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The top 25 verdicts and settlements of 2015

Heath Hamacher//January 7, 2016//

The top 25 verdicts and settlements of 2015

Heath Hamacher//January 7, 2016//

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The top of the 2015 North Carolina verdicts and settlements heap belongs to a Charlotte attorney who helped secure more than $50 million in payments to settle three whistleblower suits against two medical blood-testing companies accused of paying kickbacks to doctors.

This year, more than $192 million in verdicts and settlements make up the top 25. As is the norm, cases come from all parts of the state and represent nearly every cause of action imaginable.

To be included in our annual roundup, a case must have been decided or settled during the 2015 calendar year either in a North Carolina court or by a North Carolina-based attorney. We have also included four noteworthy defense wins in a separate list.

We wish to spotlight every notable verdict and settlement that would rank in the top 25 for the year, and while we believe we have compiled a comprehensive list, we do not profess infallibility. If we have missed something, please let us know so we can revise our online edition.


1.Carolinas lawyers involved in $50M whistleblower settlement

A pair of lawyers from the Carolinas played a role in securing more than $50 million in payments to settle three whistleblower suits against two medical blood-testing companies accused of paying kickbacks to doctors.

James Wyatt of Wyatt & Blake in Charlotte and William Tuck, a solo practitioner in Darlington, South Carolina, represented whistleblowers Scarlett Lutz and Kayla Webster, both of South Carolina, in one of the successful suits.

Lutz, a medical biller, and Webster, a nurse, uncovered the scheme while working for a doctor who was steering numerous patients to Health Diagnostic Laboratory for testing in exchange for secret payments of up to $20 per referral, according to Tuck.

He said Lutz realized that something was going on after one of the doctor’s practices filed for bankruptcy and she began receiving its mail, which included checks that listed patient names.

Their suit was filed in 2013 in the U.S. District Court in Charlotte but later moved to the federal court in Beaufort, where it was settled April 9. The complaint alleged that Virginia-based HDL and another diagnostic company, Singulex of California, charged sham process and handling fees to pay doctors across the country in exchange for referrals.


Case name: United States et al ex rel. Lutz and Webster v. HDL et al

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Case No.: 9:14-cv-00230

Judge: Richard Gergel

Date: April 9

Amount: $50.4 million in fixed payments from HDL and $1.5 million in fixed payments from Singulex

Attorneys for plaintiff: William Tuck, Darlington; James Wyatt of Wyatt & Blake, Charlotte; and Marc Raspanti of Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti, Philadelphia

Attorneys for defendants: N/A


2. Woman’s wrongful death nets $45M verdict

In 2007, 68-year-old retired banker Sara Jones Dixon was murdered in her home. Today, three men, including her stepson, are serving prison sentences related to her killing.

In March, an Alamance County jury returned a $45 million wrongful death verdict against the trio in a civil case. Dixon’s son, James Michael Neese, the executor of his mother’s estate, filed the suit in September 2009.

On the evening of Nov. 28, 2007, or early morning hours of Nov. 29, Matthew Fields and Thomas Friday kicked in Dixon’s door, snuck into her bedroom and shot her twice in the head, according to news reports. Authorities said money was the motive in the murder-for-hire plot, and the men were enlisted by Dixon’s 42-year-old stepson, Robert “Dennis” Dixon.

Prosecutors alleged that Dennis Dixon began to plan his stepmother’s demise in the spring of 2007 as medical costs began to mount when his father was placed in a full-time nursing facility.

According to the state, Dennis Dixon arranged the killing, providing Fields and Thomas a map of the home, to save the family property so he could inherit it.

It is unclear whether any of the defendants have assets or what, if any, recovery of damages can actually be made. Plaintiff’s attorney Daniel Bullard of Walker Bullard in Gibsonville indicated that if there is a recovery, it is unlikely to be anywhere near the amount of the award.


Amount: $45 million

Case name: Estate of Sara Jones Dixon v. Robert Dennis Dixon, Thomas Clay Friday, Matthew Devon Fields

Case No.: 09 CVS 3222

Court: Alamance County

Date: Feb. 19

Attorney for plaintiff: Daniel Bullard of Walker & Bullard, Gibsonville

Attorney for defendant: N/A

Has the plaintiff been successful in collecting the judgment? No


3. Elderly woman’s family secures a $13.2 million award in case against swindling stockbroker

According to her attorneys, the late Martha Capps was not a financially sophisticated woman. After inheriting a substantial amount of money and in an attempt to protect herself and her children from an abusive, alcoholic and adulterous husband, she placed her faith in a financial planner, trusting he would take care of her.

Instead, according to her estate’s lawsuit, Hal Blondeau befriended the elderly woman and craftily took her for nearly everything she had.

It was by accident that Blondeau’s conniving was discovered, according to her lawyers, but after a seven-year legal odyssey that saw the case go from the North Carolina Business Court to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and back, a judge awarded her estate more than $10 million.

Capps, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2001, died in March 2011.

Capps’ son, Bruce Capps, filed suit in 2007, alleging that Blondeau, his mother’s “trusted advisor” since 1988, used various methods to swindle her out of millions of dollars she inherited from her aunt Anne Kyle of Florida.

Blondeau and Florida attorney Neal Knight allegedly transferred Capps’ money from a trust that they used to finance Knight’s daughters’ undergraduate and law school educations, years’ worth of fine wine and a beach cottage for Blondeau and his wife.

Capps so trusted Blondeau, her attorney said, that she generally just signed whatever financial paperwork he put in front of her.

After pleading guilty to fraud, Blondeau spent three years in federal prison.


Amount: $10,330,683.94 plus $2,931,664.95 in attorneys’ fees and expenses

Case name: Estate of Martha B. Capps v. Harold Earl Blondeau

Case No.: 07-CVS-16486

Court: North Carolina Business Court

Date: March 5

Attorneys for plaintiff: Gilbert File of Brownlee Law Firm, Raleigh; Robert E. Zaytoun, Matt Ballew and John Taylor of Zaytoun Law Firm, Raleigh


4. Jury awards $10.5M to battered ex-wife

A federal jury in North Carolina awarded a former Army officer $10.5 million after she was attacked by her ex-husband, a Special Forces soldier, and severely beaten in front of their 20-month-old child.

