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April 2010 Archives

Accidents at Refineries are Raising Questions

With the latest fire and explosion connected to BP, the offshore rig off the coast of Louisiana that caused fatal and serious injuries to many workers last week, many family members, as well as federal investigators have become increasingly frustrated. An accident at Tesoro Corporation's Anacortes, Washington refinery on April 2, 2010 that killed five employees and critically burned two others has brought refinery accidents into focus again, just five years after fifteen workers were killed and more than one hundred injured in an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery. The accident at Tesoro's plant was the worst in the industry since the BP disaster. And now, only a few weeks after the Tesoro fire, BP is once again the target of the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Board investigators who are trying to figure out how and why BP's latest disaster caused so much death and devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the overall United States workforce, fewer workers are dying on the job--5,071 died in 2008 compared with 6,632 in 1994. However, the number of serious accidents and fatalities at refineries seems disproportionately high, federal officials say.
It's impossible to know for sure because the Labor statistics do not track refinery deaths or accidents by location or company. Part of the problem, some worker advocates say, is that there are few incentives for refineries to make work environments safer, and little in the way of consequences from the Occupational Safety & Hazard Administration when there's a serious accident.
Many are now calling for some thorough investigations and stiffer fines for rule violators. Safety specialists across the country claim that the problems leading to these explosions and continued deaths at refineries are as a result of problems that have become systematic in the industry. Simply put, placing production over safety.
The latest BP explosion seems to be more of the same problems that worker advocates have been warning against for quite some time now. (See my blogs on the subject since January 2010).

Jury Awards $10 Million for Workplace Death

An Alabama jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before awarding an Alabama woman $10 million in damages for the death of her husband in a workplace accident in 2008. The woman's husband was killed when he fell about 150 feet while helping paint a water tank. The woman sued her husband's employer for negligence and failing to provide a safe working environment. As the general contractor for the job site, the widow argued that her deceased husband's employer was responsible for workplace safety. The jury agreed.
After an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it was revealed that there were multiple safety violations at the water tank work site. In his closing argument, counsel for the Plaintiff asked the jurors to return a verdict that would send a message to all employers that they must provide a safe working environment for employees. The jury returned its verdict and sent that message to the tune of $10 million dollars.
Sadly, in a down economy, employers are cutting back on their safety training, programs, and equipment. This comes at the expense of the workers who are also trying to survive the downturn and provide for their families. In the end, it is commonplace for the employer to put profits over people. The only thing that even exists to deter such practices is the jury. This jury sent a message that if you are going to cut costs on safety, and one of your workers gets injured or killed as a result, you better be prepared to answer to a jury.

Electronic Onboard Recorders

The United States Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recently issued a new regulation that will require commercial truck and bus companies with serious patterns of hours of service violations, to install electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) on all of their vehicles. Safety advocates are hailing this new regulation as an added safeguard to help monitor irresponsible 18 wheeler/big rigs, who terrorize our highways with their negligent driving patterns.

"Lawsuit Against Catholic Church Names Pope as Defendant"

According to the New York Times, the latest lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church has gone all the way to the top and named Pope Benedict XVI as a defendant. The lawsuit was filed by a man who was one of many abused by Rev. Lawrence Murphy from 1952 to 1974. The plaintiff claims Vatican officials were warned in a letter in 1995, pleading for the church to "excommunicate" the priest. The plaintiff, who named various high-ranking Catholic officials as well and the Pope in his lawsuit, said he never got a response from the church. The suit seeks to force the Vatican to release files with the names of priests who have admitted abusing children.

Passengers Injured on Galveston-Based Cruise Ship

More than 60 passengers were injured after being thrown around during a sharp turn by the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Ecstasy near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Miami-based Carnival, claims, minor damage was limited to some merchandise and unsecured objects.
Carnival claims the maneuver, resulting in the ship listing to the port side, was meant to avoid a large buoy that was adrift and mostly submerged.

