Learn more about our legal practice areas by viewing recent legal articles provided by members of our firm.
Recent News - October 2004
HILLYER v. BROWN, ET AL.
(San Diego County Superior Court)
Plaintiffs were Clemencia Hillyer (the widow), Mary Hillyer Rodriguez (the step-daughter) and Jose Hillyer Rodriguez (the step-son) of the decedent. Plaintiffs claimed that, instead of cremating the decedent (Mr. Hillyer) pursuant to contract, the defendants had sold his body parts. Like the facts in Radovich, Abbott and Zamazanuk, the Riverside Sheriff's office found the disarticulated head of the decedent during the search of our client's facility. Settlements were reached with two of the three plaintiffs - Jose Rodriguez and Mary Rodriguez. A settlement was also reached with the mortuary defendants, which contracted with plaintiffs for the cremation of Mr. Hillyer's remains. The final settlement demand that we received for Clemencia Hillyer - from her counsel - was $1,200,000. Accordingly, the case for damages asserted by the widow of the decedent went to trial in October of 2004. Counsel for the 25-year widow of the decedent (Ms. Clemencia Hillyer) asked the jury to award somewhere between $5,000,000-$10,000,000 for the alleged injuries that had been sustained by the widow as a result of what had occurred. In closing argument, Mr. Campbell asked the jury to award between $300,000-$400,000 should the jury find that there was a breach of contract that was intended to benefit the plaintiff. The jury returned a verdict only $50,000 more than argued by Mr. Campbell. As a result of pre-trial settlements and credits that were obtained from those prior settlements, the net verdict was $325,000 only $25,000 more than had been offered to plaintiff during trial.
Recent News - December 2004
MAYNARD v. BEAZER HOMES
(Maricopa County Phoenix, Arizona)
Partner Ron Lauter successfully defended the roofer on the second major construction defect lawsuit in Arizona to go to trial, which just concluded in December of 2004. The plaintiff homeowners initially demanded $9,000,000 for all of the alleged defect claims, and contended that approximately $2,400,000 of that amount was attributable to the work of the roofer. During trial, the Judge made rulings that reduced plaintiffs' case to approximately $5,200,000 on all defect claims and reduced the amount being claimed for alleged roofing defects to approximately $1,400,000.
After ten weeks of trial, the jury (which deliberated almost four days) awarded about 7% of what plaintiffs were requesting, or approximately $425,000. Of that amount, the jury returned an award against the roofer of only $132,000 which was $118,000 less than what Mr. Lauter's client/carriers had offered in settlement to plaintiffs prior to trial.
During post-trial interviews with the jurors, it was learned that several of Mr. Lauter's "trial themes" were instrumental in helping the jurors reach their verdict. For example, throughout the trial, Mr. Lauter stressed that plaintiffs' use of extrapolation (i.e., taking a small sample and multiplying that extrapolation/percentage throughout the project as a way of trying to prove plaintiffs' alleged defects) amounted to speculation, and should be rejected. The theme was "no extrapolation without verification."
During cross-examination, Mr. Lauter was also able to discredit many of the homeowners on the witness stand, demonstrating that they were either exaggerating or fabricating their testimony. Again, as a result of post-trial interviews with the jurors, it was learned that many of the homeowners were simply not believed. All in all, the case could not have gone better.
Recent News - August 2004
CARLSON v. DE ANZA RESORT AND GOLF
(San Diego Superior Court)
This was a premises liability action where the incident occurred at the Mission Bay Golf Course. The golf ball that was struck by the co-defendant golfer was an errant and reckless shot that went swiftly through a 2" chain-link "protective safety fence," striking plaintiff in his left eye. Plaintiff's initial settlement demand to our clients (the City of San Diego; the owner/operator of the golf course (De Anza); and the management company (Terra Vista) that ran the golf course) was $11,000,000, based on a claim for permanent and total blindness in the left eye; related pain and suffering; and a substantial claim for punitive damages. Motions for summary judgment were denied on the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Just before the first trial date, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege punitive damages against our clients alleging that our clients were on notice of this dangerous condition and intentionally chose not to fix it for financial reasons. Numerous motions were brought concerning the punitive damage claim, both before and after the amendment and two petitions for writs of mandate were filed with Fourth District Court of Appeal. Just before the final trial date, the Court granted our motion for summary adjudication and dismissed the prayer for punitive damages. As a result of pre-trial rulings by our trial judge on 40 motions in limine before the first trial on liability and damages, both sets of defendants agreed to try only the issues of damages. At that trial, plaintiff's counsel asked for not less than $6,000,000 in damages and a maximum of $10,000,000 for plaintiff's injuries, his multiple operations, and his blindness in one eye - for the remaining 50-years of plaintiff's life expectancy. In a very emotional decision, the jury returned its verdict for approximately $1,100,000 only $400,000 more than Partner John Campbell requested in closing argument.