If you represent or care for a disabled person, you are likely already aware of special needs trusts. These trusts allow litigation proceeds, and other contributions, to be set aside so that the funds can be protected for the disabled beneficiary, while still maintaining income eligibility for benefit programs such as SSI, Medicaid, and other important benefit programs. Such trusts, however, can be restrictive in their payments if benefit eligibility is to continue. Primarily, beneficiaries are not permitted to have access to assets outside a special needs trust above a limit set by each state. In Alaska, having more that $2,000 in assets would prevent a disabled beneficiary from receiving some benefits.

A recently passed federal statute has now tackled this problem: The ABLE Act. This law allows states to set up their own programs permitting a disabled person to set up a separate account, much like an IRA or HSA, that would not count as an asset in the income eligibility analysis. Alaska is one of just a handful of states that have adopted this legislation. With Gov. Walker having just signed the bill into law in August,2016, the application process in Alaska is still being ironed out.

Here are some key elements of the law. The disability must have occurred before age 26, and many types of disabilities are permitted, including physical, hearing, mental health, and other disabilities. Total annual contributions may not exceed the federal gift tax limit, now at $14,000. A total of $400,000 may be contributed. A beneficiary may have only one account, but anyone can contribute to the account. Neither the funds contributed to the account,nor the interest earned in the account, are deemed to be taxable. The funds can be spent on items such as housing, personal support, assistive technology, and many other needs, including items normally not permitted under a special needs trust.

The FDA and the CDC have recently warned the public about the risk of contracting nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) infections associated with the use of the Sorin surgical blankets during cardiac and thoracic surgery. These surgical blankets help maintain a patient’s body temperature during surgery. NTM are bacteria commonly found in water and in the environment. Water is used in the temperature control process and, although it does not come in contact with the patient, it is suspected that it may enter the surgical theater during venting. Typically not harmful, NTM can create significant infections for patients when exposed to NTM during this type of surgery, or when a patient is suffering from a compromised immune system.

The FDA first noted this problem in a safety recall involving the Sorin 3T system, and then issued a safety communication on October, 2015, following it with a second safety communication in June, 2016. The CDC similarly issued a warning in October, 2015.

A significant concern for patients is that the latency period can be as long as 5 years as NTM infections are slow growing. Also, NTM infections have many manifestations that are often nonspecific and make it difficult for a patient or a physician to readily identify that an infection is at work, or even that an infection was associated with this type of exposure. Without knowing to look for the particular bacterium, it is often missed in a typical patient workup, but can be identified if specific testing is done. This type of infection is also new enough that medical literature does not yet exist to provide clear recommendations for treatment.

Richard E. Vollertsen of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group has been selected by Best Lawyers of America as “Lawyer of the Year” for 2017 in plaintiff’s personal injury law in Anchorage. This is the third time Best Lawyers of American has selected Mr. Vollertsen for this honor.

Mr. Vollertsen was also selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2016 publication. He is now in a distinguished group of attorneys listed in the publication for over 15 years. Selection to the “Best Lawyers In America” listing is based on exhaustive and rigorous peer-review evaluations by the top attorneys in the country.

Mr. Vollertsen, Neil O’Donnell, and Michael Moody of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group have been selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2016 publication. They have all also received the highest “A-V” ranking in Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest and best known lawyer ranking service. The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group focuses its efforts on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Mr. Vollertsen was selected as an Alaska Super Lawyer for 2016, and has been selected for this honor every year since 2007. Mr. Vollertsen has been a member of the Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon law firm since 1982. His practice includes complex litigation matters primarily involving products liability, wrongful death, and personal injury. He served as Law Clerk to Chief Justice Edmund Burke of the Alaska Supreme Court. Mr. Vollertsen was also Editor-in-Chief of University of San Francisco Law Review, 1980-81, and contributing editor to Alaska Court Review, 1983-2000.

Alaska Personal Injury Law Group members Richard Vollertsen, Neil O’Donnell and Mike Moody have all been selected for inclusion in both Alaska Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. They have all also received the highest “A-V” ranking in Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest and best known lawyer ranking service. The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group focuses its efforts on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases.