An attorney for Rosanna Atad reported that on June 10, 2010, Atad’s then-husband, Jeffrey Basil Atad, attacked her as she was trying to leave their home. The attorney, Jonathan Edgar of Shawver Perez, said that Rosanna was carrying the couple’s daughter when she was attacked, causing her to drop the child. The toddler suffered a concussion and black eye.

Rosanna was punched in the face repeatedly, slammed against a wall, gagged and tied up, reports said, and repeatedly told that she was going to be killed.

Jeffrey was eventually convicted of second-degree kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, assault by strangulation and child abuse. Sentenced to five years in prison but having much of that time suspended, Rosanna was disappointed with the criminal process.

Edgar said his client, who suffers from PTSD-like symptoms resulting from the beating, was much more pleased with the civil judgment, though Rosanna knows she will likely never see any of the money she was awarded.

“I think for her the biggest part was having somebody in the public hear her story,” Edgar said.


Amount: $10.5 million

Injuries alleged: Head and face trauma; emotional distress

Case name: Atad et al. v. Atad

Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina

Case No.: 5:13-CV-416-F

Judge: James Fox

Date of verdict: Jan. 29

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Jonathan Edgar and Thomas Hodges of Shawver Perez in Rolling Hills Estates, California and Richmond, Virginia, respectively

Attorney for defendant: Defendant was not represented by counsel


5. Siblings secure $10.1M settlement for Hammocks Beach land

Brother and sister Harriet Turner and John Hurst, a paralegal and landfill attendant, respectively, became millionaires when the state and an independent conservation group wrote them checks totaling $10.1 million for 290 acres of unspoiled coastal land near Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow County.

After the siblings successfully sued to claim the land, originally deeded to an association of black educators at the siblings’ grandparents’ behest, the state asserted, after twice refusing to do so, that it would be the land’s trustee. (At the time, its owner, white neurosurgeon and philanthropist William Sharpe, who befriended the family, actually tried to give the land to the Hurst family.)

According to the deed, if the state declined the trust, the land was supposed to revert to the Hursts’ heirs.

“The state purported to take this land and not pay Harriett and John a dime,” said one of the siblings’ attorneys, Charles Francis of Raleigh.

In the early days, black teachers and their students frequented the beach and built roads and camps that thrived there, just as the Hursts and Sharpe had intended. But after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 the property gradually lost its popularity and stopped being maintained properly.

Desegregation gave longtime Hammocks Beach visitors the opportunity to go to other camps, said Hammocks Beach Corp. attorney Frank Emory Jr. of Hunton & Williams in Charlotte, and funding provided by the black teachers’ association dried up when it merged with the white teachers’ association.

The plaintiffs are convinced that they could have made much more money by selling the property to developers rather than the state, but as part of the settlement deal, the state agreed to lease a portion of the property that includes the camp to Turner for 25 years for $1. She said that resurrecting the camp is her way of carrying on the generous vision of her grandparents and Sharpe.

“This was something that Dr. Sharpe believed in and my grandparents believed in,” she said. “I just want to keep that going.”


Amount: $10.1 million

Case name: Harriett Turner and John Hurst v. Hammocks Beach Corporation, et al.

Court: Wake County Superior Court

Case No.: 06-CVS-18173

Judge: Carl Fox

Date of settlement: June 2014, paid April 31

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Charles Francis of Raleigh and Michael Weisel, David Coats and Adam Olls of Bailey & Dixon in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendants: Frank Emory Jr. of Hunton & Williams in Charlotte, for Hammocks Beach Corporation, and James Gulick and Thomas Ziko of Raleigh for the North Carolina State Board of Education


6. State pays $7.7M for damaging landfill properties

The North Carolina Department of Transportation agreed to pay more than $7 million to settle an eminent domain case involving a landfill company’s property – after DOT appraisers estimated that damages in the case were about $2 million, according to an attorney for the landowners.

The DOT’s Turnpike Authority filed two separate lawsuits against Greenway Waste Solutions of Apex to acquire right-of-way from a pair of adjacent properties in Wake County for the Interstate 540 project.

One property had an operating landfill, while the other was vacant. The dispute hinged on whether the land should be valued based on Greenway’s potential for expanding the landfill operation, which would significantly raise the value of the tracts, said Steven Newton, an associate at Nicholls & Crampton in Raleigh who helped represent Greenway.

Greenway’s appraisers valued the damages from the taking at $13.6 million, based on the ability to expand the landfill, or $9.1 million without the consideration of expansion.

The DOT and Attorney General’s Office had asserted that the possibility of future expansion of the landfill was too speculative to factor into the appraisal, Newton said.

He added that the state’s appraisal also was based on a Map Act filing that identified the land in question as being within a so-called “protected corridor” nearly 20 years before the eminent domain action occurred.

The DOT has used the Map Act, which is unique to North Carolina, to file plans for roads with county registers of deeds and halt development on land in the protected corridors identified in the map filings.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals found in February that the state’s use of the Map Act constituted a taking, a ruling that would force the DOT to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for land in the path of proposed and delayed road projects. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the DOT’s challenge of that ruling, with hearings beginning in February.


Amount: $7.7 million

Case name: North Carolina Department of Transportation Turnpike Authority v. Greenway Waste Solutions of Apex, LLC, et al.

Court: Wake County Superior Court

Case No.: 11-cvs-7962 and 11-cvs-7963

Mediator: Ron Perkinson

Date of settlement: May 15

Most helpful experts: Don d’Ambrosi, land planner; Tony Wayne, real estate appraiser; and Bill Nelson, landfill consultant.

