Getting Back To Business After COVID-19

We’re not going to mince words when it comes to the current response to COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus: it was abysmal. Because of the government’s ineptitude during this crisis, we will likely be trying to find new ways to respond to ongoing infections for years to come. The hope for a vaccine, for now, remains a pipe dream. Reality is much bleaker. And that means we need to embrace the facts.

Many of us were exposed to the coronavirus when we need not have been, but the legal options for responding to such an assault are severely limited.

Do you run a business or organization trying to make ends meet? We know the feeling. There’s no guarantee that customers will return once your business reopens and it’s anyone’s guess how long you can stay open when that day comes. If you have legal questions and concerns regarding employees and customers, we would love to hear from you. Do you have a story about how your friends and family kept your business afloat? These harrowing tales could be the key to finding meaningful compensation in the days ahead.

Even though local and state governments are beginning to reopen little by little, keep in mind that your business should continue to operate safely. Ask employees to work from home whenever possible. Ask customers and employees to maintain limits on personal contact and always social distance during meetings. Furthermore, keep personal protective equipment (gloves and masks) on hand to keep the risk of exposure low.

We also suggest using plastic shields as a barrier between work spaces. These extra measures will help keep your clients and staff safe. More than that, the measures will also reduce the potential for lawsuits in the days ahead. Our offices have been inundated with questions, comments, and calls for personal injury assistance — and we can’t help everyone. Please do your part to minimize the risk!

Can The Government Be Sued For Responding To Covid-19 Ineffectively?

Right now, there are many memes using information from supposed “experts” who say that we shouldn’t worry too much about the potential of the coronavirus covid-19 to wreak havok on our nation. The biggest problem, they say, is people panicking and buying out every item that our grocery stores have on their shelves. And that is a problem. But these people continue to compare covid-19 to the annual flu virus — when in fact it might be smarter to compare it to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

The Spanish flu killed between 17 and 50 million after infecting less than a third of the world’s population. (Which was only 1.9 billion people at the time. The world population right now stands at about 7.8 billion.)

The mortality rate of the annual flu is .1 percent, while the mortality rate of covid-19 is presumed to be around 2 percent. Compare that to the mortality rate of the Spanish flu, which was around 2.5 percent, and you’ll understand that Spanish flu has more in common with covid-19 than the flu.

But there’s more.

It’s not just about the mortality rate. It’s about the number of infected. And in order to understand the virus’s capacity to travel from one person to the next, we need to know how contageous it is compared to annual flu and Spanish flu. We learn this information by figuring out how many people any given infected individual is likely to infect. Individuals who will infect one other person are given a reproductive number of R1, for example. Two people, R2. Three people, R3, and so on.

Scientists believe that covid-19 has a value of R2.3. The annual flu has a value of 1.3. The median rating allotted to the Spanish flu was 1.8. What does that mean? Not only is covid-19 potentially as deadly as the Spanish flu, but it’s potentially more contagious. Do we know all this for sure? No. We’re still taking educated guesses, and scientists won’t have better answers until the whole thing is over and done with.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

Donald Trump called the coronavirus pandemic a liberal hoax only two weeks ago. He said the negative media coverage was a ploy by his political enemies to undermine his chances of reelection later this year. Because he didn’t believe in the seriousness of this virus, the United States did not request or receive the necessary testing equipment it required to find out how many people are actually infected. That means the number of infected is likely already much higher than reported. 

You decide if the government should be held financially responsible for this potentially deadly mistake.

New Multi-State Coalition Opens Lawsuit Because Of Food Stamps Requirements

No presidential administration has been the subject of more lawsuits than Trump’s. But that should come as a surprise to no one. What might be more interesting to those who support him is how many of them are brought on by multi-state coalitions. After all, Republicans are supposed to be the party that supports state rights and powers over federal ones. 

The latest lawsuit is the result of new regulations requiring certain categories of food stamp recipients to work or go without. More than a dozen states have supported the lawsuit, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia, and Rhode Island.

