This year’s list of the largest verdicts and settlements in South Carolina features several multimillion-dollar cases and others of note, ranging from a federal asbestos case to personal injury, malpractice and wrongful death case. In all, we cataloged nearly $700 million in litigation results.
The list includes the top 25 awards and settlements finalized during the 2014 calendar year, arranged by dollar amount. To qualify, a case must have either have been decided or settled in a South Carolina court or, if in another state, handled by a South Carolina-based attorney. We have also included a noteworthy defense win — a team of attorneys that included a Greenville litigator turned back a $50 million asbestos lawsuit.
For the most part, we rely on attorneys to report their results to us, though that is not our only source of information. In compiling this list, we combed through each 2014 edition of SCLW and included reports submitted to us in January.
Our aim is to spotlight success, and we believe we have compiled a comprehensive list, but we do not claim to be infallible. If we have missed something, please let us know so that we can revise our online edition.
1. SC attorneys help notch $500M asbestos-related verdict
After more than a decade of litigation, more than $500 million was awarded to asbestos victims who filed claims with Travelers Insurance Co.
In 2002, Motley Rice, which has offices in six states and Washington, DC, filed claims against Travelers in West Virginia and Massachusetts, alleging under State Consumer Protection statutes that the company engaged in unfair insurance trade and settlement practices in its processing, adjusting and defense of thousands of personal injury claims related to asbestos.
In its July ruling, the 2nd Circuit confirmed that 2004 settlement agreements Travelers agreed to are binding and enforceable contracts and that all conditions had been satisfied, according to a Motley Rice news release.
The case was thrice appealed to the 2nd Circuit and went to the U.S. Supreme Court twice before the final judgment was made.
On Jan. 5, 2015, the 2nd Circuit denied Travelers’ petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc.
Case name: Common Law Settlement Counsel, Statutory and Hawaii Direct Action Settlement v. Travelers Indemnity Co. et al
Amount: $500 million
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Joe Rice and Fred Baker of Motley Rice in Mt. Pleasant
Date of appeals court ruling: July 22
2. SC attorneys negotiate $125M settlement for Virgin Islands
Two Mt. Pleasant attorneys helped negotiate settlements, estimated to total between $125 million and $145 million, on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands to compensate for contamination caused by refineries on the southern coast of St. Croix.
Jerry Evans and Gordon Rhea of Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman represented the Virgin Islands, along with a local attorney there, against two refineries, one for oil and the other for alumina.
The oil refinery allowed millions of gallons of petroleum to seep into groundwater through leaking underground pipes and storage tanks. A toxic waste product known as red mud and other corrosive byproducts contaminated the ground surface at the alumina refinery and seeped into the soils and groundwater.
Some of the most significant damage was done to a large aquifer, an underground water source and an important resource for an island surrounded by salt water.
Both refineries are now closed.
Case name: Commissioner Department of Planning & Natural Res. v. Century Alumina Company
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands
Case number: 1:05-cv-00062-HB
Judge: Harvey Bartle
Amount: $67.25 million in cash plus environmental remediation and restoration work estimated to cost $58 million to $76 million
Settlement date: In stages, with the final settlement reached May 28
Mediator: Edward Cahn, retired U.S. District Court judge
Attorneys for the plaintiffs: Jerry Evans and Gordon Rhea of Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman, Mt. Pleasant; and John Dema, Christiansted, St. Croix.
3. Jury awards family $97.5M for wrongful death
In the form of a $97.5 million award, a jury sent a strong message to the town of Cottageville. The jury ruled that the town negligently hired a policeman who shot and killed the town’s former mayor during an altercation.
Officer Randall Price shot Carl “Bert” Reeves, a man who had been vocally critical of Price’s policing style, after the two wound up on a dirt road together. There were no witnesses. According to Price, Reeves was assaulting him. According to plaintiff’s attorneys, Price had it out for Reeves, who was collecting signatures on a petition to have him fired.
Price had cycled through 11 law enforcement jobs in eight years and had been terminated from four of those. His past included allegations of excessive force, insubordination and an arrest for domestic violence.
Cottageville mayor Tim Grimsley said the town of fewer than 800 people — with a $1 million insurance policy and a $600,000 annual budget — couldn’t possibly pay the judgment, which included $90 million in punitive damages for negligent hiring. The award is being appealed.
Case name: Ashley Reeves v. Town of Cottageville, et al.
Case number: 2:12-cv-02765-DCN
Verdict amount: $97.5 million ($7.5 million actual, $60 million punitive against town, $30 million punitive against Price)
Date of verdict: Oct. 15
Attorney for plaintiff: Mullins McLeod, James Moore III and David Roberts of the McLeod Law Group in Columbia
Attorneys for defendants: Lake Summers of Malone, Thompson, Summers & Ott in Columbia for Randall Price; Vinton Lide of Lide and Pauley in Lexington for the Town of Cottageville and the Cottageville Police Department
4. Man gets $21.7M in power plant accident
The verdict, originally worth $35.9 million before being reduced due to a Maryland cap on non-economic damages, was won by a team of South Carolina attorneys after their client was paralyzed while working near a supposed de-energized transformer.
