An astronaut was injured at a Home Depot in Clear Lake, Texas by a drill press which had been knocked off an overhead shelf by a Home Depot employee. Jean-Loup Chretien was the first foreign citizen to ever be named a U.S. astronaut. A five-star general in the French Air Force, a decorated fighter pilot, a veteran of space flights aboard MIR and Spacelab, and a mentor to our entire astronaut corps, General Chretien was a vital part of the U.S. space program. He was slated to return to space, and become the only person to work aboard three separate space stations. When he was injured at Home Depot, the deputy assistant of NASA recommended only one attorney to handle the case. General Chretien’s wife called Chris Parks. We went to work deposing witnesses in Washington, Atlanta and Houston; hiring a Harvard professor as a store safety expert; and, constructing a computer simulation of this devastating accident which demonstrated the crushing force of a sixty-eight pound drill press being pushed off a fifteen-foot-high shelf by a forklift driver who was working on the adjoining aisle. Within a year, this case settled for a confidential amount. Today, in part because of this case, all heavy objects on the top shelves of Home Depot are secured by netting or other safety devices.
When a brain surgeon was injured by a skeet-throwing machine on display at the National Finals Tournament in Phoenix, Arizona, he hired a judge and former Texas state legislator to represent him who, in turn, hired our firm to litigate his case. Today, this doctor has an extremely successful practice and a worldwide reputation, but at the time of this accident, his ability to continue to use his dominant right hand was in doubt. As a participant in this skeet tournament, he was walking past a display when he heard a noise and felt a warm liquid in his shoe. He looked down and saw a stream of blood rushing from his hand, filling his loafer. Our investigation revealed that the French manufacturer of this machine had recently warned distributors of manufacturing defects that caused these machines to fire randomly without being triggered. Furthermore, the manager of the display (an employee of the U.S. distributor of the machine) had been told not to power the machine while it was on display. Our client never thought he would need a personal injury lawyer until this accident almost ended his medical career. After our investigation and discovery was completed, the case settled for a substantial, but confidential, amount.
Our client was exposed to benzene at work and was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after he retired. He had been a chemist at Dupont Sabine River Works in Orange, Texas and worked in the lab. Although he spent his entire career at Dupont, he was not told until 1976 that benzene could cause cancer of the blood. He was shocked to learn that Dupont had known this fact long before he was ever hired in 1954. As a lab analyst, he had worked with pure (reagent grade) benzene every day, testing barge-loads of benzene before they were off-loaded at the plant, and even cleaning the lab work-tables with benzene at the request of his supervisors. After a long and spotless career at Dupont, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Our discovery in this case included constructing a detailed outline of what Dupont knew about benzene and when they knew it. The awful truth is that perhaps no one knew more about benzene than Dupont. In an internal memo we discovered, Dupont’s executives even discussed the danger of benzene in other Dupont labs as early as 1943, and yet the employees in this Dupont lab were not warned of the risk of death posed by benzene until 33 years later.
Our client’s father was crushed by a hit-and-run truck driver on I-10 near Pearsall, Texas. Initially, we hired two investigators who had previously worked for U.S. government agencies. Within three days of the accident, our investigators had visited with the truck driver in his jail cell and taken two recorded statements. The following week, we investigated the Poultry Company that owned the 18-wheeler truck. Our inquiries revealed that in the week prior to this accident, the driver had grossly exceeded the maximum amount of drive time allowed by law. Most of this drive time was spent in the searing heat of South Texas. He was traveling between the Mexican border and Seguin, Texas, when he fell asleep, veered onto the shoulder of the highway, and hit our client’s father, who was standing next to his disabled car. Our investigation, written reports, recordings, and videos resulted in a substantial settlement before suit was ever filed.
Our client was severely burned on a drilling platform in dry dock. His case had been turned down by two law firms prior to our firm accepting it. He was told he would only recover workers’ compensation benefits of a few hundred dollars a week.
Our client had been hired to work in a land-based storehouse, but was temporarily assigned to work on a drilling platform. The platform was in dry dock, moored on an island in Louisiana state waters, at a shipyard located on the state line between Texas and Louisiana. The working conditions on the platform were deplorable and filthy, and there were no functional fire extinguishers. The employees had been promised the pipes were all “gas free,” but several small gas fires had occurred. They requested cold-cut saws, but their request was denied.
While working on the platform, our client was hit with a stream of highly-pressured, flaming hydrocarbon residue that shot out of a pipe which was being cut with a torch by a fellow employee. Our client was burned over 80% of his body. He lost fingers and parts of his ears, hands, legs and torso. He suffered for weeks in the burn unit of Methodist Hospital in Houston. He had to be bathed in a vat every day and his raw wounds had to be scrubbed to prevent infection. He had successive surgeries to amputate dying skin and tissue. The horror of his recovery caused him temporary insanity. While all of this was happening inside the hospital, his first team of lawyers was telling his wife the case was only covered by the Longshore Act and they would never obtain a recovery in court.
Our firm was hired both for our expertise in maritime law and Mr. Parks’s license to practice in both Louisiana and Texas. We filed suit based on section 905(b) of the Longshore Act. Our first deposition was of the employers’ personnel manager. We sent a lawyer with less than six months’ experience and a script which guaranteed the questioning would continue all day. The deposition started at 8:00 a.m. at one of the largest law firms in Houston. As we expected, the first, and most senior, lawyer sat in until noon, then asked another lawyer to cover for him. The second lawyer left at 3:00 p.m. At 4:30 Friday afternoon, we had a fourth conference call with our young associate attorney, and confirmed that he was near the end of a long line of questions concerning our client’s personnel file. The witness had been purposely asked numerous questions that he could answer by simply looking at our client’s personnel file. We then instructed our associate to ask the only question we cared about: What was he (our client) originally hired to do? This was a crucial question, the answer to which would determine the outcome of the entire case and whether our client recovered fair compensation for his horrendous injuries, or nothing. We thought the personnel manager would probably lie, but to our relief, he gave the truth: “He was hired to work on land in the storehouse.” That answer provided the only possible foundation to our case under 905(b).