February 2011 Archives

Young girl dies in fatal car accident caused by wildfire

A five-year-old child was killed in a car accident on Sunday, when the truck she was riding in was involved in a multi-vehicle accident resulting from drivers' inability to see through the smoke of a wildfire. The crash involved seven vehicles and several other individuals were hospitalized as a result of their injuries.


As I was driving home from work last night I heard a commercial on the radio that caught my attention. The commercial was narrated by a man that runs a business on the beach in Destin, Florida. That narrator, Rick Scali, is in the business of renting beach and vacation equipment to tourists. According to the commercial, all is well, the beach is clean, the oil is gone, and BP "is doing the best they can in a very difficult situation." While I disagree with Mr. Scali, I am happy that the claims process went well for him and his family. I am not happy that BP (British Petroleum) continues to spend money on advertising campaigns rather than take that same money and use it to compensate those that have lost everything due to BP's callous regard for safety, human life, and the gulf coast. If BP is truly doing the best it can, then why is it spending money patting itself on the back through these ads?

US Supreme Court allows seatbelt lawsuit against car makers

In 2002 the passenger of a Mazda minivan was killed in a fatal car accident. The passenger was sitting in a rear seat in the van and was wearing his seat belt. Unfortunately the vehicle had only lap belts in the rear seat. The deceased passenger's family has claimed in their lawsuit that the vehicle was the product of a defective design because it failed to provide a shoulder belt for the passengers in the rear seat.

Senate Confirmation Hearing

Last week I traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness history in the making. A long-time friend and colleague, Jimmie Reyna, had his Senate confirmation hearing for his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals-District of Columbia Circuit. Mr. Reyna was appointed to the appellate position by President Obama in September 2010. Attending the senate confirmation hearings was truly an historic event, as Mr. Reyna, if confirmed, will be the first minority jurist on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Additionally, once the confirmation process is concluded, Mr. Reyna will be the second highest ranked Hispanic Justice in the country behind Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Mr. Reyna has previously served as the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) President and was also a founding member of the HNBA Journal of Law & Policy, along with myself. Mr. Reyna has been a mentor to many Hispanic lawyers around the country and his influence and leadership is a true testament to his dedication to his profession, family, and community. In his closing remarks in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Reyna stated, "my parents dreamed the American dream, and I am living that dream." I am honored to join thousands of supporters hoping the Senate confirms Mr. Reyna quickly. It also brings me great pleasure to follow in Mr. Reyna's footsteps, as I will soon assume the position of HNBA President this September at the HNBA Annual Convention in Dallas, Texas.

Attorney's Fees Against the Government

A week ago Thursday the United States House of Representatives gave initial approval to temporarily end attorney's fee awards in successful suits against the Federal government. The Equal Access to Justice program allows individuals, small businesses, and non-profits, among others, to collect attorneys fees under certain circumstances when they prevail in their cases against the Federal government. Republicans, including the legislation's sponsor Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), sought to impose a "six-month moratorium" in payments on the ground that the program needed to be audited to determine who has received the fees. House Democrats have countered by claiming that the program allows individuals with few resources to recover against the government. Other supporters of the measure have argued that plaintiff's are not entitled to fees, even if they prevail, if the government's position is "substantially justified."

Manufactures Seek to Avoid Safety

According to an article in the New York Times, manufacturers of toys and other children's products are making a last-ditch effort to quash new safety regulations that they say are unfair or too onerous by taking advantage of a republican congress. Among their primary targets is a new public database, operated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and scheduled to go online in three weeks, that would allow the public to search for injury reports on products like cribs and strollers.

Supreme Court protects vaccine maker from parent's lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that pharmaceutical manufacturers cannot bring claims based on injuries arising from vaccines in regular courts. The opinion asserted that the special vaccine court system, created by Congress in 1986, is the exclusive remedy for those seeking recovery for defective or dangerous vaccinations.

Texas Access to Justice Commission

The Texas Access to Justice Commission held its Legislative Day in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Included in this day was a press conference regarding the Texas legal aid funding crisis and potential legislative solutions. Held in the Speakers Committee Room, Justice Nathan Hecht, Chairman Harry Reasoner, and Chairman Emeritus Jim Sales set out the economic catastrophe facing Legal Aid providers in Texas, and laid out some proposed solutions.

