Thursday, July 17, 2008

Exxon fights paying interest on reduced judgment

Exxon, the most profitable company in the history of the world (earning $40.61 billion last year), recently enjoyed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which slashed roughly $2 billion of punitive damages awarded against it in 1994 over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The plaintiffs - over 32,000 Alaskans - have now asked the court to award $488 million in interest on top of the reduced damages, something that is routine in virtually every case and which recognizes the interest that money owed to the plaintiffs would have earned had the defendant paid the debt when it was due.

Now in a move that must make even the most hardcore, pro-business tort-reformer blush, Exxon has asked the court to deny the plaintiffs interest because “the substantial delay here was not in any sense Exxon’s fault.” Uh, weren’t they the losers at trial who appealed the judgment in the first place?

Exxon’s shameful audacity knows no bounds. And if the Supremes rule in their favor, the take-over of that court by Big Business appears complete.

5 Good Things

I sat with an old friend yesterday for about an hour and was struck by how 95% of our conversation was about doom-and-gloom topics, notably the economy, the war on terrorism, politics, and rampant consumerism. He said, "Damn, I was born during a depression and it looks like I'll die in one. I'll bet you can't come up with a list of 5 good things to talk about right now."

I like a challenge. My first list of 5 Good Things:

1. My wife and our kids (technically, that's 3 good things but I'll lump them all together in the spirit of the challenge).

2. Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. I don't know much about baseball, very little about the Rangers, and hardly anything about Hamilton, but apparently he has overcome some personal problems and now his career has really taken off. From what I have read about him, it sounds like he's really turned his life around and he looks like he's having a blast. Not to mention he set some record for knocking homers in a recent home-run derby. Hat's off to Josh.

3. Drivers in Fort Worth. Generally speaking, we're a pretty courteous bunch of drivers. As a Dallas friend observed, "Drivers in Fort Worth still wave with all fingers." Let's try to keep it up.

4. Cucumber salad. Perfect for summer.

5. Dara Torres. 41-year old mom wins a spot on the US Olympic swim team. Competed in her first Olympics the year before Michael Phleps was born. Very cool.

Dang, coming up with this list is harder than I thought. And two of them are athletes. I hope this gets easier.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Good perspective from an insurance-defense lawyer in Mississippi

Great op-ed in today's Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi by insurance-defense lawyer Alex Alston (certainly no bomb-throwing liberal trial lawyer) about how that state's high court has shifted to protecting businesses and insurers over injured consumers. Switch the states and names and he could as well be describing the Texas Supreme Court.

Notable among Alston's comments are these:

"Our entire judicial system is built on a "rule of law." In other words, it makes no difference whether you are a prince or a pauper, the law must be precisely the same for all. A court that substitutes its opinion for that of a jury, or simply decides a case for the benefit of a favored party, tears the basic fabric of our judicial system to shreds. If the rule of law is not followed, the entire foundation of our judicial system is undermined. The public has a right to expect the Supreme Court to follow the rule of law and decide the cases before it fairly and impartially without favor to any party regardless of status, race, creed or color...Should we not demand that [they] follow the rule of law? Certainly it is a fair question to ask why 88 percent of the time, the court reverses a jury verdict for a plaintiff and substitutes its own opinion, and why, in 100 percent of the cases involving an injured victim's appeals from a jury verdict in favor of a defendant, the court finds for the wealthy or powerful defendant. Our court must be more than a rubber stamp for the rich and powerful. Shouldn't we expect that and more?"

Well said.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Supreme Court saves Exxon $2 billion

The U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion on whether Exxon should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages arising out of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. In a decision that comes as no surprise to anyone...except maybe those who expected that the court would throw out punitive damages in their entirety...the court reduced the punitive damages from $2.5 billion to roughly $504 million, which is about $46 dollars for every gallon of oil they spilled in Prince William Sound.

Several observations:

1. Champagne corks are flying at the Exxon boardroom in Dallas. You can hear the popping sounds all the way over here in Fort Worth.

2. Exxon is the most profitable corporation in the history of ever. It set an annual profit record by earning $40.61 billion last year - or nearly $1,300 per second in 2007. That eclipsed its previous record of $39.5 billion in 2006.

3. Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the decision because he owns Exxon stock. As if...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Longhorn suing Sooner for torn scrotum

Now there's a title I never thought I'd write.

As I posted some months ago, a Longhorn fan apparently had the poor judgment to wear a UT jersey into a bar in Oklahoma City, where he ended up getting in a fight - of sorts - with an OU fan. It seems that in the ruckus, the OU fan grabbed onto the UT fan's privates and pulled mightily.

Now the UT fan has sued the OU fan. Good for him. And good luck finding an impartial jury.

Monday, June 16, 2008

And another truck wreck in Dallas


LBJ Freeway was shut down in both directions near Plano Road after a fiery and fatal crash Sunday morning. Three vehicles — including an 18-wheeler and a pickup truck — collided in the eastbound lanes of of the highway just east of Plano Road at 7:35 a.m. All three vehicles caught fire. There were still massive backups on LBJ Freeway on Sunday afternoon, more than six hours after the incident.

Also from regarding that same wreck:

A 22-year-old woman was killed after she was hit by a car while trying to take pictures of a three-vehicle accident on LBJ Freeway early Sunday. April Sterling, of Dallas, and her friend were heading west on LBJ Freeway near Plano Road when they stopped so she could take pictures of the accident that occurred about 7:45 a.m., said Dallas police Sgt. Gil Cerda.
Ms. Sterling wanted to get closer to the accident scene so she ran into the HOV lane when a vehicle traveling west struck her, throwing her into the eastbound lanes of the freeway. She was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital where she died from her injuries.

The three-vehicle accident shut down both sides of LBJ Freeway for several hours. Police said a tractor-trailer was heading east on the freeway and driving over a hill when he locked his brakes to avoid hitting two trucks parked on the freeway's shoulder. The tractor-trailer crashed into the two pickups, causing all three vehicles to burst into flames. One driver was taken to an area hospital. That driver's condition was unknown Sunday evening. Sgt. Cerda said the tractor-trailer driver faces a misdemeanor charge of faulty evasion action.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Crane Collapse

Horrible crane collapse in New York City again, resulting in the death of at least one construction worker and injury to a pedestrian. Eyewitness reports describe a catastrophic scene, like a drawn-out car wreck with screeching metal and even fire. A crane collapsing from a high-rise must be a terribly frightening sight.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Whatever Happened to States' Rights?

Good recent New York Times op/ed discussing preemption, the trumping of state law by federal law and a favorite tool of the current administration to further close the courthouse door on consumers. Among other observations (such as how the Bush Administration issued rules preempting state banking laws - over the objection of all 50 states' banking superintendents - and thus helped pave the way for the subprime mortgage crisis):

[T]he federal rule should be a floor, not a ceiling. It should set a minimum level of rights, not stop states from doing more to protect their citizens.

