LITIGATION DEPARTMENT OF THE YEAR - Mid-Size Firm  ALM's Daily Report   2017 - 2016 - 2014

Five Weeks, Six States, Six Wins: Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial LLC

In a series of trial victories over a five-week period in May and June, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial attorneys won cases in courts from New Jersey to Oklahoma. WWHGD is recognized by its clients for the ability of its attorneys to win tough cases in tough jurisdictions, even when they are brought into the case just before trial. 

May 11th, Philadelphia, PA – Svindland v The Nemours Foundation

In a wrongful death case alleging medical malpractice, Partner John M. “Skip” Hudgins, IV obtained a defense verdict for The Nemours Foundation (“Nemours”), a pediatric healthcare organization, and its cardiac heart surgeon. WWHGD is presently representing Nemours and its heart surgeon in a series of cases brought by plaintiff’s counsel in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. The cases involve heart surgery for children born with significant congenital heart defects. The plaintiffs allege that the “cooling technique” utilized by the defendant heart surgeon was inappropriate. After a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for the defendants finding that the surgical techniques employed were not the cause of the child’s death. Two other cases involving brain-damaged children tried last year resulted in favorable settlements during trial. This is the second case tried this year and the second defense verdict for Nemours. WWHGD is lead trial counsel for Nemours and its doctors in this ongoing litigation.

May15th, Gadsden, Alabama – Mayer Electric v. St. Paul

Partner Scott A. Witzigreuter received an unlikely recovery on an offer of judgment in a case stacked against him. The dispute arose when supplier Mayer Electric Supply (“Mayer”) sued Gadsden Electrical Contractor, Inc. (“Gadsden”) for unpaid bills for the purchase of electrical materials. Gadsden was a subcontractor for Jim Wilson Construction, Co. (“Wilson”), the general contractor hired to build an elementary school expansion project. As required by Alabama’s “Little Miller Act,” Wilson had obtained a payment bond from St. Paul Mercury Insurance Co. (“St. Paul”) to secure payment for labor and materials supplied on the project.

Mr. Witzigreuter was brought into the case to defend St. Paul. The very purpose of the Little Miller Act is to protect those who supply labor or material on a public construction project and the Act is liberally construed to effect that purpose. In addition, Gadsden was judgment-proof and Mr. Witzigreuter faced a local court on a matter of local concern. 

During the two-day bench trial, Mr. Witzigreuter argued that while Gadsden had allegedly incurred tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid bills for supplies that it had ordered from Mayer for use on the project, Mayer too was culpable in that it had failed to follow its own internal payment, delivery and account management procedures.

The court rendered a complete defense verdict for St. Paul. Because Mr. Witzigreuter had submitted an offer of judgment that was rejected by the plaintiff, St. Paul was entitled to recover costs and attorneys fees from the plaintiff.

May 16th - El Reno, Oklahoma – Brummett v. NES Traffic Safety

Partner David A. Dial received a defense verdict in case that arose out of a fatal tractor-trailer accident in the westbound lanes of Interstate 40 just east of El Reno, Oklahoma. A tractor-trailer rear-ended a queue of traffic, which developed as a result of the closure of the left-hand lane of travel. The lane was closed as part of a Department of Transportation repaving project. 

Originally, the plaintiffs sued the Department of Transportation; the general contractor; the trucking company; the truck driver; and the safety signage subcontractor, represented by WWHGD. Plaintiffs sought damages for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering. 

Shortly before trial, all co-defendants settled, leaving the safety signage subcontractor as the sole defendant at trial. Plaintiffs alleged that the project was improperly signed, which contributed to the traffic back-up and confused the truck driver who failed to stop.

After eight days of trial, from May 7-16, the matter settled in favor of the safety signage subcontractor for an amount substantially less than originally demanded by the plaintiffs and substantially less than reduced demands made during trial. 

June 1st, Kansas City, Missouri – Sapp v. Morrison Brothers

After a three-week trial, Counsel Shawn D. Scott received a defense verdict for the manufacturer of storage tank vents in a wrongful death product liability action brought by the surviving wife and children of a gasoline=tanker truck driver who was killed while off-loading gasoline at a 100,000 gallon fuel storage tank farm. The decedent, Arcie Sapp, suffered third-degree burns over 94 percent of his body when gasoline and gasoline vapors ignited during the off-loading procedure and lived for 12 days after the explosion. 

At trial, Morrison Brothers Co. offered to settle the case for $2.5 million, provided that the offer was accepted before the jury asked any questions, after which the offer would automatically be withdrawn. After approximately five hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Morrison Brothers Co. and the co-defendant welder. 

After-trial interviews with jurors indicate that the jury determined that Morrison Brothers Co. was not liable within the first 20 minutes of deliberations. This is the second significant defense verdict obtained in the Kansas City area in the last year. 

June 7th, Atlanta, Georgia – Atkinson v. North Point Ford

Partner John M. “Jack” Hawkins won a defense verdict after a four-day case in Fulton State Court. The plaintiff, Martha Kaye Atkinson, alleged that North Point Ford failed to repair her vehicle and failed to warn her that the vehicle was in an unsafe condition prior to releasing the vehicle to her. She alleged the vehicle failed to accelerate when she was attempting to travel through an intersection, resulting in the vehicle being hit on the driver’s side by another vehicle.  Ms. Atkinson alleged negligence and fraud seeking punitive damages claiming that the dealership misled her and actually told her the car was safe to drive.

With a shattered pelvis, gait problems and medical bills totaling over $140,000, the plaintiff demanded $325,000 as the case approached trial. Mr. Hawkins presented testimony that Ms. Atkinson was warned of the problems with the vehicle and refused to pay for the diagnostic procedure necessary to fully ascertain the extent of the problem, thus essentially driving the vehicle at her own peril.

June 8th, New Brunswick, New Jersey – Cannon v. AAA National

While the five trials outlined above were ongoing during May and early June, Atlanta partner John K. “Jay” Train, IV was still trying his case, which started on April 9th in New Jersey.  Nine weeks after it started, WWHGD received another defense verdict in this horrific personal injury case. 

Richard Douglas Cannon, a college student at Rutgers University, sought recovery for damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Mr. Cannon’s car became disabled in the center lane of a highway and was rear-ended by a tow truck operated by defendant, Gerard Taber, and owned by defendant, E & D Towing. 

The vehicle burst into flames upon impact, and the plaintiff, who was inside his vehicle at the time of impact, was ejected through the rear window and landed in a fuel trail. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries including third-degree burns on 58% of his body and permanent disfigurement of his face and hands.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Taber was on an American Automobile Association (“AAA”) emergency road service call for his employer. The plaintiff sued a number of defendants including Mr. Taber, AAA National and its local chapter, AAA Central West Jersey. The plaintiff claimed Mr. Taber was negligent in his operation of his tow truck and argued that the 30-minute response time that is standard for all AAA contractors meant that Mr. Taber felt pressured to speed to the scene of his emergency road service call, and was therefore distracted when he collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The jury rendered a defense verdict in favor of AAA National. Though AAA National was found negligent for adopting a 30-minute response time standard, the jury concluded that the standard was not the legal cause of the accident. Prior to trial, the plaintiff demanded $48 million to settle with a number of defendants. AAA National offered $2 million. 

At WWHGD, our motto is “Problem Solved.” These six successful cases in five weeks in courts around the country has helped us meet that goal for our clients.

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