Memorable Trials and Cases
WRONGFUL TERMINATION AND BREACH OF CONTRACT:
Winning is the Best Revenge
Fisher v. Pinnacle, Dallas
When Dr. Neal Fisher was wrongfully accused of being a drug addict and fired from his medical group — and knowing he was fired because he had blown the whistle on a fraudulent billing scheme — he hired his longtime lawyer and filed suit. But when the suit started to fall apart on the eve of trial, he called Rose • Walker to see if the case it could be salvaged. His former employer, Pinnacle Anesthesia Consultants, thought it had Dr. Fisher cornered, and offered only scorn. We saw a case of injustice and knew we could figure out a way to demonstrate it.
After a three-week trial, the jury agreed: It found that Pinnacle had wrongfully fired Dr. Fisher because he had uncovered the improper billing scheme, and awarded substantial damages for defamation and breach of contract. Pinnacle’s arrogance was unrepentant. It appealed, and appealed again. After four years and lots of dead trees, the Supreme Court of Texas finally saw to it that Dr. Fisher got his victory — in full to the last dollar.
Interstate Southwest LTD v. Avco Corporation, et al.
When a number of small airplanes experienced engine crankshaft failure and crashed, engine-maker Lycoming blamed a small Texas company that made the crankshaft forgings, and the FAA agreed. In the midst of a worldwide recall of Lycoming engines, Lycoming threatened suit and demanded damages for the cost of the recall of $186,000,000. When Interstate asked us to get involved we started buying and testing Lycoming engines; becoming the second largest owner of Lycoming engines in the world. We then won a race to the courthouse, suing Avco Lycoming in Navasota Texas. Our technical investigation demonstrated that the problem was a defective design of the crankshaft, not poor quality control in the forging factory. Following 8 weeks of trial, the jury agreed, finding design defects to be the sole cause of the failures and awarding Interstate punitive damages for fraud of $96,000,000. While the appellate court nullified the punitive damage award, the liability findings were upheld by the Supreme Court of Texas; the verdict nullified Lycoming $186 million counterclaim
L-3 Communications v. Lockheed Martin Corporation
Aerospace giants L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, and Lockheed Martin squared off in courts in Texas and Georgia over trade secret and anti-trust claims involving the military P-3 sub-chaser program. Lockheed Martin alleged that L-3 misappropriated its technical information and data in its modification and refurbishment of nine P-3 antisubmarine warfare airplanes for the Republic of Korea. It sought damages in excess of $320 million. At the same time L-3 filed an anti-trust suit in federal court in Dallas, Texas for Lockheeds alleged anit-competitive business conduct in the pursuit of foreign military refurbishment contracts in competition with L-3. Lockheed ‘s case went to trial first and In May 2009, a federal jury in Atlanta found in favor of Lockheed and awarded $37 million; the company then sought $17 million in fees. But in early 2010, U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell set aside the verdict and ordered a new trial, based on information Rose Walker found when going through documents Lockheed withheld in the Atlanta trial, but produced in the Texas case. The documents showed that Lockheed planned to allow a third company to use its trade secrets, eliminating Lockheed’s trade secret protection claims. Following the grant of a new trial in favor of L-3 for the misconduct of Lockheed, both cases was resolved in settlement.
MASS AVIATION DISASTER:
David Defeats Twin Goliaths — Strategic Management of ‘Bet the Company’ Litigation
Swissair Crash, Europe and Philadelphia
In the hours following the tragic crash of a Swissair MD-11 off the coast of Nova Scotia, Rose•Walker name partner Martin Rose was retained to represent Santa Barbara Aerospace. The Swissair plane had caught fire in midflight and crashed into Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, killing all aboard.
Within days, the crash investigation focused on the in-flight entertainment system as the possible source of the fire. The air carrier and manufacturer both pointed the finger at Santa Barbara Aerospace, a small aviation electronics shop, which then became the target of litigation in Europe and multi-district litigation in Philadelphia.
The federal judge managing the litigation refused to allow formal discovery and demanded that defendants capitulate. Ignoring the pressure from the judge and twin corporate behemoths Boeing/McDonnell Douglass and Swissair, we led our own extensive investigation and testing. These efforts attacked the $600 million case against Santa Barbara Aerospace on two fronts: whether SBA had anything to do with the wiring problems; and whether the in-flight entertainment system was the source of the fire that led to the crash.
