Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GTLA members demand safe water for Georgians

After twelve years of hard work, GTLA members Joel Wooten, Robert Killian, John Bell and Pam James continue to give. In 1995, the team of attorneys filed suit against Allied/LCP Plant on behalf of Glynn County. The company was found to have been knowingly polluting the Purvis Creek and Turtle River with PCBs and Mercury. The sites of the pollution became Georgia’s first Superfund Site, a site designated by the federal government as a locations of uncontrolled hazardous waste.

The case was settled in November of 2006 for a total of $50 million plus additional clean-up for the Glynn County water making it the largest environmental litigation in Georgia history. The outstanding work of this team of lawyers earned them the Ogden Doremus Award for Excellence in Environmental Law this past September.

And still this team of attorneys continue to serve this cause. Yesterday, December 11th, they presented $100,000 to several organizations involved in consumer and environmental protection.

Deborah Sheppard, the Executive Director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper one of the organizations to receive the donation said, “These funds will support the Altamaha Riverkeeper and the Altamaha Coastkeeper’s work to protect our coastal, estuary and marsh systems. We are fortunate to have attorneys whose skill and dedications created this legal victory which makes LCP accountable for their damage to the Glynn marshes. Their generous support of our coastal organizations is greatly appreciated.”

Justine Thompson of GreenLaw, another recipient of the donations said, “These attorneys filed this case back in January 1995 and began what was an epic twelve-year battle. We applaud their relentless pursuit of environmental justice on behalf of the health of our citizens, and are grateful for their gifts back to the community.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

Court Secrecy

For Immediate Release
AAJ Press Room

AAJ Seeks Legislative Action to Stop “Court Secrecy”

Washington, DC— Invoked in countless legal settlements, secrecy provisions allow big corporations to prevent the public from finding out about dangerous products that kill and injure people, and the American Association for Justice is fighting back to stop agreements that endanger public health and safety.

As a condition of settling product liability cases, businesses often demand that injured individuals agree to secrecy provisions which prohibit them from disclosing any public safety hazards uncovered during litigation. Court secrecy allows corporate wrongdoers to evade real accountability when evidence of dangerous defects and corporate negligence is routinely covered up. Consequently, irresponsible businesses continue to profit from product sales at the expense of consumer safety.

Congress will be addressing the health and safety problems associated with court secrecy in an upcoming Congressional hearing chaired by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). Among those testifying will be Johnny Bradley of Pachuta, Mississippi, who suffered permanent injuries and became a widower in 2002 when the tread on his Cooper tire separated. Bradley’s attorney, Bruce Kaster, uncovered evidence of Cooper tire defects which had previously been sealed in other cases and continues to remain sealed to this day. Even at this hearing, Johnny Bradley cannot disclose the documented evidence uncovered by his attorney during litigation.

Bradley is also subject to a court secrecy order requested by Cooper Tires, which his attorney has challenged vigorously. Bradley believes these defects are so serious that Cooper would be forced to halt production if they were publicly known.The Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, has scheduled the hearing on “The Sunshine in Litigation Act: Does Court Secrecy Undermine Public Health and Safety?” for December 11, 2007 at 2:30 p.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Chairman Kohl is expected to re-introduce the “Sunshine in Litigation Act” soon after the hearing. Previous versions of Kohl’s bill would have restricted judicial secrecy agreements that conceal dangerous product defects in product liability settlements.Also testifying at the hearing will be Public Justice Attorney Leslie Bailey, University of California law professor and attorney Richard Zitrin, and the Honorable Joseph F. Anderson, a Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.In 2002, then-Chief Judge Anderson led his fellow South Carolina federal court judges in voting unanimously to ban the filing of sealed settlements in their court.

Just prior to the vote, Judge Anderson stated, “Here is a rare opportunity for our court to do the right thing and take the lead nationally in a time when the Arthur Andersen/Enron/Catholic priest controversies are undermining public confidence in our institutions and causing a growing suspicion of things that are kept secret by public bodies.”

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wal-Mart's greed costs employees

By: Timothy Santelli
Atlanta Attorney

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving. With stores popping up all over the nation, the franchise continues to grow at an exponential rate. In 2005, The New York Times said that Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in profit every minute. That’s right. Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in every minute of every hour of every day in profit—not revenue—but profit. That profit margin, 3 times that of Target’s and nearly 11 times that of Cosco’s, apparently isn’t enough for super-giant. Now the corporation is going after its own employees.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story about Deborah Shank, a 52-year old woman who had worked for Wal-Mart for eight years. Mrs. Shank was in a catastrophic car accident seven years ago when a semi-trailer truck hit her, leaving her permanently brain-damaged.

Her husband and her three sons went to court and obtained a relatively small amount of money—considering her damages—to assist in paying for the healthcare costs. The settlement, after court expenses, and other costs, left the Shanks with $417,000 to be put in a special trust for the medical needs that the 52-year old woman would depend on for the rest of her life.
Wal-Mart got wind of the settlement and the mega-corporation sued the Shanks for $470,000—to recoup the expenses it had spent on her medical care. Now, the entire trust fund for Deborah Shanks’ healthcare is going back to the multi-billion dollar corporation.

Wal-Mart was able to take this money from a working employee because the mega-corporation includes a provision in their health care plan reserving the right to recoup any money recovered by an employee in a personal injury suit. The Shanks were unaware of this clause.

Making this situation even more outrageously unfair is that Mrs. Shanks paid hefty premiums for the optional health coverage provided by Wal-Mart. While an average full-time employee at Wal-Mart makes $17,114 a year—over 16% of that salary will go back to Wal-Mart for healthcare—healthcare with numerous deductibles. Over 16% is over twice the national average of employee insurance costs.

In Georgia, Wal-Mart is the #1 employer of parents with children enrolled in PeachCare. Every year Georgia’s taxpayers pay nearly $10 million dollars to cover the more than 10,000 children enrolled whose parents work full time at the corporation and still can’t afford insurance.
Yet Wal-Mart profits. At $20,000 a minute.

Six days before Wal-Mart claimed victory, the Shanks 18-year old son was killed while serving in Iraq. Now, with no settlement money, the Shanks’ family, without their son, is relying on Medicaid and Social Security payments for her 24-hour care. Mr. Shanks is working two jobs and barely has time to be with his wife. Her health is declining; she can’t remember that her son was killed in the war, only that he died. A health-care administrator told Mr. Shank that divorcing his wife would benefit the family as she may be eligible for more public aid. The Shanks lost on appeal at the Circuit Court. They hope the US Supreme Court will hear their case.

In just 23 and-a-half minutes, Wal-Mart made the money awarded to the Shanks in profit alone. But it’s not enough for the greedy corporation. They took that money from a working family—a family who lost their son in the war, a family without a mother who can care for her children through no fault of her own.

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful last Thanksgiving. If only the working families in America, like the Shanks, could say the same.