Hands up - who wants extra chemotherapy? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

June 11, 2014,

Thumbnail image for Chemo.jpgLet's say you are going through chemotherapy. You are miserable, losing hair and your last meal by the minute. Could it get worse?

Why, yes, it could. How about if you learned that you sat there, receiving chemotherapy, for hours more than were necessary? And then let's say you found out that the reason you sat there for longer than you had to was because your doctor decided he would like to make more money, and having you sit there for longer was just the ticket?

According to a Department of Justice press release, Owners Of Elizabethtown Hematology Oncology, PLC Agree To Pay Over $3.7 Million To Settle False Billings To Government Health Care Programs, cancer doctors in Kentucky lengthened the time over which patients had to receive chemotherapy infusion treatments in order to get more reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid. The fraud led to a False Claims Act lawsuit filed by a whistleblower.

Continue reading "Hands up - who wants extra chemotherapy? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? " »

Heartless Hospital Performs Unnecessary Heart Surgeries? Wow.

June 9, 2014,

Tin Man.jpgEven before he got a heart the Tin Man would have been ashamed of this sort of behavior.

According to a DOJ press release, King's Daughters Medical Center to Pay Nearly $41 Million to Resolve Allegations of False Billing for Unnecessary Cardiac Procedures and Kickbacks, the Ashland, Kentucky, hospital has agreed to pay $40.9 million to the U.S. to resolve accusations that it fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary coronary stents and diagnostic catheterizations.

Screeeeech. Wait a minute. Putting coronary stents in patients who did not need them? Performing heart catheterizations on people who had no medical need for one? Are you serious?

Continue reading "Heartless Hospital Performs Unnecessary Heart Surgeries? Wow." »

Ambulance Companies Take Medicare For a Ride

May 8, 2014,

Ambulance.jpgLet's say you have a dialysis treatment coming up. You could drive yourself to the clinic. On the other hand, an ambulance company says that it would be glad to give you a ride - but first, it would like to pay you cash of $100 to $400 a month.

Say what?

The federal Government has indicted a Pennsylvania company that allegedly agreed to do just that. According to U.S. attorneys in that state, Penn Choice Ambulance, Inc., bilked the federal government of $1.5 million by charging Medicare for ambulance rides for patients who were going to dialysis - even though the patients could have gotten there on their own. Sometimes the company even drove patients in their own cars! Of course, when Penn Choice wasn't billing huge amounts to Medicare, those same patients drove the cars on their own to other places.

Continue reading "Ambulance Companies Take Medicare For a Ride" »

How Could a Doctor Do This to His Patients?

May 6, 2014,

Shot.jpgAccording to the Department of Justice, a Florida doctor was intentionally misdiagnosing patients with serious illnesses, just so he could make money for treating them. Now, according to a DOJ press release, Government Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against Florida-Based Baptist Health System for $2.5 Million, the hospital where Dr. Sean Orr worked is settling claims that it tried to cover up what Dr. Orr had done.

According to a Medicare False Claims Act lawsuit brought by a whistleblower, Dr. Sean Orr was not just misdiagnosing patients with ordinary illnesses; he was telling them they had potentially life-changing conditions, like multiple sclerosis and brain lesions. And Dr. Orr was not just an ordinary doctor; he was the chief doctor of the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla., and he had been the team neurologist for the Jacksonville Jaguars pro football team. When the hospital found out what Dr. Orr had done, it put Dr. Orr on administrative leave, but it did not tell the patients or the Government that the patients had been misdiagnosed. (Fla. Hospital Accused of Medicare False Billing Cover-Up, Law360).

Continue reading "How Could a Doctor Do This to His Patients?" »

What Defense Contractor Tops the False Claims Act "Hall of Shame" List?

May 5, 2014,

Tank.jpgAccording to a list put together by two of my fellow whistleblower lawyers, Northrop-Grumman has paid more than any other defense contractor to resolve claims that it cheated the Government. In fact, on a list of top 20 largest payments made by defense contractors to resolve allegations of fraud, Northrop-Grumman made the list 4 times, coming in at 1, 3, 7 and 11.

The Government recovered a whopping $1,554,200,000 in just the top 20 cases, according to a list compiled by Mike Bothwell and Julie Bracker. Whistleblowers brought 75% of these 20 lawsuits, meaning the Government would not have known about 75% of these cases if it had not been for a whistleblower who reported the facts about the fraud.

