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Top 25 largest verdicts and settlements of 2015

This year’s list of the 25 largest verdicts and settlements in South Carolina features two $100 million awards and, all together, more than $350 million in litigation results. From big tobacco to medical malpractice to product and premises liability, this year’s cases once again run the gamut.

The list includes the top 25 awards and settlements finalized during the 2015 calendar year, arranged by dollar amount.

To qualify, a case must either have been decided or settled in a South Carolina court or, if in another state, handled by a South Carolina-based attorney.

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 2015 edition of SCLW and included reports submitted to us in January.

Our aim is to spotlight every notable verdict and settlement that would rank in the top 25 for the year, and we believe we have compiled a comprehensive list. We do not, however, profess to be infallible. If we have missed something, please let us know so that we can revise our online edition.


1. Motley Rice helps secure $100M tobacco award

Attorneys at a South Carolina law firm helped to negotiate a $100 million aggregate settlement with three big tobacco companies on behalf of about 400 smokers who had cases pending in a federal district court in Florida.

The cases are among thousands of lawsuits against tobacco companies that have been filed in Florida since the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling in Engle v. Ligget Group Inc. That case de-certified a class action lawsuit against large tobacco manufacturers and required plaintiffs to file individual suits against the companies.

Attorneys for the law firm of Motley Rice represented the plaintiffs, along with the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and The Wilner Firm of Jacksonville, Florida. Motley Rice, which has an extensive practice in tobacco litigation, has a South Carolina office in Mt. Pleasant. The firm’s co-founder, Joe Rice, served as the chief settlement negotiator.

The defendant tobacco companies in the settlement are Lorillard Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co..

The settlement does not include Engle cases that are still pending in Florida’s state courts. Rice said that there are about 3,500 such cases against the tobacco companies, of which his firm is involved in 500 to 600.

Rice said there were several challenges to contend with during the course of the 15-year litigation, including the mixed record of plaintiffs’ success, the fact that tobacco companies had appealed every verdict against them, with some success, and the deaths of plaintiffs, many of whom began smoking in the 1950s or 1960s.


Case name: Multiple cases

Amount: $100 million

Attorneys for plaintiff: Attorneys for the law firm of Motley Rice, which has an office in Mt. Pleasant, represented the plaintiffs, along with the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and The Wilner Firm of Jacksonville, Florida. Motley Rice’s co-founder, Joe Rice, served as the chief settlement negotiator.


2. S.C. firm helps secure $100M verdict against medical device maker

Attorneys for the Mt. Pleasant-based law firm of Motley Rice helped win a $100 million verdict in favor of a woman who suffered serious injuries after being implanted with plastic transvaginal mesh.

A Delaware jury found medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific liable for injuries caused by its Advantage Fit and Pinnacle TVM products. It awarded Deborah Barba $25 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages.

Barba, 51, was originally implanted with both transvaginal mesh products in May 2009 to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. After the surgery, she experienced complications and required a second surgery. Despite these procedures, portions of mesh remain painfully embedded with little hope of full extraction.

The verdict came less than a month after Boston Scientific announced that $119 million would be used to resolve nearly 3,000 pending TVM cases.


Amount: $100 million

Case name: Deborah Barba v. Boston Scientific Corporation

Court: Superior Court of the State of Delaware

Case number: N11C-08-050 MMJ

Judge: Mary Johnston

Date: May 28

Attorneys for plaintiff: Fidelma Fitzpatrick and Fred Thompson of Motley Rice and Phillip Edwards of Murphy & Landon in Wilmington, Delaware.

Attorney for defendant: Colleen Shields of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott in Wilmington, Delaware


3. Workers win $53.5 million verdict

A Ridgeville forestry company that offered stock options to nine employees—two scientists and seven research assistants—but rolled out a new plan that diluted the employees’ equity once the company began to prosper was ordered to pay $53.5 million in damages.

ArborGen, which develops genetically engineered trees, offered the value-added plan as an inducement for the employees to surrender their pension plans with two other companies, International Paper and MeadWestVaco, when they merged their biotech programs into the new company.

As ArborGen began to grow, employees said they were given conflicting reasons for the new plan and were told that the original plan was never enforceable. The new plan, they were told, would provide them with a better deal. In reality, it reduced their promised value by about 90 percent.

When the employees failed to receive the payout they expected, they sued ArborGen, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, civil conspiracy, and other claims. After a three-week bench trial, Dorchester County Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson ruled in the employees’ favor, finding that the explanations offered by the defendants were inconsistent and contradicted by the evidence.

“The Plaintiffs were given a plan of significantly less value as a result of Defendants’ scheme,” Dickson wrote in his 180-page order. “Misrepresentations, concealments, and false pretenses were used by Defendants to get the Plaintiffs to sign for the [less valuable] Plan. By such conduct, the Plaintiffs were deceived into believing that what they were receiving was better for them …  The Plaintiffs’ trust and confidence reposed in ArborGen, its management, its board members, and the controlling founders was not honored, but was abused.”

An expert witness testified for the plaintiffs that when ArborGen converted itself into a corporation in 2010, it was worth around $650 million, up from its initial $100 million value. Dickson awarded the employees $10,812,315 in actual damages, to which he added three times as much, $32,436,945, in punitive damages and just over $5 million each for prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees.


Amount: $53,508,288

Injuries alleged: Failure to honor employees’ rights in a long-term incentive plan

Name of case: Kirk Foutz, et al. v. ArborGen, Inc., et al.