The man, 27-year-old Hugo Hernandez-Palomino, was part of a six-man crew sent to erect scaffolding at a Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) substation. When he climbed onto a section of the scaffolding, he was hit with an electrical arc and knocked to the ground, suffering a broken neck and severe burns.
Attorneys for Hernandez-Palomino say he is now quadriplegic and will need around-the-clock medical care for the rest of his life.
Pepco had offered to settle the case for $13.75 million. Hernandez-Palomino’s attorneys demanded $15.5 million before a jury decided that more than twice that amount was appropriate.
WORKPLACE INJURY – NEGLIGENCE
Case name: Palomino v. Potomac Electric Power Co.
Court: Montgomery County Circuit Court, Maryland
Date of verdict: Oct. 22
Amount: $35,940,545, later reduced to $21,710,545
Attorneys for plaintiff: William Applegate, David Yarborough and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston; and Justin Brown and Robert Jenner of Janet Jenner Suggs, Baltimore
Attorneys for defendant: William Gandy and Jason Waters of Wilson Elser, Washington
5. Failure to manage man’s investments leads to $17.2 M award
BB&T owed Francis Maybank a fiduciary duty and failed to meet it, a jury found in awarding the man $3.1 million in actual damages and $5 million punitive. Circuit Court judge Edward Miller said the bank engaged in a self-serving revenue opportunity and increased Maybank’s risk rather than minimize it. Miller trebled the actual damages and added more than $2.6 million in fees and $245,000 in costs.
Maybank sold his company, Southeastern Trust Company, to BB&T in 2001 and was retained by the bank to encourage existing Southeastern clients to remain with BB&T.
According to his attorneys, Maybank bought into the bank’s representations that its Wealth Management/Trust Department was highly trained, knowledgeable and dedicated to championing the interests of clients. So much so that he became a client and relied on the bank exclusively for managing his own wealth, planning his retirement and making appropriate recommendations for an investment program.
Instead, Maybank said, BB&T steered him into a risky, complex investment strategy that locked him into greater fees and tax liabilities, benefiting the bank at his expense.
BREACH OF CONTRACT, FRAUD
Case name: Francis Maybank v. BB&T Corp.
Case number: 6:12-cv-00214
Court: Greenville County Court of Common Pleas
Amount: $17.2 million
Date: June 30
Attorneys for plaintiff: Mitchell Willoughby, ElizabethAnn Carroll, Chad Johnston and Elizabeth Zeck of Willoughby & Hoefer, Columbia; and Bruce Bannister of Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey, Greenville
Attorneys for defendant: D. Larry Kristinik and William Brown of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Columbia
6. Shooting victim gets $12M
A construction worker shot outside a popular Myrtle Beach night club in 2008 was awarded $12 million after the incident left him a paraplegic.
According to court documents, Richard Campbell was at The Dog House Bar & Grill when a fight broke out inside the establishment. Rather than breaking up the brawl, Campbell said, bar employees forced the action outside, where Campbell was shot.
Campbell’s attorney, Hugh McAngus Jr., said his client is expected to face significant medical challenges for the rest of his life.
PERSONAL INJURY, PREMISES LIABILITY
Case name: Richard Campbell v. The Dog House Bar & Grill et al.
Injuries alleged: Paraplegia
Court: Horry County Court of Common Pleas
Date of verdict: Dec. 5
Amount of verdict: $12 million
Attorney for plaintiff: Hugh McAngus Jr., Chappell, Smith & Arden in Myrtle Beach
7. Jury slams hospital with $8.45M verdict in botched birth
In what was the largest jury verdict in the history of Hall County, Georgia, the staff at Northeast Georgia Medical Center was found liable to the tune of $8.45 million after waiting too long to call in a resuscitation team during the 2008 birth of Jakob Medley. Jakob’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and he waited eight minutes for a breathing tube to be inserted.
Today Jakob suffers from cerebral palsy, seizures and developmental delays. He cannot walk, talk or feed himself. His life expectancy has been estimated by experts at somewhere between 19 and 40 years of age.
Jakob’s attorneys, Gerald Jowers Jr. and Ken Suggs of Columbia, said hospital staff had more than five hours’ worth of heart monitoring data from which to figure out that he was being deprived of oxygen. A cesarean section delivery would have saved the child, also, the attorneys argued.
Further, Jowers and Suggs said, the hospital team was busy tending to another patient and should have had backup personnel available.
Case name: Medley v. Northeast Georgia Medical Center
Court: State Court of Georgia, Hall County
Date of verdict: Oct. 21
Amount: $8.45 million
Attorneys for plaintiff: Gerald Jowers Jr. and Ken Suggs of Janet, Jenner & Suggs in Columbia
Attorney for defendant: Thomas Cole, Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker of Gainesville, Georgia
8. Horry Electric settles mold suit for $6M, tries to recoup from Santee Cooper
In a class-action suit, coastal homeowners settled for $6 million after discovering mold growing in their shrink-wrapped homes. The shrink-wrap was intended to make their homes energy efficient but instead created ideal conditions for fostering fungi.
