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2013’s largest verdicts

Editor’s note: One of the verdicts initially included in this roundup was submitted in error. We have since removed David Bowers and Tim Bowers vs. Larsen Cooperative Co. from this listing, as it was a defense verdict and incorrectly stated.

The following are the five largest verdicts reported to Wisconsin Law Journal in 2013

NOTE: Some of the cases concluded in 2012, but were reported in 2013. 

Jurors award more than $10M in patent case

Plaintiffs Rockwell Automation Inc., a Wisconsin corporation, and Rockwell Automation Technologies Inc., an Ohio corporation, filed a lawsuit Nov. 16, 2010, in federal court against defendants Germantown-based WAGO Corp. and its German parent company, WAGO Kontakttechnik GmbH & Co. KG.

The plaintiffs asserted the defendants were infringing six U.S. patents by making, using, offering for sale and selling within the United States or importing into the United States products or processes covered under patent.
Rockwell Technologies asserted it was the owner by assignment of the patents, and Rockwell was the exclusive licensee.

WAGO stated it was organized under the laws of the state of Nevada, and not Wisconsin as the plaintiffs asserted in their complaint. The defendants also denied that the U.S. legal term “corporation” appropriately characterized the form of business organization of WAGO GmbH, which was organized under German law in a form that was, as they asserted, more accurately characterized as a limited partnership.

The defendants generally denied the remaining allegations of the plaintiffs’ complaint. Their affirmative defenses were patent invalidity, non-infringement, that plaintiffs failed to mark their products with patent notices in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 287, the doctrines of laches, acquiescence, and unclean hands or other legal or equitable doctrines.

The defendants also argued that each of the patents in the lawsuit included at least one invalid claim that had not been disclaimed in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 288 and therefore the plaintiffs were not eligible to recover all of their costs in the action. They said the plaintiffs’ allegations of patent infringement were without merit and this was an exceptional case such that an award to the defendants of costs and attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 was warranted.

The lawsuit went to trial and on Oct. 15, 2012 jurors in U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, returned a verdict of $10,100,223 in favor of the plaintiffs.

Intellectual property
$10.1 million

  • Case: Rockwell Automation Inc., et al., v. WAGO Corp., et al.
  • Court: U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin
  • Injuries claimed: Patent infringement
  • Trial dates: Oct. 11 to Oct. 15, 2012
  • Disposition date: Oct. 15, 2012
  • Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Abbe David Lowell, Lisa Schapira and Paul Tanck of Chadbourne & Parke LLP, New York, N.Y.; Emily Abrahams and Scott Sonny Balber of Cooley LLP, New York, N.Y.; John Hintz of Haynes and Boone LLP, New York, N.Y.; and Kristin Graham Noel and Matthew Duchemin of Quarles & Brady LLP, Milwaukee
  • Defendants’ attorneys: David Lee De Bruin, Gilberto Eduardo Espinoza, John Scheller, Jolanda Krawczyk and Marshall John Schmitt of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee; Jay Reed Campbell and Mark Cromwell Johnson of Renner Otto Boisselle & Sklar, Cleveland, Ohio; Andrew Clarkowski and Michael Modl of Axley Brynelson LLP, Madison; and Robert Cook, of Whitham Curtis Christofferson & Cook PC, Reston, Va.

Jury awards couple after offer rejected

After the defendant rejected the plaintiffs’ settlement offers, a Dane County jury awarded more than $1.7 million to a couple injured in a single-vehicle accident.

According to court documents, the accident occurred Dec. 21, 2008, at approximately 10:50 p.m., when a 2008 Ford F-350 pickup truck reportedly driven by Louis Breunig skidded on slippery snow and ice as it approached a curve and stop sign, rolled over one time, and landed on its wheels at the intersection of County Trunk Highway B and State Trunk Highway 60 in Sauk County.

Plaintiff Glenn Mack reportedly was a seat-belted, front-seat passenger in the truck and his wife, Dorothy, also a plaintiff in the suit, was in the middle seat of the truck’s back row. There were a couple other passengers, as well.

Following the accident, Glenn Mack was found to have multiple fractures of the cervical spine and subsequently underwent spinal fusion from posterior approach between the segments of C5 and T3 and vertebrae, among other remedies and extensive physical rehabilitation.