For years, the federal government used pre-emption [to set a minimum level of rights]. Civil rights acts swept away discrimination at the state level, and workplace safety laws upgraded conditions in factories and mines. Conservatives opposed many of these federal laws on the principle that they were trampling on “states’ rights.”

Since the conservative ascendancy in Washington, many of these same people have stopped praising states’ rights and have begun burying them — not to protect citizens’ rights, but to take them away. The Bush administration and its Congressional allies have helped their friends in industry by enacting weak environmental, health and consumer regulations — and arguing that they wipe out more robust state protections.

Most Americans may not know about the supremacy clause, but they do seem to understand that they are increasingly vulnerable. Weeks before the 2006 elections shifted control of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, 79 percent of respondents in an Opinion Research poll said big business had too much influence over the Bush administration. As Democrats and Republicans contemplate what kind of “change” voters are looking for now, they can start with the idea that both the federal and state government need to do a better job of protecting their citizens.

Big Day for Merck, Sad Day for Consumers

Well, no surprise here, but appellate courts today in Texas and New Jersey overturned two jury verdicts against drug giant Merck in cases over its drug Vioxx.

Regarding the Texas court, Plaintiff's lawyer Mark Lanier said, “It’s a sad day that they can write a 10-page opinion and wipe out a widow’s verdict with a new judicial activism that reinterprets the evidence to support corporate executives.” He also pointed out that all three judges on the appellate panel who tossed out his verdict took campaign contributions from law firms defending Merck.

Say what you will about the civil justice system, but it's scary how far the appeals courts will go these days to overturn jury verdicts. Conservatives always rally against "judicial activism," yet the GOP-controlled appeals courts in Texas have become the worst practitioners of this.

Mark Lanier is an incredible trial lawyer. Something tells me he's not through with Merck just yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Truck Wreck in Wise County

Wise County Messenger reporting a bad truck wreck near Chico on Monday. Apparently a car struck the rear of an 18-wheeler that was turning in to a Nabors Drilling plant. The driver and her young child were flown to hospitals in Fort Worth.

Another blog reports that the child may have died. Very sad.

I had a meeting near Paradise not far from Bridgeport in Wise County this morning, and I am amazed at the volume of traffic on Highway 199, 51 and 114 in that area. There are trucks everywhere, mainly rock haulers and Barnett Shale trucks, many of them driving quite fast. On a different note, that is some beautiful country out there. But watch yourself if you drive out that way.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pity the poor insurance companies

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners , companies selling medical malpractice insurance in Texas made $807,325,106 profit in the first three years following tort reform. In 2006, more than 50 cents of every dollar collected was profit.

Hidden Costs of Tort Reform

A disturbing trend is emerging due to "tort reform:" Fewer injured consumers are able to be fully compensated through the court system and more are being forced onto taxpayer-funded government and charity heatlhcare programs. For example, a baby injured by medical negligence can't recover damages because of tort reform, and thus is cared for from now on by Medicaid. Or a worker is injured by a defective product but preemption shields the manufacturer from liability, so the worker goes onto Social Security Disability.

It is sad and ironic that one of the darlings of conservatives - tort reform and reduced access to the courthouse - is shifting this burden onto taxpayers, a burden which was once shared with the insurance industry.

Fox 4 News questions the benefits of tort reform in Texas

Good article on Fox 4 exposing some of the myths that propelled the "tort reform" debacle of the 2003 Texas Legislature.

UT Law Professor Bernard Black's conclusion after studying the matter? "It is entirely clear there was no crisis in medical malpractice lawsuits."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Justice for sale in Texas? Watch this.


And it is so ironic that the tort reformers want judges be appointed based on merit, while the author of the Entergy opinion is Justice Don Willett. Name one case he tried, one appeal he argued, one deposition he took, one Regular Joe client he represented, before leaving his employment with the Bush Administration and going to the highest civil court in our state, courtesy of Rick Perry.

Allstate to pay policyholders, reduce rates

The Texas Department of Insurance and Allstate entered into an agreement whereby the insurance giant will refund some money to policyholders and reduce their rates.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Allstate must pay $36.8 million in refunds for new and renewal policies written between Dec. 1, 2004 and April 23, 2006; give credits or refunds that amount to 3 percent of premiums for most policies written between Aug. 20, 2007 and June 1, 2008; cut homeowners rates by 3 percent on average statewide for most policies written between June 2, 2008 and at least June 1, 2009; and not increase rates between June 2, 2008 and June 1, 2009.

I'm skeptical of any agreements reached by Big Insurance and the lapdog TDI, particularly knowing how the insurance companies fight meaningful regulation tooth-and-nail. This could be good for consumers or it could just be window dressing (like when TMLT doubled medical malpractice insurance premiums prior to the "tort deform" debacle of 2003 and them hailed an 11% reduction a year later - yipee).

With all these "reductions," consumers can go broke saving money.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Passenger made to sit on toilet, sues JetBlue

Okay, this one is sorta funny. Probably very poor judgment by the airline crew but I don't know if it's worth two mil, especially since he was on a buddy pass in the first place.

Now in addition to McDonald's hot coffee, we'll have to voir dire the jury panel on this case.

The first small chink appears in Halliburton's armor

Houston Chronicle reporting today that a federal judge has ruled that Jamie Leigh Jones, the former employee of Halliburton subsidiary KBR who alleges she was raped by co-workers while in Iraq, can take her claims to trial. Halliburton, you'll recall, is seeking to have Jones's claims heard in arbitration rather than in court.

Apparently the ruling by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison is that Jones does not have to take the assault/rape claims through arbitration, but that she must first resolve other workplace-related claims through that process before going forward in court on the more serious charges.

Bravo. Sounds like a thoughtful ruling: Employment contract + workplace disputes = arbitration. Employment contract + assault, rape and imprisonment by co-workers = jury trial.

How much you wanna bet Halliburton appeals this ruling?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stay-at-Home Moms' market value = $117,000/year

An annual survey by finds that if a stay-at-home mom could be compensated in dollars for her various duties (housekeeper, daycare provider, teacher, driver, nurse, etc.), she'd make around $117,000 a year.

The study also found that, unlike the average 40-hour work week outside the home, most moms work 94.4 hours. Moms who also have jobs outside the home report working an average of 54.6 additional hours on mom duty.

The DMN has the story here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Jackknifed 18-wheeler catches fire in Dallas

Rarely does a day go by without yet another truck wreck in Dallas. Today, an 18-wheeler jackknifed on LBJ Freeway and ended up hanging over a bridge while on fire. Needless to say, traffic on I35 and 635 and surrounding streets came to a standstill. NBC5i reports that the driver escaped with minor injuries and no word yet on the cause of the wreck.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Even the Insured Feel Strain of Health Costs

The New York Times reports that since 2001, employees' average cost of an annual health care premiums for family coverage has nearly doubled — to $3,300, up from $1,800 — while incomes have come nowhere close to keeping up. Factor in other out-of-pocket medical costs, and the portion of the average American household’s income that goes toward health care has risen about 12 percent, according to the consulting and accounting firm Deloitte, and is now approaching one-fifth of the average household’s spending.