After settling with homeowners, Horry Electric Cooperative filed suit against Santee Cooper, accusing it of misleading the cooperative more than 30 years ago about liability issues associated with the Good Cents Program, which gave owners of energy efficient homes a monthly credit on their utility bills.
One of the specifications required the home to have a plastic vapor barrier between its exterior and interior walls. An attorney who represented more than 1,000 homeowners said he uncovered letters from a Santee Cooper employee written in the mid-1980s expressing concern regarding wrapping homes in the warm, humid environment. Homeowners only recently began discovering the mold growing in their walls, a situation that often required invasive measures such as tearing out cabinetry and drywall to correct.
The case against Santee Cooper was dismissed without prejudice by an Horry County Circuit Court judge, but it is unclear whether Horry Electric will file suit again. Horry’s attorney, Pope Johnson III, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
NEGLIGENCE – BUILDING DEFECTS
Case name: Ferrell, et al. v. Horry Electric Cooperative
Court: Horry County Court of Common Pleas
Date of settlement: May 27
Amount: $6 million
Attorneys for plaintiffs: Natate Fata (Surfside Beach) and Chris Tuck of Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman (Mount Pleasant)
Attorney for defendant: Pope Johnson (Columbia)
9. Man awarded $4M in Charleston slip-and-fall
Republic Parking Systems Inc. is liable for more than $4 million, a jury ruled, after a 67-year-old man fell in a dimly lit parking garage, causing him to spend weeks in the hospital and a rehab facility, undergo knee surgery and suffer complications including kidney issues.
Robert Burke settled his suits with the City of Charleston and Indigo Realty for $300,000 and $10,000, respectively before taking Republic to trial.
Burke claimed that Republic failed to adequately light the parking garage. An expert testified that the garage had been darker than a movie theater after the lights are turned down and should have been at least five times brighter to satisfy industry lighting standards.
If the Dec. 19 verdict stands, it will be reduced by 20 percent for Burke’s comparative negligence, bringing the award to $3.2 million.
Republic’s attorney, Roopal Ruparelia of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd in Columbia, said that the city retained control and that her client had no duty.
Ruparelia has filed a post-trial motion asking the court to enter a directed verdict in favor of her client or order a new trial.
SLIP AND FALL, PREMISES LIABILITY
Case name: Robert Burke vs. Republic Parking Systems Inc.
Court: Charleston County Court of Common Pleas
Judge: Markley Dennis
Date of verdict: Dec. 19
Attorneys for plaintiff: Clay McCulloch and Jamie Khan of Charleston
Attorney for defendant: Roopal Ruparelia of Haynesworth, Sinkler Boyd in Columbia
10. Hospital mix-up at center of $3.7M settlement
In 2010, a woman was mistakenly given another patient’s dose of insulin, causing her blood sugar to drop to dangerous levels and leaving her with permanent brain damage. The unnamed hospital agreed to pay $3.725 million to settle the suit. It also agreed to include proper medication administration in the ICU part of its continuing nursing education.
Plaintiff’s attorney Chad McGowan of McGowan, Hood & Felder in Rock Hill presented an opinion from one of the world’s leading experts, Dr. Vincent Marks of London, England, who testified that there was little doubt that the extra insulin was given to the patient by the hospital and did not come from within her own body.
Apparently, the nurse who treated the plaintiff had another patient fitting the plaintiff’s description and gave that patient’s insulin order to the plaintiff, who was left in a vegetative state, where, McGowan said, she remains today.
A special needs trust was set up for her.
Case name: Confidential
Injuries alleged: Permanent brain injury from a mistaken insulin dosage
Settlement date: March 10
Judge: Doyet A. Early III
Attorneys for plaintiff: Chad McGowan and Ashley Creech, Rock Hill, and Micah Leddy, Columbia
Attorneys for defendant: Barbara Chesley of Columbia, and Joel Neckers of Denver, Colo.
11. Whistleblower suit ends in $3.6M settlement
Charleston-based corporation Berchtold USA paid $3.6 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it was scamming the government for medical supplies it sold to a third-party supplier.
Former Berchtold employee Beth Gorawski and her attorney said Berchtold charged about $837,000 more than it should have, while it purported to extend a 30 percent discount to Lockheed Martin and the government.
Several incriminating emails from a Berchtold equipment salesman doomed the company, according to Gorawski’s attorney, Joseph Griffith of Charleston, who said the messages were so damning, he barely needed to present a case. One email allegedly admitted to billing Lockheed more than $500,000 in phony upgrade charges. Upper management had been made aware of the overcharging, Griffith said, but went forward with sales.
Gorawski, who discovered the swindle, received $867,189 from the settlement.
