Mr. Vollertsen was selected as an Alaska Super Lawyer for 2015, 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 2015 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.

Settlement was reached today in the Stryker Rejuvenate/ABG II hip implant litigation. Claimants eligible to participate in the settlement are those who have had surgery to replace their Stryker hip implant device, in a procedure called a revision, prior to November 3, 2014. Claimants who have not yet had revision surgery to remove their device because they were deemed to be too medically infirm for the surgery are also eligible.

Those wishing to participate in the settlement are required to register by December 14, 2014. No extensions of this deadline are provided for in the settlement agreement. Thus, it is imperative that claimants seeking compensation for their injuries register by this deadline.

The attorneys at the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group are participating in the litigation, and are familiar with the elements of the settlement. Claimants needing assistance in the registration process may obtain the necessary advice by calling 907.276-1700 or 800.478.1900.

Mr. O’Donnell recently successfully concluded an insurance “bad faith” case against Allstate Insurance Company. After a two-week trial, the jury found that Allstate had failed to disclose and pay Mr. O’Donnell’s client $100,000 in Underinsured Motorist Coverage that was available from a prior class action settlement. The jury not only awarded Mr. O’Donnell’s client the underlying $100,000, but also awarded an additional $300,000 for financial distress resulting the delayed payment of the claim. The jury further found that Allstate had acted with reckless disregard of its insured’s interests. In Alaska, a jury can only hear evidence of the defendant’s financial condition, and determine the amount of a punitive damage award, after first finding that the plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages. In that situation, the jury reconvenes to hear evidence of the defendant’s financial condition. The case settled here for a confidential amount the morning that the punitive damage phase of the trial was to begin with plaintiff’s CPA expert witness about to testify that Allstate made $2.4 billion last year. Mr. O’Donnell has handled, and continues to handle, numerous insurance “bad faith” cases against Allstate. The attorneys at the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, including Mr. O’Donnell, have extensive experience with claims against insurance companies for failing to fulfill the special fiduciary duties they owe their insureds.

Over the years we have handled numerous “insurance bad faith” claims against auto insurers. These cases often involve situations where, following a serious auto accident, the insurance company fails to disclose and pay all the insurance coverage that is owed to the injured insured. We have seen that auto insurers often treat insureds as if they are adverse parties. They leave it up to the injured person to figure out which insurance policies apply. They leave it up to the injured insured to figure out what benefits they are entitled to under a 30-page or longer fine print contract. This approach to claims handling is both improper and illegal. Insurance companies owe their insureds an obligation of good faith and fair dealing. Alaska insurance regulations specifically require insurance companies to “fully disclose” to insureds “all relevant benefits and other provisions of coverage under which a claim may be covered.”

Determining what insurance policies and what coverages apply is often a complicated task, particularly in the event of a death or a serious injury. In a recent case, Allstate’s handling of a claim where a woman’s husband died in a head-on collision came to our attention many years after the fact. Our investigation determined that Allstate had denied underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to the widow under a second household auto policy through a tortured and self-serving “interpretation” of the policy that the Allstate claims managers never disclosed to the widow. Indeed, Allstate never even told the widow (who was not represented by an attorney) about the possibility of coverage under this policy. After Allstate’s conduct came to light and we filed suit, the court granted summary judgment in the widow’s favor ruling that a “coverage determination based on arcane legal doctrine [followed by Allstate] is at odds with Alaska’s reasonable-lay-interpretation doctrine, which expresses clear Alaskan public policy.” The moral of the story is that unfortunately there is a need, in the event of a serious injury or death, to verify that you are actually receiving the “Good Hands” treatment your insurer promised and is required to provide as a matter of Alaska law.

For more than 40 years, CT scanning has been an essential tool in medical diagnostics. While the imaging technique has allowed doctors to obtain images of a patient’s heart, brain, abdominal organs, and vasculature, its effectiveness is reduced whenever a patient moves during the imaging process–even the slightest movement can cause blurriness in the images. GE’s new Revolution CT now allows doctors to image the entirety of a patient’s organ structures literally within the span of a single hearbeat. This remarkable feat is made possible using high-resolution cameras and motion correcting technology similar to image stabilization features in personal cameras. This innovation was announced by GE last week at the 99th annual Radiological Association of North America conference, and will soon be made to hospitals all across the country.

Source: GE Reports at: www.gereports.com/inside-knowledge/.

