Southeast Texas Record "Most Viewed Stories of 2008"

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 29, 2008, 6:27am

From suits against corporations to odd personal injury cases, a variety of stories caught the attention of Southeast Texas Record Web site readers.

Looking back over the past year, the Record has tabulated the Top 10 "Most Viewed" stories of 2008. Among the most popular were suits involving the post office and poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride, with two stories each in the Top 10.

With the wild campaign season of 2008, two stories about elections � the primaries and the impact of young voters � were also popular hits on the Web.

Unusual personal injury stories-including a woman's painful ride on a jet ski and a transgender refinery worker with no place to go to the restroom-round out the Top 10.

In addition to the lawsuit stories, weekly digests in the Record such as new patent infringement suits and the most recent filings in the county courts are also regularly among the most viewed stories. John Browning's "Legally Speaking" column, which highlights both the absurd and the poignant in the legal world, is another reader weekly reader favorite.

Following are the "Most Viewed" for 2008. The stories have been edited for length.


1. Suit alleges post office unsafe work environment
12/3/2008 9:51 AM
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau

MARSHALL � Postal worker Donald Smith claims he was crushed by a rack of mail while unloading at the post office.

Alleging negligence, Smith filed suit against the United States and Edwards Transportation LLC, doing business as Mesa Mail Services, on Nov. 25 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

Smith says he was still in training when the incident occurred. The suit accuses the post office of negligence for failing to provide a safe work environment for its contractors and employees.

Smith asserts Edwards Transportation is negligent and liable for failing to provide a safe place to work, failing to adequately establish and enforce safety rules and regulations, and failing to eliminate unsafe methods and operations.

Case No 2:08cv00454

2. Judge affirms arbitrator's award against Pilgrim's Pride in personal injury case

11/12/2008 12:49 PM
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau

MARSHALL � U.S. District Judge T. John Ward affirmed an arbitration award for $765,000 in a case involving a man injured after falling from a commercial freezer.

While employed as a cleaner at Pilgrim's Pride in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Gabriel Acuna was severely injured after falling from the top of the freezer and fell 16 feet which resulted in injuries to his brain, back, neck and shoulder.

Acuna filed suit against Aerofreeze Inc. and Pilgrim's Pride on Oct. 16, 2006, in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit accused the defendant of strict products liability, negligence, and gross negligence for failure to properly design the freezer with a fixed ladder, failure to design the panels to hold a person's weight for cleaning, and failure to warn of the risks and dangers associated with cleaning the top portion of the freezer.

The case was closed pending conclusion of arbitration involving the plaintiff and defendants Aerofreeze and Pilgrim's Pride.

In August, the arbitrator rendered his final award finding Pilgrim negligent and ordering it to pay over $385,000 plus post-judgment interest. Aerofreeze had previously settled Acuna's claims for $375,000.

Pilgrim's Pride filed a motion to vacate the award, which Judge Ward denied at the end of October.

The October order denied Pilgrim's motion to vacate and confirmed the arbitrator's award of over $765,000.

Case No 2:06cv00432

3. Forty-one East Texas families allege Pilgrim's Pride violated labor standards

12/6/2007 9:48 AM
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau

MARSHALL � Pilgrim's Pride is facing allegations of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act from 41 East Texas families who are contracted to operate chicken farms for Pilgrim.

The suit claiming unfair and illegal acts was filed on Nov. 29 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

Plaintiffs believe that Pilgrim's size, wealth and market control have placed it in a position to misuse its economic power.

Plaintiffs state Pilgrim increased profits to Pilgrim CEO Bo Pilgrim and other Pilgrim insiders at the determent and loss to the plaintiffs' profits. Specifically, plaintiffs point out that Bo Pilgrim's LTD Farm is given illegal preferential treatment and compensation through a different pay formula.

The families reason that Pilgrim and Tyson, which serves the same areas, have created an economic environment that is lacking competition by each company refusing to hire the others former growers despite expertise or farm operations.

Case No.: 2:07cv00522

4. Father crashes helicopter, then sues helicopter's manufacturer
5/21/2008 10:52 AM
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau

MARSHALL - While flying a Robinson Helicopter R 44 Raven I to a private residence on Cedar Creek Lake, Jay Scott Roden lost control and crashed the helicopter. Roden's wife and child were injured in the accident.

The Roden family filed suit against the helicopter's manufacturer, Robinson Helicopter Inc., on May 20 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the lawsuit, the helicopter is equipped with an automatic carburetor heat control to prevent carburetor icing and the associated loss of power. Roden states that he engaged the carburetor heater at all necessary times, but the carburetor developed icing causing the engine to lose power and ultimately, resulted in the crash.

The plaintiffs argue Robinson Helicopter Inc. is negligent for the "unreasonably and dangerously" defective helicopter.

The family is seeking damages for medical care, physical impairment and disfigurement, loss of earning capacity, physical pain and mental anguish.

Case No: 2:08cv00126

5. Young voters on the rise in record setting early voting in Jefferson County
10/21/2008 3:12 PM
By David Yates

Jefferson County experienced unprecedented early voter turnout on Monday, Oct. 20, with nearly 5,700 Southeast Texans casting their ballots - a total that beats the 2004 general election by more than 2,000 votes.

