Posts Tagged ‘Beaumont’

September 15 roundup

  • Saying fashion model broke his very fancy umbrella, N.Y. restaurant owner Nello Balan sues her for $1 million, but instead gets fined $500 for wasting court’s time [AP/, NY Times]
  • Spokesman for Chesapeake, Va. schools says its OK for high school marching band to perform at Disney World, so long as they don’t ride any rides [Virginian-Pilot]
  • More on Chicago parking tickets: revenue-hungry Mayor Daley rebuffed in plan to boot cars after only two tickets [Sun-Times, Tribune]
  • Too old, in their 50s, to be raising kids? [Houston Chronicle via ABA Journal].
  • Britain’s stringent libel laws and welcome mat for “libel tourism” draw criticism from the U.N. (of all places) [Guardian]
  • Beaumont, Tex.: “Parents sue other driver, bar for daughter’s DUI death” [SE Texas Record, more, more]
  • “Three pony rule”: $600,000 a year is needlessly high for child support, even if mom has costly tastes [N.J.L.J., Unfiltered Minds]
  • Advocacy groups push to require health insurers and taxpayers to pay for kids’ weight-loss camps [NY Times]
  • Lester Brickman: those fraud-rife mass screening operations may account for 90 percent of mass tort claims [PoL]

February 11 roundup

“Halliburton”, gang rape, and fear of arbitration: the Jamie Leigh Jones case

(Update, December 16: And welcome, Consumerist readers. For more on the anti-consumer campaign against arbitration, see the Overlawyered arbitration section. Consumerist’s headline “Mandatory Binding Arbitration Means Alleged Halliburton Rapists Could Go Free” is entirely false. Aside from the fact that it does not appear the alleged rapists worked for Halliburton, the issue of whether Jones is contractually obligated to arbitrate her employment dispute with her employer is entirely unrelated to whether the government underinvestigated a criminal complaint against rapists. They are two entirely separate issues. It’s not the first time that Consumerist has reprinted misleading arguments against arbitration—a shame, because mandatory binding arbitration helps consumers, and Consumerist should care more about consumers than the trial lawyers who are lobbying for an anti-consumer law.)

In February 2006, Jamie Leigh Jones filed an arbitration complaint, complaining that, for her administrative assistant job with KBR in the Iraq Green Zone, she was placed in an all-male dorm for living arrangements, and a co-worker sexually assaulted her. (KBR says the co-worker claimed the sex was consensual, though Jones claims physical injuries, such as burst breast implants and torn pectoral muscles, that are plainly not consistent with consensual sex. The EEOC’s Letter of Determination credited the allegation of sexual assault.)

Fifteen months later, after extensive discovery in the arbitration, Jones, who lives in Houston, and whose lawyer is based in Houston, and who worked for KBR in Houston, sued KBR and a bunch of other entities (including Halliburton, for whom she never worked, and the United States), in federal court in Beaumont, Texas. The claims were suddenly of much more outrageous conduct: the original allegation of a single he-said/she-said sexual assault was now an allegation of gang rape by several unknown John Doe rapists who worked as firemen (though she did make a claim of multiple rape to the EEOC, though it is unclear when that claim was made); she claims that after she reported the rape, “Halliburton locked her in a container” (the EEOC found that KBR provided immediate medical treatment and safety and shipped her home immediately) and she threw in an allegation that a “sexual favor” she provided a supervisor in Houston was the result of improper “influence.” (But she no longer makes the implausible claim that she was living in an all-male dorm in Iraq.)

The US got the claim dismissed quickly (Jones hasn’t yet followed the appropriate administrative claims procedure); the case was transferred back to Houston where it belonged (the trial lawyer’s ludicrous brief in opposition didn’t help). But the fact that the defendants are pointing out that the lawsuit over a pending arbitration violates 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and are asking for the court to mandate only one single proceeding in arbitration rather than a multiplicity of parallel proceedings, is now being treated as a cause célèbre by the left-wing blogosphere in its campaign against the contractual freedom to arbitrate. (Note that two elements explicitly designed to arouse the ire and inflame the passions of the left—Halliburton and gang-rape—only came about after Jones switched attorneys.)

The Public Citizen blog complains that “the allegations of corporate and governmental misconduct will never see the light of day” in arbitration. Which is absurd:

1) For crying out loud, her case is on 20/20, which, as is its ken, happily unquestioningly gives the plaintiffs’ opening statement in handy manipulative video newsertainment form without mentioning any of the counterevidence. That sort of widespread publicity is hardly the lack of “light of day.” (Update, Dec. 15: the KBR arbitration procedure provides a transcript without confidentiality restrictions, permitting exactly the same publicity as an open court proceeding.)
2) If the government fails to offer Jones an adequate settlement for their alleged bungling of the criminal investigation, she has recourse under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the federal government—though she likely will not have any more recourse against them than any other criminal victim does when the government fails to protect them against crime or prosecute the criminal.
3) If the court system is about having recourse for injuries, she has that recourse. The judicial system is not for public storytelling; if you want to send a message, use Western Union (or ABC News, as the case may be).

