A federal judge has ordered that plaintiffs must face arbitration in a suit against a Houston law firm they accuse of fraud while representing them in silicosis litigation.
As previously reported, the O’Quinn Law Firm was sued in December 2012 by more than 30 residents of Alabama and Mississippi who were the silicosis mass tort clients.
Former partners John O’Quinn and Richard Laminack, now both deceased, are accused of soliciting clients to undergo medical screenings by doctors or clinics hand-picked by the attorneys and then billing the clients for the referral fees paid to the clinics and doctors.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi said recently that the plaintiffs must face arbitration as required by a clause in the Power of Attorney and Contingency Fee Contracts which they signed.
The plaintiffs had already tried to argue that the law firm had waived its right to arbitration in previous motions, but Ramos denied them.
"While plaintiffs assert that movants sought decisions on the merits of their claims, that assertion is not borne out by a review of the motions and their conclusions or prayers," she wrote. "Consequently, the Court holds that the preliminary motions did not invoke the judicial process in a manner that waived arbitration."
The case has been stayed and the parties have been ordered to arbitrate all claims in Harris County and file a status update by Nov. 30.
In the original complaint, the plaintiffs claimed the attorneys conducted a cover up.
“For over ten years, The O’Quinn Law Firm (‘O’Quinn’ or the ‘Firm’) at the leadership of its principle attorneys, John M. O’Quinn (‘Mr. O’Quinn’) and Richard Laminack in addition to the medical experts hand-picked the Firm, lead clients, the judicial system, defendants in the underlying case and opposing counsel to believe that its clients had silicosis in order to ‘fuel a silicosis litigation machine’ and generate millions of dollars in attorneys fees and expenses,” the suit states.
According to the suit, O’Quinn represented about 3,000 clients who were occupationally exposed to silica-containing products and materials and diagnosed with silica-related diseases. He filed suits on their behalf against numerous manufacturers and distributors of silica products.
These plaintiffs had been solicited by attorneys, law firms or screening companies to undergo medical screenings and then solicited to enter into contracts with law firms who referred the cases to O’Quinn to litigate their silicosis claims against the defendants.
“Many times, if the screening came up negative, Plaintiffs were instructed to be rescreened, sometimes even three or four times, until they ultimately were diagnosed with silicosis,” according to the suit.
Of the 3,000 plaintiffs, about 1,000 were filed in Texas state court and the rest were mainly filed in Mississippi and transferred to the Mississippi Multi District Litigation. The cases in this lawsuit were filed by O’Quinn directly in Corpus Christi federal court on or about Dec. 12, 2003, according to the suit.
In addition, the firm allegedly failed to investigate and assess individual claims, but instead entered into aggregate or global settlements and then “intimidated or coerced Plaintiffs into the settlement.”
The complaint states that when a group of former Texas silicosis clients brought suit against O’Quinn on overbilling allegations, the firm destroyed, shredded or altered documents over the course of several months.
The plaintiffs in this suit accuse the defendants of negligence, negligence per se, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, fraud, constructive fraud, fraud by non-disclosure, misapplication of fiduciary property and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“At the end of the day, Mr. O’Quinn, Mr. Laminack, the Firm and its attorneys placed their interests and the interests of the screening companies involved above those of its clients. This is the sad reality of O’Quinn’s approach to mass-tort litigation and this is the story of the residual victims of that approach, their clients.”
Case No. 2:12cv00387