Archives July 2015

Could Florida’s Medical Malpractice Caps Become Obsolete?

Allegory of Justice

A recent court ruling in Florida has dealt a potentially devastating blow to the state’s current cap on damages paid out in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to the Washington Times, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that caps on certain medical malpractice damages don’t apply in cases involving personal injury.

Under this ruling, the state law’s current limits on pain-and-suffering damages — otherwise called non-economic damages — are considered unconstitutional.

“(The) caps are unconstitutional not only in wrongful death actions, but also in personal injury suits as they violate equal protection,” the 14-page decision reads. “Whereas the caps on non-economic damages in (the section of state law) fully compensate those individuals with non-economic damages in an amount that falls below the caps, injured parties with non-economic damages in excess of the caps are not fully compensated.”

For plaintiff Susan Kalitan, who left her 2008 surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome with a perforated esophagus that became infected and required chest and neck surgery, the decision is welcome news. The jury awarded Kalitan $4.7 million in damages, about $4 million of which are non-economic damages, CBS Miami reported.

The court’s decision follows a similar ruling made last year in the state Supreme Court, in which limits on non-economic damages in wrongful-death cases were rejected.

Across the country, medical malpractice lawsuits paid out approximately $3.6 billion in 2013 alone. In Florida, under the medical-malpractice law that then-Gov. Jeb Bush passed in 2003, the maximum medical malpractice payout is set at $500,000.

With this decision, Florida’s medical malpractice caps are at risk of being shot down in even more courts across the state. Attorney Crane Johnstone of Fort Lauderdale’s Schlesinger Law Offices told the Washington Times that this ruling could pave the way for similar cases seeking to overturn the medical malpractice damages cap. At the same time, the 4th District Court of Appeal’s decision could be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, as well.

“Lawn Shaming” Takes Root in California


For parts of the country, summer means figuring out how to keep up with rapid grass growth without mowing the lawn every single weekend (grass should never be cut by more than a third in a single mowing). But that’s not the problem in California.

In the midst of a crippling drought, authorities in the state have adopted even more restrictions on turf intended to cut water usage. New office buildings will be allowed to have virtually no grass, and new homes may have only a quarter of the total lot’s acreage covered in grass (exceptions will be made for new construction that uses recycled toilet or shower water for landscaping). Rocks, shrubs and less thirsty plants, such as jasmine, are encouraged instead.

Some people say that even these steps don’t go far enough, and that the entire concept of emerald lawns in the Golden State must be abandoned. “We are a state prone to drought that should move away from the ideal of every home having a lawn that is watered with precious drinking water,” Tracy Quinn, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told NBC San Diego this month.

Disagreements over lawn watering — and seeming inequality in enforcement of restrictions on lawn watering — have even led to ugly confrontations among neighbors.

One such outburst took place on online bulletin board Nextdoor this month when Michael Feliciano of Curtis Park (a Sacramento neighborhood) began criticizing two of his neighbors for planting new sod, also asserting that several others couldn’t possibly be keeping their lawns as green as they were while also complying with city water restrictions.

“The possibility that we could run out of water is very real, and yet, there are those among us who seem to believe that they are entitled to ignore water restrictions, in the name of their beloved green lawns,” he wrote.

Fellow residents soon responded, generating almost 150 replies in just a few days. Some quite literally defended their turf, while others seconded Feliciano’s comments and further castigated people with green lawns.

This so-called lawn shaming isn’t an isolated incident, either. As of July 15, neighbor reports and city patrols in Sacramento had lodged 26% more complaints about water violations than they had at the same time last year.

Could There Be a Dark Side to the Growth of Biobanks?

DNA background

We’re all well aware of the many ways our personal data can be collected on the Internet, and how big data keeps a record of nearly all our preferences and tastes.

But what if the same kind of data gathering processes could be performed on the very genetic fiber of your being?

As the concept of biobanks has rapidly spread throughout the last several years, concerns over the ethics of collecting the DNA of millions of people and using them for commercial benefit have arisen as well. Despite the supposed anonymity of a biobank’s DNA samples, it’s been shown that these samples might not be so anonymous after all.

According to Science magazine, President Obama recently unveiled a plan to establish a massive national biobank that will store the medical records and genetic information of as many as 1 million Americans. As plans move forward with this biobank, the question stands: does the U.S. government have the right to use its citizens’ genetic codes as it will?

