Halliburton Pleads Guilty to Destroying Gulf Oil Spill Evidence

shutterstock_55843996-300x356We all remember the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday Halliburton, the contractor involved in the drilling of the oil well that exploded, agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence pertaining to the incident. According to the Justice Department, computer simulations Halliburton performed for months after the accident didn’t match its story that BP PLC, the company that owned the well, was at fault for not following Halliburton’s advice on using certain equipment.

BP hired Halliburton to manage the servicing of the wells to prevent leaks. But investigators discovered that natural gas surged onto the drilling rig and exploded. Not only were 11 people killed in the process, it resulted in the worst offshore spill in the history of this country. For its crime, Halliburton essentially got a “slap on the wrist” by the Justice Department in the form of a misdemeanor, and will pay only $200,000 which is the maximum allowable fine. Additionally, the company is on three years’ probation and the Justice Department will not prosecute the company further. However, as a token gesture of “goodwill,” Halliburton voluntarily contributed $55 million to the National Wildlife Foundation.

The three companies involved in the spill, Halliburton, BP and Transocean, the operator of the rig, have all pleaded guilty to a criminal charge. Prior to the accident, the Justice Department said Halliburton had recommended to BP, the British oil company, that the well include 21 metal centralizing collars to stabilize the cementing. Instead, BP decided to use only six. After the accident, Halliburton told workers to destroy the computer simulations showing little difference between using six and 21 collars. This allowed Halliburton to claim that the spill occurred because BP didn’t follow its advice.

It turns out that the cementing process may have had nothing to do with the spill in the first place. During the trial, Thomas Roth, a senior company executive in charge of the process testified that it “would have a low probability of success” due to the well design and other factors.

Timothy Quirk, a Halliburton laboratory manager, conducted stability tests on cement samples but was instructed not to prepare a laboratory work sheet. He also said he threw out his notes on the test.

In short, the tests showed that the cement was not stable, and the failure of its foam seal, along with a blowout preventer that failed, caused the deluge of oil and gas to explode. It’s hard to believe that Halliburton only received a misdemeanor for its gross irresponsibility and ultimate cover-up.

A civil trial is underway in New Orleans, and legal experts say Halliburton’s guilty plea will most likely work against the company while deciding on damages owed to the Gulf states and businesses affected by the spill. Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said “This could impact how the civil litigation is resolved, potentially imposing more liability on Halliburton than we originally thought.” It may also work in favor of BP, which contends its share of the responsibility is no greater than that of Halliburton and Transocean.

The Justice Department also filed criminal charges against four BP employees. And Transocean has agreed to plead guilty and must pay $400 million and other penalties.

Prior to the incident, Halliburton was known as a leader in the oil and gas shale drilling business that is making the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. But recently, the giant services company has been scrutinized over accusations that it performed substandard, overpriced work for the U.S. Military in Iraq, bribed Nigerian officials to win energy contracts and conducted business with Iran during sanctions against the country.

When it comes to big corporations, I’m over the shock of just how corrupt they can be. Nothing they do would surprise me now – absolutely nothing.

Photo Credits: Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com

Woman Dies on Texas Giant Roller Coaster at Six Flags

130719-Six_Flags_Texas-texas-giant_610x4581-300x225If there is any question as to whether you’re secure in your seat, perhaps the best idea when being strapped into an amusement park ride is to scream BEFORE the ride starts, Although investigators are not sure exactly what happened on the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags last Friday, Rosy Esparza fell out of her seat and to her death right before her son’s eyes, who sat beside her.

A woman named Carmen Brown witnessed the fall and said she overheard Esparaza’s concern that she wasn’t secured in her T-shaped lap bar, which is designed to be fool-proof. The Texas Giant is a whopping fourteen stories high so there is no way that Esparza could have survived the ordeal as she raised her arms at the top of the ride and was flung out of the seat to her death.

