Michael Slack, Mike Davis, Ladd Sanger, Paula Sweeney and John Jose were selected by their peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2017. Mr. Slack has been listed for 23 years, Mr. Sanger has been listed for 9 years and Mr. Jose has been listed for 13 years for their plaintiffs’ work in personal injury and product liability litigation. This marks the 13th year Mr. Davis has been listed for his plaintiffs’ work in personal injury litigation. This marks the 23rd year Ms. Sweeney has been listed for her plaintiffs’ work in medical malpractice law, personal injury litigation and product liability litigation. Continue reading
Sixteen people died in a hot air balloon crash in Caldwell County near Lockhart, TX on Saturday. Austin aviation attorney and former NASA engineer and licensed pilot, Michael Slack, with Slack & Davis, has confirmed that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has designated this a major investigation and NTSB Board Member, Robert Sumwalt, is enroute to the scene with a team of NTSB specialists. The media can anticipate update from the NTSB once Sumwalt is on-scene. Continue reading
Slack & Davis, LLP, and The Brandi Law Firm of San Francisco have joined forces to file dual class action lawsuits against technology ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, respectively. Attorneys Michael L. Slack and John R. Davis of Slack & Davis, LLP, and Thomas J. Brandi and Brian J. Malloy of The Brandi Law Firm will serve as lead counsel in the lawsuits.
The suits allege that in shuttering their respective Austin, Texas operations, Uber and Lyft violated federal employment laws, and specifically the Worker Adjustment, Retraining and Notification (“WARN”) Act. The WARN Act requires that employers give employees notice before effectuating either a “plant closing” or “mass layoff” as those terms are defined in the WARN Act. Unless an employer gives satisfactory notice, employees are entitled to up to sixty days’ back pay and benefits pursuant to the statute. Uber and Lyft each claimed to have had more than 10,000 drivers in the Austin area, according to quotes from corporate representatives for both companies.
“Lost in the political theater surrounding the Uber and Lyft versus Austin City Council battle was the real-world effect on the thousands of Austinites who suddenly lost their incomes when Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin,” said Michael L. Slack.
John R. Davis added that “Uber and Lyft have already earned notoriety for an ‘above the law’ attitude, and their continued commitment to disregarding this country’s employment laws is both troubling and extremely harmful to the very people whose efforts have made Uber and Lyft billion-dollar companies.” Mr. Davis pointed to an example of when Uber ran a personal attack ad against Austin City Councilwoman Ann Kitchen, claiming in its app that Ms. Kitchen wanted to “impose 19th Century regulation on 21st Century technology.” Mr. Davis, noting the irony, remarked: “In fact, it is Uber and Lyft that wish to impose 19th Century labor regulation on 21st Century employees.”
Despite the statements in Uber’s and Lyft’s Terms & Conditions that drivers are independent contractors and not employees, multiple federal courts have weighed the evidence and concluded that Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers are in fact presumptive employees under applicable law.
After being served with the complaints, Uber and Lyft will have 21 days to respond to the lawsuits.
Slack & Davis, LLP, and The Brandi Law Firm have experience litigating complex cases together, having successfully represented the passengers and families of firefighters killed in the deadliest helicopter crash involving working firefighters in U.S. history, when a Carson Helicopters S-61N Sikorsky helicopter crashed near Weaverville, California, on August 5, 2008, killing nine people including seven firefighters.
The cases, filed in the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, are Johnston v. Uber Tech, Inc., No. 3:16cv3134 (N.D. Cal. filed June 9, 2016) and Thornton v. Lyft, Inc., No. 3:16cv3135 (N.D. Cal. filed June 9, 2016).
Mark Pierce, lead attorney and of counsel to Slack & Davis, obtained a winning verdict against repair station Global Aviation Services, Inc. who negligently failed to properly inspect and repair a Twin Commander aircraft with a known history of loss of engine power, causing pilot trainee Rupom Sajib to sustain severe injuries when the pilot in command was forced to crash-land. Global was fully aware of the aircraft’s engine problems, but returned it to service and represented it was airworthy.