Case name: United States of America ex rel. Beth Gorawski v. Berchtold Corp., et al.
Date of settlement: Jan. 30
Amount: $3.6 million
Attorneys for plaintiff: Joseph Griffith in Charleston, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Fran Trapp in Columbia
Attorneys for defendant: Sandra Miller of Greenville, David Yandle of Charleston and Claire Rauscher of Charlotte, of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice
12. Debilitating stroke leads to $3M settlement with surgeon
A 66-year-old woman in the hospital for a routine surgical procedure suffered a debilitating stroke after a surgeon allegedly ignored her soaring blood pressure for hours.
According to the surgeon, he paged the on-duty nurse instructing her to make sure the hospitalist took care of the patient. But according to hospital records, his request was classified as “routine” rather than as a more urgent request. Routine requests, per hospital policy, can be answered at any point within an eight-hour shift.
The plaintiff waited more than seven hours for treatment. By then, her attorney said, it was too late.
According to a plaintiff’s attorney, Eric Bland of Columbia, the surgeon claimed he issued an urgent order until he was presented with emergency medical records proving otherwise. He then claimed the nurse had entered the order and should have sought help for the plaintiff. The nurse contended she followed the surgeon’s orders.
Finally, the surgeon said the blame should fall on the hospitalist, who in turn—along with the hospital itself—pointed a finger back at the surgeon.
Case name: Confidential
Date of settlement: October 2014
Amount: $3 million
Attorneys for plaintiff: Eric Bland and Ronald Richter Jr. of Bland Richter, Columbia and Charleston, respectively
Attorneys for defendants: Confidential
13. Assistant principal settles for $2.46M after shuttle accident
According to reports, then 37-year-old James Thompson was a rising star in the Richland County educational community, an assistant principal surely headed for a superintendent position.
But while in East Lansing, Michigan at a teacher recruitment event at Michigan State University, the Marriott shuttle he was traveling in ran a red light, crashing into another vehicle. Thompson sustained injuries that left him with traumatic brain injury, which has prevented him from returning to work.
According to the suit, the driver of the shuttle had been chatting with Thompson instead of paying attention to his driving. A woman who witnessed the wreck said the shuttle driver had been driving erratically.
Thompson also suffered a broken jaw, ribs and ankle and now has memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Marriott paid $1 million of the settlement, and its insurance carrier covered the remaining $1.46 million.
AUTO ACCIDENT – NEGLIGENCE
Case name: Thompson vs. Columbia East Lansing Hotel, Inc.
Court: Ingham County Circuit Court, Michigan
Date of settlement: Sept. 18
Amount: $2.46 million
Attorneys for plaintiff: John Clark and Sharon Clark, Sumter; and Brian Benner and William Harsha, Farmington Hills, Michigan
Attorneys for defendants: F. Peter Blake of Blake of Kirchner, Symonds, Larson, Kennedy & Smith, Detroit
14. Jury gives plant contractor $2.1M for crushed foot
A man whose foot was run over and crushed as he stepped out of his truck was awarded $3 million, later reduced to $2.1 million because he was found to be 30 percent negligent.
According to reports, James Brake had just parked on a weigh scale at the plant entrance of McCarter Electrical Company and was standing beside his truck when another truck driven by a McCarter employee ran over his foot.
McCarter argued that the employee, who was off-duty and returning to the plant to retrieve his forgotten tools, was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. It further argued that Brake was partially responsible because he failed to look both ways after exiting his vehicle.
Brake’s attorney said his client underwent four surgeries and can’t perform many physical activities due to pain. Brake claimed more than $800,000 in medical costs and about $950,000 in lost wages.
Before the trial, Brake entered into confidential agreements with other premise defendants, deals which offset the verdict against McCarter and Morris by $375,000. Coupled with his comparative fault, Brake’s total award was about equal to his medical costs and lost wages.
PERSONAL INJURY – WORKPLACE ACCIDENT
Case name: James Brake v. Matthew Morris and McCarter Electrical Company
Court: Marlboro County Circuit Court
Judge: Clifton Newman
Date of verdict: Aug. 29
Amount: $3 million, reduced to $2.1 million for comparative fault
Attorneys for plaintiff: David Yarborough Jr. and Douglas Jennings of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston
Attorneys for defendants: Robert King of King, Love & Smith, Florence, for Matthew Morris; Clay Campbell and Michael Gibson of Dean, Gibson, Hofer & Nance, Charlotte, for McCarter Electrical.
15. Tyger River demand leads to $2M settlement in motorcycle crash
Bound by the Tyger River doctrine to act in good faith and settle to policy limits when reasonable, two insurance carriers ponied up nearly $2 million after their customer caused a crash that left a former naval officer without the use of the left side of his body.
According to plaintiff Gregory Borek’s attorney D. Nathan Hughey, Vion Craven was driving a vehicle for his employer, freight shipping and trucking company Welborn, Inc., when he drifted into the oncoming lane and struck Borek’s motorcycle, throwing him more than 70 feet.
