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Baton Rouge Legal Blog

Darker streets could put pedestrians in danger

Daylight saving time ended in Louisiana and most other parts of the United States on Nov. 4. This means that drivers must contend with a lack of sunlight and glare from streetlights during their evening commutes. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), 75 percent of traffic deaths occur after the sun goes down. In Los Angeles, the number of pedestrian deaths increased to 137 in 2017 from 74 in 2015.

There are many potential reasons for the increase, including more people living in the area. Voters could choose to establish a permanent daylight saving time if they vote yes on Proposition 7. However, those who study the issue say that adopting such a measure could simply shift the danger to the early morning hours. Instead of putting pedestrians in danger, children could be in harm's way as they would go to school when it is still dark out.

Fire chief’s wife arrested after allegedly embezzling $225,000

Melissa Guitreau, the wife of the French Settlement fire chief, was arrested after allegedly confessing to her husband that she embezzled money from the fire department. Her husband, Chief Alan Guitreau, turned her in after her confession. She was booked on counts of theft, forgery and malfeasance in office.

Two convicted in Medicaid fraud investigation

Two people in Louisiana were convicted on welfare charges after being accused of running a scheme that cost the state over $1 million in unearned benefits. A 39-year-old woman filed a guilty plea on one count of felony theft. While she only took responsibility for one criminal charge, she was also ordered to repay $1,059,709.76 in restitution for the money obtained through the fraud as well as $300,000 in civil financial penalties. She was also ordered to obtain a new home mortgage in order to repay the state of Louisiana for Medicaid funds that she had used to pay the original mortgage.

In addition, a 40-year-old woman also pleaded guilty to one count of Medicaid fraud. She was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and serve three years of probation as well as pay court costs and other fees associated with the case. Both women are prohibited from working with any Medicaid or Medicare provider as a result of the conviction. The state attorney general said that the convictions will bring back $1.4 million in lost funds to the state's coffers.

More states look at tackling distracted driving

According to TrueMotion, a company that works with insurance companies to monitor the behavior of drivers, around 18 percent of Louisiana motorists use their phones for apps and texting while behind the wheel. This is on the higher end for U.S. states. Like most other states, Louisiana prohibits texting while driving.

More states may start to ban any kind of handheld devices based on the apparent success of a law passed in Georgia that did so. In the first month after the law's passage, the use of apps and texting by drivers dropped by 22 percent. As of September 2018, deaths in motor vehicle accidents had declined 14 percent. Law enforcement reported that they planned to get more aggressive about enforcing the law.

Distracted driving and car accidents

Distracted driving is a major cause of serious accidents in Louisiana. In fact, a recent study by AAA found that distracted driving is the most significant contributor to accidents in the United States. While many people believe that they are immune to such accidents, the risk continues to rise.

There are three major types of distraction: visual, cognitive and manual. Visual distraction occurs when a driver takes their eyes off the road. Cognitive distraction involves a driver mentally taking his or her attention off driving tasks. Manual distraction occurs when a driver fails to physically control a vehicle by taking their hands off the steering wheel, gas pedal or brakes.

New traffic laws in Louisiana are in effect

The number of traffic fatalities in Louisiana has been increasing since 2013, most notably in urban areas of the state. In a serious effort to improve traffic safety and increase accountability, Louisiana's Highway Safety Commission is championing several new traffic laws went into effect as of August 1, 2018.

A cancer drug company agrees to an $885 million settlement

A leading wholesale drug company that distributes a significant share of pharmaceuticals to Louisiana and the rest of the country, agreed to a settlement based on a claim that it repackaged and sold contaminated oncology drugs to the federal government. The $885 million settlement includes more than $600 million in civil damages.

The initial allegations were brought as the result of a qui tam lawsuit. In such an action, a private citizen can sue a company for allegedly cheating the federal or state government in some way. The citizen, who typically works for the company and is known in the court action as the "relator" or whistleblower, acts as a third-party suing in place of the government. If successful, the private citizen may be eligible to receive between 15 -25 percent of the recovery.

Large drug company agrees to huge settlement

A large cancer drug company recently settled a massive qui tam lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice worth more than $600 million. The lawsuit alleged that the AmerisourceBergen Corporation repackaged oncology drugs that contained bacteria and other non-sterile particles and sent them out to health care providers in Louisiana and throughout the United States. This legal action was initiated by a whistleblower whose actions are protected under the False Claims Act, also called Lincoln's Law.

Qui tam is a type of action under this law where, on behalf of the federal government, a third party can sue a government contractor. Employees who blow the whistle in these case are sometimes known as "relators," and they can be rewarded 15 to 25 percent of the recovered funds. Whistleblowers receive such a high reward because there is value in their action and finding employment after turning on an employer can be difficult.

Louisiana police officer injured in motorcycle accident

A police officer suffered life-threatening injuries when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a car on the afternoon of Sept. 25 according to media reports. The officer, who has served with the Slidell Police Department for more than a decade, was escorting a funeral procession at the time of the crash. Subsequent reports indicate that the officer's condition has stabilized, but doctors have not speculated about his chances or recovery.

The motorcycle and car accident took place as the procession left a funeral home on Gause Boulevard West at approximately 12:30 p.m. Eyewitnesses say that a black sedan pulled in front of the officer's motorcycle as it headed westbound after pulling out of a parking lot. The officer was ejected from his motorcycle after striking the car according to reports.

3 men facing prison time and forfeitures for alleged Ponzi scheme

A criminal case against three men accused of running a $364 million Ponzi scheme serves as a reminder to investors in Louisiana to choose their money managers carefully. A federal investigation in Maryland has resulted in the arrest of three men and charges of wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft. Convictions on any of these charges could produce 20-year prison sentences.

According to the 14-count indictment, the men attracted investors by lying about investment returns. They were supposed to buy defaulted debts that would be sold supposedly at a profit to other parties. Many individuals, including doctors, accountants, professional athletes and bankers, reportedly gave the men money to invest in debt trading, but the men allegedly spent the money on themselves. Investigators collected details about the men spending $74 million on luxury homes, fancy cars, boats and diamond jewelry. They also allegedly gambled away $25 million at casinos. The indictment called for the forfeiture of the recoverable assets.