Welcome to the law firm of Huber, Slack, Thomas & Marcelle, LLP. Our firm is comprised of lawyers with experience litigating complex civil and criminal cases throughout the Gulf South.
Our lawyers have tried hundreds of cases—from district courts to federal United States Circuit Courts of Appeal —and represent a broad spectrum of expertise and perspectives. While we’ve litigated complex civil and criminal cases—including large class-actions —we never forget who is at the heart of our work: our clients. And so, we’re committed to providing counsel that’s clear, client-centered, and communicative.
Our team of attorneys represent a broad range of expertise and capability. No matter what your legal needs are, we can handle your case effectively and attentively.
A federal jury has cleared Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson of liability in the third case to go to trial out of thousands of lawsuits claiming the drugmakers’ blood thinner Xarelto led to severe internal bleeding.
The verdict in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Mississippi, is a blow to thousands of patients with similar allegations against the drugmaker. The jury returned the verdict after just four hours of deliberation.
The companies also won the previous two trials on claims of risks from Xarelto.
In the latest case, plaintiff Dora Mingo claimed she suffered acute gastrointestinal bleeding after she was treated with Xarelto for a month in 2015 to prevent blood clotting following an operation.
Mingo’s case is among an estimated 18,600 lawsuits in federal and state courts related to Xarelto. The first three cases were chosen to be tried as so-called bellwethers to help both sides assess similar claims, define legal strategies, damages ranges and settlement options.
Both Johnson & Johnson and Bayer said they would continue to defend against claims related to Xarelto.
“We will continue to defend against the allegations made in this litigation,” J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit said in a statement.
Bayer in a statement, said, “Bayer stands behind the safety and efficacy of Xarelto and will continue to vigorously defend it.”
Andy Birchfield, one of Mingo’s lawyers, in a statement said health complications suffered by thousands of patients could have been avoided if physicians were properly instructed about the risks.
“We will continue fighting for the thousands of innocent victims injured or killed by this drug,” Birchfield said.
Xarelto is Bayer’s best-selling drug and in 2016 contributed 2.9 billion euros ($3.41 billion) in revenues to the German group’s pharmaceutical business.
J&J in 2016 reported $2.2 billion in revenues from Xarelto.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Xarelto in 2011. The drug is prescribed for people with a common heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation and to treat and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms.
Original story by Tina Bellon of Reuters.
Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a Los Angeles jury to pay $417 million to a 62-year-old woman who blamed her ovarian cancer on the company’s talc, in the first California trial over the product.
The jury found the parent company and its consumer-products unit liable Monday for failing to warn a woman over the alleged risk of the baby powder. The verdict includes $347 million in punitive damages. J&J, which faces 5,500 claims in U.S. courts, has lost four previous jury verdicts in St. Louis for a total of $300 million.
The trial in Los Angeles was the first before a state jury outside Missouri, where the company lost four out of five trials over the past 2 years and got hit with verdicts as high as $110 million. J&J is appealing the verdicts and in June succeeded in halting a trial in St. Louis after the U.S. Supreme Court made it more difficult for out-of-state plaintiffs to join lawsuits in state courts that are deemed favorable to their claims.
The company will appeal, said spokeswoman Carol Goodrich. “We are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,’’ she said. “We are preparing for additional trials in the U.S. and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
J&J, the world’s largest health-care company, is accused of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and Shower to Shower talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk.
Mark Robinson, a lawyer for plaintiff Eva Echeverria, said outside the courtroom that J&J should start warning women immediately about the risks of its talcum powder.
“J&J needs to see they not only have verdicts against them in St. Louis, they now also have them in Los Angeles,” Robinson said. “There’s a problem all over the country with women using talcum powder on daily basis for 10, 20, 30, 40 years.”
Echeverria started using J&J’s talc powder products when she was 11. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007.
New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J has said the plaintiffs’ allegations aren’t supported by scientific evidence, pointing to a New Jersey state court decision last year tossing out two cases set for trial. That judge found evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer was inadequate.
The $417 million verdict Monday is the third-largest jury award in the U.S. so far in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The largest, for $500 million, was awarded to ZeniMax Media Inc. over its claim that the virtual reality headset maker acquired by Facebook Inc. used stolen code.
The case is Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson, BC628228, Los Angeles County Superior Court.