Attorneys for plaintiff: North Carolina Attorney General’s Office

Attorneys for defendants: Emmett Boney Haywood and Steven Newton II of Nicholls & Crampton in Raleigh; and Ken Edwards of Gwynn & Edwards in Raleigh


7. Jury finds two Fayetteville doctors liable for botched procedure, award $7.5M

A woman who suffered life-altering injuries as the result of a botched colectomy and a failure to diagnose sepsis was awarded more than $7.5 million by a Cumberland County jury.

Melode Dickerson, 50, is a “shell of her former self,” one of her attorneys, Jon Moore of Brown Moore & Associates in Charlotte said, after doctors at Cape Fear Valley Hospital failed to detect the “known and deadly” sepsis after performing a partial colectomy.

According to Moore, Dickerson was released the day after the procedure despite laboratory signs “trending in the wrong direction.” She returned hours later complaining of abdominal pain and vomiting and was diagnosed with urinary retention.

Over the next three days in the hospital, Dickerson’s condition deteriorated and despite meeting the hospital’s written criteria for severe sepsis, her doctors failed to diagnose her with it.

The cause of the sepsis, a bowel leak that Moore said one in 20 patients of this procedure develop, was located where the colon was surgically reattached to Dickerson’s small intestine after the partial colectomy.

Moore added that all expert physicians for both parties testified that the “gold standard” for diagnosing this “known and potentially deadly complication” is a CT scan with contrast dye, a simple diagnostic that simply wasn’t performed.

Moore said the plaintiffs asked for a $10 million verdict. No pretrial offer was made.

According to Moore, the jury took 45 minutes to find the defendants liable.

“Our job was simply to do the best we could to illustrate for the jury the profound challenges that Mrs. Dickerson experiences on not just a daily basis, but an hourly basis,” Moore said


Amount: $7.5 million total – $3,242,554 for economic damages; $4 million for noneconomic damages; and $300,000 for loss of consortium

Case name: Dickerson v. Morfesis et al.

Court: Cumberland County Superior Court

Case No.: 13-CVS-3475

Judge: Gale Adams

Date: Sept. 30

Attorneys for plaintiff: R. Kent Brown, Jon Moore and Paige Pahlke of Brown Moore & Associates in Charlotte

Attorneys for defendants: John Minier and Maria Wood of Yates, McLamb & Weyher in Raleigh


8. $6.9M settlement for man whose car crashed into big rig

A North Carolina man who was severely injured in a rear-end crash with a tractor-trailer that was stopped in the roadway secured a $6.9 million settlement, according to an attorney for the plaintiff.

The force of the impact broke the plaintiff’s back and lacerated his throat, said one of the man’s attorneys, Hunt Willis of Martin & Jones in Raleigh. He added that the crash “crushed the entire front end of his [the plaintiff’s] vehicle into him.”

Now the plaintiff is a “low-functioning quadriplegic,” Willis said.

As part of a confidentiality agreement with the trucking company and its insurer, Willis withheld a significant amount of information in the case that could be used to identify the parties. He also declined to name the defense attorneys.

Willis said contributory negligence was a “major issue in the case,” but the plaintiff argued that he was not to blame because the truck shouldn’t have been stopped in the roadway.

The case settled Oct. 16 prior to trial.


Amount: $6.9 million

Case name: Confidential

Date of settlement: Oct. 16

Mediator: Robert Beason of Beason & Ellis Conflict Resolution in Raleigh

Attorneys for plaintiff: Hoyt Tessener, H. Forest Home and Hunt Willis of Martin & Jones in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendants: Confidential


9. Construction company settles for $6.5M over state road contract

Road construction company W.C. English Inc. entered into a contract with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to widen and construct U.S. Highway 321 from Caldwell County to Blowing Rock and to expand the highway from two to four lanes, reported English’s attorney, Bill Pollock of Ragsdale Liggett in Raleigh.

Pollock said the project encountered significant amounts of unexpected rock that required the highway to be re-designed and additional work performed, all of which caused the project to last over two years longer than anticipated.

English claimed that N.C. DOT breached its contract obligations by failing to adequately investigate subsurface conditions and properly design the project; failing to have utility lines relocated in a timely manner; failing to provide accurate and reliable surveys; and failing to pay for additional work ordered on the project.

After pre-trial discovery and mediation, the case settled shortly before the hearing was set to start, Pollock reported.


Amount: $6.5 million

Injuries alleged: Lost profits and compensation

Case name: W.C. English Inc. v. North Carolina Department of Transportation

Case No.: 15 DOT 1089

Court: Office of Administrative Hearings

Judge: Don Overby

Date: Nov. 14, pre-trial

Attorney for plaintiff: Bill Pollock of Ragsdale Liggett PLLC, Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Joseph Herrin and Justin Hampton, N.C. Department of Justice, Raleigh


10. Woman reaches $5.3M settlement in hospital negligence claim

A woman injured while undergoing surgery entered into a confidential, pre-trial settlement for $5.3 million two days before her trial was scheduled to begin, her attorneys reported.

Many of the details of the case are being withheld due to a confidentiality agreement, but the plaintiff’s attorney, Charles Mast of Smithfield, said his client suffered vaginal and rectal tearing and a back injury, and subsequent depression and diarrhea because the defendants failed to read, understand and follow warning labels on a surgical table.

“The surgical table mechanically folded up into a U-shaped position during a hysterectomy, causing the inserted speculum to tear plaintiff from vagina to rectum,” Mast wrote in an email.

Mast said the back injury was a lumbosacral plexus injury, which is often caused by vehicle-pedestrian collisions, high-speed automobile accidents and falls from great heights. The back and vaginal pain, Mast said, is permanent.

The woman has been unable to have vaginal intercourse since the incident, and “diarrhea and depression continue to be a problem,” Mast wrote.



