On July 6, 2013 a uncontested train laden with oil cars derailed and incinerated the city focus of Lac-Mégantic, Que. It was one of the biggest rail disasters in Canada’s history and led to changes in decry regulation.
Of the 47 people killed, 40 would be represented by a assembly of law firms that included the Garcia Law Group. It is an outfit associated with Willie Garcia, 54, a Texan critics say is one of the most shameful ambulance chasers in Texas.
Approximately $114 million has been let out to the families of victims. This money came from an indemnization scratch. The federal government, over 30 companies that were beseeched, as well as Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway, Ltd. the company — now in bankruptcy buffer — that owned the train, all contributed to that indemnization fund.
Coinciding to estimates done by Radio-Canada’s Enquête, the Garcia Law Group pocketed between $10 million and $15 million from that loot, despite the fact that they did very little legal come to c clear up.
In fact, another Texas lawyer says Willie Garcia’s signature on the come down with may even make it void.
Undue pressure on victims’ families?
In the dates and weeks after the crash — when many bodies were assuage being identified — lawyers from the U.S. turned up in town, offering to succour families fight for compensation.
Working with them behind the scenes was Willie Garcia. He’s not a bencher, but according to court documents released during an acrimonious divorce, he ciphered up victims of disasters and sold those cases to law firms for a fee. He is a kind of ambulance chaser.
Ambulance courting, also known as case running, has deep roots in the border metropolises of South Texas, and Garcia is considered one of the best.
The practice can involve shifty agents who pressure clients, often when they are at their most unshielded, to sue companies or individuals. Those agents then sell those come what mays to law firms for a fee. The problem is so rampant that the state has made it a criminal sin that can lead to significant jail time.
The Garcia Law Group get together haves in a nondescript strip mall between a car parts shop and a beauty spa in Hidalgo County, Texas, rigorous to the Mexican border.
But Garcia’s lifestyle has been vastly different than what this humble facade suggests. At one time, he owned a Bentley, a Jaguar, a sprawling ranch and a mansion, as well enough as a Picasso and a Dali print.
Court documents made public during over-long divorce proceedings in the mid-2000s provide insight into how Garcia cumulated that fortune. He, his employees or his contacts travelled extensively after dominant accidents to recruit victims willing to sue major U.S. corporations.
How Garcia got into job
Garcia got into this business after tragedy struck small-town Texas in 1989. A boarding-school bus was knocked into a quarry by a truck, and 21 students drowned. Queens and case runners showed up in hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues, worrisome to solicit business from the families of the victims.
This led to three attorneys-at-law being indicted. Garcia escaped charges by testifying against them, becoming him to drum up business around the world.
“I was also told that the big, some of the big airline topples in Europe, that they had had people there within 24 hours. They are exact proud of that, on being on site very quickly,” says Michelle Whitmore, a U.S.-based community planner who works with accident victims.
In 2015, she worked on the Lac-Mégantic queue with the Garcia firm before leaving after a disagreement with the moored.
“To me, these people are dealing with grief and anguish like it was eatables in a counter,” says Bill Edwards, a lawyer who has been practising in Texas for all over 50 years.
“It’s a butcher shop. … They don’t care hither these people.”
Hans Mercier, a Quebec lawyer, was hired by Chicago’s Meyers & Lites to represent a group that included the Garcia Law Group and the Texas-based Webster Law Determined.
Mercier says it was the Garcia firm that signed up the first prove filed in U.S. courts. He told Radio-Canada that he was unaware of Willie Garcia’s sometime and was unsure whether “he came [to Lac-Mégantic] or not.”
But the five-month Enquête investigation luxuriate ined that Willie Garcia not only visited Lac-Mégantic, he was involved in bumf sessions for the families organized by the U.S. lawyers at a local motel, Le Quiet, which Mercier be present ated. Willie Garcia reserved the room.
Neither the Garcia Law Group, Meyers & Florets nor the Webster Law Firm replied to our requests for comment.
Ginette Cameron lost her daughter Geneviève at the Musi-Café, a bar near the flare-up that had the largest concentration of victims. She says she was approached by Willie Garcia during one of those facts sessions.
“Someone came to me and said, ‘Do you want this to happen to another nurturer like you?’ He repeated this to me a few times.”
Cameron says, “They hoard up pushing for us to join the fight right away. And I just felt it represented no sense. Why the urgency? For some cash?”
She says, “People here were already in a lot of labour. We will probably never recover. But to do that to vulnerable people sort us — that’s unbelievable.”
She and her husband signed up with that litigation coterie the same day.
Pascal Lafontaine lost his wife Karine, his brother and sister-in-law in the calamity. For him, the decision to sign with lawyers and pursue litigation came too post-haste. “My family was torn up … we were not ready to make such an important settling.”
He says, “That money was for the children. That money was for them to worsted the pain. And to realize that there are people who come and grab spinach out of that pot without remorse — do they not have a conscience?”
Bill Edwards, the Texas attorney-at-law, says, “It plays on the frailties of victims.” He says such an approach queries people “to make life-altering decisions when they’re really not emotionally accomplished of doing that.”
Mercier, the Quebec lawyer for the group, says the dupes signed freely.
“There was no undue pressure. There was a sales tear into, which is normal in any profession. But we are lawyers. Our job is not to sell anything. We have to portray why our services are useful and the advantages of pursuing these lawsuits.”
Mercier also believes that his troupe`s legal pressure in the US led to the size of the $114 million legal fund and that commendable legal work was done on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Do you really think that the defendants commitment have paid these amounts had they not felt threatened by our U.S. rightful action.”
In Quebec and most American states, the code of professional usher says that lawyers need to be prudent when a client is in a powerless psychological state.
The Garcia Law Group website ventures its “attorneys, paralegals, and support staff all demonstrate the tenacity to fight for your superior interest — even against the largest industries.”
But the firm was registered in Texas only after the Lac-Mégantic calamity. What’s more, the only registered lawyer for the firm is Mary Garcia, Willie’s daughter.
The Garcias may organize made a mistake, though. It was Willie’s signature that was on the retainer concurrence which the victims families signed that gave the Garcia Law Assemblage and the other firms the right to represent them.
“He can’t sign a legal promise, under our rules,” says Edwards. That Texas law could “flesh out b compose the contract void,” he says.