$9.5M Jury Verdict
Chris Chandler, age 62, was struck by a car and killed while crossing a state highway. The police blamed Chris for riding his bicycle into oncoming traffic without first looking to make sure the road was clear and investigated the accident as a possible suicide.
We determined that Chris was in a marked crosswalk when he was struck. We found witnesses who told us that, contrary to the police report, Chris was walking his bike when he was killed, not riding it. We uncovered documents in the state’s files showing that the crosswalk was unsafe because the pedestrian’s view of oncoming traffic could be blocked by yielding vehicles. The state refused to fix the crosswalk because it did not believe enough people had been injured or killed at that intersection to justify the expenditure.
The state’s best settlement offer before trial was $100,000. The jury agreed that the crosswalk was a trap for pedestrians. It found that Chris could not have avoided the accident and was not to blame in any way. In a unanimous verdict, the jury awarded Chris’ family $9.5 million.
$14.9M Jury Verdict
The pilot of a Beechcraft was forced to crash-land in a vineyard because the engine came apart in cruise flight. His 44-year-old passenger suffered serious head injuries.
Government investigators concluded that the engine came apart because the mechanic who performed the last cylinder change failed to tighten crucial hold-down nuts. The mechanic, who was not licensed by the FAA, insisted he had performed the repairs precisely according to the instructions in the engine manufacturer’s repair manual.
We had our experts examine the engine. In one critical area, we found a tiny amount of sealant about half the size of a pea. The sealant should not have been there. We determined that even a very small amount of sealant in the wrong place could cause the nuts to loosen. The mechanic had applied the sealant because he was misled by confusing wording in the engine repair manual.
The manufacturer claimed that the mechanic misunderstood the wording only because he was untrained and unlicensed. The manufacturer’s lawyers insisted that, if the wording was truly unclear, other mechanics would have made the same mistake, but they hadn’t. But we had already discovered documents that the manufacturer had purged from its files that demonstrated that even properly licensed mechanics had — in numerous previous cases — applied sealant in the wrong spot, all because the manual was poorly worded.
After five weeks of trial, the jury agreed that the manufacture’s poorly-chosen language in the engine repair manual had contributed to the crash. The plaintiff was awarded almost $15 million, enough to take care of his needs for the rest of his life.
Pietro Denevi, a former high-school football coach, had dreamed for years of transforming a 210-acre parcel of land in Los Gatos, California, into a championship golf course. He negotiated with the owner to buy the land and then turned to Barry Swenson, a prominent Silicon Valley real estate developer, to provide $750,000 in return for an equity interest in the project.
But when the time came to fund the transaction, Swenson didn’t provide the money, and the seller sold the property to another buyer.
We sued Swenson for breach of his fiduciary duty to Denevi. Swenson claimed that the limited liability corporation he had established protected him from personal liability. We proved in court that Swenson never intended to fund the transaction. He intended to buy the property himself and develop it on his own, so that he would not have to share any proceeds with Denevi. His scheme failed because the seller sold the property to someone else.
After a four-week trial, the court agreed that Swenson had abused Denevi’s trust and that his corporation did not protect him from liability. Denevi was awarded $10 million.
An air ambulance helicopter crashed when one of the main rotor blades came apart in flight. The three-person crew was killed.
The rotor blades were made of composite materials that were almost entirely consumed in the post-crash fire. Government investigators worked for more than a year but, with little evidence available, never determined why the rotor blade failed.
We gathered and examined thousands of pages of documents related to the maintenance of the helicopter and the rotor blades. A seemingly insignificant document — a mechanic’s daily time record from years before the crash — recorded the fact that the mechanic had performed a routine procedure, removing a metal abrasion strip from the leading edge of one of the blades.
We noticed, however, that the mechanic had spent less time on this job than on other similar jobs. The strip was attached to the blade with adhesive and it was a slow and time-consuming task to remove the adhesive with a heat gun. We discovered that, to speed the process, the mechanic had used a blowtorch instead.
By experimenting with other rotor blades, we discovered that using a blowtorch would soften not just the glue attaching the metal strip but also the glue deep inside the blade and along its structural spar. The blade’s internal structure was compromised by the mechanic’s shortcut. The fatal crash was the eventual consequence.
