In 2019, after an appeals court said the mother of a teen killed at a St. Louis nightclub could collect at least some of her damages from an insurer, her attorney declared that the case was just getting going.
“The underlying tort judgment is only the starting point for damages,” Jim O’Leary said at the time.
He was right.
On Jan. 27, a St. Louis jury awarded $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Latronya Adams on her claim that the insurer Lloyd’s of London refused to settle her suit against the operator of the establishment where her 16-year-old son, Orlando Willis, was fatally injured on Christmas Day 2010.
Willis and a number of other youths went to a party at Pulse Night Club, though the event was open only to those 18 and older. A fight broke out, shots were fired, and Willis, who had been there to help set up the party, was struck in the face. He later died of his injuries.
Willis’ mother sued party organizer Eric Galloway, who operated the club and two adjacent businesses. One of Galloway’s business operations, Lights on Broadway, was insured by underwriters affiliated with Lloyd’s of London. The insurer declined to provide a defense, citing a provision of the policy that excluded damages arising out of assault or battery.
As a result, Galloway agreed to drop his defense, and Adams took a $5 million judgment against him at a bench trial in 2014. She then sought to collect the money from the insurer. Per her agreement with Galloway, she also took over his claim that the insurer had acted in bad faith by refusing to defend the case.
Adams’ equitable garnishment suit initially failed when a circuit judge held that the Lloyd’s policy provided no coverage. But in 2019, the Court of Appeals Eastern District found both that the insurer had a duty to defend the claim and that the policy provided coverage. The court found that the insurer was on the hook for its $1 million policy limit plus interest, and it remanded the case to determine whether the insurer’s refusal to provide a defense was done in bad faith.
The bad faith claim went to trial in January in St. Louis Circuit Court. The jury returned a unanimous verdict for the underlying $5 million judgment. After further arguments, the jury voted 9-3 in favor of another $5 million in punitive damages. O’Leary said it is among the largest bad faith jury verdicts for refusal to settle a claim in Missouri history.
Following the trial, Judge Michael Noble entered judgment for the original $1 million in policy limits, plus $760,931.50 in accumulated interest, bringing the total award to more than $11.76 million.
Dorothy White-Coleman, an attorney for the insurer, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
$10 million verdict, plus $1.76 million judgment
Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 1422-CC09515-01/Jan. 27, 2023
Judge: Michael Noble
Last Pretrial Demand: $6,000,000
Last Pretrial Offer: $3,000,000
Plaintiff’s Expert: Ronald Clifton, St. Louis (insurance claims handling)
Defendant’s Expert: Douglas R. Richmond, AON, Olathe, Kansas (insurance)
Caption: Latronya Adams v. Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s, London Subscribing to Certificate No. LCL 004029
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: James D. O’Leary Jr., O’Leary, Shelton, Corrigan, Peterson, Dalton & Quillin, St. Louis; Matthew P. O’Grady, OnderLaw, St. Louis
Defendant’s Attorneys: Dorothy White-Coleman, White Coleman & Associates, St. Louis; Robert T. Plunkert, Pitzer Snodgrass, St. Louis; Colleen Costello, Novak Law, Chicago, Illinois
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of the last pretrial demand. It was $6 million. We regret the error.