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Litigation

Jury Verdict Round-Up: May Top 5 Personal Injury Suits

During May, the attorney editors on the LexisNexis Jury Verdict team covered several notable personal injury verdicts from across the country. Every month, we make a list of the top five cases that captured our attention.   Our list normally includes substantial plaintiff’s verdicts as well as impressive results in favor of the defendants. This past month, however, we chose only plaintiff’s verdicts with damage awards in excess of one million dollars.

If you are interested in submitting one of your own notable verdicts, we’d be happy to include a report in our database. You can just send us an email at this address: juryverdictsubmissions@lexisnexis.com.

Our choices are listed out below.

1)      Pennsylvania State Jury Awards $ 5.7 Million To Estate Of Woman Who Died Due To Undiagnosed Liver Cancer In Wrongful Death And Survival Suit Against Doctor, Hospital, Cancer Institute

Gregg M. Kander, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Ellen T. Kander, Deceased v. Mounzer Agha, M.D.; University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside; Oncology Hematology Associates, Inc; 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 13267

In 2005, Ellen T. Kander came under the care of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside for diagnosis and treatment of recurrent idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, a blood disorder Ellen was first diagnosed with at age eleven. On March 8, 2005, as part of her evaluation, Ellen underwent CT imaging of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. A sub centimeter lesion was noted on her liver, and Ellen was treated for chronic lymph node inflammation. On Sept. 6, 2007, CT imaging was again performed, which showed the liver lesion had grown to 1.9 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters. On Sept. 11, 2007, Ellen was referred to Mounzer Agha, M.D. for further monitoring and testing of her lymph node condition and the liver lesion. Agha was concerned about active lymphoma and provided testing and treatment towards that end. Another PET/CT scan was performed on April 7, 2008, and Agha did not believe a liver biopsy was necessary. Agha and other doctors at the Institute and Hospital did not order further scanning over the next three years. On May 3, 2011, Ellen underwent a CT scan at the Mayo Clinic which revealed a grossly enlarged liver lesion that proved to be an eleven centimeter malignant liver tumor. Ellen underwent a liver resection, but the cancer spread to other organs. Ellen underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy and suffered fractures of her femur and shoulder. Ellen died from complications from her liver cancer on June 5, 2012. Ellen was 51.

On Aug. 6, 2013, Ellen's husband Gregg M. Kander, individually and as executor of Ellen's estate, filed suit against Agha, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside Hospital, and Oncology Hematology Associates, Inc. in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Fifth District. Kander asserted a survival action under 20 Pa. C.S.A. Section 3373 and 42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 8302 and a wrongful death action pursuant to the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 8301 and Pa. R.C.P. Section 2202(a). Kander asserted Agha, the Hospital and the Institute were negligent in failing to order and/or perform appropriate serial and diagnostic testing to rule out liver cancer and the entity defendants were vicariously liable for Agha's negligence because he was an employee, servant and/or agent of the entity defendants. Kander argued if the lesion had been biopsied when it was small, Ellen's cancer could have been diagnosed at an early stage and she could have been cured. Kander sought damages for his wife's pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, lost wages, lost future earning power, need for medical treatment, and loss of retirement and social security income. Kander also sought damages for funeral, estate administration, medical and hospital expenses, loss of support

The case was assigned to Judge Robert J. Colville.

Trial began on March 30, 2014, and on April 9, 2015, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Kander. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the jury awarded Kander $5,700,000 in damages.

2)      Texas State Jury Awards Construction Worker $ 43 Million In Action Brought Following Workplace Crane Collapse And Subsequent Leg Amputation

Tyler Lee, et al. v. Berkel & Company Contractors, Inc., et al; 2015 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 2248

On Sept. 30, 2013, 31-year-old Tyler Lee was working on a construction site in Houston, TX, where his employer was in the process of building a large building. Berkel & Company Contractors, Inc. was hired to drill the auger cast pilings. A Berkel crane operator was operating a large crane owned by Maxim Crane Works to complete deep foundation drilling. After the auger became stuck, the Berkel superintendent instructed the crane operator to continue trying to unstick the auger. The crane operator attempted to stop the job at least five times, but the Berkel superintendent allegedly refused to stop. Eventually the crane collapsed.

At the time of the collapse, Lee was standing behind a safety fence approximately 100 feet from the auger. A large piece of crane equipment struck him and pinned him to the ground. After requiring a crane to lift the equipment off of Lee, he was rushed to Ben Taub Hospital where doctors were forced to perform an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg.

On Jan. 15, 2014, Lee filed an action against several defendants, including Berkel & Company and Maxim, in the Texas District Court for Brazoria County. Defendants countered, insisting that Lee's claims were barred under the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act, In addition, defendants argued that punitive damages would violate the Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause, as well as the 14th Amendment and the Texas Constitution, among other things.

The matter proceeded to a jury trial that was presided over by Judge Terri Holder. During the trial, lawyers for Lee told the jury that Berkel repeatedly violated safety practices to complete the project quickly, and that it had violated company policy to save "a few hundred dollars and a few days' time." Plaintiff's counsel argued that those decisions, along with poor inspection, and the superintendent's refusal to stop the job, led to the collapse.

On May 7, 2015, the jury reached a verdict in Lee's favor, awarding him a total of $43,943,006.

