CVN has covered a high-profile slate of Georgia trials throughout 2018, featuring some of the country's best attorneys and ranging from a startling mistrial in a wrongful death case against Ford to an eight-figure verdict against a transit giant. These are the five trial stories that made the biggest news:
5. Apartment Cleared of 99% of Fault at Trial Over Tenant’s Killing
In February, a Gwinnett County State Court jury apportioned only 1% of responsibility to the apartment complex where Kevin Pierre lived and was ultimately killed in a 2014 drive-by shooting. Jurors apportioned the remaining 99% to various non-parties to the case, including 75% of fault to the shooter, leaving the apartment liable for only $40,000 of the $4 million verdict.
Pierre’s family argued that lax security at the complex, located in an area with a high crime rate, caused Pierre’s death. However, the defense argued the shooting came from a public road over which the apartment had no control.
“This is about where crime happened on property,” Weinberg Wheeler’s Mark Johnson, representing the apartment owners, told jurors in openings. “When you’re talking about that issue, if you don’t own it, don’t maintain it, don’t have control over it, and don’t police it, you can’t be responsible for what happens on it.”
Representing the plaintiff: The Stoddard Firm’s Matthew Stoddard and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore’s Naveen Ramachandrappa and Michael Terry.
Representing the defense: Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial’s Mark Johnson and Jackson Dial.
4. Mistrial in Wrongful Death Rollover Case Against Ford
A potential blockbuster trial against Ford over the rollover crash that killed a Georgia couple came to a sudden and unexpected end in April when Gwinnett County State Court Judge Shawn Bratton declared a mistrial following testimony from defense expert Dr. Thomas McNish on driver Melvin Hill’s cause of death, in violation of court instructions.
Plaintiffs contended Ford knew the roof of its Ford Super Duty F-250 Crew Cab was dangerously weak and caused Melvin and Voncile Hills' deaths, while Ford had argued the Hills died in a rare, extraordinarily severe rollover.
“I’ve been practicing law 41 years and have tried close to 200 cases.... I’ve never seen anything like this, or even remotely like this," Butler, Wooten & Peak’s Jim Butler, who represents the plaintiffs, told CVN in describing Ford's conduct. “Such willful violations of so many court orders to try to get in evidence that is irrelevant and inadmissible. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Judge Bratton sanctioned Ford three months later, barring the auto giant from defending the design defect and failure-to-warn claims against it after he found the defense willfully violated his orders.
Ford, which had moved for Bratton to recuse himself following the mistrial declaration, subsequently appealed the decision.
Representing the plaintiff: Butler Wooten & Peak’s James Butler and Brandon Peak, and Mahaffey Pickens Tucker’s Gerald Davidson.
Representing the defense: Huie’s Alan Thomas, Huff Powell & Bailey’s Michael Boorman, and Dentons' J. Randolph Evans.
3. Jury Hands Down $12.5M Verdict in Motorcycle Crash Trial Against Suzuki
Douglas County State Court jurors in February awarded $12.5 million for the crash that injured a Georgia motorcyclist’s spine after they concluded defective brakes caused the wreck. The verdict apportioned 49% of responsibility to the motorcyclist, Adrian Johns, affecting the award's ultimate payout, but reserved the bulk of liability for Suzuki and its American distributor.
Cochran & Edwards’ Randy Edwards keyed the plaintiff’s case, which relied on documents allegedly showing Suzuki delayed in issuing a recall notice for the brakes in order to avoid a negative impact on their sales season.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got to tell you, in the 26 years I’ve been practicing law, this is the worst failure-to-warn case, not that I have ever seen, but that I have ever heard of,” Edwards said in closings. “This is like a landlord not telling a new tenant that your heater spits out carbon monoxide, and a family dies the first night. This is outrageous.”
Representing the plaintiffs: Cochran & Edwards’ Randy Edwards and Paul Piland, and Sherrod & Bernard’s John Sherrod.
Representing the defense: Frost Brown Todd’s Randall Riggs and Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young’s Michael Goldman.
2. Milliken Prevails in 1st Trial Over Plane Crash That Killed 5
In August, industrial manufacturer Milliken & Co. won the first case to go to trial over a 2013 plane crash that killed five employees of a vascular practice.
The small jet had struck a utility pole that stood 72 feet off the ground, killing the five passengers. The plaintiffs’ team, representing the family of Heidi McCorkle, contended Milliken violated its responsibilities under an aviation easement the company had granted a neighboring airport, by allowing Georgia Power to place a utility pole that was taller than restrictions dictated.
But the defense contended the pole was not subject to the height limitation and pilot error caused the crash. “Mr. [Richard] Trammel is an experienced pilot, but he was a very bad pilot that night,” DLD Lawyers’ Pete DeMahy said in the trial's openings. “He admits that, but for his errors, this accident doesn’t happen.”
Representing the plaintiffs: Moraitakis & Kushel’s Nicholas Moraitakis, Cunningham Bounds’ Joseph Brown, and Stone Law Group’s William Stone.
Representing the defense: DLD Lawyers’ Pete DeMahy, and Drew Eckl & Farnham’s Stevan Miller and Lisa Richardson.
1. Jury Hands Down $25M Verdict Against MARTA for Disabled Passenger’s TBI
MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, was found liable in November for a passenger’s fall from one of its paratransit buses, which ultimately left the rider in a vegetative state.
Jaccolah Johnson, who rode the bus because of a disability, fell and struck her head on the concrete as she tried to descend the buses’ steps.
MARTA, which did not accept a $5 million pre-trial settlement offer from the plaintiffs, contended Johnson was to blame because her hands were full and she rejected the driver’s offer of assistance.
But Johnson’s attorneys argued a severely angled step, combined with the company’s failure to require its drivers to shadow passengers as they disembarked, caused the devastating injury. “If MARTA had given the driver the tools [so] that she knew what she was supposed to do, [the fall] never happens,” Fried Rogers Goldberg's Michael Goldberg told jurors in closings.
Jurors apportioned 75% of responsibility to MARTA, ultimately reducing the post-verdict judgment to $18.75 million against the transit authority.
Representing the plaintiffs: Fried Rogers Goldberg’s Michael Goldberg and Joseph Fried, and The SIngleton Firm’s Donald Singleton.
Representing the defense: Mabry & McClelland’s James Scarbrough and Dawn Pettigrew.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.