20/20 repeats the meaningless claim that “In recent testimony before Congress, employment lawyer Cathy Ventrell-Monsees said that Halliburton won more than 80 percent of arbitration proceedings brought against it”—meaningless because (1) it doesn’t include the cases that settle before arbitration with a favorable result to the employee and (2) there’s no comparison with how well such employees would do in the far more expensive forum of litigation (where the vast majority of employees lose at trial as well). (Update, Dec. 16: KBR (which is not Halliburton) says that 96% of employee claims settle before they get to an arbitrator.)

20/20 also adds the claim (absent in the arbitration and in the otherwise-lurid civil complaint) that Jones was threatened that she would be fired if she sought medical treatment.

Read On…

“US says it’s blowing whistle on lawyer’s fee”

For reporting on unlawful dumping of sludge into US waters, twelve ship workers are getting whistleblower payments of $437,500 apiece, in what one of their lawyers describes as an “amazing and unexpected windfall that the government essentially arranged for them”. Lawyers for all but two of the workers are charging them fees of $10,000 or less apiece, and one charged no fee at all. However, attorney Zachary Hawthorn of Beaumont, Texas, who represents two clients, says he’s entitled to a 33 percent contingency from their share, amounting to nearly $300,000. Federal prosecutors in Boston “suggest Hawthorn took advantage of unsophisticated ship hands who are not native English speakers and who had little familiarity with the American legal system. They also contend his work was ‘materially indistinguishable’ from that of the other lawyers, who were paid 90 percent less than his requested fee.” On the other hand, the clients have signed statements asking that the fees be approved. Prevailing law restricts lawyers from charging excessive fees and does not make client consent a defense if unreasonable fees are charged, but in practice “judges are typically reluctant to interfere with lawyer-client fee arrangements, especially when a client has not complained”. (Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe, Nov. 10).

Free market magic

You can make these things up — economists do it all the time — but it’s a lot more compelling when they really happen (link added):

An influx of doctors lured to Texas by new limits on malpractice lawsuits has overwhelmed the state board that screens candidates for medical licenses, creating a backlog that forces many applicants to wait months before they can start seeing patients.

Officials said many of the relocating physicians are filling shortages in areas such as Beaumont, where trauma patients previously had to be flown other cities because there weren’t enough surgeons to treat them.

(Italicized part added:)This sounds like great news — more doctors coming back into the system. But who knows? Chances are the plaintiffs’ bar can find a way to spin this as an ominous development — the return of the malpracticers. Now it’s entirely possible that this represents an influx of marginally competent doctors who can’t afford to practice elsewhere because their malpractice premiums are justifiably sky-high. As it is, the article in the Houston Chronicle quoted above says that a simple background check takes 41 days — hence the huge bottleneck — and that more complex histories such as those of veteran or out-of-state doctors will take correspondingly more time. So it doesn’t seem as if the Texas regulatory authorities are lowering the bar too too low.

Indeed, any supply-and-demand interplay where the market is allowed to be distorted by an industry like the insurance business, whose operations seem to defy normal ways of doing business and which is itself hopelessly regulated, is going to be hard to predict.

But in fact, one thing that happened shortly after Texas’s Proposition 12 was passed is that malpractice insurance rates started dropping almost immediately. That’s consistent with reduced financial exposure, but certainly not with an influx of incompetent physicians coming to the “market” (i.e., seeking medical malpractice insurance). The pushmepullyou of the interplay between these things is the sort of thing that makes insurance underwriters such exciting company at a weenie roast, so I won’t even try to have at it.

Again, in any event, this is a stunning example of the invisible hand at work. But surely there is a down side, and not only to med-mal plaintiffs’ lawyers? Of course: Med-mal plaintiffs themselves, who no longer can play in the Texas state court injury lottery. That doesn’t mean other personal injury plaintiffs can’t, unfortunately. But one step at a time.

God forbid anyone reading this or their loved one should be in a position to be seeking damages, economic or otherwise, for medical malpractice. But short of the argument that, well, higher non-economic damages should be available just because they should — or proof, in ten years, that there’s more malpractice in Texas than there was before because of the influx of quack doctors attracted to the free bread crumbs of “easy” med-mal limits — this quacks like a policy that works.

