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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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‘No signs of life’ on New Zealand’s White Island following deadly volcanic eruption

A volcano erupted Monday on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists, leaving at least five people dead and others injured, some of whom were members of a tour group from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship “Ovation of the Seas.” 

The eruption sent a large plume of steam and ash into the sky around 2 p.m. local time on White Island. 

Police said they believed there were fewer than 50 people present at the time of the eruption on the volcanic island, but at least five were confirmed killed.

There are a number of people on the island who are unaccounted for, however. Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to be involved. 

At least 10 people were said to be unaccounted for, and police said in a later statement that after conducting overflights, that they do not believe there are any survivors on the island.

According to reports, police are “working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already.”

At least some of those injured and missing were members of a tour group from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship “Ovation of the Seas,” the police confirmed. The number of cruise passengers affected and their nationalities were not clear, but the Florida-based cruise line confirmed in a statement to CBS News that “a number of our guests were touring the island.” 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 24 of the cruise passengers who were visiting the island were from his country.

Royal Caribbean said its ship Ovation of the Seas would remain docked “as long as needed to assist with the situation.” 

St. John medical responders said in a statement they believed there were 20 people on the island who were injured and in need of medical treatment. It said it had dispatched seven helicopters to the island with paramedics aboard.

White Island, also known by its indigenous Maori name, Whakaari, sits about 30 miles offshore of mainland New Zealand, northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands. Police were asking people to avoid areas on the North Island that were close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year. 

A volcanologist with GNS Science said the eruption was significant and sent a plume of steam and ash about 12,000 feet into the air. He said it had affected the whole of the White Island crater floor.

The GeoNet agency at first raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption. It later dropped the alert level back down to three because the eruption wasn’t sustained beyond the initial blast. 

There will be questions asked as to why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity. GeoNet monitoring cameras captured images of tourists walking around the crater of the volcano moments before the eruption on Friday, but the organization later said it had removed the video clips from its website, at least while rescue efforts remained underway.

GeoNet raised the alert level on White Island from one to two on Nov. 18, noting an increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma deep in the volcano. It also said at the time that over the previous weeks, the volcanic tremor had increased from weak to moderate strength.

Cruise ship excursions can be one of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of partaking in a cruise experience. Most people that take cruises are looking for an adventurous way to explore different parts of the world, and exploring different attractions off the boat are the best opportunity for passengers to do so. However, as this tragedy shows, some aspects of cruise ship excursions can result in serious injuries and deaths to passengers.

Cruise ship excursion injuries can be quite serious. If you have been the victim of an injury, or have lost a loved one during a cruise ship excursion, our Florida Cruise Ship Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can investigate your case and hold cruise lines accountable for passenger injuries and deaths when applicable.

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A woman has filed a lawsuit that alleges employees at a Mexican restaurant and nightclub in Chicago escorted her to an alley behind the business and stood by as a man allegedly sexually assaulted her while she was intoxicated. 

No arrests have been made in the incident, which allegedly occurred October 18 behind El Hefe Chicago at 15 West Hubbard Street, commonly known as El Hefe.

According to lawyers who filed a lawsuit against the business on behalf of the woman, they believe the alleged assailant either works at the business or knows someone on the staff. 

On Wednesday, a judge ordered El Hefe to preserve any potential evidence pertaining to the alleged assault from that night, including surveillance video.

The woman’s lawyers released a security camera video, which they say Chicago police obtained from a nearby business. The video appears to show a man guiding a stumbling woman down an alley as two other men stand by a doorway.

El Hefe has not responded for comment, but the business posted a statement on Facebook saying its security staff did not witness a sexual assault.

“On the evening of October 18, a female guest became ill inside El Hefe and, per the venue’s standard protocol, was escorted by our security team to the back exit,” the statement said. “A male guest followed the female guest as she was escorted out back. El Hefe called an ambulance for the female guest and security remained with her until she left, alone, on the ambulance. During this time, our security team did not witness an assault in the alley. The male guest went back inside the venue and minutes later security witnessed the male guests leave the premises through the front door. We will work with law enforcement and cooperate in all facets necessary to help the authorities get the facts and enable a speedy investigation.”

Chicago police said officers went to Northwestern Hospital after receiving a report of a sexual assault involving a 23-year-old woman who was found unresponsive in the alley behind El Hefe. The victim completed a sexual assault kit at the hospital and Chicago police confirmed that she showed signs of trauma, a police spokesman said in a statement.

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, according to police.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, says the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was having drinks at the bar when she was approached by an unknown man who continued to buy her drinks.

