O'Quinn firm sued for legal malpractice by silicosis clients

Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 26, 2011, 9:13am


Almost 200 former silicosis clients of renowned Houston attorney John O'Quinn are now alleging the deceased lawyer's firm improperly charged expenses and continues to hold on to their settlement funds.

Plaintiff Tory House and 186 others filed a legal malpractice suit against The O'Quinn Law Firm, John M. O'Quinn & Associates LLP, the estate of John M. O'Quinn and firm attorney Abel Manji on April 5 in Harris County 113th District Court.

The plaintiffs are represented by Houston attorney Jerry Pusch.

According to the complaint first reported by Texas Lawyer, the plaintiffs were workers in plants, refineries and construction worksites at various Texas locations where they claim they were exposed to silica-containing products and diagnosed with silica related diseases.

"Due to having silica related diseases, Plaintiffs employed the Defendants on a contingency fee basis and issued them a Power of Attorney to represent them in claims against manufacturers and distributors of silica related products, materials and protective equipment," the original complaint states. "During the course of Plaintiffs' silicosis lawsuits, Defendants were to prosecute their lawsuits to a conclusion."

However the plaintiffs allege that during the course of representing the plaintiffs, the O'Quinn firm incurred unnecessary and excessive expenses and then recouped the expenses from the plaintiffs' settlements.

The plaintiffs claim they have signed settlement documents, but to date have not received the settlement funds.

"After more than three years there has been no explanation or communication as to the completed settlements," the complaint states.

The lawsuit alleges professional negligence, professional negligence per se, breach of fiduciary duties, fraud and constructive fraud, fraudulent inducement to enter an agreement and breach of agreement, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, conspiracy, aiding and abetting and negligent undertakings.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and exemplary damages, forfeiture and disgorgement of all fees defendants previously received from their cases, return of all fraudulent expenses, reasonable attorneys' fees, interest and costs.

"Defendants conduct was grossly negligent, fraudulent, deceitful, and in conscious disregard of the rights and welfare of Plaintiffs," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs ask the jury to assess such amounts as they think are reasonable and appropriate as exemplary damages against Defendants in order to set an example for others, and especially other lawyers and law firms similarly situated and as punishment for Defendants for their outrages conduct."

In 2007, an arbitration panel ordered O'Quinn to refund at least $35.7 million to more than 3,000 former breast implant litigation clients who claimed the firm improperly withheld settlement money. The arbitrators said O'Quinn made improper general expense deductions including professional association dues, flowers, fundraising, other lawyer's fees and overhead. O'Quinn had required his clients to sign a binding arbitration agreement in the event of dispute.

Case No. 2011-20888

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