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A South Florida appeals court has made a decision regarding arguments that the state improperly revoked the license of a Broward County nursing home where residents died after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal last week rejected the appeal by The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The one-page order did not explain the court’s reasons.

Lawyers for the nursing home asked the court to find that an administrative law judge made a series of errors in recommending that the facility lose its license.

Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air conditioning, with authorities attributing as many as 12 resident deaths to sweltering conditions in the building. But attorneys for the Agency for Health Care Administration contended in a brief that the nursing home’s “abject failure to meet its obligations as a licensed facility and the tragic consequences justify AHCA’ s decision to revoke its license.”

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10, 2017, in Monroe and Collier counties and caused damage through much of the state. The nursing home lost power to its air-conditioning system, which was out until Sept. 13, when residents were evacuated.

The deaths drew national attention and led the state to move quickly to shut down the facility and, ultimately, revoke its license. Four staff members were charged with manslaughter. Administrative Law Judge Mary Li Creasy in 2018 issued a recommended order supporting the revocation.

While authorities have attributed as many as 12 deaths to conditions at the facility, Creasy wrote that “clear and convincing evidence” was presented during the case that nine of the 12 residents “suffered greatly from the exposure to unsafe heat in the facility.” Following Creasy’s recommendation, the Agency for Health Care Administration in January 2019 issued a final order to revoke the license.

Florida’s current nursing home generator law requires assisted living and nursing home facilities to acquire generators and fuel as a direct result of the Hurricane Irma tragedy. The equipment that they have must allow them to keep the temperature at their facility at 81 degrees or below even if they suffer a loss of power. Small facilities must be able to provide air conditioning for 48 hours and larger facilities must provide power for up to 96 hours after a power loss. 

There are additional requirements, such as facilities must create and report an emergency plan to the Department of Elder Affairs, which must be a comprehensive emergency management plan. Additionally, they must also pass an inspection by the Florida Fire Marshall. The Fire Marshall performs an inspection to ensure that the generator and fuel that the facility acquires is adequate to comply with the law.

Just like all other states, Florida’s nursing home laws are set in place to provide patients with specific standards of treatment and basic rights. These laws protect the safety, comfort, and health of nursing home patients. 

Nursing home patients are also entitled to certain services such as social interaction and mental health counseling. If you are a nursing home patient or a family member and you feel you or your loved one’s rights have been violated, you should seek the assistance of our Tampa Bay Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys at Whittel & Melton.

Florida laws state that nursing homes and assisted living residents are entitled to a certain set of rights when living at a long-term care facility. These laws ensure that  residents are provided a comfortable, safe, clean, and homelike environment. Facilities are required to provide their patients with bedding, clean clothes, and comfortable living quarters. Residents should have access to hot water, clean drinking water, comfortable temperatures, and adequate lighting. Likewise, facilities must be equipped with rails, ramps, and other safety features. These facilities must also provide their residents with nutritious meals, daily exercise, medication, social activities, emergency care, and a living space free from abuse.

In Florida, nursing home abuse and neglect is defined as a caregiver’s failure to meet or provide an individual’s basic needs for things like food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, and medical care. When these basic needs are forgotten, patients are at an increased risk of developing an infection, illness, deterioration, and compromised safety.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are also required to provide their patients with a safe environment that is functional, safe, comfortable, and sanitary. When facilities fail to live up to these standards, neglect can happen and result in terrible consequences like the deaths that were seen after Hurricane Irma.

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The Pinellas County School Board is in talks of joining a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, one of the most popular e-cigarette brands. 

The decision comes as a way to prevent youth vaping.  Vaping has become a big issue with teens across the country and in Pinellas County alone, school leaders say there’s been a 738 percent increase in just the last couple of years in the number of students using tobacco products at school, something they attribute directly to vaping. 

The district has also partnered with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to launch the tobacco clinic.  Students who are caught vaping at school will have to go through a two-night course to avoid being suspended.  The district is also in the process of adding vaping to the student code of conduct. 

School board members will be having a second discussion about potential litigation against JUUL Labs.  Right now, school leaders say the district is in the information gathering stage regarding the lawsuit, but that they’re open to anything that would help keep students safe. 

“If there are things that we can do to alleviate or eliminate or even reduce the amount of usage, that’s what we want to do, because not only do we want to keep them safe from all the other issues out there this is a huge health issue,” Pinellas County School Board Chairman Carol Cook said. 

