Editor’s Choice: Jury Awards Edition
- On retrial, jury erases $322 million asbestos award
In a stunning reversal of fortune, a oil rig worker’s $322 million verdict that a jury awarded last year has been erased by a second jury hearing the case on retrial.
Last May, Thomas Brown, Jr., who developed asbestosis after working in the oil drilling industry for decades mixing raw asbestos powder with drilling mud, won $322 million against asbestos makers Unions Carbide and Chevron Phillips Conoco.
His lawyer, Allen Hossley, had called it the largest asbestos award for a single individual in U.S. history. $300 million of the verdict was meant to punish the companies.
But on appeal, Union Carbide asked for a new trial based on the argument that the judge who oversaw the trial had a hidden conflict. The company argued the trial judge, Judge Eddie Bowen, was biased because his own father has suffered from asbestosis for over 20 years and had filed two lawsuits against Union Carbide, one that settled out of court and a second lawsuit that was still open. The Mississippi Supreme Court appointed a new judge who threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial.
The trial was moved to from Smith County to Jones County, where a jury reheard the case and found that Union Carbide did not make a dangerous product or fail to warn about its dangers, and awarding zero damages.
A man who worked for Kraft Foods for nearly 20 years won $1.2 million against his former employer for wrongful termination.
Bernard Walsh, 47, began working at Kraft in 1991, building the pizza delivery route in northern Michigan from scratch. According to one of Walsh’s attorneys, J. Michael Fordney, sales in the region went from zero to over $10 million a year thanks to Walsh.
In 2009, Walsh was fired. He sued Kraft for wrongful termination.
At trial, Walsh’s attorneys argued the company violated Walsh’s employment contract which required a progressive discipline policy and allowed the company to fire him only for good cause. They asked the jury to award $1.3 million for Walsh’s lost wages, benefits and retirement money as a result of the firing.
Kraft attorneys Christy E. Phanthavong and Carolyn Pollock Cary argued the company fired Walsh because he violated company policy by not instructing a sales representative under his supervision to makes changes to an account.
But the sales rep’s own version of the event contradicted Kraft. The sales rep testified Walsh told him to perform the task, but he disregarded Walsh, according to Victor J. Mastromarco Jr., another attorney representing Walsh.
While the jury deliberated, Walsh’s attorneys offered to settle with Kraft for $275,000, but Kraft rejected the offer. Forty-five minutes later, the jury returned with a much larger award of $1.2 million.
“Our client was so thankful and so appreciative of what the jury did for him and his family,” Fordney said.
A driver hit by another motorist who ran a stop sign won a $1.2 million jury award against his own insurance company.
Isaac Rios, a 43 year-old Florida resident, was hit by another driver who did not have car insurances. Rios had uninsured motorist insurance, which covers such accidents, with 21st Century. Although the policy limits were $100,000, 21st Century refused to cover Rios for his injuries.
According to his lawsuit against 21st Century, Rios, who is married with four children, required surgery on his shoulder and tried to go back to work but could not perform manual labor at the auto repair shop he owns. He is not able to find other work because he left school in the eighth grade and reads at a sixth-grade level.
Rios’ attorney, James Magazine, said that the verdict is just the first step in what may be years of collecting the money.
Because the jury awarded more than the policy limits, Magazine must now file another lawsuit to force 21st Century to pay the entire $1.2 million.
“Now we have to go and sue them for the remainder,” Magazine said.
Investors who accused their lawyers of not acting on their behalf won $34.5 million against the law firm for legal malpractice.
After the verdict, the law firm, Holland & Knight, reached a confidential agreement ending the jury’s deliberations on whether to award additional damages to punish the law firm.
Three investors Rahim Sabadia, his wife Nafees El Batool and his brother-in-law Ishtiaq Khan, claimed that they were defrauded by a real estate developer Shi Shailendra, a former investment partner, and that their lawyers at Holland & Knight looked after Shailendra’s interests over theirs.
Holland & Knight argued the three individual investors were never its clients, and that the firm only represented businesses formed between them and Shailendra.
“Although the plaintiffs claim to have been the firm’s clients, they utilized their own lawyers. They received legal advice from other law firms, not Holland & Knight,” said Michael Chapman, the law firm’s general counsel.
But attorney David Ribakoff, who represented the investors at trial, said if Holland & Knight only represented the business entities and not the individuals, it had “the responsibility to make that clear to all of the investors.”
He also argued that Holland & Knight should have warned the investors against signing documents that were personal loan guarantees for several of the real estate purchases.
The jury sided with the investors, finding the law firm liable for fraud, legal malpractice and breach of its duty to their clients.
After the parties announced they had reached a confidential deal, Chapman said the firm will appeal the $34.5 million jury verdict.