While the specific terms of the case resolution are confidential, it was an overwhelming victory for our client.
MASS AVIATION DISASTER:
David Again Bests Goliath
Alaska Airlines Crash, California
Rose•Walker was retained on behalf of the manufacturer of a failed elevator jackscrew in the litigation arising from this commercial aircraft disaster. All investigators agreed that jackscrew failure was the proximate cause of the tragedy, but our intensive early investigation demonstrated that the jackscrew failure was due to poor maintenance, not design or overhaul. Despite the best efforts of the airline and aircraft manufacturer, we extricated our client from the mass-disaster litigation without payment of any money.
Risk Management in a High-Profile Tragedy
Payne Stewart, et al. v. Sun Jet Aviation, Florida
Rose•Walker represented the aircraft owner and operator, Sun Jet Aviation, in product-liability litigation arising from the crash of a chartered Learjet carrying professional golfer Payne Stewart. Retained as replacement counsel after the case bogged down in protracted litigation, Rose quickly realized that settlement offered the only hope of keeping the client in business and bringing some peace to the family of the victims.
The firm achieved an innovative and novel settlement, preserving substantial insurance assets and averting client bankruptcy in the face of cases with damages and demands far in excess of available insurance and assets.
Seeking Old-Fashioned Justice
Garrettson v. KLLM Trucking, Nashville, Tenn.
When a wonderful teenage girl died in an interstate highway collision with an 18-wheeler, her family’s heartbreak was compounded by a flawed police investigation that blamed her for the accident. Rose•Walker brought suit on behalf of parents more interested in clearing their daughter’s name then money.
The trucker’s defense was simple: The young driver was the sole cause of the accident, just as the authorities had said. When a jury returned a verdict finding that the trucker was the sole cause and awarding punitive damages against the trucking company that put the dangerous driver on the open road, the family was rewarded in a way money could not address.
The defendants appealed, but the verdict was affirmed by 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
BREACH OF CONTRACT AND FRAUD:
Don’t Get Mad and Don’t Just Get Even — Get a Huge Win!
Raytheon E-Systems Inc. v. Learjet Inc., Greenville, Texas
When Raytheon Integration Systems found itself responsible as the prime contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration, it turned to Rose•Walker for a solution and got more than it asked for. Learjet, a Bombardier subsidiary, and Bombardier had supplied aircraft to Raytheon for its contract with the FAA to provide state-of-the-art flying test platforms for aviation flight safety.
Learjet provided six Lear 60s, and Bombardier provided three Challengers, to be completed by Raytheon to FAA specifications. When Raytheon went to work, it found that the planes didn’t meet the promised specifications, which were critical to the program. Raytheon fixed the aircraft and sought redress. Rose•Walker discovered that the manufacturers knew their aircraft wouldn’t comply with FAA specifications but supplied them anyway.
At trial, the jury awarded damages to Raytheon for breach of contract and fraud, as well as punitive damages, in the largest verdict in the history of Hunt County, Texas. The jury agreed that Learjet’s conduct warranted punishment, doubling the damages that Raytheon had proved it suffered.
Justice Delayed, But Won
Hyler v. Roberts Aircraft Co., et al., Colorado
Rose•Walker defended Roberts Aircraft in this wrongful death case involving seismic helicopter operations in Bolivia. Our client had suffered through nine years of litigation before finally getting its day in court — and what a “day” it was.
The Colorado-based helicopter operator was accused of supplying a defective tail rotor gearbox that allegedly failed, causing a fatal crash. But we believed that pilot error caused the tragedy. At trial, the plaintiff’s accident-reconstruction expert was excluded on Daubert grounds. The Daubert standard is a rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of expert witness testimony during federal court proceedings. After the plaintiff presented its evidence, the court granted a directed verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s granting of a directed verdict.
White v. Yellow Freight Systems Inc., Magnolia, Miss.
Our attorneys defended Yellow Freight in a suit involving the death of a man allegedly struck by a Yellow Freight truck, traveling in a two-truck caravan, while walking on an interstate highway. The medical and scientific evidence presented at trial established that the man could not have been hit by the Yellow Freight drivers. Nevertheless, the initial trial ended with a verdict for the plaintiff. A new trial was granted, and on retrial the jury returned a verdict for the defense in only 11 minutes. That verdict then was affirmed on appeal by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
BREACH OF CONTRACT DEFENSE:
In Texas, Your Word Had Better Be Your Bond
Maxfly Aviation Inc. v. Flyaway Inc., et al., Fort Worth, Texas
In this case, an aircraft seller admittedly breached an agreement to sell an aircraft when he found that the buyer had not been forthright with him about the terms. Rose•Walker was hired as replacement defense counsel to the seller after his prior counsel had experts struck for rules violations.