A bartender noticed the man make sexual advances and said her condition was “rapidly deteriorating” after consuming drinks the man purchased, according to the lawsuit. The bartender, who is not named, believed the woman had been drugged, the lawsuit said.

The bartender told the man to stop making sexual advances after the woman vomited at the bar, but the man replied, “she could not tell him what to do,” according to the lawsuit.

El Hefe security guards removed Jane Doe from the bar due to her “deteriorated condition” and ushered her out with the man into the rear alleyway behind the establishment, according to the lawsuit.

“The security guards that escorted the plaintiff into the dark alley with her assailant stayed in the alley while the plaintiff was sexually assaulted about 100 feet away,” the lawsuit says. No employee made any attempt to stop the alleged assault, the lawsuit says.

A 19-minute, 37-second video was taken from a business across the alley and given to the Chicago police. In the video, two men dressed in black stand by the back door to El Hefe as a third man, also clad in black but wearing red shoes, guides a stumbling woman out the door and down an alley lined with dumpsters.

The man and woman move into a shadowy area and it’s impossible to tell what they’re doing. The two other men go in and out of the door, standing outside for minutes at a time and sometimes approaching the spot where the man and woman appear to be.

Other people walk down the alley and several vehicles pass through. After about eight minutes, the man in red shoes walks down the alley and goes through the back door. Men who appear to be police officers walk down the alley and eventually flashing lights appear at the end of the alley.

The lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages sought.

Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs can be legally responsible for injuries that occur on their property. These businesses have a duty to protect their patrons from sexual assaults, shootings, and other violent crimes. Sadly, rape, fights, stabbings, and fatal shootings occur frequently in or outside these venues, especially when alcohol is involved. Incidents like these can result in serious injuries or even death.

When reasonable security is not set in place, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs can be held legally responsible for violent crime that occurs on their premises. Our Florida Negligent Security Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have extensive experience handling negligent security cases against these establishments.

What Is Negligent Security? 

There is an area of law under the general category of Premises Liability Law that is known as Negligent Security Law. Negligent security describes a situation where someone is the victim of a violent, criminal attack, such as an assault, shooting, rape or robbery, while on someone else’s property. 

Common examples of negligent security include: 

  • A customer being followed to their car in a shopping center and mugged before they can get in their car
  • A person being robbed or shot while removing money from an ATM machine
  • An assault inside a hotel room
  • A robbery at a gas station while filling up your car with gas
  • An assault in the lobby of an apartment complex
  • Lack of bouncers at a nightclub
  • Lack of video cameras at a bar
  • Lack of proper lighting at a restaurant
  • A business failing to conduct proper background checks on employees

The law imposes a duty on commercial establishments to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. That includes the obligation to be aware of what is going on around them in the community. If robberies, shootings, sexual attacks, and/or other violent criminal activity have been going on within a close proximity to the location where you were harmed, the property owner has a duty to do something about it to protect you. 

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An Oklahoma judge was three decimal places off, mistaking thousands for millions, when he originally calculated the amount Johnson & Johnson should pay for its role in the state’s opioids crisis.

Judge Thad Balkman announced his mistake on Friday and set a new fine, reduced by about $107 million. The total is now $465 million, down from the $572 million he assessed in August.

The miscalculation came when he was assessing various costs to the state to deal with addiction and prevention issues stemming from opioids. In his August order, Judge Balkman listed the yearly price to train Oklahoma birthing hospitals to evaluate infants with opioids in their systems at $107,683,000.

The amount was actually $107,683.

He was alerted to the mistake by lawyers for Johnson & Johnson. 

The judge’s order on Friday is the final decision from last summer’s landmark eight-week trial, the first state trial to determine whether pharmaceutical companies could be held liable for the opioid disaster.

His ruling highlighted two challenges that opioid plaintiffs face: how to calculate the cost of damage wrought by opioids and how to assign blame.

Those questions are at the heart of thousands of opioid lawsuits, brought by cities, counties and states nationwide, against a much broader swath of drug manufacturers, as well as distributors and pharmacy chains. 

Two Ohio counties recently obtained settlements worth $320 million from opioid distributors and manufacturers. The next opioid trial, currently set for March 20, will be brought by New York State and Suffolk and Nassau Counties against an array of opioid manufacturers and distributors with deep pockets, including Johnson & Johnson.

Months before the trial, Oklahoma had settled with Purdue Pharma and Teva, an Israel-based manufacturer of generic drugs, for a combined $355 million. Johnson & Johnson, which said that its sales of opioids were scarcely 1 percent of the market, instead chose to fight. In August, Judge Balkman ruled that Oklahoma had proved that the company’s aggressive marketing tactics had an outsized impact on the state’s crisis.

