Last Tuesday, the Houston Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s granting of several summary judgment motions in a legal malpractice lawsuit by claimants who had second thoughts about settlements secured on their behalf. In Linda Hernandez et al. v. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels & Friend, et al., No. 14-13-00567-cv (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 21, 2014), Abraham Watkins had represented a group of former BP employees who were working at a Texas City refinery that experienced an explosion on March 23, 2005. Although the plaintiffs did not require immediate medical attention after the explosion and resumed work shortly thereafter, Abraham Watkins secured a $135,000 settlement on their behalf. Dissatisfied with this recovery, the plaintiffs retained the Kassab Law Firm, and asserted various malpractice claims against Abraham Watkins, claimed that actual damages were at least $6 million, and demanded Abraham Watkins’ complete file on the BP Explosion litigation.

In response to the demand, Abraham Watkins filed suit in the 212th District Court in Galveston seeking a declaration that it adequately handled and settled the underlying lawsuit and that demands for its file were vague and overbroad. After the plaintiffs’ subsequent malpractice lawsuit was transferred and consolidated with the Galveston suit, the trial court granted various rulings in favor of Abraham Watkins.

On the discovery issue, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals cited to Elizondo v. Krist, 415 S.W.3d 259 (Tex. 2013), a recent Texas Supreme Court case related to the same BP Explosion. The Court in Elizondo stated that in assessing whether a law firm failed to secure an adequate settlement, courts could compare the settlements that similarly situated plaintiffs obtained from the same defendant. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly refused to compel this same information from Abraham Watkins because the plaintiffs had not specified what injuries they had suffered from the BP Explosion and that claims of “soft-tissue injuries” were impermissibly vague.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed various motions for summary judgment in favor of Abraham Watkins, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to present evidence on their various claims and that there was no evidence that Abraham Watkins committed malpractice. 

Editor’s Note: Abraham Watkins was represented by Dale Jefferson and appellate counsel Levon Hovantanian, and Bruce E. Ramage of Martin, Disiere, Jefferson & Wisdom, L.L.P. through its E&O carrier, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, and we congratulate everyone on this significant victory.

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