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Androvett Blog

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 3:50:00 pm

A Dallas County jury found there was “clearly and convincing evidence” that Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. was “grossly negligent” in exposing longtime engineer Billy Dickson to asbestos. (File photo)

A Dallas County jury found there was “clearly and convincing evidence” that Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. was “grossly negligent” in exposing longtime engineer Billy Dickson to asbestos. (File photo)

 Twelve years after retiring from the only professional job he’d ever had, a routine medical exam revealed nodules on Billy Dickson’s lungs. The next exam confirmed the worst: mesothelioma — the deadly cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.

For persons older than 25, malignant mesothelioma was listed as the underlying or contributing cause on more than 45,000 death certificates in the U.S. from 1999 to 2015, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Dickson, a resident of Hurst, Texas, lost his battle Dec. 13, 2013. He was 74.

Earlier this week, a Dallas County jury found there was “clearly and convincing evidence” that Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. (TXT), Mr. Dickson’s employer for 38 years, was “grossly negligent” in exposing the longtime mechanical engineer to asbestos.

“There was not a company-based respiratory protection policy in place during the time of Billy’s exposure,” said the Dickson’s attorney Darren McDowell of Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett P.C. “Asbestos air concentrations were so high that Mr. Dickson often found himself surrounded in clouds of asbestos dust. “It was an ungodly amount of asbestos exposure.”

The family’s lawsuit, which was filed the year before his death, was bittersweet for Mr. Dickson.

“He was a mentor and inspiration to numerous engineers over the years,” his family wrote in his obituary. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Mr. Dickson and a colleague invented a landing gear load transducer for the aerospace company in 1987.

“For Bell to have a total lack of regard for asbestos danger was absolutely heartbreaking to him,” Mr. McDowell said.

The jury awarded Mr. Dickson’s widow and three children $1 million for their loss and $7.8 million as punishment to Bell.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Jason Sickles at 214-559-4630 or jason@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:18:00 am

Bold stripe patterns and other decorative elements on cheerleading uniforms can be protected by copyright law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a closely watched case that has implications for the fashion industry’s ongoing efforts to police counterfeit merchandise. The high court sided with Varsity Brands in a dispute with rival Star Athletica, finding that while the basic functional design of a uniform cannot be protected, Varsity’s copyrights for specific decorative patterns are valid. The opinion helps clarify a long-running debate over a manufacturer’s ability to protect products from knock-offs by copyrighting ornamental designs.

“The fashion and apparel industry is doing everything it can to combat counterfeiting, and this opinion provides the industry with another tool,” says intellectual property lawyer Amanda Greenspon of Dallas’ Munck Wilson Mandala. “Copyright enforcement will remain subjective and determined on a case-by-case basis, but this ruling will spur companies to obtain copyright protection of their work to discourage competitors with the threat of monetary damages.”

To speak with Amanda Greenspon, contact Robert Tharp at 214-559-4534 or robert@androvett.com.

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 2:31:00 pm

A Democrat and Republican have introduced legislation that would reform Texas grand juries and require prosecutors to share evidence that could help defendants. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, and Lakeway Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Republican, have filed similar bills in the House and Senate that they say would lead to fairer treatment of those accused of crimes.

Houston white-collar defense lawyer Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor and founder of Hilder & Associates, P.C., agrees:

“The proposed grand jury reform legislation would go a long way toward protecting the rights of citizens and promoting fairness in the criminal justice system. Currently, the old saying stands that a prosecutor ‘can get a ham sandwich indicted.’

“If this legislation becomes law, grand jurors will be able to receive a more balanced presentation in which to evaluate whether to indict someone. The bills provide for the presentation of evidence favorable to the accused, something that is not currently mandated. Additionally, the defendant will be allowed to have an attorney present during questioning, again not currently allowed. This provision alone levels the playing field and turns a possible inquisition into a fairer proceeding.

“Finally, the legislation prevents prosecutors from shopping a case to a second grand jury should the initial grand jury decline to indict. This too will promote fairness by halting the practice of seeking indictment a previous grand jury finds no probable cause to indict. In sum, this is a terrific piece of legislation that would even the playing field.”

 For more information or to set up an interview, contact Mary Flood at 713 383-0090 or mary@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:52:00 am

A Dallas attorney says Texas may have to ask for permission to change election laws after a panel of federal judges ruled the maps drawn for three congressional districts violate federal statutes.

