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Verdicts & Settlements

Fertility clinic makes $3.3 million mistake   (access required)

An arbitration panel awarded more than $3 million to a married couple after a fertility clinic helped them conceive without warning the mother that she carried a deadly disease which could be passed on to her child. Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte mishandled the results of a medical screening test that showed Sally Ware was a carrier of cystic fibrosis, and her daughter ended up inheriting the disease, according to Ware’s attorneys, William H. Elam (pictured) and David S. Rudolf of Charlotte.

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Abuse victim gets second shot at justice   (access required)

When Kelly Waldron Bowles, 27, finally decided in 2002 to report years of sexual abuse at the hands of her former stepfather, a Dorchester County grand jury indicted Donald A. Baxter with second degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and committing a lewd act upon a child. Baxter eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of aggravated assault and battery by taking indecent liberties with a minor, and was sentenced to six years in prison, reduced to two years probation. He did no jail time. But in the civil suit that followed eight years later, it took Berkeley County Court of Common Pleas Judge Stephanie McDonald just one day to find for the victim. On November 15, McDonald awarded Bowles $14 million in damages on her claims of sexual assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence. “The award cannot replace the childhood and innocence that Kelly lost,” said her attorney, Joseph P. Griffith Jr. of Charleston (pictured).

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Many questions, few answers in home lawsuit (access required)

Ignorance of the law is no defense. But how about the facts? How long, for example, can a lender feign ignorance of the facts and collect on a mortgage loan after the underlying debt has been satisfied by a deed in lieu of foreclosure? The answer: As long as the borrower continues to pay, U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. held recently in Martin v. American General Finance Inc., a case that aptly depicts the confusion resulting when a note and mortgage go their separate ways. In 1993, Melinda Martin and her husband bought a three-bedroom house in Winnsboro at a foreclosure sale. In 1996, they took out a mortgage with First Family Financial Services. In 1999 they executed a deed in lieu of foreclosure to First Family, which First Family then filed with the county clerk.

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Jury awards $200,000 to man injured in collision with tractor (access required)

An unsympathetic defendant’s adamant denial of responsibility may have helped a South Carolina man win a six-figure verdict in a recent personal injury case in the Calhoun County Court of Common Pleas. The defendant, Edward Horton, was driving a tractor without working taillights or rear safety reflectors along a dark stretch of road in the Sandy Run community in late August 2007, when a truck going about 50 mph collided with the back of the tractor and a mower it was hauling. Terry L. Costellia was at the wheel of the pickup, which overturned during the crash. He suffered shoulder, hip and back injuries. He and his wife sued Horton for personal injury and loss of consortium, respectively.

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Limb falls, man is hurt — landlord pays  (access required)

A Berkeley County man who was severely injured when a tree limb crashed through the roof of his trailer has reached a nearly $1 million settlement with the owner of the mobile home park where he was living. Franklin J. Dangerfield had just stepped out of the shower on July 28, 2008, when a large limb fell from a pine tree above his trailer. Rescuers found a critically injured Dangerfield, then 22, trapped beneath the collapsed rafters of his trailer in the Pine Ridge Mobile Home Park, according to a report from The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston. Dangerfield was in a coma for nine days and stayed in the hospital for a month after the incident. He also underwent a month of outpatient physical therapy and speech therapy, according to his attorneys, Benjamin W. Akery of The Steinberg Law Firm in Goose Creek and Howard W. Taylor of the Law Offices of J. Van Wyck Taylor in Charleston.

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Unhappy client wins million-dollar judgment against his lawyer (access required)

When Jack Tuttle bought a tree-mulching machine for his land-clearing business in 2005, and had nothing but problems with it, he sought to return the machine and get his $300,000 back. He tried negotiating with the company, South Carolina-based Gyro-Trac, but to no avail, so he hired Charleston attorney Robert Lowe to help him. Three years later and on the eve of trial, Tuttle was still out his $300,000, plus an additional $665,000 he’d paid his attorney to get his case to that point. Tapped out after borrowing from family, mortgaging his house and maxing out his credit cards, Tuttle took the only step he thought he had left: He settled the case. Of the $700,000 settlement, Tuttle got $198,000 and Lowe got $261,000. The remaining $241,000 is likely uncollectible, since Gyro-Trac filed bankruptcy. Matt Yelverton (pictured) served as one Tuttle’s attorneys.

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Ousted preacher collects award for libel, slander  (access required)

After a relatively minor tax mistake triggered a series of increasingly bitter and bizarre spats between a pastor and the Hartsville church he led for 18 years, a jury ultimately rendered unto him a six-figure award for his suffering. The Rev. Isaac Johnson (pictured) sued the Jerusalem Baptist Church in August 2008, alleging that its leaders had falsely accused him of tax evasion and had no right to terminate his contract with the church. The accusations began bubbling up after the IRS notified the church that it owed about $4,000 in back taxes, according to Johnson’s attorney, John D. Clark of the Clark Law Firm in Sumter. In the weeks following the tax trouble, Johnson was locked out of the church, charged with interfering with a religious service by an undercover officer in the congregation, and his reputation was so badly damaged that he has not been able to find work as a pastor at another church, according to Clark.

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Against the odds, nursing-home claim is rebuffed   (access required)

Trial attorneys relish a challenge. Whether it’s the sympathetic plaintiff, the unpopular client, the witness with a past, or the formidable adversary, challenges present opportunities to explore new theories, adopt different strategies and polish skills. And overcoming them makes a win all the sweeter. Rarely, though, do multiple challenges come packaged in a single case. For Raleigh, N.C., lawyer Mike Hurley (pictured on right), that case arrived just before Thanksgiving last year, when he took over the defense of a wrongful death action against Britthaven Nursing Home in Chapel Hill, N.C., scheduled for trial in just six months.

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Failure to provide title to plane leads to $8.7 million verdict  (access required)

A jury in Buncombe County, N.C. awarded Venezuelan native Wilson Aponte and his company $8.7 million after finding that Dove Air Inc. and its president breached a contract with Aponte for the purchase of a Cessna jet. The jury awarded Aponte $2,922,353. The damages were trebled because the jury found that Aponte was damaged by the fraud of Dove Air and Joseph W. Duncan, the company’s owner and president. The 2009 deal, negotiated by an intermediary, was for Aponte to pay Dove Air $2.2 million in exchange for a Cessna Citation III. Aponte paid in full, but Dove Air hedged on giving over the plane. When it finally did, the plane came with an unexpected hitch: a $2.3 million lien in favor of Cessna Finance Corporation. That wasn’t part of the deal. The contract provided that the plane would be transferred free of any liens or charges.

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Jury doesn’t buy that fender bender caused injuries (access required)

A jury at the Greenville County Court of Common Pleas decided last month that a driver involved in a fender bender was not to blame for a second motorist’s alleged injuries after hearing evidence that he’d been hurt at work. The defendant’s Greenville attorney, Marcus K. McGarr, argued that the plaintiff and his medical experts had wrongly connected the crash to existing injuries the plaintiff suffered during an on-the-job injury, for which he collected workers’ compensation. The plaintiff’s attorneys, Gary W. Poliakoff and Raymond P. Mullman Jr. of Poliakoff & Associates in Spartanburg, have filed post-trial motions arguing that Judge Letitia H. Verdin made erroneous rulings during the trial. They are gearing up for an appeal.

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