Supreme Court Exempts Doctors from Their Negligence

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last month that doctors employed by the Health Science Center in San Antonio cannot be held accountable for their alleged negligence when delivering a baby. The decision came in Franka and Reddy v. Velasquez, et al., ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2011).

Texas Legislature Convenes

As the Texas Legislature convenes and begins the arduous process of determining new laws and how budget dollars will be spent over the next two years, the citizens of Texas need to know the real story about what is being proposed. Our law firm obviously has an interest in keeping the courthouse doors open for the citizens of the state of Texas. Governor Perry has recently given his State of the State address, and has made one very drastic recommendation: if plaintiffs in Texas sue and lose, then those plaintiffs should be required to pay any attorney's fees and court costs of the defendant.

Child Safety Seat Recall

Almost 800,000 child safety seats manufactured by Dorel Juvenile Group were recalled on February 14, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced. The recall is due to the propensity of the harness locking and release button to not return to its locked position, which can allow the adjustment strap to become loose. A loose strap increases that risk of a child being injured in a crash.

Lawsuit claims contaminated wipes lead to Houston child's death

In January, a Midwest manufacturer of alcohol wipes and swabs recalled all of it alcohol prep products due to potential contamination by a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. The bacteria can cause acute bacterial meningitis. The notice of the recall of this dangerous product appeared on the Food and Drug Administration website on January 5th. One month before the recall, a two-year-old boy died in Houston's Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital from acute bacterial meningitis.

First Court of Appeals Decides

On Thursday, February 10, 2011, The First Court of Appeals in Houston handed down a decision that affirmed a previous ruling won by our firm, denying the defendants in a pipeline explosion case the opportunity for a rehearing, and simultaneously providing clear direction in future choice of law debates.
The case, Enterprise Products Partners, L.P. and Dixie Pipeline Co. v. Mitchell, et al, involved an explosion in a liquid propane pipeline. The pipeline, which spans 35,000 miles through seven states, ruptured in a rural area outside of Jackson, Mississippi. The leak in the pipeline released over 430,000 gallons of propane into the air, turning it into a highly flammable gas cloud that ignited over a neighborhood near the site of the rupture. When the cloud ignited, the resulting explosion killed two people, injured seven more, and started a fire that burned four homes, seventy acres of farmland, and evacuated sixty families. The families of those who lost loved ones and property filed suit in Harris County against Enterprise Products and Dixie Pipeline.
The issue on appeal began at the trial level, where the defendants' lawyers asked the court to apply Mississippi damages law to the case, because the plaintiffs were Mississippi residents, and the explosion occurred there. Having the court apply Mississippi law would benefit the defendants greatly because it would drastically limit the amount payable to the plaintiffs, since the laws of Mississippi cap non-economic damages at $1 million. The court sided with the plaintiffs, and ruled that Texas law would apply.
The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal in the First Court of Appeals, which ruled last August that Texas law would govern the case. The defendants then filed a motion for en banc reconsideration of that ruling, which was denied Thursday. In explaining why defendants' most recent motion was denied, the court pointed to several key factors.
First, the court acknowledged that while the plaintiffs are residents of Mississippi, and the state of Mississippi has an interest in providing for the adequate compensation of injured citizens, the Mississippi damages cap would likely prevent that from happening in this case. Second, the court explained that the defendant companies in this suit have their principle places of business in Texas, and the state of Texas has an interest in protecting defendants who are residents. Third, the injury causing conduct (here, the control and operation of the pipeline) occurred at a central location in Texas. Finally, both parties agreed that Texas law would govern all other issues in the case, and as the court explained, Texas damages laws are at the very least capable of ensuring the plaintiffs compensation equal to that available under Mississippi law.
I will be providing updates as our firm tries to help the victims of this tragedy and their families begin to move on, so please check back.

Two sailors killed on ship en route to Houston

A Greek owned oil tanker, The Agean Angel, was making its way to Houston, Texas from Estonia when it endured two or three days of bad weather. According to survivors from the ship, the heavy conditions had been intermittent over the course of several days prior to the fatal maritime accident.