Trump is big on bragging about how much he gets done. One of those stories involves lifting people off of entitlements — even though he did it by making those entitlements much more difficult to acquire. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) will formally limit state rights in eliminating work requirements as of April 2020. When the new regulation is finally implemented, about 688,000 people might lose their food stamps.

The new lawsuit says that the new regulations are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law…The rule conflicts with the federal statute, the purpose of SNAP, and the clear intent of Congress to alleviate hunger and malnutrition while maintaining States’ flexibility.”

When asked about the new work requirements and waiving of state rights overriding them, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that it “lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.”

Perdue added, “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand. Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work.”

The fine print is important, though. That’s because adults who “can work” are already required to do so by the old laws. Those who aren’t disabled and don’t have kids — but who don’t work — can only receive benefits for no more than three months in three years. Those who are working are entitled to more. 

The lawsuit was built because right now states have the right to waive the work requirement in certain situations, such as when unemployment is high. Certainly, the new restrictions are being excused by Perdue on the basis of a strong economy — but strong economies are ephemeral, and the new rules are certainly not tied to the whims of the economy.

New Voting Laws Scrutinized Around The Country Will Likely Draw New Lawsuits

States are beginning to question how the voting process fails our system of government and what changes should be made, if any. There are two basic changes that could be implemented on a widespread basis: automatic voter registration and ranked choice voting. Both of these choices change the way elections would play out. Both would also change the way electoral candidates face off against one another. And both could be subject to a number of legal challenges in the near future.

Automatic voter registration is exactly what it sounds like: the state government will automatically register you as a voter whenever you visit the Department of Motor Vehicles or change your postal address. Massachusetts is set to implement this system in 2020, and other states are looking into it. Such a system could reduce the likelihood of voter suppression (an important tactic for Republicans) and increase voter attendance on Election Day.

A few states take the system one step further: not only do they automatically register their residents to vote, but they also send out absentee ballots to every single one of those voters. Such a system is also meant to increase the number of votes cast on Election Day, but it doesn’t always work (although we ask ourselves what anyone’s excuse for not voting with an absentee ballot in hand could possibly be). 

Ranked choice voting is another controversial maneuver (somehow).

Typically, only a plurality of votes is needed to win an election. That means no one needs to break a 50 percent threshold in order to win. Ranked choice voting ensures that a candidate does need to break that threshold. Basically, voters would rank their first, second, third choice, etc. On Election Day, each “last place” candidate to fall beneath the needed threshold to stay in the race would be eliminated until one of the more popular candidates finally meets the 50 percent threshold needed to win.

Ranked choice voting is a popular alternative for several reasons. For starters, no one who votes in a ranked choice state is allowed to say that voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote — because literally anyone can beat that 50 percent threshold if enough people rank him or her highly enough. It gives everyone a fair chance regardless of traditional socially influenced lines of thinking.

It also eliminates strategic voting practices when a third party candidate is in the race. In addition, candidates should feel less inclined to run negative campaigns because voters no longer have an either/or choice to make. Instead, candidates should simply be seeking as many first place rankings as possible. Second or third place? That should be great too. 

Obviously, these systems of voting are unpopular with certain political parties which benefit the least from them (i.e. Republicans). And that’s why legal challenges seem inevitable.

24 States And Washington D.C. Sue Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency

The world is changing. It’s no secret that the Trump administration is less worried about the environment than the rest of the world. It’s also no secret that Trump has installed officials into positions for which they’re not really qualified — like the new heads of NASA or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), neither of whom believe in man-made climate change. 

This is a cause for concern for many state governments and the people who reside in those states because they rely on protections put into practice by those agencies to keep the air they breathe — or the water they drink — clean and free of pollutants.

Dozens of states — Pennsylvania included — have filed multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration and the EPA for rolling back emissions standards. Even coal and oil companies have said that these moves were a bad idea, and they’re the ones who supposedly benefit from these “business-friendly” policies!