The board will not be making any decision today on whether to join in on the suit, but Cook said they are looking at the potential costs and ramifications. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of February 4, 2020, a total of 2,758 hospitalized e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases or deaths have been reported from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands). A total of 64 deaths have been confirmed in 28 states and the District of Columbia.  

Smoke from regular cigarettes contains a cancer-causing mix of 7,000 chemicals. While e-cigarette aerosol typically has fewer toxic chemicals, it is still dangerous. The CDC warns that e-cigarette aerosol can contain:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to a serious lung disease
  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
  • Nicotine, which has been shown to have serious health effects

The CDC reports the following: “It is difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.” 

For children and teens especially, vaping and exposure to e-cigarettes can be life threatening. The CDC has also said that acute nicotine exposure can be toxic, and swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid can be poisonous for both children and adults.

JUUL came on the market in 2015 and has been the fastest growing vape company in the US (sales increased by more than 780% between 2017 and 2018). However, recent lawsuits and bans on vaping have hurt JUUL as a whole as the fight against JUUL revolves around the company’s role in the youth vaping “epidemic.” More kids are vaping now than ever, and the blame is being placed on JUUL’s accessibility, concealability, the high levels of nicotine found in JUULpods, and the marketing campaign aimed at teens. 

As of February 13, 2020, the newest lawsuit against JUUL lawsuit accuses the company of paying NickJr.com and CartoonNetwork.com to stream advertisements for their vaping product. The argument is that these websites are obviously intended for a young audience, and the advertisements featured youthful and “cool” models that would likely appeal to teenagers. The lawsuit also accuses JUUL of emailing young teens about how they can purchase nicotine products as an underage person.

The lawsuit also accused JUUL of trying to recruit social media celebrities who have a young following to advertise their product. One of the celebrities mentioned is pop-star Miley Cyrus.

The Risks of Juuling – Juul Side Effects:

  • Severe addiction
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart attack or heart problems
  • Lung or respiratory failure
  • Mental health or behavior issues
  • Nicotine poisoning
  • Pregnancy complication or birth defects
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Stroke
  • Other complications

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Florida has been ranked as one of the nation’s worst states for safety laws and enforcement, according to a new report from a watchdog group.

Florida is one of 12 states that fall “dangerously behind” laws recommended by Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety.

Among the problems the group found in Florida: Inadequate primary rear seat belt laws, which mean law enforcement cannot stop a vehicle simply because a seatbelt is unbuckled. The state does have a primary front seat belt law.

Nationwide, 47% of the 22,697 people killed in passenger vehicle riders were not wearing seat belts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 1,099 lives were saved in Florida in 2017 because of seat belt use. Had others been buckled in, though, it said 181 more lives could have been saved.

MOTORCYCLE HELMETS AND CHILD SEATS

Florida also received low marks for not requiring motorcycle riders of all ages to wear helmets. It’s one of 31 states without that requirement. The state allows riders over 21 to go without a helmet as long as they have a certain amount of insurance coverage.

The state also scored low in child safety laws. Florida is one of 35 states that does not require infants and toddlers to sit in a rear-facing child restraint system at least through age 2.

The report also said Florida lacks a good law requiring children who have outgrown the height and weight limit of a forward-facing safety to sit in a booster seat until he or she is 8 years old and 57 inches tall. Thirty-four states have such laws.

State law does require children age 5 and under to be “secured properly in a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device,” and children up to age 3 “must be in child restraint devices of a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat,” according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Children under 18 must wear seat belts.

Florida does somewhat better as children get older. In the decade between 2009 and 2018, the Advocates report found. There were 3,533 fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes involving drivers aged 15 to 20. Nationally, the crash rate for teenage drivers is three times the rate of older people.

Florida did receive good ratings for some restrictions on young drivers, but falters in the report because of no nighttime restrictions for such drivers or restrictions on passengers.

The state gets mediocre marks for efforts to discourage distracted driving. While it bans text messaging while driving, the organization finds its efforts to restrict cell phone use as inadequate.

The report aims to promote the idea that as technology improves, so does the potential to prevent crashes that result in injuries and death.

Big challenges still remain for Florida. Catherine Chase, the organization’s president, cited “critical safety issues that must be addressed,” including standards to measure driver assistance technology and autonomous vehicles, further measures to combat drug-impaired driving, better safety for rear seat passengers and more protection for pedestrians and bicycle riders.