Continue reading " What Defense Contractor Tops the False Claims Act "Hall of Shame" List?" »

$12 Million Settlement in Suit by Pharmacists Against Texas Grocery Store Chain

April 28, 2014,

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Pills, assorted.jpgAs a lawyer who represents qui tam whistleblowers, I did a double take when I saw that a grocery store based in San Antonio, Texas, is going to have to pay the state $12,000,000 to settle False Claims Act allegations. Since the False Claim Act only addresses fraud against the government, I was trying to figure out how HEB Grocery Company could have managed to cheat the government. Maybe the store was providing food for school lunches, or for the National Guard? Maybe the store had a contract to provide groceries to jails?

But as I read the article, Texas Grocery Chain Pays $12 Million In Settlement Of Medicaid Fraud Case, the charges were much more mainstream than I had been thinking. Many of the chain's grocery stores also had pharmacies - of course! - and three pharmacists accused the chain of Medicaid fraud. The trio alleged that HEB grocery was charging the Texas Medicaid program too much for some of the drugs it was dispensing to Medicaid payments.

Continue reading "$12 Million Settlement in Suit by Pharmacists Against Texas Grocery Store Chain " »

Here's One for the Little Guy: Small Business Whistleblower Wins $928,000 for Government

April 21, 2014,

Building construction.jpgThe Government has nabbed another company for making false claims in order to get loans from the Program for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses. According to a Department of Justice press release, Okland Construction Co., Inc., of Utah, will pay the Government $928,000 to settle U.S. claims that the company only pretended to be working with a small business when it worked nine contracts, mostly for construction projects at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base.

To help small businesses, federal agencies are required to set aside a certain number of contracts, known as 8(a) contracts, that will be awarded to small businesses. In order to encourage small business development, the program also allows a larger corporation to act as a "mentor" for a smaller corporation. The mentor and the smaller corporation can form a joint venture and work together on the contract.

I represent whistleblowers who know about fraud against the Government, and lately I have seen several cases of small business contract fraud, where companies pretended to be working with small businesses to try to steal some of these 8(a) contracts. I have seen situations where big companies pretended to be small businesses. I even saw one very shocking situation where a large corporation claimed to be working with a smaller one - when in fact the smaller business not only was not working on the contract, it did not even know it supposedly had the contract!

Continue reading "Here's One for the Little Guy: Small Business Whistleblower Wins $928,000 for Government" »

This Couple Thought They Could Pull the Wool Over the Government's Eyes

February 26, 2014,

Sheep.jpgAn Iowa couple may be feeling a bit sheepish now that they have to repay the Government $1,376,670 they collected in subsidies for sheep they did not own. The sheepless couple was apparently trying to take advantage of subsidies administered by the Farm Services Agency (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

I'm a lawyer who represents whistleblowers who know about government subsidy fraud as well as other types of fraud against the Government. So I say with some authority that for shear audacity, this False Claims Act case ranks pretty high.

According to the Department of Justice press release, Money Judgment of $1,376,670 Rendered Against Iowa Couple For Violations of the False Claims Act, the Knoxville, Iowa, husband-wife team operated L & J Wool & Fur, a South Dakota corporation. Over a six-year period, Howard "Jack" Aleff and Reena Slominski submitted 132 false claims for payment under the Wool and Mohair Loans and Loan Deficiency Program.

In a publication from the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), Marketing Assistance Loans & Loan Deficiency Payments, the USDA explains that the Wool and Mohair Loans and Loan Deficiency Program has two chief components. First, ranchers (farmers) raising sheep or goats can get a loan from the Government. If the price of wool drops below a particular rate that has been set by law - the commodity loan rate -- then the farmer can obtain the loan to allow him to hold on to his crop until later in the year, when presumptively the price will have increased again. In case the price does not rise, the farmer has the option of delivering the goods to the CCC as full payment for the loan. To discourage this course, the government has provided that the producer can repay less than the full amount of the loan, which will allow the farmer to sell his crop and still receive a "marketing gain."

Alternatively, the rancher or farmer can decide not to take a loan at all. In that case, the producer still can get a Loan Deficiency Payment (LDP). The producer will be paid the difference between the established loan rate for the applicable loan commodity and the repayment rate, multiplied across the full amount of the product produced.