Amount: $5.3 million

Injuries alleged: Vaginal and rectal tearing, back injury, depression, diarrhea

Case name: Confidential

Case No.: Confidential

Court: Confidential

Special damages: Medical expenses, $254,214; life care plan, $3.9 to $4.7 million; future estimated lost wages, $865,000

Date: Feb. 26

Attorneys for plaintiff: Charles Mast of Smithfield

Attorneys for defendants: Confidential


11. County pays $5.1M to man wrongfully convicted of murder

A man who spent more than a decade in prison for a murder he didn’t commit agreed to settle his case against Buncombe County for $5.1 million, the largest settlement payment in the county’s history.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission cleared the man, Robert Wilcoxson, in 2011 and his conviction was subsequently vacated.

Wilcoxson’s position was bolstered by the fact that the former Buncombe County sheriff who allegedly coerced and threatened him into falsely pleading guilty to participating in the murder, Bobby Medford, is now serving 15 years in federal prison for corruption and extortion.

“He was the guy who set the tone for the department,” said Wilcoxson’s attorney, David Rudolf of Rudolf, Widenhouse & Fialko in Charlotte.

“It wasn’t just that he was in prison, but that he was in prison for abusing his position as sheriff. It was Exhibit A that he couldn’t be believed.”

Wilcoxson is now in his mid-30s and living in Atlanta. Rudolf said that after spending 11 years behind bars, wrongly accused, Wilcoxson has a “nice nest egg” that he’ll have professionally managed by a money manager.


Amount: $5.125 million, plus $550,000 in statutory damages

Case name: Wilcoxson v. Buncombe County, et al.

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville

Case No.: 1:13-CV-224

Judge: U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger

Date of settlement: July 8

Attorneys for plaintiff: David Rudolf and Chris Fialko of Rudolf Widenhouse & Fialko in Charlotte

Attorney for defendants: Buncome County staff attorney Curtis Euler


12. Paralyzed man deemed employee, settles for $3.5M

What began as a denied workers’ compensation claim and a case dropped by his first attorneys turned into a $3.5 million settlement for a man paralyzed from the waist down after being crushed while cutting trees.

In 2008, plaintiff T. Brice (his first name was withheld) was working for a man he knew well and had worked for on various labor jobs in the past, including post-Katrina work in New Orleans.

This time he was cutting trees near Mebane, making way for a Norfolk Southern Railroad.

A week after starting his new job with the man he considered his “boss,” Mike McCoy of MCI Landscape & Tree Care, Brice suffered his injury.

Brice’s attorney, J. Jackson Hardison of Hardison & Cochran in Raleigh, said his client’s workers’ compensation claims were denied but that he is alive today because he was able to receive treatment at a VA hospital in Virginia.

The Industrial Commission determined that Brice was an employee and not an independent contractor as McCoy claimed. Among other factors, McCoy exercised substantial control over Brice’s duties and even listed him as an employee to one of his insurance companies.

“This was a rescue case—my client had been told by the attorney who represented him before I did that he didn’t have a case,” Hardison said. “As a last-ditch, after a pretty substantial amount of time passed, he called us. I’m truly happy he was able to get this settled and be able to take care of himself and his medical care.”


Amount: $3.5 million

Injuries alleged: Paraplegia

Case name: Brice v. Horner Services/Columbia Insurance Group et. al.

Court: North Carolina Court of Appeals/North Carolina Industrial Commission

Case No.: I.C. No. 038270

Date: May 18

Attorney for plaintiff: J. Jackson Hardison of Hardison & Cochran in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Trula Mitchell of McAngus, Goudelock, & Courie in Raleigh; Susan Burkhart of Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog in Raleigh; John Tomei of Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham in Raleigh; and Sharon Scudder of Morehead City


12 (tie). Murderer ordered to pay $3.5M to victim’s family

A Wake County judge has ordered a convicted murderer to pay $3.5 million to his victim’s widow and son.

Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner handed down the judgment against Matthew Calton following a bench trial in which the defense offered no evidence or exhibits. Calton had already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of his former landlord, Jay “Jody” Simmons.

An attorney for the Simmons family, John Tantum of Cedar Point, said the award was based on Simmons’ life expectancy of 26 more years and his six-figure annual income. Simmons had a plumbing business and also worked as a licensed auctioneer and real estate broker.

On the day after Thanksgiving 2012, a Black Friday, Simmons answered a call from Calton, one of his tenants, and agreed to meet him outside an auto parts store to collect back rent.

When Simmons arrived in the parking lot, Calton approached his pickup, pulled out a shotgun and killed him with a blast through the driver’s side window, Tantum said.

Simmons’ widow and his adult son have not collected the $3.5 million, plus interest, from Calton, Tantum said. But he believes that Calton may have benefitted from the estate of a wealthy grandfather, though he’s still investigating.

“The fact that a private attorney was hired to represent him gives us the idea that somewhere he has some money we didn’t know about,” Tantum said.



Amount: $3.5 million

Case name: Simmons v. Calton

Court: Wake County Superior Court

Case No.: 13CVS6447

Judge: Paul Gessner

Date of verdict: March 9, 2015

Attorneys for plaintiff: John Tantum of Cedar Point and Benjamin Bridges of Salisbury

Attorney for defendant: Duncan McMillan of Raleigh


14. Family of man killed in bar fight awarded $3.4M


Clinton Massengill was walking into Club Riptide in Selma on Sept. 18, 2010 when he was hit by a punch he never saw coming, knocking him down and causing him to strike his head on the concrete floor. Nine days later, the 23-year-old died from his injuries.

On May 29, his family received a little closure in Johnston County Superior Court, awarded a $3.4 million wrongful death verdict it knows it will likely never recover.

At the civil trial, Massengill’s lead attorney, Tony Botros of Brent Adams & Associates, argued that the unlawful battery caused Massengill’s death. Massengill’s attorneys were granted a directed verdict regarding liability and a jury took about an hour to award the plaintiff’s estate more than $3.4 million for medical treatment, funeral expenses, pain and suffering and the loss of companionship for Massengill’s next-of-kin.

The jury declined to award punitive damages, determining that the assailant, Brian Bailey, did not act with the requisite malice and his conduct was not willful or wanton.

