Friday, January 30, 2009

The Erin Brockovich of the Auto Industry

Hi Everyone.  I've been so busy with school that my blog has been tragically neglected.  But I thought this warranted special attention - my mom is being awarded tonight for Consumer Advocate of the Year for her decade of work trying to make cars safer.  Thought I'd share the article with you.  Isn't she puuurty?

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Paula Lawlor, a former legal assistant, now independent contractor to attorneys nationwide who represent victims of automobile rollovers and the founder of the non-profit People Safe in Rollovers will receive the Consumer Advocate of the Year award from the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego at the Annual Awards & Installation Dinner at the U.S. Grants Hotel in downtown San Diego on Thursday, January 29, 2009.

The dinner and program, in the Presidential Ballroom will begin at 6:30 p.m. Other award categories are Trial Lawyer of the Year; Legislator of the Year; Judge of the Year and the J. Alexys Kalafer Award.

For the past 10 years Lawlor, who sees herself as a "social entrepreneur" -- one who believes that "to get things done and change society, you must be willing to go outside the normal channels" -- has been on a mission to fight for a stronger roof strength standard and to inform the motoring public about the devastating effects of "roof crush" while alerting consumers about the ramifications of the proposed inadequate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, FMVSS 216.

Due to the efforts of Paula Lawlor and Kevin Moody, a father from Oklahoma who lost his son Tyler to injuries sustained from "roof crush" in a rollover 6 years ago, and Senator/Dr. Tom Coburn, there was a June 4th, 2008 Senate Oversight Hearing on Vehicle Roof Strength in Washington, D.C.

Despite the fact that every year in the U.S. 10,000 die in auto rollovers and 24,000 are catastrophically injured, the roof strength standard has not changed in thirty-six years and the deadline for a new roof strength standard has been repeatedly postponed. The July 1st, 2008 deadline imposed on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, was derailed by the June 4th Senate Hearing because both Republican and Democrat Senators alike objected to the new weak standard proposed by NHTSA and the insertion of a preemption clause that would have robbed litigants of their constitutional right to sue and preempted all common law liability for manufacturers.

A new deadline was set for October 1st, 2008 and missed.

A second deadline was set for December 15th, 2008 and missed. The third deadline for the new roof strength standard is now April 30th, 2009.

It was while working with attorney Michael Piuze on the Robbie Lambert vs. General Motors trial in 2000, which resulted in a $25.7 million verdict for rollover and roof crush victim Robbie Lambert, that Lawlor realized that General Motors was not only aware that its roofs would not hold up in a rollover but that General Motors wrote the woefully inadequate standard to ensure that its own vehicles would pass the test.

Lawlor wanted the public to know what she knew and what juries were hearing: American auto manufacturers are fully aware that there is no occupant survival space built into many of their vehicles in the event of a rollover. The problem was that the documents Lawlor unearthed were protected and went back into protective status after trial and were not allowed to be given to the press or others to inform the public.

So Lawlor changed course and began urging attorneys to help her get documents free of their protective claim. She persuaded Alabama attorney Dana Taunton, to ask the judge to declassify the videos and test reports of the early GM drop tests from the late 1960's. Taunton walked out of court with a judge's order in her favor. The visual evidence of the early GM drop tests provided proof that GM knew its roofs would not hold up when subjected to forces in a rollover. Yet these same vehicles passed the government's static strength test FMVSS 216.

Then in 2006, Lawlor with Dallas attorney Todd Tracy, gathered the "roof crush" documents that Lawlor had worked to declassify and wrote Deadly By Design (which is linked to

For Lawlor, it has been a battle every step of the way with setbacks, roadblocks, threats and intimidation from auto manufacturers and others opposed to her mission to change the standard for roof strength and save thousands of lives annually.

NHTSA's proposed rule, which now appears to have been categorically rejected, would only save 13-44 of the 10,000 people that die annually in rollover related accidents. "This," says Lawlor, begs the question, "Who is protecting the people?"

Friday, January 9, 2009

My foray into socialized medicine

I don't like going to doctors or hospitals, and tend to try to cure my ailments with "Eastern remedies" as john would call them.  This can mean herbs, vitamins, acupuncture, a serious anti-oxidant diet, or really just letting the old immune system do its job, even if I have to wait it out. (Note to reader, never try this with an aching tooth.  Your immune system will not "fix" it.  And you will find yourself crying in an oral surgeon's chair begging him to rip it out.) Generally, my health is pretty good, and managed to dodge some medical land mines when I went home (flu, colds, poison oak).

I can't remember going to the doctor when I was young, except to get my ear pierced. It's not that I dislike doctors, I just have very rarely had decent medical insurance, and it semed like more of a hassle to go to one than to just stay home. Sometimes, though, the garlic/spinach/eye-of-newt concoctions I whip up at home just can't crack the problem, and so off to the doctor I go.  