Luckily for this Iowa couple, they did not need to take a loan - what with not having any sheep to feed or graze, their costs for non-farming were really quite low. Instead, they took the LDP option. Each year they fleeced the Government by submitting fake documents that made it look as if they actually raised sheep and had legitimate business transactions involving the sale of wool.

Apparently this pair not-owned a large number of sheep, because the LDP difference netted them an average of $50,000 a year. Of course, with careful breeding, it is possible that they were able to not-own more and more sheep over the years, as imaginary sheep begat cute, little imaginary lambs.

To ram the point home, the Department of Justice also prosecuted the duo criminally. Aleff and Slominski were given five years of probation, and shorn of $60,000 by way of a fine. They were also ordered to pay restitution of $303,890 to the Commodity Credit Corporation. The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is a government-owned corporation that has been charged with stabilizing and protecting farmers' incomes and the prices of farm goods.

So tell me - does this fraud against the Government get your goat?

Maryland Company Accused of Letting Non-Doctor Read X-Rays

January 24, 2014,

Arm cast.jpgWhen he was 11, my son broke his thumb playing football. We took him straight for an x-ray. The doctors set his bone and gave him a cast, which delighted him because he got it in camouflage color and it meant he did not have to take notes at school. Four weeks later, the cast came off and he was fine. (In the meantime he broke his other thumb, too, and ended up with matching camouflage casts. I'll save that story for another day.)

But what if we had never found out that he had a broken thumb? What if the doctors had looked at the x-ray and said he had no broken bone and he did not need a cast? He might have wound up with permanent damage to his thumb.

That misdiagnosis is hypothetical for us, but according to the FBI it was not imaginary for several elderly people in Owings Mill, Maryland (near Baltimore) and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, Balto. Co. X-Ray Company Accused of Falsifying Reports, the FBI says that a company called Alpha Diagnostics let its vice president Timothy Emeigh review x-rays of patients. Emeigh was licensed as a radiographer, which is an x-ray technologist. However, under Medicare rules, a final x-ray review must be done by a licensed doctor - which Emeigh was not.

The FBI says that the fraud against Medicare reached $3.3 million before the Government shut it down.

Since I'm a whistleblower lawyer, of course one of my thoughts was -- who was the whistleblower? So far the Government is not saying.

But the Government is saying that the Medicare fraud had more than financial effects on taxpayers. According to the FBI, Emeigh blew the diagnoses for several elderly patients. At one Virginia nursing home, several patients had conditions that were overlooked because the x-ray was read wrong. The article does not say what happened to the patients who had the bad diagnoses.

Emeigh told the patient's doctors that he was sending the exams off for review by a crew of doctors who worked for another firm, Alpha Rads. According to the FBI, the company consisted of nothing more than Emeigh himself.

The FBI says the targets of the investigation are Emeigh and Alpha Diagnostics' CEO, Rafael Chikvashvili. Because the FBI is talking about fraud by Alpha Diagnostics, it is my bet that the Government will be pursuing a False Claims Act ("FCA") case against the company and both men in order to recoup the $3.3 million. Under the FCA, the Government is entitled to damages of between 2 and 3 times the amount of money that was stolen from it. If a whistleblower alerts the Government to the fraud and files the suit, the whistleblower is entitled to between 15 and 30% of what the Government recovers. The percentage that goes to the whistleblower varies depending on whether the Government takes over the case, or whether the whistleblower ends up pursuing the case on his own.

And here's a disconcerting fact about this fraud: way back in 1993 Emeigh had been fined by the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance for "promoting an unqualified man to the position of X-ray technician at Alpha Diagnostics." No doubt Emeigh was emboldened by the fact that in that incident, the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance gave him nothing more than a slap on the wrist, fining him just $1200 for conduct that could have caused patient harm.

Whistleblower Reveals Fraud Against Special Ed Kids

January 14, 2014,

Social Worker Sign.jpgI hate it when I see fraud against the Government, but I hate it even more when I see fraud against kids. I want to congratulate my friend and fellow whistleblower lawyer Ross Brooks for some great work he did in a suit that tried to stop some really callous treatment of schoolchildren - special education kids, at that.

Ross is a qui tam lawyer, like I am. Ross was representing Dana Ohlmeyer, a social worker who worked for the NYC Department of Education. Ms. Ohlmeyer discovered that the City of New York was pretending to offer psychological counseling services to special ed kids - but it was not really bothering to offer the counseling.

