Every January, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly publishes a list of large verdicts and settlements for the previous year. In 2002, commercial disputes dominated the top of the list, rather than catastrophic death and personal injury claims. The trend continued in 2003, with business misconduct cases registering seven of the top ten recoveries reported in 2003 and a quarter of all of the entries for 2003.(1)
The total number of verdicts over $1,000,000 reported to Lawyers Weekly in 2003 was more than 90 cases – 20 more cases than were reported in that category for 2002.
The largest settlement reported in 2003 was a $55.3 million settlement in a class action concerning the sale of whole life and participating life insurance policies to 165,000 customers in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The plaintiffs claimed they had been told that investment returns on their initial premiums would eliminate the need for premium payments after a certain date. The claimants alleged that insurance companies continued to charge them for premiums after they were paid up.
Other large verdicts in the corporate malfeasance arena included a $17.8 million securities arbitration award and a $16.2 million award for unfair competition in the form of raiding a competitor’s employers. William Rikard and others at Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein represented the plaintiff in the unfair competition/employee raid case, which resulted in treble damages and attorneys’ fees as well as compensatory damages.
In the medical negligence arena, the top settlement reported in 2003 was $4.9 million, lower than the largest ones reported in 2001 and 2002.
The largest jury verdicts awarded in 2003 came in catastrophic personal injury and death cases, including the following:
- An $8 million award for two deaths in an automobile accident. The defendants put up no defense in this case in which the defendant drivers had consumed marijuana and cocaine before the accident and had prior criminal convictions and driving offenses.
- A $5 million verdict in a schoolyard accident resulting in the death of an 11 year old child. He was crushed by a van at the school. The award included a $1.5 million award for emotional distress to the father who tried unsuccessfully to revive his son.
- A $4.75 million award for domestic abuse. The plaintiff was savagely beaten by her boyfriend. She was in a coma for weeks and continues to suffer from serious disabilities.
- A $2.37 million verdict in a surgical burn case. A seven year old girl suffered third-degree burns after being exposed to a surgical examination lamp, which was missing its heat safety shield. The injuries required five to fifteen corrective surgeries.
- A $2.25 million award for an automobile accident victim who faced excruciating headaches for the rest of her life as a result of the accident.
- A $1.5 million condemnation verdict in favor of owners of a diner after the state condemned the property in order to widen I-85.
(1) Business Misconduct Claims Top Lawyers Weekly Verdict, Settlement Survey, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly (January 19, 2004)