The judges found the maps used for the congressional districts covering parts of South and West Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters by either violating the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

Constitutional law attorney David Coale of Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst says the decision means that Texas may face a rare remedy referred to as a “bail-in,” which could lead to requiring prior federal approval of any changes to district lines.

“The issue here is not so much what the court said about these districts, since none of them were actually used in an election. It's whether Texas' process for drawing districts was so flawed that the federal government has to take over.”

Texas can appeal the ruling before early May, but that will mean more uncertainty and added delay to an already complicated case, adds Mr. Coale.

For more information or to interview David Coale, contact Sophia Reza 214-559-4630 or sophia@androvett.com.

 

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

Having appeared as counsel of record in more than 800 cases in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and having served as the chairman of the Eastern District’s Local Rules Advisory Committee for nine years, few attorneys have the same insights to the East Texas “rocket docket” as Michael Smith of Siebman, Burg, Phillips & Smith, LLP. His legal analysis is the foundation of the recently updated Eastern District of Texas Blog – considered by many as the “go-to” news source for patent litigation work originating from Marshall, Texas.

In addition to the invaluable free content that readers have come to depend upon, the blog now also offers a subscription service that allows readers to dig deeper, providing more detailed analysis of the judges, the cases and the verdicts in the Eastern District.

“I wanted to provide more substantial analysis to those in the blog’s audience that might want more than just an overview of the Eastern District,” says Mr. Smith. “It involves a personal connection to those that have invested in the content and the blog.”

For years, the Eastern District of Texas Blog has provided readers a trove of free information, unavailable elsewhere, about case filings and court rulings, as well as insights into courtroom preferences of Eastern District judges and their staff members. The blog has an estimated daily readership of close to 1,000 people.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Sophia Reza at 214-559-4630 or sophia@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 11:38:00 am

Bus crash victims Kenneth and Peggy Hoffman were retired longtime educators in Lockhart, Texas. (Courtesy: Lockhart ISD)

Bus crash victims Kenneth and Peggy Hoffman were retired longtime educators in Lockhart, Texas. (Courtesy: Lockhart ISD)

A Texas woman is suing a railroad and bus company for the death of her father who was killed when a freight train slammed into the tour bus carrying him and other senior citizens.

Kenneth Hoffman, 82, wife wife, Peggy, and two other people died in the March 7 accident in Biloxi, Mississippi. The bus was headed from a Bastrop, Texas, senior center to Boomtown Casino in Biloxi. The charter bus got stuck at a train crossing known to be hazardous for long vehicles and marked with a warning sign.

The lawsuit was filed March 10 in Dallas County State District Court on behalf of Mr. Hoffman’s daughter Kimberly Chapman of Lockhart, Texas. Defendants include Echo Tours and Charters and CSX Transportation Inc. among others. Representing Ms. Chapman is Houston lawyer Larry Wilson of Lanier Law Firm, one of the country’s premiere personal injury firms. Mr. Wilson, who specializes in transportation accidents, says:

“This tragedy should have never happened. It’s horrifying that a charter bus would ignore a warning sign and get high-centered on the tracks. CSX could have implemented policies relating to speed and procedures that greatly reduced the risk of a catastrophe like this.”

The case is Kimberly Kay Chapman v. Echo Tours and Charters, LT DBA Echo Transportation; TBL Group Inc.; Diamond Tours Inc. and CSX Transportation, Inc., Case DC-17-02924, filed in Dallas County District Court. 

For more information about the case, contact Jason Sickles at 214-559-4630 or jason@androvett.com

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 10:22:00 am

A Travis County jury has returned a verdict against Chicago Title of Texas, LLC and other real estate-related businesses, finding they defrauded a young Danish woman of all proceeds from the sale of her $1.35 million condominium at the exclusive Residences at W Austin.

The scheme involved a falsified power of attorney to execute contracts and closing documents in the sale of the condo, and a forgery in connection with a subsequent sale of a promissory note.

Mari-Louise Larsen, a Danish citizen, filed the breach of fiduciary duty and fraud claim in 2013 against her estranged husband, Andre Jones, an Austin-area resident, as well as Chicago Title and the other firms. Ms. Larsen, now 30, first met Mr. Jones in Austin’s Sixth Street entertainment district while visiting the area in 2007. After a long-distance courtship, the couple married in Denmark in 2009.

