A Jackson County jury has found a Raytown businessman liable for $5.75 million for shooting a homeless man on his business property in 2012, requiring the man to have his leg amputated below the knee.
The jury returned a verdict July 28 in favor of Jeffery Harris, 49, against 79-year-old David Jungerman. The jury awarded Harris $750,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
Tom Pickert, of Fowler Pickert Eisenmenger in Kansas City, said he and Harris were initially afraid to bring the case, given the potential for bias against Harris as a homeless man who trespassed on another person’s property.
“Once the jury saw the evidence, they made the right decision,” he said.
Jungerman, who represented himself at trial with the help of Independence attorney Brian Gepford, said he plans to appeal. He declined to comment on the verdict.
Neither of the men were charged for the incident, but two years after the shooting, Harris brought the suit against Jungerman.
He said that on Sept. 25, 2012, he was on the dock of Jungerman’s empty warehouse in Northeast Kansas City when he tripped a motion alarm at 2:22 a.m.
He said Jungerman responded to the site after getting a call from the alarm company, bringing guns to the property. He alleged Jungerman failed to call police or to warn him before shooting him in the back of the leg.
In closing arguments, Pickert and co-counsel Ryan Fowler noted Jungerman failed to retain any experts and his story did not make any sense.
Fowler acknowledged that his client might be hard for the jury to connect with. He said that it is true Harris has been to jail and was homeless.
“I struggle to connect with my client,” he said. “He lives a life entirely foreign to mine … Here’s the interesting thing about this case, it doesn’t matter.”
During rebuttal, Pickert’s argument turned emotional, with his voice breaking, saying that Jungerman wanted the jury to believe Harris is “less than human” and he can shoot another human being “and no one will care.”
“A verdict for Mr. Jungerman is giving him and others like him permission to take the law into their own hands, to be judge, jury and executioner,” he said. “That’s not the way our society works.”
During his portion, Jungerman recounted his story, arguing he was defending himself against Harris, whom he said charged at him. He argued the physical evidence brought by the plaintiffs did not hold up.
At the last minute, Judge Joel P. Fahnestock reversed her earlier decision to allow the plaintiffs to present evidence of similar incidents involving Jungerman, finding them relevant.
They included a 1990s incident in which Jungerman pulled a gun on four kids at a fishing pond in Raytown, another shooting of two people on his business property a month after shooting Harris, and a 2016 incident where he allegedly confronted a tenant with a gun.
Pickert also introduced evidence of Jungerman’s wealth. Jungerman is a farmer and owner of a company that makes baby furniture.
The exhibits pointed to the possibility that Jungerman had assets of over $50 million while he was trustee of a family trust, and showed he transferred his trustee role to a child and transferred other assets after the suit was filed.
He disputed the $50 million figure, saying he is worth about $8 million.
$5,750,000 Plaintiff’s verdict
Venue: Jackson County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 1416-cv22910/July 28, 2017
Judge: Joel P. Fahnestock
Plaintiff’s Experts: Gary Rini, Cleveland, Ohio (forensic science consultant); Dale Dalenberg, Ottawa, Kansas (orthopedic surgeon); Cori Ingram, Basehor, Kansas (life care planner)
Caption: Jeffery Harris v. David G. Jungerman
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Tom Pickert and Ryan Fowler, Fowler Pickert Eisenmenger, Kansas City
Defendant’s Attorneys: David G. Jungerman (pro se); Brian Gepford, Gepford Law, Independence