And more May 17 updates

  • Google beats Perfect 10 in Ninth Circuit appeal over copyright suit over thumbnail images. (Earlier: Feb. 06, Jul. 05, Nov. 04.) [LA Times; WaPo; Bashman; Perfect 10 v. Amazon (9th Cir. 2007)]
  • Judge thinks better over Brent Coon’s attempt to intimidate local press through subpoenas. Earlier: Apr. 24. [WSJ Law Blog]
  • US Supreme Court throws out punitive damages ruling in Buell-Wilson case, lets rest of decision stand. Earlier: Jan. 4 and links therein. Beck and Herrmann also discussed the case in March in the context of a larger discussion of the appropriateness of issuing punitive damages against a company that relied on government safety standards in good faith. [LA Times; AP].
  • Big LA Times piece on the still-pending Extreme Makeover suit, where a family seeks to hold ABC responsible for an intra-household dispute over the spoils of a reality show. Earlier: Mar. 4, Aug. 12, 2005. [LA Times]
  • KFC may have won on trans-fats litigation, as David reported May 3, but they capitulate to Jerry Brown’s pursuit of Lockyer’s equally bogus acrylamide suit over the naturally-occurring chemical in potatoes (Oct. 05, Aug. 05, Aug. 05, May 05, Apr. 04, etc.). KFC will pay a nuisance settlement of $341,000 and will add a meaningless warning in California stores. (Tim Reiterman, “KFC to tell customers of chemical in potatoes”, LA Times Apr. 25).
  • McDonald’s sued over hot coffee. Again. One of the allegations is that McDonald’s failed to secure the lid, which is a legitimate negligence suit, but there’s also a bogus “failure to warn me that coffee is hot” count. [Southeast Texas Record; and a Southeast Texas Record op-ed that plainly read Overlawyered on the subject]

April 24 roundup

John O’Quinn update

Judge Denise Page Hood has issued an order to show cause why the O’Quinn law firm (many entries; also POL Jul. 15, 2005, POL Jul. 10, and POL Aug. 3) should not be held in contempt for improperly withholding breast implant settlement money from their clients. There is no press coverage of this brewing scandal.

There has, however, been plenty of press coverage of one of O’Quinn’s other clients, Anna Nicole Smith’s mother. In that circus, O’Quinn finds himself a defendant in a civil defamation suit brought by Smith’s, er, widower, attorney Howard K. Stern, for going on national television and accusing Stern of murdering Smith. [AP/ABC News] The fact of having this client gave cause to dig up some of the more obvious scandals in O’Quinn’s past, though they still missed the more recent ones covered by Point of Law.

Elsewhere in O’Quinn news: the firm settled its $1 billion fen-phen verdict (Apr. 28, 2004) for an unknown amount on the eve of appeal as part of a global settlement of O’Quinn’s caseload of fen-phen cases. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “$1 Billion Fen-Phen Case Settles Before Appellate Oral Arguments”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 16). The verdict was tainted because the plaintiffs blamed fen-phen for Cynthia Cappel-Coffey’s PPH, but Ms. Cappel-Coffey had been taking four other diet drugs since fen-phen had been pulled from the market that had the known risk of causing PPH. Yet that evidence was excluded from the jury, though the Texas Lawyer coverage barely touches upon this outrage. The state court in judicial hellhole Beaumont also improperly applied Texas caps on punitive damages.

Complete text of the breast implant order after the jump, if you don’t want to read the order in PDF format.

Read On…

Party like you’re a tobacco lawyer

To celebrate Beaumont tobacco/asbestos lawyer Walter Umphrey’s seventieth birthday, fellow Texas Tobacco Five member John Eddie Williams took over a private aircraft hangar — Umphrey’s own, in fact — “moved out the two private jets and the helicopter, added on a two-story party tent and threw a no-holds-barred tribute to Umphrey.” Music was provided by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, performing on two different stages, and there was some pretty decent food too. Among the 400 attendees: gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn. (Shelby Hodge, “Wild soiree in hangar was Western to the hilt”, Houston Chronicle, May 14). Of course it was a mere kaffeeklatsch compared with a Willie Gary or Mark Lanier party.

Now back to your previously scheduled news story about excessive CEO compensation.

Broadcast appearances

I’m scheduled to join a reporter and anchor in the studios of New York’s WCBS-Channel 2 this afternoon to discuss the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; look for me sometime in the 5-to-6 p.m. slot.

More (7:30 p.m. Eastern): I’ll be on WCBS-TV again tomorrow between 9 and 10 a.m. for a second appearance. And (updated) on Monday morning I did two Texas radio phone interviews, including KTSA (San Antonio) with Steve Gehrlein, on the battle over Justice O’Connor’s seat, and KOLE (Beaumont), on the litigation explosion. P.S. on WCBS I mentioned Judge Edith Jones. It’s fun to be a mentioner!