The most recent coalition action was filed in the DC Circuit court system in order to allow California to set its own “Advanced Clean Car Standards” so that the rest of the states might follow suit. The Trump administration has argued that a single state should not have the ability to influence national policy on such a level. But the fact is, most states want cleaner air, and California has been the leader for these policies for a long time.

Attorney General Kaul said, “Today’s filing is part of the multi-state effort to protect the ability of states to keep leading the fight against climate change. It’s always important that states have the opportunity to lead efforts to protect our national resources, and it’s especially important now, as the Trump administration has abandoned efforts to protect our environment.”

California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program for many types of road vehicles was first adopted in January 2012. It sets standards for these vehicles and helps reduce smog and other dangerous emissions. This forces automakers to change their own standards because the population of California is so high. Ignoring the consumer base there isn’t an option, which means changing standards is the most cost-effective solution. 

States included in the lawsuit are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Municipalities of Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City are also attached to the comprehensive lawsuit.

Even if the Trump administration wins in court, it is unknown whether or not automakers would actually reduce standards to reflect the change.

Medical Marijuana Patients Sue Lebanon County In Pennsylvania Over Restrictive Policies

Is it fair to limit the use of medical marijuana to the general population of law-abiding citizens? Or rather, is it fair to prohibit the use of legalized medical marijuana from those who are on probation or lawful supervision? Those are the questions being asked to the Lebanon County court in Pennsylvania by three patients who would like to continue using medical marijuana for doctor-approved treatments.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three patients in Commonwealth Court to bar the proposed policy change from continuing to prohibit medical marijuana based on legal status. The law went into effect only last month.

According to the lawsuit, the enacted law is in direct violation of certain provisions of the 2016 medical marijuana laws already in effect. The lawsuit requests that court intercede on behalf of the three medical marijuana patients so that they may lawfully continue treatment until a final decision can be made. The lawsuit also requests approval for class action status, which would allow others affected by the law to add their names to the suit. 

The suit says, “More than sixty people with serious medical issues in Lebanon County must now decide whether to discontinue their lawful use of a medical treatment that safely and effectively alleviates their serious medical conditions, or risk revocation of their probation and possible incarceration. It is a choice between risking severe health consequences or going to jail.”

Many medical marijuana-related treatments use these drugs to manage pain more effectively than addictive painkillers like opioids, which are having a disastrous effect on communities around the country.

Lawyers under the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts’ payroll are representing the Lebanon County judicial district. Thus far those advocates are refusing to comment on the lawsuit.

Vic Walczak, a lawyer for the ACLU, said that the restrictive policies are also apparently in effect in some smaller state counties. They are notably absent from larger districts like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

Walczak said, “Many of the countries, we don’t know [about]. So if there are people out there who can tell us that other counties are not complying with the law, we’d like to hear from them as well.”

Lebanon County President Judge John Tylwalk was responsible for signing the policy into law, an act he justified by falling back on marijuana’s status under federal law. It remains illegal under the “most dangerous” classification of illegal drugs. He said that the court “should not knowingly allow violations of the law to occur.” 

This is a blatant circumvention of Pennsylvania law, however, which went into effect years ago. At this point, it also looks like recreational marijuana is on its way to legalization in the state.

2017 Federally Mandated Cap On Local And State Tax Deductions Upheld By New York Judge

The 2017 legislation placed a cap on deductions at $10,000 for state and local taxes (SALT). Democrats are often slammed for trying to increase taxes, but this particular deduction from federal taxes was very popular in blue states — it gave those states the ability to increase their own taxes to prioritize their own citizens’ wellbeing over everyone. It’s a particularly Republican thing to do, but the Republicans are the ones who enacted the deductions cap. 

It’s almost as if they don’t really have states’ rights at heart, like they always say they do. In this way, Republicans can say they’ve reduced taxes — federal taxes — even though the obvious consequence is an increase in state and local taxes to balance out the budget.

