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Opinion

Opinion

Local trial lawyer defends profession’s role

April 17, 2010

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There is a myth out there that has been perpetuated and promoted for years by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the health care industry, the Republican Party and now the tea party groups, that all that ails this country is primarily caused by the “trial lawyers.” They want to pin the tag on the “trial lawyers” as being, as George W. Bush would say, “evil doers” as if the equivalent of the “Scarlet Letter.” Well, I am one of those “trial lawyers” and I wear that label as a badge of honor.

For nearly 43 years I have represented folks who have lost arms and legs, been brain damaged, and killed by manufacturers of defective products, drunk drivers and negligent doctors and hospitals. The only way these people can be compensated in our legal system is with a cash payment, usually made by the insurance companies who provide coverage for the manufacturers, drivers and health care professionals.

For years, the “trial lawyers” have been blamed for rising costs of about every product on the market, auto insurance premiums, health care, and now it is our fault for the health care legislation recently enacted by Congress. Time and space does not permit me to refute these outlandish and unfounded claims, but if any representative of the chamber of commerce feels so compelled, I would welcome a public debate with her or him on the merits of their claims.

My profession is continuously blamed for filing frivolous lawsuits and always point to the case of the elderly lady who was severely burned by McDonald’s scorching coffee as she sat in her car, which was not moving. She took the lid off the cup and it spilled into her lap resulting in third-degree burns to her vaginal area requiring extensive surgery and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

What you don’t hear is that, before this case, McDonald’s had settled hundreds of these cases with payments in the millions of dollars. What they don’t tell you is that when an officer of McDonald’s took the witness stand he was asked if, as a result of all the people who had been injured, would McDonald’s lower the temperature of their coffee. His answer was an unequivocal, “no.” And you wonder why a jury awarded this lady several million dollars?

What the chamber and its ditto heads don’t tell you is that the “trial lawyers” spend much of their time trying to resolve cases without the necessity of filing lawsuits and having to spend thousands of dollars prosecuting their clients’ cases. We are most often forced to file lawsuits before the insurance companies will even consider talking about settlement of the cases. This means that litigation costs will be very expensive and justice will be delayed.

An example of which I speak is a case I am presently handling. A newborn baby was given an IV solution of magnesium sulphate, instead of a benign solution of dextrose and water. The baby’s life was in danger so he had to be transported to a regional hospital. The cost to the parents was enormous, and the child is still recovering. The hospital admitted it was at fault, but will not settle. They will not settle because their insurance carrier has advised me that they do not discuss settlement until after suit is filed.

This means that thousands of dollars will have to be spent because the defense will want to take depositions and perhaps force me to hire expert witnesses, all of which could be avoided by sitting down at a table and negotiating an amicable settlement for this child and his parents. Frivolous lawsuit? No, this is a frivolous defense which will be paid for by the insurance company. Now if the premium goes up, or the cost of health care goes up, just who is responsible in this instance? It seems rather obvious that it is not this trial lawyer.

My profession, like any other, has its share of bad apples, but the vast majority of us only care about our clients and doing our job to make their life better or as good as possible. We do not exactly represent evil people, but generally very good people who are victims of bad and sometimes evil acts of others. If I am to be chastised for this kind of work, then so be it, but I would hope that I and others who try to help others less fortunate, could occasionally be praised as often as we are damned.

— Jerry K. Levy, a Lawrence attorney, is a past president of the Kansas Association of Justice and the Kansas chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, as well as a founding member of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

Comments

smot 3 years, 12 months ago

The problem is that many cases brought against a defendant have little to no merit but the trial lawyer will pursue settlement with as much energy and vehemence as the ones that do have merit. This is done to intimidate the defendant into settling to avoid the possibility of higher costs through the process of litigation or the remote possibility of being found liable. Much like a gangster shaking down the local grocer for money for protection, this tactic is what earns most of the venom directed to the trial lawyer. Many physical injuries (allegedly suffered by the victim plaintiff) are not what they appear to be and it is easy to find a doctor who will say whatever a plaintiff lawyer needs to make his case appear legitimate. Woe be to you if you bumper kiss another vehicle occupied by a litigious and greedy person represented by a trial lawyer.

