Exclusive: Final settlement monies coming to Hayes Sammons lawsuit plaintiffs

Mission community leader Ester Salinas says settlement letters have gone out to some of the plaintiffs.

MISSION, Texas – Mission community leader Ester Salinas has announced that final settlement in the long-running lawsuit filed by families impacted by the highly toxic Hayes Sammons agricultural pesticides mixing and receiving plant against numerous chemical companies has been reached.

“We won. We won the lawsuit but, we lost heavily with regard to our environment and our health. After 25 years, we’re finally getting the final settlement letters from the Hayes Sammons contamination lawsuit. You know we started this case in 1998 and filed our lawsuit in 1999. We’ve been fighting this for 25 years,” Salinas said.

Salinas said 1,300 letters have been sent out as part of the final settlement. She said people have been asked to read the letters and notify the special master in the case – Gil Peralez – if their addresses or phone numbers have changed. 

“I can report there were 1,905 original plaintiffs. Ninety of these were dismissed. An additional 450 are deceased. But, there is still a lot of confusion among the plaintiffs. Many have a lot of questions. The letter says do not make contact with the attorneys.”

Salinas said the first settlement, which came through around 18 years ago, resulted in payments to residents totaling between $4 million and $6 million. She said the second settlement was worth between $5 million and $8 million.

Salinas is regarded as the Erin Brockovich of the Mission Superfund story, one of the darkest stains in the city’s rich history. She first learned that chemicals from the Hayes Sammons site could have seeped into the water system on the south side of the city when she saw men in white Hazmat suits conducting surveys at the mixing and receiving plants.

Salinas led a team of church goers and community activists in signing up 3,500 residents who either worked at or lived closely to the Hayes Sammons plant, which were situated on the Mexican side of the railroad tacks in the 1950s and 1960s. The residents claimed they had family members who had either died of cancer, had brain tumors or miscarriages.

In the course of her investigation, Salinas learned the Hayes Sammons plant was listed as a Superfund site at both the national and state level. “In other words it was highly toxic,” Salinas said. 

Salinas took her evidence first to Mission attorney Mauro Reyna and later Edinburg attorney Ramon Garcia. 

“Mr. Garcia gave me 30 minutes to pitch my case. After 30 minutes he told me stop. He got three other attorneys and a clerk to come in and start taking notes. The meeting went on for about three hours. He said, I can’t believe what you’re telling me. I said, I can’t believe what I’m witnessing, what I’m learning now.”

Garcia filed the lawsuit, which was known as Alicia Acevedo, et al vs. Union Pacific Railroad Company et al. It was filed in the 332nd Judicial District Court of Hidalgo County in 1999.

“I cannot understand why it has taken so long to get the final payments out to the long suffering families of Mission. I think we all need, and deserve, an explanation, either from the judge, the special master or the attorneys, ” Salinas said. 

Editor’s Note: Click here to read a story in the Texas State Historical Association handbook about the Hayes Sammons cancer cluster.

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio interview with Ester Salinas on the work she did to accumulate evidence for the Hayes Sammons cancer cluster lawsuit:

Editor’s Note: Here is a copy of the letter plaintiffs in the Hayes Sammons cancer cluster lawsuit are receiving from their attorneys:

Law Office of Ramon Garcia, 222 W. University Drive, Edinburg Texas 78539

Reich & Binstock, Attorneys At Law, 4265 San Felipe, Suite 1000, Houston, Texas 77027

July 14, 2023

Re: Cause No. C-4885-99-F, Alicia Acevedo et al vs. Union Pacific Railroad Company, et al, in the 332nd Judicial District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

Name: XXXXXXX
Address: XXXXXXX

Claim ID = XXXXXX

TO: HAYES SAMMONS – ACEVEDO SETTLEMENT 3 – PLAINTIFFS AND HEIRS

IMPORTANT CASE INFORMATION

Dear Client,

We have just received the final delayed funding from defendants and will be able to begin the process of issuing first payments. 

Before we can begin mailing out the checks, we must first confirm who you are and that you are on our distribution list. We do not want to mail your check to an old address where it may be fraudulently cashed. So please, in order to receive your first payment, please complete and return the enclosed form as soon as possible. This will confirm your identity and give us your current information. We have enclosed a self-addressed and postage-paid envelope for your convenience.

Please print or type all responses so that we can process the information as quickly as possible. Otherwise, if we can’t read your writing, it will slow down the process. DO NOT mark or write over the barcode at the bottom of the form. This barcode is used to process your information quickly through our computer program. If you mark or write on it, it will not scan properly and it will also slow down the process. 

Please DO NOT contact us by phone to make the changes to your information. This will slow down the process. Please MAIL back your address correction form and use the self-addressed envelope.

If you have family members, friends or neighbors who were part of the Hayes-Sammons lawsuit and they have not received a letter, tell them to call 866-2312-0175. Please do not have them call Ramon Garcia’s or Dennis Reich’s office directly, as this will slow down the process. We are all working very hard to verify addresses and get checks to everyone eligible. Answering calls will slow down the process.

If you have family members, friends or neighbors who were part of the Hayes-Sammons lawsuit but passed away AFTER 2016, please have one of their family members call 866-231-0175 and leave their name, home address, mailing address if different than their home address, phone number and best time to call. We will send an “affidavit of heirship” to be completed by all the heirs of the deceased person. After we have received the completed affidavit of heirship, we will send the heirs of the descendent their share of the award.

Thank you for your cooperation and patience as we finalize this settlement. The delay of this phase of the case was due to there being thousands of Plaintiffs in the lawsuit and new laws passed by Medicare and Medicaid requiring each Plaintiff’s medical bills related to their exposure to Hayes Sammons paid by Medicare and Medicaid had to be negotiated and partially reimbursed. This process took nearly 14 years to complete because of these voluminous and complex negotiations with the government. Our offices have worked prodigiously over the past 14 years to bring this case to its final conclusion without being paid any attorneys’ fees, and we will not be paid until initial checks are issued to the clients.

To ensure a speedy distribution for everyone, please complete and mail the enclosed form as soon as possible. 

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to provide legal services to each plaintiff and to each heir of deceased plaintiffs. 

Hon. Ramon Garcia

Hon. Dennis C. Reich

cc: Linda Thomas

cc: Gil Peralez – Special Master

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