How We Do It
CASE SUMMARY: Uncovering the Facts
When a Dallas company was tricked into buying another that wasn’t as financially sound as its owners claimed, Chris Hamilton was able to get to the bottom of the fraud and recover the company’s loss.
In 2011, Primcogent Solutions purchased Santa Barbara Medical Innovations (SBMI). Primcogent was a distributor of health and wellness products, and SBMI owned the exclusive distribution rights to the Zerona Diamond 2400, a medical laser which was being advertised as a non-invasive alternative to liposuction.
In its sales pitch, SBMI claimed revenue from the Zerona, manufactured by McKinney-based Erchonia Corp., was strong and only expected to go up. Sales were being given a boost by a contract with Groupon that was helping to market the product. Primcogent liked what it heard, and the two companies quickly closed the deal.
Clouds on the Horizon
As it turns out, Primcogent wasn’t told the entire story. After purchasing SBMI, it learned that many customers were unhappy with the Zerona and were returning it at an alarming rate. A short time later, Groupon canceled its contract with SBMI, which only added to its troubles. The financial burden brought about by these problems proved too much for Primcogent to bear, and the company filed for Chapter 11 in May of 2013. Months later, it filed for Chapter 7.
Getting to the Bottom of it
Chris Hamilton was selected by the bankruptcy court along with two other attorneys to handle Primcogent’s claim against SBMI and Erchonia. Through his investigation, Hamilton uncovered information showing SBMI knew beforebeing acquired by Primcogent that customers were unhappy with the Zerona and that Groupon planned to terminate its contract.
The case was scheduled to be heard before a three-judge panel in a binding arbitration hearing. Erchonia chose to settle mere minutes before the hearing took place. Santa Barbara Medical Innovations chose not to. Although, after the six-day hearing ended and the judges handed down their verdict, it might have wished it had.
Hamilton didn’t stop there. Days later, he filed a breach of contract claim against Carolina Casualty, which provides SBMI with business insurance, for refusing to pay a settlement that was clearly spelled out under its policy. Through Hamilton’s efforts, Primcogent was able a recover a substantial amount of the money it had lost.
CASE SUMMARY: Medical Malpractice
When a North Texas woman died as the result of her doctor’s negligence, the hospital refused to accept responsibility. Chris Hamilton was able to get the woman’s husband and two small children the compensation they deserved.
In the summer of 2013, Katina Clark began feeling numbness in her legs. After visiting a doctor, she learned she was suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder that attacks the nervous system. The disease causes muscle weakness, making it difficult to breath, and those who suffer from it often need the help of a ventilator. With the proper medical care, most people who suffer from GBS make a full recovery.
Katina was employed by Acute Surgical Care Specialists, and worked at Medical Center Arlington (MCA) as a surgical technician. After being diagnosed, she was admitted to MCA for treatment. Jennifer Burris, Katina’s doctor, made a small incision in her neck and inserted a tracheostomy tube, which allowed her to breath.
Something's Not Right
A short time later it was discovered that the tube hadn’t been inserted properly and Katina was getting less than half the air she needed to survive. Dr. Burris failed to properly monitor the situation, and the leak went unrepaired. The next morning, a nurse turned Katina over without the proper help, and the tube became dislodged.
Katina went without oxygen for over 35 minutes, causing irreparable brain damage and leaving her in a vegetative state. She was put in a nursing home for over a year until she died in January of 2015.
Going to Trial
While several defendants were named in the lawsuit, all except Dr. Burris and Acute Surgical Care Specialists chose to settle before it began. Katina’s family was represented by Chris Hamilton and Stephen Blackburn. As the trial progressed, evidence was presented showing that Katina’s tracheostomy was performed incorrectly. It was also shown that, despite knowing something was wrong, the hospital did nothing to correct it. There was no reason Katina couldn’t have recovered from her illness, and the evidence showed her death could have been prevented.
The trial lasted more than two weeks. Once all was said and done, it took the jury less than three hours to hand down its verdict. Hamilton and Blackburn were able to win a sizeable award to ensure that Katina’s husband, Caden, would be able to care for their two small children. More importantly, they were able to send a message to hospitals and doctors everywhere about the importance of properly caring for their patients.
CASE SUMMARY: Fighting the Travel Ban
When the Trump administration issued a ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, lawyers from all over the country mobilized to fight it.
Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769, also known as the Travel Ban, on Friday, January 27, 2017. The order cut the total number of refugees entering the country in 2017 by more than half – from 110,000 to 50,000 – halted the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a period of 120 days so vetting standards could be assessed and revised, and placed a permanent hold on any Syrian refugees from entering the country. The ban affected those from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia.
The ban’s rollout was problematic to say the least. The executive order was signed on a Friday, which meant that information was difficult for officials to obtain over the weekend. Legal residents traveling outside the country when the ban went into effect found that they could not gain reentry. Customs and Border Protection officials were detaining individuals who had done nothing wrong. Families were separated. Those seeking urgent medical care were unable to receive it.
The backlash was immediate and nationwide. Thousands showed up at airports all over the country to protest the administration’s actions. Attorneys volunteered to help those who were being wrongfully detained. In Dallas, Chris Hamilton was at the forefront of this effort. Together with attorney Lisa Blue, he pledged $100,000 to support a war room of about 150 attorneys that formed in a conference room at the Grand Hyatt hotel at DFW International Airport. Once assembled, they got to work.
