AV-rated Lawyer David M. Houliston Finds Spoliation on Eve of Trial
Destroying, hiding or altering evidence before or during a lawsuit, known as “spoliation,” is a serious ethical breach; determining whether evidence has been tampered with can be a frustrating and time-consuming task for the other side.
David M. Houliston of Will Ferguson & Associates, New Mexico’s largest personal injury law firm, recently uncovered irrefutable evidence of spoliation in a case involving an injured oilfield worker. More than four years after the accident occurred, Houliston, and the law firm, the fourth law firm to represent the plaintiff, were the first and only attorneys to comb through the case files and spot the intentional evidence tampering.
The result was that the Midland-Odessa, Texas, oilfield services company agreed to settle days before trial for an amount appropriate to the claim. Although the terms of the settlement are confidential, here is how the case went down:
A 26 year-old oil-rig worker was part of a crew plugging an abandoned well in Southern New Mexico. In pulling up hundreds of sections of 38-foot-long pipe from the old, non-producing well, the worker suffered a crushing injury to the head. A casing elevator, a device which helps to hoist and suspend the 4.5-inch diameter pipe sections as they emerged from the ground, had inexplicably opened and dropped the pipe.
The worker was airlifted from the job site and underwent critical surgery. Despite heroic efforts, he was left severely permanently disabled.
One after another, prior attorneys for the worker had been assured by the company there was nothing wrong with the casing elevator. A series of experts retained by the company concluded the same thing. While preparing for depositions of company officials, Houliston pored through boxes of reports, photographs and other evidence. He focused on
When he compared them with later photos and reports, he realized there were differences. Side-by-side comparisons showed the company produced a different elevator for expert examination – not the damaged device in use on the jobsite on the day of the accident.
Proof of intentional spoliation was clear after Houliston deposed a company official with knowledge of the actual device shown to experts for testing. The witness had to admit the switch.
While preparing for trial, Houliston and the Ferguson law firm retained an outside attorney to defend their case, including the proof of spoliation, in a full-blown mock trial.
The attorney who presented the mock trial case, an expert in oilfield litigation, felt the evidence against the company was so damning, she volunteered to contact the company and explain the case’s likely outcome before an actual jury. The company agreed to settle the case within hours of her telephone call. There is a little Perry Mason left in the litigation business, after all.
The Will Ferguson & Associates Law Firm, “AV” rated by Martindale Hubbell, represents people seriously injured by the negligence of others and the families of persons who die because of the negligence of others.
For more information, contact Will Ferguson & Associates, (505) 243-5566 or 1 (800) 251-5566. Will Ferguson & Associates maintains two offices in Albuquerque and an office in Carlsbad, N.M.