“While it is unlikely this judgment will be collected, due to the defendant’s insolvency, Clint’s brother Larry was incredibly pleased with and moved by the verdict,” the release said. “He is happy to move forward.”


Amount: $3.4 million

Case name: Estate of Clinton Massengill v. Brian Wayne Bailey

Court: Johnston County Superior Court

Case No.: 13-cvs-923

Judge: R. Frank Floyd

Date: May 29

Attorneys for plaintiff: Tony Botros and Brent Adams of Brent Adams & Associates in Raleigh and Dunn

Attorneys for defendant: Jack O’Hale of Narron, O’Hale and Whittington in Smithfield


15. Wife of accident victim settles for $3.15M

The wife of a 53-year-old truck driver who was killed in 2012 while picking up a specialty load from a manufacturer secured a $3.15 million settlement related to his death, according to an attorney for the plaintiff.

The driver, whose name is being withheld as part of the settlement, had been hired to pick up two 5,000-pound electrical panels from the company that made them.

The manufacturer employed a specialty company to rig, load, and secure the electrical panels in the truck. However, in the process of loading them onto the truck with a forklift, a worker released the straps holding one of the panels before it was fully secure. The panel broke lose, pinning the driver beneath it and suffocating him.

The driver’s estate filed suit against the loading company for failing to properly secure the panel. But the loading company argued it was the manufacturer that should be held responsible because the loading company had allegedly been denied access to a loading dock and was forced to load the panels onto the truck in a parking lot. The loading company alleged the parking lot was less safe for loading large objects than the loading dock.

Following mediation, the driver’s estate reached a settlement with the loading company and the manufacturer in October, with the manufacturer paying less than 8 percent of the total amount.


Amount: $3.15 million

Case name: Confidential

Court: Confidential

Case No.: Confidential

Mediator: Ray Owens

Date of verdict or settlement: Oct. 29

Attorneys for plaintiff: David F. Kirby of Edwards Kirby in Raleigh and Isaac Thorp of Thorp Law in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Confidential


16. Condo owners settle for just over $3 million in suit over shoddy construction

A group of homeowners in Cashiers allege that they had a similar experience to the young couple in the 1986 hit comedy “The Money Pit” when their recently purchased condos began falling apart.

The condos are part of Trillium Ridge, six buildings and 22 units built by Trillium Construction, which operated alongside the condos’ developer, Trillium Links. The Trillium Ridge homeowners’ association sued the two companies and their owners for negligent construction after the condos suffered drastic water damage caused by defective flashing, which directs water away from seams and joints.

An attorney for the homeowners’ association said the back walls of the building had to be replaced because they had rotted so badly that the studs could be pulled out with bare hands.

The suit was initially dismissed by Jackson County Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope in August 2013 on statute of limitations grounds. (Lawyers Weekly selected the case as one of the top five defense verdicts for 2013.) But in September 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, finding there was a factual dispute about when the statute of limitations should have begun to run, and that the plaintiffs were entitled to argue their case before a jury.

The individual defendants, S.C. “Rusty” Culbreth, Jr. and Greg Ward, settled on the first day of trial for $1.825 million. The case was then tried, and after closing arguments were delivered, the corporate defendants settled for an additional $1.2 million.


Amount: $3.025 million

Injuries Alleged: Property damage to condominium buildings

Case name: Trillium Ridge Condominium Association, Inc. v. Trillium Links & Village, LLC, et al.

Court: Jackson County Superior Court

Case No.: 11-CVS-462

Judge: Marvin Pope

Settlement date: Nov. 30 for individual defendants and Dec. 9 for LLC defendants

Attorneys for plaintiff: Dustin Greene and David Smith of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in Winston-Salem

Attorneys for defendant: Luke Sbarra and Jon Player of Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo in Charlotte and Raleigh, Robert Allen of Northrup McConnell & Sizemore in Asheville, and Marc Meister of Asheville


17. $3M settlement reached on behalf of child born with cerebral palsy

The guardians of an 8-year-old boy, afflicted with quadriplegic cerebral palsy after being deprived of oxygen during birth, settled their medical malpractice suit for $3 million. The names of the defendants were withheld pursuant to a confidentiality agreement.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Tom Comerford and John Moser of Winston-Salem said the boy’s 14-year-old mother had been given a labor-inducing drug that caused her to experience increasingly rapid contractions, reducing the amount of blood flowing to the baby and depriving him of oxygen.

Because the pill had been directly into the mother’s birth canal, plaintiffs asserted, doctors should have administered an anti-contraction medicine once the baby’s heart dropped to critically low levels. No such medication was given.

For the rest of his life, doctors say, the child will be unable to stand, walk or eat by himself.

The hospital, attending doctor and nurses were initially named in the suit but plaintiffs said it was clear that the doctor, who was “inattentive” and not present in the delivery room during key junctures, was primarily responsible.

The doctor was fired from the medical group with which she was practicing.


Amount: $3 million

Case name: Confidential

Court: Iredell County Superior Court

Mediator: Ray Owens of Higgins & Owens in Charlotte

Date: March 23

Attorneys for plaintiff: W. Thompson Comerford and John Kenneth Moser of Comerford & Britt in Winston-Salem

Attorneys for defendant: Confidential


18. Housing agency to pay $2.7 million in sexual harassment cases

A Scotland County housing agency agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle two cases in which numerous plaintiffs and the U.S. Department of Justice allege that two of its former employees attempted to extort sex for federal subsidy housing vouchers.

According to the DOJ, the settlement represents the largest monetary settlement in a sexual harassment case brought by the department under the Fair Housing Act.

In 2012, Khristen Sellers sued Four-County Community Services (later operated as Southeastern Community & Family Services), claiming that former employees John Wesley and Eric Penders sexually harassed her, demanding sexual favors in exchange for vouchers and favorable home inspections.

Greensboro attorney Craig Hensel helped represent the plaintiffs. He said last year that Wesley and Pender established a sexual quid pro quo system that “forced their victims … to decide between homelessness and sexual humiliation.”

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “It is deeply offensive and illegal to sexually harass women who are seeking housing for themselves and their families.”

