Jury Awards $11M Against Center That Let Juvenile Escape, Later Shooting A Man

Plaintiff Dominic Guerrini of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia

Plaintiff Dominic Guerrini of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – A Court of Common Pleas jury awarded $11 million in finding a national health and behavioral rehabilitation chain, Devereux Foundation, liable in the shooting of a Philadelphia man by a resident who had escaped from one of its juvenile placement facilities.

The incident occurred at 2 a.m. on June 23, 2011 as Eric Johnson, now 47, returned home from his job as a nursing assistant and technician at St. Christopher’s Hospital. He was shot in the side as Shykir Crew attempted to rob him only hours after Crew walked out of a Devereux facility in Glenmoore, Chester County.

The bullet fractured several ribs and lodged in Johnson’s spine, where it remains, causing incomplete paraplegia with paralysis that leaves him walking only with great pain and often confined to a wheelchair. He also suffers from bowel and bladder problems as well as post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident.

“I’m happy that Mr. Johnson will be able to now get the care he needs. This verdict will hopefully send a message to Devereux that they need to do a better job supervising these vulnerable residents,” said Dominic Guerrini, of Philadelphia-based Kline & Specter, PC, who represented Johnson with co-counsel Colin Burke.

Scene of earlier escape

Crew was convicted of aggravated assault and related offenses and is in prison. At the time of the 2011 incident, Crew had been ordered to the Devereux facility by a judge because of behavioral issues, including prior arrests for burglary and drug possession.

The Devereux facility in Glenmoore is the same facility from which a 17-year-old boy recently escaped and allegedly went on to attack a 72-year-old woman in her Chester County home. She was found, dehydrated and bruised, after four days, bound and locked in a closet. The teenager was arrested earlier this month.

The Devereux Foundation employs more than 7,000 people and operates a network of clinical, therapeutic, educational and employment programs across 13 states, including Children’s Behavioral Health Services in Glenmoore.

The civil lawsuit claimed that Devereux was grossly negligent and reckless in its supervision of juveniles at the facility and was responsible in part for the injuries suffered by Eric Johnson by allowing Crew to simply walk from the facility, which he had done once before. It noted that the lack of supervision occurred despite the knowledge that the juveniles housed there posed a threat to the community if they left.

U.S. Chamber Pursues Its Anti-Consumer and Anti-Environmental Litigation

us chamber commerce

The Chamber’s litigation supports almost any action to increase corporate profits no matter the effect on workers, consumers or the environment.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has played a leading role in many of the most notorious civil cases of recent years, according to a new report from Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch. Seemingly willing to support almost any corporate litigant, no matter how egregious its conduct, the Chamber uses its busy litigation practice to advance a reactionary agenda.

This evening, the U.S. Chamber’s Litigation Center will gather corporate interests for its 40th anniversary. At the core of the Chamber’s agenda is the notion that big corporations should be above the law. The Chamber litigates to:

  • Limit the right of consumers, investors and small businesses to use the court system to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing.
  • Limit government enforcement actions against corporate bad actors.

The Chamber’s litigation consistently favors big businesses over small businesses, seems to support almost any action to increase corporate profits no matter the effect on workers, consumers or the environment, and opposes commonsense regulations that would correct market failures.

Egregious examples

U.S. Chamber Watch analyzed approximately 500 cases over a roughly three-year period in which the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center – a Chamber affiliate – was either a plaintiff or an amicus. The cases cited below stand out as some of the most egregious examples of the U.S. Chamber’s devotion to pro-corporate influence and profits at any cost.

What’s more, Public Citizen’s review of the Chamber’s filings in these cases revealed that the arguments it makes in one case often are at odds with the arguments it makes in another case. Indeed, hypocrisy is an almost pervasive feature of the Chamber’s legal filings.

Among the most shocking cases Public Citizen examined, the Chamber:

  • Sided with British Petroleum over thousands of American small businesses in litigation related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Chamber filed a total of four briefs in support of BP in Deepwater Horizon-related litigation;
  • Filed an amicus brief in support of the CEO of the company that sold Buckyballs, a toy that injured more than 1,700 young children. The Chamber argued that the CEO shouldn’t be liable for recall costs despite his continuing to have sold the toy once its dangers were widely known;
  • Filed an amicus brief in support of for-profit Corinthian Colleges’ efforts to prevent students it had fraudulently misled from suing it in court. The Chamber supported Corinthian in spite its well-documented history of fraud;
  • Sided with the Canadian energy giant behind the Keystone XL pipeline over American ranchers and farmers who didn’t want the pipeline being routed through their land;
  • Filed a brief in favor of striking down Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage, claiming that it would be bad for workers;
  • Filed an amicus brief opposing Vermont’s GMO labeling law, arguing that it was supported by “fringe” groups and impinged upon corporations’ free speech rights;
  • Filed briefs supporting foreign multinationals in cases involving Nigerian and Papua New Guinean plaintiffs who alleged that these companies had been complicit in gross human rights abuses including rape, pillage and aerial bombardment of civilians;
  • Filed a brief supporting Walmart’s effort to prevent shareholders from voting on a proxy resolution calling for the company’s board to examine its sale of high-capacity firearms; and
  • Filed a brief opposing municipal anti-fracking ordinances.

“By looking at just who the Chamber supports via its litigation, it quickly becomes apparent that the Chamber is not a voice for small business, but rather a force to defend the interests of big business, no matter the cost,” said Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen’s vice president for legislative affairs.

Added Dan Dudis, director of Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch project and author of the report, “BP, Corinthian, Keystone XL, Buckyballs, fracking, guns at Walmart – the Chamber’s litigation truly is a little shop of horrors. The Chamber will defend almost any corporate bad actor, and it doesn’t hesitate to advance often conflicting arguments from one case to the next.”

Read the report.

Philadelphia Police Department Agrees to Major Reforms after Police Shooting

Philippe Holland in hospital bed (1)

Philippe Holland in a hospital bed

When Philippe Holland, a 20-year-old college student delivering food in Philadelphia to make some extra money was gunned down by plainclothes police officers on the night of April 22, 2014, the incident was carried by several local media outlets. When a civil lawsuit was settled recently, the news was carried throughout the country.

That happened for two reasons. For one, the City of Philadelphia agreed to pay Holland $4.4 million, a record for the city involving a police incident and the sixth largest nationally.

Secondly, the city and police department agreed to make real and lasting changes in the way plainclothes officers interact with the citizens of Philadelphia.

A catalyst for reforms

“This settlement will not only compensate an innocent citizen who suffered devastating injuries but also served as a catalyst for significant reforms in the way our communities are policed by plainclothes officers,” said Holland’s lawyer, Tom Kline, with Philadelphia-based Kline & Specter, PC.

Holland suffered gunshot wounds to his head and other parts of his body when two officers fired 14 times into his vehicle as he tried to get away from men he believed were going to rob him. He underwent extensive surgery for his wounds but bullet fragments remain lodged in his brain, causing him to suffer a permanent seizure disorder and other injuries.

 

Attorney Tom Kline of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, PA

Attorney Tom Kline of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, PA

As part of the settlement – a part that Kline had insisted was essential for any agreement – the city and the Philadelphia Police Department will establish a new protocol for things such as proper attire for plainclothes officers, proper placement and display of patrol badges, and permitted and prohibited activities and interactions with the public. That will include how and when to identify themselves as police officers.

 

Also part of the settlement, the city will produce a training video that all new plainclothes officers will be required to watch before assignments and as part of roll call. This must be done, according to the agreement, by July 1.

For more information on this settlement and to view both the federal and state court civil rights complaints, go to www.klinespecter.com/blog/a-police-shooting-an-innocent-victim-a-peaceful-resolution.html.

Georgia Jury Awards $15 Million to Nursing Student who Survived Deadly Crash

Attorney Robert D. Cheeley of Alpharetta, GA.

Attorney Robert D. Cheeley of Alpharetta, GA.

A jury in Georgia has awarded $15 million to a survivor of crash that killed five of her classmates. Former Georgia Southern University nursing student Megan Richards suffered traumatic brain injuries in the 2015 pileup.

The jurors awarded damages against trucking company Total Transportation of Mississippi and its parent company, U.S. Express for the seven-car crash. The company and the driver had admitted fault in the accident.

“No human being should have to live through what Megan [Richards] lived through on I-16 in Bryan County,” The Cheeley Law Group’s Robert Cheeley told jurors.

In April 2015, Louisiana truck driver John Wayne Johnson was driving 70 mph and failed to press his breaks causing him to slam into several cars, according to AJC.com. The women were on their way to their last day of clinical rotations at a Savannah hospital.

Lawyers for the victim’s families filed a lawsuit weeks later alleging Johnson for inexplicable reasons “did not slow or stop his large tractor-trailer in response to the long line of traffic in front of him that had been at a complete stop for several seconds as had every other vehicle and tractor-trailer that was stopped in traffic.”