Court: Dorchester County Circuit Court

Case number: 2010-CP-18-3183

Name of judge: Edgar Dickson

Date of verdict: Dec. 18

Most helpful experts: Steve Pomerantz, investment management expert in New York

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Chip Bruorton and Alice Paylor of Rosen, Rosen & Hagood in Charleston and John Freeman and Charles Williams of Williams and Williams

Attorneys for defendant: Richard Farrier and Jennifer Thiem of K&L Gates and Deirdre McCool and Katie Mellen of Nelson Mullins


4. Carolinas lawyers involved in $50M whistleblower settlement

A pair of lawyers from the Carolinas played a role in securing more than $50 million in payments to settle three whistleblower suits against two medical blood-testing companies accused of paying kickbacks to doctors.

William Tuck, a solo practitioner in Darlington, and James Wyatt of Wyatt & Blake in Charlotte, North Carolina, represented whistleblowers Scarlett Lutz and Kayla Webster, both of South Carolina, in one of the successful suits.

Lutz, a medical biller, and Webster, a nurse, uncovered the scheme while working for a doctor who was steering numerous patients to Health Diagnostic Laboratory for testing in exchange for secret payments of up to $20 per referral, according to Tuck.

He said Lutz realized that something was going on after one of the doctor’s practices filed for bankruptcy and she began receiving its mail, which included checks that listed patient names.

Their suit was filed in 2013 in the U.S. District Court in Charlotte, but was later moved to the federal court in Beaufort, where it was settled April 9. The complaint alleged that Virginia-based HDL and another diagnostic company, Singulex, of California, charged sham processing and handling fees to pay doctors across the country in exchange for referrals.

The alleged scam was immensely profitable for HDL, which reached $420 million in revenue within three years of its formation in 2010.


Case name: United States et al ex rel. Lutz and Webster v. HDL et al

Court: U.S. District Court, Beaufort, South Carolina

Case No. 9:14-cv-00230

Judge: Richard Gergel

Date: April 9

Amount: $50.4 million in fixed payments from HDL and $1.5 million in fixed payments from Singulex

Attorneys for plaintiff: William Tuck, Darlington; James Wyatt of Wyatt & Blake, Charlotte; and Marc Raspanti of Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti, Philadelphia

Attorneys for defendants: N/A

5. SC attorneys have a hand in $17M tobacco verdict

Before assisting in the $100 million settlement that ranks as this year’s top entry, Motley Rice attorneys helped a 64-year-old Florida woman win a $17.2 million jury verdict against Philip Morris USA for injuries she suffered as a result of smoking the company’s cigarettes.

Donna Brown became addicted to nicotine after she began smoking Marlboro cigarettes around the age of 16. As a result of her cigarette use, she was diagnosed in 1992 with peripheral vascular disease, which causes a narrowing of large arteries and blood restriction in the lower extremities. Her PVD caused her to suffer multiple strokes and undergo more than two dozen surgeries, including surgeries to remove both of her legs in 2003.

The federal jury found in Brown’s favor on all four causes of action that she raised: negligence, sale of a defective and potentially dangerous product, fraudulent concealment and fraudulent conspiracy. The damages awarded were a mix of both compensatory and punitive damages. One of Brown’s attorneys, James Ledlie, said that Brown’s injuries from tobacco were especially severe.

“She’s literally had surgeries from her neck down to her legs, all resulting from PVD,” Ledlie said.


Name of Case: Donna Brown v. Philip Morris USA, et al.

Court: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division

Case No.: 3:09-CV-10687-WGY-HTS

Judge: Timothy Savage

Amount: $17,287,448 ($8.287 million in compensatory damages, $9 million in punitive damages)

Date of Verdict: Jan. 21

Attorneys for the plaintiff: James Ledlie, Robert Haefele, Lisa Saltzburg of Mt. Pleasant and Nathan Finch of Washington, D.C., all of Motley Rice; along with co-counsel from Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and The Wilner Firm

Attorneys for the defendant: Kathleen Gallagher and Kate Skagerberg of Beck Redden, Houston, Texas, and Peter Henk of Shook Hardy & Bacon, Houston, Texas


6. Family of mesothelioma victim wins $14M asbestos verdict

A Spartanburg County jury awarded $14 million in damages to the family of a maintenance worker who contracted mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos while working at a plant in Spartanburg in the 1970s.

Dennis Seay passed away in 2014, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer than is linked almost exclusively to exposure to asbestos. From 1971 to 1980, Seay had been employed by Daniel Construction Co. to perform maintenance work at a polyester fiber manufacturing plant owned by Celanese, a specialty materials company headquartered in Texas.

Theile McVey of Kassel McVey in Columbia, local counsel for Seay’s family, said that Seay was responsible for maintaining pipes, pumps and valves at the plant, which at the time were sealed in insulation that contained asbestos, and that this exposure was the cause of his mesothelioma.

After a nine-day trial, the jury deliberated Oct. 8 for about 2 ½ hours before finding Celanese liable and returning a verdict for $12 million in actual damages. After another brief deliberation, the jury assessed Celanese a further $2 million in punitive damages.

McVey said that as a result of the mesothelioma, Seay’s lungs collapsed 10 times and had to be drained 11 times and that he underwent several surgeries and endured chemotherapy before passing away from a combination of blood constriction, wasting and suffocation. Seay was survived by a wife and three children, whom McVey described as “close-knit.”

“I know that, for the family, after the jury came back and found Celanese at fault, Celanese for the first time apologized to his family and said they were sorry,” McVey said. “I think that was the most important thing to the family, to hear an apology.”


Amount: $14 million ($12 million in actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages)

Injuries Alleged: Mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos

Case name: Angela D. Keene as Personal Representative of the Estate of Dennis Seay and Linda Seay vs. CNA Holdings vs. John Crane, Inc.

Court: Spartanburg County Circuit Court

Case number: 2013-CP-42-03915

Judge: D. Garrison Hill

Date of Verdict: Oct. 8

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Chris Panatier and Kevin Paul of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett in Dallas, Texas and Theile McVey of Kassel McVey in Columbia

Attorneys for defendants: Lane Young, Chris Collier and Elaine Shofner of Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young in Atlanta for Celanese and Mark Tivin of O’Connell Tivin Miller & Burns in Chicago and James Elliott and Samia Nettles of Richardson Plowden in Charleston for John Crane Inc.


