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CONSUMER PROTECTION Insurers pay $19.5M over nondisclosure of rates DES MOINES, IOWA (AP)-AMCO Insurance Co. and its parent company, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., agreed in an Oregon federal court to pay about $19.3 million to policyholders who claimed that the companies hadn’t properly informed them about higher rates in their auto insurance. The policyholders alleged that Des Moines-based AMCO and Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide had not fully disclosed that rates would go up because of changes in credit scores. Federal law requires companies to notify clients of such changes. DEFAMATION Illinois Supreme Court chief justice wins suit GENEVA, ILL. (AP)-An Illinois state jury has ordered a Chicago newspaper to pay $7 million to the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for a series of articles that he alleged were untrue. The jury ruled against the Kane County Chronicle and former columnist Bill Page. Chief Justice Robert Thomas filed a libel suit after Page wrote in 2003 that Thomas had softened his position in a disciplinary hearing for a former state’s attorney after supporters of the state’s attorney backed a judicial candidate he favored. LABOR LAW Grocery chain fined $70M over illegal hiring LOS ANGELES (AP)-In a settlement with federal prosecutors over charges that it had illegally hired hundreds of workers under fake names during a 2003-2004 grocery strike and lockout, Ralphs Grocery Co. has pleaded guilty to five of 53 counts in an indictment brought last year and has paid $70 million in criminal fines and compensation. The counts covered allegations of conspiracy, identity fraud, false representation of Social Security numbers, concealing facts relating to employee benefit plans and causing employees to represent information falsely to government agencies. During the nearly five-month labor dispute, some 19,000 Ralphs workers were kept from their jobs at Southern California stores starting in October 2003. Prosecutors estimated that close to 1,000 people worked illegally. MEDICAL MALPRACTICE Death following surgery yields family $6M award BOISE, IDAHO (AP)-An Idaho state jury has awarded more than $6 million to relatives of a woman who died following back surgery, after finding that an anesthesiologist and a technician had acted recklessly and that another anesthesiologist had been negligent. Lori Marie Jones, 28, died on Aug. 2, 2004. Jurors determined that Dr. Thomas Lark, an anesthesiologist, was negligent and that Dr. Deborah Jenkins, another anesthesiologist, and Geraldine Kurtz, a Cell Saver machine technician employed by B&B Autotransfusion Services Inc., had been reckless. Testimony showed that Jones had a heart attack after her Cell Saver blood bag was manipulated by Jenkins following the operation and died after being rushed to the emergency room at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. Her survivors accused Jenkins of negligently trying to speed the infusion of blood into Jones by placing a pressurized cuff around the blood bag. PRODUCTS LIABILITY Merck cleared in latest Vioxx heart-attack suit NEW ORLEANS (AP)-A Louisiana federal jury has cleared Merck & Co. of liability for the July 2003 heart attack suffered by a Utah bank credit manager who had taken the once-popular painkiller Vioxx for 10 1/2 months. Charles Laron Mason, 64, of Salt Lake County, Utah, began taking Vioxx after years of taking anti-inflammatory drugs for back pain. The case was the 11th to be tried and the fourth in federal court. Merck won two previous federal cases and lost the third. In state court, it has won three and lost three. Jurors decided a fourth in Merck’s favor, but the judge later ordered a retrial. Merck attorneys argued that Vioxx had nothing to do with Mason’s heart attack because he took the painkiller for less than a year and stopped taking it four days before the heart attack in July 2003. WHISTLEBLOWER LAW Medicine supplier settles Medicaid fraud claims CHICAGO (AP)-Omnicare Inc., one of the nation’s leading suppliers of pharmaceutical services to the elderly, has agreed to pay $49.5 million to settle large-scale Medicaid fraud claims. The fraud claims were contained in lawsuits filed in an Illinois federal court by the federal government and two whistleblowers who formerly were employees of Omnicare Inc. The lawsuits charged that Omnicare gave Medicaid patients Ranitidine capsules instead of less expensive tablets of the same medicine, Fluoxetine tablets rather than cheaper Fluoxetine capsules and two 7.5-milligram Buspirone tablets instead of the less costly, single 15-milligram tablets. Switching the form of the drugs enabled the company to increase the amounts it charged Medicaid. Ranitidine is generic Zantac, Fluoxetine is generic Prozac and Buspirone is generic Buspar. Under federal law, pharmacists can’t switch customers between capsule and tablet forms without a doctor’s orders.

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