Progress was slow. Because officials across the country were still struggling to interpret the administration’s new rules, solid information was hard to come by. Much of what Hamilton learned came from travelers at the airport and their families. Other officials spoke off the record. He learned that about 30 people were being held, although no official number was given. Travelers were being asked questions about their religion, and in some cases CBP officers were attempting to gain access to their social media accounts. Hamilton and the attorneys he worked with filed petitions asking that these individuals immediately be released.
Their hard work paid off. On Wednesday, February 1, Hamilton took to social media to make the announcement. In a short video, he said, “We have verified today that folks are no longer being detained at DFW Airport since about noon today.”
On February 3, District Judge James Robart issued a ruling in the case of Washington v Trump, which blocked large portions of the order. The next day, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the order would no longer be enforced. While that didn’t mark the end of the administration’s efforts to reinstate the ban, or the legal challenges against it, it’s thanks to the hard work of Hamilton and the other attorneys who volunteered that those in need of help received it so quickly.
CASE SUMMARY: Defrauding the Government
For years, a medical company illegally paid doctors to use a device for a procedure that hadn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. When one of the company’s former employees came forward, Chris Hamilton was able to help expose what they had done.
Atrium Medical Corp. was the manufacturer of the iCast, a medical stent that was used to treat tracheobronchial obstructions. Atrium wanted to encourage doctors to use the device in their patients’ vascular systems. However, the standard for this use is much higher and hadn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Atrium pushed ahead anyway. Esther Grace Sullivan worked for the company from 2007 to 2012 as a sales representative and territory business manager. She claimed that Atrium had violated federal law by convincing doctors to use the stents in their patients and then bill military hospitals, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as programs like Medicare and Medicaid. She also claimed Atrium provided kickbacks to docors in the form of financial grants, also in violation of the law. She said this was organized through a series of referral dinners that involved doctors from all over the country and took place over a period of several years. During Sullivan’s time with the company, doctors used the iCast in tens of thousands of procedures, netting Atrium an estimated $382 million in sales. She believed nearly all of that money came from unapproved uses of the device.
Taking up the Case
The False Claims Act is a federal law that holds parties liable for defrauding government programs. However, the government often doesn’t have the resources to prosecute those in violation of the law. When Sullivan, who blew the whistle on Atrium, asked the government to intervene, the Department of Justice declined. The case was close to dead until Chris Hamilton and a team of attorneys from across the country came onboard in 2014.
Winning the Day
The case against Atrium was one of the largest of its kind in which the government chose not to get involved. Before it could go to trial, the company reached a settlement with Hamilton and the rest of his team.
Speaking after the settlement had been reached, Hamilton said, “This was a victory not only for our client but for the many people whose taxes were spent on a device that was used in a way that was never approved by the FDA.” Under whistleblower statutes, Sullivan was eligible for a money reward for her role in exposing Atrium’s actions. However, most of the money obtained in the settlement was used to pay back the government programs that had been taken from by Atrium and the doctors they worked with.
CASE SUMMARY: McDonald’s Points Fingers
Headlines will always sensationalize the amount one person had to pay another, but at the heart of this case were two teenagers killed in the prime of their lives, and a corporation recognized by every person on the planet that refused to accept responsibility for it.
The case against McDonald’s began as an insurance claim. Chris Hamilton was contacted by an attorney representing William and Nicole Crisp, whose 19-year-old daughter, Lauren, was killed in a car accident on February 18, 2012. As Chris listened, he learned that what had happened that night was much bigger than a traffic accident, and involved an incredible act of negligence by a multibillion dollar corporation.
Before she died, Lauren Crisp was with her boyfriend, 18-year old Denton Ward. They and friends Tanner Giesen and Samantha Bean were walking through the parking lot of a McDonald’s in College Station, Texas, when Denton and Tanner were attacked by a mob of about 20 people. What caused the attack is unknown. What is known is that local police were called at least 40 times in the three years leading up to that night to break up fights at that same McDonald’s.
Denton and Tanner were hurt, so Nicole and Samantha did the only thing they could do. They put them in their vehicle and drove to the hospital. Trying to get to the hospital as fast as she could, Samantha ran a red light and collided with a pickup truck. Both Lauren and Denton died in the crash.
McDonald’s was aware that police were being called again and again to break up fights on their property. Installing cameras or hiring security guards could have kept this from happening, but they chose not to do that. In response to the accident, McDonald’s did what most corporations do in these situations: it denied any wrongdoing and pointed the finger at others. They argued that, while Denton and Tanner had been attacked on their property, they had been improperly served alcohol at a local bar beforehand, and that this contributed to the fatal injuries he and Lauren suffered in the accident on the way to the hospital.
McDonald’s made this same argument when the case went to trial in 2014. Although one of the men involved in the attack testified otherwise, McDonald’s said cameras and security guards wouldn’t have stopped what happened. Former managers said they were unaware of any problems.
The trial lasted for nearly a week. The jurors reached a verdict in less than four hours. Together, the amount McDonald’s was ordered to pay to the families of Lauren Crisp and Denton Ward was the largest premises liability verdict in the history of the state.