7. Judge OKs $6.5M settlement for Walter Scott family

The city of North Charleston has agreed to pay a $6.5 million settlement to the family of Walter Scott following his shooting death during an encounter with a former city police officer who now awaits trial for murder.

Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager fatally shot Scott during a foot-chase following a traffic stop in April. A video of the incident, captured on a bystander’s cellphone, showed Slager shooting Scott in the back as he fled.

Slager was released on bond last week and is awaiting trial. Bond was originally denied but a judge considered the amount of time Slager would have to be held before having his day in court in light of the upcoming trial against confessed church shooter Dylann Roof.

The $6.5 million agreement was based on similar settlements reached in other police-related incidents outside the state, according to North Charleston’s attorney, Brady Hair.

The settlement benefits Scott’s four children, three of whom are adults.

The settlement documents also show that attorneys for the Scott family will take $2,166,666 in fees from the settlement, plus $214,786 in expenses. The family’s lawyers hail from the firms of Lanier & Burroughs in Orangeburg, Knight & Whittington in Summerville and Stewart, Seay & Felton in Atlanta.


Amount: $6.5 million

Case name: Anthony Scott v. City of North Charleston

Court: Charleston County Circuit Court

Case No.: 2015-CP-10-6799

Judge: Deadra Jefferson

Date of settlement: Dec. 17

Attorneys for plaintiff: Stewart, Seay & Felton in Atlanta; Lanier & Burroughs in Orangeburg; and Knight & Whittington in Summerville.

Attorney for defendant: Brady Hair, city attorney for North Charleston


8. Sale of ‘worthless and invalid property interests’ leads to $4.1 million settlement

Several defendants, including a Hilton Head title company and law firm, have agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle a class-action suit in which plaintiffs bought “worthless and invalid property interests”: timeshares in part of a Missouri resort that never got off the ground.

The Qualey Law Firm in Hilton Head and attorney John “Jack” Qualey were both named as defendants, accused of failing to “close, settle, and obtain title insurance for class members’ timeshare interval purchases.”

Qualey is also the owner of Plantation Title Co.

According to the complaint, defendant French Quarter Group III began selling timeshare intervals in two buildings at the French Quarter Resort in Branson, Missouri, in 2005. Most of the 1,100 timeshares were bought pre-construction, and buyers said they were told they would receive immediate title to their units, along with insurance.

That never happened, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Joseph Wilson IV of Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson in Charleston. Instead, Wilson said, units were sold and the owners were presented with signed and dated warranty deeds that were never recorded.

One building was completed and eventually foreclosed upon, while the second building was never constructed.

Cash settlement breakdown:

  • Resort Funding LLC, which financed the development and construction of the buildings and financed and collected on consumer loans, will pay $2 million.

  • Chicago Title Insurance Co., the underwriter and principal of Plantation Title, will pay $500,000.

  • The Taylor defendants, who owned and managed the French Quarter, will pay $500,000.

  • The Qualey defendants, who acted as attorneys for French Quarter, will pay $1 million plus $129,640.24, representing all funds from sales of the two building intervals held in escrow by the Qualey Law Firm.


Amount: $4,129,640. 24

Case name: Case v. Plantation Title Company, Inc., et al.

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Case number: 9:12-cv-02518

Judge: David Norton

Date: Aug. 11

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Carl Pierce II and Joseph Wilson IV of Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson in Charleston, Robert Culver of The Culver Firm in Charleston

Attorneys for defendants: Ashley Heslop, Britton Hawk, Richard Dukes Jr. of Turner Padget Law in Charleston; Felicia Preston, James Werner and L. Dwight Floyd Jr. of Parker Poe in Columbia; Katherine Ferguson and Ralph Tupper of Tupper, Grimsley & Dean in Beaufort; James Bruner of Bruner Powell in Columbia


9. $3.85M verdict for girl’s death in dram shop case

A Richland County jury returned a $3.85 million dram shop verdict against a Columbia bar that served an intoxicated patron after the state-mandated closing time. The patron subsequently crashed his car into another vehicle, killing a 6-year-old girl and seriously injuring her father.

Billy Patrick Hutto hopped from bar to bar on the New Year’s Eve leading into 2012, making his last stop for drinks at the Loose Cockaboose Sports Bar, near the University of South Carolina’s football stadium. Hutto testified that he downed three vodka cranberries there before getting into his car.

About 10:40 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Hutto, still drunk, ran a red light at 60 mph on U.S. Highway 378 in Lexington County and slammed into a van carrying the Longstreet family. The crash killed 6-year-old Emma Longstreet. Her father, David, suffered a broken neck, and his wife and three other children in the van also suffered physical injuries in addition to emotional trauma.

The Longstreet’s van was pushed into another car driven by Kenny Sinchak, who suffered a head injury.

The other bars that served Hutto that night opted for settlements, but the insurer for the Loose Cockaboose made no settlement offers until very close to trial, according to Paul Landis of Fayssoux Law Firm in Greenville, one of the attorneys for the Longstreets and Sinchak. The jury deliberated for about eight hours after a four-day trial before handing down the $3.85 million verdict.

Of that money, $3 million was assigned to Emma Longstreet’s estate, $350,000 to David Longstreet, $125,000 to Karen Longstreet, and $100,000 to each of their three minor children. Sinchak received $75,000.


