Editor’s Choice: Top Five Legal News Stories of the Day

Posted January 11, 2012 in Jury Awards by Martha Burns

Here are several items we thought you’d find interesting.


  • $322 million asbestos award tossed out by Mississippi court.  The largest judgment ever awarded to a single plaintiff for asbestos injuries was set aside because of an apparent conflict of interest by the trial judge.

    Last May a jury awarded $322 million to a Mississippi man, Thomas Brown, who developed asbestosis after working on drilling rigs in the 1980s. Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos. It produces lung scarring and shortness of breath that gets worse over time.  Brown’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he required oxygen support 24 hours a day.

    Attorney Allen Hossley successfully argued that Brown developed the disease from using an asbestos-based drilling mud made by Union Carbide and sold by Chevron Phillips Chemical. The jury found the companies were liable to Brown for designing a defective product and failing to give adequate warnings about its use. Brown was awarded $22 million for his medical expenses and pain and suffering and $300 million in punitive damages against the companies. 

    Attorney Allen Hossley

    However, in October the Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed the trial judge, Eddie Bowen, from the case due to a possible conflict of interest.  It was revealed that Judge Bowen’s father was involved in asbestos lawsuits of his own, which might include a case against Union Carbide.  A replacement trial judge, William Coleman Jr., then vacated the $322 million judgment because of the appearance of possible bias by Bowen.  A new trial in the case is set for April.  

     Find out more about asbestos lawsuits. Contact an asbestos litigation attorney in your area.

  • Texas teen gets court order to prevent an abortion. A Texas court granted a 14-year-old girl a temporary restraining order to prevent her family from forcing her to get an abortion.

    The girl is represented by attorneys with the Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL).  Stephen Casey, the group’s chief counsel, said the girl accused her cousin of assaulting her and threatening to beat her if she refused to go through with an abortion.  The court order blocks family members from taking the girl to an abortion clinic and directly or indirectly forcing her to have an abortion against her will.

    In a press release, TCDL’s President and CEO Greg Terra argued that Roe v. Wade runs both ways. “If it protects the constitutional rights of a girl or woman to have an abortion, oftentimes without even parental notification or consent, it likewise protects the right of that same girl or woman to not have an abortion against her will.”

    The judge appointed an attorney to help the teen make decisions in her best interest. The judge will hold another hearing on January 19 to decide whether to issue an injunction to prevent the teen’s family from pressuring her to get an abortion during the rest of her pregnancy. 

    Learn more about state laws on abortion rights.

  • Hospitals fail to report most medical errors. A recent government study shows that hospitals report only 14 percent of their medical mistakes.

    Medicare requires hospitals to track incidents in which their medical services harm patients or prolong their hospital stay. Reportable events include everything from patient falls and adverse drug reactions to surgical tears and bacterial infections. Administrators rely on these reports to monitor hospital safety and improve the quality of their patient care. 

    Unfortunately, most harmful events go unreported. A study involving 186 hospitals by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services showed that only one in seven medical errors were reported to hospital managers. Researchers identified 293 cases in which patients were harmed and found only 40 of those were reported.  Further, only two of the 18 most serious incidents, involving permanent injury or death, were reported. Only five of the reported events led to an improvement in hospital preventative safety measures.

    The study asks federal oversight agencies to provide hospitals and other health care providers with a more clearly defined list of reportable incidents as well as guidance on how to make better use of the tracking system.

     Read more about hospital care and medical malpractice.

  • Parents sue for son’s death in “Big Cypress” accident. Teenager Daniel Huerta and driver Johnson Atilard were killed when Atilard drove a juvenile justice program vehicle off a Florida road into a canal. At the time, Atilard was transporting a group of teens back to the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, a behavioral camp for at-risk youth.

    Now Huerta’s parents, José and Anita Huerta, are suing Atilard’s estate and the Big Cypress Institute for their son’s death. They claim Atilard had a long record of driving violations, which included tickets for speeding, running a red light, driving on the wrong side of the road, driving an unsafe vehicle and leaving the scene of a crash. His license had been suspended six times before the accident.

    The lawsuit alleges the Institute shares responsibility for the accident for hiring Atilard and allowing him to drive the program vehicle despite his bad driving record. According to Stephen Schwed, the Huertas’ attorney, the “liability issues rise to the level of recklessness and carelessness that result in punitive damages.” Punitive damages are large sums that are awarded to punish wrongdoing and deter others from similar bad conduct.

     Learn more about auto accidents and wrongful death. Contact a personal injury attorney.

  • Trucker crushed by steel coils obtains million dollar settlement. Patrick McGhee, an Alabama truck driver, was severely injured in May 2009 while loading massive steel coils, weighing about 10 tons, onto a flatbed trailer for the steel company, Olympic Steel, Inc.

    Instead of laying the coils flat as requested by McGhee, they were loaded vertically upright as preferred by the customer. Before McGhee could chain them in place, they tipped over and fell onto him. Both his legs were crushed, and his right leg had to be amputated.

    McGhee filed a lawsuit against Olympic Steel and several of its employees, claiming their negligence caused his injuries. He argued they should have laid the coils down flat on the trailer bed, which would have eliminated the risk of them tipping over.  He also alleged that the crane used to load the coils had worn brakes and an inept operator, which contributed to the accident. The defendants agreed to settle the case for $6 million.

    Read more about trucking accidents. Find a nearby trucking accident attorney.

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