The Jefferson County District Clerk's Office was a busy place in 2007 as 2,596 new lawsuits were filed in the county's four civil courts.
Considering the 2006 U.S. Census listed Jefferson County's population at 243,914, that statistically equates to roughly one out of every 93 Golden Triangle residents filing suit in '07. And that does not even include the hundreds of other residents who signed their names to class-action suits.
So, which plaintiff's attorney drummed up the most business in '07?
That distinction goes to Houston-based attorney Steve Mostyn, who filed approximately 230 suits in Jefferson County in 2007. Most of Mostyn's suits targeted insurance companies, which the attorney claims low-balled customers after Hurricane Rita cut a swathe through Southeast Texas in 2005.
For the last two years, the Mostyn Law Firm, which bills itself as Houston Insurance Litigation Lawyers, has saturated Southeast Texas with TV and newspaper ads, urging homeowners to contact his office if they are dissatisfied with their Rita insurance payments.
Full page ads offer an "absolutely free" guidebook for policy holders, "Homeowner Insurance Claims Exposed," just by calling the Mostyn Law Firm.
"Hundreds of Golden Triangle homeowners feel their insurer cheated them," the ad claims. "Many are mad, frustrated and feel victimized but simply do not know what to do next to get the money they deserve on their claim."
Sept. 24, 2007, marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Rita, and for many policy holders the end of the statute of limitations for lawsuits against insurance carriers.
In September alone, Mostyn filed around 100 Rita-related lawsuits against insurance companies like Allstate and State Farm.
Other lawyers got busy with Rita suits as the deadline approached, filing more than 300 deceptive trade practice suits accusing insurance companies of using strong-arm tactics to force residents to settle their claims in September. Mostyn accounted for about 33 percent of those suits.
And at year's end, Rita suits continue to trickle in.
But the passing of the deadline only gave Mostyn a new tactic to keep the Rita suits rolling. He used the statute of limitations itself as a reason to sue.
In October, Mostyn filed a class-action suit in Jefferson County against Allstate, claiming the insurance company disseminated misleading statements to the public regarding the statute of limitations for filing Rita cases.
In his suit, Mostyn pointed to a Sept. 30 Beaumont Enterprise article, "Has Cutoff Point on Rita Lawsuits Passed?" in which Allstate spokesman Joe McCormick was quoted as saying that Allstate's "polices intend the deadline to be interpreted as two years and a day from the cause of loss" and that it is "a reasonable amount of time for things to be settled."
The class-action suit, J.W. Samuel et al vs. Allstate Texas Lloyds, was originally filed to restrain Allstate from speaking about the statute of limitations. It was transferred to federal court in the Eastern District of Texas-Beaumont Division on Nov. 9.
"Defendant has published, disseminatedÃ¯Â¿Â½and circulated public advertisements containing untrueÃ¯Â¿Â½and deceptive assertions regarding the statute of limitation for Hurricane Rita cases to be brought in Southeast Texas," the suit said. "Defendant's conduct constitutes a violation of Texas Insurance Code, (Section) 541.060(a)."
However Mostyn's own ads emphasize the time element. "Ã¯Â¿Â½ [T]here is a filing deadline for taking action and, sadly for some this deadline has already passed," one ad states.
With the deadline finally flat-lining, it appears Mostyn's class-action could possibly reopen a litigious window allowing local residents who were allegedly mislead by McCormick's comments to jump aboard the suit.
Mostyn's lawsuit says the "number of class members is unknown" at this time, but could come to encompass hundreds of residents.
Mostyn also contends that Allstate's alleged fraudulent and negligent representations have caused his clients' injury.
"It is impossible to accurately measure, in monetary terms, the damages caused by defendant's conduct," the suit said.
Allstate stopped writing windstorm coverage in Texas costal counties, such as Jefferson County, last year.
Perhaps Hurricane Rita and attorney-paid advertisements played the strongest roles in why more than 2,500 lawsuits were filed in 2007. And with the Rita deadline past, one could assume there will be considerably fewer suits in Jefferson County in 2008.
But if there is a void in litigation, the Waldman Smallwood law firm is likely to fill it. Veteran plaintiffs' lawyer Carl Waldman is flooding the local airwaves with a new wave of ads, calling on residents who may have taken the diabetes drug Avandia or the osteoporosis medicine Fosomax to contact his office.
Time can only tell if 2008 will see a decrease or increase in civil suits, but either way, Carl Waldman could be the Record's "Attorney of the Year" for 2008.