But I thought health care would become more affordable once we passed tort reform...wasn't that one of the promises the insurance and medical lobbies made when they bought the Legislature and sold our rights?

Georgia judge strikes down cap on medical malpractice suits

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington ruled recently that Georgia's $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice suits is unconstitutional, finding that it gives special protections to the medical profession.

"The statute effectively puts substantial limitations on the rights of the poor and middle class to recovery while leaving the right to virtually unlimited recoveries unimpeded for the wealthy," Arrington said. "The disabled manager of a hedge fund, a corporate CEO, an entertainer or such other person whose income is in the tens of millions of dollars has a claim under Georgia law that would dwarf the amount awarded in any case for pain and suffering."

The judge made this ruling in a medical negligence case which has yet to go to trial, so the impact of his decision is unclear at this point. The plaintiffs will have to be successful and the defendant will have to appeal (and lose) in order to create precedent; otherwise, it's just a point to argue in other cases.

Apparently, Judge Arrington has made some controversial rulings in the past and has been reversed by the Georgia Supreme Court on some of them. Nonetheless, I applaud his courage for speaking out against the injustice he sees first-hand in his courtroom.

The cap on noneconomic damages in Texas, by the way, is $250,000. And don't give me that crap about "stacking" two or three limits (for a $500,000 or $750,000 cap). Those scenarios were pitched by the insurance lobby when they rammed tort reform through the pliant Texas Legislature in 2003 but they have no basis in reality. You and your family are worth $250,000 if you get malpracticed on in Texas these days.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Morris Dees on Injustice

I learned from a colleague in Dallas that Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke today to the Dallas Bar Association, where he said:

"In my generation, our greatest injustice was racial prejudice, and I devoted much of my career to fighting it. Nowadays, our greatest injustice is corporate America, which has packed our courts and flooded our legislature with lobbyists -- to deprive American's of basic rights and to destroy our jury system. Why have we decided to lose our jury system? We must fight this injustice as passionately as we in the 1960s fought discrimination."

Well said, Mr. Dees.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A few billion here, a few billion there...

...and pretty soon you're talking real money.

ExxonMobil reported a $10.9 billion First-Quarter profit, up 17 percent.

With all that cash laying around, it should be no problem to pay that little $2.5 billion punitive damages award involving the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska back in 1989.

Fortunately for poor ol' Exxon, the Supreme Court will likely toss out those damages.'d sure hate for Exxon to pass that along to the customer in the form of higher fuel prices.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Who does he think he is? Mr. Halliburton?

A young man was arrested in Fort Worth last week when he tried to cash a check for $360 billion dollars. The astute bank teller became suspicious and pressed the button that calls the cops. Turns out the young man had taken a check from his girlfriend's mother's purse and hoped to use the funds to start a record label. Gotta hand it to this fellow...when he rolled the dice, he rolled 'em big.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Florida jury awards doctor $24.2 million in asbestos lawsuit

A Miami-Dade jury awarded a doctor and his family almost $24.2 million after finding that his rare type of cancer was caused by exposure to brake pads made with asbestos. The defendant, Honeywell, previously bought the company, Bendix, that manufactured the brake pads.

What strikes me about this article is the arrogance of the Honeywell spokesman, who said the company is ''confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal,'' and that "there is no supportable evidence that Mr. Guilder's disease was caused by exposure to Bendix products.'' Uh, clearly there was some evidence. But beyond that is the pure chutzpah of corporate interests these days. "Oh, we'll win on appeal." Most maddening is that they often do.

DNA evidence sets Dallas County man free 27 years later

James Lee Woodard, 55, is free after serving 27 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Texas Wesleyan law student Alexis Hoff was instrumental in his release, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

How do you even begin to apologize to someone like Woodard? He's spent half his life behind bars, his parents died while he was in prison, and now he has no place to go. And he said, "I don't want to waste my time on negative energy. I don't have any retaliatory or vindictive thoughts about it. I'm just glad it's over." Simply incredible.

Kudos to Ms. Hoff. She isn't even a lawyer yet and she may have just won the biggest case of her career.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sandra Bullock Involved In Head-On Crash

Actress Sandra Bullock and her husband were involved in a head-on crash last Friday night in Gloucester, Mass. Apparently the woman driving the car that hit their SUV was arrested and charged with DUI. Bullock, her husband and their driver were not hurt.

3 observations:
  • Her husband is named Jesse James.
  • My father-in-law, an Austin attorney, defended a building contractor in a suit brought by Bullock over some work on her home on Lake Austin. Said she was very nice in person.
  • Gloucester is not pronounced "Glahwo-chester," as I was once rather-rudely told by someone from that part of the country. As I recall, it rhymes with "oyster" or something like that.

"Abuse of Corporate Citizens?" You're Joking.

A man rented a U-Haul truck to help his daughter move. While getting out of the rear of the truck, the 6-ton truck rolled over the man and left him a paraplegic. 14 surgeries later, he still requires around-the-clock care.

He filed a lawsuit against U-Haul, alleging negligence for renting out a truck that was not roadworthy with faulty emergency brake and worn-down gears. A Dallas County jury last Friday found U-Haul liable and awarded the plaintiffs $87 million.

U-Haul says it plans to aggressively appeal the verdict. It issued a statement that this verdict "is another example of abuse of the legal system against corporate citizens in America."

Shame on U-Haul. There has never been a more corporate-friendly time in our justice system than right now. Big Business has lobbied to change the laws in their favor, they've plowed thousands of dollars into electing judges who are favor corporations over consumers, and they're benefitting from a 20-year media campaign to vilify victims and their lawyers and poison the jury pool against plaintiffs.

The fact that a Dallas County jury hit them hard tells me that the evidence was truly damning, but U-Haul will no doubt string this out in the appellate system for years to come.

Worker Injured At Denton County Gas Rig

NBC5i reporting that a gas rig worker was injured Monday morning at a gas rig in Krum.

It happened just before 11 a.m. at Barnett Oil Lease on Burns Ranch Road. The worker was injured after something malfunctioned on the rig, according to Tom Reedy, spokesman for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office.

The worker was taken by helicopter to the hospital. There was no word on his condition.

These sorts of injuries are bound to increase in the Barnett Shale play around Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Johnson (etc.) Counties. Talk to the guys working on the pipelines and wells, and you'll be shocked at the safety shortcuts being taken. Gotta get that gas to market fast, I guess.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Op/Ed on the problem of health insurance subrogation

Judy Kostura, an Austin lawyer with a wealth of expertise in insurance subrogation matters, has a good op/ed in today's Austin American-Statesman:

Why you should always read the fine print

Judy Kostura, LOCAL CONTRIBUTOR, Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wal-Mart's recent efforts to deprive an employee of her injury settlement highlight an unfair advantage insurance companies enjoy in the legal arena. Unfortunately, the Wal-Mart example is not an isolated incident. The legal tactic Wal-Mart used against the policyholder has recently been endorsed by the Texas Supreme Court and is being used daily against injured Texans.

