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Fight over estate tops 2016’s list of ‘Largest Verdicts’

Jordan Bondurant//January 16, 2017

Fight over estate tops 2016’s list of ‘Largest Verdicts’

Jordan Bondurant//January 16, 2017//

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highfive_mainA battle between a restaurateur’s son and a former employee in Arlington provided the top entry in Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s annual compilation of “Largest Verdicts” for 2016.

In a trial that lasted nearly three weeks, the son prevailed with a jury verdict of $13.7 million on claims that included fraud, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty.

The second-highest verdict, returned by a Fauquier County jury, was $6 million in a case involving a man killed by a drunken driver.

Here are the criteria for a verdict to make the list:

  1. The verdict must be for at least $1 million.
  2. The verdict was returned by a jury in Virginia, not a judge.
  3. The verdict was returned in the calendar year 2016.

There are 12 verdicts in this year’s survey.

If we have missed any million- dollar verdicts from 2016, please let us know. We’ll be glad to add that information to the online version of the feature so it can be as complete as possible.

And note that we will present the 2016 survey of million-dollar settlements in our Feb. 13 edition.

If you have a qualifying settlement that you haven’t reported yet, please send it to [email protected] by Jan. 31.

— Paul Fletcher, Editor-in-Chief

1. $13.7 Million

Chris T. Sarris v. Mireille Curro, et al.

Type of case: Will contest and tort claims concerning assets outside the will

Court: Arlington County Circuit Court

Attorneys: David D. Hudgins and Debra S. Stafford, Alexandria; R. Peyton

Mahaffey, Lawrence J. McClafferty, and Bethany B. Ingersoll, Fairfax.

A former employee of Tom and Chris Sarris, co-owners of the Orleans House restaurant in Arlington, sued Chris over the estate of Tom, who passed away in July 2014.

Mireille Curro sought the probate of a will signed in 2014, while Chris wanted the probate of his father’s will from either 1989 or 2007.

Assets from Tom Sarris’ estate totaled $5 million.

Curro’s husband was later added to the suit claiming fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy. This stemmed from transactions that occurred outside of Tom Sarris’ will, totaling $8.5 million.

The first trial phase lasted 13 days, and the jury eventually returned a verdict in March 2016 after three hours of deliberations.

They found the writing from the 2014 will was not the last will and testament of Tom Sarris. Chris was awarded the $5 million. The jury entered phase two of the trial looking at Chris Sarris’ tort claims against the Curros. The jury deliberated for four hours and awarded Sarris $7.61 million plus $175,000 in punitive damages and pre-judgement interest. The total award from the jury was $8.7 million.

2. $6 Million

Jury gives millions to family of drunken driving victim

Tina Butler, Administrator of the Estate of Jacklyn Butler v.Dwayne E Baker

Type of case: Motor vehicle accident

Court: Fauquier County Circuit Court

Attorneys: Kevin L. Locklin

A Fauquier County jury awarded $6 million to the estate of a man killed by a drunken driver.

The defendant denied being under the influence of alcohol or even drinking at the barbecue he attended in Northern Virginia when he illegally tried to pass an RV and trailer.

The defendant collided with the decedent’s vehicle head-on. Defendant was traveling 70 MPH in a 45 MPH zone.

At trial the defendant claimed there was a deer on the roadway that forced his vehicle into the opposite lane, and that he’d had a cataplectic seizure.

The jury deliberated for 75 minutes and rendered the $6,000,000 verdict for the decedent’s estate.

3. $3.74 Million

Man who developed flesh-eating bacteria sues dentist

Riddick v. Doe, DDS

Type of case: Medical malpractice – Dental

Court: Norfolk Circuit Court

Attorney: James P. St. Clair, Virginia Beach; Michael R. Davis, Portsmouth

A Hampton Roads man who complained of pain and swelling in an infected tooth sued a dentist he saw after developing a flesh-eating bacteria as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

The plaintiff presented to the defendant’s office in July 2010 complaining of pain and swelling in the lower right side of his mouth. Defendant took an initial X-ray of the plaintiff’s mouth, extracted the tooth, and sent the plaintiff home without any medication. Hours later the plaintiff called the office complaining of severe pain, and a prescription painkiller was called in.

Days later the plaintiff was still not seeing or feeling any relief. He mistakenly called the original dentist who recommended the tooth be removed, and their office phoned in additional painkillers and antibiotics.

Despite the mistake, plaintiff called the defendant’s office later, and was then seen that same day by defendant’s office staff. They noted increased swelling on his chart and prescribed a different antibiotic.

That night, the plaintiff presented to Chesapeake General Hospital where the infection was diagnosed.

Plaintiff was then transferred to Norfolk General Hospital where it was discovered he had developed the flesh-eating bacteria in his throat and chest. Extensive treatment, including skin grafts and the insertion of a feeding tube, ensued.

