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Injured Victims, Beware! Protect Your Legal Rights Before You Sign Anything

This past week, I met with a young man who was recently injured on the job. He worked at a valve shop and was directed by his employer to burn materials in the shop. However, this young man was not given the proper equipment, training, or instructions by his employer. Consequently, the worker was badly burned, spent several months in the intensive care burn unit, had multiple skin grafts, and is now terribly scarred. After meeting with this young man and his fiancé for nearly an hour, and after hearing the full details of the incident and the subsequent treatment, I discovered something in the materials that changed the entire meeting.

The gentleman had brought with him a folder that contained all the medical records and billing records from the burn treatment, as well as photographs showing the progression of the wounds. Contained within that same folder was a document that was prepared by his employer; this document immediately caught my attention. Upon further review, this document was release and settlement agreement that the employer prepared, and that the potential client had signed. Indeed, although the burned worker had over $100,000 in unpaid medical bills related to the incident, the worker had agreed to settle any claims that he may have been able to bring against his employer for substantially less than even the amount of the outstanding medical bills.

This particular worker's employer was not a subscriber to workers' compensation insurance; thus, this employer had forfeited many of the legal defenses available to defendants in Texas law suits because the employer did not provide its employees with benefits in the event of an injury on the job. This particular worker would likely have been successful in a claim against his former employer for negligence. Such a victory would have allowed the jury to assess the proper amount of damages for past medical bills, in addition to damages associated with the terrible pain and suffering associated with third-degree burns, the physical disfigurement, and the lost wages that resulted from the worker's time in the hospital. However, this particular worker has settled his potential case and released his former employer of all liability for substantially less than even the amount of outstanding medical bills. To make matters worse, this particular worker had signed several release agreements, all of which were witnessed and notarized. When I asked why the worker signed the release and settlement agreements, the worker simply said that he needed the money to continue living and making rent.

Because the worker had already settled his case, there was nothing that I could do for the worker. The facts did not indicate that any other entity or person was responsible for the incident, other than the former employer. Given that the worker had already settled any potential causes of action against the former employer, there was no way to file a successful suit against the former employer. The lesson to be learned is simple. If you are injured due to the actions or omissions of another, seek legal counsel prior to making any decisions or signing anything. Most personal injury attorneys will offer free consultations and will discuss the legal issues that may be hidden under the surface. The lawyers at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend offer such free consultations. Indeed, had this particular worker come to us directly, without signing any legal documents, I would have taken this case and pursued a case against the former employer for all damages caused by the incident. I hope this tale is a lesson to all who may read it. Protect your rights! Consult a personal injury lawyer prior to signing or saying anything.

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  • 2016-2017 Equal Access to Justice Champion

    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

  • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers

    The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state or region who meet stringent qualifications as civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense trial lawyers. Selection is based on a thorough multi-phase objective and uniformly applied process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum

    Established in 1993, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (which includes the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum) is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. There are over 4000 members throughout the country. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.

  • Recognized by Best Lawyers America | Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz | 2017

    Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Their methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

  • Lead Counsel Rated

    In order to earn the Lead Counsel Rating, an attorney must not only demonstrate significant legal experience, but must also receive multiple peer recommendations advocating his or her ability. This is a key component in the screening process.

  • Texas Super Lawyers | Texas Monthly

    Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in Texas via a patented multiphase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The Texas lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in Texas Super Lawyers Top Lists.

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