The client offered near full settlement against our advice, and the offer was rejected by the plaintiff. Then, during trial the plaintiff’s expert became a defense expert. Our client won and was awarded attorneys’ fees and costs. The case was not appealed.
You Gotta Trust Us!
Fiore v. Yellow Freight Systems Inc., St. Louis
Yellow Freight was sued for more than $20 million over a collision between a tractor-trailer and the plaintiff, which resulted in the plaintiff suffering brain damage and an amputated limb. We asserted that the plaintiff substantially contributed to the accident. During trial, Yellow Freight’s insurers entered into a high-low agreement with the plaintiff that capped the defendant’s damages at a favorable level. When the jury returned, its verdict was actually lower than the low limit of the high-low agreement.
When the Law is Against You, Try Making New Law
Lee, Dietrich, Bowden, et al. v. DuPont, Houston
This litigation encompassed the trial of six wrongful death cases involving the most significant loss-of-inheritance claim known in the state of Texas. Three top Conoco executives and their wives were killed in a G-2 aircraft crash. The plaintiffs, 13 surviving children and parents, claimed loss of inheritance in excess of $300 million for the three executives, each of whom was earning millions of dollars per year, plus stock options.
Under then-existing law, the jury could not consider the effect of income taxes on the ability to grow an estate. But while presenting the defense case, Rose•Walker name partner Martin Rose convinced the trial judge to allow some evidence of the effect of income taxation on the plaintiffs’ ability to grow an estate. The plaintiffs then accepted the settlement offer made before trial, which represented less than 25 percent of what plaintiffs demanded during trial.
Sometimes a Loss Feels Like A Win!
Parsons v. DuPont, Houston
In this federal trial of an aviation wrongful death case, the family of a Conoco executive sought more than $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages. (See the Lee, et al. v. DuPont case above.) The deceased female executive was 38 years old, already earning more than $200,000 per year, and was tabbed by management to be the next president of Conoco. The defendant, represented by Rose•Walker attorney Martin Rose, offered to admit liability, but the plaintiffs pursued their damages claims. The court found no gross negligence as a matter of law, but the jury awarded compensatory damages of $5.7 million — much less than the $30 million-plus being sought. The plaintiff appealed, but the verdict was affirmed.
Country Music Tragedy
Cappello, et al. v. Duncan Aircraft Sales of Florida Inc., Nashville, Tenn.
Rose•Walker represented defendant Duncan Aircraft Sales in a high-profile wrongful death suit involving country music star Reba McEntire’s band leader, who perished on a flight during a concert tour. Claiming that the band leader would have become a top-flight record producer, the plaintiffs sought damages of $10 million against Duncan, which it alleged was the sole cause of the accident. Attorney Martin Rose took the reasonable position that damages to the surviving parents of this young man should be no more than $750,000, and that federal government was at least partially responsible for the accident.
The defendant offer to settle for $850,000 before trial, but the case was tried to verdict. The federal court jury found the government 55 percent at fault and Duncan 45 percent at fault, and awarded damages of $750,000. Because Tennessee has no joint and several liability, the net verdict against our client was $329,000. The case, appealed by the plaintiffs because of the low damages award, was reversed and subsequently settled.
Country Music Tragedy
Wallace v. Duncan Aircraft Sales of Florida Inc., Dallas
In another case stemming from the plane crash that killed country music star Reba McEntire’s eight-member band, the husband of a backup singer filed suit against Duncan Aircraft Sales. The plaintiff claimed that the 30-year-old woman would have become a major country music star and turned the courtroom in to a sound studio to demonstrate the quality of her voice.
Defense counsel Martin Rose hired a statistician who demonstrated to the jury the long odds that a woman who had sung backup throughout her career would later become a star. Three and a half weeks into trial in state district court, the case settled when, following the persuasive testimony of the statistician and country music analyst, plaintiff’s counsel dropped his demands into the range of settlement discussed prior to trial.
