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February 2015 Archives

Texas Supreme Court Reverses Course on Admissibility of Seat Belts at Trial

For the first time since 1974, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that an injured victim's failure to use a seat belt in a car accident case may now be offered as evidence at trial to apportion responsibility in civil lawsuits. In other words, defendants that negligently cause auto collisions are now going to be able to introduce evidence that the injured victims did not wear seatbelts and will even be able to argue that the injured victims were negligent, thereby reducing damages to the injured victims and the liability of the at-fault defendants. The decision reverses a $2.3 million jury verdict awarded to a family after one family member was killed and seven other passengers were injured after the vehicle they were traveling in was struck by another vehicle.

Olympus Under Investigation for Possible Defective Equipment

The company that manufactured the medical devices tied to a deadly "superbug" outbreak in California is being investigated by the United States Justice Department. The Associated Press reports Olympus Corp. of the Americas (an arm of Japan's Olympus Corp.) is being investigated for possible violations of false claims and anti-kickback laws.

BP Oil Spill Fines

Last Thursday, a federal judge in New Orleans denied BP's request to limit its environmental penalties for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Setting this fine is the final step in a civil case regarding the April 20, 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo subsea well, which caused the spill. Following the blowout, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for eighty-seven days. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

Benny Agosto Featured on Telemundo National News

Firm Partner Benny Agosto, Jr. had an interview with Telemundo on Monday February 23, 2015 about President Obama's administration's plans to appeal U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's injunction order regarding immigration. The interview ran nationally on Telemundo's nightly news. As an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Agosto has been a national leader on this issue.

The Costs to Our Communities of Careless Oil-and-Gas Transport

The number of injuries and environmental disasters along America's roads, pipelines, and railways involving the movement of oil and gas has proliferated in recent years along with domestic production. An enormous explosion in West Virginia on Monday reminds us of the potential hazards of such activity to the communities located along such transport routes.

Tort Reform Ad Abdsurdum: A Nursing Home Valet Accident is Now a "Health Care Liability Case"

Last week, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals ruled in Brazos Presbyterian Homes, Inc. v. Lander that that case, an auto accident case involving a nursing home visitor and the home's valet, was a "health care liability case" subject to Texas medical malpractice tort reform laws, including its expert report requirement and damages cap. This case continues the trend, started by the Texas Supreme Court's decision in Texas West Oaks Hospital v. Williams, in which the scope of the medical malpractice reform statute has been expanded-perhaps beyond even its most fervent proponents' expectations-to cover an increasing variety of ordinary personal injury cases that have nothing to do with health care.

Oil and Gas Workers Strike About Safety

Oil workers in Texas, California, Kentucky and Washington state are striking. One of the main issues, according to one news report on the oil workers' strike, is safety. According to the vice president of the United Steel Workers' Union USW), which represents oil and gas workers in the four states, the work stoppage is about: 

Woman's Dentures Lodge in Her Esophagus While Under Anesthesia

In 2013, Lourdes Rivera underwent a medical procedure. While under anesthesia, her dentures dislodged and became stuck in her esophagus. Ms. Rivera was injured and has filed suit against Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Jersey City.

A Texas Federal Judge Has Issued an Injunction that Temporarily Halts President Obama's Executive Actions on Immigration

I am happy and blessed to be an advocate and a voice of legal advice for almost five million DACA young immigrants across the country, who today wake up to more questions than answers about their future. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, to stay in the country and work legally. It has been officially reported that on Monday, February 16, 2015, a federal judge in Texas, Judge Andrew Hanen, issued an order that has temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. The preliminary injunction is related to a program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).The DAPA program allows undocumented parents of lawful United States citizens, or permanent residents to defer deportation and seek job benefits.

The Texas Supreme Court Shifts the Burden of Proof in Trespass Cases

In a unanimous February 6 opinion, the Texas Supreme Court held for the first time that lack of consent is an element of the tort of trespass on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. In doing so, the Texas Supreme Court has overturned what was widely considered to be a principal of basic, hornbook law.

Wisconsin Family Files Lawsuit against Pop Warner Football League after 25-Year-Old Committed Suicide Due to a Degenerative Brain Disorder

The family of Joseph Chernach has filed a lawsuit against Pop Warner for failing to warn families and players about the harms of head trauma. Specifically, that Pop Warner failed to train coaches properly, did not use helmets that were safe enough, did not teach children how to properly wear their helmets, and did not limit the amount of hitting in practice. Mr. Chernach's mother, Debra Pyka, alleges that Joseph Chernach's repeated blows to the head from playing football for several years beginning in 1997 resulted in the development of the neurodegenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, and resulted in her son's depression and suicide.

The Grand Jury System in Texas

The role of the grand jury in legal proceedings has been under much scrutiny from the media in the past few months. In the United States the grand jury is given a very important task - deciding whether or not to indict those persons who are arrested for a felony or suspected of committing a crime.