Borek suffered a compound fracture of the left humerus, a broken femur, abdominal injuries and a degloving injury to his left leg and foot.
According to Hughey, Craven was insufficiently trained, inexperienced and had a history of negligence while operating motor vehicles. Craven, who died in 2012 at 46 years old, also had a history of chest pain and cardiological issues and claimed to have blacked out prior to the crash.
Case name: Gregory Borek v. The Estate of Vion Craven and Wellborn, Inc.
Case number: 2013-CP-08-585
Court: Berkeley County Court of Common Pleas
Injuries alleged: Multiple fractures and compound fractures of the femur, tibia and fibula; degloving injury with necrotic tissue; respiratory insufficiency; anemia; forearm lacerations
Amount of settlement: $2,017,750
Attorneys for plaintiff: A. Stuart Hudson and D. Nathan Hughey
Attorneys for defendant: Barbara Wagner for Estate of Vion Craven and Wellborn, Inc.; Michael Barfield for Cincinnati Insurance; and Andrew Countryman for UIM carrier Progressive Insurance
Expert witnesses: Dr. Marshall White, neurologist; Sarah Lustig, RN, LNC, CLCP; Oliver Wood Jr., Ph.D., economist; Dr. Thomas Burns, neuropsychologist
Insurance carrier: Liability carrier — Cincinnati Insurance; UIM carrier — Progressive Insurance
16. Jury gives $1.7M award to hood-winked investor
Duped by his own employee, real estate investor Bobby Slate was awarded $1.7 million after learning that his director of development, tasked with acting in Slate’s best interest, was really looking out for himself.
After Slate, a Winston-Salem businessman, bought an Atlantic Beach property, his attorney says, longtime residential developer Clifton Rickard began working for Slate and convinced him to buy a Blythewood property, a good deal for $1.5 million. Slate did not know that days earlier Rickard had been involved in the sale of the property to a third party, LH Development, for $810,000.
Slate’s attorney, Wesley Few of Columbia, said the transaction was a flip from the get-go and that Rickard scammed his boss and split the profit with LH Development.
A jury found Rickard liable for breach of loyalty and the attorney Rickard chose to represent Slate, Andrew Aun, liable for breaching a fiduciary duty because he knew or should have known that something was amiss when he was asked to do both closings. Aun was found liable in the amount of $24,563 in actual damages and $694,128 — the difference in the purchase prices — in punitive damages. Few said his client settled with the estate of Rickard, who passed away in 2013, for a fraction of the $1,062,850 judgment because of the estate’s limited assets.
Aun’s attorney, M. Dawes Cooke Jr. of Barnwell, Whaley, Patterson & Helms in Charleston, has filed post-trial motions asking the court to eliminate or reduce the award.
BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY, BREACH OF LOYALTY
Case name: La Casa Real Estate and Investments v. Andrew A. Aun, Clifton Rickard, et. al.
Case number: 2012-CP-32-01038
Amount of verdict: $24,563 in actual damages and $694,128 in punitive damages against Andrew Aun and $1,062,850 against Clifton Rickard
Date of verdict: Dec. 11
Attorneys for plaintiffs: Wesley Few of Columbia
Attorneys for defendants: M. Dawes Cooke Jr. and Gail Rahn of Barnwell, Whaley, Patterson & Helms in Charleston, J. Paul Detrick of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick in Hampton and Thomas Young of Aiken for Andrew Aun and Aun & McKay; Franklin Smith of Richardson Plowden & Robinson of Columbia for LH Development and Claude Newman; Breon Walker of Gallivan, White & Boyd for Russell & Jeffcoat Real Estate and Rhonda Jacobs Walsh; and Clifton Rickard
17. Columbia attorney wins $1.6M verdict against Richland sheriff
Columbia attorney Kay Paschal was awarded one of the largest verdicts of its kind in South Carolina, a $1.6 million judgment against Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
Paschal sued Lott in Lexington County, alleging that he allowed one of his lieutenants to initiate a criminal investigation that resulted in Paschal’s arrest and the suspension of her law license in early 2012.
According to the complaint, the adult children of Paschal’s common-law husband, prominent real estate broker David Wallace, formed an improper relationship with Lt. Heidi Scott and persuaded Scott to have Paschal arrested for appointing herself as Wallace’s attorney and using that power to trade in his car and buy a $63,000 handicapped accessible van after he suffered a stroke.
Paschal’s attorney said his client frequently used power of attorney to make health care decisions for Wallace and to write checks from his account to pay his bills.
The suit alleges Scott pushed the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department to investigate Paschal and swore out a warrant for breach of trust and forgery when Lexington County dismissed the charges.
Similar charges were filed in Richland County and are still pending, records show. Paschal’s law license remains suspended.