This article originally appeared on Bloomberg on August 21, 2017.
On August 11, 2017, ride share giant, Uber Technologies Inc., agreed to a $20 million settlement to end a proposed class action litigation in the Illinois federal court that claimed that Uber violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) when it sent unwelcome text messages to both potential drivers and riders.
Named plaintiff, Maria Vergara, originally filed the proposed class action in August 2015. Vergara claimed that Uber sent her continuous, unwelcomed texts over a period of several weeks urging her to complete the app’s sign-up process. Vergara was also joined by named parties Jonathan Grindell, Jennifer Reilly, James Lathrop, Sandeep Pal and Justin Bartolet who similarly claimed that the company sent them unwelcomed texts about becoming drivers.
The proposed $20 million settlement will create three settlement classes—one class for those who Uber texted about it’s Refer-a-Friend program; one class for those who had partially completed the company’s driver application and continued to receive unwanted texts from Uber even after they asked the company to cease communication; and a third class for those who in general received unwanted texts from Uber. The proposed settlement will rid driver-issued cellphones of Uber’s Refer-a-Friend program, improve the company’s opt-out system, as well as implement a sign-up process aimed to reduce the instances of incorrect phone numbers from being contacted.
The case is: Maria Vergara et al. v. Uber Technologies Inc., case number 1:15-cv-06942, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Article by Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. of Counsel Financial.
Rates charged by Louisiana’s largest auto insurers have been on a double-digit run, mirroring a national trend the industry says is fueled by more accidents and a spike in claims costs.
“We’re seeing it play out all across the nation. It is universally attributed to a combination of distracted driving, cellphone use while driving, and more miles, cheap gas,” Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said.
Auto rates were virtually flat over a five-year period, increasing about 1 percent annually, Donelon said — until about five years ago. Louisiana’s auto insurance rates since then have been rising at a faster clip, with the largest jump, an 8 percent average, taking place in 2016.
More recently, State Farm, Louisiana’s largest insurer with more than 1.1 million policyholders, raised rates an average of 13.5 percent on Jan. 30. A year earlier, the company raised rates an average of 8 percent.
Progressive Security increased rates 4.1 percent in early 2016 and 9.4 percent late in the year. Allstate increased rates an average of 9.5 percent in 2016. Geico Casualty plans to increase rates by 16 percent this year. Louisiana Farm Bureau is raising rates by 14.2 percent, but the company’s filing with the state Insurance Department says a 19.4 percent increase is justified.
Those companies write the bulk of the state’s auto insurance, and their recent filings did not include the impact of the August flood that destroyed tens of thousands of cars. Future rate filings may.
“Auto insurers look at past catastrophic events to determine what their expected future comprehensive losses may be,” Deputy Insurance Commissioner Ileana Ledet said. “So down the road we may see insurers raising the comprehensive portion of their rates a bit to anticipate a future catastrophic flood of the extreme magnitude we saw in August.”
Insurance industry members and consumer advocates say a number of factors lie behind the recent rate increases.
The Great Recession that wiped out tens of thousands of jobs nationwide meant fewer people driving. As the economy recovered and gasoline prices fell, more drivers hit the road, mainly for work. They got into more wrecks — crashes that cost more to repair in part because of the expensive technology built into vehicles.
In 2015, the number of miles driven in the United States rose 3.5 percent, the biggest increase in more than 20 years. The number of accidents rose nearly 4 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From 2011 to 2015, the latest year available, the number of accidents jumped nearly 18 percent.
In Louisiana, while the number of miles driven dipped slightly from 2014 to 2015, the number of accidents jumped more than 7 percent, according to a report from LSU’s Highway Safety Research Group. From 2011 to 2015, the number of crashes rose by 12.4 percent.
Over that same period, Louisiana’s auto insurers have seen claims costs increase from 67.4 percent of the $2.0 billion in premiums collected in 2011 to 76.7 percent of $2.3 billion collected in 2015, according to Insurance Department records. State Farm lost $84 million on its auto business in 2015.
Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, said lower gasoline prices, coupled with more optimism about the economy, led to more driving. The increase in driving explains most of the increase in losses.
Meanwhile, claims costs, which include medical care and auto repair costs, jumped 13 percent over the two years ending in March 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded group. That’s 10 times the rate of inflation.
