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

Leading NM Plaintiff's Attorney "Never Whupped So Bad" as by Billy Gunn

The Albuquerque Journal reported in its August 5, 2004 edition that a federal jury awarded an injured volunteer firefighter a paper verdict of $8.75 million after two weeks of trial but because of the way jurors apportioned blame in the complex case, the plaintiff will recover only 17 percent of the $1.53 million judgment after attorney fees and litigation costs.

The defendant, Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., manufactured a pumper truck that became mobile without a driver during a response to a fire and pinned plaintiff against a post. A second defendant reached a confidential settlement with the plaintiff during trial.

"I haven't been whupped this bad in all my years of practice," long-time New Mexico trial attorney Bill Carpenter, who represented the plaintiff, said of the verdict. WWHGD partner Billy Gunn, defended Northrop Grumman. Workers' compensation insurance paid about $1 million in medical costs.

The plaintiff sought $10 million, based on future needs and lost earnings, plus punitive damages. Plaintiff's attorneys hoped to be able to purchase a van, a home that would better accommodate plaintiff's situation and money to pay an estimated $135,000 a year for medical care. Plaintiff's attorneys called engineers to make a case that a defective design on the truck permitted it to shift unexpectedly when the pump was activated. The design was called into question in the mid-1980s by the manufacturer's own engineers. But design changes were never made because, the defense said, the company hadn't had any problems with it.

Jurors decided Grumman was negligent, but in apportioning fault they assigned 17.5 percent of the blame to Grumman and 82.5 percent to the Fire Department, which couldn't be sued under state law.

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