The case was settled for $12 million.
A 41-year-old cyclist was riding his bicycle on the island of Oahu an hour before dawn, training for a triathlon. As he came down a hill on the Kalanianaole Highway, he lost control of the bicycle, fell and landed on his head. Even though he was wearing a helmet, he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
There were no witnesses to the accident and the cyclist had no memory of the event. We reconstructed what happened by examining a few fibers of cloth left in the pavement. The cyclist had fallen near a row of white reflector poles on the shoulder of the road. One pole was missing; only its base mount was still glued to the road. The base mount was black. The cyclist could not see it in the dark; he ran over it and lost control of the bicycle.
We found witnesses who testified that the pole had been missing from its mount for months. Further research into road design standards showed that the white reflector poles should never have been installed in the path of possible bicycle traffic.
The state of Hawaii, however, refused to accept any responsibility. The state’s lawyers, at trial, claimed that the cyclist simply ran off the road and never even hit the pole mount. We proved that two punctures in the cyclist’s front tire could only have been made by the base mount.
The judge agreed and awarded the cyclist $2.2 million.
$2.9M Jury Verdict
A professional pilot was flying his helicopter over rough terrain when the turbine engine stopped and the helicopter crashed. The pilot survived the crash but injured his back. The facility that had last overhauled the engine claimed that it was the pilot who caused the crash by failing to check the oil level in the engine before taking off—it also claimed that the pilot did not follow appropriate emergency procedures when the engine seized up.
We proved at trial that the overhaul facility had failed to tighten a critical bearing retaining nut. The loose nut caused the turbine engine to meltdown in flight, just as it would have if the oil level had dropped too low. We also demonstrated that the pilot had handled the emergency perfectly; otherwise, he would not have survived at all.
The jury determined that the engine overhauler was fully responsible and awarded the pilot $2.9 million.
Jeffrey’s father gave 2-year-old Jeffrey a popular Mini-Jel candy as a special treat. Jeffrey began to choke. His father tried to remove the candy from Jeffrey’s throat but could not dislodge it. Jeffrey suffered serious brain damage and died two weeks later.
We had the candy tested in a laboratory and learned that it contained an ingredient called “konjac gel” — an ingredient derived from plant root. We consulted with Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the familiar Heimlich maneuver for dislodging food stuck in a windpipe. He looked at the lab tests and declared that even his maneuver would not jar loose a candy made with konjac gel.
We uncovered documents proving that the manufacturer knew that the candy was dangerous for young children, but deliberately marketed it to children anyway. When the manufacturer refused to answer our questions concerning those documents, we obtained a court order preventing the defendant from further defending the case.
The judge awarded $50 million to Jeffrey’s parents, commenting that this was “exactly the type of case punitive damages were designed for.” After the case made national headlines, the Food & Drug Administration banned the further import of konjac gel candy into this country.
Joey Crane, 20, and his brother Bobby, 17, were driving from Danville, California, to Los Angeles in the family’s SUV for a vacation at the beach. Suddenly the tread peeled off the right rear tire. Joey lost control of the vehicle. It rolled over and Bobby was killed. The official report concluded that the tread came off the tire because the tire was under-inflated. But Joey claimed he had put air in the tires right before the trip.
We determined that the tire only had 2000 miles on it and had been fully inflated when the accident took place. It was the accident itself that had caused the tire to lose pressure. We also learned that, that though the tire looked almost new, the tire was actually 14 years old. We found research indicating that tires oxidize over time and that, after six years, tires are unsafe and prone to detreading, regardless of how few miles they’ve accumulated.
We filed suit against Firestone on behalf of the Crane family, alleging that the company should have warned customers about the dangers of old tires. Firestone insisted that old tires were safe as long as they were in good condition. But we uncovered internal Firestone documents proving that company management had known about problems with older tires since the 1970s. Firestone had never warned the public because it wanted to continue its practice of warehousing tires for years before selling them. Firestone wanted to avoid the losses involved in destroying “stale” inventory.
Firestone agreed to a confidential settlement days before the trial was to begin.
The evidence we found attracted national media attention. Manufacturers now warn consumers to check the date of tire manufacture and to discard any tires that are more than six years old, no matter what their apparent condition.