The SE Texas Record Sep. 18, 2012, 10:00am


Last December we ran an editorial about a woman in Huntsville who claimed to have slipped and fallen in a Dickinson parking lot two-and-a-half years earlier. She was suing several entities she deemed responsible for her alleged injuries.

One of the defendants was a store with no outlet at the location in question. The plaintiff had apparently confused the retailer with a different one. Once made aware of her error, she dropped them from her suit, but considerable damage already had been done to an innocent company forced to defend itself at its own expense.

Again, this may have been a mere case of mistaken identity. The plaintiff did not appear to be acting in bad faith. But it raises the question of how often the wrong defendants are targeted in lawsuits, whether accidentally or not.

Charles Loper Jr. of Frisco found himself embroiled in a more egregious case.

Over three decades, Loper built a financial planning service with 350 employees serving 40,000 customers in 38 states. The fruit of 30 years’ labor suddenly was put in jeopardy five years ago when his company, CLA USA, was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texarkana residents, James Birts and Nate and Darlene Orben.

It was a class action suit against several estate planning companies accused of selling useless living trusts, but Birts and the Orbens were unaware that their attorneys had made claims against CLA.

“Since Birts was satisfied with our services and since the Orbens never had any dealings with any CLA entities, CLA demanded that the plaintiffs’ attorneys dismiss the class claims against the CLA defendants,” Loper’s attorney summarized. “After threatening them with sanctions, the plaintiffs’ attorneys finally dismissed the claims against all CLA entities.”

What did it cost Loper to defend his company? Just five years of his time, a million dollars in legal expenses, and untold millions in business lost to bad publicity.

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