A federal court has upheld a $25 million settlement reached in a personal injury lawsuit as jurors were deliberating. The plaintiff was rendered quadriplegic as a result of a fall he suffered in a boat injury on the coastal waters of Lake Michigan, where he fell from the yacht’s stern top deck to its stern wall deck.
The accident happened back in 2009 while the vessel was anchored. The plaintiff and his wife filed for damages against the manufacturer of the boat and its parent company, as well as the yacht company. The plaintiffs sought damages for the injuries sustained. The plaintiffs asserted negligence and strict liability against the boat company and its manufacturer. Against the yacht company, they alleged an additional negligence claim and also loss of consortium.
Although the manufacturer and its subsidiary reached an eleventh-hour deal to settle its portion of the claim, the defendant filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff’s attorney and the court’s clerk, challenging the validity of the settlement agreement and claiming it was not made aware of a jury note that was passed to the judge just one hour before that settlement deal was reached. Specifically, jurors submitted a handwritten question to the court at 3:50 p.m., asking if they could find fault with the yacht company without finding the boat manufacturer liable for damages. That was back in June 2015. But, the manufacturer now argues, the court did not disclose this information to its attorneys before the deal was finalized, just a few minutes later.
Why does this matter? Well, the note seemingly indicates that jurors were leaning toward a favorable verdict for the boat manufacturer. (The answer to the question was that, yes, jurors could find fault with one defendant but not the other.) But the court’s alleged failure to disclose the contents of that note to its attorneys, the defense argued, was a violation of the firm’s constitutional right to due process. The firm argued it would never have authorized the personal injury settlement deal, shortly after 4 p.m., if it had known about what that note said.
The lawsuit further goes on to allege that the company’s constitutional right to due process was violated when the court (or more specifically, the judge’s clerk) “hid” the contents of the note. The company argued it incurred significant legal expenses in the 18 months it spent fighting to have the settlement deal invalidated as soon as it found out what the note said. The defense argued that the plaintiffs’ attorney and the clerk concealed the existence of the jury’s question and tried to make sure the company wouldn’t find out the truth on the following day. Jurors did ultimately continue with their deliberations and had signed a verdict form in the manufacturer’s favor – but the settlement agreement was signed before the verdict form could be entered into the record.
According to The Chicago Tribune, the federal judge ruled that all of the attorneys were made aware of the contents of the note by jurors, and furthermore, they had a chance to participate in responding to that question before the settlement was reached.
The manufacturer said it intends to appeal and continue to seek unspecified damages and legal fees.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
In latest twist, judge upholds $25 million settlement in boating injury suit, Dec. 20, 2016, By Patrick M. O’Connell, The Chicago Tribune
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