The Pacific Standard has reported that none of the 18 federal laws designed to protect the privacy of individuals and their genetic data don’t actually apply to samples of blood, tissue or other biological material. This means that the millions of genetic samples stored in biobanks can all be traced back to a name, race, zip code, address — even a facial image or set of fingerprints.

“In the worst-case scenarios, those samples and data could be used for research purposes that might offend participants or, in the wrong hands, be used to discriminate against them or their families,” the Pacific-Standard report explained.

At the same time, however, the benefits that biobanks can offer a population shouldn’t be discredited. Biobanks allow for the development of precision medicine, which would remove the guess-work of modern medicine and allow for more simplified and effective drugs and treatments.

Even more significant is the ways in which biobanks can expand treatment possibilities for patients with cancer. Cancerous tissue, when stored in biobanks, can be tested to determine the best drug with which to treat it.

And with the number of tissue samples stored in U.S. biobanks estimated at around 300 million at the start of the new millennium — and growing by an incredible two million each year — it’s unlikely that biobanks are going to fade out of existence anytime soon.

Hillary Clinton Bemoans the Daily Trials of Hair and Makeup

Make-Up Border

In a recent question-and-answer session on Facebook, Hillary Clinton shared just how much work it takes for women to get ready in the morning.

The former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential front-runner responded to a female Facebook user who asked about her morning routine.

“Every morning, as my boyfriend zips out the door and I spent 30+ minutes getting ready, I wonder about how the ‘hair and makeup’ tax affects other women,” Facebook user Libby Britain asked Clinton. “As a young professional woman, I’d genuinely love to hear about how you manage getting ready each morning.”

Clinton, who has spent a good portion of her career as a widely-known public figure, agreed that the ‘hair and makeup’ tax is a real problem.

“Amen, sister — you’re preaching to the choir,” she wrote. “It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can — and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!”

Despite her lighthearted tone, her answer is indicative of a problem that has troubled Clinton for several years — that women, no matter their age or rank in government, always seem to be scrutinized for their looks. It’s hardly surprising, for example, that the average American woman will have approximately 104 different hairstyles over the course of her life.

Clinton has a long history of pointing out the unequal experiences she’s had as a woman in politics. In 2010, during a town-hall meeting with students in Kyrgyzstan, a moderator asked her if she had any favorite fashion designers. Her response was appropriately barbed: “Would you ever ask a man that question?”

However, despite speaking out against some pretty evident gender inequalities, some still believe Clinton answered too many of the easy questions — and too little of the tough ones — during her question-and-answer session.

“Clinton ignored hundreds of tougher questions,” wrote Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller. “She did not answer the Daily Caller’s inquiry about whether she believes that “All lives matter” is a problematic statement. She also did not answer when asked for the specific date that she decided to scrub her personal email server.”

Still, it’s hard to find fault with Clinton’s ideas about ending gender inequality, especially when comparing her views with those of other presidential hopefuls.

“There is a gender card being played in this campaign,” Clinton wrote in one of her responses. “It’s played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception.”

Air Conditioning Not As Helpful As People Think, Experts Say

Air Conditioner Unit

America’s consumption of air conditioning is at an all-time high, leading some energy experts to cast doubt on the prudence of using A/C all the time — as well as the reasons why Americans can’t get enough of it.

The New York Times reports that energy experts are wrestling over the issue, with many claiming that the most challenging problem isn’t technical but cultural.

“Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige,” said Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at University of Sydney, Australia. He claims the problem of over-reliance on A/C is just as prominent in Australia as it is in the United States — about 87% of American households have air conditioning — and that it’s even worse in the Middle East and Asia.

One reason why A/C is so prevalent is that it’s common practice for tenants of commercial real estate to demand “chilling capacities” in their lease agreements to bolster their prestige for their customers. In the retail world, for example, high-end stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue are generally kept cooler than stores such as Target, Walmart, and Old Navy (although, sufficient to say, they’re all kept noticeably chilled).

Another reason for the massive intake of A/C in the developed world is that many businesses believe the misconception that workers are more productive in cooler temperatures. Research indicates the opposite. A recent study has shown that workers tend to be less productive, and make more mistakes, when the indoor air temperature is 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, as opposed to 74 to 76 degrees. Other studies have shown that in general, colder temperatures can make people feel “untrusting, uncommunicative and unfriendly.”