“This settlement sends a strong message to those who would exploit their positions of power that their egregious conduct will not be tolerated and that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in it,” she added.


Case name: Sellers, et. al v. Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc., et al.

Case No.: 1:14-cv-00422

Court: Scotland County Superior Court

Amount: $2.7 million

Date: July 2

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Craig Hensel of Hensel Law in Greensboro; Kelly Clarke and George Hausen of Legal Aid of North Carolina; and Chris Brancart of Brancart & Brancart in California

Attorneys for defendants: Ken Kyre of Pinto Coates Kyre & Brown in Greensboro for John Wesley; Tim Wilson and Karen Chapman of Poyner Spruill in Rocky Mount for Eric Pender; and Rodney Pettey, Kelly Brewer and Brian Williams of Yates, McLamb & Weyher in Raleigh for FCCS


19. Charlotte to pay mother of fatally shot unarmed man $2.25M

For the 2013 killing of unarmed Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player shot 10 times by former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick, the city paid Ferrell’s estate $2.25 million to settle the civil suit filed by Georgia Ferrell.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jonathan Ferrell crashed his car in a Charlotte neighborhood and, after escaping through the back window, knocked on the first door he came to. The homeowner, mistaking Ferrell as a possible burglar, called police.

Dash camera footage shows Ferrell running toward police when they arrived, and officers can be heard yelling “Get on the ground!” before multiple shots rang out from Kerrick’s service weapon.

A toxicology report showed that Ferrell had no illegal drugs in his system and was not drunk.

Former police Chief Rodney Monroe said that the shooting was not justified. Kerrick was suspended without pay and eventually resigned from the department. He was charged with manslaughter and tried in July, but those charges were dismissed after a mistrial was declared because of a hung jury.

In October, the city and Kerrick reached a separation agreement in which Charlotte paid the former officer nearly $180,000 for back pay and attorneys’ fees related to the civil trial.


Amount: $2.25 million

Case name: Georgia Ferrell, for the estate of Jonathan Ferrell v. City of Charlotte et al.

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Case No.: 3:14-CV-47

Judge: Graham Mullen

Date: May 14

Attorneys for plaintiff: Christopher Chestnut of The Chestnut Law Firm in Atlanta and Charles Monnett III of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates in Charlotte

Attorneys for defendant: Mark Newbold, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Attorney’s Office, and Bob Hagemann and Daniel Peterson of Charlotte’s Office of the City Attorney


20. $2.1 million arbitration award for Durham law firm

On Dec. 9, a federal judge confirmed a more than $2.1 million arbitration award for a Durham law firm that accused an out-of-state law firm of reneging on their exclusive partnership to represent claimants in a class action involving thousands of black farmers.

The Law Offices of James S. Farrin entered into an agreement with Virginia-based McEachin & Gee to pursue claims jointly on behalf of the farmers in a series of discrimination lawsuits rooted in a nearly $1 billion settlement in the late 1990s in Pigford v. Glickman.

Farrin asserted that the agreement gave it the exclusive right to serve as co-counsel with M&G in representing farmers who missed the deadline to file a claim in the original Pigford class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   The suit alleged that the USDA denied loans and subsidies to black farmers on the basis of race. After the initial suit settled, Congress passed legislation that allowed late filers to bring claims against the USDA in what became known as Pigford II. Farrin’s agreement with M&G involved the later filers.

Farrin initiated arbitration proceedings against M&G after the firm entered into a co-counseling agreement with Pogust Braslow & Millrood in Pennsylvania. M&G, meanwhile, sued Pogust for breach of contract. The federal suit alleged that Pogust owed M&G more than $1 million in referral fees. The dispute was resolved in 2014 with a joint stipulation for dismissal.

In June, a three-member arbitration panel determined that if M&G had abided by the terms of the contract, the Farrin firm would have been entitled to collect $2,133,125 from its involvement in Pigford II. The Farmers Law Group of Connecticut, which owns a controlling interesting in M&G, also was named as a defendant in the arbitration.


Amount: $2,133,125

Case name: James Farrin v. McEachin & Gee and Farmers Law Group of Connecticut

Court: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Durham

Case No.: 1:15-cv-828

Judge: Norwood Tilley Jr.


21. Victim’s estate settles drunk driving case for $1.75M

The estate of a man killed by a drunk driver who had just left a restaurant after spending “a little over an hour” at the bar settled its case for $1.75 million, according to one of the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Dré Fleury of Crumley Roberts in Charlotte reported the settlement but cited a confidentiality provision precluding the release of most of the case’s details.


Amount: $1.75 million

Case name: Confidential

Date: Oct. 5

Attorneys for plaintiff: David Ventura and Dré Fleury of Crumley Roberts in Charlotte

Attorneys for defendant: Confidential


22. Harnett County jury awards woman $1.6M in car crash case

A woman who suffered traumatic brain injury after a pickup truck slammed into her car was awarded $1.6 million by a Harnett County jury.

In 2011, Michele Langdon was waiting to turn left onto a highway in Lillington when the defendant driver approached her from the right towing a 3,000-pound generator. The man lost control of his truck, crossed the centerline and swerved into a ditch, causing the generator to crash into Langdon’s car.

Langdon suffered a subdural hematoma and had an extended period of post-wreck amnesia. She developed problems with her memory, balance and cognitive abilities, according to her attorneys.

A neurologist and a neuropsychiatrist diagnosed the plaintiff with a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury and testified at trial that her symptoms were permanent.

Langdon’s attorneys believe the verdict is one of the highest ever handed down by a Harnett County jury.



Amount: $1.6 million

Injuries alleged: Traumatic brain injury

Name of case: Michele Meyers Langdon v. Matthew D. Morse & Sandhill Contractors Inc.

Court: Harnett County Superior Court

Case No.: 14 CVS 01524

Judge: Kendra Hill

Date: July 31

Demand: $485,000

Highest offer: $250,000

Attorney for defendants: Tom Buckley of Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo in Raleigh

Editor’s Note: Information submitted for this story withheld the parties’ and defense attorney’s names. That information, part of the public record, was obtained independently by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.