Increases in income have given consumers the means to buy newer cars, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the institute. While many of these cars have all types of safety features that might help prevent accidents, those cameras and sensors are also much more expensive to fix or replace when damaged.
“The problem is all these cars nowadays, they have so many bells and whistles on them. I’ve seen side view mirrors get knocked off and cost a thousand dollars,” said Jerome Wiley, general manager of Gordon & Sandifer Auto Service Inc. in Baton Rouge.
Take into account: Cameras in each mirror to eliminate blind spots. Touchscreen displays with warning indicators for each angle. Front collision warning systems, basically a radar mounted at the front of the vehicle. Multi-airbag systems. Seatbelts that automatically tighten and lock in accidents. All of it costs money, Wiley said.
Even simpler repair components, like paint, cost more as manufacturers comply with federal regulations designed to limit potentially harmful emissions, he said.
Add in the impact of distracted driving, and it’s not hard to see why auto rates are rising. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said distractions account each year for 18 percent of crashes with injuries, 15 percent of property damage-only accidents and about 10 percent of traffic fatalities.
Distracted driving accounts for about 20 percent of Louisiana’s fatal crashes, although the NHTSA says state numbers “are not necessarily representative of actual occurrences, but may be more indicative of reporting issues.” Fatal crashes account for less than 0.5 percent of Louisiana’s traffic accidents.
Distracted driving includes smartphone activities such as texting and talking, watching videos, reading, eating, drinking and adjusting the sound system.
Wiley said smartphone usage has overwhelmed the accident-prevention technology on new cars and trucks.
“I’d say over half of the wrecks we see people bringing in — they won’t admit to it — is from distracted driving. And distracted is usually their phone,” Wiley said.
State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs said distracted driving, whatever the cause, has always been worrisome.
“However, our concern has grown, as it has likely become a greater loss exposure. Increased phone usage, enhanced technology and various other distractions now accessible or available in vehicles are all contributing factors,” Diggs said.
Like a lot of other motorists, Donelon said he has been forced to sit through red lights twice because the driver in front of him is too busy with a smartphone to notice the signal changed.
As if all that weren’t enough, insurers also have seen the return on their investments — companies invest premiums while waiting to pay claims and expenses — drop along with interest rates. The return on insurers’ portfolios was 4.5 percent in 2007, according to an October 2016 report from the Insurance Information Institute. It was 3.2 percent in 2015.
However, Donelon said there’s reason to think the big increases may be over.
During a Jan. 29 conference call, Allstate President Matthew Winter told stock analysts and investors that “the spike is over” and rates have stabilized at a new norm. However, the new norm includes more accidents due to an improving economy and more cars on the road, and the greater use of smartphones and distracted driving.
Original story by Ted Griggs of the Advocate, posted on March 12, 2017.
HENDERSON, Louisiana (Reuters) – When Hope Rosinski’s father gave her a six-acre plot in Louisiana more than a decade ago, she was surprised to find oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the property.
Pipeline companies later secured her permission for two more lines, one of which has since caused flooding and consistently leaves her land saturated.
Now she’s had enough. Rosinski is fighting the latest request for a right-of-way, this time from Energy Transfer Partners – the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. She said ETP declined to make contract changes she wanted or to properly compensate her for lost property value.
Opposition to the company’s planned extension of the Bayou Bridge pipeline has made Louisiana bayous the latest battleground in a nationwide war against new pipeline construction.
The pushback here is one example of the increasingly broad and diverse base of opposition nationally, which now extends beyond traditional environmental activists. In Louisiana, opponents include flood protection advocates, commercial fishermen and property owners such as Rosinski.
Their fight follows high-profile protests in North Dakota that were led by Native Americans and joined by military veterans, who together succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to delay construction.
Although the new administration of President Donald Trump has since cleared that project’s completion, pipeline companies are nonetheless taking the rising political opposition seriously. Alan Armstrong, chief executive at pipeline firm Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB), told a conference in Pittsburgh that Trump’s action would not hamper the protest movement.
“It may even enhance it,” he said the day after Trump cleared the Dakota pipeline in January.
Pipeline supporters argue that more infrastructure is essential for the oil and gas industry to provide affordable energy and reduce dependence on foreign imports and dirtier energy sources such as coal.