I don't know all the details of why these kids needed counseling, but apparently the need for these particular kids was strong enough that Medicaid was paying the Department of Education $223 a month to give each student two psychological counseling sessions. In other words, Medicaid was paying NYC a pretty steep price of $111.50 per session to counsel these kids.

NYC told Medicaid that it was giving these counseling sessions. It stuck its hand right out and collected all the money it was entitled to get for giving these counseling sessions. The problem was, NYC's own records showed that the students were not actually receiving the counseling they were supposed to get. The U.S. Department of Justice press release on the case, which settled yesterday, said New York City claimed it gave one poor kid counseling for 15 months between 2000 and 2003. The claim was false for 12 of those 15 months, because the kid got either 1 or 0 sessions during those 12 months.

How many times did NYC do this? Pretty darn many. NYC is paying the U.S. Government $1,375,000 to settle the claim.

I don't know the details of the case, because of course the personal details of the kids are not being released. However, you can imagine all sorts of reasons why these special ed kids needed the counseling. Medicaid would not have paid for it in the first place if these kids had not had a prescribed need for help.

So you have to figure that somewhere in New York City there was a kid who was dealing with being made fun of because he was "different" from the other kids. Another kid was trying to process the fact that he was handicapped - mentally or physically - because he had been abused by somebody he loved. Some other child had a serious mental illness and needed to talk about why she acted differently, and learn how she ought to interact with her peers or her teachers.

Whatever the child's story, NYC gave the kid nada. Medicaid paid NYC for the counseling, but NYC just did not provide it.

The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, made a very good point in the Government's press release: "When Medicaid shells out scarce dollars for services that are not provided, both the students in need of psychological support and the public fisc are harmed."

Hats off to social worker Dana Ohlmeyer, who saw what was happening and stood up for these special education schoolchildren. Congratulations also to Ross Brooks for his great work in bringing this conduct to the attention of the Government, and to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and the team she marshalled, including Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Goldberger and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Special Agent Elysia Doherty, for the work they did in resolving the case.

I was disappointed to see that Ms. Ohlmeyer received just 15% of the amount the Government got, because that is the absolute minimum amount set by Congress. In my view, this case rang the bell in terms of fraud, because what was happening in NYC was hurting not just the federal government, but also a very vulnerable population. Surely we ought to do everything we can to encourage whistleblowers like Ms. Ohlmeyer.

Surprise! The Busiest Roads in Atlanta Are In -- DeKalb County?

January 13, 2014,

Thumbnail image for Atlanta roads.jpgI handle Atlanta car accident cases, and so I wanted to know more about what the figures are for the traffic in Atlanta. Anyone who has lived in Atlanta even fleetingly knows that traffic in Atlanta is everywhere, and it can be grim. Unfortunately, the more traffic that a road sees, the more accidents that occur on that road.

Most of Atlanta sits in Fulton County, with only a relatively small portion stretching across the county border into DeKalb County. Given how much more of Atlanta is in Fulton County, you would expect that Fulton County would have busier roads that carry a lot more traffic. Thus, it is truly surprising that - per mile of roadway -- Atlanta's DeKalb County roads are far, far busier than Atlanta's Fulton County roads.

According to Georgia DOT statistics, on Atlanta's Fulton County side, 1407 miles of road course through and around the city. These roads are among the busiest in the state. On average, they see 14,601,443.79 "daily VMT" - which stands for "daily vehicle miles traveled" - each day. The Georgia Department of Transportation (Georgia DOT) calculates this figure by looking at how many miles were driven on a road on an average day, when the miles driven by every car are added together.

The number of vehicle miles on Atlanta's Fulton County side is extremely large, and yet - relatively speaking - it is smaller than the number of vehicle miles on the DeKalb County side. While the roads in Fulton County see 14,601,443.79 vehicle miles per day, those miles are distributed across 1407 miles of roadway. The DeKalb side of Atlanta has only 298.17 miles of roadway, but still manages to rack up 11,993,015.21 daily vehicle miles traveled.