Deborah Shank, an employee who was covered under Wal-Mart's group health plan, was catastrophically injured in a wreck caused by an 18-wheeler. Wal-Mart's employee health policy paid the medical expenses and the Shank family looked to the justice system to hold the trucking company accountable. A settlement from the trucking company was put in a trust account to help fund the round-the-clock care that Shank's severe brain injury requires.

Wal-Mart attempted to raid the trust account to recover the money it spent, relying on a subrogation clause in the health policy fine print. Wal-Mart backed off on its demand only after being vilified in the court of public opinion.

You never heard of subrogation? Look closely at your health insurance policy. After the pages promising benefits in exchange for your premiums, you'll find a section demanding reimbursement from you if you are hurt because of someone else's negligence.

Texas has allowed insurance companies to include subrogation clauses for years, but the insurers were reimbursed only after the injured policyholder was paid for lost wages, scarring, future medical expenses, pain and other damages. Putting the policyholder first is known as the "made whole" doctrine and required courts to interpret the fine print fairly. Allow me to use a real Austin example.

For privacy, let's call this client "Mary." One morning, Mary kissed her toddler son goodbye as she dropped him off at day care on her way to work. Minutes later, a car crossed the center stripe and smashed into Mary head-on, breaking her neck and trapping her inside a burning vehicle. Brave bystanders pulled her from the flames. Rendered a quadriplegic by the wreck and burned on her arms and legs, Mary lost her job, was divorced by her husband and spent months in a hospital.

The other driver's insurance company paid Mary $100,000, which was all of the coverage available. It was not much for a 34-year-old divorced mother who would never walk or work again, but it would help. Mary's health insurer, armed with a subrogation clause, demanded that Mary hand over the entire proceeds of the settlement. Because of the "made whole" doctrine, the legal system required Mary's health insurer to waive its subrogation interest, allowing her to keep the recovery.

Vanessa Cantu, like "Mary," was rendered a quadriplegic in a collision and was able to secure a settlement from the insurance company of those responsible for her injuries. Her settlement didn't compensate her fully for her terrible injury, but it helped. Cantu's insurer, Fortis, sued her to recover the money it had paid under the policy. The case found its way to the Texas Supreme Court. The court sided with the insurance company and wrote an opinion that eviscerated the 92-year-old "made whole" doctrine in Texas law. Cantu was the first person hurt by this wrong-headed decision, but she won't be the last. The Fortis v. Cantu case gives insurance companies a free rein to write deceptive and onerous health insurance policies, promising benefits on one page and taking them away in the fine print on another.

Insurance companies should be treated fairly, but they shouldn't be able to jump to the front of the line when settlements are paid for serious injuries. Public outcry saved Shank in the Wal-Mart case. The Texas "made whole" doctrine saved Mary, but the Texas Supreme Court has taken that away.

We need a legislative solution. Congress and the Texas Legislature should enact a strong and unambiguous "made whole" doctrine that puts Texas families first.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Study accuses Merck of deception in promoting Vioxx

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association accuses pharaceutical giant Merck of deception in promoting Vioxx. According to the researchers, who had access to thousands of documents gathered in lawsuits involving Vioxx, Merck "waged a campaign of deception to promote its drug, moving slowly to warn of possible hazards while at the same time dressing up in-house studies as the work of independent academic researchers." Among the allegations are that Merck gave the Food and Drug Administration an incomplete accounting of deaths in a clinical trial involving Vioxx, and that studies ostensibly done by independent scientists were done by employees or contractors.

Two observations: First, this highlights the growing problem of "preemption," in which drug makers avoid civil liability by hiding behind the FDA's approval of drugs and devices. That is, if the federal government thinks something is safe enough to sell to the public, a slick trial lawyer and a jury of twelve yokels ought not find to the contrary and award a bunch of money to some poor sap who dies from using it. Preemption has been a darling of the Bush administration and has found sympathetic ears on the Supreme Court. The problem is, as this Vioxx study points out, the FDA is getting their information from the drug makers themselves. Bad idea.

Second, when individuals lie and kill people, we call that a felony and we punish them. When drug companies lie and kill people, their market share increases and their stock rises. How is that right?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another Truck Wreck in Dallas reporting a wreck in Dallas on Stemmons (I35) near Carpenter Freeway involving a cement mixing truck, a car and a motorcycle. Photos show the cement truck on its side apparently on top of an automobile. Southbound lanes of I35 are closed while rescue workers are on the scene.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

San Francisco files suit against credit card "arbitration" service

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city attorney is suing a leading credit card dispute resolution service, accusing it of favoring industry and stacking the system against consumers in debt collection cases.

The suit, filed by the office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera late last month in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that National Arbitration Forum, one of the nation's biggest dispute resolution companies, is biased in favor of debt collectors. It says the forum "is actually in the business of operating an arbitration mill, churning out arbitration awards in favor of debt collectors and against California consumers."

The complaint cites forum statistics showing that of 18,075 cases brought before one of its arbitrators from January 2003 to March 2007, a total of only 30 resulted in victories for consumers.

The suit touches on a matter that's become an increasing concern for consumer groups in recent years - the push by financial services companies and other businesses to impose mandatory arbitration as a substitute for lawsuits to settle disputes with customers.

If I did the math right, consumers win approximately .16 of the cases and the credit card companies and banks win...uh...99.84 of the cases. Amazing.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Plush Rocker Toys Recalled By Tek Nek Toys Due to Fall Hazard

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of Product: Rock ‘N Ride Plush Rocker Toys
Units: About 122,000
Manufacturer: Tek Nek Toys Int’l L.P., of Southlake, Texas

Hazard: The base of the rocker can become unstable and allow the rocker to tip forward or backward, posing a fall hazard to children.

Incidents/Injuries: Tek Nek Toys has received 35 reports of the rockers tipping over, including

ten reports of injuries such as bumps, bruises and lacerations.

Description: This recall involves Rock ‘N Ride plush rocker toys sold in eight models: brown pony, pink pony, pink unicorn, deluxe pony, deluxe bull, lil’ penguin, lil’ propeller plane and Clifford big red rocker. The toys have molded plastic rocker bases and were sold for children at least 18 months old and up to 65 lbs. A button on the toy’s ear, hat or dash activates songs and phrases when pressed. Rockers included in this recall have a date code from July 26, 2007 through December 29, 2007. The date codes are printed on a sticker inside the battery compartment.

Sold at: Wal-Mart, Toys “R” Us, Kmart, Target, Atwoods, and Pamida stores nationwide and Internet retailers from September 2007 through March 2008 for about $30.