FALSE ARREST, INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS:
Don’t Get Greedy!
Coggeshall v. International Total Service, Houston
An airport security guard played a prank on an unsuspecting female passenger going through security by concealing a test-object grenade, used for X-ray inspection testing, in her purse. The passenger’s son, who was a bit inebriated, got in a shouting match with the security guard and a melee ensued. The passenger and her family were detained for an hour while the story was sorted out.
Sadly, the passenger was a paranoid schizophrenic who had spent many years in mental institutions and feared being re-institutionalized. As a result of the prank and arrest incident, the plaintiff was hospitalized again for an extended period of time in a mental institution.
Defendant International Total Service never disciplined the guard, who had conducted similar pranks before. ITS also was investigated for failing to properly perform background checks and licensing of airport security guards, including the guard involved in this case. ITS also had made headlines shortly prior to trial when state authorities fined the company for these problems.
Representing ITS, attorney Martin Rose wisely admitted liability and tried the case only on damages and the plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages. During trial, the state district judge entered a directed verdict against ITS on the plaintiff’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The jury deliberated more than three days after asking in the first hour of deliberations whether punitive damages had to bear a relationship to actual damages. Before trial, ITS offered to settle the case for $125,000, but the plaintiff demanded $4 million. The jury ultimately awarded damages of $1,200, which Rose offered to pay with his own personal check.
MENTAL INJURY AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER:
How Do You Win When You Admit You Should Lose?
Norma Gonzalez v. Southern Air Transport, San Antonio Plaintiff
Norma Gonzalez was trapped in an airport building into which Southern Air Transport’s C-130 aircraft crashed, killing the crew. The building was destroyed by fire, and Ms. Gonzalez was trapped for 10 minutes, fearing for her life. Representing the defendant, Rose•Walker admitted liability, and the case was tried only on damages.
The crux of Southern Air Transport’s defense was that Ms. Gonzalez, a young adult, had an undiagnosed personality disorder prior to the accident, and that her conduct afterward was not a manifestation of PTSD but rather of acting out. The proof was that the plaintiff had led a normal life before the accident, but afterward was institutionalized in a mental ward for two years, where she attempted suicide seven times and gave up her children for adoption to her parents.
SAT offered a six-figure settlement before trial, but the plaintiff demanded $4 million. The key to the case was the plaintiff’s Army medical records (recovered at great effort from the military depository in the Missouri salt mines), which showed her emerging emotional disorder as a teenager. The state district court jury awarded zero damages, finding no relationship between the accident and the plaintiff’s emotional problems.
Setting the Record Straight and Restoring the Honor of a Fine Man While Making History
Alexander v. Jet Fleet, Greenville, Texas
Three members of the Alexander family, including the pilot and family patriarch, died when their plane had a midair collision with a corporate aircraft over East Texas. The National Transportation Safety Board blamed both pilots and cross-litigation ensued. Rose•Walker refused to concede that Mr. Alexander had been negligent causing the deaths of himself and his sons. At trial in state district court, Mr. Rose proved that the corporate aircraft was the sole cause of the collision, obtaining the largest verdict in the history of Hunt County. The verdict was upheld on appeal.
Just Go With the Truth — It Works!
Mendelsohn? v. Metro Express II Inc., Dallas
The plaintiff, a pilot for commuter airline Metro Express II, was an unruly employee. He also was the union organizer at a time when Metro was involved in a unionization battle. Metro’s chief pilot decided that the plaintiff’s dangerous tendencies as a pilot merited his firing, but the chief pilot’s notes in the plaintiff’s human-resources file included a mention that Mr. Mendelsohn was the union organizer.
When Rose•Walker attorney Martin Rose was brought into the case as defense counsel, the lawyer in charge urged that the HR notes be withheld. Mr. Rose refused and produced the potentially damning notes. The plaintiff contended that he was discharged because of union-organizing activities rather than the claimed safety concerns. The case, tried before legendary U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders, ended with a defense verdict and was not appealed.
Defense Verdict Deep in East Texas Union Country
Wilson, et al. v. Houston Helicopters and The Kelly Springfield Tire Co., et al., Marshall, Texas
Attorney Martin Rose represented the helicopter operator in this wrongful death case arising from an industrial accident at a tire plant in East Texas. Defendant Houston Helicopters had been hired to set a chiller unit on the roof of the plant. The decedent, a member of the crew, fell through a skylight at the plant during the operation. The defense prevailed at trial in state district court.
