The Lawsuit from Hell

Three thousand plaintiffs, five hundred defendants, three hundred lawyers, and no evidence: An endless East Texas courtroom battle over “chemical AIDS” is a case study in what’s wrong with our legal system.

FEW PLACES IN TEXAS ARE more humble than Daingerfield, a town of 2,655 residents hidden away in the rolling hills of Northeast Texas. Many of the downtown storefronts are abandoned. The parking lot at the bank is usually empty, and the movie theater tries to stir up business with 99-cent admission. Each day, a couple of Kansas City Southern trains pass through the middle of town. They never stop.

Just on the other side of the railroad tracks, however, is Daingerfield’s lone symbol of affluence—a two-story, 120-year-old building that cost at least $1 million to renovate. Every brick on the building has been cured in an open-pit fire for historical authenticity. A white gazebo stands on one side of the building, and a flowing fountain and garden are on the other. Inside the lobby are Oriental rugs, elegant swooped-back chairs, and lighted glass cabinets holding Native American pottery, and a staircase right out of Gone With the Wind leads to an office on the second floor. There, a kindly looking 56-year-old man, five feet eight inches tall, sits behind a desk the size of a billiard table. The man’s name is Harold Nix, and he is one of the richest and most feared plaintiff’s attorneys in Texas. “I suppose,” he says in a drawl as soft as cotton, “you want to know why everyone is cussin’ me.”

In 1987, when he was barely known outside this corner of the state, Nix began suing companies from around the country that had shipped chemicals and other products to Lone Star Steel, a large steel mill located a few miles from Daingerfield. He argued that these products were toxic and that the companies—from Fortune 500 giants such as Exxon to a tiny machine shop near Daingerfield—had caused Lone Star employees to come down with a host of illnesses and life-threatening diseases. By 1988 he represented more than three thousand workers and ex-workers—some of whom had worked at

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