The following is being released by DaimlerChrysler Corporation:
A Texas judge dismissed a $2 billion product liability lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler Corporation today and slapped three San Antonio lawyers with a record $920,000 fine after ruling that they had tampered with evidence and attempted to bribe witnesses in an effort to manufacture a lawsuit against the automaker.
In an extraordinary rebuke, Texas District Court Judge David Peeples assessed sanctions against Robert Kugle, Trey Wilson and Andrew Toscano of the Kugle Law Firm and indicated that he would report the attorneys to the Bexar County District Attorney and the State Bar of Texas.
“This is the most flagrant example of misconduct I’ve seen in more than 20 years as a lawyer,” said DaimlerChrysler Associate General Counsel Ken Gluckman. “While these sanctions are appropriate compensation for DaimlerChrysler, we hope the District Attorney and State Bar of Texas seriously review the judge’s ruling and consider whether criminal charges are warranted and whether these three individuals should be allowed to continue to practice law.”
The initial lawsuit arose out of a tragic accident near Sabinas, Coahuaila, Mexico in June 1996. Of the seven people riding in the five passenger 1995 Dodge Neon, four were killed in a high speed rollover accident. None of the deceased were belted, and all of them were riding in the back seat.
Following the accident, Bridgett Fabila told two Mexican police officers and a Red Cross official who transported her to a hospital that her husband had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving and then drifted into the oncoming lane of traffic. She and her husband subsequently both jerked the steering wheel, causing the Neon to lose control and then roll over several times.
After filing suit against DaimlerChrysler, Mrs. Fabila attempted to recant her admissions and to blame the automaker for the accident. This set off a bizarre chain of events which ultimately led to the discovery that the Kugle Law Firm had engaged in extensive fraud, evidence tampering, and witness tampering including bribery and intimidation in order to build a phony case against DaimlerChrysler.
Evidence Tampering. On July 6, 1998, Tom Persing, an expert hired by the Kugle Law Firm, inspected the Dodge Neon and found no defect with the vehicle. Photographs taken by Persing show the steering decoupler completely intact. All the attorneys were present at the inspection and Mr. Kugle and Mr. Wilson were specifically informed by Mr. Persing that there was no defect. On September 3, 1998, another expert for plaintiffs inspected the vehicle and found the steering decoupler was separated. Plaintiffs produced photographs from that inspection but never produced Mr. Persing’s photographs. The Kugle Law Firm repeatedly tried to hide Persing’s exonerative photographs from DaimlerChrysler — which presented irrefutable proof that the Neon had been tampered with — and defied two separate court orders to produce the Persing evidence.
Bribery and Intimidation. Despite repeated requests by the Kugle Law Firm to block their testimony, Officers Hector Morales and Marco Villanueva of the Mexican Highway Patrol testified that Enrique “Henry” Saldivar, an investigator hired by the Kugle Law Firm, attempted to bribe them in exchange for “forgetting” crucial testimony about the circumstances of the accident.
Red Cross Official Javier Ramirez testified that Saldivar attempted to intimidate him with threats that family members were being investigated. Throughout the case, Kugle lawyers fought vigorously to prevent these witnesses from testifying.
When their fraud was exposed, Kugle attorney Trey Wilson told his expert, Tom Persing, “we were running a bluff, and they called our hand.” DaimlerChrysler’s Ken Gluckman said “Wilson’s comments reflect the cavalier attitude this firm has toward the law. Millions of dollars are at stake, the reputation of a corporation is at stake, and these guys think they are playing a game.”
“Frankly, I view this outrageous conduct as an unfortunate byproduct of our legal system gone awry,” said Gluckman. “When plaintiffs’ lawyers routinely reap legal fees in the millions or even tens of millions at the end of these cases, it creates an ‘anything goes’ attitude that makes our system ripe for abuse.”
In recent years, DaimlerChrysler Corporation has taken an increasingly hard line against abusive plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In September 1998, DaimlerChrysler won an $800,000 judgment against two St. Louis lawyers who had illegally removed confidential documents while employed at one of the company’s outside defense counsels. The attorneys then attempted to use the documents to file class action lawsuits against the company.
In November 1999, DaimlerChrysler filed suit against a Philadelphia law firm which had sued the company even though their plaintiff had never been injured in a DaimlerChrysler vehicle and had never even owned the vehicle they claimed was defective.