How Do You Defend When the Plaintiffs Were Injured Trying to Rescue A Lost Young Girl?? And Win Twice???
Lee, et al. v. Hughes Helicopters, Texarkana, Texas
A police helicopter being used to search the East Texas swamps for a lost girl crashed when the aircraft’s transmission seized. The accident caused crippling injuries to two officers, leaving them paraplegics. Their lawyer sued Hughes Helicopters, manufacturer of the helicopter that originally had been built for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. This model helicopter had a history of transmission failure in military use during the war, and that history was the focus of the plaintiffs’ case.
Rose asserted that the local police force had cut corners in restoring the surplus helicopter, and that those actions caused the transmission failure. The case was tried before a federal court jury, and Mr. Rose obtained a defense verdict. The verdict was reversed on appeal and tried a second time. Again, a verdict was returned for the defense despite sympathy for the two officers.
Who Says Manufacturers Can’t Win in Small Towns?
Reese and Smith, et al. v. Hughes Helicopters, Washington state
The plaintiff in this case was a 41-year-old forestry industry executive who became a paraplegic when the helicopter in which he was riding crashed. The plaintiff, who earned a six-figure income before the accident, was unable to work afterward. He sued the helicopter operator, who promptly settled, and manufacturer Hughes Helicopters, which refused to pay. The case was tried in state court in the small Washington state logging town where the plaintiff lived, but Rose•Walker attorney Martin Rose obtained a defense verdict for Hughes. The sole cause of accident was found to be pilot error.
Rose Goes Hollywood
Rose•Walker attorney Martin Rose defended the producer of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” in civil litigation arising from the crash of a stunt helicopter that killed veteran actor Vic Morrow and two small children. Producer George Folsey (whose credits also include “Animal House” and “Coming to America”) was wrongly accused of neglect in allowing the use of the child actors. The firm was able to extricate Mr. Folsey from the case prior to trial without payment of any damages on his behalf.
Beutal, et al. v. Hughes Helicopters, Houston
This product-liability case involved two wrongful deaths resulting from a helicopter crash. Opposing plaintiff’s counsel was the legendary Joe Jamail, of Texaco v. Pennzoil fame. Mr. Jamail represented the family of a man who had earned a seven-figure income and left behind a wife and two small children. The plaintiff's case involved several product-liability issues. Defendant Hughes Helicopters, represented by Rose•Walker attorney Martin Rose, claimed the crash was caused by pilot error.
Jamail told Rose before trial that if he didn’t settle up, the case would go to the jury on Christmas Eve and he would ask them to give his widow a nice Christmas present. Sure enough, the case went to the jury on Christmas Eve and Mr. Jamail asked for $37 million in damages, but the jury awarded just $225,000, finding the pilot 95 percent at fault and the manufacturer 5 percent at fault for failure to warn, for net verdict of just $12,500. A fight ensued in the courtroom when Jamail took a swing at the jury foreman. Mr. Jamail’s client was awarded a new trial by the state district court trial judge and the case subsequently settled quietly.
If you want to hear about trials during the wild and woolly days of Texas’ anything-goes courtrooms, just ask Martin about it. It was this trial that convinced Rose that Texas was where he belonged.
MASS AVIATION DISASTER:
Rose Lectured by the California Courts of Appeal
Martin v. Pacific Southwest Airlines, San Diego, Calif.
When PSA’s Boeing 727 airliner crashed in downtown San Diego, killing all aboard, Rose•Walker lawyers Martin Rose was among the legal team hired to represent the airline. Eventually, the court ordered trials on damages only, without an express admission of fault by PSA. Rose defended PSA in a case involving a 36-year-old land developer allegedly worth millions of dollars who left behind a wife and three small children. The firm hired a forensic accountant who concluded the developer had been on the verge of bankruptcy when the crash occurred.
During the trial in state court, the plaintiff claimed earnings of $3 million per year by the decedent. The defense was simple: The man was a fine husband and father, but he was going bankrupt in the real-estate business. The jury awarded $695,000 in damages, but the plaintiff appealed, claiming the verdict was unconscionably low. A California appeals court agreed and had some choice words regarding attorney Martin Rose’s persuasive skills. The case was favorably settled before retrial.