3)      Father And Minor Son Who Sustained Traumatic Brain Injuries From Being Struck By Charter Boat Propellers Settle Claims Against Scuba Diving Company And Crew For $ 12,000,000 In Florida Federal Court

Jared Adkins and Audrey Adkins, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians and on Behalf of C.A., a Minor, v. Big Dipper Charters, Inc.; Florida Keys Dive Center, Inc.; John Brady; John W. Burton; Pamela Timmerman; and Thomas Timmerman; 2015 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 3332

On Aug. 9, 2011, plaintiffs Jared Adkins and his 11-year-old son C.A. were paying passengers aboard a 46-foot diving boat named Big Dipper, which provided transportation to scuba diving sites. Plaintiffs were in the water swimming off the stern of the vessel during a drift dive when the propellers of the boat struck them both, causing them to suffer serious head and bodily injuries. The father and son underwent emergency craniotomies, in which part of their skulls were removed to allow their swelling brains room to expand. The son underwent another operation at Miami Children's Hospital in which a cranioplasty was performed, including the repair of his damaged skull using bones from elsewhere on his body. Both father and son allegedly suffered permanent injuries, including brain damage.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint on April 15, 2014, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, claiming that the shipmaster and his dive master did not properly communicate with each other or maintain a proper lookout. Plaintiffs claimed that these actions violated Florida and federal statutes, and the inland navigational rules incorporated therein, and the duty of reasonable conduct under the circumstances under the general maritime law. The case was assigned to Judge Lawrence King and proceeded to mediation before Ronald F. Shapiro. On May 13, 2015, the parties reached a settlement of $12,000,000, including $ 11,000,000 to C.A. and $1,000,000 to Jared Atkins. Stuart Z. Grossman served as pro bono guardian ad litem.

4)       Florida Jury Returns $ 5.5 Million Damage Award Before Finding Of 45% Comparative Negligence For Man Blinded By Brother-In-Law's Faulty Power Tool

James Simmons v. Larry Collins; 2015 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 3333

On Feb. 13, 2012, plaintiff James Simmons was at the residence of his brother-in-law, defendant Larry Collins, assisting with a plumbing repair and using an angle grinder when the blade broke off and went through the protective eye gear worn by plaintiff. The blade lacerated plaintiff's left eye, causing permanent blindness and other facial injuries. Plaintiff was already blind in his right eye before this incident.

Plaintiff filed a complaint on Dec. 4, 2012, in the Circuit Court of Gadsden County, FL. Defendant answered on Dec. 17, 2012. Plaintiff claimed that defendant was negligent in allowing him to use the angle grinder which was not properly maintained, improperly modified, not in a safe, working condition, or had been modified in a way that disabled any safety features. Plaintiff also claimed defendant knew of the danger because of a previous, similar incident and was negligent in failing to warn him. Defendant claimed that plaintiff had been negligent by over-tightening the blade.

On May 1, 2015, the jury returned a verdict awarding plaintiff $5,459,008, including $71,483.70 in past medical expenses; $ 387,524 in future medical expenses; $2,500,000 in past pain and suffering; and $2,500,000 in future pain and suffering. However, the jury found defendant 55% negligent and plaintiff 45% negligent, and the verdict amount was prior to reduction for plaintiff's comparative negligence. The adjusted verdict amount was expected to be $2,456,553.60.

5)      New Jersey State Jury Awards $3.2 Million To Neurologist's Patient Who Had Suffered Closed Head Injury And Was Allegedly Unable To Consent To Sexual Affair

L.S. v. Jonathan Fellus, M.D., et al; 2015 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 3071

On Feb. 1, 2009, L.S. suffered a closed head injury in a motor vehicle collision. Shortly thereafter, she began treating with Jonathan Fellus, M.D., a neurologist. For a five-month period spanning 2008 and 2009, L.S. and Dr. Fellus had a sexual relationship. The affair resulted in a pregnancy and a termination paid for by Dr. Fellus. When L.S. began to suffer from depression as a result of her underlying condition and her relationship with Dr. Fellus, she became suicidal and was committed to a hospital, where she disclosed the affair with Dr. Fellus.

On Sept. 14, 2010, L.S. filed an action against Jonathan Fellus, M.D. and others in the New Jersey Superior Court for Essex County. L.S. maintained that due to the severity of her brain injury, her judgment was compromised and she was unable to consent to the affair. Although Dr. Fellus initially denied the sexual relationship, according to plaintiff's counsel, he later admitted to it in certified answers to interrogatories. Upon receiving that admission, his former employer immediately reported Dr. Fellus to the Board of Medical Examiners. After an investigation and hearing in June of 2014, the Board revoked Dr. Fellus' license to practice medicine for a period of three years.

In mid-April of 2015, the action proceeded to a jury trial that was presided over by Judge Thomas R. Vena. According to testimony from plaintiff's experts, neuropsychologist Peter Badgio, Ph.D. and psychiatrist Peter Crain, MD, the repeated sexual abuse led to L.S.'s current delusional disorder as well as an inability to trust men and to trust physicians, and therefore the disorder had gone untreated. L.S. offered to settle the matter for $ 400,000.00 and Dr. Fellus offered to settle for $ 235,000.00.

On April 24, 2015, the jury reached a verdict in favor of L.S., awarding her $1,500,000.00 in compensatory damages. Then on April 27, 2015, the jury awarded L.S. $1,700,000.00 in punitive damages. On May 8, 2015, Judge Vena entered judgment in favor of L.S. in the amount of $3,200,000.00, plus prejudgment and post-judgment interest.

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