Richards testified throughout the trial that she still suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

 

Halloween Party Host Liable for $44.8 Million After Crashers Attack Guests

Alexandra A. Hamilton, Attorney with The Veen Firm

Elinor Leary, Trial Team Leader with The Veen Firm.

An Alameda Superior Court in California found a Halloween party host liable for a total of $44,837,294 after two guests were shot and injured when the host corralled armed uninvited crashers into an enclosed parking lot with unarmed guests.

The defendant (name withheld) hosted a Halloween party in October 2012 at the defendant’s warehouse in an industrial part of the Bay Area. Before the party, the defendant promoted the Halloween party on Facebook and hired E.J. to play music at the event.  Defendant promised E.J. that only close friends would be invited so security was not necessary.

On the night of the party, defendant assigned an employee to act as bouncer. With no security experience, the employee did not prevent anyone from entering — even including uninvited party crashers.  Even after tensions grew and scuffles broke out inside, defendant did nothing to remove the intruders.  

After the fighting escalated, defendant opened the warehouse’s metal roll-up doors, pushed everyone outside into a parking lot, and locked the doors.  E.J., his wife N.J., and his friend R.B. were trapped outside with the assailants, who continued to attack the guests.  While trapped outside the warehouse, R.B. and E.J. were shot by the armed assailants.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys are Elinor Leary and Alexandra Hamilton with The Veen Firm in San Francisco. After a three-day trial the court awarded:

  • $5,005,716 to R.B.
  • $38,119,728 to E.J.
  • $1,711,850 to N.J.

Dangerous environment

The plaintiffs’ security expert testified that defendant created a dangerous environment by hosting an indefinite number of people at a remote warehouse without taking reasonable precautions, requesting for police presence, hiring certified security guards, or preventing invited guests from coming into contact with party crashers. As a result of the negligent security and the increased danger by corralling guests in the parking lot with the violent assailants, R.B. and E.J. suffered significant injuries.

  • R.B. was shot in the left thigh, injuring his saphenous nerve and causing significant leg pain and weakness.  He developed an altered gait, which caused right leg, lower back pain, bone spurs and a disc bulge.

Plaintiffs presented evidence that R.B. would require medical, psychological and home care for the rest of his life. Medical care included a surgery to sever the saphenous nerve.

Before the shooting, R.B. worked as a medical technician. Evidence showed R.B. will not be able to return to work in his chosen profession, resulting in significant lost earning capacity.  

  • E.J. was struck by multiple bullets in the buttocks and hip. E.J. underwent emergency surgery to reconstruct and repair his penis from the bullets’ trajectory. A gunshot wound to his left hip fractured the femoral head and neck, such that bone and cartilage splintered into small pieces. E.J. underwent another surgery to reassemble the bone.  Because of his hip injuries,32-year-old E.J. developed post-traumatic arthritis in his hip and an altered gait, which led to back and knee pain and mobility issues. 

Plaintiffs presented evidence that E.J. would require medical, psychological and home care for the rest of his life, including hip replacement surgery every decade.

  • N.J. sought damages for the loss of her husband’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support, emotional support, counsel, encouragement, inspiration, and guidance.

 

Settlement Reached for Another Fatality Caused by Golf Cart Ejection

Attorney Benny Agosto, Jr. of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz in Houston, TX

Attorney Benny Agosto, Jr. of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz in Houston, TX

Attorney Benny Agosto of Houston, TX, announced a confidential settlement on behalf of the family of Ronald Burdick for the fatal injuries Mr. Burdick sustained after being thrown from a golf cart at the Dolce Living in Rosenberg, TX on May 7, 2015.

After being hospitalized at Memorial Hermann Hospital for eight days, Burdick did not survive his injuries and died on May 15, 2015.

Following their move from Alaska to Texas to be closer to their children and grandchildren, Burdick and his wife visited the Dolce Living Rosenberg property in search of a new apartment.

The leasing agent offered to show the couple a few different model apartments using the property’s golf cart, which was frequently used to travel within the apartment complex. Mrs. Burdick sat in the front seat with the leasing agent, while Mr. Burdick sat in the rear seat. The leasing agent reversed the golf cart and began driving towards one of the property’s gates, when suddenly and without warning, she made an unexpected tight left turn, ejecting Mr. Burdick from the golf cart and onto the pavement.