In suing to abate the continuing “public nuisance” exacerbated by opioids, Oklahoma said it would need $17 billion over 30 years to address drug treatment, pain management and prevention education. But in August, Judge Balkman had said that $572 million represented roughly only a year’s worth, because the state had not shown sufficient evidence to merit a 30-year award.

Both sides wondered whether he intended the judgment to be a one-time fine or subject to annual renewal. Friday’s order suggested it was one time.

Another point of contention was whether the judge would deduct $355 million from Johnson & Johnson, the amount from the earlier settlements.

That money has begun to flow to the state. Fees for the private lawyers who pressed the state’s case are about $75 million before the Johnson & Johnson award, according to a person familiar with the arrangements.

But Friday, Judge Balkman said the company was not entitled to that credit. Purdue and Teva settled without admitting fault. But after the trial, Judge Balkman ruled that Johnson & Johnson was indeed at fault.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it would appeal Friday’s order, for reasons of fact and law, adding, “We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and have deep sympathy for everyone affected.”

Estimates show that nearly 55,000 Americans die each year from a drug overdose, which has sadly become the leading cause of death of individuals under the age of 50. A majority of these deaths (60 percent) are caused by opioids. Even more shocking is that the rise in fatalities over the past 15 years more than tripled. 

The overdose epidemic has taken a devastating toll on addicts, their families, and friends. But these deaths also cost the government agencies tens of billions of dollars each year when considering public healthcare, treatment facilities, law enforcement, criminal justice, and jail expenses. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the cost is approximately $75 billion per year.

This is why thousands of government entities are suing wholesale and retail distributors and manufacturers of opioids looking to be reimbursed for government spending due to opioid addictions and overdoses.

In recent lawsuits, the defendants have included McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Endo International, Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan (formerly Actavis), Watson Pharmaceuticals, Covidien, Johnson & Johnson, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid.

The lawsuits claim that the companies exaggerated the benefits of the medication and knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, but did nothing to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit the dose. The second part of these lawsuits allege that the pharmaceutical companies lobbied politicians and doctors in an effort to increase the use of opioids and willfully allowed the drugs to enter the black market.

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A Florida woman has filed a lawsuit after having her gall bladder and parts of her stomach removed after a waiter put liquid nitrogen in her drink. 

The woman recently filed a lawsuit against The Don CeSar Hotel in St Pete Beach, Florida after a birthday meal last year. 

The woman said she went to dinner at the Maritana Grille, on the hotel premises, with one of her best friends on November 11, 2018.

They had just finished their dinner when the woman said she saw a waiter pour a liquid on another customer’s dessert that caused it to “smoke.” After her friend told the waiter that it looked cool, she said he poured the liquid nitrogen into the two women’s glasses of water.

In her lawsuit, the woman says that she became seriously ill “within seconds” of drinking the water with the liquid nitrogen. She never suspected that drinking the water containing the liquid nitrogen was dangerous as “he had just poured it on a dessert.”

An ambulance took the woman to the hospital, where she remained in the intensive care unit for days. She ended up having to have surgery to remove her gallbladder.

According to the lawsuit, the woman also had to have parts of her stomach removed after tissue had been burned by the extremely cold temperature of the liquid nitrogen.

The woman will have lifelong digestion issues and lost 25 pounds as a result.

Liquid nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, clear liquefied form of nitrogen that remains liquid at temperatures of -320 degrees Fahrenheit. It is used as a freezing agent in food preparation and preservation, to process dry herbs and spices and to rapidly chill beverages, as well as for a smoke effect in beverages or foods to “enhance presentation and consumer appeal,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, the FDA has warned that liquid nitrogen can be extremely dangerous if consumed and must not be used in ways that make food unsafe for consumers.

“Both liquid nitrogen and dry ice can cause severe damage to skin and internal organs if mishandled or accidentally ingested due to the extremely low temperatures they can maintain,” according to the FDA. “As such, liquid nitrogen and dry ice should not be directly consumed or allowed to directly contact exposed skin.”

In August last year, the FDA issued an advisory warning consumers and retailers of the potential for serious injury from eating, drinking, or handling food products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption.

This is because the liquid nitrogen “may not completely evaporate before reaching the consumer or may leave the product at an extremely low temperature, posing a significant risk of injury.”

Dining out at a restaurant has the potential to be disastrous when it comes to dangerous ingredients and potential allergens. Even what seems like minor mistakes can have big consequences.