Manufactured in: China

Remedy: Consumers should immediately take the rocker toys away from young children and contact Tek Nek Toys for a free replacement base.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Tek Nek Toys toll-free at (888) 686-2728 anytime, or visit the firm’s Web site at

Seinfeld unhurt after rollover car wreck

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. - Jerry Seinfeld was in a harrowing rollover wreck but was unhurt after the brakes on one of his vintage cars failed.

Seinfeld was driving alone when the brakes on his 1967 Fiat BTM stopped working Saturday evening, East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris told the New York Post. Seinfeld tried the emergency brake, to no avail, and then swerved to keep the car from careening into an intersection, Sarris said.

The two-door sedan flipped over and came to a stop just yards from the highway, Sarris said, adding that the comic’s maneuver “probably avoided a very serious accident.”

The comedian took the crash in stride. “Because I know there are kids out there, I want to make sure they all know that driving without braking is not something I recommend, unless you have professional clown training or a comedy background, as I do,” Seinfeld said. “It is not something I plan to make a habit of.”

(I didn't know Seinfeld was 53...)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Pillaging Continues

State Farm boosting home rates again, especially on coast, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports today.

"State Farm blamed the increase along the coast on the increased cost of reinsurance, which insurance companies buy to guard against the huge losses associated with hurricanes.

Galveston County residents who have both home and auto insurance through State Farm will see their rates go up by 7.9 percent, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. Those residents who have home insurance only will see their rates go up by more than 20 percent, according to the department.

The department says State Farm will take in $42 million more statewide annually because of the adjustments. By contrast, the company estimates increased revenue at $35 million to $40 million.

State Farm has 29.3 percent of the home-insurance market in Texas.

In 2003, regulators ordered the company to roll back home rates by 12 percent, but it has refused and is fighting the order in court."

Wal-Mart drops claims against injured former employee

Wonders never cease.

CNN is reporting that a former Wal-Mart employee who suffered severe brain damage in a traffic accident won't have to pay back the company for the cost of her medical care, Wal-Mart told the family Tuesday.

Eight years ago, Debbie Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart's health and benefits plan.

After a tractor-trailer slammed into her minivan, the 52-year-old mother of three lost much of her short-term memory and was confined to a wheelchair. She now lives in a nursing home.

Wal-Mart's health care plan lets the retail giant recoup the cost of its expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit. And Wal-Mart set out to do just that after Shank and her husband, Jim, won $1 million after suing the trucking company involved in the wreck. After legal fees, the couple received $417,000.

Wal-Mart sued the Shanks to recoup $470,000 it paid for her medical care. However, a court ruled that the company could only recoup about $275,000 -- the amount that was left in a trust fund for her care.

The Shanks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined in March to hear the case. CNN told the couple's story last week, prompting thousands of angry blog responses and at least two online petitions to boycott the company.

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart said in a letter to Jim Shank that it is modifying its health care plan to allow "more discretion" in individual cases.

"We wanted you to know that Wal-Mart will not seek any reimbursement for the money already spent on Ms. Shank's care, and we will work with you to ensure the remaining amounts in the trust can be used for her ongoing care," Curran said.

"We are sorry for any additional stress this uncertainty has placed on you and your family."

On a related note, Keith Olbermann excoriates Wal-Mart here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Props to Winter Park, Colorado

Just got back with the family from Winter Park, Colorado. What a great time. Snow was great, people were friendly, lift lines were manageable. It's been 25 years since I was last in Winter Park and I forgot what a neat ski resort it is. Certainly not stuffy or snooty like some places. Note to self: 11-year old daughter now skis better and faster than me...9-year old daughter not far behind. Next time, remember to take lots of ibuprofen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Congress would save a lot of time and tax dollars if...

...they'd let civil lawsuits and juries take care of problems like KBR and Halliburton.

A congressional committee is investigating what role defense contractor KBR played in the accidental electrocution of at least a dozen soldiers in Iraq during the past five years. The inquiry stems from whether KBR, which is contracted to maintain housing for troops, properly repaired electrical and plumbing problems. The family of at least one soldier electrocuted in KBR-maintained housing has filed a lawsuit against the contractor.

No doubt KBR will try to hide behind some liability protection (that is, responsibility-avoidance) law set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Baristas Win Lawsuit Against Starbucks Over Tips

A California judge has ruled that Starbucks Corp. must pay baristas in that state more than $100 million for forcing them to share tips with shift supervisors. San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett also found that state law prohibits managers and supervisors from profiting from employee gratuities and issued an injunction to stop the practice. Starbucks said it plans to appeal the judge's ruling.

I hope Starbucks doesn't turn into Wal-Mart. I gotta have my daily grande non-fat latte from the store down the street. The coffee is good but I stop there because of the friendly baristas (shout out to Vikki and crew at Montgomery Plaza).

Treat the employees right and I won't have to initiate my one-man boycott like I did with Wal-Mart (whose stock plunged when I announced that I would no longer shop there).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Girl Whose Disembowelment Led To Pool Legislation Dies

OMAHA, Neb. -- A 6-year-old girl who underwent a rare transplant surgery after her intestines were sucked out in a swimming pool has died in an Omaha hospital.

Abigail Taylor's family said she died Thursday evening. Bob Bennett is an attorney for the Taylor family. He said Abigail's parents were with her when she died at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

NMC's Paul Baltes confirmed to KETV NewsWatch 7 that Abigail died at the hospital, where she has been under care since the operation. Baltes was not sure whether an autopsy or exact cause of death would be released to the public.

Abigail was injured when she sat on a pool drain, and its powerful suction ripped out part of her intestinal tract on June 29. She underwent transplant surgery in December at the Nebraska hospital to receive a new small bowel, liver and pancreas.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in November that Taylor's family filed suit against the pool manufacturer and the Minneapolis Golf Club.

"The suit blamed both the club, located in St. Louis Park, Minn, and Sta-Rite Industries, a pool equipment manufacturer owned by a Golden Valley company, for the accident, in which 21 feet of Abigail Taylor's small intestine were sucked out when she landed on an uncovered suction outlet in the kiddie pool in June," the paper reported.

In December, President George W. Bush signed The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007, according to The legislation provides incentives for states to adopt comprehensive pool safety laws that will protect children from life-threatening injuries and deaths from potentially dangerous pool and spa drains.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Business as Usual at the Texas Supreme Court

Good editorial in today's Houston Chronicle from Alex Winslow of Texas Watch:

Recent reports paint an ugly picture of irresponsible behavior by oil and chemical companies in Texas and across the country. In response to the BP Texas City tragedy, the federal agency responsible for policing workplace safety has started a review of the safety habits of U.S. refineries. The preliminary results paint a picture of carelessness, including 11 violations at a Port Arthur refinery. Meanwhile, the chemical industry continues to thumb its nose at Mayor Bill White's call to reduce caustic benzene emissions in and around Houston.