The reason for the difference is that the majority of the roads on the Fulton County side are smaller city streets, averaging barely over two lanes apiece. On the DeKalb County side, however, the majority of the roads are state routes averaging 5.49 lanes across. ("Lane miles" are calculated by counting the mileage for each lane separately.) Averaging in all of the types of roads - state routes, county roads and city streets - that run through Atlanta, the DeKalb County roads average 3.67 lanes across. The roads on the Fulton County side average only 2.54 lanes across. The primary reason for that difference is that on the Fulton County side, Atlanta has 1214.54 miles of city streets, while on the DeKalb County side it has only 89.59 miles of city streets. City streets tend to be local, residential roads, and are generally less trafficked than county roads, and especially less traveled than state routes. Thus, relatively speaking, the DeKalb County side of Atlanta has even busier roads than the Fulton County side.

Of course, any way you slice the data, the Atlanta roads on both sides of the county line see a tremendous amount of traffic every day, and in fact more than anywhere else in the state. Still, for anyone who looks at a map, the fact that so much of Atlanta could be in Fulton County, and yet so much of the traffic could be in the relatively smaller part of Atlanta that is in DeKalb County, is quite astonishing.

Motorcycle Fatalities are Increasing in Georgia

January 9, 2014,

Motorcycle and car.jpgAs a motorcycle wreck lawyer, I certainly knew that serious injuries or deaths can occur when a motorcycle is in a wreck. But figures that are now available from the Georgia DOT show that nearly 10% of the people who died in motor vehicle crashes in Georgia were involved in a motorcycle crash. Even worse, according to statistics provided by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the number of motorcycle fatalities in Georgia is dramatically increasing.

Stating the obvious, GDOT notes that motorcycles "are smaller than almost every other type of vehicle on the road." Still, motorcycles have always been smaller than cars are. Certainly that fact has not changed. And yet, you can see from the Georgia DOT figures (below) that the number of motorcycle fatalities has more than tripled in the 14 years between 2004 and 2008.

Motorcycle Fatalities in Georgia:

In 1994: 55 fatalities
In 1995: 44 deaths in motorcycle wrecks
In 1996: 47 traffic fatalities for motorcyclists
In 1997: 56 motorcycle wreck deaths
In 1998: 66 deaths due to motorcycle wrecks
In 1999: 59 fatalities from accidents involving motorcycles
In 2000: 61 deaths in motorcycle wrecks
In 2001: 95 people were killed after motorcycle crashes
In 2002: 85 motorcycle wreck deaths
In 2003: 103 motorcycle crash fatalities
In 2004: 111 more people killed in motorcycle wrecks
In 2005: 144 people died as a result of wrecks on motorcycles
In 2006: 154 deaths in motorcycle accidents
In 2007: 163 fatal motorcycle crashes
In 2008: 177 people died in motorcycle accidents

What on earth would cause that sort of staggering increase? If motorcycles have not changed in nature, then why would more people be killed in motorcycle wrecks?

Apparently the problem was not that motorcycle crashes became riskier. The issue is that more motorcycles are now on Georgia roads. Due to sheer increase in numbers of motorcycles driving the roads, more accidents are occurring that involve motorcycles.

One silver lining, though, is that while the raw number of fatal motorcycle wrecks increased, the rate at which these accidents were fatal actually decreased. In fact, the rate of motorcycle fatalities unfortunately did increase some. Fortunately, however, it did not increase with anywhere near the consistency that the raw number of deaths did. Here are the statistics put out by the Georgia Department of Transportation:

Rate of Deaths Per Motorcycles Registered in the State of Georgia

In 1998: 7.65 fatalities per motorcycles registered in Georgia
In 1999: 6.78 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (actual number of deaths was 66)
In 2000: 6.93 deaths per motorcycles registered in Georgia (actual number of fatalities was 59)
In 2001: 10.33 persons killed per 10,000 motorcycles registered in Georgia (total of 61 deaths)
In 2002: 7.8 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (95 deaths occurred)
In 2003: 8.68 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (85 fatalities this year)
In 2004: 8.58 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (103 persons killed in 2004)
In 2005: 10.14 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (111 people killed)
In 2006: 10.83 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (144 deaths)
In 2007: 9.45 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (154 fatalities)
In 2008: 9.29 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (163 deaths)
In 2009: 6.25 deaths/motorcycles registered in Georgia (177 people who died)

Insurance for Motorcyclists Hurt or Killed in Motorcycle Wrecks in Georgia

January 6, 2014,

Thumbnail image for Motorcycle on curve.jpgWhen I handle motorcycle wreck lawsuits, I tell my clients that in Georgia, motorcycles have the same right to the roadway that cars have:

"Every person operating a motorcycle shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under this chapter except as to special regulations in this part and except as to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application. "
O.C.G.A. ยง 40-6-310.