Stryker Orthopedics has recalled its Rejuvenate and ABG II hip implant components because they are shedding metal particles that cause two different types of medical concerns. First, the particles contain toxic levels of cobalt and chromium that cause local tissue reactions. These reactions include pain at the implant site, which can limit the function of the implant. These tissue changes can cause fluid collections that resemble tumor tissue (pseudotumor), and local tissue death (necrosis). Another type of tissue change is referred to as aseptic, lymphocyte-dominated vasculitis-associated lesions (ALVAL). These tissue changes can also lead to painful and expensive hip dislocations. Osteolysis can sometimes be triggered, which is a type of bone loss. Such bone loss can occur as early as 12 months after implantation, and it is usually progressive. Osteolysis often does not cause symptoms. However, it can lead to implant loosening and bone fractures that create serious medical problems.

The second concern is that these toxic metal particles infiltrate the blood stream and cerebrospinal fluid, thereby traveling throughout the body to seed into distant tissues and organs. Cobalt exposure is known to cause neurologic (central and peripheral), endocrine, and cardiac manifestations. Combinations of tinnitus, vertigo, deafness, visual impairment, electroencephalographic changes, weakness, muscle atrophy, paresthesias, hypothyroidism, and heart failure have been noted. Patients also frequently describe mood changes, depression, memory changes, inability to concentrate, weight loss, headaches, irritability, fatigue and muscle atrophy.

Because of these medical concerns, revision surgery to remove these implant components is usually recommended.

Richard E. Vollertsen, of The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, has been selected as Alaska counsel for the New York law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, to assist in defective product claims concerning hip implant devices manufactured by Stryker Orthopedics. Weitz & Luxenberg has been designated as one of the lead counsel of the litigation filed in New Jersey, and are nationally-recognized counsel with extensive expertise in such claims.

In July, 2012, Stryker recalled its Rejuvenate and ABG II modular-neck hip stems because of fretting and corrosion at the modular-neck junction. When this corrosion occurs, local tissue damage and systemic toxic metal exposure can occur. Adverse effects of the implant’s failure include pain, fluid buildup in the joint, pseudotumor, localized tissue necrosis, and loss of blood supply to the bone causing bone cell death. These problems often require that the implant be removed and replaced in a revision surgery. Before revision is undertaken, physicians will complete blood testing to determine the level of toxic metal exposure from the cobalt and chromium in the implant, and will take MRI images to determine the health of the tissue and bone surrounding the implant.

Multiple claims for Alaska residents have now been asserted in this litigation.

We routinely advise clients here at the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group about their legal rights concerning their medical records. We do this to encourage them to become knowledgeable consumers of medical services. Essentially, the more informed the client is as a patient, the better services they can receive from their health care provider. So, it was with some surprise that I was informed by my own doctor that “by the letter of the law” he was not permitted to provide me with the reports he had received from a specialist (mind you, I had requested that the specialist send him the records in the first place). I agreed to request the records from the specialist instead, and made a mental note to review the applicable law, thinking that perhaps there was some new provision about which I was unaware.

The short answer is my doctor has been misinformed. The “letter of the law” is that a patient is entitled to receive a a complete copy of their medical records held by their physician. This has always been the law in Alaska, and remains so today. Most states have laws addressing this right. Further, federal heath care law has recently articulated a federal right of access to one’s own medical records.

Alaska’s statute, passed in 1978, sets out a broad right of access in A.S. 18.23.005: “a patient is entitled to inspect and copy any records developed or maintained by a health care provider or other person pertaining to the health care rendered to the patient.” There are no articulated exceptions here, and the right of access would plainly reach to all records in the file, including lab reports, imaging studies, or the evaluations of other doctors since these are used by the physician in providing care.

A new MRI muscle imaging technique has been developed that allows detailed large scale 3-D images of the body’s complex muscle structures. It also provides a means of detecting muscle damage precisely. Expanding further on the utility of diffusion tensor imaging, the technique captures the movement of water molecules within muscle fibers to detect changes in fiber directions. Moreover, the technique allows reliable 3-D imaging to be captured so that the images can be viewed from different directions. It is expected that the imaging will be useful in the treatment of chronic conditions, such as post-polio syndrome and diseases causing muscle atrophy, sports injury rehabilitation, and trauma.

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology, News Release, 10/30/2012.