February Jury Verdict Round-Up: Top 5 Personal Injury Verdicts

During February, the attorney editors on the LexisNexis Jury Verdict team covered several notable personal injury verdicts from across the country. We’ve come up with an informal list of the top five cases that really captured our attention this past month. If you are interested in submitting one of your own notable verdicts, we’d love to include a report in our database. You can just send us an email at this address: juryverdictsubmissions@lexisnexis.com . In the meantime, you can check out our choices below.

1)      Tufaro v. Schindler Management Limited, 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 919

In the second trial of this action, a New Jersey state jury awarded carpenter Richard L. Tufaro and his wife Sharon just over $ 8 Million for injuries sustained by Richard when a service elevator in which he was riding malfunctioned and dropped two and one-half stories. This amount was nearly double the amount awarded to the Tufaros in the first trial of the suit. 

At the close of the first trial in 2012, the jury awarded the Tufaros just over $4.8 Million, and the manufacturer of the elevator, Schindler Management, filed an appeal. Tufaro v. Headquarters Plaza, 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 536 (App.Div. Mar. 8, 2013). After the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division reversed and remanded the action, the Tufaros’ claims were reconsidered by a jury in Morris County in February of 2014. That jury awarded a total of $ 8,017,025.00, which included $5,500,000 to Richard Tufaro, $2,250,000 to Sharon Tufaro, and $267,025.30 for medical expenses.

 2)      Botell v. The United States of America, 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 923

We included this case, even though it was technically resolved by settlement, because the parties reached a settlement following a judicial finding of liability. This case was brought by the family of a nine-year-old boy who was crushed by a deteriorating retaining wall on a hiking trail at the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Plaintiffs filed a wrongful death action on June 8, 2011, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, claiming that defendant United States of America had specific knowledge that the trail and rock walls were no longer safe and posed an unreasonable risk of danger to the public because the walls were not being maintained and support for the walls was eroding. Plaintiffs maintained that the United States and its employees failed to warn of the danger, rope off any areas and encouraged families with children to hike the trails. The complaint included claims for wrongful death, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. 

On May 15, 2013, pursuant to magistrate's findings, Judge Troy Nunley ruled that the U.S. was negligent in causing the death of T.B. On July 30, 2013, the court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, finding that the discretionary function exception to government liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act was inapplicable in this case because the safety procedures to be performed were mandatory but such procedures were not followed. On Oct. 17, 2013, plaintiffs filed a motion for approval of the minors' settlement. K.B., who was 13 at the time of the accident, sustained facial fractures and psychological injuries. B.B., who was ten at the time, had a bystander claim. On Nov. 12, 2013, the court granted the motion for approval of the minors' settlement. On Feb. 19, 2014, the remaining claims were settled. The total settlement between the parties was $ 3.5 Million, including $ 2.85 Million for the family and an additional $ 650,000 to the minor daughters. 

3)      Whitebread v. Haasbach, LLC, 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 744

On Feb. 6, 2014, an Illinois state jury awarded a combined verdict of $ 16,830,109.50 to the estates of two teenagers killed while working in a grain bin. The workplace tragedy occurred in in July of 2010, when Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, were working in a grain bin. They were employed by Haasbach, LLC. Whitebread became engulfed by corn and Pacas and Will Piper, 21, jumped in to save him. Piper was rescued some six hours later but Whitebread and Pacas died.

Haasbach agreed to pay a $ 200,000 fine to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company also paid a $ 68,125 fine to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division and subsequently went out of business, reportedly settling with plaintiffs before trial. The action continued against the other defendants. The Whitebread action was consolidated with an action brought by Pacas' estate and one brought by Piper. The final judgment included an award of $8,000,000 to the Whitebread plaintiffs, $8,000,000 to the Pacas plaintiffs, and $830,109.50 to Piper. The jury itemized each of the $8,000,000 awards as $6,000,000 for loss of society to the decedent's survivors, $ 1,000,000 for pain and suffering by the decedent, and $1,000,000 for emotional distress experienced by the decedent.

4)      Alcala v. Marriott International, Inc., 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1112

In this case, an Iowa state jury awarded $1.2 Million to a hotel guest in a premises liability action arising from a slip and fall on ice that had accumulated on a walkway and parking lot. Plaintiff Alcala was a software engineer who alleged that she had to change jobs due to her chronic pain.  She suffered a shattered ankle in the fall and required two subsequent surgeries for the injury.

Following a one week trial presided over by Iowa State Judge Mark J. Smith, the jury reached a verdict in plaintiff’s favor on Feb. 24, 2014. The jury found Alcala 2% at fault and assessed 98% of the fault to Marriott International, Inc. and Courtyard Management Corporation d/b/a Quad Cities Courtyard by Marriott. The $ 1,235,572 award included $ 35,572 for past medical expenses, $ 250,000 for future medical expenses, $ 50,000 for past lost wages, $ 100,000 for future lost wages, $ 200,000 for past pain and suffering, $ 200,000 for future pain and suffering, $ 200,000 for past loss of function of the body, and $ 200,000 for future loss of function of the body.

5)      Lewis v. Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon, Inc., 2013 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 11139, 1 Exp. Wit. 3495

Carolyn Lewis was one of a number of women who filed a product liability suit against Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc. to recovery for injuries sustained from pelvic mesh medical products. The suit was consolidated into muliti-district litigation (case no. 2:12-md-02327) and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, where it was assigned to District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin. 

In early February, Lewis’ case went to trial. It was the first of the cases in the MDL to be presented to a jury. At the close of plaintiff’s case, Judge Goodwin granted defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law. In the motion, defendants had argued, inter alia, that Lewis had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support her defective design claims, which were the only ones remaining following the grant of summary judgment on the failure-to-warn claim and the breach of warranty and manufacturing defect claims. 

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