Injured Motorcycle Drivers May Be Entitled to Insurance Payments

Motorcyclists also are entitled to get insurance payments when they are injured, just like people in car wrecks are. As with car wreck cases, most motorcycle accidents involve a driver who was at fault, and his insurance comes into play. If a car caused the wreck, then the car driver's insurance is required to pay for the medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering of the biker and any passenger on the bike. (The payments only go up to the limits of the policy, however.) If a car forces a motorcycle off the road - that is, causes a biker to "lay down" his bike - then the car's insurance is required to pay the motorcyclist for his injuries.

The insurance company also has to pay to repair (or replace) the motorcycle, depending on how badly damaged the motorcycle was. If the car driver does not have enough insurance, then the motorcyclist's uninsured motorist coverage may be required to pay for the medical bills, the pain and suffering, and the repairs to the motorcycle. The uninsured motorist insurance also may have to pay if the accident was a hit-and-run and police are unable to find the car or truck that caused the wreck.

Motorcycle Drivers Also May Be Liable for the Wrecks They Cause

Of course, the street runs two ways. If the driver of the motorcycle caused the wreck, then the driver of the car or truck can recover from the motorcyclist's insurance company. If a passenger on the motorcycle was killed or injured in the crash, then the passenger or his family may be able to recover from the motorcycle insurance carried by the biker.

According to the GA DOT report, in more than half of the motorcycle crashes in Georgia, the motorcycle collided with another vehicle. In another quarter of the wrecks, the motorcycle hit a fixed object, such as a tree or bridge abutment. In ten percent of the crashes, the motorcycle rolled over ("rollover crashes").

The Georgia DOT has found that "almost one-third of the fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in rural counties." Unfortunately, motorcycle crashes are twelve times as likely to be fatal as accidents involving cars.

Those two facts are probably linked. The rate of deadly crashes is greater in rural counties than in urban areas like metro Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Augusta, Macon, and Albany.

Helmets Help, But They Aren't Foolproof

Without question helmets help motorcycle riders if they are in a wreck. Helmets, however, are not a cure-all: of the motorcyclists who were killed in wrecks in Georgia, 82.1% were wearing helmets at the time of the wreck. Only 27.55% of people riding on a motorcycle emerged unscathed after the wreck. Of people riding in passenger cars, by contrast, 84.10% were left with no injuries at all at the end of the wreck.

White County Has Higher Head-On Crash Rate than Metro Atlanta. Why?

January 2, 2014,

Truck front grill.jpgSurprisingly, when the Georgia DOT measured the number of people who die in head on car crashes - per vehicle-mile - White County had a higher death rate than any other county in Georgia. With .4 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, White County easily outstripped any of the metro counties, including Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett. Each of those densely-populated counties had "just" .1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, according to GDOT's Crash Statistics, Analysis and Information Notebook 2008.

I am a lawyer for head-on crash cases, and I have been blogging about the surprising rate of deadly frontal crashes in rural Georgia. Today I want to talk about why rural counties like White have such a high rate of fatal front-to-front wrecks. At first blush, it makes no sense. Fulton County has 949,599 people. Gwinnett County has a population of 824,941. Both counties have massive highways and heavy traffic. How could they possibly have a higher rate of fatal head-on wrecks than White County, with its much smaller population of 27,273?

The answer lies in the types of roads in White County versus in the big metro Atlanta counties, as well as the difference in the speed of the travel in the two different locations in our state.

The Types of Roads in White County as Opposed to Metro Atlanta

While it is certainly true that Atlanta's mega-highways, like I-75, I-85, I-20 and I-285 see a tremendous amount of traffic, all of those roads have multiple lanes going in each direction. Huge walls separate the lanes heading in one direction from the lanes heading in another direction. Thus, if a driver is inattentive and drifts over into the next lane, the driver may cause a wreck - but the wreck is more likely to be a side impact or a rear impact than a frontal collision.

Rural areas like White County, by contrast, have far more two-lane roads. These roads have no median at all. If a driver is inattentive on a two-lane road, and loses his lane of travel, he has only one other lane into which he can drift - the one headed in the opposite direction.

