Tony Buzbee regularly generates headlines when he wins big,and even when he wins small. But this week, Buzbee won big.
After a six-day long trial, Buzbee’s client, the estate of Jose Flores, a seaman who died after being bitten by a brown recluse spider while working on a vessel, won a $41 million jury verdict against the company that operated the ship.
Buzbee’s client, represented by Flores’ parents, has sought damages and punitive damages based on negligence allegations, as well as what’s known as Jones Act claims, under the General Maritime Law of the United States for unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure benefits.
The jury in the 381st District Court in Starr County issued its award based only on the negligence claims. But the panel included $20 million for Flores’ past mental anguish and physical pain and $20 million in punitive damages, as well as more than $1 million in medical expenses.
“That was fine with me,” Buzbee said.
In an answer, the defendant denied all of the allegations. The company alleged that Flores’ alleged injuries did not occur or did not manifest themselves or become aggravated while he was on the ship. The defendant also alleged that Flores’ unreasonable failure to mitigate exacerbated his injuries and that he did not seek medical treatment.
Robert Freehill of Brown Sims in Houston, who represents the defendant, declined to comment.
For Buzbee, the trial presented obstacles. Flores was kept on the ship without receiving treatment for five days after he got the bite, according to the petition. As a result, Buzbee said, Flores contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that’s resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections. The antibiotics Flores was required to take to treat the MRSA exacerbated his existing liver condition and he died due to liver cancer, Buzbee argued at the trial.
Buzbee thought it was necessary to connect all of those events and how they related to each other for the jury to have empathy for the estate of Flores, who had a history of alcoholism, to prevail.
But Buzbee said it was also necessary, and perhaps more worthwhile for the outcome, to “spend a lot of time not only during voir dire but also during trial, talking about what is mental anguish.”
At trial, Buzbee called family members and coworkers to testify about witnessing Flores, once a strong, hardworking active person, become so weak it was necessary for his father to help him bathe.
“Those kind of things strike a chord,” Buzbee said.
–Miriam Rozen, Texas Lawyer