According to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, the SALT tax cap is “unprecedented, unlawful, punitive and politically motivated. We disagree with the court’s decision and are evaluating all options including appeal.”

The states that opposed the new bill were New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland. Those states filed a lawsuit against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Internal Revenue Service. They wrote that the bill was “an unconstitutional assault on states’ sovereign choices.”

Judge J. Paul Oetken did not agree, and subsequently dismissed the suit. He explained, “The cap, like any federal tax provision, will affect some taxpayers more than others and, by extension, will affect some states more than others. But the cap, again like every other feature of the federal Tax Code, is a part of the landscape of federal law within which states make their decisions as to how they will exercise their own sovereign tax powers.”

Staff at the Government Finance Officers Association said that SALT is all about a working partnership between different governing entities in local, state, or federal levels. The SALT laws have been successful for over a century, they said, and “the deduction is fundamental to the way states and localities budget for and provide critical public service, and a cornerstone of the U.S. system of fiscal federalism.”

Based on a 1964 extension of the Revenue Act of 1913, people can deduct property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes. These deductions prevent taxpayers from paying tax on income more than once — which is generally a favorable thing from the perspective of most American taxpayers, who like to keep a firm hold on their money.

Democrats believe that the deductions on property taxes and sales taxes respectively promote home ownership and spending, thereby stimulating economic growth year by year. By placing a cap on the deductions, the economy might not see as much movement.

Opioid-Related Court Battles Against Purdue Pharma To Expand

After nearly 1,000 lawsuits were planned to combat Purdue Pharma, an opioid manufacturer owned by the Sackler family, a possible settlement is ongoing. Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the news on September 12, 2019: he would sue the Sackler family for instigating the growing addiction to prescribed pills.

Shapiro’s statement outlined his arguments: Purdue Pharma “seems to be concerned with only one thing — keeping their hands on the ill-gotten gains they made while pumping our commonwealth full of OxyContin. Through our negotiations with Purdue Pharma, it became crystal clear the Sacklers have no intention of taking any ownership for engineering an epidemic that claims the lives of 12 Pennsylvanians each day.”

Eight counties in Pennsylvania are pursuing the same court agenda. They include: Crawford, Beaver, Washington, Lawrence and Westmoreland. Robert Peirce & Associates are pursuing the litigation.

Robert N. Peirce Jr. said, “It’s about time that they admitted responsibility for their role in bringing about this crisis, and this problem. But negotiations are still ongoing. It’s too early to give any predictions as to how much is being paid to whom. And we anticipate at least another week of negotiations.”

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state pulling the trigger — Miami launched a separate civil case in Miami-Dade County Court. Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach Counties have launched suits, as have 250 cities throughout the country.

Similar complaints have been filed across most of these lawsuits. According to court-released documents, Purdue and other opioid manufacturers routinely try to flood medical offices around the country with apparent misinformation to falsely indicate OxyContin’s efficacy. 

The potential settlements for 1,000 lawsuits — out of a total 2,000 plaintiffs — are “a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed,” Shapiro said. “The Sacklers’ mission to avoid accountability and transparency stops here.”

He continued, “The lawsuit I filed on behalf of all Pennsylvanians seeks to require this family of billionaires, who orchestrated opioids into as many doctor’s offices, pharmacies and medicine cabinets as possible, takes responsibility for the pain they caused.”

Whatever the outcome of the cases against Purdue, it’s clear that many plaintiffs won’t tolerate the subject being swept under the rug as it has been for so many years.

Shapiro plans to hold the Sackler family accountable for liability claims. Many of the relevant cases are slowly making their way through federal court in the Northern District of Ohio, Cleveland. 

Purdue did not respond to requests for comment.

