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.