Pierce commented, “Global knew about the airplane’s problem with loss of engine power only days before the crash. Even with this knowledge, Global chose not to get to the root cause of the engine issues and instead put several people in danger.”
Background on Crash
On June 15, 2015, Sajib and pilot in command Burl James Wilkerson were on board the aircraft for a familiarization and demonstration flight at the Victoria Regional Airport in Victoria, Texas. Shortly after takeoff, power on both engines decreased substantially and the left engine failed catastrophically. Wilkerson alerted air traffic control that he was experiencing a problem and steered the plane into an open field to the left of the runway. Sajib sustained severe injuries in the crash landing.
Background on Global
Through the years, Global extensively maintained and repeatedly inspected the airplane for necessary repairs. Global was familiar with the condition and history of its engines; however, Global not only failed to properly inspect the engines for the known deficiencies, it assigned a mechanic to do the inspections and repairs who had no experience with piston aircraft engines. Further, Global produced incorrect and incomplete records that are required of a certified repair station under the Federal Aviation Regulations.
Attorney Paula Knippa said, “Global failed to exercise the expected degree of care for the safety of the airplane’s passengers and the public. Even more egregious was their knowledge of the issues that would likely cause serious injuries. They completely disregarded the potential consequences of their substandard work.”
The jury in the 61st Judicial District Court of Texas (Cause No. 2015-27690-7) ruled in favor of Sajib.
In a Safety Recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is finally urging them to take action on Airbus (formerly known as Eurocopter) helicopters to incorporate crash-resistant fuel systems into their helicopters. This safety recommendation was prompted by numerous crashes, including most recently two accidents in 2015, resulting in fatal or serious injuries due to post-crash fires that otherwise could have been survivable. Due to design defects, these fuel systems are known to rupture on impact, resulting in the death and injury of thousands of passengers and pilots.
Slack & Davis, a law firm that has handled more than a dozen helicopter crash cases involving post-crash fires caused by compromised fuel systems, has been advocating this change for years. “We identified the lack of a crashworthy fuel system in several helicopters and started advocating a design change ten years ago,” said Ladd Sanger, an attorney who was instrumental in getting Robinson Helicopter Company to change the design of the fuel system of the R-44 helicopter reduce the likelihood of post-crash fires. “We are proud that we have been able to get one manufacturer to change its design to incorporate design changes which make the fuel system more robust in the event of a crash. Unfortunately, otherwise survivable post-crash fires have continued to occur because some manufacturers have ignored the problem until they are faced with the consequences of their poor designs through the civil justice system.”
In October of 1994 the FAA changed the standards governing certification requiring that the fuel tank systems could withstand a 50-foot drop without leakage. Sanger explains that Airbus Helicopters’ (formerly Eurocopter) AS-350 model helicopters received their FAA certification in December of 1977. Although the helicopter’s design has evolved and Airbus Helicopters has made incremental redesigns of its fuel tank system over the years, the company still relies on the old 1977 certification tests and approvals for helicopters built today.
“In the Colorado crash noted in the NTSB’s memo, the AS-350 B3 fuel system is not crashworthy. This was a survivable crash, but for the compromised fuel system, these injuries would have been much less severe and likely not fatal,” Sanger said. “Airbus has known about the vulnerabilities of its design for years yet the company continues to this day to hide behind the legal defense that the helicopter is safe because it received FAA certification. As the NTSB has found, the FAA certification has been inadequate because of the reality is the fuel systems in these helicopters rupture in even relatively minor crashes.”
Thankfully for some of Slack & Davis’ clients, they were only exposed to chemical burns from the fuel, not a horrific burn injury or death. Sanger said, “They were the lucky ones, as the jet fuel did not ignite. Hopefully the industry will use the NTSB’s recommendation to bring about real change to the fuel system and not hide behind the fact that the FAA certified the helicopter’s original design nearly 40 years ago.”