Amount: $3.85 million

Injuries alleged: Wrongful death of a minor, physical injuries to surviving victims including broken neck, emotional trauma for surviving victims

Case name: David Longstreet and Karen Longstreet, Individually and as the Personal Representatives of the Estate of Emma Longstreet and as the Natural Guardians of the minor children, Noah Longstreet, Levi Longstreet, Micah Longstreet and Kenneth M. Sinchak v. Rabit, LLC d/b/a The Loose Cockaboose, Kelly Whitlock

Court: Richland County Circuit Court

Case number: 2014-CP-40-1886

Judge: Thomas Cooper

Date of verdict: Oct. 16

Most helpful experts: Elizabeth Trendowski, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, dram shop and liquor liability; David H. Eagerton, Ph.D., Clinton, forensic toxicology; David R. Price, Ph.D., Greenville, psychology and neuropsychology

Attorneys for plaintiff: Wally Fayssoux and Paul Landis of Fayssoux Law Firm in Greenville, Karl Bowers of Bowers Law Office in Columbia, and Bill Stewart of Millberg Gordon & Stewart in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Attorneys for defendant: Andrew Watson and Scott Frank of Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig in Charlotte and Tampa, Florida, respectively


10. $2.2M settlement in suit over baby’s botched delivery

After catching a doctor in a lie during her deposition, lawyers representing a young woman whose baby was born with brain damage and later died negotiated a $2.2 million settlement that maxed out the two insurance policies at play.

One of the plaintiff’s lawyers, David Yarborough of the Yarborough Applegate Law Firm in Charleston, said the doctor at the center of the case claimed she waited to deliver the baby by C-section because the 19-year-old mother withdrew her consent to have the operation performed, although all the nurses, the mother and family members who were in the delivery room said she had not withdrawn consent. Nothing in her medical records indicated that she had.

The lawsuit alleged that the doctor and other medical providers involved in the birth waited too long to deliver the baby while his brain was being deprived of blood and oxygen. He died in January 2014, 18 months after he was born.

The doctor and her lawyers contended that she did nothing wrong. But the doctor’s insurer paid $1.2 million and the hospital’s insurer kicked in another $1 million to settle the suit May 8, according to Yarborough.

Citing a confidentiality provision in the settlement, Yarborough declined to provide any identifying information about the defendants or his client.


Amount: $2.2 million

Case name: Withheld

Court: Withheld

Date: May 8

Most helpful experts: Dr. Yvonne Gomes-Carrion of Harvard Medical School; Dr. Christian Cook of Charleston; Dr. Joseph Philips of the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Judith Poole, nursing expert

Attorneys for plaintiff: David Yarborough Jr., William Applegate and Douglas Jennings of the Yarborough Applegate Law Firm in Charleston; and Douglas Jennings Jr. and Mason King of the Jennings Law Firm in Bennettsville

Attorneys for defendant: Withheld


11. Walkway accident leads to $2.15M mediated settlement

A plaintiff who suffered orthopaedic injuries and a traumatic brain injury while “traversing an exterior walkway” accepted a $2.15 million settlement in March, according to attorney Christopher McCool of the Joye Law Firm in Charleston.

McCool withheld many of the case details pursuant to a confidentiality clause in the settlement.


Amount: $2.15 million

Case name: Confidential

Case number: Confidential

Court: Confidential

Date: March 20

Attorney for plaintiff: Christopher McCool of the Joye Law Firm in Charleston

Attorney for defendant: Confidential


12. Cyclist injured by falling treetop agrees to $1.8M settlement

As a jury was being being selected, a woman who had been hit on the head by the top of a falling oak tree as she pedaled along a bicycle path in Hilton Head reached a $1.8 million settlement with a condominium complex, its management company and a couple of tree services.

According to the plaintiff’s attorneys, a 12-foot portion of the rotting tree snapped off and fell about 33 feet, striking 42-year-old Stephanie Bausch and giving her a concussion and leaving her disabled.

The attorneys argued that Ocean Gate Villas was responsible for inspecting the tree, given its urban location. Ocean Gate said it relied on IMC Resort Management, which ran its day-to-day affairs, to get tree inspections. But an IMC property manager said that he told the Villas to get inspections but the company declined because of the cost.

The professional tree services hired by IMC to evaluate the property did so annually from 2006 to 2010, but not in 2011 or 2012, attorneys said. An urban forestry expert called by the plaintiff opined that the fallen tree had been in a dangerous condition for at least a decade and that it should have been detected by the tree professionals during their inspections.


Amount: $1.8 million

Injuries alleged: Physical disability, concussion, psychological harm

Case name: Stephanie Bausch v. Ocean Gate Villas, IMC Resort Services, All Care Tree Surgery, and Jones Brothers Tree Surgeons

Court: Beaufort County Circuit Court

Case number: 2013-CP-07-0003

Judge: Doyet Early

Date: February 23

Most helpful experts: Dr. Robert Miller, urban forestry expert in Oriental, North Carolina

Attorneys for plaintiff: Karl Twenge of Twenge and Twombley in Beaufort, Dan Denton of Lowcountry Injury Law in Beaufort, and Chad McGowan of McGowan, Hood, and Felder in Rock Hill

Attorneys for defendants: Neil Waldrup in Charleston, Mitch Griffith in Beaufort, David Black in Beaufort, and Joseph Rahimi in Savannah, Georgia


13 (tie). Dram shop case settles for $1.75M

After drinking heavily with co-workers at several Charleston-area establishments, Jason Marion got in his truck, drove, and struck and killed bicyclist Gerard Nieto. According to prosecutors in his criminal trial, Marion dragged the bike about a quarter-mile before driving off. He didn’t check to see if Nieto was OK or wait for police, though he turned himself in days later.

After a five-day civil trial, Marion was found liable for Nieto’s death to the tune of $1.75 million dollars. He was also slapped with a six-year prison sentence after being convicted criminally of reckless homicide.

