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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Personal Injury: The Rich Get Foolishly Richer

By:  Timothy P. Flynn

A few years back, I read in the Michigan Lawyers Weekly about a 144 million dollar jury verdict Geoffrey Fieger won against Beaumont Hospital.  My old law firm, PlunkettCooney, defended the hospital in the epic medical malpractice trial.  This verdict has to be one of the largest in Michigan history.

The case involved a true battle-of-the-experts regarding the cause of Plaintiff's birth injuries.  The attorneys deployed over a dozen experts to win the hearts and minds of the jurors.  Plaintiff prevailed.

Last year, I happened to be in Oakland Circuit Judge Rudy Nichol's courtroom when, months after the trial, Fieger and my former boss, Rob Kamenec, argued motions relating to entry of the judgment, remittitur of the damages, and interest.  The motion took over an hour to argue, with Fieger taking snide swipes at Mr. Kamenec and his law firm; for his part, Kamenec stuck to the law and the facts of the case.

Sitting nearby in the back benches that day, seething no doubt, was Plunketteer veteran trial attorney Joe Babiarz on whose watch this verdict appeared.  As an insurance defense lawyer, you never want any part of a nine-figure jury damage award.  That's the kind of day you want the floor to open-up and drop you to China, for good.

Still, in speaking with my old friends at the firm, it seemed like the jury award, which was taking literally a year to enter as a judgment, would be successfully appealed and reduced, if not outright reversed.  Well, guess again.

In perhaps a classic understatement, the Michigan Court of Appeals held last month in an unpublished 74-page opinion, VanSlembrouck v Halperin, that, "although the trial was far from perfect, we affirm."  The Court's decision was newsworthy not just because of the size of the historic jury verdict, but because of the extensive commentary in the opinion about Fieger's trial conduct.

Defendant challenged this conduct on appeal, asserting that Fieger's signature tactics of accusing the hospital of lying, conspiring and covering-up evidence, tainted the jury's verdict.  [Let's face it, Fieger has become wealthy off of his Beaumont verdicts alone.]

The Court of Appeals noted that the attorneys' hostility, intemperance and plain rudness to each other exasperated the trial court judge.  The Court of Appeals also noted:
The unnecessary comments, gratuitous interjections, and pursuit of irrelevant lines of inquiry identified by defendants played little part in this long trial, likely made Mr. Fieger look foolish rather than effective, and do not justify reversal.
Well, we here at the Law Blogger believe that many a lawyer would gladly stand like a fool before a jury that ends up netting their law firm 48 million dollars.

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