Pipeline Accidents: A Summary of Issues

2015 is less than two months old. Yet there have already been numerous natural gas pipeline accidents in the United States. Texas has 425,000 miles of pipeline, the most in the United States. The country as a whole has 2.4 million miles of pipeline that could be the source of an explosion or leak.

Harley Davidson Recall

Anyone who has driven or ridden a motorcycle knows just how exhilarating it is, especially in Texas, where we are free to ride without a helmet. Unfortunately with the great freedom that operating a motorcycle gives its riders comes the very real danger of an accident. Many times this danger presents itself by way of other carless drivers failing to see motorcyclists. Still other times accidents occur due to uncontrollable elements such as slick or wet roads or loose gravel. While these dangers are not in the control of the rider, some accidents occur simply because the rider's bike or equipment was not properly inspected before riding. These types of accidents can be greatly reduced by performing a pre-ride inspection of your bike and gear. Per-ride inspections should include inspecting the following: tiers, engine oil, fuel, turn signals, belts, sprockets, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to name a few areas to check.

Texas Oil and Gas Workers Have Fewer Deaths

Surprisingly, the most dangerous state for oil and gas workers is not Texas. It's North Dakota. Oil and gas workers in North Dakota die on the jobs three times more frequently than the national average. In contrast, Texas was fifth on the list for workrelated deaths in the industry in 2011-2012, ranking behind West Virginia, New Mexico and Oklahoma in addition to North Dakota in oil and gas worker fatalities.

What Illnesses Are Common in the Oil and Gas Industry? Part 2

In our previous blog post, we discussed some of the occupational illnesses that workers in the oil and gas industry may suffer as a result of exposure to a variety of toxic substances. This blog continues the exploration of the hazards that compromise oil and gas worker health and safety. 

Judge Asks Parties to Revise Settlement Details in NFL Concussion Lawsuits

Federal Judge Anita B. Brody asked the National Football League and the former players suing the league to revise portions of their settlement agreement before she would approve the deal. Judge Brody, who oversees the lawsuit filed by over 5,000 retired NFL players, requested that the parties enlarge the settlement in five areas so that more former players could receive benefits.

What Illnesses Are Common in the Oil and Gas Industry? Part 1

This blog frequently discusses accidents in the oil and gas industry and the injuries and fatalities they cause. But what about occupational illness, another important concern of workplace safety advocates? It turns out that oil and gas industry has its own set of occupational hygiene problems that significantly contribute to the development of certain illnesses among workers.

Making Texas Roads Safe

Texting has been the contributing factor to far too many wrecks all over the country, and Texas is no different. In 2008 alone, 5,000 deaths were attributed to texting while driving, while in the year 2013 94,000 accidents were caused by distraction-related actions, many of which could be linked to texting. While these numbers are high, HPD's Traffic Liaison Don Egdorf claims these numbers are underreported. While steps have been taken, such as Austin's "Hands Free Ordinance" which can cost violators up to $500, Houston has had a hands-off stance on the issue aside from phone use in school zones. Former Governor Rick Perry was at the forefront of this position, claiming the government had no place mandating how adults chose to drive, unless they drove too recklessly or parked where they shouldn't.

Wrong-Way Drivers are Deadly

With deadly crashes caused by wrong-way drivers on Houston highways on the rise, local agencies are increasing spending in further efforts to prevent them. In just the last few weeks, there have been several horrific crashes resulting in the deaths of three innocent people who encountered wrong-way drivers.

Will Decrease in Oil Prices Reduce Work-related Deaths?

Will the decline in oil prices throughout the world affect Texas? Of course it will. Tax revenues will decrease, employment will decline and related businesses will be forced to scale back or shut their doors entirely. However, there may eventually be an upside to this decline in oil and gas revenue: a decrease in worksite and roadway accidents related to oil and gas.

Insurance Companies, Special-Interest Money Defeat Patient Protection Initiative in California

Lost in the national political dialogue following last November's elections was a ballot referendum in California that sought to protect patients from poor medical care. The referendum, which sought to roll back the tide of "tort reform" demagoguery in state houses across the country, was buried under an avalanche of seven- and eight-figure campaign contributions from special interest groups and corporate backers intent on preserving their bottom lines at the expense of public health.

Minor Dies after Purchasing Alcohol

In 2013, Brian Hoeflinger, then 18 years old, went to Foxx Liquor Store with two of his friends to purchase alcohol. He subsequently became intoxicated and ran his car into a tree; he died of his injuries. Dr. Brian and Cynthia Hoeflinger have sued several defendants involved in the purchase of the alcohol, including AM Mart LLC, which does business as Foxx Liquor Store, owners Martin Yousif and Andi Jarbou, and employee Nicholas Thompson.

Gelboim v. Bank of America - U.S. Supreme Court Allows Immediate Appeals in MDL Cases

In the recent unanimous opinion in Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff in a consolidated federal multi-district litigation (MDL) case had the right to immediately appeal the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, despite the fact that other MDL claims were still pending. This opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg, resolved a circuit split, provided some much needed clarity to MDL plaintiffs on the timing of appeals, and helped guarantee some mass tort plaintiffs a speedy appeal.

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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