The backdrop to all of this is Entergy v. Summers, a recent Texas Supreme Court decision allowing oil, chemical and manufacturing interests to escape accountability when they fail to ensure the safety of their work sites. When they cut corners on workplace safety, oil and chemical companies not only place their workers at risk, they also endanger the communities that surround the plants through increased chances of violent workplace and environmental disasters. The Texas Supreme Court has a chance to reconsider its position, and it should do so. In the meantime, big oil and chemical industries need to clean up their acts by putting public, workplace and environmental safety first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

$590 million for daughter, slain mom’s estate

RENO, Nev. - A jury awarded a $590 million wrongful death judgment Tuesday to the young daughter of a woman killed by her estranged husband and to the slain woman's estate.

Darren Mack, once a wealthy pawn shop owner, is serving a life sentence for the June 2006 killing of his wife and shooting of the couple's divorce judge.

Under the award in the wrongful death lawsuit, $530 million will go to the couple's young daughter, Erika, and the rest will go to the estate of his slain wife, Charla, said Hans Jessup, administrator for the Washoe County court.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Doctors cleared in actor Ritter's death

A California jury cleared a cardiologist and a radiologist Friday of negligence in the diagnosis and treatment of actor John Ritter, who died of a torn aorta in 2003.

Jurors said the majority believed the cardiologist summoned to the hospital after Ritter was diagnosed with a heart attack had no time to order a chest X-ray that might have found the tear.

They also said the radiologist, who gave Ritter a body scan two years earlier, did advise Ritter of coronary problems and to consult other doctors, but his failure to do so did not cause his death.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Follow-Up on Dennis Quaid's Kids

Actor Dennis Quaid recently appeared on "60 Minutes" to discuss his kids' medical malpractice case (follow the link to a video clip of part of his interview with Steve Kroft).

Quaid twins Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace nearly died last November at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles when they were mistakenly given a massive drug overdose.

Quaid believes such mistakes occur too often. "They happen in every hospital in every state in this country and…I've come to find out, there's 100,000 people a year hospitals by medical mistakes," he tells Kroft. "It’s bigger than AIDS. It’s bigger than breast cancer. It’s bigger than automobile accidents and yet, no one seems to be really aware of the problem," says Quaid.

The Quaid twins were mistakenly given the drug Heparin, an adult-strength blood thinner, instead of Hep-lock, a version of the drug a thousand times weaker that’s routinely used to clear IV lines in pediatric patients. It caused the infants, who were in the hospital for a suspected infection, serious hemorrhaging. "Our kids are bleeding from everyplace that they've punctured…They were working on Boone, whose belly button would not stop bleeding…blood squirted across the room…. It was blood everywhere," recalls Quaid. "It was a life-and-death situation."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jamie Jones' files suit against Halliburton

Jamie Jones, the young woman who alleges that she was drugged and raped by her Halliburton/KBR co-workers while she was in Iraq, has filed suit in federal court in Houston. Halliburton wants to force Jones's claims into arbitration per her employment contract, which is outrageous given the inquities of arbitration against the plaintiff.

Halliburton's attorneys argued that the contract Jones signed binds her to settle all claims - including claims of sexual assault - against her former employer through arbitration. In the next breath, they argue that her claims were not related to her employment, despite her allegations that Halliburton co-workers raped her in Halliburton barracks.

Defense attorneys also chortle over the fact that Jones has changed her story "several times." Well then, tough guys, you shouldn't fear trying her case to a jury, should you? Go win it the old fashioned way through good lawyering and tough cross-examination, not through a private arbitrator who always rules for the employer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Truck Loses Load at I30 and Loop 12 in Dallas

NBC reporting that at least one person has been injured in Dallas when a tractor-trailer lost its load of lumber ear I-30 and Loop 12. What a mess. Photos here.

"Forget that Day in Court"

Excellent piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times describing how arbitration is supplanting jury trials. Here's an excerpt:

Tort reform is a game of bait-and-switch in which ordinary citizens have been snookered by carefully orchestrated and relentless propaganda into seeing a phantom boogeyman in the much-reviled "trial lawyer" who brings "frivolous lawsuits" to "runaway juries" that render "out of control verdicts" in "judicial hellholes," making insurance rates and the costs of all goods and services go up. Well, none of those expenses have gone down, have they? All the while, the real target was the justice system set up by our founders to protect the average citizen, and now it is in serious peril.

Well said, Ms. Garrity.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Actor John Ritter's Family Brings Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Actor John Ritter's widow and children have brought a wrongful death lawsuit in California against a Burbank cardiologist who treated him on the day he died in September 2003. Story here.

Ritter, 54, died of torn aorta but was treated for a heart attack. The plaintiffs claim the cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Lee, should have recognized the aortic dissection and that the radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lotysch, should have detected an enlargement of the aorta in the body scan. Both doctors dispute the claims.

Of note, apparently "the Fonz" testified at trial, and John Ritter is the son of Western film star "Tex" Ritter.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

At least 2 dead in 18-wheeler wreck in Dallas

NBC5i is reporting that at least two people (and possibly a third) are dead after an 18-wheeler overturned and crashed onto another vehicle at I35 and Continental Avenue in Dallas. Looks like the truck fell over a guardrail ramp and onto the lanes below. How horrific.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Plaintiffs Challenging Texas Med Mal Damage Caps

A group of 11 plaintiffs, including the family of ex-Dallas Cowboys player Ron Springs, filed suit recently in U.S. District Court in Marshall to challenge the constitutionality of the state's medical malpractice caps.

The Houston Chronicle has a story here. The article suggests that the non-economic cap of $250,000 is per defendant, which is not the case. The $250,000 cap is per claimant (including all derivative plaintiffs such as spouses and children of the injured patient), no matter how many doctors or health care providers are sued. There is - in theory - the potential to stack two limits for a $500,000 cap, but I have yet to see a scenario where that would apply...nor have I heard of any across the state. And in some lobbyist's fantasy world, there is a magical place where an injured patient could - just maybe - stack three limits for a $750,000 recovery. It'll never happen, but that was part of the snake oil the insurance lobbyists sold elected officials and voters when tort reform passed in 2003.

In any event, hats off to the plaintiffs in Marshall.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Woman who ran over cheating spouse takes former attorney to trial

Now here's an interesting twist in a bizarre case, as reported in the Houston Chronicle today:

HOUSTON -- The famous saga of a woman who killed her cheating husband by mowing him down with her luxury car returns to court Tuesday in a civil case Clara Harris filed against her former defense attorney.

Jury selection is set to begin more than three years after Harris filed a lawsuit claiming Houston attorney George Parnham overcharged to defend her in the 2003 murder trial that garnered international attention.

Harris, 50, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for running over her philandering spouse in a hotel parking lot in 2002 after confronting him with his mistress. The lawsuit claims Harris hired Parnham for $75,000 but wound up paying more than $235,000.