This study shows Florida’s “report card” for five different categories: occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, impaired driving, and distracted driving. “Grades” of Green (Good); Yellow (Caution); and Red (Danger) provide an assessment of each state’s efforts. Florida received a “grade” of Red, which equates to “Danger.” It makes sense seeing that tens of thousands of people are killed on our nation’s roads every year. That breaks down to approximately 100 people killed every single day and nearly 7,500 more are injured in motor vehicle crashes. These traffic accidents carry a significant annual economic cost of $242 billion. This results in each person living in the U.S. essentially paying a “crash tax” of $784 every year. 

If you have been in any kind of car accident, then you know just how traumatic the experience can be. Knowing that living in Florida only stacks more odds against you gives you a greater reason to protect yourself. If you are involved in an auto accident, our Florida Auto Accident Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to provide you with the right legal help.

If you have been in a car accident in Florida, we urge you to speak with one of our personal injury lawyers. We know how overwhelming life can be after a car accident, and we can help you take the next steps towards securing financial compensation for your damages.The last thing you need is the added stress of fighting with insurance companies while the medical bills keep piling in.

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Officials are searching for a driver who they believe fled the scene of a crash involving a stolen truck, a vehicle and a Lynx bus.

The Florida Highway Patrol Orlando said it is investigating a crash involving a Lynx bus.

Troopers said the accident happened Sunday afternoon near Texas Avenue and Honour Road when the driver of a Nissan pulled in front of a pickup truck and a bus along Texas Avenue.

A witness said a driver came toward her and other oncoming traffic to avoid the crash. The driver lost control and slammed into a wall, the witness said.

Officials said the crash was a hit-and-run, as the driver of the pickup truck fled the scene.

Two people from the Nissan and four other people were taken to the hospital for treatment. The severity of their injuries is not yet known.

FHP officials and deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are working to find the driver who fled the scene.

Many people use public transportation, such as Lynx buses as opposed to their own vehicles for numerous reasons like saving money on gas, convenience, and reduced emissions. Some transit riders simply prefer to relax and do other things rather than focus on driving their own car in traffic.

While it is true that you are more likely to be injured while driving your own vehicle than while riding on a bus or public transit, serious injuries and fatalities can and do happen when accidents occur involving buses, trains, light rail, and hired transport.

What Does Lynx Do after a Bus Accident?

You may be wondering what Lynx does after a bus accident occurs. The first thing Lynx representatives will do is have passengers complete forms. Any information you provide could be used against you during a lawsuit if it’s beneficial to Lynx. On that same note, anything that could help your case and points the blame on Lynx could go undiscovered.

After passengers complete these forms, Lynx will then try and get statements on the record from passengers involved in the bus accident. They will use professionals who have been trained to ask questions that could get you to answer in a way that is harmful to your potential case and beneficial to theirs. Because of this, our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton urge you to refrain from signing any forms or making any statements without an attorney present.

The last thing that Lynx will do after an accident happens is reach out with a settlement offer. Lynx representatives will reach out to the injured passengers or family members of a deceased person and likely give an offer way below what the case is actually worth. Before they disburse your settlement, they will ask you to sign a settlement agreement that waives your right to file suit against them. Again, our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton strongly recommend having a lawyer on your side who can advise you on how to proceed with your case for financial compensation. 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Lynx bus accident or a crash involving a taxi, Uber, or Lyft driver, our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you understand what steps to take next. We have the experience needed to help victims of transit accidents obtain the financial compensation they deserve for the injuries they have suffered. We help injury victims throughout the state of Florida who were harmed while aboard a hotel shuttle bus, theme park trolley, monorail, limousine, rental car, or any hired vehicle of any kind. 

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A Florida prison guard was charged Saturday with pouring bleach in an inmate’s cup after the two argued.

The 28-year-old prison guard was taken into custody at Lowell Correctional Institution where she worked and charged with poisoning food or water. She has been released from jail. It’s unclear if she retained an attorney who could comment on the charge.

According to an interview with an agent for the Florida Department of Corrections, the woman admitted putting a cleaning agent into a cup, but said she would never hurt anyone on purpose. The state corrections agency said it obtained video showing the woman arguing with the inmate earlier in the shift, telling the prisoner, “I got something for you,” according to the report.