MALICIOUS PROSECUTION/ABUSE OF PROCESS
Case name: Kay Paschal v. Leon Lott
Court: Lexington County Court of Common Pleas
Judge: William Keesley
Date of verdict: July 25
Attorneys for plaintiff: Jake Moore and Brooks Biediger of Moore Taylor Law Firm, West Columbia
Attorney for defendant: Patrick Frawley of Davis Frawley, Lexington
18. Assisted-living facility settles wrongful death suit for $1.5 M
To cover up her crime after being caught stealing from a resident, an employee of Rock Hill’s Park Point Village murdered the elderly woman. The assisted-living facility settled the wrongful death case for $1.5 million.
Longtime resident Pauline Cook moved to Park Point’s assisted-living facility after her husband’s death and within months noticed her checks being forged and paid out to a Braquette Walton, whom Cook did not know. As it turned out, Walton was a Park Point employee.
Another Park Point employee who learned of Cook’s suspicions called Walton and told her that she was being investigated by authorities for theft. The next night, Walton, off-duty, snuck inside the facility and into Cook’s room. She offered to pay back the money, according to court records, but when Cook refused, Walton smothered and beat her to death.
Walton then dragged Cook’s body and positioned it in the shower to make the death appear accidental. Investigators were not fooled, and Walton was arrested days later. She is currently serving life in prison.
Plaintiff’s attorney Richard “Dick” Harpootlian of Richard A. Harpootlian P.A. in Columbia said he wasn’t at liberty to say much, but he could confirm the family’s closure.
“The family’s gratified to have the matter resolved and the tragedy behind them,” he said.
Case name: Paul Sullivan as personal representative of the estate of Pauline Cook v. Park Pointe Village, Inc., a wholly subsidiary of ACTS Retirement Life Communities, Inc., Neva Lattimer and Marvin Lawrence
Settlement amount: $1.5 million
Court: York County
Plaintiff’s attorney: Richard “Dick” Harpootlian of Richard A. Harpootlian P.A. in Columbia
19. Jury convinced of ‘phantom driver’ awards $1.4M
Salvatore Jackson, a young man in his mid-40s, died in 2011 when he lost control of his motorcycle while cruising down S.C. Highway 49 near Lake Wylie.
His widow was awarded more than $1.4 million for his wrongful death, even though the only defendants are an insurance company and a phantom John Doe.
While no contributory vehicle has been found and no driver named, Jackson’s attorneys convinced a jury that he didn’t crash his bike while trying to avoid road debris, as was speculated, but that he was run off the road by someone in an SUV making a sudden lane change.
While no one actually saw a collision – or even a near-miss – Jackson’s lawyers said that circumstantial evidence clearly shows that their client was struck by a “phantom vehicle.”
A jury agreed.
“The jury found that there was more than sufficient circumstantial evidence presented at trial to prove that contact had occurred between the vehicle driven by John Doe and Mr. Jackson’s motorcycle,” attorney Andrew McCumber of Slotchiver & Slotchiver in Charleston wrote in an email.
Several witnesses who had been traveling behind Jackson saw his motorcycle suddenly go down in the left lane, according to court reports. Some remembered seeing an SUV traveling in the right lane and some recalled that after the accident, they saw an SUV approach from the opposite direction, circle the accident scene as if to see what happened, and flee.
One witness said he saw an SUV that was traveling in the same direction as Jackson circle back and “return down the highway rather quickly.” The SUV, the man said, had scuff marks on its left-rear quarter panel that would seem to fit in with the plaintiff’s theory.
Investigators found no debris in the roadway or mechanical problems with the bike, reports said.
The defense argued this was a lot of speculation and that the jury should also consider Jackson’s comparative negligence.
The jury did just that, returning a $1,103,000 verdict for compensatory damages but finding Jackson 45 percent negligent, thus reducing the award to $606,550. It also awarded $330,000 in punitive damages which were not subject to reduction.
A $200,000 policy paid by Progressive Insurance was also credited against damages. Jackson maintained two separate liability policies with Progressive and Travelers.
Jackson attorneys said that while Travelers, the uninsured motorist carrier for Jackson’s at-home vehicles, is not legally obligated to pay more than $300,000, the plaintiff has brought a bad-faith claim for the difference based on a properly made Tyger River demand.
Case name: Julie R. Jackson v. John Doe (Travelers Insurance Co.)
Case number: 2012-CP-46-3907
Court: York County Court of Common Pleas
Date: Oct. 8, 2014
Attorneys for plaintiff: Daniel Slotchiver of Charleston and F. Craig Wilerson Jr. of Rock Hill
Attorneys for defendant: William Davis of Columbia
20. Drunk driver and two bars found liable for $1M (Tie)
Steven Keavney pleaded guilty to DUI and a jury found that two bars contributed to his car crash, which left another driver badly injured, by continuing to serve him alcohol after he was clearly intoxicated.
After spending time at Summerville bars Jack’s Place and Shooters, Keavney got behind the wheel of his car and crashed into a vehicle driven by Tiawan Eurie on a Dorchester County road. Eurie suffered a fractured femur, broken hand and facial lacerations, and claimed $94,000 in medical bills and $13,800 in lost wages.