The Super Lawyer rigorous merit-based selection process began early in the year, with invitations to participate in the nominations process going out to over 1,400 attorneys in Alaska. In addition, their research department conducted independent candidate searches through professional databases, legal trade journals, and meetings with law firms. The candidates were then evaluated by the research department. This evaluation process included examination of candidates’ background and experience, followed by a peer evaluation from other Alaskan attorneys in the practice area. The final candidates selected were those with the highest point totals from each category, and included only five (5) percent of all attorneys in Alaska.

Benchmark Litigation has selected Richard E. Vollertsen as a 2017 Litigation Star in Alaska. His law firm, Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon, was also selected by Benchmark as a recommended law firm in general and plaintiff’s personal injury litigation practice.

Richard E. Vollertsen of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, announced that a settlement was reached in an FTCA claim asserted against the Norton Sound Regional Hospital. The claim arose out of the hospital’s failure to diagnose and treat pneumococcal meningitis in a child. The child suffered irreversible brain damage, spastic quadriparesis, profound cognitive and developmental deficits, a seizure disorder, and incontinence. Lifelong care will be provided for the child through a Special Needs Trust. Stipulated facts filed in federal court regarding the hospital’s medical errors can be found in A.N. v. United States, 2:09-cv-00009-TMB.

The $1.5B settlement reached in the Stryker Rejuvenate/ABGII Hip Implant litigation in November, 2014, has been finalized as 95% of the MDL litigants have agreed to participate in the settlement. Litigants are receiving a base payment with enhanced awards when complications arose during their medical care, such as muscle destruction, osteotomy, or subsequent revision.

Richard E. Vollertsen, of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, served as local counsel in Alaska for the New York law firm, Weitz Luxemberg. Ellen Relkin, of Weitz Luxemberg was lead counsel in the litigation.

Those patients who have had their Stryker hip implants removed after November 2014, may be able to join the litigation, and should contact the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group for a case evaluation.

Richard E. Vollertsen of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, announced that a settlement was reached in an FTCA claim asserted against the Norton Sound Regional Hospital. The claim arose out of the hospital’s failure to diagnose and treat meningitis and seizure in a two-month-old child. The child suffered irreversible brain damage, spastic quadriparesis, profound cognitive and developmental deficits, cortical blindness, and incontinence. Lifelong care will be provided for the child through a Special Needs Trust. Stipulated facts filed in federal court regarding the hospital’s medical errors can be found at A.A. v. United States, Case Number 3:09-cv-00251-TMB.

Richard E. Vollertsen of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group has been selected by Best Lawyers of America as Alaska 2014-15 Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year. This is the second time Best Lawyers of America has selected Mr. Vollertsen for this honor.

Mr. Vollertsen was also selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2015 publication. He is now in a distinguished group of attorneys listed in the publication for over 15 years. Selection to the “Best Lawyers In America” listing is based on exhaustive and rigorous peer-review evaluations by the top attorneys in the country.

Mr. Vollertsen, Neil O’Donnell, and Michael Moody of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group have been selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2015 publication. They have all also received the highest “A-V” ranking in Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest and best known lawyer ranking service. The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group focuses its efforts on serious personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Mr. O’Donnell recently received the honor of being one of the few Alaska attorneys to be inducted as a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.

“The American College of Trial Lawyers, founded in 1950, recognizes the very best trial lawyers from the United States and Canada. The College’s Fellows are chosen strictly by invitation and only after a rigorous and lengthy investigation. The candidate must be identified as a highly skilled trial lawyer in the opinion of judges and practitioners, and as a person whose ethics, moral standards and collegiality are above reproach. Fellowship is limited to one percent of the lawyers in any individual State or Province, and the candidate must have practiced for at least 15 years.” http://www.actl.com

“The names included on the roster of the College are indicative of the College’s make-up. Every current Justice of the United States and Canadian Supreme Courts save one is an honorary member, having accepted Fellowship at a national meeting of the College. That one is Justice Suzanne Côté, a Judicial Fellow from Montreal, Canada, who was inducted as a Fellow prior to leaving private practice for the Court. Past Presidents of the College include such outstanding lawyers as former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and former United States Attorney General Griffin Bell.” http://www.actl.com