NEW ORLEANS — A prominent New Orleans law firm and one of its lead attorneys have been hit with a federal racketeering lawsuit in connection with a series of truck accidents that authorities say were staged to rip off insurance companies through bogus medical claims and fraudulent lawsuits.
The King Firm, LLC and attorney Jason Giles were sued Tuesday along with six defendants who previously pleaded guilty in a massive investigation that so far has led to 15 guilty pleas following a string of indictments against 33 individuals.
Two of the other defendants in the RICO lawsuit – Damian Lebeaud and Roderick Hickman – have admitted in federal court to being orchestrators of the fraudulent accidents, playing the role of “slammers” by getting behind the wheel to sideswipe 18-wheelers before hopping out to play the role of witnesses when the police arrive.
Four additional defendants – Anthony Robinson, Audrey Harris, Jerry Schaefer and Keishira Robinson – were passengers who admitted packing a car driven by Hickman on Oct. 13, 2015, then later being awarded $4.7 million in damages after making false medical claims. Those four defendants and Hickman are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while Labeaud is awaiting sentencing for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The King Firm, with an office on Canal Street, is known for its hard-charging television commercials amid the crowded and competitive field of local accident attorneys.
The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that Labeaud and Hickman had an ongoing relationship with the King Firm working as “runners,” improperly steering accident clients to the firm. Labeaud went a step further by working for the firm,” the suit alleges.
“Labeaud was employed by The King Firm…to complete various tasks as a way to conceal payments to him for staging accident,” the suit states.
The RICO lawsuit was filed by Doug Williams and the Baton Rouge law firm of Breazeale, Sasche & Wilson, a firm that has represented trucking companies and their insurers in dozens of accident claims.
In a previous RICO lawsuit, Williams sued accident attorney Daniel Patrick Keating, the only attorney indicted so far in the criminal case. In the suit, Keating is accused of conspiring with accident scammers “to stage at least 40 automobile accidents in the New Orleans area to defraud insurance and trucking companies.”
“This includes…conspiring with and paying Damian Labeaud to recruit individuals to knowingly participate in a scheme to stage at least 40 automobile accidents in the New Orleans area in an effort to defraud insurance and trucking companies,” wrote attorney Doug Williams, who is representing the trucking company.
WWL-TV’s investigative series “Highway Robbery” had previously identified Keating as the lawyer listed as “Attorney A” in one federal indictment charging Labeaud and seven other defendants. The indictment spells out how Keating coordinated with the defendant before and after accidents, “paying Labeaud up to $1,000 per passenger for staged and legitimate accidents with tractor-trailers.”
The 98-page lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in New Orleans, closely tracks the indictments and guilty pleas that have been detailed in the criminal case.
The King Firm and Giles have not been named in the federal case, although many of their cases and clients have been, including Lebeaud and Hickman, both of whom could emerge as key government witnesses.
An attorney for the King Firm, David Courcelle, has strongly defended the firm throughout the criminal case.
In response to the RICO lawsuit, Courcelle stated, “As we previously told WWL-TV, The King Firm did nothing wrong and worked hard to uncover the truth. We interviewed witnesses, hired investigators, and obtained interviews and recordings of many individuals. Among the recordings are Damian Labeaud, who told us in 2017 that he ‘guaranteed on his life’ he never referred any fraud cases to us and was never involved in any fraud.”
Courcelle added, “The King Firm has done everything right from beginning to end and will fight against this lawsuit.”
Filing a civil lawsuit under the RICO statute allows plaintiffs to sue for damages if they can prove they were victims of a criminal conspiracy. Unlike ordinary lawsuits which must specify narrow reasons to collect damages, RICO lawsuits allow plaintiffs to ask for triple damages.
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said accident fraud adds $600 a year per family in car insurance costs in the state. Donelon said he is hopeful that the growing federal investigation will help lead to lower insurance premiums across the board.