Legal Infighting Marks Hearing on NFL Concussion Litigation in Philly

Allegations of greedy law firms and finance businesses related to settlement payments to former National Football League players are taking on a greater sense of urgency as the claims start to be paid despite more-frequently-than-expected claim audits.

Concerns about deceptive practices amid slow payments to former players and their families prompted a hearing in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Some companies are attempting to charge players contingency fees for guiding them through the claims process. Also, some lawyers allegedly stand to receive contingency fees as high as 40 percent in addition to payments from a $112.5 million legal fund set up by the NFL.

It’s notable that the players’ co-lead attorney, Christopher Seeger, founding partner of New York-based Seeger Weiss, is the only attorney allowed to present evidence of alleged deceptive practices during Tuesday’s hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Anita B. Brody. Seeger is seeking $51 million for his firm’s work on the $1 billion class-action case, ESPN reported in March.

Based on more than 21,000 hours over four years, Seeger’s firm is citing $18.1 million in fees. He’s also seeking $6.8 million for himself coupled with a multiplier of 2.6 to fees and expenses.

MLB teams increase park netting to mitigate risk

A longstanding law has protected professional baseball from litigious injured fans, but teams are increasingly taking measures to guard against the unsavory optics produced by errant balls and bats.

The so-called Baseball Rule shields teams and puts the onus on baseball fans to take responsibility for their safety while attending games. Yet changes to ballparks have narrowed the distance between players and spectators so risk-conscious teams are installing additional protective netting.

From a legal standpoint, the courts generally rule in favor of the park owners. In November 2016, a U.S. District Court judge of the Northern District of California dismissed a class action lawsuit involving Major League Baseball seeking additional safety netting at ballparks.

The complaint was prompted by two MLB fans injured in separate incidents at both the Oakland Coliseum and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. Judge Gonzalez Rogers ruled that MLB’s evidence produced no “credible or immediate threat” that the Oakland A’s fan would be hit by a foul ball or bat and she failed to show that a legal standing was independently established due to “deprivation of her ability to enjoy the game.”

 

Sexism charges prompts startup to change online ads

The experience of a new Austin-based online art dealer demonstrates the dangers of advertising campaigns that rely on sex appeal.

Twyla Inc. has pulled a Facebook ad after receiving negative reviews; experts disagree on whether the dustup will affect the startup’s business.

The company, with former HomeAway Inc. CEO Brian Sharples as chairman, posted ads under the heading “Get some” that featured a photo of a young woman removing or putting on a white top. The photo was overwritten with the words “Recently single. Buy art.”

On Oct. 13, Art F City, a New York-based art news website, referred to Twyla’s advertisement as “the most offensive art ad on the Internet.”

Cirrus Logic move to open coveted downtown office space

Cirrus Logic Inc.’s plan to relocate next year as many as 250 of its workers from a Sixth Street office tower popular with tech companies would leave vacant some highly sought downtown office space.

Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq: CRUS), a fast-growing Austin semiconductor maker, plans to move the workers from two floors of 300 W. Sixth St. into five floors of the Shoal Creek Walk tower under construction at West Sixth and Bowie streets, one block from Cirrus Logic’s headquarters at the corner of Sixth Street and West Avenue and across the street from Whole Foods Market Inc.’s headquarters. Cirrus Logic, which generates a large amount of business from Apple Inc. devices, has filled up its entire headquarters building since it was finished in 2012, spokesman Bill Schnell said.

British fintech company opens U.S. HQ in downtown Austin

The British keep coming — to Austin.

Another England-based financial technology company is opening its U.S. headquarters in downtown Austin. Big data analytics firm Hello Soda, operated by Soda Software Labs Ltd., is taking an office at the WeWork co-working space on Congress Avenue.

Hello Soda, which was founded in 2013 by three former executives of credit rating service CallCredit Ltd., developed an analytics platform called Profile designed to extract credit risk information from unstructured data. Its purpose is to verify identifications and detect fraud, assess risk and increase financial inclusion.

Historic Dell-EMC merger done; what’s next?

While some technology companies slim down, Dell Technologies Inc. is bulking up.