An officer saw the woman spray bleach on an empty cup while preparing breakfast for inmates, according to the report from state corrections officials. She allegedly told an inmate that the tray of food was special and placed the cup to the side.

The report said the woman volunteered to feed the lower cells of the two-story dormitory. The video shows Williams picked up the food tray and walk past other cells before placing it on a door flap at that inmate’s cell.

The report said the woman could be seen at the food cart close to the inmate’s cell door trying to conceal her activity. The inmate said the cup smelled like bleach and alerted another officer, who agreed.

There have been reports that the prison has had multiple problems with officers and employees in recent years. In August, a federal lawsuit alleges an inmate was beaten by four officers and left paralyzed.

Even though prisons and jails are closely monitored every day, 24 hours per day, by guards and surveillance systems, dangerous conditions still exist within these institutions. When a prisoner is injured or killed while serving their time, they could have grounds for a valid personal injury claim. 

Police officers and prison guards are paid with taxpayer money to protect all citizens from harm, and not the other way around.

There are laws in place to protect people who are in prison, jail, or otherwise detained by law enforcement. These rights include: 

  • To live in humane facilities and conditions
  • To be free from rape or sexual assaults
  • Not to be racially segregated or discriminated
  • To express complaints about incarceration conditions
  • To enjoy required care and accessibility in case of disability
  • To receive adequate medical care
  • To receive adequate mental health care
  • Not to be beaten, asphyxiated or subjected to unreasonable force
  • Not to be unnecessarily endangered
  • To receive adequate nourishment
  • Not to be deprived of water
  • To be free from psychological and emotional torture

Cops, prison guards, and other law enforcement officers are there to uphold and protect these rights. When they fail to do so, you could be able to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim to prevent further abuse and receive financial compensation for physical and emotional damages.

Physical abuse by officers and prison guards have left inmates with severe injuries that required hospitalization. Some of the most common injuries include: 

  • Broken bones
  • Head trauma
  • Broken noses
  • Broken ribs
  • Lacerations
  • Second-degree burns
  • Internal organ damage

When prison guards or jail officials violate inmates’ civil rights or allow other inmates to abuse those rights, they can be held liable for damages. However, proving these violations can be difficult to do. If you or your loved one is suffering abuse in jail or prison or has suffered in the past, we urge you to get in touch with our Florida Inmate Brain Injury and Death Attorneys at Whittel & Melton. We will do everything we can to help you with your case and fight to ensure you get justice.

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Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said that Juul, a vaping company that has the largest market share of e-cigarettes, “should be pulled off the market entirely.”

The Trump administration has stalled talks to ban flavored tobacco products as millions of teens within the past few years have become addicted to nicotine.

Though a nationwide flavor ban has been in the works, Gottlieb said the root of the problem isn’t the flavors, but the convenience of cheap nicotine cartridges.

  • More often, he said, adults use open tank systems — bulkier, more expensive and more difficult to conceal e-cigarette products.
  • “Whatever benefits they had have been greatly overshadowed by the nicotine addiction 2018,” Gottlieb said. “We were worried, and I still am.”

There are 2,506 confirmed hospital cases of lung injury associated with vaping in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as of Dec. 17.

Some progress has been made in uncovering a correlation between vaping and respiratory illnesses. Federal health officials have found vitamin E acetate in the lung fluid of 29 patients diagnosed with the vaping-related illness.

  • Many of the illnesses and deaths have also been linked to black market sales and vape cartridges containing THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.

Additional lab tests for 1,782 hospitalized patients have taken place relating to a variety of vape products used. Based on the most recent data as of Dec. 3, the majority of people with the pulmonary illness (EVALI) are young males:

  • 78% are under the age of 35, and 67% are males.
  • About 80% reported using products containing THC, 35% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products and 54% reported use of products with nicotine.
  • Dank Vapes, “a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products of unknown origin, was the most commonly reported product brand used by patients nationwide,” per the CDC, used by 56% of hospitalized.

New data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show that 6.2 million middle school and high school students use tobacco, the highest level since 2000. 

Tobacco use among middle schoolers and high schoolers remains high thanks to the popularity of e-cigarettes. Health advocates and some states are blaming misleading advertising, media and inconspicuous vape devices like Juul for enticing kids to try e-cigarettes.