This was my first time using the socialized medicine that the Military so graciously offers its active duty and their dependents.  I called up at 7am, said I'd like to see a doctor.  "Ms. Preston, how does 8:40am today sound?"  Sounds like good service to me.  Within an hour I was out, on my way to get my prescription (in the same building).  I asked the pharmacist how much I owed him for the little brown bag, and he says "surely, Ms. Preston, you must be new.  Your medical care is our first priority, it's all on the house!" Imagine that. Medicine that is timely, free and doesn't drag a sick person through the mud in order to just get in her car, drive home and go back to bed.

Okay, I left one little part out.  When I was waiting for the MD to come in the little room, a "tech" (not a nurse, but a very early 20's young lad) had to run down a list of my medical history with me.  Typical questions: 

Q: Are you a smoker?  

A: Not for a year now. (yay!)

Q: Do you drink coffee? 

A: Not for about 5 months now. (another yay!)

Q: Do you drink alcohol.

A. That would be a yes.

Q: How many drinks would you say you have a week?

A: (let's see, one while making dinner, one while eating dinner, a few at the club, a beer at the beach....boy am I glad I quit drinking for New Years) "I'd say ten.  About ten."

Q: I'm going to go ahead and put down 3.  3 is a much more acceptable Air Force Number. 

Excuse me? Acceptable Air Force number?  What exactly does that mean?  I have visions of being summoned to AA meetings by John's commander. Who exactly sees these records anyway? Does HIIPA even apply?  What about doctor-patient confidentiality?  Who is this kid anyway, he doesn't even look old enough to work here.  Is there a camera in this room?  I start to glance around. What if my illness is directly related to the number of alcoholic beverages I consume weekly, and because you are trying to shield me from Big Brother, the doctor might never find the cure for me.  This is how episodes of House begin.

All in all, I'd give socialized medicine an 8 out of 10.  Especially when I think of the various times in my life when I did not have insurance. Yes, the Big Brother aspect of it creeps me out. But it's better than sitting at home sipping that stinky garlic tea waiting for my immune system to kick in.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Back to school, back to school

I started classes again today!  Tonight's class was contemporary Foreign Policy with Dr. Bosworth, who is a really great teacher and all-around interesting guy.  I went to Coffee Casa, a Japanese coffee shop about a block from my house to start my reading. Reading "Rise to Globalism" by Stephen Ambrose & Douglas G. Brinkley.  It's highly readable and a good recap of the last 70 years of US military actions.  It seems the more I read, I feel like the less I know. How does one accumulate so much knowledge that they feel like they can speak authoritatively on a subject?  I was thinking that today when Dr. Bos was teaching - granted he's got about 15 years on me, and an PhD.  But will I ever get there? I read one author and think - yeah, that argument totally makes sense, and then I read another author who disagrees with author number one, and think - no wait, he's right, clearly.  Being "smart" used to mean acing tests. Smart it a whole other thing now.  Sometimes the smartest people are dead wrong (also reading Halberstam's the Best and the Brightest re vietnam). How can I begin to have an opinion that would be worthy of writing something scholarly (which I will have to soon) when I am still so unsure of my own opinions? I'm in this class that is pretty much 90% active duty military officers.  Wouldn't they clearly know more about foreign policy than I? I guess I'm just taking it all too seriously tonight.  That and because we dealt with the Spanish-American War tonight - an event that mysteriously escaped my 18+ undergrad history classes. Sigh.

So anyway, I was in Coffee Case, a lovely wooden cafe, drinking some tea, listening to an American Jazz compilation on the speakers, and reading an interesting book.  I got this swell of happiness that I have not gotten since 1. I returned to UCSD to graduate; and 2. I was studying at Dartmouth.  It is a warm contentment that is better to me than even Christmas Bonus Day (basically, I can't buy it).  I love being a student.  I love using my brain every minute that I'm a student.  I love hearing theories and trying to disprove them. I love the freedom of a student - instead of having to have my derrière in a seat 8 hours daily even if my mind is turned off.  I'm so lucky right now that I can be a student while still having this incredible overseas adventure.

Cortney's BF is in town, so john and I are going to go over to her place tonight for som e zesty beverages.  She's trying to break my new years resolutions, but I will not be broken.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Wow, 2009 already! We are sitting around just lounging on the couch today, contemplating New Years resolutions. Here are some photos from yesterday...

Gunner bunner and me.

A typical weekend morning pose.

Last night at the New Year's eve party

Sadie, my friend and trainer - can you believe she's 5 months pregnant?

Becca, Jen, John and Cortney