As the Round Rock company enters yet another chapter of its lengthy 32-year history with the merger of EMC Corp. that was finalized on Sept. 7, the crucial question is whether it will continue to buck the trend in recent years that has seen larger tech players break up into smaller components.

Tech competitors such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Co. (NYSE: HPE) have been restructuring and streamlining business units to focus on customers and the specialized technology they demand.

Dell, in some ways, has done the opposite by engineering the largest tech merger in history.

Dell to move annual conference to Las Vegas

Dell Technologies Inc. plans to move its annual users conference to Las Vegas in 2017 after holding it for six years at the Austin Convention Center, company officials confirmed Thursday.

The conference, which the company called Dell World before its acquisition of EMC Corp., is relocating to accommodate the larger number of expected attendees related to the EMC deal that officially closed on Wednesday. In May, about 12,000 people attended EMC’s users conference in Las Vegas compared with about 6,500 attendees at Dell World in 2015.

Virtual reality fuels resurgence in Austin game development industry

Dozens of businesses sat silent and dark as 100-degree August heat bore down on a beige, single-story office park in Southwest Austin.

It was a sleepy Sunday night and the nondescript warren of commerce on Freidrich Lane appeared an unlikely location to inspire innovation. Inside, however, the city’s game development community came together at the offices of Game Plan Entertainment LLC to test new products, including several virtual reality, or VR, and augmented reality games.

Kegs of beer sat on ice as nearly 150 visitors milled about the company’s conventional arcade games while local developers provided test runs of their new products. Instead of rolling balls or sliding disks, the latest games require headsets and hand-held controllers — everything else is created virtually by the software. And that’s why Austin game development is gathering momentum again.

VR is fueling a demand in Central Texas for development companies and is attracting investors looking to capitalize on the new technology. Meanwhile, a local entrepreneur is relaunching an annual game conference in Austin, a downtown accelerator plans to launch a special VR section, and a development company is considering creating a hub for game development in North Austin.

Critics wonder whether Innovation Office director is MIA

Austin’s chief innovation officer, Kerry O’Connor, made one of her first post-appointment public appearances at the Capital Factory in March 2014.

The business accelerator and co-working space popular with local technologists provided an audience eager to learn about what O’Connor planned for the city’s new Innovation Office. But answers about proposed Austin projects were scarce as O’Connor repeatedly referred to her work with the U.S. Department of State and Washington, D.C. That’s perhaps understandable — it’s difficult to forecast the future when you’re fresh to a new job and organization.

More than two years later, the Innovation Office has yet to file a progress report with the city, its headway is mostly nebulous to many outside observers, and it’s getting mixed reviews from city officials and technologists alike. Meanwhile, the office’s budget has nearly doubled as O’Connor organizes travel to cities such as London and Toronto, but not to similar innovation offices in Houston and San Antonio.

As some observers praise its work and refer to O’Connor as a “silent leader,” others said she has become largely isolated ­— maybe even absent — from local and state communities.

How fintech startup Honest Dollar was acquired by Goldman Sachs

Imagine where you would go to dinner if one of the largest financial services companies in the world just offered to acquire your one-year-old startup.

For serial entrepreneur William Hurley, the choice was the decidedly unpretentious Chili’s Grill & Bar at the Love Field airport in Dallas. It might not seem like the appropriate setting for such an auspicious event but Hurley, the CEO of Honest Dollar Inc., had few choices.

It was November 2015, and Hurley and Chief Strategy Officer Anthony Bunnell had just returned to Texas after spending a grueling day answering questions about their business model — ostensibly for a Series A round of funding — during three separate meetings at the New York headquarters of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

While walking through the Virgin America terminal on their way home, Hurley returned a phone message from Goldman Sachs Managing Director Manju Madhavan. That was when he learned about the prospect of being acquired.

After the call, Hurley told Bunnell they needed to talk. They went to the airport Chili’s and ordered strawberry margaritas.

“We were shell-shocked,” Hurley said. “We looked at each other at Chili’s as if to say this is not an outcome anyone could have predicted.”