This year, NYTS asked teens why they smoked e-cigarettes. More than half cited their curiosity and almost one-fourth said they tried them because of the flavors.

  • E-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school and middle school students for the sixth year in a row.
  • About seven in 10 middle and high school students currently using tobacco used flavored tobacco products.

Vaping has been marketed as a safer option than smoking traditional cigarettes. Many young people have picked up vaping without ever even having touched a cigarette. The sad truth is that vaping is not safe. In fact, vaping can cause severe lung damage. 

Regular cigarette smoke contains a cancer-causing mix of 7,000 chemicals. While e-cigarette aerosol has fewer toxic chemicals, it is still filled with dangerous chemicals, including: 

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Various flavorings like fruit, candy, and other kid-friendly flavors, such as mango, fruit and crème which contain diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to a serious lung disease
  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals including nickel, tin, and lead
  • Nicotine – an addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to Juul for illegally marketing its e-cigarettes as less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, and must find a way to correct that violation. The FDA issued the following statement regarding JUUL e-cigarettes: “Regardless of where products like e-cigarettes fall on the continuum of tobacco product risk, the law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful. JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”

JUUL pods, also known as e-liquid cartridges, come in a variety of flavors like cool mint, crème brulee and fruit medley, and each pod contains about as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. JUUL pods also contain a mix of glycerol and propylene glycol, nicotine, benzoic acid, and flavorings.

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Joaquin Garcia, 50, the leader of the Guadalajara-based La Luz del Mundo — The Light of the World — was arrested Monday at Los Angeles International Airport and was being held in lieu of $25 million bail after being accused of human trafficking and much more.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Tuesday that mega-church leader Joaquin Garcia and others associated with him face charges of human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor, among other felonies.

Becerra says Garcia committed the crimes between 2015 and 2018 while leading La Luz Del Mundo, an international religious organization headquartered in Mexico with over one million followers reported worldwide.

In the criminal complaint, it is alleged that García and his “co-defendants” allegedly coerced victims into performing sexual acts by telling them that if they went against any of his desires or wishes as “the Apostle,” that they were going against God.

The criminal complaint alleges, among other acts, that Ocampo directed minors to perform “flirty” dances for Garcia “wearing as little clothing as possible.” Ocampo also allegedly ordered various minors to “take off their clothing and touch each other sexually.”

The complaint also alleges that Garcia kissed and groped a 15-year-old girl in his office, and that he and Ocampo forcibly raped an underage girl. Garcia, Ocampo and Oaxaca also allegedly performed sex acts on an underage girl, according to the complaint.

Ocampo also allegedly instructed three underage girls to take nude photos of themselves to send to Garcia, telling them to “take photos without their underwear and with their legs open.”

 

The other individuals named in the complaint are Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez, and Susana Medina Oaxaca, all of whom are affiliated with La Luz Del Mundo. In addition to García, Alondra Ocampo and Susana Medina Oaxaca were also arrested.

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Azalea Rangel Melendez, who is currently at large.

Anyone who believed they may have been a victim of sexual abuse or have information about incidents of sexual misconduct related to anyone who may be involved in this case is asked to call 323-765-2100 or you can file a complaint online here.

Sexual abuse by any member of the church or clergy, regardless of the faith, is very tough on victims. Our Florida Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyers at Whittel & Melton are highly aware of the importance of faith in peoples’ lives and how devastating it can be when abuse shakes that faith. We have seen how priests and clergy members abuse their positions of power, just like other sexual abusers, to take advantage of their congregation members to commit their crimes. Their victims are both female and male, adults and children.

When you have been abused by a church member and are brave enough to come forward, you are not turning your back on your faith. Asking your church, temple, synagogue or mosque to take your claim of clergy sex abuse seriously is a matter of enforcing the law. Religious institutions in the state of Florida, or elsewhere in the country, are not above the law when it comes to sexual assaults and sexual abuse.

We are very familiar with the process of “grooming,” in which a trusted person in authority pays extra special attention to a potential victim, often for months before the abuse starts. Grooming is what bonds the victim to the abuser, so that when the abuse starts, the victim feels helpless to do anything about it. The grooming process may involve attacking the victim’s self-esteem and attempts to isolate the victim from family and friends, so that the victim will not feel like they can tell them what is happening.