Lawyers for Parnham, whose list of past clients includes Andrea Yates, have argued that Harris is the one who still owes money. "She's mad about how much he charged her," said Charles Babcock, who is representing Parnham.

Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday in the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

Medicare won't pay for hospital-caused injuries after October 1

Medicare, soon to be followed by private health insurers, will no longer pay for medical treatment of preventable injuries caused by medical errors. Medicare lists eight "hospital-caused preventable injuries," including urinary tract infections from catheters, falls, pressure sores, and embolism. After October 1st, if a Medicare patient develops one of these eight injuries, Medicare won't pay for treatment. Apparently under this plan, hospitals cannot bill the patient, either.

I don't know what to think about this. On one hand, if it truly becomes a matter of economic incentive for the hospitals, perhaps they will take more precautions to avoid these problems. On the other hand, this could lead to decreased quality of care for those patients who end up with these preventable injuries which no one is paying to treat. The number-crunchers in hospital administration might try to cut their loses by withholding appropriate and expensive care. It also seems that the patient could be caught in a tug-of-war between the hospitals and the insurers over whether or not something was preventable in the first place.

Bottom line, patients will end up getting screwed by this. Woe be to those in Texas, where the tort-deform insurance lobbyists and many of your elected representatives have just about driven the last nails into injured consumers' coffins.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Refinery Explosion in Big Spring, Texas

An Alon USA oil refinery in Big Spring exploded this morning. All workers are accounted for, according to CNN. No word yet on the environmental impact and property damage. I-20 is closed.

Something tells me explosions like this will become more commonplace. We seem to have had a rash of them lately.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Patriots Sued by Former Ram

What tha...?

A lawsuit filed Friday by a former St. Louis Rams player and others seeks millions of dollars in damages from the alleged taping of Rams practices by the New England Patriots before the 2002 Super Bowl.

The Patriots won the game 20-17 in the Superdome.

The $100 million suit, filed on behalf of former Rams player Willie Gary in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, names the Patriots, team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Texas Pipeline Explosion

Just saw a report about multiple explosions involving gas pipelines in South Texas. The explosions occurred near the town of McCook in Hidalgo County, not far from the the U.S.- Mexico border.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jury Sides with BNSJ in Cancer Lawsuit

FWST covers the story here.

This seemed to me to be an incredibly challenging case. The wife of a long-time BNSF employee alleged that her stomach cancer was caused by years of cleaning chemicals off her husband's work clothes. He and other workers used creosote in making railroad ties and they testified that they often went home caked in the chemical. The plaintiffs apparently presented evidence linking creosote to the wife's cancer but it wasn't enough to overcome the defense that she had a pack-a-day cigarette habit.

Tough case, particularly in Tarrant County, home of BNSF. Hats off to the plaintiffs' attorneys for teeing it up, though.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Tragic Truck Wreck

A Tennessee minister, his wife and their two children died when an 18-wheeler hit their van as they were driving to help families devastated by last week's tornados in that state. Michael Welch, wife Julie, 11-year old daughter Hannah and 14-year old son Jesse died when a Wal-Mart truck slammed into the back of their van and pushed it into the car in front of them. Criminal charges are pending against the Wal-Mart driver.

In an interview just a few hours prior to his death, Rev. Welch said of his and other ministers' efforts to comfort families affected by the tornadoes, "We cling to God, because He's all we've got."


Car Hits Parked 18-Wheeler in Grapevine

Three men died when their car hit a parked 18-wheeler in Grapevine early Sunday morning. Police report that that truck was parked legally.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Next victim on Wal-Mart's path to world domination: Your local doctor

It seems Wal-Marts will now offer in-store medical clinics.

Wait a minute, you really want to get your health care at Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart? I can see it now:

"Honey, run get momma the 20 lb. bag of Wavy Lays and some Diet Coke while she's waitin' for the results of her angiogram."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Texas Trial Judges Weigh In On "Tort Reform"

Some smart professors at Baylor Law School were skeptical of all the anecdotal "evidence" used by the business and insurance lobbies to push for more restrictions on the rights of injured plaintiffs, so they decided to poll Texas trial judges about "frivolous lawsuits" and "runaway juries." Here is their conclusion, based on over 300 responses from judges across the state:

"The survey results confirm that most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of frivolous filings by people who have no business suing, and plaintiffs with legitimate suits are much more likely to be under compensated than to receive any windfall. Two primary goals for tort jurisprudence are for the victim to receive full compensation and to deter the tortfeasor, and when victims are not fully compensated and tortfeasors are not deterred, neither goal is met."

Amen, brothers.

Big Insurers Continue to Suck Your Blood

Just saw in the paper today that Aetna is joining Humana in deciding to no longer cover colonoscopy sedation. You can still have a colonoscopy, mind you; they just won't pay for you to be comfortable while it happens. Of course, the effect of this decision will be not just saving money by not covering sedation, but more importantly by not paying for colonoscopy procedures when more and more men say, "No sedation? No thanks."
I think I speak for most men when I say I want to be sedated out of my gourd when seeing Dr. Roto-Rooter. Aetna's spokesman wouldn't comment on this controversial decision, but was seen wiping fresh blood off of his chin.
This move by Big Insurance is symbolic on so many levels...

The American Jury: The Bulwark of Democracy

Jury service in the United States is unique among justice systems worldwide, so much so that American juries have been called the “bulwark of democracy.” In fact, our Founding Fathers believed trial by a jury of one’s peers to be of equal importance with representative government, and both concepts were integral in drafting the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet devised by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Well over two hundred years later, Jefferson’s anchor still holds fast, despite repeated attempts to dislodge it.

But is the jury system at risk? Regretfully, yes. More and more arbitration clauses, anti-consumer legislation, and anecdotal horror stories about “frivolous lawsuits” and “out of control jury verdicts” have put a damper on the number of civil cases that go before a jury. Coincidentally, a recent nationwide poll shows that a majority of Americans do not mind jury service and view it as a privilege and an active part of democracy. It is ironic that in a time of declining access to the courthouse, most of us are willing to serve as jurors.

