A Short Summary of 2019’s Top Arizona Jury Verdicts
Annually, we report the top ten verdicts in Arizona for the previous year. As usual, last year’s top ten are an interesting microcosm of society and the culture we live in.
Last year, six of the top verdicts were tort (injury-related) cases. The other four were business or insurance disputes.
Number one is a very interesting case that brought in a verdict of $58,000,000 in Maricopa County. Only $8 million was compensatory. The additional $50,000,000 was punitive. Punitive damages usually don’t hold up on appeal and it is doubtful this punitive award will stick 100%. The plaintiffs were surviving family members who had agreed to donate a relative’s body to a private firm for “medical research purposes.” They later learned that the bodies had been mutilated and sold piecemeal for a variety of non-medical and non-scientific purposes. Only 10 of 21 plaintiffs were awarded compensation. The FBI raided and shut down this business.
Number two was a business dispute over interference with a business relationship. It is a lesson in due diligence owed by a trustee to beneficiaries of a trust. The beneficiaries claimed trust mismanagement and were awarded $21,000,000. This was also a Maricopa County Case.
Number three was an insurance claim dispute. “Truck Insurance Exchange” (a commercial arm of Farmers Insurance Group) denied a claim made by a large bakery company for accidental contamination of bread products from metal shavings. Truck Insurance denied that the policy provided coverage for food contamination. The jury awarded the bakery $6,300,025 in damages. We can’t help but wonder what the last $25.00 was for! As this was a contract case, attorney’s fees will also be a part of the claim. At this writing there is no information on whether attorney’s fees were awarded.
Number four involved a drowning that occurred at the Doubletree Inn on Alvernon Way in Tucson. A Chinese guest who did not read or speak English drifted from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool and drowned. The pool had no dividing rope advising the swimmer of the demarcation between the deep and shallow ends of the pool. The slope was very steep. This happened at night and a claim was also made that the pool was poorly lit. The surviving family members were awarded $5.5 million dollars. This is the second large verdict brought in against the Doubletree for the same alleged pool defect.
Number five is another business dispute involving a real estate development project in Phoenix. The jury found the defendant to be in breach of an operating agreement and the sale of the complex to be “illegitimate.” Damages of $5,471,094.38 were awarded to the claimants.
Number six is another insurance dispute involving denial of coverage for a commercial claim. The jury found that the policy covered the loss and the claimants were awarded $5,000,000.
Number seven is a tort (wrongful death) claim against Sierra Tucson. Plaintiff’s son was at Sierra Tucson for behavioral and medical treatment. He required twenty-four hour per day supervision because of his condition. The caregiver fell asleep during the night watch and the decedent was found unresponsive the following morning. He later died after being transported to a hospital. Damages of $5,000,000 were awarded.
Number eight was another wrongful death case against a trucking company. The driver fell asleep at the wheel and caused a five-car collision. He was carrying a load of paving brick. This resulted in another $5,000,000 award. Punitive damages were also alleged. The case was settled before the jury returned a verdict on the punitive damage claim. It is assumed that the punitive part of the case is “confidential” as it is not reported.
Number nine is a sexual abuse case. Two women were sexually assaulted by a male massage therapist at the Namti Spa in Sedona. The women were awarded $930,000 in actual damages and four million in punitive damages. Again, it is unknown if the punitive damage award was allowed to stand.
Number ten is an employment case against the City of Tucson. It was tried in Federal Court as the Plaintiff was claiming denial of constitutional rights. Plaintiff was a female firefighter with a paramedic certification. After returning from maternity leave, she was denied a private space to express breast milk for the newborn. She was denied transfer to a station with a “lactation room” and was told her pumping was “excessive.” She was terminated as “not fit for duty.” The jury awarded $3.8 million dollars in damages for “disparate treatment and retaliation.”
There were also significant defense verdicts involving serious claims that were denied compensation. The median verdict in Pima County is only $39,985.00. Plaintiffs prevailed 80% of the time in 2019 in Pima County, but the awards are low. Statewide, plaintiffs prevailed 58% of the time in 2019.
Statistics are interesting, but the fact remains that each case has its own facts and the result is never known until the verdict is in. Every jury is different, and one jury may return a favorable verdict while a different group might come to a different result on the same case. Trial outcome is hard to predict, and results can never be guaranteed.