Victims of church or clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse deserve justice, which can be obtained in the civil justice system. By filing a civil suit, this allows victims to seek financial compensation for the physical, mental, emotional and economic damages caused by the abuse. Sadly, many sex abuse victims don’t know of their right to seek monetary damages. 

Sexual abuse, child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and other sex crimes are all too common and are often perpetrated by people we trust such as:

  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Day care center employees
  • Priests or religious leaders
  • Camp counselors
  • Doctors, dentists, counselors, psychologists and therapists

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Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis was first elected to the City Commission in 1996, became mayor in 2004 and has been reelected three times, twice unopposed.

Now, as Ortis campaigns for what he says could be his final term at age 76, he faces not only his biggest political challenge yet from Commissioner Angelo Castillo, but also an allegation of sexual assault in a civil lawsuit that will play out in Broward County court as the March election approaches.

A former employee at a Pembroke Pines restaurant that Ortis co-owns, Mayor’s Cafe & Bagel Emporium, says the mayor sexually assaulted her in his car in April 2016 and then harassed her repeatedly at work. The mayor claims the incidents never happened and is counter-suing for defamation.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the claims after the accuser reported them to Pembroke Pines police in late 2017. The department said last October that it couldn’t find enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

The woman is pushing ahead with the civil suit, which she filed in March 2018.

She says that shortly after she was hired as a cashier at the restaurant, Ortis asked her to meet him in the parking lot of nearby Pembroke Lakes Golf and Racquet Club after her shift ended. After Ortis told her to get into his car, she says, Ortis repeatedly tried to initiate a sexual encounter.

According to the complaint, Ortis grabbed her hand and forced it onto his pants. He then tried to unbuckle his pants and pull her hand back onto his groin, the complaint says, as the woman moved her hand away. She says Ortis then tried to unbuckle her pants, touched one of her breasts, and “forced his tongue into her mouth.”

The woman says she pulled away multiple times and kept asking Ortis “why he was doing this.”

Ortis told the Herald last week that the claims were entirely fabricated. He added that FDLE “completely exonerated [him] of any wrongdoing.”

After the woman’s lawsuit was filed, Ortis produced travel documents showing he was in Washington, D.C., for business on April 19, 2016, the day the woman initially said the assault took place. In an amended complaint, she said she incorrectly recalled the date and that the incident had actually taken place a week earlier.

There has yet to be a court hearing in the civil suit almost 21 months after it was filed. A trial has not been scheduled.

The lawsuit focuses on the alleged incident in the mayor’s car, but the woman’s report to local police and the subsequent FDLE investigation also delved into her claims about Ortis’ behavior at his restaurant.

The November 2017 police report says that, when she returned to work after the incident in the car, Ortis began asking her crude questions, touching her inappropriately, and pressuring her to send him nude pictures of herself.

The woman told police that Ortis asked her, “Do you want to have anal sex?” and told her, “You have nice tits.” She also said that, in the narrow area behind the counter at the cafe, Ortis would sometimes “grab her buttocks.”

The police report says the woman “was afraid to confront Ortis because she did not want to lose her job.”

Ortis’ counterclaim says the woman posted defamatory reviews of Mayor’s Cafe online that referred to Ortis’ inappropriate behavior.

In a Google review, according to court documents, the woman wrote: “mayor is too busy sexually harassing his female employees.” On Yelp, Benjamin wrote a comment referencing Ortis and the #MeToo movement.

These statements, Ortis’ counterclaim says, “were intended to wrongfully extract monies from [Ortis], who [the woman] knew was a public figure in the community and could potentially be harmed by the false and salacious allegations.”

In an October 2018 close-out memorandum detailing the FDLE investigation, Broward County Assistant State Attorney Christopher Killoran said investigators couldn’t find enough evidence to corroborate the woman’s claims.

Investigators interviewed the woman’s boyfriend, who said the woman relayed to him that Ortis “constantly harassed her and touched her.”

A forensic analysis of the boyfriend’s phone turned up two relevant text messages, including one on an unspecified date in which the woman said she was “filing sexual harassment on [the] mayor.”

In another message from March 17, 2017, the woman told her boyfriend: “I didn’t tell u mayor pulled out his [expletive] and grabbed my hand and put it on his [expletive] and I pulled it off and got so fast out his car.”

Killoran said the fact that the message was sent almost a year after the alleged incident “is not an issue.” Rather, he wrote, the two text messages were not enough to corroborate the woman’s testimony that she had “repeatedly” told her boyfriend about the mayor’s behavior.

