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Androvett Blog

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:40:00 am

Atmos Energy failed to properly locate and install a device that would have prevented a natural gas explosion last year in Waxahachie, Texas, according to a lawsuit filed in Ellis County by more than 20 homeowners. That explosion, which destroyed several homes and caused multiple other severe injuries and damage, resulted from an Atmos gas line being cut by contractors installing underground fiber optic cable. The lawsuit claims that an excess flow valve should have immediately shut off the leaking gas when the break occurred, but Atmos did not place the valve close enough to the gas main, allowing the deadly gas to escape. The company then didn’t respond when neighbors reported a gas disruption to their homes more than four days prior to the explosion.  

“This disaster was totally preventable. It’s clear from the information we’ve uncovered that Atmos failed to comply with federal law governing the location of excess flow valves, and provided no degree of oversight in an active construction area,” says Tom Carse of Dallas’ Carse Law Firm. “Atmos personnel violated the company’s policies and procedures at multiple steps leading to this tragedy.”

The explosion occurred on the morning of September 21, 2015, when Adelmira Chavez turned on her electric cooktop to prepare breakfast, unaware of the gas line break and the concentrated fumes in her home that had been deodorized by the surrounding soil. Ms. Chavez was severely injured in the resulting blast, suffering second- and third-degree burns on her face, arms, stomach, back and legs, as well as a broken arm. Her brother, Jamie Rodriguez, also suffered severe burns to his face and arms. In addition to Ms. Chavez’s home, three other residences in the path of the explosion are considered total losses, while seven others were significantly damaged.

“Atmos has never warned its millions of customers that deodorization can and will occur when escaped natural gas passes through soil, although there are low-cost and readily available monitors for home use that can detect leaking natural gas in any form,” says Mr. Carse. “It’s a miracle that Ms. Chavez and her brother survived this explosion.”

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:08:00 am

The daughter of Antoinette Brown, the woman who was fatally mauled by dogs in a South Dallas neighborhood in early May, has sued a Dallas City Council member and a Georgia-based attorney based on claims that they improperly solicited her on the day after her mother was buried in hopes that she would file a wrongful death claim against the city.

In the lawsuit, Matisha Ward alleges that Dallas City Councilwoman Tiffinni Young repeatedly contacted her with text messages and told her during a private meeting that she had legal claims against the City. The day after Ms. Brown’s funeral, Ms. Young contacted Ms. Ward by text and arranged a phone call involving Atlanta personal injury attorney Christopher Chestnut. Ms. Ward recorded that conversation, and submitted a transcript as part of her lawsuit.

On the call, Ms. Young asks Ms. Ward if she had spoken to an attorney. When Ms. Ward says she had not, Ms. Young introduces Mr. Chestnut.

“I have one sitting right here,” Ms. Young says on the recording. “Do you want to talk with him?”

At the conclusion of the five-minute call, Mr. Chestnut indicates he will forward his contact information and that the councilwoman “will call you back.” Ms. Ward was never contacted again by Ms. Young or Mr. Chestnut, and she never initiated any contact with either.

“It is shocking and disheartening to have this level of collusion between an elected official and an attorney not even licensed to practice law in Texas,” says attorney Tom Carse of the Carse Law Firm, who has filed a barratry action on behalf of Ms. Ward. “My client was frustrated and grieving, but understood that something was wrong about that conversation.”

Under Texas law anyone can face a barratry claim for the improper solicitation of legal representation, even those who are not licensed attorneys. Other attorneys representing Ms. Ward later issued a demand letter to the City of Dallas seeking $5 million based on the negligence that led to her mother’s death.

To speak with Mr. Carse or Ms. Ward, or for more information, please contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:26:00 am

The preliminary injunction issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth that temporarily blocks the Obama Administration's instructions for public schools to accommodate transgender students has intensified the national debate over students’ use of bathrooms and other facilities.

