Attorney John O'Quinn killed in Houston car crash

Marilyn Tennissen Oct. 29, 2009, 10:00am


Texas plaintiff's attorney John O'Quinn died Thursday in a single car accident on a Houston roadway.

According to the Houston Chronicle, O'Quinn and another man, who has not been identified, were in a black Suburban traveling at a high rate of speed on the Allen Parkway, just west of downtown Houston.

Police reported that around 8 a.m. Oct. 29, the SUV crossed two medians and then hit a tree. Roads were slick due to light rain during the morning.

It is unclear if O'Quinn or the other man was driving, the Chronicle reported.

Both men were dead at the scene. The tree the SUV struck was uprooted by the impact and had to be chopped away before the Suburban could be removed.

O'Quinn, 68, was one of the most well known trial attorneys in the country, and a big supporter of the Democratic Party.

He was one of the largest donors to presidential candidate John Edwards in the last election, and gave $2.5 million to Chris Bell who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2006.

O'Quinn first gained national attention in the early 1990s when he won $100 million for plaintiffs alleging health problems from silicone breast implants.

O'Quinn filed several lawsuits in Jefferson County during the 1990s, many against big-name defendants like Union Oil, Exxon, Southern Pacific Railroad and Colonial Pipeline.

In January 1998, O'Quinn was one of the attorneys who represented the state of Texas in a lawsuit against the country's biggest tobacco companies. Along with Walter Umphrey and Wayne Reaud of Beaumont, John Eddie Williams of Houston and Harold Nix of Dangerfield, the "Tobacco Five" secured a $17.3 billion settlement for the state and 15 percent for themselves, which amounted to more than $3.3 billion in attorneys' fees.

He unsuccessfully represented Virgie Arthur, the mother of former model Anna Nicole Smith, in a Florida court in 2007 to determine who should have control over Smith's body. The media circus focused on O'Quinn temporarily, after he fainted in the courtroom during the hearing.

O'Quinn also obtained a $1 billion verdict in 2006 that at the time was the largest single plaintiff verdict in history for the family of a woman who died in connection with the use of Phen-Fen dietary drugs.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Corpus Christi chastised O'Quinn over what she determined to be thousands of meritless silicosis cases.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported in 2007, O'Quinn was ordered by an arbitration panel to refund at least $35.7 million to more than 3,000 former clients.

The arbitration decision arose from a class action lawsuit against O'Quinn filed in 1999 by three women from Rusk County that O'Quinn had represented in breast implant litigation against Dow Corning.

Thousands of other women later joined the suit against O'Quinn, alleging that he improperly took funds from their settlements for group charges they had not agreed to pay

The order says that O'Quinn, through three legal entities under which he has practiced law, must pay back $10.7 million he improperly charged clients and a $25 million penalty because he broke hiscontract with them.

Those improper general expense deductions included professional association dues, flowers, fundraising, other lawyer's fees, and overhead, the arbitrators said

He has also been prosecuted by the State Bar of Texas for improperly soliciting clients and was once found in contempt for sleeping in the jury room during a trial.

O'Quinn made several large charitable donations in Houston, which resulted in the John O'Quinn tower at St. Luke's Hospital, and O'Quinn Field at the University of Houston.

The attorney was also known as avid car collector.

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