While the circumstances of this case involving liquid nitrogen might be rare, serious injuries and illnesses can and do occur at restaurants. Other issues that can turn your dining experience into a nightmare include:

  • Food poisoning
  • Undeclared allergens
  • Foreign materials in food, like plastic or glass
  • Burns
  • Choking and improper CPR efforts

The above issues can be quite traumatic and result in serious injuries that can lead to hefty medical bills, lost wages, and physical and emotional pain and suffering. Let’s say someone has a peanut allergy and orders a dessert that they are told does not contain nuts. If they are served the wrong dessert they could suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction, leading to hospitalization. Restaurant owners invite guests onto their premises. Therefore, they are responsible for any foreseeable injuries or damages. In order to hold them legally accountable for any injuries, the damage must have been predictable or preventable. If a server knowingly serves a beverage at a scalding hot temperature, the injury to a patron might be foreseeable. However, if a patron spills their water and another person slips and falls within a few minutes, they restaurant may not be liable as the event was unforeseeable, and the staff just did not have enough time to prevent the mishap. 

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A 52-year-old man has been accused of touching female subjects inappropriately during sleep studies he was conducting at locations in New Port Richey and Zephyrhills, according to New Port Richey Police.

Officers arrested the man on Tuesday. He was charged with one count of sexual battery and one count of battery.

Investigators said the man was previously employed as a technician at the locations where the sleep studies were conducted. Female victims alleged that he touched them inappropriately during studies he was administering.

A visit to the doctor, dentist, a sleep study therapist, or any other medical professional should always be a safe environment. You are trusting someone with your general physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. You should always be able to trust the medical professional working with you, and they should treat you with respect at all times. Any type of medical professional who compromises the patient-doctor trust through what is called sexual medical malpractice is violating the law, not to mention medical. Any sexual abuse should be reported immediately, so that the person can be removed from the institution they are employed at. If you have survived a sexual assault from a medical professional, we urge you to speak with our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible so that we can begin helping you pursue civil action.

While it is perfectly normal for doctors and other medical personnel to touch patients during an exam, fondling or lingering touches are not normal. Sadly, because medical professionals are held in high esteem it is difficult for patients to discern what is normal and what is not. When your doctor instructs you to do something, you trust that they have your wellbeing in mind. It is not unheard of for medical professionals to use this trust to manipulate patients for their own sexual pleasure.

During an exam, procedure or treatment you have certain rights. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, you should always speak up and end the examination. Once you let the healthcare professional performing the exam know that you are uncomfortable, they should stop right away. You also have the following rights:

  • Requesting to have someone in the room. You are certainly entitled to have someone else in the room with you, such as a nurse, friend, or family member.
  • Expectation of privacy. If you need to undress for the exam, you should have the privacy to do so. Doctors and nurses should not be in the room while you change before or after the exam. Healthcare professionals should conduct exams private rooms or rooms. If you do have to undress, you should only have to undress the body parts that are necessary for the examination, and you shouldn’t need to stay undressed for long before or after the exam.
  • Requesting a medical professional of the same sex. It is entirely acceptable for you to ask for a healthcare professional who is the same sex as you.
  • Getting answers to your questions. You always have the right to question what the medical professional is doing, and they must respect your inquisitions and answer you truthfully.
  • Respect for your religion. You are entitled to wear religious jewelry or garments, unless they stop you from receiving appropriate care.

If a doctor invades your privacy or makes you uncomfortable during your exam, our sexual abuse lawyers can help. We can investigate your medical professional’s background and see if other victims have accused this person of sexual medical malpractice before. We take these claims very seriously and will conduct a thorough investigation without delay.

Sometimes we find that there have been other reports of inappropriate sexual behavior, and the hospitals or other institutions that employ your abuser may still allow your abuser to retain their position. When this happens, these institutions are now involved and can be held liable for failing to protect you and your peers.

Inappropriate, unwanted or coercive sexual advances from a trusted healthcare professional can be violent in nature or extremely manipulative. You can suffer traumatic physical and mental harm. We want you to know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are ready to help you through this difficult time in your life.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), nearly 54 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to the police. Furthermore, sexual assault or abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States. Even worse, of the cases reported to police that make it to criminal trials, only 3 percent of abusers actually end up in jail.

These low numbers can be attributed to victims feeling ashamed or embarrassed so they do not report the injustice done to them. Other times, victims feel like no one will believe them, especially if their abuser is in a high power position, like a doctor or any other medical professional.

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