"Early voting is going extremely well," said County Clerk Carolyn Guidry during a phone interview. "It's a record turnout � that far exceeds any turnout by 2,000 votes in a presidential election."

Only 3,500 Jefferson County residents voted early in the 2004 general election, compared to this year's 5,628 turnout.

"I never remember having a first day like this," Guidry said. "We have been preparing for this election for a year."

Guidry credits the high turnout to all the excitement being generated by presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

"We are seeing a lot of first time young voters," Guidry said. "We've also seen an increase in college students applying for mail-in ballots this year."

Guidry said she expected another 5,000 early voters to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

6. Suit alleges postal worker ran over child
9/10/2008 8:12 PM
By Michelle Massey, Texarkana Bureau

MARSHALL - While playing in the cul-de-sac of his Plano neighborhood in November 2006, court documents claim Eric Obregon was struck and run over by postal deliveryman Halton Wright, who was delivering mail in the area.

Eric's father Jose Obregon has filed suit against the United States on Sept 2 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

The suit argues that the doctrine of respondeat superior is applicable because the postal worker was in the scope of his employment.

Obregon argues his son's injuries are due to the defendant's negligence, carelessness and disregard of duty.

The suit is seeking damages for past and future medical expenses, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, physical impairment, and disfigurement.

Case No 2:2008cv00333

7. Texans head to the polls!
By Marilyn Tennissen

The polls are now open for the Texas primaries, where much of the national attention will be on the Democratic race for the presidential nomination. But the Texas ballots also include races that could affect the state's judicial makeup.

On the Texas Supreme Court, Democratic candidates are vying to secure their place on the ticket to try to unseat two incumbent Republican justices.

For Justice-Place 7, Sam Houston and Baltasar Cruz are on the Dem's ticket, where one will face incumbent Dale Wainwright, a Republican who has been justice since 2003.

The Place 8 race has Susan Criss and Linda Reyna Yanez seeking the Democratic nomination for a chance to unseat Republican Phil Johnson in November.

In Beaumont's Ninth District Court of Appeals, it is two Republicans who are facing off for chief justice. Steve McKeithen is making a bid for re-election, with Jay Wright hoping to unseat the incumbent.

Four Democrats are on the ticket to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican. Democratic candidates are Ray McCurry, Gene Kelly, Rhett Smith and Rick Noriega.

8. Man who sued IHOP for tripping over mat awarded $1 M judgment
By David Yates

David Vardaman and his wife Elizabeth received an early Christmas gift on Tuesday, Dec. 18 as Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, handed them a default judgment of $1,129, 857.08 for a slip and fall that occurred at the International House of Pancakes last year.

David came to IHOP for a stack of pancakes but left with an injury, which would in turn lead to a stack of cash.

David claims he had just entered the restaurant, "when suddenly and without warning, he tripped over rolled up mats," said the plaintiffs' petition, filed with the Jefferson County District Court on Nov. 14.

The suit also named IHOP manager Abdallah Atiyeh as defendant.

IHOP and Atiyeh had until Dec. 17 to respond to the Vardamans' allegations by filing an answer. "However, defendant did not file an answer or a pleading and has not entered an appearance," the judgment said.

The incident occurred on Nov. 21, 2006. The suit says the mat that caused David injury was "improperly, negligently and carelessly placed on the premises."

Case No. D180-751

9. Transgender refinery worker sues employer for sex discrimination
By David Yates

A Jefferson County refinery worker has sued his former employer, alleging the company discriminated against him because he is transgender.

Gerald Jeanmard, a male in the process of gender transition, claims KT Maintenance Co. refused to recognize his gender identity, engaged in sexual stereotyping and refused to provide him with a bathroom at the job site.

Jeanmard is biologically male but is undergoing gender reassignment to become a female, and "has at all material times presented himself as a transgender female." He alleges KT Maintenance was fully aware of his gender identity but chose to terminate him rather than accommodate his transgender needs.

Problems arose for Jeanmard, he claims, when his male co-workers at the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur objected to his presence in the men's restroom. He then tried using the ladies' room, but when the women objected Jeanmard says KT Maintenance reassigned him and then fired him.

Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th Judicial District, was assigned to the case. The suit was transferred to federal court in the Beaumont Division of the Eastern District of Texas in May.

10. Sea-Doo water enema leads to suit
8/6/2008 7:39 PM
By David Yates

ORANGE - Just a few weeks ago, Megan Norris was riding on a Sea-Doo when she slipped off the rear of the watercraft directly into the path of the water thrust by the jet pump, which "penetrated her orifices," court papers say.

Claiming the Sea-Doo was negligently designed, Norris filed suit against Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. on July 23 in Orange County District Court.

In her suit, Norris says that on June 29 she was riding the watercraft with three of her friends and was seated at the rear of the craft.

"As the Sea-Doo was being operated in a manner wholly consistent with its intended use, Norris slipped off the rear of the watercraft directly into the path of the water thrust by the jet pump," the suit says. "The high-pressure stream of water penetrated her orifices causing massive, mutilating injuries to her lower abdomen."

She is suing for past and future mental anguish, impairment and loss of enjoyment of life. Norris is also suing for punitive damages, claiming Bombardier Recreational acted with a complete disregard for the welfare of others.

Case No. D-080288-c

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