OSHA Probes into Enterprise's Texas Operations Once Again

While it is no surprise to Texans, who are used to seeing plant after plant, with towering industrial stacks, along the coast, it may surprise the rest of America to know that the Texas Gulf Coast refines almost one-third of the nation's oil. Given the number of oil and gas plants and refineries in the gulf area, fires, explosions and industrial incidents are not uncommon.

Generation Rx

Recently, the Houston Chronicle published an article indicating that the Unites States consumes over 70% of the world's legal medicinal supply of opiates. The Houston Chronicle cites to an analysis of the Congressional Record and international treaty data in reaching these figures. Given that opiates are powerful, poppy-based pain medications, and closely related to heroin, these statistics are shocking. Toxicologists and chemists fear that the nation's over-prescription problem is creating a "Generation Rx." Even more shocking and alarming are the increasing number of prescription drug overdose deaths across the country.

Jump in fatal accidents last week

As Houston prepares for another cold snap beginning this afternoon, the dangers of icy roadways was made tragically clear in the spike of accidents that occurred during last Friday morning's slick commute. Three individuals died in car crashes in the Houston area during a short span of time on Friday morning.

"Man Still Missing After Explosion at Enterprise Facility"

According to the Houston Chronicle, family members of a worker missing after an explosion in a Chambers County fear he may have died in the blast. Mark Shaw, confirmed his brother Rick Shaw, of Baytown, is the worker missing after a pipeline failed at the Enterprise Products facility 35 miles east of Houston yesterday shortly after noon and produced a towering fireball that burned for hours. Rick's truck is still parked outside the facility.

Explosion at Enterprise plant 30 miles from Houston

Mont Belvieu and Chambers County emergency personnel have responded to an explosion and large fire at Enterprise Products oil and gas facility today near Mont Belvieu, a small city 35 miles east of Houston. Flames were shooting about 100 feet into the air and black smoke could be seen all the way from downtown Houston. A nearby school district, Barbers Hill is keeping the children inside the schools until the fire is contained. Houston-based Enterprise is one of America's largest shippers and processors of natural gas including approximately 49,000 miles of onshore and offshore pipelines. The story is currently still developing.

Five killed in Texas dump truck collision and ensuing fire

In a tragic accident Saturday afternoon, five people were killed in West Texas when a car and a dump truck collided head on. The casualties included all four occupants of the car as well as the driver of the dump truck.

Houston Motorcyclist dies after collision with truck

A Houston motorcycle rider, who was thrown from his motorcycle during an accident in the Katy area, was later pronounced dead at Hermann Memorial Hospital-Downtown. The fatal collision occurred when the motorcycle struck a 2007 Dodge pick-up truck that was exiting the freeway. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences determined the cause of death to be blunt force injuries.

Supreme Court Rules Against Malpractice Victims

A baby allegedly injured by malpractice during delivery at a public hospital has no right to sue the negligent doctors employed by the hospital. That is the result of a recent ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in Franka et al. v. Velazquez, et al., ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2011)(1/21/11).

GlaxoSmithKlin Settlement

GlaxoSmithKline recently settled a case brought by the family of a North Carolina man who alleged that he died of a heart attack caused by its diabetes drug, Avandia. The amount of the settlement is confidential. The trial was to be the first of approximately 2,000 arising out of heart attacks alleged to have been caused by Avandia.

Houston Appeals Court refuses to reduce wrongful death award

During the summer of 2007 an employee of a garbage collection company was killed when he was run over by a garbage truck driven by another employee. The family of the deceased employee filed a wrongful death claim against his employer alleging negligence. The family won the lawsuit and a jury awarded them more than a million dollars in damages, consisting primarily of losses related to the employee's potential future wages.

FACEBOOK - Be Careful What You Post

By now, most trial lawyers have realized that you need to talk to your clients about Facebook. With The Social Media poised to take the Best Picture Oscar this year, I am not suggesting that trial lawyers need to tell their clients to watch the movie or that they need to join the site. Rather, trial lawyers need to tell their clients to be careful about what they post on their Facebook profiles. In the online era, what you post can come back to haunt you - and it may end up in court and in front of a jury your peers.

Awards & Recognition

  • 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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  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Personal Injury Large Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs', taking a lead role in the plaintiffs' steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Plant Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs' steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Personal Injury Work Site Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm's client.

  • $12 Million Auto Accident 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $30 Million Personal Injury Burn Victims

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $30 million.

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