The German company that built the cars for the Texas Giant, Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, is sending out experts today to figure out how this horrific incident occurred. However, ultimately Six Flags must decide what happened to Esparza. The Arlington Police Department has determined that there was no sign of foul play or criminality involved. It is speculated that Esparza’s size may be the reason she was not secure in her seat. Safety experts say seats are built for adults who weigh 180 pounds. So why does the Texas Giant not have a weight restriction? Many people, both men and women, weigh well over 180 pounds. According to Bill Avery of Avery Safety Consulting Park Employees, “The operators should absolutely be able to determine if a person’s body mass can fit inside of the riding compartment the restraint mechanism correctly fits their body and will retain them within the unit.”

Brown said the attendant who secured Esparza’s seat was “basically nonchalant” and told Esparza, “As long as you heard it click, you’re fine.” However, her seat was the only one that only clicked once and although she didn’t push the issue, she didn’t feel safe.

The amusement park industry estimates that the chances of being injured on any ride are only one in 24 million but that estimate will bring no comfort the family of Rosy Esparza. To date, the family has declined any interviews.

Esparza’s son said in a Facebook post, “It is sad to lose my mom,” he wrote, “but I am happy that when she was alive she enjoyed it to the fullest. I always took her to explore new places.” Reyes Browne Reilley is a personal injury law firm, so it may seem a little self-serving to add anything to this terrible story, except to say our wishes are with the Esparza family.

None of us will ever be in the exact same situation as Rosy, but if you feel uncomfortable with level of safety in a given situation (like how you’re seated and secured in an amusement ride), you need to make a fuss – a very loud fuss, and change the situation to your advantage. Just remember that the potential embarrassment of raising your hand, shouting, and making a scene are insignificant when compared to being severely injured or killed.

Photo Credit: CBS News [link]

Monster Overdose: Are Energy Drinks Killing Teens?

Alex Morris died suddenly this year from cardiac arrest at the age of 19. He habitually drank two cans of Monster Energy® drinks each day for two years. His mother Paula believes energy drinks were the cause and immediately filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp. on June 25, 2013.

This is not the first time that Monster Energy® drinks have been sued as the cause of death for teenagers. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has reported as many as 5 deaths between 2009 and 2012 could be linked to Monster’s energy drinks. The FDA also linked 5-Hour Energy® drinks with 13 deaths.

Another popular highly caffeinated drink to make the news is Four Loko® – a caffeinated alcoholic malt beverage. This drink sent tons of teens to the hospital. After the FDA stepped in the company dropped caffeine from its products.

In an attempt to avoid negative publicity, Monster® has re-branded its energy drink as a ‘beverage’ instead of a dietary supplement so they no longer have to report deaths associated with the drink to the FDA. What a clever ploy – and one the FDA is likely to buy hook, line and sinker.

Over 20,000 ER visits 2011 involved energy drinks. However the FDA still doesn’t have to regulate energy drinks other than those that combine caffeine and alcohol.

A few US senators are now calling on the FDA to start regulating energy drinks. And the American Medical Association, which represents 225,000 U.S. doctors, has demanded that the Federal Trade Commission ban marketing of energy drinks to kids. This should get interesting.

Monster Energy is a registered trademark of Hansen Beverage Company, Corona CA. 5-Hour Energy is a registered trademark of Innovation Ventures LLC (Living Essentials) Walled Lake, MI.

Prescription Narcotics Causing More Harm Than Good?

shutterstock_143327605-300x331In the new ebook, “A World of Hurt: Fixing Pain Medicine’s Biggest Mistake“, New York Times reporter Barry Meier really hits home the fact that opioid prescription painkillers such as OxyContin not only don’t work for many people,they are highly addictive and can cause a myriad of health problems. Addiction to such drugs is often considered more socially acceptable because they’re considered “white collar” drugs, meaning they’re prescribed rather than obtained illegally – at least in most cases.

Most of us know these drugs are addictive and when mixed with other substances such as alcohol, can lead to overdose and even death. But what you may not know is that for many people, they simply don’t work, create psychological dependency and can cause depression of hormone production, lethargy, sleep apnea and much, much more.

Death from the overdose of narcotic painkillers is four times greater than it was even ten years ago. Now, around 16,000 people a year die from an overdose.