According to Nieto’s attorney, Rob Ransom of Columbia, Marion drank alcohol at several establishments before leaving the Mt. Pleasant Wild Wings Cafe, crossing the Cooper River and Ashley River bridges and ending up at Gene’s Haufbrau.

According to the lawsuit, Marion drank three more drinks and shots with with the bartender, though Ransom said that that assertion is disputed. Marion contends he drank at Gene’s, Ransom said, while employees of the establishment said he was too drunk to be served.

After leaving Gene’s, Ransom said, Marion was traveling down the Savannah Highway when he struck Nieto from behind, killing him almost instantly.


Amount: $1.75 million

Case name: Estate of Gerard Nieto v. Jason Frank Marion, Mt. Pleasant Wings and Gene’s Haufbrau

Court: Charleston County Court of Common Pleas

Case number: 2013-CP-10-3582

Judge: Thomas Hughston

Date: Feb. 25

Attorneys for plaintiff: Rob Ransom of Columbia and Sandy Senn of Charleston

Attorneys for defendant: Tom Domin of Charleston, Dawes Cooke of Charleston, and Steve Pugh of Columbia


13 (tie). Thanksgiving shooting triggers $1.75M settlement

The insurer for an affluent, gated community near Beaufort agreed to pay $1.75 million after one of its security guards shot and killed a man inside a Brays Island Plantation home during what turned out to be a family squabble.

On Nov. 24, 2010, security guard Charles Knox was on duty when he responded to what he believed was a medical emergency at the $2 million home of Richard and Carolyn Santee. But as Knox approached the home, he saw a man fall to the floor inside then stumble to his feet and point a gun at another man, an attorney involved in the case said.

That’s when Knox fired his weapon, killing 42-year-old Jim Piotrowski, who, along with his wife, was visiting the Santees for the holidays. Richard Santee was Piotrowski’s uncle.

Exactly what happened between Santee and Piotrowski remains unclear, but the fatal shot fired by Knox was the fourth bullet to enter Piotrowski’s body that night. During an altercation, Santee shot Piotrowski three times and was himself shot once.

Court documents tell of a Thanksgiving get-together that included plenty of alcohol and bickering. Richard and Carolyn had reportedly argued over the course of the evening, and plaintiffs assert that Piotrowski was shot after intervening in an argument between the couple.

Richard Santee is currently awaiting trial for attempted murder. Knox was not charged in the killing.


Amount: $1.75 million

Case name: Piotrowski, et al.  v. Santee, et al.

Court: Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas

Case No.: 2013-CP-07-01567

Judge: Perry Buckner

Date: May 27

Attorneys for plaintiff: William Applegate and Douglas Jennings of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston and Andrew Savage of the Savage Law Firm in Charleston.

Attorney for defendant: Christian Stegmaier of Collins & Lacy in Columbia


15. Columbia pays architectural firm $1.6M after reneging on deal

After years of legal wrangling, the city of Columbia was ordered to pay $1.6 million to an architectural firm contracted in 2003 to work on a publicly owned 300-room Vista district hotel that never materialized.

Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina sued the city in 2005, claiming that a contract existed between them and that the city, after hiring another firm to design what is now the Hilton Columbia Center, shortchanged them by about $1 million.

According to court documents, the city and S&W — and several other parties — entered into a memorandum of understanding in April 2003 to develop a full-service hotel adjacent to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

The firm’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian of Columbia, said that after completing some preliminary design work, his clients planned to stop working until bond financing was finalized.

But per an agreement between S&W and Columbia, the firm continued to work and be paid by the city through the anticipated bond closing date, Harpootlian said.

The plans were finished in late March, but the city decided to go in a different direction and build a smaller, privately funded hotel. Since the bonds weren’t issued, Harpootlian said, the city claimed it didn’t owe S&W any further payment.

While the city eventually conceded the existence of a contract, it argued that the terms of the contract had been satisfied by the payment it had already made, according to court documents.

Harpootlian said the city knew it was being charged every week beyond mid-October and that “evidence of conduct” by the city played in his favor. For instance, the city paid $697,000 that S&W requested to help defray its costs, including the cost of subcontractors, until the bonds were issued.


Amount: $1,602,915.21

Case name: Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina Inc. v. City of Columbia

Court: Richland County Court of Common Pleas

Judge: David Norton

Case number: 2005-CP-40-3361

Date: July 30

Attorneys for plaintiff: Richard Harpootlian and Christopher Kenney of The Harpootlian Law Firm in Columbia

Attorney for defendant: Kathleen McDaniel of Callison Tighe in Columbia


16. Trip and fall leads to $1.6M mediated settlement

A plaintiff who tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk when leaving a commercial establishment in Berkeley County accepted a $1.6 million settlement in February, according to attorney Christopher McCool of the Joye Law Firm in Charleston.

McCool said the plaintiff suffered a fractured arm.

McCool withheld many of the case details pursuant to a confidentiality clause in the settlement.


Amount: $1.6 million

Case name: Confidential

Case number: Confidential

Court: Berkeley County Court of Common Pleas

Date: Feb. 3

Attorney for plaintiff: Christopher McCool of the Joye Law Firm in Charleston

Attorney for defendant: Confidential


17 (tie). Heart attack death nets $1.5M verdict

Ten days after tests showed serious but treatable blockages in several coronary arteries, Wayne Reynolds died of a heart attack.

After a jury found the South Carolina Heart Center grossly negligent because no one had informed Reynolds of the test results, it awarded his estate $2 million. It also found Reynolds partially at fault, reducing the award to $1.5 million.

According to Reynolds’ attorney, Rob Ransom of Columbia, the plaintiff was seen by Dr. Norma Khoury at the heart center after Reynolds’ family physician noticed an abnormality during a routine physical. After a “series of scheduling snafus,” Ransom said, Reynolds underwent a nuclear stress test that revealed the blockages.