According to reports, two and a half hours after the crash, Keavney’s blood alcohol content was measured at more than twice the legal limit.
While Jack’s failed to answer the complaint, its insurer eventually agreed to contribute $312,500 toward the settlement.
Shooter’s insurer paid $725,000, Keavney’s auto insurance kicked in $50,000, and Eurie’s underinsured motorist coverage contributed another $25,000 for a total payment of $1,112,500 for Eurie’s injuries.
DRAM SHOP CLAIM – NEGLIGENCE
Case name: Eurie v. Keavney, et al.
Court: Dorchester County Circuit Court
Date of settlement: May 16
Attorneys for plaintiff: Tiffany Spann-Wilder, North Charleston; David Yarborough and Douglas Jennings of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston
Attorneys for defendants: Adam Neil of Murphy & Grantland, Columbia; Adam Yount of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, Charleston; and Elizabeth McMillan of McAngus Goudelock & Courie, Greenville
20. $1M verdict for man accused of raping handicapped patient (Tie)
A man accused by his employer of attempting to rape a handicapped woman while on duty was awarded $1 million for defamation.
Ralph Williams of Orangeburg was accused, arrested and reportedly beat up in jail. He endures a tarnished reputation because of the allegations. After being found not guilty in criminal court, Williams sued UniHealth Post-Acute Care Orangeburg, his supervisor and another nurse.
According to the suit, Williams was changing the diaper of a female invalid when his supervisor, Patricia Johnson, walked in. Johnson allegedly left the room and told nurse Josette Peppers that Williams was trying to have sex with the woman.
Williams’ attorney, Robin Foster of Charlotte, said Williams did not get along with Johnson because he had previously criticized her work performance. Foster told the jury there was no DNA evidence to back up the accusations and said his client was always uncomfortable with the facility’s policy of allowing men to change female patients’ diapers.
Court records show that defendants have made motions for a new trial or a reduction in damages.
Case name: Williams v. UniHealth Post-Acute Care Orangeburg, et al.
Court: Orangeburg County Circuit Court
Judge: Edgar Dickson
Date of verdict: Sept. 9
Amount: $1 million
Attorneys for plaintiff: Robin Foster of the Foster Law Firm, Greenville, and Java Warren, Charlotte
Attorneys for defendants: Jason Bring and Tyler Arnold of Arnall Golden Gregory, Atlanta
22. Delayed use of defibrillator a factor in $950,000 settlement
The widow of a man who died after suffering a heart attack at an Aiken health club settled her lawsuit against the city and its safety training contractor for $950,000.
According to Douglas Wilhelm’s wife, Navia Wilhelm, her husband collapsed while playing racquetball. Staff members responded with a first-aid kit and an automated external defibrillator, but no one used the AED until emergency medical workers arrived nine or 10 minutes later. By then, it was too late. Douglas Wilhelm suffered severe brain injuries and died from complications from the heart attack weeks later.
Had the machine been used immediately, Ms. Wilhelm alleges, her husband would have survived.
The fitness center was run by the City of Aiken, which hired First Response Safety Training to provide training on how to use the AED and perform CPR. According to the lawsuit, the fitness center’s employees were not properly trained and the city’s training manuals were not current with American Health Association standards of care.
Aiken denied negligence but paid $50,000 of the settlement. First Response paid $900,000.
Injuries alleged: Death
Name of case: Navia B. Wilhelm, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Douglas D. Wilhelm v. City of Aiken and First Response Safety Training Inc.
Case number: 2012 CP 0201386
Court: Court of Common Pleas
Attorneys for plaintiff: Mark Clore and E. Vernon Glenn of Clore Law Group, Charleston; J. Olin McDougall II, Beaufort
Attorneys for defendant: Karl Brehmer of Brown & Brehmer, Columbia; William Davidson II and Daniel Plyler of Davidson & Lindemann, Columbia
Mediator: Robin Braithwaite
Amount of settlement: $950,000
Date of settlement: March 18
Plaintiff’s experts: Heather Bloom, M.D., cardiology; Kyle McInnes, Ph.D., Sc.D., health and fitness; Tina Nuckols, R.N., emergency medicine
23. $897K verdict for military vet injured in crash
Though his attorney says he may not collect the full award, James Smith won a $897,500 judgment after being in a three-car crash that cost him his military career.
Smith suffered back and shoulder injuries when he was rear-ended on Interstate 26 by a car that was rear-ended by Joseph Giordano. The middle car was totaled, reports said, but its driver was not seriously injured. Smith’s vehicle avoided major damage but Smith suffered injuries that led him to be medically discharged from the Army.
Smith’s attorney, Robert Goings, said Giordano’s insurer, GEICO, had offered to settle the case for $100,000. Goings asked jurors for about $157,000 for past and future medical costs and $120,000 for lost wages, which would give Smith time to go to college and get skills needed to find a new line of work.
Goings also argued Giordano was driving recklessly, opening the door for a $538,000 punitive damage award.
