CHARLESTON - A state legal watchdog group decided its 2007 Champion of Lawsuit Abuse on Thursday, giving it to the attorney at the center of a Monongalia County lawsuit that received nationwide attention.
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse named Timothy Houston its top abuser of the legal system to commemorate Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week, which will be observed Oct. 1-7.
Houston is representing Jeromy Jackson, who says he asked for a Quarter Pounder without cheese because of an allergy at a Morgantown McDonald's. He says the burger he received contained cheese, and he suffered a reaction that caused him to be rushed to the hospital.
He is suing McDonald's for $10 million in punitive damages.
Jeromy Jackson is suing McDonald's, seeking $10 million in punitive damages after he had an allergic reaction to the cheese on his sandwich he purchased from the restaurant.
The suit was filed July 18 in Monongalia Circuit Court by attorney Timothy D. Houston. Jackson's mother, Trela, and his friend Andrew Ellifritz are also named as plaintiffs in the suit. Trela Jackson and Ellifritz were in the car with Jeromy Jackson, and claim they were put in danger when they had to rush him to the hospital.
"Houston's shakedown is the single biggest event to raise awareness of the broken lawsuit system in West Virginia," said Steve Cohen, executive director of CALA. "His outrageous lawsuit landed the state on British chat rooms, MSNBC's rankings of most-discussed stories, the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web, at least two national radio talk shows and more than 100,000 Google hits."
Jackson's mother and friend are also named plaintiffs in the suit, claiming they were put in danger when they took Jackson to the hospital.
Houston has said that people have been quick to judge the suit.
"While we, the plaintiffs against McDonald's, are flattered that the public had found Mr. Jackson's story interesting, we feel it is important to emphasize that all the facts in this case have not yet been brought to light," Houston said.
"We thank both the press and the public for their support on what we regard as not just a tort claim, but additionally an important public health issue."
Cohen says Houston finished ahead of six others that the organization considered. They were:
* Attorney General Darrell McGraw, for, CALA says, "converting millions of lawsuit settlement dollars into, essentially, a political slush fund for his own pet projects while jeopardizing a federal Medicaid match.";
* The state's Legislature, for not outlawing out-of-state lawsuits;
* Radiologist Ray Harron, who was paid nearly $10 million by personal injury attorneys for his diagnoses in an asbestos "lawsuit mill," CALA says;
* Senate Judiciary Chair Jeff Kessler, for refusing "to change the standard in West Virginia courts that a lawsuit can be filed without any evidence of actual injury.";
* House Judiciary Chair Carrie Webster, who "makes it possible in West Virginia for someone to be held liable for injuries they did not cause."; and
* Attorney David Grubb, who received $143,000 in legal fees in a lemon lawsuit worth only $9,000 to his client.
As part of Lawsuit Abuse Week, CALA says it will give special recognition to the 61,516 who voted to change the state's "Open for Business" slogan.
"Clearly there is no lack of awareness that lawsuit abuse drives out jobs," Cohen said. "Especially this year, Timothy Houston made certain of that."