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Ray Parker 4 years ago

I thing there are an awful lot of bad apples in your ambulance-chasing barrel, counselor, that are driving medical costs sky high, through malpractice insurance and piled-on unnecessary medical tests, as well as fat legal fees and settlements in frivolous cases. Let's take a hard look at what part of health cost increases have been caused by shysters.

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independant1 4 years ago

lawyers = all good cause they protect our freedom (there are no bad apples and don't increase medical care costs due to civil suits)

insurance companies (even when they contract to mange self insured company funds to manage that cost) = bad

Learned a whole bunch here.

Personally I don’t think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of the Legislature. You’ve got to work on his conscience. And his lack of a conscience is what makes him a lawyer. (Will Rogers)

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beatrice 4 years ago

Q: How can you tell the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a dead lawyer in the road?

A: There will be skid marks in front of the skunk.

"What they don’t tell you is that when an officer of McDonald’s took the witness stand he was asked if, as a result of all the people who had been injured, would McDonald’s lower the temperature of their coffee. His answer was an unequivocal, “no.” And you wonder why a jury awarded this lady several million dollars?"

Yes, I do wonder why. Coffee is a hot drink. Hot things can burn you. Be responsible for how you handle hot things when you purchase them. I too have burned myself pulling toast from the toaster oven. Better sue because the door could be opened before things had the necessary time to cool. I've also cut myself while slicing veggies. Guess I better sue the knife manufacturer because their blades are too sharp.

Every item ever sold will some day need to have the warning label:"This item can harm and/or kill you." Doesn't matter what it is or how it is used. On this issue, I do take a conservative stand. People do need to take greater responsibility for their own actions.

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Benjamin Roberts 4 years ago

This is what harms your profession:

"Man who flipped off cop receives $4,000"

Olathe — An Overland Park man who flashed an obscene gesture at an Olathe police officer after getting a ticket is getting rewarded for his behavior.

The city of Olathe has settled a civil rights complaint filed by Scott Schaper of Overland Park. He was ticketed in September for disorderly conduct for flipping off an officer who had given him a ticket for running a stop sign.

The city of Olathe last week agreed that its insurance company would pay Schaper $4,000, with another $1,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. Olathe police also must train its officers that they are required to take such verbal abuse.

A newspaper report noted that Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU chapter, said Schaper reacted angrily because the traffic stop made his children cry.

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Flap Doodle 4 years ago

Copy/paste, copy/paste, copy/paste, ad nauseam.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

It is appearing that supporting medical insurance giants is truly supporting a corrupt system. They are reckless spenders of health care dollars. It is NOT news that the most vocal adversaries are on the list of profiteers. Whether they be legislators,lobbyists,shareholders,CEO's,sales reps or whatever.

The bottom line there is nothing wrong with IMPROVED Medicare for All. In fact it is the best plan on the table not only for families but for all government agencies on the planet. Why? Because it substantially decreases the cost of doing business thus reducing the cost of living across the board. What's wrong with this?

The only true obstacle is lack of big big bucks to buy our elected officials.

It is estimated that as a result of IMPROVED Medicare for All 2.6 million NEW jobs will be a result. What's wrong with this?

Not only that IMPROVED Medicare for All will never cancel anyone because simply put it is not designed that way. IT IS Everybody In Nobody Out 24/7. What's wrong with this?

More and more it is obvious that trial lawyers are NOT the problem. We must remember when politicians decide they don't like someone it is hell to pay. They paint people in the oil rich countries as the axis of evil,trial lawyers as evil,slamming Toyota for the same things USA car makers got away with forever and fiscally responsible green thinkers as kooks. Consider the source for all of this BS.

WE voters should have the right to vote in IMPROVED Medicare for ALL because our legislative system is too corrupt to do the right thing.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Familiar Players in Health Bill Lobbying

Firms Are Enlisting Ex-Lawmakers, Aides

Former House majority leader Richard K. Armey is one of several ex-congressmen working on behalf of health-care companies as a Senate committee considers legislation. Armey represents a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm.