So why were narcotic painkillers the preferred choice for treating chronic pain? They’re less expensive than multidisciplinary methods such as physical therapy, and doctors get reimbursed quickly for prescribing these drugs. The good news is that through research and increased awareness of their dangers, more and more doctors are choosing safer alternatives to treat chronic pain.

Click here to purchase the book mentioned above.

Parents Miss Warning On Toddlers’ Cold Medicine

sick-child-200x299According to last month’s poll by researches at the University of Michigan, 42% of parents gave over-the-counter cough and cold medications to their children under the age of 4. Additionally, 44% gave them multi-symptom cough and cold medications. And 25% gave these toddlers decongestants. The survey comes a whopping five years after these drugs’ packages included warnings against using them in very young children.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration advised that these medications not be given to children under the age of 2. The previous year, an agency advisory committee had determined that children younger than 6 shouldn’t take these medications. It was even suggested that these medications didn’t help young children. The FDA said that some of the drugs might be associated with side effects and some deaths in very young patients, primarily due to overdoses.

Manufacturers followed the FDA’s advice and put warnings on their products’ boxes saying they shouldn’t be given to children under the age of four. Medications containing these warnings contain dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, gauifenesin, an expectorant and the decongestants phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. Medications with antihistamines warn against use in children younger than six. Major brand names of these medications include Novartis, Pfizer, Triaminic, Dimetapp and Robitussin.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association represents makers of these over-the-counter medications. It said most cases of side effects involve children taking the meds without parental supervision. It went on to say that the drug facts panel should remain on the back of the packaging rather than the front. But of course, putting the warning on the front might mean parents would actually READ it.

In spite of these and other so-called efforts to alert parents, a study in 2010 published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development found that about 1/3 of parents had never heard of the FDA’s recommendations. Of those who had, 1/3 planned to continue giving these meds to their children. A 2011 poll from the University of Michigan showed that 61% of parents with children 2 and younger had given them cough and cold medications. And yet another study recently published in Clinical Pediatrics found that 82% of 65 parents of children younger than 6 said they would use the medications. Almost 3/4 of those parents said they would administer the wrong dose. In fact, some parents read the instructions and just made up their own dose. So the misuse of these medications is not just the fault of the manufacturers, but some parents as well. Apparently parents become frustrated because there are not enough medications out there to help their young children, and out of desperation, use the medications designed for older children.

Lower Drunk Driving Threshold To .05 Blood Alcohol Level?

shutterstock_13811443-300x200According to the Associated Press, a federal safety board just recommended that states should cut their drunken driving threshold by nearly 1/2, from .08 blood alcohol level to .05. Apparently research shows that the .05 standard has significantly reduced deaths in other countries. In fact, over 100 countries have adopted this .05 standard. Within ten years in Europe, traffic deaths related to drunken driving were reduced by more than half. So what does a .05 alcohol level mean to drivers? It means a woman weighing less than 120 pounds can get a DUI after one drink, and a man weighing 160 pounds can be hauled off for two drinks. A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 80-proof alcohol.

The National Transportation Safety Board indicated it didn’t intend to prevent drivers from having a glass of wine with dinner. However, if one does have a drink or two, the safest bet is to not drive. The fact is that alcohol concentration levels as low as .01 can impair driving performance. Levels as low as .05 substantially increase the risk of fatal crashes, said the NTSB.

Jonathan Adkins, an official with the Governors Highway Safety Association said, “It was very difficult to get .08 in most states so lowering it again won’t be popular. The focus in the states is on high blood alcohol content offenders as well as repeat offenders. We expect industry will also be very vocal about keeping the limit at .08.” The term “industry,” of course, means the alcohol industry which has a huge lobby in government.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated that 7,082 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if all drivers on the road had blood alcohol content below .08. As this story unfolds further, it will be interesting to see how far the NTSB’s recommendations get at the state level. But the fact remains, drunk drivers need to stay off our roads at all costs.

If you or someone you care about has sustained injuries from a drunk driver or alcohol-related car or truck wreck, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the Dallas auto accident attorneys at Reyes Browne Reilley Law Firm at 214-526-7900, or submit the short case review form on the right. Remember – You’re under no obligation to use our services, and we charge nothing if you do not win your claim.