HOUSTON – A Louisiana resident says she is one of about 45,000 Vietnamese Americans wrongly listed as a claimant in a lawsuit against British Petroleum following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf, and has since filed a petition against two Texas attorneys and two law firms, alleging the lawyers inflated the number of claimants in the hopes they would land a $2.3 billion settlement for their clients.
The suit accuses John Cracken and the Cracken Law Firm of Dallas, and Bob Hilliard and Hilliard Munoz Gonzalez of Corpus Christi, Texas, of misappropriation of identity, identity theft, fraud, conspiracy and gross negligence in order to inflate a settlement with BP.
Fishing boat captain Thim Nguyen filed the suit on March 3 in Harris County District Judge Jeff Shadwick’s court.
Nguyen says she is one of about 45,000 Vietnamese Americans who fish for a living in the Gulf of Mexico, whose name was misappropriated by the attorneys. Nguyen notes in the complaint that some of the claimants listed by Hilliard and Cracken are deceased.
Nguyen is also seeking damages of $1 million “to deter others from engaging in similar egregious misconduct” as well as for the mental anguish she experienced as part of the deal. The plaintiff says the experience was reminiscent of the “nightmarish memories” she has of when she was living under a Communist regime in Vietnam.
Attorney Richard Mithoff, who is representing Hilliard and Cracken, said his clients “absolutely deny the allegations made against them in this lawsuit,” in a statement to the Louisiana Record. Mithoff said his clients “will show [the allegations] are baseless in fact and in law.”
“We believe the evidence will show that their role in this matter was very different from what is being alleged,” he said.
In an email interview with Law360, Hilliard said Nguyen’s attorney Minh Tam Tammy Tran is “addicted to headlines and allergic to facts.”
“She is incapable of proving this case,” he said. “Her claims are false and, when her threats to sue so as to attempt and extort a multimillion-dollar settlement failed, her baseless bluff was called. Now she is faced with proving the unprovable. These are fictitious allegations and her careless use of the legal system is a disservice to the folks she alleges to represent, and will not go well.”
“I invite her to the courthouse and encourage her to bring whatever proof she is capable of mustering,” Hilliard said.
Tran responded to Hilliard’s comments in an interview with Courthouse News saying, “It is so sad that a lawyer of his caliber has nothing else to say but to attack me personally.”
“First, unlike high-profiled lawyers like Mr. Hilliard, I am not ‘addicted to the headlines.’ In fact, I am just a humble country Vietnamese woman/mother/grandmother and an unknown lawyer who is honored to serve my Vietnamese clients who are voiceless and defenseless.”
Mikal Watts, a San Antonio lawyer, who was not named in Nguyen’s lawsuit, but is a criminal defendant in a related federal case, told Texas Lawyer this case has zero merit. “We are ready, willing and able to disprove the criminal case allegations and Tammy Tran’s allegations.”