Jul 5, 2009 ... The hirings are part of a record-breaking influence campaign by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day

By Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy Washington Post Staff Writers Monday, July 6, 2009

The nation's largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures and other records.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/05/AR2009070502770.html

Lobbyists require a lot of dough for their services.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

"The medical insurance industry is 84th on the list of industry profit margins. They realize about 3.4% profit margin. " After expenses are paid. Then we must consider that millions upon millions upon millions are paying into industry pie = a ton of dough

Millions rarely need healthcare or certainly not thousands of dollars worth each year which leaves a tidy sum at the end of the "year". Then consumers are billed again whether they used their thousands of dollars worth the previous year or not.

"The U.S. health care system is typically characterized as a largely private-sector system, so it may come as a surprise that more than 60% of the $2 trillion annual U.S. health care bill is paid through taxes, according to a 2002 analysis published in Health Affairs by Harvard Medical School associate professors Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein. "

Paying out a $73 million retirement bonus requires a tremendous amount of profits. Excuse me it is Cigna Gives $110.9 Million Compensation Package To Ex-CEO. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/20/cigna-gives-1109-million_n_506974.html

Some of the profiteers/ rabble rousers do attend political gatherings and disrupt as much as possible. They also mingle with the Tea Party.

The medical insurance giants are very loose with campaign donations. And some of the legislators are shareholders. Both require large sums of money.

"Brewers, on the other hand, enjoy a margin of about 27%." So what! Nobody needs to drink beer.

People do require heath care = not a choice!

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Kayhawk 4 years ago

One last comment. It seems the mantra of every insurance company I know is deny, delay, defend rather than cover your lost interests. Without "trial lawyers" (and by the way, that is the term coined for plaintiff lawyers, even though there sure seem to be a lot of defense lawyers in trial making a lot of money by the billable hour and having all their costs covered by the insurance industry), consumers would be in a very poor place. How else would a family with no money even begin to receive compensation for an avoidable injury to their child?

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Jaylee 4 years ago

I don't blame you. I blame the American belief that taxes are bad. If we had more taxes, I wouldn't be scared of the incoming bill for going to the doctor. There wouldn't be one.

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Bob Kraxner 4 years ago

Most of the problems with this country either directly or indirectly, stem from the incessant greed of corporate america, which usually includes their corporate lawyers. Trial lawyers are one of the few lawyers who actually earn there pay. Most of todays lawyers have little if any trial experience, and do more "deal-making" than anything else, such as traffic lawyers, as well as most criminal lawyers. These kind of lawyers are nothing but thieves, who have no intention of "defending' anyone in my opinion, just making deals with the prosecutor.

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NewHampshireStBistro 4 years ago

One more thing...if Linkledin is correct Mr. Brent Garner SELLS insurance coverage, or did. Might be something to consider.

Registered Representative Creative Marketing International Corporation (In Privatbesitz; Branche: Versicherungswesen)

Oktober 2006 — April 2009 (2 Jahre 7 Monate)

Sale of annuities, mutual funds, life insurance, stocks, bonds, etc., to customers of Capitol Federal Bank at two branches in Topeka, KS and one branch in Emporia, KS. $8 million assets under management. Generated $100,000 revenue for CMIC. Generated $2 million in annuity premium. Generated $1 million of mutual funds investment. Client retention rate of 95%.

Registered Representative USBancorp Investments and Insurance (Branche: Finanzielle Dienstleistungen)

Januar 2004 — September 2006 (2 Jahre 9 Monate)

Sale of mutual funds, annuities, life insurance, stocks, bonds, etc., to customers of USBank at 5 branches in the Topeka, KS area. Generated $3.9 million in investments. Generated $328,000 in insurance premium. $25 million AUM. Client retention rate of 95%.

Registered Representative Independent Order of Foresters (Branche: Finanzielle Dienstleistungen)

Dezember 2001 — Dezember 2003 (2 Jahre 1 Monat)

Sale of annuities, mutual funds, life insurance, long term care insurance to members of the Independent Order of Foresters--a fraternal organization similar to Knights of Columbus. Service and advise on life and investment accounts of all Foresters members from Lawrence, KS and west to Colorado border. Member retention rate of 95%. Generated $300,000 in new insurance premium.

Independent agent/representative Independent Representative (Branche: Finanzielle Dienstleistungen)

Oktober 1992 — Dezember 2001 (9 Jahre 3 Monate)

Sale of health insurance, life insurance, and investment products to small business owners and their employees as well as individuals.