"Offshore Rig Explodes in Gulf Severely Injuring Several Workers and 11 Still Missing"

According to reports from the Houston Chronicle and The Times-Picayune, a deep-water oil drilling rig known as the MODU Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico late Tuesday with 126 people on board, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed. Officials have not reported any fatalities. Seven people were reported critically injured and 11 are still missing. The blast about 50 miles southeast of Venice and those injured were receiving medical treatment in New Orleans, and Alabama according to the Coast Guard. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig is located 50 miles southeast of Venice in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone attempted to evacuate the rig after the fire, but as many as 11 crew members were missing as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau. Four Coast Guard helicopters, four rescue boats and a plane are searching the waters. "We hope we find them all on a lifeboat together," Ben-Iesau added. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser reportedly told WWL-TV at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday that the rig was leaning and ran the danger of becoming submerged. The fire still burned.
According to upstreamonline.com, an international oil and gas news website, Transocean owned the rig, which was working for the energy company BP. The explosion occurred about 10 p.m.Our firm has a long history in helping the families of those injured or killed in offshore explosions. If you have any questions or comments, please call us and speak to an attorney immediately.

HOUSTON VEHICLE CRASH STATISTICS

In a morning recent posting, I addressed the Houston Chronicle's article on crash statistics for Houston highways. With more than 500 deaths occurring on Houston highways each year, Houstonians owe it to our fellow Houstonians to become more aware of the dangers we face on a daily basis when we traverse the roads around town. The Chronicle's in depth article listed several top crash events that resulted in a large percentage of the annual fatalities. They include the following:

Toyota Agrees to Pay Fine For Delaying Disclosure of Gas Pedal Defects

Now, the car manufacturer has agreed to pay a record $16.4 million fine for not disclosing safety defects regarding sudden accelerations in over 2 million of its vehicles. However, Toyota will stop short of accepting full legal responsibility for intentionally withholding the safety information.
After learning that the accelerator pedals in some of its vehicles could stick and cause unwanted acceleration, Toyota waited for a least four months to disclosing this information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Under current federal law, Toyota was supposed to disclose this information within five business days.
Even though Toyota will agree to pay the fine, it is not clear whether the written agreement that governs the fine would include an admission by Toyota that it violated the law. Such an admission would be important because Toyota faces a multitude of personal injury and class action lawsuits alleging that safety defects in its vehicles have caused crashes, injuries, and fatalities. What is truly shocking about Toyota's behavior is that Toyota may have even known about these defects for approximately three years prior to informing U.S. authorities. Interestingly, Toyota sent instructions to its European operations in September of 2009 that explained how to fix accelerator pedals that could stick but decided not to also notify U.S. dealers and government regulators, according to an April 5 letter from the NHTSA attorneys to Toyota.

2010 Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas

On Saturday April 17, 2010 the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas hosted its annual Law Student & Leadership Conference at South Texas College of Law Houston in downtown Houston, Texas. It was a great experience for all involved including law students, attorneys, judges, and all of the distinguished speakers that were so gracious to devote their time. It was my pleasure to have Roman Hernandez, President of the Hispanic National Bar Association, deliver our keynote address. He spoke about his life experiences dating back to his childhood, his military experience, and ultimately becoming a partner in his law firm. The challenges he faced and his determination to achieve success is a template for law students can follow. His keynote address was truly inspirational and was well received and served as motivation not only myself, but also, all in attendance. His ideas for the HNBA were visionary and showed what great leadership is all about. I thank him for attending the conference and sharing his experiences.