Reynolds said that at trial, it was disputed as to who was responsible for informing Reynolds of the results; whether Reynolds left the center before Khoury could go over the results with him; and whether Reynolds should have recognized potential signs of a heart attack and sought more timely emergency care.

While the center was found to be negligent, Khoury was exonerated by the jury. After the verdict, Ransom said, the parties settled the case for payment of the center’s liability policy limits.


Amount: $2 million reduced to $1.5 million

Case name: Estate of Wayne Reynolds v. South Carolina Heart Center and Norma Khoury, MD

Case number: 2013-CP-40-0785

Court: Richland County Court of Common Pleas

Date: March 20

Attorneys for plaintiff: Rob Ransom of Columbia

Attorneys for defendant: Gary Lovell and Andy Countryman of Charleston for SC Heart Center and Ashby Davis and Keith Knowlton of Greenville for Khoury

 17 (tie). Toyota ordered to pay $1.5M in attorneys’ fees

A federal judge in North Carolina’s western district has ordered Toyota to pay $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees to a competitor who successfully sued the auto manufacturer for meddling in a business deal.

The plaintiff, Kentucky-based forklift manufacturer Clark, accused Toyota of sinking a lucrative contract that Clark had with Charlotte forklift dealer Southeast Industrial Equipment. When Toyota caught wind of the deal, it pressured SIE to drop Clark, according to a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Charlotte.

A jury found in late February that Toyota interfered with the contract between Clark and SIE by pressuring the dealership to terminate the relationship and awarded Clark $3,040,090 in damages and trebled that based on his determination that Toyota had violated the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Toyota was also ordered to pay prejudgment interest of about $760,000, along with post-judgment interest that continues to accrue. In total, the judgment against Toyota now amounts to $11,325,903 when factoring in the July 31 order awarding attorneys’ fees.

In arguing for fees, Clark’s attorneys told Cogburn that they have spent nearly 4,500 hours on the case, which began in August 2012.


Amount: $1.5M in attorneys’ fees

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Judge: Max Cogburn

Attorney for plaintiff: Tami McKnew of Smith Moore Leatherwood in Greenville

19. Jury awards $1.25M in Wal-Mart stabbing

A jury in Greenville County awarded $1.25 million to the mother of a woman who was stabbed to death by her husband while working at a bank inside a Wal-Mart. The verdict against the local sheriff is believed to be the largest of its kind in recent county history.

Madel Rivero argued that Sheriff Steve Loftis and his deputies could have saved her daughter, Lilia Blandin, but botched their response to her call for help. Blandin’s husband, Avery Blandin, fatally stabbed her in December 2011 in the bank’s lobby.

The day before her death, Lilia called 911 to report that she had spent the night in her car with two of her three children because Avery had beaten her and threatened to kill her.

An attorney for the plaintiff, Daniel Luginbill of Bamberg, said the initial 911 operator misinterpreted the call as a custody issue and did not send deputies. Lilia’s sister then called 911 and deputies were sent to the residence, but they refused to arrest Avery. Lilia collected her children and some clothes and left with Rivero.

The next morning, Avery walked into Wal-Mart and killed Lilia.

Rivero sued Loftis in his official capacity as sheriff “under a theory that the deputies had probable cause to arrest, and in fact had no discretion but to arrest, and failed to do so,” Luginbill said.

The jury deliberated for more than seven hours before awarding $500,000 to Rivero for her wrongful death claim and $750,000 for her survival action.


Amount: $500,000 for wrongful death, $750,000 for survival claim

Case name: Madel Rivero v. Steve Loftis, et al.

Court: Greenville County Circuit Court

Case No.: 2013-CP-23-06522

Judge: Robin Stilwell

Date: Oct. 1

Attorneys for plaintiff: Daniel Luginbill and J. Christopher Wilson of Wilson & Luginbill in Bamberg; Daniel Farnsworth of Greenville

Attorneys for defendants: Russell Harter of Chapman, Harter & Harter in Greenville


20. Punctured aorta leads to $1.2M settlement

A Richland County man whose aorta was punctured during an elective surgery and who now suffers from paralysis in his lower extremities as a result of the ensuing blood loss reached a $1.2 million settlement in June with Palmetto Health Alliance and the doctor who performed his surgery.

According to his attorneys, plaintiff Wendell Hartzog went to Palmetto Health Baptist in Columbia for surgery to treat his gastroesophageal reflux disease. Dr. Chad Rubin performed what was supposed to be a minimally invasive procedure, fundoplication, but perforated Hartzog’s aorta in three places, causing extensive internal bleeding.

Hartzog’s heart failed, and he had to be resuscitated on the operating table, after which doctors placed a Dacron patch on Hartzog’s aorta and clamped his aorta, cutting off blood flow to his spine and lower extremities for a significant period of time.

Hartzog was placed in the intensive care unit and underwent three additional surgical procedures. He suffered renal failure, pancreatitis and a restriction in blood supply to his spine and lower extremities. As a result, Hartzog suffers from permanent paralysis of his lower extremities and bladder dysfunction that requires the use of a catheter.

William Padget, Harry Goldberg and Carl Hiller of Finkel Law Firm in Columbia represented Hartzog and his wife in their suit against Rubin and Palmetto Health.

“We believed [the puncturing of the aorta] was a very obvious breach of the standard of care, which certainly drove the liability issue,” Padget said.

As a not-for-profit hospital, recoveries against Palmetto Health are capped at $1.2 million.

“Frankly, I think the case is worth significantly more than that in a world without a cap,” Padget said.


Amount: $1.2 million

Injuries alleged: Perforated aorta, extensive blood loss, ischemic spinal injury resulting in paraplegia and neurogenic bladder.

Case name: Wendell & Kathy Hartzog vs. Palmetto Health Alliance and Chad Rubin, M.D.