Testimony from plaintiff’s medical experts indicated that had he been prescribed antibiotics upon first presentation at defendant’s office the infection could have been fully treated.

The case took place over six days, and the Norfolk jury awarded the plaintiff $3,743,671.23 including pre-judgement interest.

4. $3.7 Million

Sexual assault victim wins civil case against employer and alleged attacker

Ries v. Marian Manor of Stafford Inc. and Michel Fortin

Type of case: Employment/Sexual Assaults

Court: Stafford County Circuit Court

Attorney: Barbara Queen, Richmond

A Certified Nursing Assistant at Marian Manor of Stafford accused the president of the nursing home of sexually assaulting her twice within a six-month period.

The first assault occurred in January 2010, while the second assault took place in July of that year.

The plaintiff rejected a settlement offer from the defendant, and the case went to trial in June 2016.

Testimony from the plaintiff, family and friends and acquired phone records were enough for a jury to render a verdict in favor of the plaintiff after two hours of deliberations.

The jury awarded $3,700,000 in damages.

5. $3.1 Million

Couple wins eminent domain case against VDOT

Commissioner of Highways v. Bland & Betty Painter

Type of case: Condemnation

Court: Botetourt Circuit Court

Attorney: Joseph T. Waldo and Jeremy P. Hopkins, Norfolk

This is our only eminent domain case from 2016 that resulted in a million-dollar verdict. The

Virginia Department of Transportation took seven of 29 acres from Bland and Betty Painter’s property, which sits along State Route 11 and Exit 150 on Interstate 81.

VDOT provided substitute access for the couple along Route 11.

The Painters originally planned to develop the land, but when VDOT announced its intentions to acquire the acreage 16 years ago, the Painters stopped those plans.

VDOT initially offered $653,771, but the Painters refused, stating that the interstate project changed the use of the land and ultimately diminished the commercial value of the remaining 22 acres.

The trial lasted four days, and a jury awarded the Painters $3,133,130.

6. $3 Million

U.Va. administrator wins defamation suit against Rolling Stone

Eramo v. Rolling Stone LLC et al

Type of case: Defamation

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

Attorneys: Andrew C. Phillips, Elizabeth M. Locke, Thomas A. Clare,

Dustin A. Pusch, Joseph R. Oliveri, and Megan L. Meier, Alexandria.

Former University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo sued magazine Rolling Stone, its publisher, and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely over a controversial story that appeared in the publication in 2014.

The story depicted an alleged brutal gang rape of a U.Va. student referred to as Jackie. The alleged sexual assault occurred at a party hosted at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

Eramo was named throughout the story, and after the article was published she drew the ire of the campus community, which staged protests and called for her termination.

Eramo was depicted to have dissuaded Jackie from going to the Charlottesville Police Department to seek out charges against her alleged attackers.

The university also became the center of national media attention for its perceived mishandling of the alleged assault, sitting at the forefront of a presidential initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Later on it was found that there were inconsistencies within Jackie’s recollection of her assault, and Rolling Stone posted a retraction of the story. A police investigation ensued, and no evidence of an assault was found. Separate investigations also found that Rolling Stone never met with Jackie’s alleged attackers or confirmed their identities. Erdely was later fired from the magazine, but not before Eramo was removed from her dean post at the university.

Eramo filed a defamation suit in U.S. District Court and sought $7.5 million in damages. Eramo testified that as a result of the story she suffered from an inability to sleep, was afraid for her safety, and had difficulty trying to explain what was happening to her young child. She also testified she had suicidal thoughts.

The 10-person jury found that Rolling Stone, its publisher and Erdely were responsible for defamation and acted with actual malice. Eramo was awarded $3 million.

Phi Kappa Psi has also filed lawsuits against Rolling Stone. That trial begins later this year.

7. $2.6 Million

Man injured in accident wins case against defendant driver

Brault v. Capps

Type of case: Personal injury

Court: Isle of Wight Circuit Court

Attorneys: Jason Konvicka and Malcolm McConnell III, Richmond

A man who suffered debilitating injuries and had to be cut out from his car following an accident in Southern Virginia won his civil case against the driver who crashed into him.

Frederick Brault III was traveling west on State Route 10 in Isle of Wight when defendant Earl Capps’ vehicle veered into Brault’s lane and struck him head-on.

While Brault was not killed, he did suffer a number of injuries, including a Sanders IV calcaneal fracture in his right heel. Recovery from the injuries took 18 months.

Capps was behind the wheel of a work vehicle at the time of the accident, and thus when the case went to court there were numerous insurance policies at play.

Isle of Wight is not typically known to hand out large-sum verdicts, but Brault’s testimony, along with testimony from his wife and medical experts, was enough for the jury to award him $2.6 million in damages.

