Large Jury Verdicts Earn Texas
Two Spots on “TOP 10” List
Texas “judicial hellhole” produces third largest award
Texas juries continue to award some of the largest high-dollar verdicts in the country.
According to a review released this week by the national publication Lawyers Weekly, Texas produced the third and ninth largest verdicts nationally in 2003.
Jefferson County, nationally recognized as a “judicial hellhole” and plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction, rendered the nation’s third largest verdict in a tire explosion case. Placing ninth was a $70.4 million award handed down by a Houston jury in a breach of contract case against Halliburton.
The total of the 10 awards in 2003 is the lowest in years – which the publication and others say is the result of an American public increasingly aware of the effects of outrageous damage awards and the price consumers pay for litigation.
The review by Lawyers Weekly found that after a six-year increase, the total of the “Top 10” verdicts was the lowest amount since 1997.
“The fact that the largest awards are lower that previous years may be indicative of a growing sensitivity to jumbo jury awards and the recognition that a big chunk of those awards is going to personal injury lawyers,” said Jon Opelt, Houston director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
“Whether it’s the product of reasoned and restrained jurors, a depressed economy nationally or a rejection of outrageous demands, jurors were less inclined to give over-the-top awards,” Opelt said.
In the Jefferson County case, a lawsuit was brought by the family of a mechanic who was killed when the 500-pound tire he was trying to remove with a blowtorch exploded.
The family sued the mining company, Trinity Materials, claiming it failed to train the mechanic properly. The mechanic did not work for the company and was hired specifically to do a brake job on one of its large dirt haulers.
The $163.8 million award was more than four times the amount demanded by the plaintiff. It is believed to be the largest wrongful death award in Texas history that includes no punitive damages.
The award was later reduced by the judge to $27 million.
The Houston case involved a breach of contract stemming from a joint venture formed in 1992 between Texas oilman Scott Van Dyke and his mother with the government of Kazakhstan to develop an oil and gas field in that country. The field, the size of one of the biggest oil fields in Texas, is expected to generate $640 million in revenues over its lifetime.
In his lawsuit, Van Dyke claimed the deal fell through after Halliburton Energy Services provided a rival with confidential information, which the rival then used to buy Van Dyke's interest in the oilfield out from under him. The lawsuit accused Halliburton and Scottish-based Ramco of breach of contract and sought $677 million in damages.