“Both the lack of text messages reflecting this coupled with only one text being sent 11 months later contradicts her testimony,” Killoran wrote.

FDLE investigators also took statements from at least three female employees and a manager at Mayor’s Cafe. According to the close-out memo, none of them said they had seen inappropriate behavior by Ortis.

Several employees, however, told investigators they knew the woman had once sent a nude photo to Ortis and the manager.

Ortis acknowledged that he received a nude photo from the woman, but he said it was unsolicited. He told investigators that he and the woman “were friendly and texted,” but that nothing inappropriate ever happened.

The woman told police that Ortis was “constantly pressuring her” to send him nude photos and that he persisted even after she said no. She said she finally sent him a picture of herself in a bathing suit because she was afraid of losing her job.

The police report says the woman believes she was ultimately fired from the restaurant in June 2016 because she “rebuffed Ortis’ sexual advances.”

After the woman’s boyfriend visited the restaurant one day, Ortis asked her if the man was her boyfriend and asked a crude question about their relationship, according to the police report. She says she was fired the next time she showed up for work when the manager claimed $70 had gone missing from her cash drawer.

The woman denied taking any money from the restaurant and said she thought the manager was acting at Ortis’ direction. Ortis told investigators that wasn’t true and that he briefly rehired the woman “because he felt sorry for her,” but that she put in her notice a week later.

The woman also filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2017, according to the police report. An EEOC spokesperson said the agency doesn’t comment on the complaints it receives.

Ortis said that, in his more than 20 years in office, he has never faced any complaints for harassment. A copy of his personnel file obtained by the Herald through a public records request did not include any complaints.

In the state of Florida, victims of sexual abuse can take their abusers to civil court to recover financial compensation for their suffering. If you or someone you love is considering taking an abuser to court, our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help you. 

Criminal charges are different from civil suits. Criminal charges are only meant to punish the abuser, so that they do not commit further crimes in the community. A civil suit on the other hand, focuses on the harm done to you. Your civil suit will be all about you, your suffering, and the compensation you deserve. 

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Uber rideshare passengers in Dallas are among the first in the U.S. to have a new security option designed to make rides safer.

A total of seven cities are testing an option on the Uber app called, “Verify My Ride.”

The company believes a personal identification number will make passengers feel safer when getting in the backseat.

The addition comes after a safety report revealing more than 3,000 reports of sexual assaults in 2018, including 235 rape cases.

Passengers in Dallas and the six other cities have the option on the app to receive a PIN to make sure they are getting in the right vehicle with the right driver before opening the door.

It’s a safety feature that could eventually expand nationwide.

In the wake of the sexual assaults report, the company has openly revealed that it oversees 3,000,000 rides a day and about half of those assaults are reported by drivers.

Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft have escalated in popularity around the world for everyone who needs transportation services. With the simple touch of a button, you can request a ride from the closest rideshare driver in your area. While this is a very cool form of technology, the reality is that you never know who you are actually requesting rides from. 

There has been a surge in the past few years of incidence of sexual assault committed by rideshare drivers. Many drivers are not properly screened by the companies and others just seize the opportunity to prey on vulnerable and unsuspecting passengers.

People who have suffered sexual assault by their rideshare drivers have the right to seek financial compensation for their suffering. Our Florida Uber & Lyft Sexual Assault Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to assist with these types of lawsuits so that victims can recover proper payment for damages they have incurred.

If you were the victim of a rape or sexua attack by an Uber or Lyft driver, you can file a lawsuit demanding financial compensation against both the driver and company. Our team of Sexual Abuse Injury Lawyers can investigate your claim by interviewing any witnesses, uncovering any surveillance videos, and obtaining the cell phone records for both the victim and driver to get the events leading up to, during, and after the attack down to the exact time frame.

We believe in paying attention to every single detail. We will do an extensive search into the background of the Uber or Lyft driver to find previous incidents of criminal behavior and other complaints of misconduct. Our goal is to get you the maximum recovery for the suffering you endured. 

After a sexual assault occurs in an Uber or Lyft, your next actions are critical to your case. First, get medical care for your injuries, including a rape kit if you were raped. Next, report the incident to the police and give them as much information as possible about the driver and the details of the incident. You should also save every piece of evidence related to the incident, including the clothes you were wearing at the time of the incident, and a copy of the police report. Your doctor should also provide you with a medical report that lists your injuries and treatment plan. This will help outline the extent of the effects of your experience to the jury in your case. 

