Big-Name Lawyer Apparently Sues Wrong Oilfield Companies
November 13, 2017
Litigation over fatal rig explosion has plenty of complications, including a lawyer seeking court action against worker's widow after she fired him.
Tony Buzbee, a personal injury lawyer who earned millions fighting oil companies, maritime operators and insurance companies, got to the courthouse fast with his latest case representing the family of a Katy man recently killed in a rig explosion near New Orleans.
So fast, that he sued the wrong companies.
But this is just one complication in a case that has become even more complicated over the past few days. Buzbee was fired by the widow of Tim Morrison, then sued a Morrison family friend for interfering in the case and went to court to force Morrison's family to pay his fee.
Morrison, 44, was killed Oct. 15 when an oil and gas storage rig on Lake Pontchartrain exploded. Buzbee in the lawsuit blamed two Houston companies, alleging that the subcontractors hired to clean pipes on the rig used cleaning materials that ignited and caused it to explode.
But one company named in the suit doesn't seem to exist. And the other, a Houston industrial cleaning company, has no connection to the rig or the rig's owner, Clovelly Oil Co. of New Orleans.
The case took an unexpected turn when Morrison's widow, Erika, fired Buzbee's law firm earlier this week. Buzbee shot back, suing a friend of Tim Morrison and three unnamed Louisiana lawyers for alleged tortious interference, saying in court records he stands to lose $10 million in legal fees the case would have "easily" generated. Then later this week, Buzbee's firm asked the court to force his clients - Erika Morrison and her two young children -to pay the money he has coming.
Jack Jamison, a Dallas lawyer who has represented the Morrisons for years, called the situation "absurd and grotesque."
"He is representing Mrs. Morrison while he is suing her," Jamison said.
Buzbee, who won millions of dollars for clients injured by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, said he couldn't sit idly by while Louisiana lawyers came to Houston to convince Erika Morrison to drop his firm. As for the wrongful death case - the original case that started this saga -Buzbee said he based it on information he received from officials he did not identify and that he believed to be correct.
Buzbee became a prominent trial lawyer by taking on huge cases and winning, and was once described by the New York Times as a "big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer." In addition to the Deepwater Horizon case, in which he represented more than 12,000 individuals and business owners whose livelihoods were ruined by the oil spill, he also recovered millions for more than 150 employees hurt in the deadly 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion, which killed 15 workers
Personal injury lawyers often rush to sign up clients and file lawsuits after massive industrial accidents, deadly plane crashes and automotive defect cases because the more clients they enlist, the greater the opportunity for big fees, typically one-third of whatever verdict or settlement they win. But in the rush to get to the courthouse first, facts can get mixed up.
Sometimes it's a mix-up of similar names, other times a matter of suing the wrong subsidiary of a corporation.
"It does happen," said Tom Carse, a personal injury lawyer in Dallas who has no connection to the Buzbee case.
Eight workers were on the Clovelly platform at the time of the explosion, including two Clovelly employees and five contract workers, according to a company statement. Morrison worked as a contract employee.
Buzbee sued two subcontractors hired to clean the pipes, Hydra Steam Generator of Houston and Clean Co Systems of Channelview. Hydra Steam Generator apparently doesn't exist, based on a search of corporate filings with the Texas secretary of state. And the other, Clean Co Systems of Channelview, did not have a contract with Clovelly - confirmed by Clovelly spokeswoman Virginia Miller - and did not employ Morrison.
Clean Co owner James Rooney said he was stunned to discover his company, which employs about 100, was named in the suit. What's worse, he said, is that the Lake Pontchartrain explosion is so high-profile in the energy industry that if word spread about his supposed involvement on the rig, it could hurt the reputation he has built over the past 24 years.
He said he told his lawyer to contact Buzbee immediately and get his and his company's names off the lawsuit.
"How could they get that wrong?" Rooney said.
Buzbee confirmed that Clean Co Systems was not involved and said he will remove the companyat some point from the lawsuit. As for Hydra Steam Generator, Buzbee said he can't find any record of a company by that name operating in Texas.
"It may be that Hydra Steam was a new entity, yet unincorporated, and run by only one individual," he said in an email. "We are trying to confirm that."
The case should never have been filed, said Jamison, the Dallas lawyer representing the Morrisons. Erika Morrison told Buzbee that she wanted to hold off on filing a lawsuit, but he did it anyway, Jamison said. Then Buzbee ignored her instructions to dismiss it, Jamison said.
Buzbee said in his lawsuit that he believed Erika Morrison was influenced by the family friend, Brad Cox of Dallas, and unnamed lawyers who wanted the case. Buzbee met her at his home Sunday and after about an hour, she hired him, according to the lawsuit.
Cox could not be reached for comment.
"We don't know what is going on, but clearly Mrs. Morrison is the victim of bad legal advice," Buzbee said. "Obviously, we don't want to do anything to harm Mrs. Morrison's case, but we aren't going to sit back while Louisiana lawyers come over to Texas and have our clients terminate our contract."
Source: Houston Chronicle