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Series of default judgments add up to many plaintiffs’ wins

Scott Lauck//August 30, 2023

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Series of default judgments add up to many plaintiffs’ wins

Scott Lauck//August 30, 2023

In the wake of her mother’s murder, Amya Maddock stood little chance of any recompense from the man who killed her.

Maddock’s mother, Kelly Maddock, was fatally shot on May 21, 2020 in St. Louis. The accused shooter, Demariol Byrd, was an inmate at the St. Louis Justice Center with an appointed public defender and no apparent assets.

Nonetheless, attorneys with Goldblatt + Singer in St. Louis filed a wrongful death lawsuit on 14-year-old Maddock’s behalf last December. That effort paid off on March 1, after Byrd was served with the suit but failed to respond. Judge Michael Stelzer, finding that Maddock had “suffered tremendous injuries as a result of the death of her mother including loss of services, companionship, comfort, society, counsel and support of her mother,” entered a default judgment for $5.1 million. Shortly after, Byrd pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the middle of trial and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The judgment for Maddock is the largest this year that attorneys with Goldblatt + Singer in St. Louis have obtained for a series of clients over the last two years, totaling more than $38 million. The money is unlikely to come from the actual defendants. But at least a portion could be recovered from the state’s Tort Victims’ Compensation Fund.

The fund was established in 1987 to help tort victims who have been unable to obtain full compensation for their injuries because the party at fault had little or no insurance or had filed for bankruptcy. Under state law, once a case reaches final disposition, 50 percent of any punitive damages award, minus attorneys’ fees and expenses, must be deposited into the fund.

Of that money, 26 percent goes to the state’s four Legal Services agencies. The remaining 74 percent goes to assist uncompensated tort victims under a process run by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Usually, the fund is all but empty. Parties only pay when they collect on the punitive judgment, which typically occurs at the very end of a lengthy appeals process. If they settle before then, the fund gets nothing.

However, in mid-2021, the fund received more than $480 million, stemming from a 2018 verdict in St. Louis on behalf of 22 women and their families alleging Johnson & Johnson talcum powder contained microscopic asbestos fibers that caused ovarian cancer. The payment came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

That came on the heels of a $10 million deposit in 2019, following final disposition of a wrongful-death suit against Ford Motor Company. According to the state treasurer’s office, the fund has disbursed nearly $115 million since last September; the balance stood at $245.4 million as of July 31.

The judgment against Byrd isn’t the only judgment that Goldblatt + Singer has won for its young client. A $27,000 judgment was entered for Maddock in late 2022 stemming from a school bus accident in 2017 that injured her. A suit was filed in June 2022 against the driver who struck the back of the bus.

Other cases include:

  • $1 million judgments for a 3-year-old girl and her mother, who were injured as passengers in a vehicle that collided with another in April 2022 in St. Louis. The judgments were entered against the driver in November 2022.
  • A $1.2 million judgment for the passenger of a car that collided with another on Route U in St. Louis County in May 2022. The suit named both drivers involved. The driver of the car that was hit was represented by counsel; she was quickly dismissed from the suit. The driver of the car in which the plaintiff rode did not respond, so he was hit with the judgment in November 2022.
  • A $5 million judgment for the wife of a man killed in a rollover accident on a gravel road in Reynolds County. The suit alleged that the passenger-side front brake didn’t engage, causing the vehicle to spin and overturn. The suit originally named a man who had sold the vehicle through Facebook as well as an earlier owner of the vehicle. The more recent owner fought the suit; he was unsuccessful in winning summary judgment but was dismissed shortly after that ruling. The other owner, however, didn’t respond to the suit. The judgment was entered in December 2022.
  • Two $3 million judgments entered for a man who was struck while walking in downtown St. Louis in February 2021. The suit initially named just the driver who struck another vehicle, causing it to spin onto the sidewalk and strike the plaintiff. It was later amended to include the driver of the vehicle that had been struck. The judge entered separate judgments against the two defendants in November 2022 and January 2023.

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$5.1 million judgment

Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 2222-CC10073/March 1, 2023

Judge: Michael Stelzer

Caption: Amya Maddock v. Demariol Byrd

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Amanda Murphy, Luke Dalton, Tim Tryniecki, Jason Guerra, Chris Saracino and Brandon Rahimi, Goldblatt + Singer, St. Louis

Defendants’ Attorneys: None

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