8. $1.87 Million

Woman sues over complications from gallbladder surgery

Hommel v. Surgical Associates of Fredericksburg

Type of case: Medical malpractice

Court: Fredericksburg Circuit Court

Attorneys: Benjamin W. Glass III and James Abrenio, Fairfax

A woman was awarded over $1.8 million by a Fredericksburg jury after suffering complications from a gallbladder surgery.

While the jury didn’t find fault with the treating surgeon, they did find that a nurse failed to take action when noticing post-surgical problems.

The surgeon removed a gallstone from the plaintiff in September 2012.

The plaintiff claimed the surgeon mistakenly extracted a portion of her bile duct. That resulted inthe plaintiff’s developing bile peritonitis and became ill.

Plaintiff experienced pain for two weeks along with other symptoms post-surgery, and the staff at the doctor’s office couldn’t figure out she was experiencing complications.

Days later, plaintiff was told to present to an emergency room after reporting spitting up black bile. The nurse failed to report the event to the physician.

Plaintiff instead presented to an urgent care center and eventually saw specialists who repaired the damage.

Plaintiff turned down an initial settlement offer before trial. The jury awarded $1,875,000.

9. $1.8 Million

Woman wins case against plastic surgeon

Munoz v. Williams, M.D., et al.

Type of case: Medical malpractice

Court: City of Richmond Circuit Court

Attorneys: Lee Livingston, Lisa Brook and Ellen Bognar, Charlottesville

A woman sued a plastic surgeon after having difficulties following a number of procedures.

The plaintiff underwent a breast reduction, abdominoplasty with panniculectomy, and liposuction.

The surgical wound developed necrosis, and the defendant plastic surgeon advised plaintiff to wait for the wound to eventually heal.

But after a seroma ruptured, plaintiff presented to a Norfolk emergency room where another plastic surgeon addressed the wound.

A standard of care expert testified on the plaintiff’s behalf that the defendant doctor simply took out too much tissue during the liposuction. The jury ultimately agreed, and after three-and-a-half hours awarded the plaintiff $1.8 million.

10. (Tie) $1.5 Million

Driver injured in accident at Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel

Chandler v. Allen

Type of case: Personal injury

Court: Hampton Circuit Court

Attorneys: Richard Aufenger III, Thomas A. Fitzgerald II, Newport News

Plaintiff driver was injured in an accident that occurred at the approach to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in 2013.

The defendant didn’t see the plaintiff stopped in her vehicle and slammed into the vehicle from behind going 60 MPH.

Plaintiff was able to remove herself from the vehicle following the collision before being transferred to Riverside Regional Medical Center for evaluation. Further testing revealed that the plaintiff suffered metatarsal fractures of the third and fourth toes on her left foot. Plaintiff was discharged days later with a walking boot.

Eventually plaintiff was diagnosed with occipital neuralgia in addition to her foot injuries.

Plaintiff rejected all settlement offers, and after two days of trial, the jury returned a verdict of $1,500,000 for the plaintiff.

10. (Tie) $1.5 Million

Doctors failed to diagnose cancer in early stage

Teeuwen v. Drs. Birk, Lowden

Type of case: Medical malpractice/Wrongful death

Court: Chesapeake Circuit Court

Attorneys: Judith Cofield and Carlton Bennett, Virginia Beach

A persistent cough brought decedent to a Patient First facility in January 2013. A chest x-ray came back normal, and decedent was referred to a pulmonologist for further evaluation.

The pulmonologists failed to properly interpret the first X-ray as decedent had Stage IV cancer. At the time of diagnosis, the mass had tripled in size. The kind of cancer the decedent was diagnosed with wasn’t considered invasive or aggressive. But by the time the cancer was actually diagnosed, it had grown from Stage I to Stage IV.

Plaintiffs argued had a CT scan been ordered, the defendants would have diagnosed the cancer as Stage I. The opportunity for cure/prolonged survival of the cancer was lost after a year of non-treatment.

A demand for $1.5 million was initially rejected, but after the jury returned verdicts in favor of the decedent and his estate, the total award stood at $1,505,772.68 with running interest.

12. $1 Million

Yoga teacher receives million dollars after accident

Crider v. Compasion LLC

Type of case: Personal injury

Court: Norfolk Circuit Court

Attorney: William D. Breit, Virginia Beach

Plaintiff operated a motor vehicle on Granby Street in Norfolk when she was broadsided by a vehicle being driven by the defendant.

Defendant was leaving her job as a counselor at a nearby high school at the time of the accident, and was found to be within the scope of employment.

Plaintiff went through three months of chiropractic treatment for her injuries.

An orthopedist found an L4-L5 disc bulge and l5-S1 disc protrusion through an MRI. Plaintiff incurred an additional $16,000 in medical expenses and never received treatment for the discs because she could not afford them.

The jury deliberated for an hour before returning a verdict for the plaintiff for $1,000,000.

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