Attorney replies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

DEAR EDITOR: I read with interest your editorial entitled “Lawsuit abuse still a problem.”

As one of the leading class-action lawyers in the country, your editorial is misdirected. Many of the victims in numerous class actions which I helped to initiate and ultimately settled, would not have received compensation but for trial lawyers and class-action lawyers. Among the many examples over the last few years are the following:

• MDL No. 1203, In re.: Diet Drug Litigation, settlement of $3.75 billion for the class and over $12 billion for individual injured victims. I had the pleasure of being appointed Federal/State Liaison Counsel for this entire litigation which was approved by the Federal Court in Philadelphia, Penn. There are hundreds of victims who have already died and thousands more who suffer permanent heart damage as a result of taking Fen-Phen.

• MDL No. 1401, In re.: Sulzer Inter-Op Hip Prosthesis Products Liability, settlement in excess of $1 billion for the 17,500 victims who received defective orthopedic hips, many of whom are crippled for life. It should be noted that the legal fee was $50 million for a $1 billion settlement. I served as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and spent weeks in Cleveland and Vienna, Austria, helping put this settlement together.

In reference to the tobacco litigation, as you recall, the late Wendell Gauthier from Metairie, and my office, from Reserve, helped start the tobacco litigation. This lawsuit ultimately resulted in settlements for the State Attorney Generals in excess of $300 billion. Louisiana was one of the states which benefitted from the class action work performed in New Orleans. Louisiana received well over $4 billion as its share of this settlement. For example, while our office and many colleagues represented the State of California, we recovered in excess of $40 billion for California. As a result of this case, the “evil habits” of the tobacco industry targeting kids through the use of cartoon characters has stopped! We are presently trying the class-action suit on behalf of all of the victims of the tobacco companies’ lies and deceits in Civil District Court in New Orleans at this time.

Our office has had the pleasure of representing firemen and plant workers killed and injured in Norco; Lodi, N.J.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Minot, N.D., to name a few. In most of these cases, innocent victims were injured and/or killed as a result of negligence on the part of corporate entities.

Recently, in a trial before Judge Thomas Daley, United Gas Pipeline Co. and Woodson Construction Co. allowed a main gas pipeline to break, thereby injuring the citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish three times within six weeks.

I guess your newspaper has apparently forgotten the benefit the citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish received from trial lawyers and lawsuits from the Shell Norco case, as well as the United Gas Pipeline case: computer equipment for St. John the Baptist Parish, donations for the school board for a new escape route for East St. John Elementary School, emergency radio equipment for the sheriffs of St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes, playground donations, animal shelter donations, donations to the River Parish Art Council, and money to buy lawn mowers, weed eaters and maintenance equipment to allow the parish rights of way to be cut and maintained with inmate labor.

It is also interesting that you have made no mention of the drug industry, who in the last four years alone have had to withdraw the following drugs because they cause death and/or serious personal injury to its victims: Fen-Phen, Propulsid, Rezulin, Norplant, Baycol and Premco, to name a few.

Over the last three weekends, I have had the pleasure of negotiating a settlement in a class-action suit on behalf of the victims who suffered permanent muscle damage as a result of Baycol. I am sure the families of the hundreds of people who died from this dangerous drug appreciate trial lawyers and/or class-action lawsuits.

By the way, our office and hundreds of other law offices throughout the U.S. have offered our services, free of charge, to the firemen, policemen and victims of the terrorist attack in New York. No mention is ever made by your newspaper of this fact.

Daniel E. Becnel Jr.