Dorothy Mack experienced back pain and obtained consultation with an orthopedic spine specialist, Dr. Mark Flanum. His evaluation discerned a T12 vertebral compression fracture with concern for injury at vertebrae T9 and T10 as well.

Go to 2013’s largest settlements

The plaintiffs and involuntary plaintiffs (United Commercial Travelers of America, Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services, Admiral Life Insurance Co. of America, Pacificare Life and Health Insurance Co. and University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics) brought the lawsuit against Breunig’s automobile insurer, Rural Mutual Insurance Co. Breunig died sometime after the accident and was never a party to the lawsuit.

Glenn Mack offered to settle the action for $950,000. Dorothy Mack filed a second statutory offer of settlement, in the lesser amount of $93,600.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Thadd Llaurado of Murphy & Prachthauser SC, Milwaukee, proving the significant pain and suffering that Glenn Mack went through was the most challenging part of the case. “At mediation the insurance company had offered only $500,000,” Llaurado, who brought in three medical experts for the case, said. He had to prove negligence with an accident reconstruction expert. “I felt very satisfied to help Mr. and Mrs. Mack, who were seniors,” Llaurado said.

Automobile accident
$1.7 million

  • Case: Glenn Mack and Dorothy Mack, et al v. Rural Mutual Insurance Co.
  • Court: Dane County Circuit Court
  • Injuries claimed: Spinal injuries, neck pain, fractures, headaches and other permanent injuries
  • Special damages: Medical and related expenses, pain, loss of services, society and companionship of spouse, costs and disbursements
  • Disposition date: Jan. 2, 2013
  • Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Thadd Llaurado of Murphy & Prachthauser SC, Milwaukee (representing the plaintiffs), and Mark Sweet of Neuberger, Wakeman, Lorenz, Griggs & Sweet, Watertown (representing involuntary plaintiff, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics)
  • Defendant’s attorney: John Laubmeier of Stroud, Willink & Howard LLC, Madison

Bench trial results in more than $1 million following patient’s death

When Dennis Allen Chartier Jr. was 16 years old, he accompanied his grandmother to Florida as she needed a travel companion to keep her safe.

While they were walking the beach, Chartier was struck by lightning. He survived the lightning strike, but remained a quadriplegic for the remainder of his life.

His mother, Jane Frederick, brought Chartier home and cared for him there with the help of home health nurses. One of these nurses was the defendant, Theodore Alexander.

Each evening, Chartier was to be sat on his massage table in his bedroom and given range of motion exercises. He needed to be propped with pillows.

While caring for Chartier one day, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Alexander failed to prop him and left his side to get a remote control. Chartier fell off the table onto his right side.

Alexander had no experience with a patient falling to the floor and was not trained on how to assess a patient who fell to the floor, including assessment for fractures. Rather than calling for help, Alexander picked the patient up, sat him back on the table and began performing range of motion exercises on his right leg. Alexander failed to report the fall to Frederick or note it in the patient’s journal.

The following morning, the daytime duty nurse noted that Chartier seemed to be in pain. Frederick took him to Froedtert Hospital where Chartier was diagnosed with a fractured right hip. Surgery was recommended, after which the patient developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. Four days later, Chartier died.

The plaintiffs were awarded $1,131,157.60, which was broken down as follows: $80,132.73 for past medical expenses; $700,000 for past pain and suffering; and $350,000 for loss of society and companionship.

Medical malpractice
$1.13 million

  • Case: Dennis Allen Chartier, Jane Frederick v. Theodore Alexander
  • Court: Milwaukee County Circuit Court
  • Injuries claimed: death
  • Disposition date: Sept. 16, 2013
  • Plaintiffs’ attorney: Kevin Martin of Martin Law Office SC, Oak Creek

Federal jury returns $1.1 million verdict against correctional officer

Jurors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned a $1.1 million verdict against Milwaukee County correctional officer James Howard.

Howard was found guilty of sexual assault of a former detainee at the Milwaukee County Jail. Specifically, the jury found Howard violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to her bodily integrity and the plaintiff was entitled to recover punitive damages as a result.

The award consisted of $100,000 for compensatory damages and $1 million for punitive damages.

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Marletha Rankins, was in pretrial custody at the Milwaukee County Jail on March 7, 2009, pursuant to an extradition warrant from the state of Arkansas. During the late hours of March 7, 2009, and the early morning hours of March 8, 2009, defendant James Howard reportedly was the sole guard on the women’s custodial pod at the jail. At that time, he allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff on at least two separate occasions in her cell.

