Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Plane Toilet Ice Lawsuit

A Santa Cruz man won a suit against American Airlines alleging that one of the company's planes released two chunks of toilet waste, known euphemistically as "blue ice," onto the skylight of his boat.

After the chunks came crashing down and damaged his boat, Ray Erickson tracked down the plane - American Airlines Flight 1950 - and sued in small claims court.

He received the court's ruling in the mail Friday. A judge ordered the airline to pay him $3,236 - almost the entire amount Erickson had sought.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, was surprised at the decision.

"I'll be darned," said Fergus, who hadn't heard of any similar suits succeeding before.

The airline has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Airline officials could not be reached to comment Saturday.

Programs Focus on Older Drivers, Safety

First, the elderly woman tried to drive between a delivery van and two people walking on a narrow Florida street. Then, busy chatting, she didn't notice a car stopping in front of her. At a stop sign, she pulled out in front of a truck.

This was a test to see if it was time for the 75-year-old to give up her keys - and when driving specialist Susan Pierce emerged from the car, it was to break bad news.

"She stood up and literally pounded her fist on the table and said, 'I am not giving up my driver's license and not giving up my home,'" before storming out, recalls Pierce, an occupational therapist certified to assess driving skills. "That's probably the toughest part of my job, when I know I have to say 'no.'"

Losing the ability to drive can be a traumatic experience of aging - and knowing when it's time to quit can be immensely difficult. Tests in doctors' offices aren't completely reliable. And nationwide there are only 300 specialists like Pierce certified to perform road tests and offer techniques to help some seniors stay behind the wheel a few more years.

Now medical and traffic groups are beginning some major programs to address the issue:

Takes George Senior out for fishing outing

-The American Medical Association will issue guidelines in July to help doctors tell when older patients' driving is questionable and get them help to stay on the road as long as it is safe. This fall, the AMA also will run a program to train doctors about medical fitness to drive.

-The government recently earmarked $1.6 million to start a National Older Drivers Research Center. Run by the University of Florida and the American Occupational Therapy Association, it will train more "certified driving rehabilitation specialists" like Pierce, and create better off-road tests to screen drivers for problems.

As the baby boomers age, one in four drivers is expected to be over age 65 by 2030. Some 600,000 people age 70 or older give up their keys each year, estimates the National Institute on Aging.

Problems with vision, perception and motor skills increase with age.

Some are obvious, such as severe dementia. But many aren't. Diabetes can numb the legs and feet, making it hard to know if you're properly pumping the brake. Arthritis can hinder turning and checking for traffic.

Then there are problems like Pierce's student had: diminished reaction time, ability to judge spatial relations and juggle more than one task.

As for eyesight, the tests administered to get a driver's license only check visual sharpness. Yet seniors can lose peripheral vision; have blind spots from cataracts, strokes or eye diseases, or lack contrast sensitivity - making it hard to see a dark car at dusk.

Seniors often deny problems, because losing their license is a giant blow, says NIA's Dr. Stanley Slater.

It's not just demeaning: Having no easy, reliable way to get to the grocery store or doctor's office can mean an end to elderly independence. Recall Pierce's student: She wound up having to move in with the daughter who'd insisted on the driving test.

The question is how to spot a problem before a crash, something that usually falls to worried relatives. Few states require more frequent license renewals or eye exams for the elderly.

The AMA guide will urge doctors to ask patients and their relatives about driving problems, watch for possible red flags and hunt medical treatments to help them drive as long as possible.

Occupational therapists increasingly are assessing driving skills with memory and other tests, and offering rehabilitation services to strengthen driving skills.

But ultimately, driving tests are the best tool, says Dennis McCarthy, co-director of the new National Older Drivers Research Center.

They're more complex than those parking-and-steering tests offered at driving schools, says Pierce, who performs them in Orlando, Fla. Nor is it always pass-or-fail: She often finds ways to keep people driving longer.

For example, unprotected left turns - those without a turn-only light - and unfamiliar roads can be big challenges. Some drivers merely need to restrict driving close to home and avoid risky intersections.

Avoiding night driving also helps. So can adaptive technology - special mirrors or hand controls.

The cost for driving evaluations varies widely, from $250 to $800. Elder advocates are lobbying for Medicare coverage, today available in only a few states, Pierce says.


Smoke'em if you got them... L&M
Smoking Ban Moves the Party to the Street

Eleven weeks after the city snuffed out smoking in bars and restaurants, few people are lighting up indoors. Instead, many smokers have taken the party to the street, angering neighbors with noise, litter and clouds of smoke.

On Manhattan's Lower East Side, the sidewalks that years ago were lined with sleeping drunks are now clogged with packs of smokers who flock to the trendy neighborhood bars that popped up after the area got a facelift.

At night, Jen Davis is forced to walk her two dogs down the middle of Ludlow Street, where apartments are sandwiched above and between dance clubs, neighborhood watering holes and swank lounges.

"It's annoying because there's just tons of people out and you can't get through the sidewalks, and it's loud," Davis said. "There's like cigarette butts everywhere -- it's a mess."

Nearby along Essex Street, frustrated neighbors have been known to dump water on noisy smokers outside bars below.

"We're open until 4 o'clock in the morning so they're out until 4 o'clock in the morning, smoking," said Joseph Maritato, co-owner of The Whiskey Ward, which bills itself as a comfortable neighborhood bar.

Mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz said the city still is adjusting to the law, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed primarily to protect workers from secondhand smoke.

"Smoke-free bars and restaurants are saving lives, but anytime new legislation is ey bars.

He has laid off two bartenders and said business is down 30 percent. Liquor distributors tell him orders to city bars and restaurants have decreased by the same amount.

Maritato and his Lower East Side neighbors predict the problems will get worse through the summer, as people flock outside and the noise wafts through open apartment windows.

In another bar-heavy neighborhood uptown, where the locals also complain of impassable sidewalks, Murphy's Bar and Restaurant owner Tony Meegan said business has declined by about 25 percent.

Meegan's staff, like others, now keeps a sharp eye on customers who walk outside with their drinks, or try to skip out on their tabs. Workers also sweep the butts and spray down the sidewalks more frequently.

Non-smokers say they welcome the smoking ban when they walk into a bar now -- but hate the outdoor result. "It dirties up the streets of Manhattan," said Barbara Weiss, as she walked along a Second Avenue block lined with bars, restaurants and butts.


When will these number be felt on another trickle dow theory?

President Bush says the big, new tax cut he signed last month is already causing American companies to make plans to buy more equipment and hire more workers.

On a campaign-style stop in Elizabeth, the president touted new rules allowing small businesses to write off more of the cost of equipment.

Bush toured a pasta-making company in Orange, and then declared such tax breaks are "important incentives" to spur investment -- and create jobs.

Democrats contend the tax cut package overwhelmingly benefits the rich, and will provide only limited economic stimulus.

Administration efforts to spark a lagging recovery are this week's focus for Bush, who also plans stops in Virginia and Minnesota to highlight them.

He's also kicking off his re-election fund-raising in Washington tomorrow night with the first of seven receptions planned for this month. Others will take place in Georgia, New York, California and Florida.

Another day without Yahoo Mail... Have not been able to check my eMail...

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