“The nationwide aspects of the injunction will be interesting to watch because there are limited circumstances where that is appropriate, and this injunction only applies to those states that recognize the directive from the DOJ under their own state laws,” says Dallas attorney Shonn Brown of Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst. “The big question is what does ‘sex’ mean. The differentiation between ‘biological’ and ‘identity’ will likely be interpreted differently by other courts, which will ultimately require an opinion of the Supreme Court to resolve. Also, this is a temporary order, which places a lower burden on the plaintiffs to show ‘likelihood’ of prevailing, whereas at the permanent injunction phase there is the higher standard of a trial on the merits.”

Federal officials interpreted the word "sex" in anti-discrimination statutes to also cover gender identity. They also argued that the lawsuit was filed too soon because the transgender policy isn't binding and no enforcement action has been taken. Attorneys representing Texas, however, said the guidelines "obliterate" past rules, putting Texas and other states at risk of losing millions of dollars in education funding if the new guidelines were not followed.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:25:00 am

Attorneys for Texas State Sen. Royce West are asking a Dallas judge to sanction lawyers for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant for making false and baseless claims in a lawsuit accusing Mr. West of mismanaging the player’s business affairs.

“Dez has been known to trash talk on the field, but you can’t trash talk your way through the courts,” said Mike Gruber of Dallas-based Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, who represents Mr. West, who is also a lawyer. “He and his attorneys at Reed Smith should know that you cannot make accusations that aren’t supported by any facts and expect there won’t be consequences. Our motion is the first of those consequences.”

Earlier this year, Mr. West sued Mr. Bryant for $60,000 in damages for trashing a rental house that Mr. West had provided to him. In response, Mr. Bryant’s lawyers accused Mr. West of absconding with funds, which the filing claims is ludicrous given that those funds were forwarded to creditors to settle lawsuits against Mr. Bryant.

Mr. West’s sanctions motion filed August 17 in Dallas County District Court states that Mr. Bryant and his new attorneys acted in bad faith in their claims against Mr. West, managing partner of Dallas law firm West & Associates, L.L.P.

According to the motion, Mr. West’s attorneys immediately pointed out the “legal and factual deficiencies” in Mr. Bryant’s claim and demanded that they withdraw the false and baseless pleading. Yet Mr. Bryant and his lawyers persist, despite their inability to provide a single piece of evidence.

Mr. West is seeking dismissal of Mr. Bryant’s counterclaim, attorneys’ fees and other expenses, and a $500,000 sanction payment to be made to the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. West is represented by Dallas-based Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank; Mr. Bryant is represented by attorneys with Reed Smith.

The case is Royce B. West v. Desmond D. Bryant, No. DC-16-07364, in the 101st State District Court in Dallas County.

For more information, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:00:00 pm

Tougher greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards are coming for new large and heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses and tractor-trailers. The package of regulations announced this week represent the latest effort by the Obama administration to produce cleaner and more efficient vehicles after 2018. In the final rule, the Environmental Protection Agency tightened carbon dioxide emission standards while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration imposed fuel consumption measures.

“The goal of reduced carbon emissions is laudable, but fuel efficiency typically means less power from engines that are more expensive to purchase and operate,” says H. Peyton Inge IV of Dallas’ Chamblee Ryan Kershaw & Anderson, who represents trucking companies on operational and litigation matters. “The long-term environmental effects of the regulations are likely to be positive, but they are also likely to hit truckers in the pocketbook when they purchase a new rig, with costs ultimately passed along to the consumer.” 

The standards also require that truck manufacturers follow an expanded and improved compliance simulation model to test drivetrain and powertrain performance during the vehicle certification process and use. In addition, since refrigerants used in these vehicles’ air conditioning systems are also extremely potent greenhouse gases, the final rule includes standards to control leakage of hydrofluorocarbons. The rule also includes more stringent nitrous oxide standards for heavy-duty engines.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:43:00 am

This week health officials reported the first spread of the Zika virus from state to state when a Texas man got the disease after visiting a section of Miami where mosquitoes have been spreading Zika.