"Another list of Recalled Products"

As seems to be the trend, there are four more products that are being recalled for safety reasons. First is a book believe it or not. The "Oxmoor House" home improvement books sold at home improvement stores such as Lowe's have been found to have errors in diagrams and wiring instructions which can lead to improper installation posing a risk of electrical shock or fire. Contact Oxmoor House at 866-696-7602 for a full refund and list of titles. Another recent recall is the Dollar Tree Store tool bench utility knife. The blade can slide past the blade support posing a risk of cut to the user. Return the knife to the store it was purchased and get a full refund. As for children, the Tiny Love wind chime toy has also been recalled. The toy can be pulled apart exposing sharp metal rods that can puncture and cut babies. Call Tiny Love at 888-791-8166 for a replacement toy. Finally, Discovery Kids animated lamps have been shown to have a defect in the circuit board which can cause an electrical short posing a risk of fire and burns. You should go to www.lamprecall.org for instructions on returning the lamp for a full refund.As you can see, every month more dangerous products are being recalled. Our firm has been handling product defect cases for nearly 65 years and are here to help you and your family if you are ever seriously injured by a defective product.

TOYOTA ACCUSED OF HIDING TEST RESULTS

Investigations show that Toyota has routinely engaged in evasive legal tactics in litigation by claiming it does not have information it is required to turn over in the discovery process.
A review of U.S. lawsuits and interviews with lawyers involving a wide range of complaints it seems the automaker has hidden the existence of tests that would be harmful to its legal position and claimed key material was difficult to get at its headquarters in Japan.
It's withheld potentially damaging files and refused to issue data stored electronically in its vehicles, according to plaintiffs' lawyers and court records.
For example, in a Colorado product liability lawsuit filed by a man whose daughter was killed in a 4Runner rollover crash, Toyota withheld documents on internal roof strength tests despite a federal judge's order that the information be revealed, according to court records.

U.S. Supreme Court to Allow Civil Rights Case

Just this Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the appeal of San Carlos officers Bonvicino and Buelow. This paves the way for former San Carlos resident, Bruce Hopkins, to move forward with his lawsuit against the officers and the city of San Carlos. Hopkins filed suit against the officers and the city alleging civil rights violations.

Supreme Court Rules for Hospital that Left Sponge in Woman

The Texas Supreme Court recently threw out the case of a woman who sued a hospital because it had left a sponge in her. Ms. Rankin began suffering abdominal pain in 2006, and she learned for the first time that a sponge was left inside her during a hysterectomy in 1995. When she filed suit against the hospital, it claimed that her case was barred by the statute of repose, even though she could not have known about the sponge during the intervening time. She countered that the statute of repose violated the Open Courts provision of the Texas Constitution. In the ruling of Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio, Ltd., L.L.P., et al. v. Rankin, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2010) (3/12/10), the Supreme Court held that the medical malpractice statute of repose "adopts a constitutionally permissible policymaking judgment of the Legislature," and rendered a take-nothing judgment against Ms. Rankin.

More Toyota Runaways

A day after a California man said his Toyota Prius raced out of control on a freeway, a woman in New York reported that her Prius experienced uncontrollable acceleration as she pulled out of a driveway.

"Texas Supreme Court Finds for Plaintiff"

On Friday the Texas Supreme Court upheld a 1.4 million dollar verdict as a result of a fight that occurred in 2001 at the Del Lago Resort & Conference Center in Conroe, Texas. The issue before the Court was whether the resort owed the plaintiff a duty to prevent a major fight from breaking out after nearly 90 minutes of tension between two groups of men. The court held that the bar had a duty to protect their patrons in this specific situation because of the length of time prior to the fight happening and the knowledge of bar employees that a fight was likely to occur. As usual, Justices Hecht, Johnson and Wainwright dissented and would have found in favor of the defendant and rendered a take nothing judgment. It appears the biggest complaint these Justices have is that the plaintiff was aware that a fight might break out and did not leave the bar. However, the majority points out that the jury weighed this evidence and found the plaintiff 49% responsible for the event and his injuries. In this case, the jury system did its job and finally the Court left it alone.

Another Successful Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

The 78th annual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo had another successful year. In fact this year, records were broken in attendance and junior market auctions. Additionally, as always, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo provided a vast array of entertainers from around the globe, showcased Texas agriculture and promoted Western heritage.

BUS CRASH KILLS 9 YEAR OLD

A Disney bus struck and killed a 9-year-old St. Petersburg boy this afternoon while he was riding a bicycle with a friend at the Fort Wilderness campground at Walt Disney World.

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