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NewHampshireStBistro 4 years ago

I am Jerry Levy "Mr. Trial Lawyer's daughter" and I am writing from Germany. I knew that he was writing an article for the paper that was to be published today, but had no idea what it was about. So, being proud of my dad and curious I logged in to check it out.

I may be related to Jerry Levy, but I try to stay unbiased when it comes to how he handles his cases. Here are some observations from years growing up with a civil plaintiffs trial attorney as my father. 1. I have seen him turn down cases more often than not based on people trying to sue on frivolous grounds, or just not having a case that would hold water. 2. In researching cases, both before and after he had made a decision to represent or not, he was only interested in the facts.
3. Often a decision is made to settle based on not having the funds to go to trial against an insurance company with deep pockets. The plaintiffs attorney foots the bill for depositions, expert witnesses, court reporters, copies (it would boggle your mind how many) research, and on and on. 4. The money that trial attorneys make often goes right back into an account to cover these same fees so that they can withstand a long trial in order to properly represent a client. 5. Insurance companys have large staffs dedicated solely to finding ways not to pay clients benefits even if their claim is legitimate. Usually a settlement or even enourmous court costs in the case brought against them still costs them less than what they would spend if they were to pay benefits to all the people that deserve them. Most people never file suit after they are denied by the company they have entrusted their lives to. 6. You have never heard someone curse an unethical attorney until you have heard it done by an ethical attorney...

I could go on at even greater length, but let me just end with how proud I am to have Mr. Trial Lawyer Jerry Levy as my father. I have seen him at great highs and great lows and when he was able to get justice for a deserving client he was elated. When he was unable to do so for people who were greatly wronged he felt their pain. Without him practising law there are many people who would be alot worse for wear at the hands of some unbelievably corrupt individuals.

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independant1 4 years ago

If the stent don't fit, you must aquit.

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NavyVet 4 years ago

intersting comments. most of them hypocritical whining. people complain about lawyers until they need one, then they want the best. and they don't care if there is "distortion and fabrication if it is advantageous to their case" as brewmaster writes, or don't want "tort reform . . . to put some limit on the discretionary sums of money for the damage that cannot be measured" as independant1 writes. even bkgarner seemed to be OK with lawyers and $20,000 when his insurance company "stepped up" to defend him and the money to do so didn't come directly out of his pocket - OK with lawyers until the "other side" settled and he lost his coverage, anyway.

I can't imagine people not wanting the best when they need representation -- bkgarner, independant1, and brewmaster included . . .

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brewmaster 4 years ago

Most people label lawyers as repugnant and vile because it is a well deserved and accurate label.

Many, if not all, lawyers are comfortable with distortion and fabrication if it is advantageous to their case. They are educated and trained to be guileful, duplicitous and manipulative to win "their side" regardless of "the side" they represent. Depending upon which "side" has the most money to pay them, they will represent either side. Money is their concsience.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"The medical insurance industry is 84th on the list of industry profit margins. They realize about 3.4% profit margin."

And it's very disingenuous (if not quite a bald-faced lie) to throw that number out without mentioning that this figure is calculated against money held in reserve for the purpose of paying out on claims. If you calculate their profits against actual expenses, like office expenses, salaries (inflated as they are) etc, their profits are as high, if not higher, as those of the brewers.

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Flap Doodle 4 years ago

"It's time to do away with "high rollin" middle men and women!" Will they be the first up against the wall when your revolution comes, merrill?

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Eybea Opiner 4 years ago

Merrill, you're at best ill-informed and at worst a bald-faced liar. The medical insurance industry is 84th on the list of industry profit margins. They realize about 3.4% profit margin. Brewers, on the other hand, enjoy a margin of about 27%.

Also, if you think government health care would eliminate "middle men and women, you are naive beyond repair. The federal government is the most bloated bureaucracy known to man. You can expect many more intermediaries between you and your doctor as the government becomes more involved in health care administration.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

"How about the exhorbitant salaries pro atheletes receive? Should that be regulated?"

Nobody has to see an athletic event.

Humans do need health care = guaranteed profits

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

A side note:

The medical insurance industry does NOT provide heath care. When is the last time YOU as a patient reported to one of those tall downtown insurance buildings for health care?

Those tall insurance buildings cost plenty of money.

The medical insurance industry is in the business to make trillions in profits NOT to provide health care. It's time to do away with "high rollin" middle men and women!