Court: Richland County Circuit Court

Case number: 2014-CP-40-0115

Date of settlement: June 1

Most helpful experts: Dr. Scott Hockenberry for plaintiff and Dr. Aaron Epstein for defendant

Insurance carrier: Mag Mutual for Dr. Chad Rubin

Attorneys for plaintiff: William Padget, Harry Goldberg and Carl Hiller of Finkel Law Firm in Columbia

Attorney for defendants: Monty Todd of Sowell Gray Stepp & Laffitte in Columbia


21. Mother injured in tow-truck collision reaches $1.195M settlement

A 36-year-old Bishopville woman who was left permanently disabled after her car was struck by a careening tow truck reached a $1.195 million settlement with insurance companies for the tow-truck driver and other liable parties.

Tamara Bradley, a health care worker and mother of two, was driving on U.S. Highway 76/378 in Sumter County during a rainy late-morning in September 2010. According to police reports, a car heading in the opposite direction had stopped while trying to make an improper left turn. The tow-truck driver, following that car, was driving at too fast and lost control of his vehicle, crossing into oncoming traffic and colliding with Bradley’s car.

Bradley suffered an open ankle fracture and neck and back injuries from the crash. The driver who had suddenly stopped had been test driving a vehicle from a local Chevrolet dealership.

The insurer for the tow-truck driver settled with Bradley in November and will contribute $1 million, the full policy limit, to the settlement. The insurer for the driver of the third car settled with Bradley in June and will contribute $125,000, also the full policy limit. The remaining $70,000 will come from Bradley’s underinsured motorist policy.

Bradley’s attorneys said that the injuries have left their client, who had previously worked two jobs, unable to work and have precluded her from activities she had previously enjoyed with her children.


Amount: $1.195 million

Injuries alleged: Permanent disability, ankle fracture, neck and back injuries

Case name: Tamara M. Bradley v. Thomas J. Alan, John E. Bailey, Jr. d/b/a Bailey’s Automobile Service, Susan Jackson, Mark Greene and Jones Chevrolet Co., Inc.

Court: Sumter County Circuit Court

Case number: 13-CP-43-1528

Most helpful experts: Woodrow Poplin, accident reconstruction, Wadmalaw Island

Insurance Carriers: Federated Mutual Insurance Co., Zurich American Insurance Co., Geico Indemnity Insurance Co.

Attorneys for the plaintiff: John Clark and Sharon Baker Clark of Clark Law Firm in Sumter


22. Finra orders investment broker to pay $1.17M to family

Two Charleston lawyers helped a family secure a $1.172 million award against a Texas financial adviser accused of negligence for selling self-serving investments and giving bad advice.

A three-member arbitration panel for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, issued the award against Terry Chilton on May 17 after determining that his bad investment advice harmed Rex McCorquodale; his wife, Ann; and their college-age son, Knox.

Chilton was friends with the McCorquodales and sold them risky variable annuities after they inherited about $6 million following the death of Rex’s mother, according to an attorney for the family, Andrew Gowdown of Rosen, Rosen & Hagood. He and his law partner, Timothy Muller, represented the family alongside lawyers from Oklahoma and Texas.

According to Gowdown, Chilton sold the McCorquodales two annuity accounts for $4 million in 2007 ahead of the market collapse and failed to warn them that they would be penalized for making withdrawals from the accounts.

Gowdown said Chilton knew that the McCorquodales would need to make frequent withdrawals to keep their hot-water heater business running. Chilton also didn’t tell them that they would be hit with additional surrender charges if they cashed in the accounts, which they did twice in order to follow Chilton as he moved between brokerage houses, Gowdown said.

The penalties and fees coupled with the McCorquodales’ market losses added up to nearly $2 million, according to a claim the family filed with Finra against Chilton.


Case name: McCorquodale v. Chilton

Court: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel

Case No.: 13-02390

Date of award: May 15

Amount: $1.172 million

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Andrew Gowdown and Timothy Muller of Rosen, Rosen and Hagood in Charleston

Attorneys for defendants: Zandra Foley, William Radford and Cory Reed of Thompson Coe in Houston.


23. $1.15M settlement in rocket cart product liability

What appears to be the first product liability lawsuit filed in South Carolina against a corporation that makes so-called “rocket carts,” used for stocking merchandise in large stores, has resulted in a $1.15 million settlement after a Wal-Mart worker was injured when she was hit on the head by one of the cart’s shelves when it fell off.

According to an attorney for Jannie Wilson, Austin Crosby of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick in Hampton, Wilson underwent surgery to fuse bones in her neck and now has difficulty turning her head. She is unable to work, he said.

Wilson alleged in her suit that the cart maker, Win-Holt Equipment Corp., knew that a spring-loaded latch supporting the shelf was defective but did nothing to correct the problem, despite the fact that it had received reports from Wal-Mart about other incidents occurring across the country.

Ridgeway added that Win-Holt could have fixed the problem with an inexpensive clip that would have provided additional support for the shelf.

Win-Holt had offered to provide the clips to Wal-Mart, but the mega retailer declined to install them on the carts before Wilson was hurt, according to one of Win-Holt’s attorneys, Dawes Cook of Barnwell Whaley in Charleston. He also said user error, rather than a shoddy product, was to blame for what happened to Wilson and in most of the other rocket cart accidents.

Ridgeway scoffed at the notion.

“Their [Win-Holt’s] defense was going to be to shift as much blame as they could to Wal-Mart. We knew that was coming,” he said. “But the law regarding product liability in South Carolina is clear. When you place something in the stream of commerce and it begins to injure people, it’s yours.”


Amount: $1.15 million

Case name: Jannie Wilson v. Win-Holt Equipment Corp.