The Speed of the Travel in Metro Atlanta, Versus the Speed in White County

Ironically, metro Atlanta's heavy traffic actually reduces the rate of fatalities. When traffic has slowed to a crawl, even a head-on crash is far less dangerous. In general, a head-on crash where both vehicles are going 10 miles per hour is far, far less powerful than a frontal collision with both cars headed toward one another at 55 mph. The result? Fewer of the metro Atlanta crashes are fatal.

In Atlanta, many of the frontal crash happen when someone goes up the off-ramp on one of the big highways. A fairly significant number of these wrecks occur when the driver is under the influence (DUI) after drinking alcohol.

Atlanta does have some dangerous on-ramps, however, where anyone can become confused about whether he is on the right ramp. Metro Atlantans will remember the terrible wreck when a bus carrying a school team went up the ramp that came off I-75 at Northside Drive. Bizarrely, the ramp comes off in the middle of the highway, at the far left side of the southbound lanes of I-75. The ramp was extremely short, and poorly marked. The bus driver came up the ramp at highway speeds, obviously thinking he was still in a highway lane. Tragically, the bus went right across Northside Dr. and off the other side, killing the bus driver, his wife, and many of the students. The Georgia DOT did spend substantial time modifying and posting signs at the ramp after that horrific accident occurred.

Rural Counties Have Higher Rate of Head-on Crash Deaths Than Fulton County

December 30, 2013,

Car front.jpgIt doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that head-on car crashes are among the absolutely most dangerous kinds of car accidents. Surprisingly, the rate of these deadly frontal crashes is even higher in in rural areas than they are in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located.

I am a lawyer who handles head-on crash death lawsuits as well as cases involving injuries from those types of collisions. I have been blogging about a 2008 report by the Georgia DOT, Crash Analysis, Statistics & Information Notebook 2008, in which GDOT looked at how many head-on deadly crashes occurred per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on the roads in each of Georgia's 159 counties. By calculating the rate instead of just looking at the number of fatalities, the report evens out differences caused by uneven population counts. That way, counties can get a true sense of where they stand in terms of the dangers of people being killed in front-to-front car wrecks.

Fifteen counties had a rate of 0.3 or higher. Interestingly, only 2 of those counties made the list of the 20 most populated counties in Georgia. Paulding County, which is ranked 14th in terms of population, had a fatal front car wreck rate of 0.4. Carroll County, which is ranked 20th in terms of population, had a rate of 0.3.

The counties with the worst rates for head on fatal crashes were scattered across the state.

Franklin County, with its population of 21,864, had .4 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Habersham County (population of 43,279), Jackson County (with 61,257 people), Polk (41,211 residents), and Walton (84,580 citizens), all shared that same rate -- .4 deaths from head on crashes per 100 million miles traveled.

Two significantly larger counties - Paulding, which has a larger population of 143,542, and fast-growing Hall County, which currently has a population of 183,052, shared that same relatively high rate - .4 frontal crashes that resulted in fatalities per 100,000,000 miles driven.

Madison County has a population of 27,921, but it had a very high death rate of .5, as did Putnam County, which has 21,345 people.

The county that suffered far and away the highest rate of deadly head-on collisions was White County. White County has a population of 27,273, and is located in the northeast corner of Georgia. The largest city in White County is Cleveland, which has a population of 3425.

To give you an idea of how serious the problem was in White County, we can compare it to some of Georgia's other counties. Paulding County, for example, is generally considered to be in the Atlanta metro area and has a population of 143,542. Paulding County also had a rate that put it in the top 10 most dangerous counties for fatal front-on crashes - .4 deaths in head on car wrecks for every 100 million vehicle miles. Over the seven years of the study, 24 people died in head-on crashes in Paulding.

White County, on the other hand, has a much smaller 27,556 residents, yet had 11 deaths - a rate of .7 per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Thus, while Paulding County had more than 5 times the population of White County, it had only twice as many head-on crash deaths.

To make the issue even starker, gigantic Fulton County, with its population of 949,599, had a rate of only .1 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The other most densely populated counties around the Atlanta metro area also saw only .1 fatalities per 100,000,000 vehicle miles. Gwinnett County, the second most populous county in Georgia, has 824,941 residents; third-place DeKalb County has 699,893 citizens, and Cobb County has a population of 697,553. Each of these counties, although much larger than White County, had significantly lower rates of fatal front-to-front wrecks.