While being sexually assaulted is something some may wish to try and forget about  and move on, we urge you to consider the value in filing a lawsuit against the offender. By taking legal action, you may help prevent future victims and achieve a sense of justice through a civil suit for damages. You can also recover the costs of medical treatment if the assault resulted in physical injuries, psychological trauma, or a sexually transmitted infection.

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Within the last few months, multiple ranitidine and Zantac manufacturers recalled their products due to concerns that they contain high levels of NDMA, a likely carcinogen.

Zantac is sold by the manufacturer Sanofi, as well as generically under the name ranitidine.

Sanofi, manufacturer of Zantac, said it would be recalling the over-the-counter medication in both the United States and Canada. It has been recalled from major chain pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. This comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration alert to the public that the drug contains low levels of a cancerous contaminant, NMDA.

What Is NDMA? 

NDMA is used in aviation, rocket fuel, and industrial lubricants. It is also a by-product of several industrial processes, including gasoline refining and the treatment of wastewater containing nitrogen.

NDMA has also been used for inducing carcinogenesis in laboratory rats for cancer research. NDMA may also be found in a number of food products, such as cured meats, and is an ingredient in tobacco fumes. Research shows that NDMA does not appear to accumulate in tissues.

Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), NDMA is classified as “extremely hazardous.” Due to this danger, there are strict reporting requirements for companies and individuals who produce, store, or use the substance in large amounts.

Zantac Class Action Lawsuits

Recently, two class-action lawsuits were filed against Zantac manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis LLC and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, who previously held rights to Zantac, with plaintiffs claiming that the companies knowingly put patient health at risk. Lawsuits filed against the manufacturer maintain that Zantac contains levels of NDMA that are 26,000 times higher than the levels allowed by the FDA. In the recent past, several blood pressure medications that were found to contain the cancer-causing contaminant NDMA were recalled from the market.

According to studies of the contaminant NDMA (N-nitrosodimethylamine), possible side effects of ingestion are:

  • Bladder Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Intestinal Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Uterine Cancer

In addition to being linked to various cancers, NDMA is also a potent hepatotoxin. This means that short-term exposure to NDMA can cause liver damage, like scarring and liver fibrosis. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of liver, kidney, and lung tumors.

Symptoms of overexposure to NDMA may include headaches, fever, nausea, jaundice, vomiting, abdominal cramps, enlarged liver, reduced function of the liver, kidneys and lungs, and dizziness.

Other adverse effects that have been associated with Zantac include:

  • Nervous system disorders
  • Arrhythmia or tachycardia (irregular or rapid heartbeat)
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver failure
  • Jaundice
  • Increased risk of pneumonia
  • Low platelet levels in the blood
  • Skin rashes
  • Hair loss

What Should You Do? 

The FDA and other institutions across the country will continue to investigate ranitidine for more information regarding any impurities. As of now, the FDA has not called for people to stop using the medication. With that said, the drug is only supposed to be used for short-term relief. 

If you have been taking ranitidine for a long time, we encourage you to speak with your doctor as soon as possible about whether you should continue taking the drug. Your doctor may recommend that you start taking utilizing different medications, like other drug classes or another H2 blocker.

Based on the studies conducted up to now, there is no proof that NDMA impurities impact other H2 blockers or other heartburn medications. Studies conducted by the FDA found that the following medicines do not contain NDMA:

  • Pepcid (famotidine)
  • Tagamet (cimetidine)
  • Nexium (esomeprazole)
  • Prevacid (lansoprazole)
  • Prilosec (omeprazole)

While antacids may be effective for heartburn relief, there are other lifestyle changes that can help provide you with some relief. Avoiding certain foods and drinks can help ease heartburn episodes.

Have You Taken Zantac or Other Ranitidine Heartburn Drugs?

Our Florida Zantac Lawsuit Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are investigating claims related to the contamination of Zantac and generic heartburn drugs made from ranitidine. If you have suffered any adverse effects after taking Zantac, filing a claim against the manufacturers of Zantac and generic ranitidine could help you recover financial compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical bills
  • Past lost wages
  • Future lost wages
  • Permanent or temporary disability
  • Punitive damages
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

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