Court: Hampton County Circuit Court

Case No.: 2012-CP-25-00422

Date: Oct. 6

Attorneys for plaintiff: Austin Crosby and Ronnie Crosby of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick in Hampton; and E. Wayne Ridgeway of Burris & Ridgeway in Columbia

Attorneys for defendants: M. Dawes Cook and John “Jay” Jones of Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms in Charleston


24. Negligence, untimely response net victim $1.1M

For cutting an auto accident claim check just a tad too late, Nationwide Insurance will pay a $1.1 million judgment to the victim, a federal judge in Charleston ruled.

Plaintiff Emilio Urena was injured Jan. 22, 2012, in Moncks Corner when a vehicle driven by Gregory Bryant rear-ended him at about 100 mph.

Bryant’s blood alcohol level was later determined to be .30, nearly four times the legal limit to operate a vehicle.

Urena suffered traumatic brain injury, 14 fractured ribs and numerous other injuries. He later developed numerous complications and mental difficulties.

Bryant, records show, was insured by a Nationwide liability policy that covered $25,000 for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage.

An adjustor on Nationwide’s attorney negotiation team, Tina Ramsey, investigated the claim and noted in the claim file, according to court documents, that “liability is clear” since Bryant was apparently speeding and driving under the influence.

Ramsey evaluated the claim on Feb. 15, 2012, at $109,000, with medical expenses of at least $59,000. The next day, Urena’s counsel faxed a letter to Nationwide containing a time-limit demand stating: “If we have not received the settlement checks by … tomorrow … I will advise my client to reject any forthcoming receipt of the policy limits as being untimely.”

Two adjustors discussed the letter but not the time-limit demand. Ramsey reportedly admitted to not reading the paragraph containing the time-limit demand and said that had she read it, she would have complied.

On Feb. 17, 2012, a Friday, Ramsey mailed a check to Driggers. Because Monday was a federal holiday, the check did not arrive until Feb. 21. It was promptly returned because it had not been timely received per the demand letter.

“This was a very simple case of negligence,” Driggers said. “The adjuster simply did not read the time demand.”

While Nationwide’s conduct was negligent, it didn’t amount to reckless or conscious disregard for Bryant’s rights, a district judge found, denying punitive damages.


Amount: $1.1 million

Case name: Emilio Urena, as assignee of Gregory Bryant v. Nationwide Insurance Company of America

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Case No.: 2:13-cv-03544-DCN

Date: July 30

Attorneys for plaintiff: Johnny Driggers of the Driggers Law Firm, Goose Creek, and Gedney Howe III and Alvin Hammer of the Gedney Howe Law Offices, Charleston

Attorney for defendant: Edward Cole of Turner Padget Graham & Laney, Myrtle Beach


24 (tie). Paramedics, Charleston County settle wage dispute for $1M

Paramedics in Charleston County reached a $1 million settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging that the county illegally forced its EMS employees to work extra hours without pay.

As part of the settlement, reached Nov. 30, the county also agreed to cease certain practices, including requiring employees to show up 15 minutes before their shifts to perform work activities without pay.

The EMS workers also claimed that the county had improperly calculated their salaries. Prior to the suit, county paramedics worked either 12-hour or 24-hour shifts, with different rates of pay for each, and many employees were not credited with the correct rate of pay.

Subsequent to the filing of the lawsuit, the county discontinued the use of 24-hour shifts and began paying employees a uniform hourly rate.

Michael Jordan of the Steinberg Law Firm in Goose Creek and Amy Gaffney of Gaffney Lewis & Edwards in Columbia represented the employees. Gaffney said that many variables were factored into the pay system, and that this complexity led to errors that resulted in her clients losing some of the wages to which they were entitled.

The suit covers wages lost over a three-year period leading up to the filing date of the suit in January 2014. In all, 101 employees were plaintiffs in the suit.

Both attorneys said that it was important to their clients to get the dispute behind them.

“Our clients are happy that the case is settled and that it’s done,” Jordan said. “Most of them still work for the county, and they want to maintain a good relationship with their employer going forward.”


Amount: $1 million

Injuries Alleged: Lost wages

Case name: Madden, et al., v. Charleston County, South Carolina

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Case No.: 2:14-cv-00208-DCN

Judge: David Norton

Settlement date: Nov. 30

Attorneys for plaintiff: Michael Jordan of the Steinberg Law Firm in Goose Creek and Amy Gaffney of Gaffney Lewis & Edwards in Columbia

Attorneys for defendant: Caroline Cleveland and Bob Conley of Cleveland & Conley in Charleston


24 (tie). Pedestrian hit by car receives $1M settlement

An octogenarian who was struck by a sport utility vehicle while vacationing on Seabrook Island received a $1 million insurance settlement for his injuries, which included a fractured skull and brain damage.

Robert Hunter, 84, was walking along the shoulder of High Hammock Road when the SUV made an abrupt U-turn and hit him, according to his attorney, David Yarborough of the Yarborough Applegate Law Firm in Charleston.

The other driver, Cara Lomas, told police she had been looking at a pile of mail lying in the passenger seat and missed her turn, hence doubling back and hitting Hunter.

Hunter spent a week at the Medical University of South Carolina before being transferred to Roper Hospital and spending 44 days there. After a brief stint at home, Hunter had to be readmitted to MUSC due to complications.

He now requires a walker and takes prescription medications for pain, dizziness and nausea and also has frequent bouts with confusion and memory loss, Yarborough said.

Hunter’s hospital bills total more than $206,000, a figure that does not include home health care or physical therapy costs.


Amount: $1 million

Injuries alleged: Mild traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures

Case name: Robert Hunter v. Cara Lomas

Court: Settled pre-suit

Date of settlement: May 15

Attorneys for plaintiff: David Yarborough Jr. of the Yarborough Applegate Law Firm in Charleston

Attorneys for defendant: None


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