Although covid brought traditional trials to a halt in Florida for much of 2020, the standout work of lawyers and courts across the state made headlines throughout the year. From major tobacco cases to landmark remote proceedings and more, here are our top CVN Florida trial-related moments of the year.
Here’s to better days and all the major trial-related moments to come in 2021!
$160K Verdict in Florida Car Crash Case
Jurors in February awarded a Florida woman $160,000 for the car crash she says left her with a traumatic brain injury.
The award followed a seven-day trial and included $60,000 for Constance Griffis’s medical expenses and another $100,000 for her pain and suffering. Griffis, represented by MattLaw’s Matt Powell, claims she suffered back and knee injuries, and developed confusion and memory loss, after her pickup was struck from behind on US 441 near Belleview, Florida.
In closings, Powell said the crash left Griffis with long-standing neurological problems. “She’s losing her identity because of these episodes or seizures,” Powell said. “She loses control of her body. She loses control of herself. And she becomes dangerous to the point that she could fall and injure herself.”
$26.75M Tobacco Verdict More Than Doubles Previous Award in Case
A jury in St. Petersburg awarded $26.75 million to the family of a long-time smoker after finding the nation’s two largest tobacco companies responsible for his cancer death.
The award more than doubled a $12 million verdict handed down in an earlier trial over the death of Douglas Duignan, who smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day for more than a quarter century. That earlier verdict against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris had been thrown out on appeal in 2017.
Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson and Gordon & Partners’ Gary Paige.represented the Duignan family in the case. In closings of the trial’s punitive phase, Gustafson told jurors that changes in tobacco conduct over the last two decades did not affect Duignan’s ultimate end.
“Nothing that the defendants brought you… mitigated, or made less severe, what they did to Douglas Duignan,” Gustafson said. “If they don’t get punished for what they did, what does that do to deter others from doing the same thing?”
RJR Prevails Against $7M+ Claim Over Smoker’s Cancer Death
In February, R.J. Reynolds was cleared of fault for the cancer that killed a Florida man who had smoked for more than 40 years.
Edward Richter’s family sought $7-11 million in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitives at trial against R.J. Reynolds over his 1996 cancer death.
But Reynolds argued Richter knew the dangers of cigarettes, yet chose to continue smoking and did not do enough to quit in time to avoid his cancer. During closings, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus told jurors that Richter’s wife implored him for years to stop smoking. “She could tell Mr. Richter all she wanted that smoking was going to harm him,” Keehfus said, “but he was going to keep doing it, because that’s what he liked to do.”
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Searcy’s Ricci and Schwencke Break Down $4.9M Med Mal Verdict
Over the summer, Searcy Denney’s Ed Ricci and Matt Schwencke sat down to analyze the trial techniques central to the $4.9 million verdict they won in 2018 for a man who had his leg amputated following complications from a blood clot.
Samuel Gray was forced to have his leg amputated below the knee due to blood clot-related complications. And during the CVN video interview, Ricci and Schwenke walked through their thoughts on the key trial-related issues, from educating jurors on complex medical topics to the importance of a strong cross-exam of a defendant physician.
“We knew and suspected that [the defendant physician] would have had his deposition completely committed to memory, so that there was going to be nothing that I was going to be able to really trip him up on that was in his deposition,” Ricci said of preparing to cross-examine the physician in the case. “So we made the deliberate decision that I might ask some questions from the depo just to sort of establish...a few important points. But beyond that, I wanted to go off script so to speak, and really ask him questions from the records that he could not refute.”
Turning to such cross-exams generally, Schwencke said that he believes overcoming jurors’ natural trust of physicians is vital to winning a medical malpractice trial. “I think [jurors] want to find a reason to like the doctor and side with the doctor, so when you’re suing a doctor, you have to overcome that obstacle,” Schwencke said. “Ed and I… the malpractice trials that we’ve won, I think in every one we’ve gotten the defendant almost in like an aha moment.”
Florida’s 4th Circuit Holds Pair of Landmark Remote Jury Trials
While the covid pandemic shuttered courtrooms across the state for much of the year, jurisdictions found innovative ways to hold proceedings, from videoconference hearings to remote trials. Among them, Florida’s 4th Circuit, with Judge Bruce Anderson presiding, held a pair of groundbreaking, fully remote jury trials over Zoom.
The trials were part of the state’s remote jury trial pilot project. The earlier of the two, which led to a $354,000 verdict for a woman beaten by a pair of nightclub bouncers, is believed to be the first-ever fully remote state court jury trial.
Courtroom View Network worked with the 4th Circuit to make both trials available for on-demand public viewing.
“All of us have a passion for jury trials and making sure the 7th Amendment is protected,” Judge Anderson said about the courthouse team responsible for the proceeding. “That’s the passion that’s driving us.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.