Mr. Burdick suffered a serious brain injury as a result of the forceful fall and died days later. When used properly, golf carts can be very safe and can actually help prevent injuries. However, they can be dangerous if they are misused or not adequately maintained. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), there are approximately 10,000 golf cart-related injuries requiring emergency room treatment in the U.S. each year.

One of the most significant causes of serious injuries in golf cart accidents is passenger ejection, as CPSC statistics show that roughly 35% of golf cart accidents involve a passenger falling out of or being ejected from the vehicle. The same statistics indicate that at least 10% of golf cart accidents involve rollover, which roughly doubles the likelihood that passengers will sustain injuries requiring extended hospitalization like brain trauma compared to non-rollover accidents.

IKEA Settles Fatal Furniture Tip-Over Cases for $50 Million

ikea-tip-overs

Ikea agreed to settle three wrongful death claims for $50 million, in which three toddlers were killed by IKEA furniture tip-overs.  The Swedish company finally recalled 29 million unsafe chests and dressers June 28, 2016.

The firm of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP in Philadelphia represents the families of three toddlers.

  • Curren Collas, age 2, was crushed to death by the tip-over of a six-drawer MALM dresser in the bedroom of his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
  • Camden Ellis was the victim of the tip-over of a three-drawer  MALM dresser in the bedroom of his home in Snohomish, Washington.  Despite intensive efforts to save him, life support was discontinued on June 15, 2014, a few days after Camden’s second birthday.
  • Ted McGee was asphyxiated when a six-drawer MALM dresser toppled over on him in his bedroom in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Like the other boys, Ted was just 2 years of age.

The families of Curren, Camden and Ted retained attorney Alan M. Feldman of the Feldman Shepherd firm. Together with his partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, lawsuits were commenced against IKEA – the manufacturer of the MALM dressers – asserting that the unsafe design of the dressers rendered them inherently unstable and easily tipped over.  The lawsuits further contended that IKEA had consistently refused to meet voluntary national safety standards for

IKEA was aware of other deaths

The lawsuits further contended that IKEA had consistently refused to meet voluntary national safety standards for stability of chests and dressers, which other American furniture companies had embraced.  The evidence developed in the cases showed that IKEA was aware of other deaths and injuries arising from furniture tip-overs that failed to meet minimum safety standards, but nevertheless refused to re-design its furniture products to be more stable and tip-resistant.

It was not until after the death of Ted McGee that IKEA finally agreed to stop the sale of its defective furniture and recall the MALM and other models of chests and dressers which failed to meet minimum standards for safety and stability.

Following a two-day mediation before retired Federal Magistrate Judge Diane Welsh of JAMS, a nationally recognized mediator for complex civil cases, the parties announced an agreement today to settle all three wrongful death claims for $50 million, to be evenly divided among the three families.  In addition, as part of the settlement IKEA has further agreed as follows:

  • IKEA will donate $50,000 to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in memory of Curren Collas, $50,000 to a children’s hospital in Washington State in memory of Camden Ellis, and $50,000 to a children’s hospital in Minnesota in memory of Ted McGee.
  • IKEA will donate $100,000 to Shane’s Foundation NFP, an organization devoted to children’s safety with a focus on furniture tip-over prevention and education.
  • IKEA agrees to only sell chests and dressers in the United States that meet or exceed the performance requirements of ASTM F2057-14, the national voluntary safety standard for clothing storage units.
  • IKEA will increase funding for its “Secure It” program to raise awareness of the risk of tip-overs, to include national television advertisements, internet and digital communications and in-store warnings.

Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig LLP has recovered some of the largest verdicts and settlements in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and several other states across the country. The firm represents plaintiffs in significant personal injury and complex civil litigation including civil rights, medical malpractice, birth injury, motor vehicle accidents, defective products, unsafe workplaces, and insurer misconduct claims.

New Orleans to pay $13M to families of 4 killed by police during Katrina

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

The city of New Orleans announced the settlement several civil lawsuits for $13.3 million in in civil rights cases stemming from several New Orleans Police Department-involved incidents surrounding Hurricane Katrina in August 2005

On Dec. 19 Mayor Landrieu issued an apology, saying “Today, we acknowledge a dark moment in our history. The brutal Henry Glover, Danziger Bridge and Raymond Robair incidents left us all disappointed and ashamed.”

The city has settled three federal lawsuits with 17 claimants for just over $13 million.