New Lawsuit Blames Pleasant Acres Nursing Home For Death Of Resident

Nancy Young, 89, was a resident of Pleasant Acres Rehabilitation and Nursing Center when she died on December 15 last year. Now the care facility is being blamed in a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges Young was the victim not only of another resident’s negligent actions, but also of an improperly staffed nursing home.

According to the lawsuit, Young had been injured only one week before she passed away. The injuries occurred as the result of another resident’s carelessness. While leaving from a visit with this other resident, Young had the door slammed behind her. She fell, breaking her wrist and hip. No one witnessed the event, but these were the injuries that led to Young’s unfortunate death.

The York County Coroner’s Office described the death as a result from a combination of blunt force injury and age-related illnesses such as heart disease. As a result, the death was ruled a homicide and the Springettsbury Township Police Department investigated it as such.

Unfortunately the police decided that there was no reason to file criminal charges. It was a “terrible tragedy” according to the York County District Attorney’s Office, but could not be reasonably described as a criminal act.

The subsequent lawsuit, filed by daughter-in-law Barbara Young (the executor of the Young estate), alleges that Pleasant Acres had inadequate staffing to care for Nancy or the other residents, and that the conditions there led to Nancy’s premature death. 

The law may be on her side.

Care facilities are regulated by very strict laws. Pennsylvania law mandates at least 2.7 hours of care be provided to each resident for every 24-hour period that elapses. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pleasant Acres facility had only been providing an average of 2.44 hours of care for each resident when they visited on October 26, 2018 — less than two months before Nancy Young’s death.

The state asked them to correct the issue, but they had failed to do so before another visit in November, even after enacting plans to correct the issue.

According to the lawsuit: “In their efforts to maximize revenues/profits, Defendants negligently, intentionally, and/or recklessly reduced staffing levels below the level necessary to provide adequate care to residents, which demonstrated a failure to comply with the applicable regulations and standards for nursing home facilities.”

Now the burden is on the home to prove that the issues were indeed corrected by the time Nancy incurred her injuries.

Changing Controversial Fireworks Laws In Pennsylvania: Here’s What You Need To Know

The Fourth of July is a celebration for the masses, and depending on where you reside it might just be a celebration measured by the inevitable nighttime light show. This presents a problem in Pennsylvania, where changing fireworks laws have left Pandora’s Box hanging wide open. One of the issues is that most people are ignorant of changes in the law since last year, but that pales in comparison to the bigger problem: many of the hottest brands have issued recalls for their products.

Old laws allowed Pennsylvania residents to buy fireworks that are branded specifically for consumer purchase. These typically contain less than 50 mg of explosives. Popular products are the ones you’ve heard of before: bottle rockets, firecrackers, and Roman candles to name a few.

Now residents will not be allowed to purchase anything that travels through the air — not at popular pop-up roadside tents, anyway. Instead consumers will have to head to brick and mortar stores to make their purchase. It’s not a coincidence, either. Many of these brick and mortar retailers sued the other suppliers based on “safety” concerns. They argued that the brick and mortar locations had tighter security and better safety measures in place than the tents.

Another facet of the argument was that brick and mortar locations couldn’t compete (in fireworks sales, anyway) with the pop-up tents because the latter have much smaller overhead costs.

Those who get their hands on legal fireworks can only set them off when they are at least 150 feet away from a structure designed for occupation. It is also illegal to use fireworks on private property without the owner’s express permission. You may get arrested for trying to use fireworks while under the influence, or for setting them off from the inside of a vehicle.

These are general state laws, but if you plan to enjoy your next holiday with fireworks you would be well advised to check with local laws and regulations. In many municipalities they remain illegal during certain times of the year.

Keep in mind that fireworks displays can be extremely uncomfortable for pets, and there is basically no way to protect them from the bright lights and loud noises they experience all night long. 

Unfortunately, many law enforcement officials openly acknowledge how useless most of the laws and regulations actually — in part because so many people don’t know about them or openly ignore them, or because police are simply spread too thin to enforce them.