While in Denmark and waiting to move to Austin, Ms. Larsen testified she agreed to buy the luxury high-rise condo in Austin with funds from a family inheritance. However, Mr. Jones convinced her that Texas law required the names of both spouses to be on the title, despite the fact it was her separate property. Ms. Larsen and Mr. Jones later decided to divorce and sell the property. Mr. Jones then convinced Chicago Title’s contracted fee attorney, Wally Tingley, to use falsely notarized documents to close the sale without his wife’s knowledge. Mr. Jones pocketed all of the profits as the marriage deteriorated.

“This is a case of a con artist taking advantage of a wealthy young woman and actively working with others to violate the law and professional standards in the real estate industry,” said Ms. Larsen’s lawyer, Brian N. Hail of Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank LLP in Dallas. “As acknowledged by Chicago Title and its fee attorney, this was one of the worst real estate transactions anyone has ever seen.” 

Mr. Hail believes the jury’s finding that Chicago Title is responsible for its fee attorney’s actions may have significant implications on future litigation involving the real estate industry. 

“The jury finding that Chicago Title is vicariously liable for its fee attorney, due to the control it exerted throughout the entire transaction, may call into question the company’s entire business model of attempting to delegate closing and escrow responsibilities in the Texas market, and perhaps nationwide.”

In addition to Chicago Title and Mr. Jones, the Austin firm of Wally Tingley & Associates, P.C., and Austin-based JTREO, Inc. were found liable in the scheme.

Mr. Hail plans to file a proposed final judgment order of more than $3.7 million in Travis County’s 419th District Court. The order will be based on a request for all proceeds from the condo sale, in addition to pre-judgment interest and costs.  Punitive damages were assessed against Mr. Jones in the amount of $2 million.

The case is Larsen v. Jones, et al., No. D-1-GN-13-004321.  Ms. Larsen is represented by Brian N. Hail, Brian E. Mason, and Gaby Gutierrez Rawlings.

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

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:25:00 am

A fired Georgia-Pacific system administrator who remotely accessed the company computer system to upload malware, causing $1.1 million in damages, has been sentenced to 34 months in prison.

The case was prosecuted in Louisiana by the U.S. Attorney’s Office under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which allows for both civil and criminal charges for those accused of hacking. The law applies to former employees who log into employer's system after they had been terminated, says business and employment litigator Elisaveta “Leiza” Dolghih of the Dallas office of Godwin Bowman & Martinez.

“A disgruntled former employee who finds his way into an employer's computer system either to steal confidential information or to damage the system is subject to civil and criminal penalties,” she says. 

“Proving intent behind the unauthorized access, as well as the scope of the authorized access, is often difficult, as the employee will often deny and present seemingly plausible explanations. The key to success in CFAA cases is to have a qualified forensic team ready to go in and catch the ex-employee red-handed when suspicious activity is detected.”

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Rhonda Reddick at 800-559-4534 or rhonda@androvett.com.

 

by Androvett Legal Media & Marketing at 9:17:00 am

The Texas Supreme Court just made it easier for citizens to fend off meritless lawsuits attacking them for what they said or wrote.

The ruling on Feb. 24 opened the door for fast dismissals of defamation and disparagement lawsuits far beyond the context of political speech covered under Texas Citizens Participation Act, says Houston lawyer Adam Milasincic of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. or AZA. That law was designed to protect Texans from lawsuits filed primarily to keep them from speaking out on matters of “public concern.”

The Supreme Court case involved notes by an ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. supervisor who detailed how an employee missed a critical safety check of a fuel storage tank. The employee was fired. He sued for defamation, citing the notes made about his work. In ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. v. Coleman, the Supreme Court ruled for ExxonMobil which had argued the matter involved a “public concern” because of health, safety and environmental risks, Mr. Milasincic said.

“In the wake of the ExxonMobil decision, almost every defamation claim in Texas is subject to this procedure that can stop a case in its tracks very early. The real strength of the law comes from provisions allowing defendants to win attorneys’ fees and damages designed to deter future baseless lawsuits.

“Texas has one of the broadest statutes against so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). It was originally designed mainly to protect political speech and activists on either side of an issue. Now it will protect folks who aren’t necessarily all that political but who speak about any old thing that someone else might arguably care about.”

Mr. Milasincic has won two highly publicized anti-SLAPP rulings, one just last week against Landry’s Inc. which sued an animal welfare group over its statements about the treatment of four white tigers caged at the Landry’s-owned aquarium in Houston. That lawsuit was tossed out by a Harris County judge, and Landry’s was ordered to pay $624,000 for filing the frivolous lawsuit.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact Mary Flood at 800-559-4534 or mary@androvett.com.