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Verdicts & Settlements

Unhappy client wins million-dollar judgment against his lawyer (access required)

When Jack Tuttle bought a tree-mulching machine for his land-clearing business in 2005, and had nothing but problems with it, he sought to return the machine and get his $300,000 back. He tried negotiating with the company, South Carolina-based Gyro-Trac, but to no avail, so he hired Charleston attorney Robert Lowe to help him. Three years later and on the eve of trial, Tuttle was still out his $300,000, plus an additional $665,000 he’d paid his attorney to get his case to that point. Tapped out after borrowing from family, mortgaging his house and maxing out his credit cards, Tuttle took the only step he thought he had left: He settled the case. Of the $700,000 settlement, Tuttle got $198,000 and Lowe got $261,000. The remaining $241,000 is likely uncollectible, since Gyro-Trac filed bankruptcy. Matt Yelverton (pictured) served as one Tuttle’s attorneys.

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Against the odds, nursing-home claim is rebuffed  (access required)

Trial attorneys relish a challenge. Whether it’s the sympathetic plaintiff, the unpopular client, the witness with a past, or the formidable adversary, challenges present opportunities to explore new theories, adopt different strategies and polish skills. And overcoming them makes a win all the sweeter. Rarely, though, do multiple challenges come packaged in a single case. For Raleigh lawyer Mike Hurley (pictured at right), that case arrived just before Thanksgiving last year, when he took over the defense of a wrongful death action against Britthaven Nursing Home in Chapel Hill, scheduled for trial in just six months.

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Manufacturer sidesteps million-dollar claim, wins countersuit (access required)

Sometimes intransigence gets you nothing, or so A.B. Mauri Foods, the maker of Fleischman’s Yeast and other baking products, may have learned recently in an arbitration held in Charlotte. In 2007, the company purchased an industrial rotary dryer from Cary-based Aeroglide Corp. for $428,850. Fleischman’s needed the dryer for its production of CalPro, a calcium propionate-based preservative used to increase the shelf life of baking goods. Production of CalPro crystals involves the drying of a sticky substance to a specified moisture content...

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Failure to provide title to plane leads to $8.7 million verdict  (access required)

A jury in Buncombe County awarded Venezuelan native Wilson Aponte and his company $8.7 million after finding that Dove Air Inc. and its president breached a contract with Aponte for the purchase of a Cessna jet. The jury awarded Aponte $2,922,353. The damages were trebled because the jury found that Aponte was damaged by the fraud of Dove Air and Joseph W. Duncan, the company’s owner and president. The 2009 deal, negotiated by an intermediary, was for Aponte to pay Dove Air $2.2 million in exchange for a Cessna Citation III. Aponte paid in full, but Dove Air hedged on giving over the plane. When it finally did, the plane came with an unexpected hitch: a $2.3 million lien in favor of Cessna Finance Corporation. That wasn’t part of the deal. The contract provided that the plane would be transferred free of any liens or charges.

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Woman loses chunk of her leg, and also suit against doctor  (access required)

Doctors are told in medical school that if they hear hoofbeats approaching from behind they should expect to see horses, not zebras. Nine times out of ten they’ll be right in making the conventional diagnosis. But sometimes a rare disease will be lurking beneath common symptoms. In medical circles, Gloria K. Michael would be known as a zebra. Michael sued a Boone doctor for failing to make a timely diagnosis of rare bacteria that took root in a dog bite and began eating the flesh in her right leg. She was in the hospital for a week before the bacteria was finally identified and removed — along with a large chunk of her calf.

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Developer’s counterclaim against SunTrust nets $2.1 million  (access required)

A Winston-Salem developer has been awarded $2.1 million by a Forsyth County jury after asserting counterclaims against SunTrust Bank in a lawsuit brought by the bank on a promissory note. Donald H. Sutphin wasn’t any stranger to the construction business and he wasn’t any stranger to SunTrust Bank. Sutphin had been involved in residential construction and development for 30 years and had a 15-year relationship with SunTrust. He was surprised, then, when he received a call in October 2009 from a SunTrust banker notifying him that a hold was being placed on $365,000 Sutphin had in deposit accounts at the bank. Sutphin had taken out numerous loans from SunTrust to finance development of properties in the Winston-Salem area. But SunTrust had decided to exit the residential construction loan business as problems in the real estate market multiplied, according to J. Scott Hale, who represented Sutphin.

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A story well told nearly doubles settlement offer   (access required)

Along a stretch of highway in Western North Carolina, two old soul mates sat side by side in their car, cruising and enjoying each other’s company as they had done many times before, neither knowing this would be their last drive together. A heating oil truck in the opposite lane swerved across the center line and smashed head-on into the couple’s car. A photo taken that afternoon of Jan. 2, 2009, shows Stefan Juchnowycz, then 86, strapped to a stretcher near the wreckage. The roof of his car is sheared off, hood peeled back. His wife, Ingeburg, 90, lies on an orange backboard on the pavement, her neck broken and with a firefighter and paramedic bent over her. Before they were separated and rushed to the hospital, emergency workers wheeled Stefan’s stretcher close to Inge so he could touch her hand.

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Hospital horror leads to $15.5 million settlement  (access required)

A young woman walked into a hospital emergency room seeking help for a relatively minor ailment and ended up brain dead after suffering through a series of shocking oversights at the hands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists. The hospital’s mistakes were so profound that it eventually agreed to settle the woman’s medical negligence case for $15.5 million – one of the largest verdicts of its kind in North Carolina history. But the agreement came with an all-too-common catch: The hospital could not be named and the identities of its attorneys and the plaintiff also had to be withheld from the public. Even the court in which the case was filed had to be kept secret. Alan W. Duncan (pictured), Allison O. Van Laningham and Stephen M. Russell Jr. of Greensboro’s Smith Moore Leatherwood, which typically defends health care providers in medical malpractice cases, represented the young woman whose life was altered by the hospital’s negligence.

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Estate of woman killed by colon perforation collects $7 million  (access required)

Victoria Lynn Harmon married her high school sweetheart at age 19. She and her husband skipped college at first in favor of work, said Winston-Salem attorney W. Thompson Comerford Jr., who with John Kenneth Moser represented the family in a wrongful death and medical malpractice claim brought against the doctor they alleged was responsible for Mrs. Harmon’s death in 2007. “They had two boys and a daughter, and as time passed Mrs. Harmon realized that both boys had learning disabilities,” Comerford said. “That prompted her to go back to school, commuting to Salem College every day from Wilkes County, and she came back as a special education teacher.”

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Jury awards woman who lost two fingers in wreck $4.275 million  (access required)

In this economic climate, even a seasoned lawyer like Earl Taylor worries whether a jury will respond to a really good case. In the case of Rebecca Batchelor, Taylor discovered it will. A Wilson County jury awarded Batchelor $4 million after a June trial. Superior Court Judge Clifton W. Everett Jr. entered a judgment in that amount on June 27.

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