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What is the public disclosure bar of the False Claims Act?

In one of our previous blog posts, we discussed the origin of the False Claims Act during the American Civil War. The act came about as a way to encourage individuals with specific information regarding the overcharging of the Union for goods and services purchased by the U.S. government.

Sometimes called qui tam or whistleblower's lawsuits, these claims help protect taxpayers by identifying fraudulent practices and reporting them to the government. However, the so-called "public disclosure bar" limits the information regarding such unsavory practices to things that the government would not have discovered by itself. In other words, the whistleblower, sometimes referred to as the relator, must have some information that is not ordinarily found in government documents or records.

Georgia soccer fields may contain potentially-dangerous material

Many Georgia parents have children on soccer teams. They are rightfully concerned about head and other injuries that are sometimes an unavoidable aspect of the sport. However, fewer have likely considered the potential dangers of the artificial turf fields on which these athletes play in high schools, parks and universities. It is also used at some stadiums.

Soccer parents have no doubt noticed the black rubber particles that end up in players' hair, skin, cleats and uniforms. It can also enter their bodies through cuts and through their mouths. Goalies, who have more contact with the turf than players in other positions, emerge from games covered with this "crumb rubber," which is made from old tires and synthetic fiber.

Truck accidents and average Georgia inpatient hospital costs

Commercial tractor-trailers are essential to keeping our state's economy moving. Each day semi- trucks transport valuable manufactured goods, agricultural products and other vital supplies throughout Georgia's system of highways and roads. Members of the commercial trucking industry make their money by moving a lot of freight very quickly. As discussed in one of our previous blog entries, sometimes the quest for profits lead truck companies and their drivers to exceed maximum allowable driving hours.

Accidents caused by fatigued drivers often result in fatalities and serious injuries. Victims of truck accidents who are fortunate enough to survive those experiences often incur significant medical costs related to their injuries. According to a 2011 survey of Georgia hospitals, the inpatient care related to adjusted expenses cost those medical facilities approximately $1,353 per day. It is important to note that these expenses are averages of hospital expenses and not what Georgia hospitals bill their patients.

Recalls often announced before Georgia dealers have needed parts

When many of us hear that our vehicle has been recalled, our first instinct is to take it to the dealer immediately for the necessary repair -- particularly if the problem can cause a crash. However, recall notices are often sent before the parts needed to make the repairs are even available.

It can take months or longer for dealers to get enough parts to fix all of the recalled vehicles. It takes time to have the parts made, tested, shipped to dealers and to train mechanics on how to fix the problem.

Will vehicle-to-vehicle communication change auto accident law?

Most of us are aware that many automobile manufacturers are now tinkering with new designs to create semi-autonomous and completely autonomous vehicles. Although vastly different in technical abilities, both types of vehicles utilize a technology known as vehicle-to-vehicle communication or V2V. This type of telemetry between automobiles uses positioning information such as GPS coordinates to determine the position of each vehicle on the road and then transmit that information to other vehicles nearby. This information can be sent in constant bursts of up to 10 times per second.

Of course, this is a very basic explanation of this rather sophisticated technology, but it is important to know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given its approval to the development and implementation of V2V technology in newly built American cars. NHTSA's ultimate goal is to make V2V mandatory in all future vehicles much like safety belts and airbags.

Consumer: CarMax sold her a defective product

With automobile defects and recalls dominating consumer news this year, many Georgia drivers may be surprised to learn that it's legal for used car dealers to sell cars with open recalls. Now used car retail giant CarMax is under fire for selling a 2010 Dodge Ram with open recalls.

According to the buyer, the truck went up in flames less than two weeks after she purchased it with her family and their belongings inside. They were in the process of moving.

Can state workers file qui-tam lawsuits in Georgia?

Yes, Georgia law specifically enables state workers to bring qui-tam or whistleblower lawsuits. In fact, the whistleblower law provides certain incentives and protections to people who disclose fraudulent, wasteful or abusive activities being done against the State's interests. In many cases, the people in the best positions to have knowledge of those activities are actually state, county or municipal employees. That is why Georgia law protects public employees who report violations and even noncompliance with federal state or local laws from retaliation.

Georgia whistleblower laws extend to any person working for any department, board, bureau or other such established state agency. Additionally, the law is purposely written to include all manner of public employees who are only loosely connected with the state. Some examples of these individuals might be agricultural researchers who worked for a small local government as part of a state-funded grant. Another example might be a medical professional who worked at a state-funded nursing home. The definition of public employee is intentionally broad in scope.

Defective products involving air bags bring more recalls

Georgia consumers have gotten used to hearing about massive vehicle recalls this year, and these recalls don't show any signs of slowing down. On Sept. 26, Ford Motor Co. recalled 850,000 2013 and 2014 vehicles over potential air bag issues.

The recalled models include the Lincoln MKZ, Escape crossover, Fusion sedan and its C-Max hybrid. The issue involves an electrical problem in the restraint control module that could prevent the side and front air bags from inflating in an accident. According to Ford, no injuries or accidents resulting from the defect have been reported.

Georgia class-action lawsuits are a force for good

In a previous article on our blog site, we discussed the series of vehicle defects and auto recalls involving General Motors vehicles. In particular, we highlighted the growing public suspicion that the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration failed to act quicker in response to multiple airbags failures in GM cars. It is believed that faulty ignition switches in GM cars prevented the deployment of airbags during several accidents. Many victims think that NHTSA should have responded quicker to protect the public by forcing GM to fix their faulty ignition switches.

This problem highlights the importance of class action lawsuits. Some people wrongly believe that class action lawsuits are simply a way for attorneys to rake in big fees on frivolous cases while leaving their clients holding nothing but worthless coupons. Our firm does not operate under that principle. We view class action lawsuits as a necessary component to our legal system that adds an additional layer of protection to consumers.

As truck accident numbers rise, focus turns to driver training

More than two decades after the U.S. Department of Transportation was ordered by Congress to develop training requirements for commercial truck drivers, the department's mandated standards are still viewed by many as woefully inadequate. This month, the Teamsters union and safety advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA, as its website notes, is part of the DOT. As an attorney for Public Citizen, one of the groups filing suit, notes, "twenty years, two lawsuits and two congressional mandates" have not been enough to get the agency to adequately increase the training required for commercial truckers.

The concern about the amount of training is supported by some troubling data. Injuries and deaths resulting from truck accidents have been increasing even as the number of auto accident fatalities has dropped. In 2012, there was an 18 percent jump in truck accident injuries (to about 70,000) and a four percent rise in deaths. In another 200,000 truck accidents that year, there was damage but no injuries.

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