Steve Hantler thought he had seen just about everything - until the DaimlerChrysler lawyer came across three slippery San Antonio lawyers who filed a bogus $2 billion product-liability case against the automaker based on faked evidence.
The case has all the ingredients of a TV melodrama: Someone tampers with key evidence in a wrecked Dodge Neon. An anonymous tipster reveals the deceit. And after the courts punish the miscreants, one flees to Mexico.
Texas courts have found that the three lawyers representing the family devastated by the 1996 accident -- which killed the driver's two small children and two of his younger sisters -- fabricated evidence in a plot to score a huge award for their clients.
"This is perhaps the most outrageous incident I've been exposed to in 28 years of practicing law," Hantler, DaimlerChrysler assistant general counsel, said of the twisted tale that began with a horrific crash on a Mexican highway 10 years ago.
A judge has called the case "a sordid set of facts revealing attorney misconduct." One lawyer has been disbarred, one is on probation, and the third has an ethics trial before the Texas state bar in December.
DaimlerChrysler filed a civil fraud suit in 2003 against the three lawyers after the case was dismissed as bogus, and has pushed hard for their discipline by the Texas bar. The company wants to send a tough message to trial lawyers: Don't even think of filing a frivolous product-liability lawsuit.
Here's how the case rolled out, according to court and DaimlerChrysler documents and Automotive News interviews with lawyers involved.