June 2015 Archives

News You Can Use: Recent Changes In Texas Laws

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had until June 21 to approve (or allow to become law) a variety of bills passed by the Legislature in the 2015 session. It remains to be seen how he decides on all of the bills on his desk. What follows is a summary of the bills that particularly affect lawyers and individuals who hope to obtain relief through the civil justice system. It is based on a June 1, 2015, article in the Texas Lawyer.

Minorities in the Legal Field

In a recent study conducted by the Bureau of Labor statistics, researchers found that law is one of the least racially diverse professions in the nation with 88 percent of lawyers being white. Recent diverse appointments on the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office, and in the executive branch seem to suggest that this field is growing more diverse, but the facts suggest otherwise. In a profession which intersects so often with representative government, it is important that it be as inclusive as the nation it serves.

General Motors Hit with Racketeering Allegations in Faulty Ignition-Switch Litigation

Plaintiffs suing General Motors Co in connection with faulty ignition switches in its cars have added civil racketeering (RICO) allegations in an amended complaint recently filed in federal court in Manhattan. The plaintiffs accuse the company of conspiring with a law firm and a claims-management company to conceal the defect, which has been linked to 114 deaths.

Balcony Tragedies

Although balcony calamities are rare, they usually end traumatically. Tuesday June 16, 2015, a birthday celebration quickly turned into a tragedy when a balcony collapsed in apartments near the University of California, Berkley. Thirteen students were thrown fifty feet from the air onto the pavement below. Six students lost their lives that night and seven are fighting to survive. Investigators believe that the collective weight of the thirteen victims overpowered the balcony. Others believe that there was a defect in the design of the balcony allowing rain to damage the supporting wood over the years. The firm that built the apartments has been sued before for similar mishaps in a different project. They are likely to be sued again.

Patient Loses Appeal of Lawsuit Over Prostate Surgery

David Antoon, a retired Air Force colonel, has tried multiple times to recover from the Cleveland Clinic for complications he experienced after surgery for prostate cancer. A federal appeals court has rejected his lawsuit. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Mr. Antoon had no legal standing to bring allegations of fraud against the Cleveland Clinic and his surgeon, Dr. Jihad Kaouk.

Fracking Issues in Oil and Gas Production

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of removing oil and gas from shale by pumping high-pressure liquid, chemicals and sand into the rock to open it up so that the oil or gas can be extracted. Several Texas cities tried to prevent this method of obtaining oil and gas from shale deposits, citing pollution concerns.

Litigation Is Being Prepared Against Xarelto

Litigation is being prepared against Xarelto, a drug intended to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in people with atrial fibrillation, due to its linkage with uncontrollable internal bleeding. Since 2011, the anticoagulant has not been approved to reduce blood clots in patients with coronary artery disease. The lawsuit focuses on the failure to warn patients of the side effects of Xarelto, including uncontrollable internal bleeding which might be able to be reversed as easily as with other anticoagulants.

Hospitals Cheat Uninsured Patients

Forty-six million Americans are at risk daily. Not members of the military or police, but people who do not have health insurance. According to the Health Affairs Journal, uninsured patients are charged up to 10 times more than insured or government assisted patients for care. In a recent article, Health Affairs listed the top 50 hospitals that engage in the excessive charging practice. Of the 50 hospitals on the list, 5 are right here in Texas. Lake Grandbury Medical Center, South Texas Health System, Dallas Regional Medical Center, Laredo Medical Center, and Texas General Hospital all made the list of hospitals that bill the maximum prices to patients who can afford it least. In some instances, uninsured patients have been charged nearly $20,000 for X-ray images that would only cost insured or government assisted patients $500.00. The term given to this unfair practice is "price gouging".

Walmart's Low Wage Violation Could Cost Millions

In California, Walmart was sued by its truck drivers in 2008 for not adequately compensating the drivers for non-driving tasks. In the ongoing case, the drivers argue that minimum wage hasn't been met for activities outside of delivering. Walmart pays its truckers only for miles driven and a set few activities, not by the hour. Such tasks that weren't compensated for were vehicle inspections, miscellaneous maintenance, and the constant weigh-ins for cargo. These are responsibilities performed by truck drivers on a regular basis but have been unpaid for, despite many being mandatory by state law. United States District Judge Susan Illston ruled in favor of the truckers, holding Walmart in violation of the California minimum wage laws. An estimation of over 100 million dollars of back pay is on the line, with damages to be discussed by the trial court next April.

Police Chase

News accounts report that, on Sunday evening, suspects believed to have stolen a vehicle in the northwest portion of our county began to flee from police. Evidently, the vehicle was stolen from a fast food restaurant. A deputy constable spotted it, and then tried to pull it over. At that, the driver, with two passengers, began to flee. The suspect was chased by the deputy in his patrol car, and he was assisted by a helicopter and a K-9 unit. The good news is that the chase was brief, two suspects were apprehended, and no one was injured during the chase (though the escaping suspect was reportedly bitten by the K-9 dog, as was one of those arrested).

