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Topsy-turvy top verdicts of ’08

Victories in outstate circuits spell hope for plaintiff attorneys in post-tort reform cases

Allison Retka//January 26, 2009//

Topsy-turvy top verdicts of ’08

Victories in outstate circuits spell hope for plaintiff attorneys in post-tort reform cases

Allison Retka//January 26, 2009//

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Juries in St. Louis County and St. Louis City used 2008 to kill any lingering stereotypes about their ideological leanings.

Long considered a venue that’s home to more conservative juries, a St. Louis County jury last May handed out a record-breaking $21 million verdict to a man paralyzed in a 2004 car wreck.

In two other cases breaking the top 10 list of plaintiffs’ verdicts, juries from St. Louis County awarded multimillion dollar verdicts.

On the flip side, in 2008, juries from St. Louis City showed a new-found propensity for siding with the defense, particularly in medical malpractice cases. Juries there accounted for four of the top 10 defense verdicts from 2008, including one in which a city jury rejected a $50 million products liability claim against Chrysler.

Both plaintiff and defense lawyers credited recent population shifts between St. Louis County and St. Louis City.

Those changes have blurred the economic and cultural borders between the circuits, they said, but the old standard is still true: A good case with compelling facts will merit good results, no matter where it’s tried.


Big verdicts in outstate circuits

Lawyers also point to that adage to explain a crop of plaintiff verdicts from circuits in outstate Missouri. In 2008, juries in Jasper, Boone and Greene counties turned out plaintiff verdicts of $1 million or more.

The verdicts were issued in a mix of pre and post-tort reform cases, but the results may hearten plaintiffs’ attorneys who may find themselves trying future cases in outstate Missouri.

“The changes in the venue law have required lawyers to file good cases in venues where they wouldn’t normally do so or wouldn’t have done so in the past,” said Paul Passanante, a St. Louis lawyer with Paul J. Passanante & Associates. When previously with Simon Passanante, he secured an $11.8 million wrongful death verdict in notoriously conservative Cole County for the family of a mother and son killed in a drunken-driving accident.

“With good cases being filed across the state, you’ll see the kind of verdicts in all those counties that used to be attributed to [St. Louis] City because that’s where people filed their good cases,” Passanante said. 

Although some cases filed before the August 2005 changes to tort reform still linger in the courts, 2008 saw most of those pre-tort reform cases wrapped up, lawyers said.

The sum of plaintiff verdicts from 2008, $99.1 million, showed a $30 million increase from verdicts handed out in 2007.


Plaintiff powerhouses

For the first time, Missouri Lawyers Weekly tracked the lawyers who secured the highest verdicts and settlements over the course of the year.

This year, a foursome of lawyers who won a record $21 million verdict in St. Louis County Circuit Court topped the list.

They are Robert Palmer and Mark Brinkmann at The Law Offices of PalmerOliver in Springfield and Matthew Davis and Timothy J. Gallagher at Fox, Heller, Gallagher & Finley in St. Louis.

They were followed by Ken McClain and Danny Thomas at Independence-based Humphrey, Farrington & McClain. The duo netted nearly $19 million in settlements in 2008, thanks in large part to their leadership on an $18 million settlement with a trucking company. That deal tops the list of settlements this year.

Thomas edged ahead of his partner in the rankings, thanks to a $371,000 verdict in a breach of contract trial in Jackson County Circuit Court.


Decreased risk for defendants

On the defense side, lawyers reported that because of the damage caps instituted by tort reform, clients are more willing to go to trial to defend themselves.

“[Before], even though there were strong defense cases, the defendants were hesitant to try them just because that worst-case scenario was almost unknown and very, very large,” said Gregory Minana, a St. Louis attorney with Husch Blackwell Sanders.

Minana, along with colleague Angela Quinn, successfully defended Saint Louis University in a case in which a mother died after complications from a Caesarean section.

The plaintiffs in the case, tried in St. Louis City, had asked for $3 million in damages.



The top settlement for 2008 was an $18 million deal in a triple wrongful death case against a trucking company involved in a 2006 accident on Interstate 70 just outside Columbia.

The settlement came after a federal jury in Jefferson City pinned fault on Centra and several other companies associated with a truck driver who on June 1, 2006, rammed into several vehicles stalled in traffic on the highway. The jury handed down a $15 million verdict.

In the case, the plaintiffs had the unique opportunity to pierce the corporate veil, allowing attorneys to detail the finances and corporate hierarchy of Central Transport and its subsidiaries.

The sum of the top 10 settlements from 2008, $74.5 million, nearly matched the value from 2007’s settlements, $75.1 million.


Business verdicts, settlements

The Missouri Attorney General’s office grabbed the top spots on the business and class action lists.

Assistant attorney generals’ convinced a jury that Warrick Pharmaceuticals and Schering Corp. should pay big for alleged Medicaid fraud. The jury awarded $107.3 million, which was later reduced to $31 million in a settlement. 

In second place is the $100 million settlement Armstrong Teasdale and Shaffer Lombardo Shurin attorneys finagled in a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs over the 1999 collapse of General American Mutual Holding Co.’s life insurance company. The lawyers were representing special deputy receiver Albert Reiderer and the Missouri Department of Insurance.

The cases were two of the four that netted a verdict or settlement of nine digits.

The class action list, new this year, is topped off by a settlement with BJC HealthCare valued at $267 million in a case over the alleged overcharging of uninsured patients.

Gray, Ritter & Graham and Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny lawyers brought the case.

Coming in at No. 2 on the class action ranking is a $104 million verdict in a consumer case over allegedly illegal fees charged by mortgage lenders. Attorneys at Walters Bender Strohbehn & Vaughan were responsible for that action.


Heather Cole contributed reporting to this story.

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