WASHINGTON, January 25, 2015 — Injured? Lawsuit? Success? An appeal can take it away.
Most minor, run-of-the-mill cases are resolved without going to court. These include auto accidents, slip-and-falls, dog bites and even some medical malpractice cases. Even catastrophic cases – those involving life-altering injuries, or death − usually resolve without a trial.
Some cases, however, have to be litigated. Not every case ends with a positive outcome for the injured party.
Plaintiffs can lose. When they do, our legal system allows for appeals. The losing side has the right to contest any number of things that occurred at the trial stage. The amount of the verdict can be appealed or challenged, as can any number of legal issues, including claims that there were improper arguments or comments by the attorneys, improper rulings by the judge, improper jury instructions given by the judge, improper application of the law to the facts, and much, much more.
When an appellate court overturns a jury verdict, the plaintiff may certainly feel “kicked in the gut,” and may additionally feel injured yet a second time, this time by the legal system itself.
The following are a sampling of sensationally large headline cases that ended happily for the plaintiffs. Note that these cases are by no means a representation of typical results. These 2013 and 2014 trial results are all on public record.
Michael Bolen v. BNSF Railway Company
Bolen’s leg had to be amputated following a rail yard accident. He was a railroad brakeman/conductor and he filed suit in Missouri against his employer, BNSF Railway Co. The jury reached a unanimous verdict, awarding Bolen $12.5 million.
William J. Moyle v. Concrete Industries, Inc., et al
A Nebraska federal jury awarded over $19.6 million to the driver of a pickup truck who suffered a spinal injury in a collision with a Mack truck. The accident occurred when the Mack truck driver made an improper right turn across traffic, slamming his truck into Moyle’s vehicle. Moyle’s truck was forced off the highway, overturned, and collided with a stop sign and light pole.
C.E., a Minor v. Florida Baptist Convention, Inc. et al.,
A Florida state court jury awarded $12.5 million, for past and future pain and suffering to a teenage boy who had been sexually abused by Douglas Myers, a male church minister. The plaintiff proved that the minister had a work history of known and reported sexual misconduct with young boys, and that the church and related organizations that hired him had failed to check with his prior employers before employing him.
Executor of the Estate of Tiana Notice, v. The Town of Plainville, Connecticut, et al.
The family of Tiana Notice sued police and others after Tiana’s former boyfriend stabbed her to death. Tiana had had a restraining order against James Carter, Jr., that prohibited him from contracting or communicating with her in any way. Police officers allowed Carter to violate the restraining order. The jury awarded just over $10 million to the family.
Assenzio and others v. A.O. Smith Water Products and others.
A failure to warn of cancer from asbestos resulted in an aggregate $190 million verdict in New York. The trial court grouped 15 separate lawsuits into three trial groups. Some cases settled with some of the defendants and some of the attorneys for the plaintiffs dismissed some of the defendants. Also, the court dismissed several defendants. The first trial resulted in the verdict, with five plaintiffs receiving $30 million, $60 million, $60 million, $20 million and $20 million. Three of these Plaintiffs died from cancer before trial and their estates continued the litigation.
Andino v. Mills
Niurka Andino was a passenger in a police vehicle when Mills entered an intersection without properly yielding to the police vehicle. Andino suffered a concussion causing impairment of her executive functions, memory and other cognitive problems, as well as knee injuries requiring surgeries. A New York jury awarded Andino $31 million.
Derrick and Yalonda Gregg v. Wang K. Koon, MD, et al.
A Maryland jury awarded $9.5 million following medical-malpractice that led to meningitis and permanent brain damage, resulting in cerebral palsy.
The victim’s parents had brought their ailing two-week old daughter to the hospital, which ran blood tests. But the hospital delayed sharing the results of the tests, which showed a bacterial infection requiring immediate treatment. The delay ultimately caused the cerebral palsy.
What is the largest personal injury verdict in history? An Internet search uncovered a 1993 California case.
A jury ordered General Motors to pay $4.9 billion to the six members of the Anderson family, all severely burned, for a defectively designed fuel system that caused their Chevy Malibu to burst into flames after a rear-end collision.
The verdict as rendered was $107.6 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 billion in punitive damages.
Appeals in cases like these can be devastating. The simple fact that the case is being appealed can be upsetting. Further, the costs of an appeal can be exorbitant, and if the plaintiff loses the appeal, there is oftentimes no vocabulary rich enough to describe the intense feelings of loss.
The following are randomly selected, huge recent cases that were overturned on appeal.
- A New Jersey verdict awarding more than $70 million in damages to the parents of a boy who suffered brain damage as an infant was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court.The justices, ruling unanimously, said one reason they tossed the verdict and ordered a new trial was because the Essex County trial jury was unnecessarily exposed to bias against medical professionals and the hospital during the jury selection process.
- The Virginia Supreme Court overturned a jury’s wrongful death verdict of $4 million each for two families in what has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.The verdict was against the state, following the killings of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007. The justices said the state had no duty to warn students of the potential acts of a lone student-gunman who initially shot two in a dormitory before killing 30 more people and himself.
- A Maryland appeals court overturned a $500,000 verdict to a woman who was hit by a truck because the trial judge erred by allowing the jury to hear that the driver’s liability insurance had been cancelled because of nonpayment.
- Another Maryland decision overturned a $5 million verdict, stating that the Georgia-Pacific Corporation was not responsible for mesothelioma illnesses suffered by household members of workers who were exposed to asbestos at the company’s plants some 50 years ago.Specifically, the Court ruled that Georgia-Pacific was not obligated to warn relatives of employees working for the company in the 1960s of the dangers of asbestos exposure. The court held that the toxicity of asbestos was not truly known until federal regulations were issued in 1972, even though there was significant evidence that indicated dozens of company executives nationwide knew that asbestos was making their employees sick.
In most cases, nothing was ever done to warn employees.
- A vicious dog attack left a woman without use of her right arm. The victim, a hotel housekeeper, was attacked by two Rottweiler-mixes as she walked along Northeast Third Avenue. Many prior complaints had been made to the city about these dogs running loose.A Florida jury awarded the woman $3.7 million. But the Florida appellate court overturned the verdict against the city of Delray Beach, indicating the city had no duty to warn.
- A child was born with birth defects. A Florida case alleging obstetrical medical malpractice was overturned after a $2.5 million jury verdict. The appellate court ruled that defendants should have been able to raise issues about third-trimester abortions being largely illegal in Florida.
It would be a better world if all who caused harm, or at least the insurance companies that have to pay, simply stepped up and did the right thing. In fairness, however, the legal system is there because those we might believe to be responsible may not in fact be responsible, and they have the right to have a court make the determination. Even if they acknowledge their responsibility, they still have the right to have a jury determine the amount of damages.
Be careful out there.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on http://www.completeaccidentbook.com and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order
Mr. Samakow’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, El Textarudo, has become nationally recognized. Please visit the website http://www.textarudo.com and “like” the concept on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/textarudo.