Opponents counter that pipeline companies can’t be trusted to prevent leaks. Technology designed to detect spills only accomplished that goal in 20 percent of known pipeline leaks between 2010 and 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Energy Transfer and its affiliates had among the most spills of any pipeline company, with nearly 260 leaks from lines carrying hazardous liquids since 2010, according to the Reuters analysis. An ETP spokesperson said most of those spills were small and occurred on company property.
The company said in a statement that it seeks to work with landowners and communities to “build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible.”
ETP’s relations with Rosinski, however, have apparently broken down. She told Reuters that the firm has threatened to take her to court for the right of way, citing legal rights of pipeline companies to build infrastructure for broader public benefit.
Rosinski wants to resist, but knows a court battle could be costly and lengthy.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “I don’t have the finances.”
ETP declined to comment specifically on Rosinski’s case but said it typically gets voluntary agreements on easements from owners in about 9 out of 10 cases, without legal action.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Some pipeline protesters are driven by opposition to any expansion of fossil fuel development, but many have more local and specific concerns.
Many protests so far – including the encampment in North Dakota, led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – have focused largely on fear of water contamination.
Similar objections have cropped up in West Texas from protesters of Energy Transfer’s Trans-Pecos gas line, and in Arkansas and Tennessee over the Diamond Pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline.
Activists in Pennsylvania have been fighting a Williams Companies pipeline plan for three years. The company is looking to add 185 miles of new pipeline to its Atlantic Sunrise line, connecting the northeastern Marcellus natural gas shale region with the southeast part of the state. Opponents have argued the expansion could cause an explosion or taint the local water that supplies farms.
They’re borrowing tactics from Standing Rock tribe’s standoff. Malinda Clatterbuck, 46, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who leads the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said residents are setting up a camp in Conestoga, where a right-of-way has been granted, and plans to live on and off at the camp with her family.
“I’m exhausted and angry about this,” she said. “Why do we have to upend our lives just to try to get justice for our community?”
Williams said it has operated 60 miles of pipeline safely in Lancaster County and that the company plans to exceed federal safety standards for the extension.
“We’ve also heard from thousands of people who support the project – individuals, chambers and business groups – who recognize the economic benefit,” the company said in a statement.
DEAD CRAWFISH IN THE BAYOUS
In Louisiana – home to massive oil refineries and about 50,000 miles of pipelines – ETP’s planned Bayou Bridge extension would run across southern Louisiana for about 160 miles, between Lake Charles and St. James.
The state has a mutually beneficial but testy relationship with the oil industry, which is widely blamed for cutting through wetlands and contributing to coastal erosion that has left Louisiana more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.
Some opponents of the Bayou Bridge are concerned that its construction will pollute drinking water and constrict drainage systems during heavy rains. Others want to see pipeline companies take better care of the environment during and after construction.
Jody Meche, 47, of Henderson, fears economic damage. He has fished in the Atchafalaya Basin for a quarter century. For years, he has been pushing companies to remove spoil banks caused by pipeline construction and oil exploration because they hurt the commercial fishing industry.
The spoil banks act as dams inside the basin, damaging the local ecosystem by stopping water flow.
Meche can sees the impact in the crawfish traps he pulls up from the bayou daily during the season, from February to early summer. The critters resemble tiny lobsters and are in high demand at bars and backyard boils from New Orleans to Houston.
“The stagnant water is not good for them at all,” Meche said. “They don’t grow as well, they don’t eat as much, they are very lethargic.”
Meche can sell large, healthy crawfish for about $1.50 a pound. But the smaller ones he often catches these days fetch half that, and many in his traps these days are dead and worthless.
Rosinski, meanwhile, is still fighting with Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline company she said damaged her property during construction of an ethane line a few years ago. She said she has spent the last year trying to get Enterprise to restore her land and stop the flooding.
The cost to fix it could be as little as $1,200, she said.
Enterprise told Reuters it hopes to resolve the issue amicably, but that it has not gotten clear guidance from an attorney hired by Rosinski.
Rosinski received the right-of-way request from Energy Transfer Partners as she was squabbling with Enterprise. She suggested 30 changes to the contract and requested more compensation. ETP refused, she said, and told her it may take up the dispute in court.
“I’ve done my part,” she said of her previous agreements to allow pipelines through her property. “They’re consuming my land.”
Story by Liz Hampton at Reuters.