DuPont Plant Manager Admits Lack of Safety Played a Role in Recent Deaths

In a public meeting this month, Randy Clements, a manager of DuPont's La Porte plant, addressed lapses in safety procedures that played a part in the deaths of four workers at the plant last November. The special meeting held within the La Porte Citizen's Advisory Council (CAC) was called to address further citations issued on DuPont by the Safety and Health Administration for persistent safety violations at the pesticide unit. The CAC, formed within the community to address industrial disasters, aims to increase communication between residents and industry leaders, but Clements would not field any oral questions or concerns at the meeting due to pending litigation. Attendees were instead encouraged to write their thoughts down.

Texting and Driving, Not Just a Problem With Teens

Texting and driving is often associated as a dangerous habit of teenagers, but adults are guilty of it too. In fact, a survey by AT&T found that while 98% of adults know it isn't safe to text and drive, a staggering 49% of them do it anyway. This past December a Tennessee school bus driver used his cellphone while driving and swerved into oncoming traffic, hitting another school bus. One adult and two children were killed as a result. It was later discovered that the driver was both sending and reading text messages moments before the accident. Wrongful death lawsuits are now being filed by the victims' families.

Actor-Comedian Tracy Morgan Reaches Settlement with Walmart

In June 2014, a Walmart truck crashed into a limo carrying actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and several others on the New Jersey Turnpike. Morgan was seriously injured in the crash, suffering a severe brain injury, broken nose, leg, and ribs. He is still recovering. Another passenger, James McNair, was killed in the collision.

Final Grand Jury

House Bill 2150, containing language that overhauls the Texas grand jury system, is awaiting a signature from Gov. Greg Abbott after reaching final approval from the House on Sunday. The language contained in the bill would effectively scrap the controversial "pick-a-pal" method of grand jury selection in which judge-appointed commissioners selected jurors, leading to conflicts of interest. Texas is one of the last states utilizing this kind of method and this bill marks another step towards creating the preferable random pool selection process.

Texas Supreme Court Recognizes Expanded Standing for Shareholders of Closely Held Corporations

On May 29, the Texas Supreme Court issued its decision in Sneed v. Webre, in which it tackled two issued regarding shareholder derivative suits involving closely held corporations: First, whether these suits may be barred by the business judgment rule, and, second, whether Texas recognizes the "double-derivative" standing of a parent company's shareholder tof sue on behalf of a subsidiary. In an important win for shareholders' rights after Ritchie v. Rupe, the Supreme Court answered both questions in favor of the shareholder.

CPSC: Can It Really Protect The Public From Dangerous Products?

When you buy something, you seldom think about its safety. However, thousands of manufactured items are recalled and taken off the market each year by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), a federal agency whose mission is to protect consumers from dangerous products.

Virginia Navy Veteran Files Suit Against the Federal Government for Medical Malpractice

Mickey Murray, a Navy veteran and former Norfolk, Virginia sheriff's deputy, filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming medical malpractice regarding a surgery performed on his right foot. Mr. Murray is asking for $2.15 million for his injuries. Last summer, Mr. Murray went to the Hampton VA Medical Center seeking treatment for his broken foot. Dr. Harris, a podiatrist, recommended and performed surgery on his third metatarsal. However, Mr. Murray's third metatarsal was not the broken bone.

The Root Cause of Medical Malpractice

A study from the University of Michigan was started about 15 years ago to improve the communication between doctors and patients. This study encouraged doctors to talk more with their patients and to apologize for any misunderstandings about their treatments. In addition they were to guide and explain the cause and effects of possible problems and reasoning behind preventative measures. In 2010, the study was published and showed that after the program began, claims respectively had dropped by 36% and lawsuits by 65%. This had led to overall dramatic expense cuts, usually over 50%. In addition, another study released in 2014 stated that despite a phenomenal patient increase in clinics, the malpractice claims had been cut in half.

Houstonians Face Potential Hurdles in Handling Flood Claim

Houston was recently hit by severe storms and flooding. Many homes along the bayous that give the city its nickname were inundated with many feet of water. Recovering from such a catastrophe is difficult and can be time consuming. As part of that process, victims of flood or storm losses must file claims with their insurance company. The claims process involves the insurance company sending an adjuster and determining the size of the insured's loss. Insureds can protect themselves by documenting their loss themselves with pictures and videos.

High Rate of Heart Surgery Fatality at Florida Hospital

At St. Mary's Medical Center in Florida, Layla McCarthy had surgery to widen a narrowing in her aorta, which is the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. After surgery, Layla stopped moving her legs; doctors could not explain why. Layla was a mere seven weeks old. The McCarthys had her transferred to another hospital. To date, Layla remains paraplegic. 

Crash on Freeway Kills Two Teenage Girls

Family members and loved ones are mourning the deaths of two teenage girls, while two others are recovering from their injuries from a recent crash. The one-vehicle wreck occurred Friday morning on Highway 288. Four girls--two who are 18 years old and two who are 17 years old--were in a Nissan Rogue. The black SUV was headed south on the highway about 3:00 a.m. It rolled over and then hit a pillar near the Holly Hall exit. One 17-year-old and one 18-year-old died; the other two girls were rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital. 

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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