John O’Quinn, a prominent Houston attorney who owned one of Hays County’s largest ranches, died Thursday morning in an automobile accident in Houston. He was 68.
O’Quinn was acknowledged as one of the top trial lawyers in America after out-lawyering numerous wealthy corporations to win billions in settlements and jury verdicts.
Among Quinn’s most celebrated victories were a $17.3 billion tobacco settlement for the State of Texas, $1 billion against Wyeth Laboratories for the diet drug fen-phen and $100 million against Dow Corning for breast implants.
O’Quinn’s name also has been uttered with enmity attached in Hays County after he purchased the 5,500-acre Fulton Ranch in the Wimberley area in 1999 and renamed it O’Quinn River Ranch. Not long after, O’Quinn closed off the ranch’s much-admired Little Arkansas Road after Hays County Commissioners approved his plan without a public hearing.
O’Quinn was a big political contributor, chipping in $1 million for Democrat Chris Bell’s Texas gubernatorial campaign in 2006.
According to news reports out of Houston, O’Quinn was driving on a rainy Allen Parkway just outside of downtown Houston at around 8 a.m. Thursday morning when the sport utility vehicle skidded across the median, flew into the air and hit a tree. A passenger identified by the Harris County medical examiner as Johnny Cutliff, 56, also died. Neither O’Quinn nor Cutliff were wearing seat belts.
A Houston police spokesperson told the Associated Press that witnesses reported the vehicle going between 50 to 60 MPH in a 40 MPH speed zone.
According to Texas Lawyer, O’Quinn was at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport early Thursday morning to catch a flight when he was greeted by former state district Judge Levi Benton, who now is an attorney for Strasburger & Price.
“I started to say, ‘John, why are you flying Southwest? Where’s your plane? Why are you going through the security like the rest of us guys?” Benton told Texas Lawyer. “He was going to mediation in San Antonio. I don’t know who the mediation was for or whom it was with.”
Later, Benton told Texas Lawyer, he couldn’t believe he was receiving messages that O’Quinn died in an automobile accident. He later learned the reports were true.
“He either changed his mind or missed his flight … ,” Benton said. “I’m just stunned and saddened. I wish he’d gotten on that plane.”
O’Quinn graduated from at the top of his 1967 class at University of Houston Law Center, where he edited the Houston Law Review. He became one of the University of Houston’s most generous donors.
O’Quinn formed The O’Quinn Law Firm in 1981. By 2000, O’Quinn won more than 250 cases with verdicts of $1 million or more. In a 2000 profile, O’Quinn told Texas Lawyer that his verdicts and settlements during the previous ten years exceeded $20 billion.
“What I try to do is humanize the case,” O’Quinn said in the profile. “Until you can get the case to that level, it’s not going to happen, the really big verdict’s not going to happen.”Email | Print