Nisha Charkoudian, a physiologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts, says that subconsciously, people relate coldness with vulnerability, stress, and discomfort.

“It’s left over from a time when it was dangerous to have that kind of change in temperature,” Charkoudian said.

Donald Trump Reiterates Grievances Against Mexico, Pushes For Border Fence


On July 11th, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lambasted the United States government and Mexico for their immigration and trade policies, accusing the latter of intentionally sending criminals — including drug dealers, murderers, and rapists — across the border to “wreak havoc on our population.”

The Associated Press reports that the billionaire real estate mogul and television personality spoke in front of a libertarian gathering known as FreedomFest in Las Vegas. Gathered inside the Planet Hollywood ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip, the audience watched Trump deliver excoriating indictments against Mexico, accusing its government of “killing us at the border and…killing us on trade.”

Though he claims that he “respect[s] Mexico greatly as a country,” Trump repeated his earlier charges that Mexico was bringing its “worst” to the U.S. and it was openly flouting American law.

“The problem we have is their leaders are much sharper than ours,” he said.

In order to confront illegal immigration, Trump proposed to build a fence across the entire U.S.-Mexican border, something that made the audience groan. And according to, he reiterated in a speech he delivered in Phoenix later that day his desire to build a barrier along the 2,000 mile border.

“I would build a great wall. And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” he said. “And I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

He did not address how he would compel the Mexican government to pay for the wall or, barring that, how he would produce enough funding to complete such a project, which would rival the Great Wall of China it its length and scope.

The figures are staggering. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection spent approximately $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 on building 670 miles of border fence, which has largely been ineffective in keeping undocumented aliens out.

Still, the demand for fencing remains strong in the U.S. By 2018, the fencing industry is predicted to expand by 7% annually, to garner $9 billion in revenue, and to build a total of 875 million linear feet in fencing.

Why Do Gen Xers and Baby Boomers Rely on Credit Cards More Than Millennials?

Man using a credit card in front of his laptop

Kids these days just don’t know how to manage their money, right?

Actually, it might be the adults who are having the most difficulty keeping their finances in check — in fact, according to a new survey by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Generation X (ages 35 to 48) actually thinks that high credit card debt is a normal aspect of covering finances.

Financial Adviser reports that 76% of Gen Xers began opening credit cards between the ages of 18 and 24, while only 68% of Baby Boomers (ages 49 to 67) did so.

36% of Gen Xers reportedly have at least $5,000 in credit card debt, and 25% admitted that they have more than $10,000 — which isn’t surprising, considering that in 2012, the average American home had two credit cards (and nearly a third of all households had at least four credit cards).

And even though Baby Boomers seem to manage their debt a bit better than the younger generation of adults, it seems that neither generation feels confident managing finances without the help of a credit card;USA Today reported that 48% of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in the Allianz survey stated that credit cards “now function as a financial survival tool.”

Millennials, on the other hand — that tricky group of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 — have stayed far away from credit cards when possible. U.S. News and World Report recently stated that more than one-third of 20-year-olds have never had a credit card, and that the majority of Millennials are “skeptical” of Wall Street.

Rather than handing their bills and taxes over to a financial adviser, Millennials are more likely to do their own research on the stock market and to manage their own money using low-cost mobile apps.

Most of these young adults were just entering the job market when the Great Recession hit, so they know how important it is to spend money and stimulate the economy — but they also seem to have a more positive outlook than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers when it comes to managing debt.

Many consumers in older generations, however, witnessed their savings and retirement plans completely drain out when the stock market tanked; with so much taken away so quickly, perhaps it’s hard not to adopt a pessimistic attitude.

The Effects of China’s Stock Market Turmoil

stock market foreign

For years, there has been a “Chinese Dream,” popularized by President Xi Jinping, of China becoming prosperous and secure enough to create sizable investment opportunities due to their success being reflected in capital markets.

However, with the bubble that was China’s stock market finally bursting last month, that dream may never become a reality. The turmoil the market has experienced has reinforced the doubt most have in stocks. In fact, a recent Bankrate survey found that 76% of everyday consumers don’t trust the stock market because it is too complicated and risky.

Now, China is taxed with switching from stimulus growth to consumer-based growth, but with the shakiness of the market, that may be easier said than done.

