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HOW TIME DOES TELL

Sep 26, 1994

The National Law Journal

Supplement : Verdicts Revisited (excerpt)

How Time Does Tell

After large jury verdicts hit the headlines, there's rarely any followup. To track down what happens to jury verdicts once the jury goes home. The National Law Journal has selected and investigated 100 typical cases from 1990 involving jury awards of $ 1 million or more. The cases selected include nearly all the largest verdicts from 1990, as well as some jury awards in the $ 1 million to $ 5 million range, in order to compare juridical treatment of smaller and larger awards. Cases were selected from all major categories, including medical malpractice, products liability, libel, antitrust, breach of contract, insurance bad faith, wrongful termination and others. The NLJ chose to go back as far 1990, because the vast majority of the cases would have passed through at least the first stage in the appellate process. And at the same time, it is not so long ago that the lawyers involved would be unable to find files or recall what happened. Attempts were made to contact attorneys on both sides, but not all lawyers returned calls. Not surprisingly, the attorneys on the losing sides were less easy to reach. Court records have been used to supplement missing information. There were several hundred verdicts of $ 1 million or more in 1990. This is what happened to 100 of them.

WRONGFUL DEATH

CASE: McDonald v. Luxaire Corp., -00101 (Cir. ., Mobile Co., Ala.)

JURY AWARD: $ 50 million

STATUS:

ON DEC. 23, 1985, Nel and Joe Wilburn, their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a defective forced warm-air furnace, says plaintiffs' attorney Joseph M. Brown Jr. of Mobile, Ala.'s Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown. Mr. Wilburn's brother, Gerald, and Sylvester McDonald, that father of the dead son-in- law, Mark McDonald, filed a wrongful death/products liability action against Luxaire Corp., the maker of the furnace, and Mobile Gas Co., which previously had inspected and repaired the furnace.

Before trial, Mobile Gas settled, paying $ 11.5 million to the plaintiffs. The trial was against Luxaire alone. In March 1990, a Mobile jury ordered Luxaire, then a subsidiary of Westinghouse Corp., to pay the plaintiffs $ 50 million. Under the conditions of the trial, the defendant was not entitled to offsets from the Mobile Gas settlement, Mr. Brown notes. In May 1991, Luxaire settled, paying an undisclosed though "substantial" amount, Mr. Brown says.

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