A $159 million verdict that a Houston jury issued for his clients will send a loud and clear message to corporate defendants in negligence cases in Harris County, Tony Buzbee said.
The well-known plaintiffs lawyer argued that it is particularly true in this case, since that number is sans punitive damages.
“This jury made it pretty clear what the value of life is,” said Buzbee, of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston.
Buzbee’s six clients, five workers injured in an oil field explosion and the parents of a sixth man who died after the mishap, won the verdict on Aug. 6 against six corporate defendants. The verdict amounts to only “a $22 million swing” for his clients, Buzbee said. This is because all the defendants but one settled for undisclosed amounts prior to the verdict. However, the jury was still asked to determine each of their proportional liability. Howard Close of Houston’s Close & Wright, who represents Critical Path Resources—the one defendant that did not settle before the verdict—said his client disagreed with the jury’s conclusion and was evaluating its options of how to respond. The company may appeal, Close said. With its verdict, the jury held that Critical Path was responsible for only 6 percent of the liabilities.
In an amended petition filed in June, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ negligence led to the explosion at a Valero Energy Corp. facility, causing the death of one worker and profound injuries for five other workers.
The jury awarded the largest chunk of the damages to a worker who allegedly suffered burns on the majority of his body.
“I think the pendulum is swinging as far as damages awards in Harris County,” in favor of plaintiffs, Buzbee said after the verdict.
To show that trend, Buzbee pointed to his own track record this year, which includes two verdicts of more than $25 million in those courts.
Miriam Rozen, Texas Lawyer