs associated with cerebral palsy--an "off label" treatment the FDA has not approved. While not advising doctors to discontinue prescribing the products, the FDA warned that new conclusions, recommendations and possible regulations of Botox may be forthcoming.

Those will come too late for the four people killed and 11 people injured according to the Orange County lawsuit that Joyce is referring to. A Texas law firm contends Allegran promoted the off-label use of Botox and part of the suit asks that the drug company better train physicians on how to use it.

None of the four dead people had been prescribed Botox for cosmetic reasons. Two were children with cerebral palsy who received high does to treat spasticity, one was a 69-year-old woman who received the drug due to shoulder and neck pain and the last was a 60-year-old man who got it for his excessive salivation, according to plaintiff attorney Ray Chester.

Only three of the 11 injured plaintiffs got the drug for cosmetic purposes, said Chester, adding that droopy eyelids, numbness, headaches, and swallowing and breathing problems were among the complaints.

Whenever a tort reformer or frivilous lawsuit stopper or trial attorney demonizer or whatever they want to call themselves tries to make legal filings like these sound silly and unfair, one has to wonder how they would react holding in their arms the lifeless body of child who suffered under similar circumstances. That's a hellhole no one should find themselves in.
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