He said Smith will receive at least $200,000, the limit on his underinsured motorist coverage, plus Giordano’s liability insurance limit of $25,000.
PERSONAL INJURY – MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH
Case name: James Smith v. Joseph Giordano
Court: Richland County Court of Common Pleas
Date of verdict: Oct. 28
Amount: $897,500 ($538,500 punitive damages, $359,000 actual)
Attorneys for plaintiff: Robert Goings of the Goings Law Firm, Columbia
24. Abused homeless man receives $750K settlement from Richland County (Tie)
Columbia lawyer Richard “Dick” Harpootlian negotiated a $750,000 settlement with Richland County after his client, a homeless man jailed for sleeping on the University of South Carolina campus, was brutally beaten by a detention officer.
The county council voted to pay $750,000 from the county’s general fund, more than double the statutory cap on a tort claims case.
Records show the plaintiff was booked for trespassing. He showed signs of mental illness but refused treatment. Days later, after refusing to come out of his cell, the 52-year-old inmate was beaten by guard Robin Smith and put in a restraint chair for eight hours. Harpootlian said the inmate was then placed back in the cell and left unattended for days. He was eventually found unresponsive and sent to the hospital in critical condition.
Smith pleaded guilty to violating the plaintiff’s civil rights. He is serving a two-year sentence in federal prison.
Name of case: Sweeper v. Richland County
Court: Richland County Court of Common Pleas
Case number: 13-CP-40-2161
Injuries alleged: Broken ribs, broken vertebrae, punctured lung, post-traumatic stress disorder
Amount of settlement: $750,000
Date of settlement: July 9
Attorneys for plaintiff: Dick Harpootlian of Columbia and Frank McCann of Charleston
Attorney for defendant: William Davidson of Davidson & Lindemann in Columbia
Defendant’s insurance carrier: Self-insured
24. Nationwide pays $750,000 to settle bad faith claim (Tie)
A vague and ambiguous policy coupled with conflicting statements from a Nationwide attorney and claims manager led the insurance company to settle mid-trial with a farmer who caused a car crash while doing farm business.
Carl Johnson for 19 years had what he thought was a “blanket” policy covering his farm and any work-related claims. He found out after admittedly causing a car crash and leaving the other driver with $200,000 in medical expenses that that wasn’t the case.
Johnson had just dropped a tractor off for repair when he pulled onto the road in front of driver Desi Crosby. Johnson admitted fault, his attorney said, and State Farm paid the $100,000 limit on his auto insurance. Nationwide rejected an offer to settle for his $500,000 farm policy limit, citing a clause excluding traffic crashes.
According to the suit, Johnson was sold a policy in 1991 after telling a Nationwide agent that he wanted to protect everything on his farm including his vehicles. But the policy, he said, did not include auto-related claims, even those arising from the farm business.
After Crosby won a $1.475 million judgment against Johnson, the pair sued Nationwide for bad faith.
According to a plaintiff’s attorney, a claims manager for Nationwide said Johnson would have been covered crossing the road from one field to another, while an attorney for the company said he would not have been covered in any accident involving vehicles.
In light of this, Nationwide agreed to pay Crosby $650,000, and $100,000 to Johnson for his legal expenses, stress caused by going through a trial and having the arbitration judgment, which could have cost him his house and farm.
BAD FAITH, BREACH OF CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE
Case name: Desi Crosby and Carl Johnson v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company
Court: Horry County court of Common Pleas
Date of settlement: July 18
Amount: $650,000 for Crosby; $100,000 for Johnson
Attorneys for plaintiffs: Robert McMahan Jr. of Harris & Graves in Conway for Crosby; James Stevens Jr. and Natalie Stevens-Graziani of Stevens Law Firm in Loris for Johnson
Attorneys for defendant: Robert Darroch and Sean Cox of Goodman McGuffey in Sarasota, Florida and Atlanta, respectively
25. Pharmacy pays $700,000 to settle suit over pill mix-up
A 74-year-old woman, identified only as Suzanne Doe because of a confidentiality agreement, settled with her pharmacy for $700,000 after she overdosed on Ambien her pharmacist had put in the wrong bottle.
Thinking she was taking prednisone, the woman became groggy and fell, fracturing a triangular bone at the bottom of her spine. So intense was the pain that doctors implanted a spinal cord stimulator, a device used to exert pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord to control chronic pain.
According to the woman’s attorney, David Yarborough of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston, the pharmacy was a large chain that had taken over an independent, small-town pharmacy. The pharmacist was required to fill about 400 prescriptions per day—four times more than he was used to filling.
The pharmacist had been written up four times in six months for not filling prescriptions fast enough, Yarborough said, and testified that he thought the pharmacy valued profits over safety.
The pharmacy, he said, argued that the pharmacist just made a mistake and that the woman needed the spinal cord stimulator anyway.
Case name: Confidential
Date of settlement: Jan. 29
Attorney for plaintiff: David Yarborough of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston
Attorney for defendant: Withheld