IMPROVED Medicare for All is the only way to go! Everybody IN Nobody OUT !

The high rollin medical insurance industry is a luxury most do not want and so damn many cannot afford. The medical insurance industry does NOT provide heath care.

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Then we have CIGNA CEO types who receive $73 million healthcare dollars retirement bonus..... which requires huge profits

Then we have several hundred elected officials accepting campaign contributions in Washington D.C, which is more like protection money

Then we have several thousand elected state representatives seeking campaign contributions which is more like protection money

The pharmaceutical industry spends plenty more over and above the insurance industry which of course increases the cost of health care insurance

All of those above who are blowing YOUR heath care dollars protecting their investment schemes want that money back. That means YOU pay more somehow to make up for the reckless spending of the industry.

IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for ALL does not remove competition from the actual health care industry. It will be alive and well. Profits will be based on customer service and clinic performance. This is my perception of competition.

The nations consumers could have excellent IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for All if one would remove: elected officials as shareholders special interest campaign funding the insurance industry recklessly spending health care dollars to bribe votes the news media offering misinformation ( their large advertising revenue is at stake)

Remember it is the most expensive medical insurance in the world that denies care and/or cancels coverage after taking ones money for years and years. IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for All would never cancel. Everybody in 24/7 no matter what!

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Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Trail lawyers represent quite a small percentage of health insurance costs.

However the Tea Republican Party is trying to divert attention away from:

Insurance Giants Overcharge Clients Billions: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/24/AR2009062401636.html

Perhaps It's about paying more yet getting less: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2008/0508harrison.html

Perhaps it's that $1.4 million health care dollars a day spent on the campaign saving the industry gravy train aka $1.2 trillion big government health insurance tax dollars flowing into the insurance industry gravy train. The $1.4 million was being laundered through the Chamber of Commerce to run the campaign. BTW the Chamber of Commerce has become a political action committee.

Then there is corruption whereby insurance staffers become staff to senators and senate staffers become insurance staff people which creates a tidy protection racket: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/blog/2009/10/bill_moyers_michael_winship_in.html#more

Then we have the shareholders who want to see an increase in profits = increase in cost

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"Permit me to throw a little shame your direction. Here is the evidence, Counselor!"

So, bk, does that mean that you agree with the Chamber of Commerce that everyone's right to sue for damages should be eliminated, just because someone sued you wrongly (according to you, anyway.)

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independant1 4 years ago

What about the bad apples?

The argument for tort reform is to put some limit on the discretionary sums of money for the damage that cannot be measured. The cost to doctors/insurance companies results in higher costs to consumers.

Just want to know what you think about exhorbitant awards and tort reform as trial lawyer.

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independant1 4 years ago

People are getting smarter nowadays; they are letting lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their guide. (Will Rogers)

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grammaddy 4 years ago

Thank you Mr. Levy! Great piece. You have my support.

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MaryJames 4 years ago

Get Medical Insurance for your entire family at the lowest price from http://bit.ly/dqJw9Z

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Brent Garner 4 years ago

Oh, and by the way, Counselor, what this cost me was time, energy, and the loss of my liability coverage because the carrier cancelled my policy after paying this scam artist!

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Brent Garner 4 years ago

Mr. Trial Lawyer:

Permit me to throw a little shame your direction. Here is the evidence, Counselor!

A few years ago I was sued by an individual claiming loss while on my property. He demanded $100,000 in damages. An attorney here in Lawrence represented this individual. Of course, my liability insurance company stepped us as required by the policy to defend me. The attorney they retained told me that the company estimated it would cost $20,000 to defend me. Interestingly within two weeks of filing the suit the plaintiff's attorney offered to settle the entire thing for the sum of $15,000. I was not guilty of anything but the insurance carrier said they were writing the man the check because it was less expensive to do that than to defend me. The insurance carrier further told me that this was standard operating procedure for many attorneys, namely, to file a liability suit for a large sum, then offer to settle for less than the cost of defense. Further, I was informed, that attorneys do this all the time, and this particular attorney was known by name within the insurance industry for his use of this tactic, knowing full well that it is an "easy" paycheck. That the companies will settle rather than pay the expense of defense. So, Mr. Trial Lawyer, what say you to that?!!

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