23 (tie). Car crash injuries net $1.5M settlement

A 46-year-old man severely injured when another driver pulled out in front of him and caused a T-bone collision settled his case for $1.5 million on April 13.

According to the man’s attorneys, he suffered fractures of the leg, neck, rib and hip; head injuries causing cognitive damage; and PTSD.

The plaintiff also developed complications during a two-week hospital stay, including blood clots in one of his lungs and a staph infection that brought on sepsis.

Included in the settlement was $32,000 of lost income and more than $850,000 in future lost income.


Amount: $1.5 million

Case name: Confidential

Court: Confidential

Case No.: Confidential

Date: April 13

Attorneys for plaintiff: Kimberly Miller and William Owens of Owens & Miller in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Confidential


23 (tie). Man settles breach of duty case against his daughter for $1.5M

A woman who locked her father out of all his bank accounts and transferred more than $1 million of his assets to her name claimed that he was mentally incompetent.

During litigation, the man’s attorney said, he depended on his longtime girlfriend to help provide for him.

“Here’s a man who has over $1 million in financial accounts and he’s destitute,” said W. Kirk Sanders of Hendrick Bryant Nerhood Sanders & Otis in Winston-Salem.

The man, Kent Norman, had appointed his only child, Amanda Sullivan, as his attorney-in-fact. He suffered strokes several years ago, Sanders said, but was plenty competent to deal with his financial affairs, an assertion bolstered by a positive psychiatric evaluation.

“Power of attorneys are very positive documents … but what I see is, they’re also a license to steal,” Sanders said.



Amount: $1.5 million

Case name: Norman v. Sullivan

Court: Forsyth County Superior Court

Case number: 14 CVS 1486

Judge: William Freeman

Date: July 3, 2014 but voluntarily dismissed Aug. 3, 2015

Attorneys for plaintiff: W. Kirk Sanders of Hendrick Bryant Nerhood Sanders &Otis and Bryan Thompson of Surratt & Thompson in Winston-Salem

Attorney for defendant: B. Jeffrey Wood of Wood & Rabil in Winston-Salem


23 (tie). Court of Appeals upholds $1.5M award in marina death

On April 7, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a $1.5 million verdict awarded two years earlier to the estate of a dock worker killed when the boat he was fueling exploded.

In 2013, a Lincoln County jury found that improper nozzles installed by the defendant caused about 40 gallons of gasoline to spill and ignite. The hold-open latch nozzles violated the state fire code and OSHA regulations.

According to court documents, 19-year-old Nathan Coppick was working at the Hobbs Westport Marina in Denver when an 80-foot charter boat pulled in for fueling. Surveillance video shows Coppick dragging a hose toward the gasoline receptacle before walking toward the front of the houseboat.

About six minutes later, the complaint states, a vapor cloud was visible in “real close proximity” to the fueling area. Plaintiff’s attorney M. David Bland said the vapor cloud was ignited by a running generator, causing two explosions.

The first explosion occurred as Coppick was taking a ladder down from the second deck to the center of the stern.

The second explosion caused fire to engulf the back of the vessel, killing Coppick instantly, the complaint stated.

A chief fire code consultant testified that hold-open latches have been illegal at marinas since 2002. A former assistant dock manager testified that these types of nozzles were used often and the defendant admitted that it has installed several such nozzles since 2006.


Amount: $1.5 million

Case name: The estate of Nathan Coppick v. Hobbs Marina Properties et al.

Court: Lincoln County Superior Court

Case No.: 08-CVS-1960

Judge: Forrest Bridges

Date: April 11, 2013

Attorneys for plaintiff: M. David Bland of Weaver, Bennett & Bland in Matthews; Forrest Ferrell, Andy Howell and R. Jason Clark of Sigmon, Clark, Mackie, Hanvey & Ferrell in Hickory; and Wesley Sigmon and Todd Wulfhorst of Kennedy & Wulfhorst in Denver.

Attorneys for defendant: Kimberly Sullivan of Horack, Talley, Pharr & Lowndes in Charlotte.


1. Southern Pines company fends off fraud and collusion lawsuit

A Moore County jury ruled in April that an investment broker based in Southern Pines is not liable for the misdoings of a money-hungry executive who embezzled more than $1 million and, after fleeing to his native United Kingdom with his wife to avoid prosecution, tried to kill himself by overdosing on pills.

Attorney Palmer Sugg of Robbins May & Rich in Pinehurst helped fend off a lawsuit against his client, RAB Investments, in which a company that had been defrauded by two it its employees sought to recoup its losses from RAB.

Dunham was the president of manufacturing company PACE Worldwide. His wife, Sandra, served as its sales and marketing director. PACE and RAB contracted together for the 10-year lease of a commercial building custom built for PACE, with Dunham allegedly signing the lease.

Sugg said that fraud and collusion was alleged by PACE, claiming that the building cost twice what was agreed to. Originally slated to cost $1.29 million, there was more than $1 million in cost overrun. The rent was based on the cost of the building.

“[PACE] concocted a theory that included my clients receiving something of value from Dunham in exchange for the rental rate,” Sugg said.

According to court documents, Dunham stole the money from PACE by running up company credit cards for personal use and double-billed the company’s American and European arms for many of the extravagances.


Amount: $0

Injuries alleged: Fraud, mutual mistake, unilateral mistake

Case name: PACE v. RAB

Court: Moore County Superior Court

Case No.: 12-CVS-1282

Judge: Douglas Sasser

Date: April 28

Demand: $1.03 million

Attorney for plaintiff: Heather Connor of Ortiz & Schick in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Palmer Sugg and Stephen Later of Robbins May & Rich in Pinehurst

Attorneys for plaintiff: Eric Doggett and Greg Kash of Raleigh


2 (tie). Jury returns defense verdict for maker of table saw

Plaintiff Michael Austin claimed that the table saw he was using when he severely lacerated his hand was negligently designed because it didn’t include safety features that the defendants argued didn’t become popular—or feasible—until years after Austin’s saw was manufactured.