In partnership with the City Council, the City has prioritized resolving some of its long-term federal liabilities and old judgments. The City issued bonds this year in the amount of $10 million and will so again next year to satisfy legal judgments and pay legal liabilities.

Reform effort

The NOPD is in the midst of the most comprehensive reform effort in the United States. When Mayor Landrieu took office, he invited the Department of Justice to partner with the City to strengthen and reform NOPD.

The City has invested more than  $50 million in the consent decree to completely transform NOPD. The City has driven major reforms, including beefing up sex crime investigations, use of force investigations, and hiring and training practices.

The City strengthened the Public Integrity Bureau to target misconduct and brought on an Independent Police Monitor, invested in over 800 body worn cameras to further improve transparency, modernized the NOPD Crime Lab and new evidence processing facility, and created a Police Community Advisory Board in each district to develop a formal partnership between police and residents.

NOPD launched Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC) – a peer intervention program for officers to help police and support each other to do the right thing. The City also invested $4 million in a state-of-the-art software that allows NOPD to electronically capture an officer’s personnel file and track areas of support needed before incidents occur.

Mayor Landrieu added, “These cases could have been a substantial lingering financial burden for the City, but instead of kicking the can, we did the hard thing and made this a priority— the City will be better off in the long run because of it.”

Family Recovers $26M in Case of Teen Killed as he Stood on Bus and Hit Overpass

Plaintiffs' attorney Victor L. George of Torrance, CA.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Victor L. George of Torrance, CA.

A jury in Compton, CA, returned a $26 million verdict in favor of the family of a 16-year old who was killed when he stood up on the top deck of an open-air, double-decker tour bus, striking his head as it drove under the Interstate 405 overpass.

Mason G. Zisette was attending a friend’s Sweet 16 party on July 10, 2014 and was one of 35 teenagers on the bus who were drinking alcohol.

Matthew and Amy Zisette, the father and mother of Mason G. Zisette, filed suit in 2015. The jury found the bus company Starline Tours of Hollywood Inc. 70 percent at fault for what happened; the girl’s parents, Jolie and Jason Schlossberg, 25 percent to blame; and Mason 5 percent responsible for his own demise.

The overpass has a vertical clearance of about 15 feet, 1 inch, while the bus is more than 14 feet tall, according to the lawsuit.

“An eyewitness driving next to the Starline bus on the 405 Freeway testified she saw the kids standing and dancing on the upper deck for 15 minutes before the accident,” plaintiff’s attorney Victor L. George in Torrance, CA, told the Daily Breeze. “The kids were so loud that she could hear them yelling and singing two lanes away with her car windows rolled up.

According to the complaint, neither the bus driver, tour guide nor the Schlossbergs took any safety precautions to protect the teenagers, like telling them to sit down and put on seat belts. Instead, the Zisettes claimed, Jolie Schlossberg provided vodka to the teenagers, and the bus employees allowed them to drink and dance upstairs while traveling along the freeway.

Philadelphia Jury Awards $15M to Worker Injured by Hydraulic Shear

Attorney Daniel Hessel

Attorney Daniel Hessel

A jury in Philadelphia, PA returned a $15 million verdict to a 42 year-old laborer whose dominant hand was crushed by a metal-cutting shear that lacked a protective guard.

He was represented by Daniel Hessel, and James Golkow of Golkow Hessel, LLC in Philadelphia. The case is Reyes v. Cincinnati, Inc., Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Case No. No: 3744, before Judge Daniel P. Anders.

Juan Reyes’ hand was crushed on October 11, 2012, while using a hydraulic shear manufactured by Cincinnati Incorporated at Aggregates Equipment in Leola, PA. The shear is used to cut large pieces of metal. The evidence showed that the shear lacked a guard at the point of operation, which the manufacturer either knew about, or should have known about.

Attorney James d. Golkow

Attorney James D. Golkow

“The manufacturer’s technician was on the job site to service the shear a few years before this accident and he neglected to inform the owner about the hazard. After the accident, the shop owner immediately purchased the guard from the manufacturer when he learned it was missing. Unfortunately, it was too late for my client’s sake. He paid the price of this neglect,” Hessel said.

Reyes was unable to return to his former occupation because he lost most of the use of his hand, and suffers from constant tremors and severe pain in his hand.  Mr. Hessel commented, “The shear not only crushed his hand, but also his dreams.”

The suit was filed July 2014 and the trial began on Nov. 14, 2016. The jury found in favor of Reyes on all four of his claims on Nov. 18, 2016, and rejected both of the manufacturer’s affirmative defenses.