Quite simply, jurors level the playing field in the search for justice. My favorite fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch, says in that classic book To Kill a Mockingbird, “The only place where a man ought to get a square deal is in the courtroom.” How true. The next time you open the mail to find a jury summons, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on the importance of jury service and perhaps groan a little softer. And I hope your experience as a juror is rewarding and meaningful.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Judge Joe Bruce Cunningham, 1928-2008

The Tarrant County legal community lost a giant of a man last week with the death of Joe Bruce Cunningham, former judge of the 342nd District Court. Integrity, wisdom, and strength of character defined Joe Bruce on and off the bench. He was a fine man and a true gentleman.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Big rig hanging from Fort Worth freeway wall

FWST reports a tractor trailer wreck this morning at Western Center Boulevard and I35, where the rig ended up hanging over a wall near a southbound overpass. Yep, a truck hanging precariously off the side of a bridge will cause on-looker delay. North-bound folks better hope the wreck is cleared before heading home today.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John Edwards Bows Out of Presidential Race

Well, I was sorry to learn today that John Edwards has stepped out of the presidential race. I think he has a lot to offer America and I hope this is not the last time we hear from him. A good man and a heck of a trial lawyer back before he got into politics. Godspeed, John and Elizabeth.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wreck shuts down northbound I-35W in Fort Worth

Motorists traveling Interstate 35W in south Fort Worth this afternoon should expect big delays after a wreck forced the closure of the highway’s northbound lanes, police said. Fort Worth police officials are reporting that the northbound lanes of the highway at Alta Mesa Boulevard are closed due to a jack-knifed tractor trailer that is leaking fuel. dispatcher said the wreck, reported about 2:30 p.m., involved three vehicles. MedStar was on the scene but no one had been transported to the hospital as of 3:30 p.m., officials said.

B. Michael Cummings, 1940 - 1996

Today is my Dad's birthday. He would have been 68 today. Great man, great lawyer, great mentor, great friend. I miss him.

Head-on crash in Roanoke kills 3 people

Tragic car wreck on Sunday in Roanoke left three dead, including a toddler. Apparently a driver tried to pass in a no-passing zone and hit another car head-on. Sad stuff.

FWST story here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Day

If you've never read (or better yet, heard) the speeches of Dr. King, you are missing out on some incredible oratory. His "I have a dream" speech is mezmerizing. Here are some of my favorite short quotes:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
"Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: - 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
"...And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man."
(Edit. That last statment was made by Dr. King on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assissinated. Amazing.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fiery truck wreck shuts down I-30

Big flaming truck wreck on I-30 in east Dallas early Sunday morning (as in 4:45 am; imagine what kind of traffic jam that would have caused on a weekday). Sounds like some idiot in an SUV went the wrong way on the freeway and hit the truck. I'm sorry for the trucker and glad he got away with just bumps and bruises, but imagine if he had been in a passenger car.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Allstate Suspended by Florida Insurance Commissioner

This week, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced that he is suspending Allstate Insurance companies (corporate spokesman at right) from writing new insurance in Florida. McCarty's decision follows Allstate's refusal to comply with subpoenas served October 16 by the Office of Insurance Regulation.
The subpoenas seek disclosure of the McKinsey Documents, in which McKinsey & Co. instructed Allstate on how to systematically underpay claims starting in the mid 1990's. The content of the documents is so explosive that Allstate has already ignored a $25,000 per day fine in Missouri for its ongoing failure to provide the McKinsey Documents in that state.
Taking peoples' premiums and paying legitimate claims is called the "business of insurance." Taking peoples' premiums and refusing to pay legitimate claims is called "theft." I only wish more states' insurance commissioners and elected officials would stop these pirates. Not gonna happen here in Texas for a long, long time...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Perhaps they were burning the Constitution...

AUSTIN -- Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina (R) and his wife were indicted Thursday in connection with an arson that destroyed their Houston-area home in June and caused extensive damage to neighboring houses. Story here.
He of the Court that has already torched the legal rights of so many injured people...
(Disclaimer: That's not his house burning in the photo there. Good shot, though.)

I'm thinking "Flying Elvises - Fort Worth Chapter"

The Library of Congress is trying to identify a number of aviation-related photos taken in Fort Worth in the early 40's (the dude on the left has quite the pompadour, considering that he's probably an Army recruit).

Check 'em out. Suddenly I remember why we call our airport "Meacham Field."

What's with all the bus wrecks?

Crews responding to multi-vehicle wreck


FORT WORTH -- Emergency crews are responding to a multi-vehicle wreck, including a bus, at 3331 N. Beach St. in northeast Fort Worth, police said. At least one person was injured in the wreck, which was reported just before 8 a.m. near the intersection with Fossil Drive. The area is at the city limits shared with Haltom City. The injured person was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, a dispatcher for MedStar Ambulance Service said. It was unclear at 8:30 a.m. which agency operated the bus or how many passengers were on board.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oklahoma Throws Out Med Mal "Tort Reform"

My hat is off to the good judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- For at least the second time in slightly more than a year, a state appeals court has told lawsuit reform proponents that they got it wrong. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has struck down a lawsuit reform statute, saying it treats medical malpractice plaintiffs differently from others who file lawsuits. The decision comes in the wake of a 2006 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that tossed another measure. The justices said it put medical negligence cases in a separate class from all other negligence claims and created a monetary barrier to the courts by requiring an expert witness to attest to a case's merits. The most recent decision comes just weeks before lawmakers return to the Capitol, where a renewed battle over lawsuit reform is expected. Last year, Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a controversial lawsuit reform measure, Senate Bill 507, saying several provisions were unconstitutional, unduly restricted access to the courts, and didn't do enough to curb frivolous lawsuits.

The Court of Civil Appeals decision issued Thursday said Lisa K. Jones could pursue her case in Oklahoma County for the alleged wrongful death of her husband, Michael W. Jones, who died after surgery at an Oklahoma City hospital. The trial court had tossed Jones' case after she failed to inform defendants of the suit within 180 days. The appeals court said a tort reform package passed in 2003 that required such notification treated medical malpractice plaintiffs differently. The opinion said other plaintiffs had the ability to show the court why notification was not made within 180 days but that medical negligence plaintiffs had no such opportunity. The law "holds medical negligence plaintiffs to different and stricter standards than any other plaintiffs," the opinion states.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Should I sue my doctor?

Here's an interesting article from CNN series "Empowered Patient."

Since "tort reform" passed in 2003, it's made it extremely difficult for many injured patients to find competent lawyers to file medical malpractice suits. I've lost count of how many injured folks we've had to turn away because the expenses of bringing a malpractice suit far outweigh the potential recovery because of damage caps. This article offers some suggestions on steps an aggrieved patient might take with the doctor and/or hospital to make things somewhat right.

I would add to those suggestions that patients can contact the Texas Medical Board and file a complaint against a physician. The Board, at least ostensibly, is supposed to investigate and reprimand negligent physicians.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Vote doesn't stall Mexican trucks

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is allowing Mexican trucks to continue to travel deep into the United States despite what critics say is a congressional mandate to ban the trucks from U.S. highways.

More here.

Driver charged in Arkansas bus crash that killed 4

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The driver of a passenger bus that crashed in east Arkansas, killing four, faces four counts of felony negligent homicide after he tested positive for amphetamines, a prosecutor said.

Witness statements portrayed the driver as acting and driving erratically on the rain-slicked portion of Interstate 40 near Forrest City. The bus crossed the interstate median, colliding with a pickup truck and a tractor trailer. Three people on the bus, as well as the driver of the pickup, died from their injuries. More than 20 others suffered injuries.

Story here.