After deliberating for a few hours, the jury sided with the saw’s maker, Rexon Industrial Corp., and its distributor, Power Tools Specialists.

Austin sought $750,000 in damages.

An attorney for the defendants, John Ong of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog in Charlotte, said Austin alleged that the saw was negligently designed because its blade-guarding system was not the modular type that would become popular and because it didn’t have flesh-detection technology.

Austin’s saw was made in 2006; he was injured in 2011.

Defendants asserted that the saw conformed to all applicable safety standards at the time it was made.

“They were arguing, essentially, that the manufacturer should have come up with a modular blade-guarding system earlier than it did, and that whole industry was essentially lagging behind,” Ong said. “I think in this case it was a question of what was technically feasible when the saw was made, and what was reasonable.”


Amount: $0 (defense verdict)

Injuries alleged: Severe hand laceration

Name of case: Austin v. Rexon, et al

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Case No.: 1:14CV66

Judge: Martin Reidinger

Date of verdict: Sept. 16

Demand: $750,000

Most helpful experts: Jack Hyde, professional engineer in St. Peters, Missouri

Attorneys for plaintiff: Eric Pearson of Heygood, Orr & Pearson in Dallas, Texas and Michael Pross of Wallace & Graham in Salisbury

Attorneys for defendant: John Ong and Matthew Lilly of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog in Charlotte and Richard Schuster of Matthiesen, Wickert, & Lehrer in Hartford, Wisconsin


2 (tie). No ‘Hot Coffee’ redux for Raleigh cop

Raleigh police officer Lt. Matthew Kohr sued Starbucks after he says he suffered third-degree burns and emotional distress after spilling a cup of coffee in his lap in 2012.

On May 11, a Wake County jury awarded Kohr exactly what he paid for the joe—nothing.

Kohr, the recipient of the free coffee for being in uniform, sued for $750,000, claiming that the cup did not come with a cardboard sleeve and collapsed on itself when its top popped off.

The burns, he said, triggered his Crohn’s disease, requiring surgery to remove part of his intestine.

After spilling the coffee, Kohr reportedly drove to the police station, retrieved his personal vehicle and drove home to have his wife photograph his injuries before seeking medical attention. More than two hours had passed before he received treatment.

The jury ruled 10-2 in favor of Starbucks after Judge Donald Stephens told jurors that both sides were willing to accept a non-unanimous verdict.

According to news reports, Starbucks’ attorney Tricia Derr questioned Kohr’s own negligence.

“How does someone who knows their coffee is hot, who has had 50 cups of free coffee in the last two months, how does that person spill their coffee?” Derr asked.


Amount: $0

Injuries alleged: Third-degree burns, emotional distress, loss of consortium

Case name: Matthew Kohr and Melanie Kohr v. Starbucks

Court: Wake County Superior Court

Case No.: 13-CVS-6218

Judge: Donald Stephens

Date of verdict: May 11

Demand: $750,000

Attorney for plaintiff: Daniel Johnson of Willis Johnson & Nelson in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Tricia Derr of Lincoln Derr in Charlotte


4. Jury rules for jail officers in excessive force claim

An inmate in the Wake County jail who sought $225,000 after allegedly being assaulted by two detention officers in separate incidents declined a settlement offer of $26,000 and opted to take his chances with a jury—and ended up with nothing.

Defense attorney Nick Ellis of Poyner & Spruill in Raleigh said Eugene Dunston made his nearly quarter-million dollar demand at the end of the pretrial conference.

“We never responded,” Ellis said.

According to Dunston, he was cursed by an officer after missing a meal tray because he was reading in his cell. The officer, Dunston alleged, took off his duty belt and beat him for more than two minutes.

According to the officer, a physical altercation did occur, but only because Dunston became noncompliant and combative. After Dunston was brought under control initially, he became involved in an altercation with another officer, who Dunston also alleges beat him after handcuffing him and taking him to the ground.

A year later, back in jail for larceny, Dunston claimed that he was cursed and beaten by another officer while being strip searched.

Ultimately, a jury decided that Dunston failed to prove his case. Since the officers were found not liable for Dunston’s claims of civil rights violations and battery, negligent supervision claims against Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison were dismissed.



Amount: $0

Injuries alleged: Facial lacerations, abrasions and swelling to shoulder, elbow and back and shoulder injury

Case name: Eugene Dunston v. Wake Co. Sheriff Donnie Harrison et. al.

Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina

Case No.: 11-CV-747

Judge: James Fox

Date of verdict: March 20

Demand: $225,000

Attorneys for defendant: Nick Ellis and Caroline Mackie of Poyner Spruill in Raleigh


5. County did not interfere with employee’s FMLA rights, jury says


In October, a Wake County jury determined that the County did not interfere with the Family Medical Leave Act rights of a library manager who was terminated in 2013.

The plaintiff, Linda Wilkes, was hired as a community library manager with the Wake County Library System in 2007. Wilkes claimed that from March 2012 through her termination in October 2013, she suffered from FMLA-qualifying health conditions that rendered her unable to do her job. The FMLA provision under which Wilkes sued makes it unlawful for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of … any right” provided by the act.

The county denied interference, saying Wilkes never gave notice of an FMLA need and was terminated for poor work performance. It cited poor performance in 2011, 2012 and 2013. During the three-day trial in October, Wilkes’ physician testified that he treated her for serious health conditions that impaired her well-being and functioning.



Amount: $0

Case name: Linda Wilkes v. Wake County

Court: Wake County Superior Court

Case No.: 14-CVS-10736

Judge: Donald Stephens

Date: Oct. 30

Demand: Damages in excess of $10,000 and attorneys’ fees

Attorneys for plaintiff: Rob Lane and Donald Huggins of Hairston Lane in Raleigh

Attorneys for defendant: Roger Askew and Jennifer Jones of Raleigh

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