Gemmill verdict is in

In a nutshell, Judge Senter allowed the claims to go to the jury with no directed verdict this time.  The jury awarded $66,000 in wind damage: $39,464 for the structure, and about $26,770 for the contents.  The figures represented 47 percent of the structural damage Ed Gemmill could have received, and 25 percent of the contents coverage.  State Farm argued the issue of punitive damages shouldn’t go to the jury, but Senter said the jury sounded pretty reasonable and they should decide this too.  

While the jury was deliberating punitive damages, the sides reached an undisclosed settlement on punitives.  I’m thinking the price of the settlement was fairly steep, not as much as the $2.5 million awarded in the Broussard case, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was just south of the $1 million the Broussard verdict was eventually knocked down to by Judge Senter. 

Here’s a story from the Sun Herald on these developments.

Here’s another from the Associated Press, written before the puntive settlement. 

I’ll update more later, but thanks so much to all my friends who e-mailed me to let me know about the verdict.   

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Gemmill verdict is in

  1. scott s

    Thanks for keeping us updated with your thoughts on these developments as they happen. In the Broussard case, the jury returned a verdict for punitive damages of 2.5 million, which Senter later reduced to 1 million so it would be more in line with what the Supreme Court has said about punitive damages being no greater than 9 times main damages, unless extraordinary circumstances exist. Based on this reasoning, isnt the most SF would have had to pay for punitive damages just under $600,000?
    Also, based on their arguments in the post trial brief in the Broussard case, SF argues that the $1 million punitive award should be MUCH lower than the 4 to 5 times damages that Senter reduced it to. The lawyers for the Gemmills would have been well aware of these arguments because of the timing of the brief being filed so close to the start of this trial.
    Do you think any of this would have actually persuaded the Gemmills to accept significantly less money?
    Thanks

  2. Scott, I’m not an expert on punitive damages, but there are cases out there that say the multiplier factor you speak of should be measured not by the recovery but by the potential recovery. So if that is accepted that would increase the size of a potential punitive damage award. Whether that holds true in Mississippi, I can’t say for sure. There is such a case in Oregon, where I primarily practice.
    You also have to consider that the Supreme Court decisions on punitive damages do allow for punitives of more than 9 times to pass constitutional muster, but they say this would be rare. In any event, another relevant consideration is what is it worth to a defendant not to have the publicity of a big punitive damage award? The jury in this case could have come back with a $5 million punitive verdict. It would likely not have stood up in that amount, but that would have been the headline people remembered for a long time. So maybe $1 million is too high, I don’t really know. I did not attend the trial and it is dangerous to guess too much, but the award to Ed Gemmill was somewhat higher than I would have bet it would be, given what I knew of the case and the evidence. Maybe State Farm was also banking on a lower award for wind damage. Whatever the amount paid was, Gemmill had very good leverage to demand a substantial amount in settlement, if I was his attorney I would believe there is a good chance that a jury that gave such a favorable wind allocation would come back with a generous amount of punitives. Look at it this way: if I think the odds of getting at least a $500,000 punitive award are, say, 75 to 90 percent, I would say the value of settlement to me is 500,000 times those percentages. But what is it worth to the other side to avoid the bad publicity and the possibility that the award might be much higher and might stick? So I would do a rough calculation of my number plus the fear factor for the other side, and come up with a bigger settlement number. Again, I don’t know what happened, but that is how I would look at it, and my tendency would be to advise the client to let the jury come back if you didn’t get that higher number.

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