“This has caused me a lot of heartache. It will take some time to recover,” said Zhou Sujuan, manager of a private medical device company in Wenzhou.

The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight. With lagging property, reduced consumer spending, and local governments saddled with almost $3 trillion in debt, China’s economy is predicted to grow by the slowest rate in 25 years.

The effect of China’s success or failure will be felt around the world, as worldwide economies rely on this market for their own success. No matter what the industry, the effects of a failure in revival could be catastrophic for the global economy.

It remains to be seen if any of the plans in place will work to fix the issue, but the recent measures have drawn criticism of the Communist Party. Some say they are not working to create an open or dynamic economy.

“The massive state intervention, especially preventing major shareholders from selling shares and going after short sellers, has damaged financial sector reform in profound and permanent ways,” said Victor Shih, associate professor at the University of California San Diego, who studies China’s finance policy.

Girls at a Higher Risk for Sports Injury, Study Finds

Happy runner tying her shoes

Girls are at an increased risk of sport injuries, a new study shows — and girls who participate in field and track are at a higher risk than anyone. Research done by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows that injuries due to overuse, such as stress fractures and tendon or joint pain, are on the rise. This is especially true for young girls. Every year, 20 million days of school are lost by the 12 million young people, ages five to 22, who suffer from a sports-related injury.

“I was devastated. At first I didn’t know what it was,” said Elizabeth Oosterhout, a runner who suffered from a foot injury. “Looking back on it I was thinking was there something I could’ve done to prevent this.” Oosterhout participated in track at Tahoma High School and was awarded a scholarship to run at Montana State. On an 11-mile run, she got a pain in her foot, and later learned she was suffering from metatarsalgia, a common overuse injury.

“We see that these young people are spending more time playing sports both in competition and in practice. So there’s a correlation there in the amount of time they’re spending and increased incidents of injuries,” said Dr. Thomas Best of the OSU Wexner Medical Center.

In seven years, he has seen more that 3,000 injuries from 20 high school sports, the majority of which occur to those participating in track. That sport is followed by girls’ field hockey, girls’ lacrosse, and boys’ swimming and diving. Part of the problem may be linked to teens’ spending up to 18 hours a week playing and practicing their sport. The get competitive, and become incredibly focused and dedicated, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

“These youngsters who are playing a single sport may in fact be a risk factor for these overuse injuries, because their bodies are seeing the same repetitive loads with one sport,” said Dr. Best.

So the best advice for kids? Play different sports in order to change up what muscle groups they’re using. Make rest and diet important as well, since a bad enough injury could hurt them for the rest of their lives. Those with children in outdoor sports should also remember that a child’s skin is more delicate than that of an adult. Make sure they wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, and if they’ll be out for more than an hour, a sports drink is probably a good idea.

Nine Zoos in the U.S. Have Been Involved in a Major Data Breach

Internet Computer

Data breaches in the past few years have seemingly spiraled out of control — Ivy League universities have been affected, the government has been targeted on a massive scale, and it’s estimated that about 43% of businesses experienced some sort of data leakage or security breach in 2013 alone.

But cyberhackers have reached a new low: the newest targets for data breaches are now zoos.

That’s right — bring your family to the zoo for a fun-filled Saturday, purchase a stuffed lion and a water bottle at the zoo’s gift shop, and a few weeks later you get to see your bank account completely drained.

The Detroit Zoo announced that it suffered a security breach just a few weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The Houston Zoo confirmed on July 9 that it had also been subject to a credit card breach sometime between March 23 and June 25, reported.

The list keeps going — nine major zoos across the country were all hit with credit card system security breaches, because all nine used the same third-party payment processing system Service Systems Associates (SSA).

SSA, based in Denver, detected malware in its software after information had already been stolen from customers; everything from personal names, to credit and debit card numbers, to the three-digit CVV security numbers were stolen.

FOX 31 Denver reported that the only purchases affected were those made in zoo gift shops. Any purchases made at concession stands, for admission, donations, or memberships were not affected in any of the system breaches.

SSA issued an apology on its website shortly after the malware was discovered. Fox 31 Denver reported that SSA provides payment processing services to about 40 zoos, museums, and tourist attraction locations across the country, but that the company declined to specify which attractions were affected.

Again, this seems to serve as just another reminder: if you use your credit or debit card to make purchases, always be careful to check your statements closely and immediately report any possible fraudulent purchases.