The Zika virus can cause brain damage and other birth defects in infants if the mother is infected during pregnancy. While its dangers first appeared in Brazil, its spread to the U.S. has magnified questions about risk, including to workers whose employers want them to travel.

For example, what steps are employers legally required to take if they need an employee to travel to a hot zone? What is the liability if an employee contracts the disease, which also can be sexually transmitted and spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and carries it to someone else?

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees may refuse to work in certain circumstances when working conditions are dangerous,” says Justin Markel, a labor and employment lawyer in the Houston office of Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC. “Among other things, the employee must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists, and there must be a real danger of death or serious injury. Because of the way Zika is transmitted and the availability of preventive measures, it is unlikely that an employee could refuse to travel on this ground – unless the employee is pregnant.

“However, employers should be cautious when an employee refuses such a work assignment,” Mr. Markel says. “An employee could argue that she is protected by OSHA and is shielded from adverse employment actions.”

Mr. Markel says that employer liability depends in part on participation in the worker’s compensation system. In Texas, employers have the option of whether to participate, he notes. “If the employee is covered by workers’ comp insurance, and if it could be proven that the employee contracted Zika while working, then the employee may have a workers’ comp claim. That would also mean that workers’ comp benefits are the employee’s exclusive remedy.

“If the employer does not subscribe to workers’ comp, then the employer may be liable for failing to provide a safe work environment if the employer does not take reasonable precautions to protect against Zika exposure.”

Mr. Markel says employers with workers in affected areas should focus on educating their workforce about precautionary measures. OSHA has published helpful guidance here. Employers should try to limit standing water near worksites, and employees working outside should use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeves and pants.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:02:00 am

Four workers injured in a flash fire last week at the Sunoco Logistics terminal in Nederland, Texas, remain hospitalized with severe burns and related injuries. Two of the workers have retained Matthew Matheny and Edward Fisher of the Provost Umphrey law firm to represent their interests, and the attorneys have already secured a preservation agreement covering the accident site and will be leading an investigation on behalf of their clients.

“It’s important to preserve the location and allow investigators and experts to better determine the causes of the accident and what might have prevented this tragedy,” says Mr. Matheny. “We’ll be talking to witnesses and examining any records of safety and maintenance procedures at the facility. Obviously this horrible accident should not have happened, and we’re prepared to find out why.”

According to initial reports, at the time of the accident the workers were doing some welding at the Sunoco facility, which handles crude oil, condensate, naphtha, base and extract oils.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or barry@androvett.com

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:30:00 am

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. …”

For 50 years now, police officers across the United States have been reciting the so-called Miranda warning to criminal suspects before they are detained.

Now, the largest legal association in the United States – the American Bar Association – is taking steps to ensure that the language in Miranda warnings is accurately translated for Spanish-speaking suspects who may not understand English. When the ABA meets this week in San Francisco for its annual convention, members will consider a proposal to adopt a uniform Spanish-language translation of the now-immortalized words from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling.

Miranda has stood the test of time and protects both defendants from self-incrimination and police officers from allegations of investigative misconduct,” says Dallas lawyer John Teakell, who represents white-collar and other criminal defendants. “The ABA’s efforts to create a standard translation will go a long way toward extending these constitutional rights to everyone.”

Police officers recite Miranda warnings to arrestees an estimated 900,000 times a year. In numerous cases, judges have thrown out confessions and statements of non-English speakers after determining that arresting officers did not accurately translate the language. An ABA committee looking into the issue found that the lack of a consistent Spanish translation results in “woeful” outcomes.

In one 2013 ruling, an Oregon appellate judge dismissed a marijuana conviction after finding that an arresting officer did not properly convey the Miranda warning when he used a Spanish word for “free” that was incorrect in the context. The officer used the word “libre” which relates to freedom or liberty and should have used the world “gratis” which means free in terms of no cost. In other cases, arresting officers have used Spanglish or even made up words such as “silento” in an effort to give the Miranda warning.