Howard was charged in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with one count of second-degree sexual assault by a correctional staff, which is a Class C felony, and third-degree sexual assault, a Class G felony, and was found guilty after a jury trial Sept. 17, 2010. Howard was serving his 4½-year prison sentence at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution when the victim in December 2011 filed a civil lawsuit against Howard, Milwaukee County and David Clarke Jr., the Milwaukee County sheriff at the time the assault occurred.

The plaintiff asserted Howard was acting within the scope of his employment when he assaulted her. She further argued the injuries she sustained were caused by the reckless, outrageous, intentional and/or negligent acts of the county and/or its agents in their failure to supervise their employee and to protect her from cruel and unusual punishment and use of excessive and unreasonable force.

The county filed an answer generally denying the plaintiff’s allegations.

A jury heard only the plaintiff’s claims against the county and Howard, and the verdict and judgment only were entered against Howard.

Personal injury
$1.1 million

  • Case: Marletha Rankins v. James Howard, County of Milwaukee and David Clarke Jr.
  • Court: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
  • Injuries claimed: physical and psychological injuries, pain and suffering
  • Special damages: medical expenses, loss of future earning capacity, compensatory damages and punitive damages
  • Date of incident: March 7, 2009
  • Disposition date: Dec. 5, 2012
  • Plaintiff’s attorney: Kevin Keane of Host & Keane SC, Brookfield
  • Defendants’ attorneys: Karen Tidwall, Charles Bohl and Andrew Jones of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC, Milwaukee

Milwaukee County jury finds bar negligent

A jury in Milwaukee County found a Franklin bar negligent in an accident on the premises and awarded the plaintiffs more than $1 million.

The incident, which occurred May 24, 2008 at On The Border at 10741 S. 27th St., involved a male patron, David Gregory, who was visiting the bar/dance club for a bachelor party. While walking to the club’s restroom, Gregory fell on a step and injured his right knee.

His injuries included a complete tear of the quadriceps tendon resulting in right knee quadriceps tendon repair followed by a second surgery resulting in a severe infection and a prolonged course of recovery.

The plaintiff claimed a portion of the two steps involved did not have direct lighting, “giving the distinct impression to one descending the steps that there was only one step,” according to court documents. He also alleged there were no handrails on either side of the steps. The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that “both the lighting and lack of handrails constitute clear code violations resulting in Mr. Gregory’s injuries.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Mingo of Mingo & Yankala SC, argued that On The Border was negligent “in failing to exercise reasonable care in operating and maintaining its premises in a safe condition and such negligence was a proximate cause of David Gregory’s fall.” In addition, he said the business violated the Wisconsin Safe Place Statute.

“This was a very hard fought case with the defendants contesting both liability and damages,” Mingo said. “We did have to overcome the fact that David’s accident occurred in a strip club which carried with it a natural presumption that he had been drinking.”

The jurors found On the Border negligent in failing to maintain the premises as safe and said the business’ negligence was a cause of the patron’s injuries. The jury awarded Gregory $178,852 for past medical expenses; $50,000 for past pain, suffering and disability; $395,000 for future pain, suffering and disability; $223,600 for past wage loss; and $223,600 for loss of future earning capacity. One juror dissented as to the amount of future pain, suffering and disability.

Before trial, Gregory’s wife, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, accepted the defendants’ Offer of Judgment for $10,000 with costs for her loss of consortium claim.

“We were of course pleased with the verdict,” Mingo said, “which was twice what we asked for at mediation and 10 times more than was offered prior to trial. I give much credit to our client who presented well and who gave us his full cooperation at all times.”

Personal injury
$1.07 million

  • Case: David W. Gregory and Debra Gregory, et al. v. Badger Mutual Insurance Co., et al.
  • Court: Milwaukee County Circuit Court
  • Injuries claimed: Injury to right knee including a complete tear of the quadriceps tendon resulting in right knee quadriceps tendon repair followed by a second surgery resulting in severe infection and a prolonged course of recovery
  • Date of incident: May 24, 2008
  • Disposition date: Dec. 27, 2012
  • Plaintiffs’ attorney: Mark Mingo of Mingo & Yankala SC, Milwaukee
  • Defendants’ attorneys: Jeffrey Leavell and Christopher John Koppes of Jeffrey Leavell SC, Racine


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