Managing partner Stephen D. Phillips recently featured on The Result, a podcast where top trial lawyers from across the country share a large verdict or settlement and discuss how they achieved the result. Mr. Phillips discussed a 2016 wrongful death case that resulted in a $25 million jury verdict.
A Tragic Loss and A Powerful Defendant
The wrongful death victim in this case was a 62-year-old retired garbage man who was hit by a drunk driver. Mr. Phillips represented the victim’s widow, who had been married to the victim for over 40 years at the time of his death.
The defendant was a wealthy man who owned multiple businesses in the area. On the day of the accident, he had been drinking at two bars for over 10 hours. Receipts from the first bar showed that the defendant had consumed 18 ounces of alcohol, whereas testimony from witnesses at the second bar revealed that he consumed at least three glasses of wine at that establishment. Five minutes after leaving the second bar the drunk driver killed Mr. Phillips’ client’s husband.
Hours after the accident, the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level was 0.18%, which is more than two times the legal limit. Despite this fact, all defendants, including the attorneys representing the two bars, claimed that the defendant was not drunk at the time the drunk defendant was in their bars.
Not Afraid of a Fight
The opposing counsel tried to settle the case for $1.5 million prior to going to trial. However, Mr. Phillips chose to take this case to court. He suspected that the jury would agree that there was no doubt that the defendant was drunk, which would result in a favorable ruling for his client.
During the trial, the defense continued to deny all liability. Furthermore, several of the defendant’s lawyers tried to demean and put down the victim’s widow. One of the lawyers even condescendingly asked the widow, “Isn’t it true you were living in a trailer park at the time of the accident?”
A Winning Strategy to Help His Clients
Mr. Phillips knew that the jury would not respond well to the defense’s denial of liability and poor treatment of the widow. He adjusted his strategy based on this hunch, and focused his case to draw attention to their mistreatment of the widow and refusal to accept any liability.
Ultimately, the defense’s strategy was unsuccessful. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Phillips’ client, the victim’s widow, of $25 million for the wrongful death of her husband.
After the verdict was announced, Mr. Phillips had an opportunity to talk to members of the jury. They stated that they did not buy the defense’s argument that the defendant driver was not drunk, and were not pleased that the defense refused to accept any form of liability. As Mr. Phillips expected, they were also disgusted by the demeaning way the widow was treated by the defense.
By paying attention to the changing landscape of the trial and adjusting his strategy, Mr. Phillips was able to help his client achieve a multimillion dollar verdict for her devastating loss.
Listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/theresult/episodes/Episode-7-Stephen-D–Phillips-ehgc7r