Jury awards firm $3.25 million
A jury awarded $3.25 million to a South Range business Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court. The amount -- $1.25 million for damages and another $2 million in punitive damages -- is believed to be one of the largest civil jury awards ever given...
A jury awarded $3.25 million to a South Range business Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court. The amount -- $1.25 million for damages and another $2 million in punitive damages -- is believed to be one of the largest civil jury awards ever given in Douglas County.
The verdict stems from a Dec. 27, 2004, fire that destroyed a tree harvester owned by Amys Forest Products Inc. The South Range company submitted a claim to Milwaukee Insurance Co. for the loss.
In a letter dated May 26, 2005, the insurance company denied the claim, stating the fire was a result of arson involving Mark Amys, vice president of the company, according to court records obtained by the Daily Telegram.
Milwaukee Insurance filed a lawsuit June 1, 2005, in Douglas County Court asking for a judgment declaring that it did not have to provide coverage to Amys Forest Products or National Bank of Commerce, which held the lien on the piece of equipment.
A counterclaim against the insurance company was filed by Superior attorney Rick Gondik on behalf of the South Range firm and the bank on July 15, 2005. The document denied that the fire was arson and that Amys had anything to do with it. Gondik requested that the insurance company pay on the policy and pay damages because of their bad faith conduct.
A 12-person jury and one alternate listened to almost 30 hours of testimony in the case, said Judge George Glonek, who presided over the case. The verdict was handed down at three minutes before midnight Friday.
"That was a very, very hardworking jury," Gondik said.
Jurors determined Amys did not cause the fire loss and that the insurance company acted maliciously or with a disregard for the rights of Amys Forest Products in denying the claim.
"I think they were as outraged as my client and I at the insurance company," Gondik said.
The actual damages covered the cost of the machine -- about $411,000 -- and the loss of profits from its use.
Glonek said that to his knowledge, it is the largest civil jury award ever given in Douglas County. He declined to comment on the case, however, saying he anticipates post-trial motions.
Gondik said he could remember one civil award that was larger than this one, but it was against a company that could not pay the entire amount. In this case, Milwaukee Insurance is solvent, he said, and there is a good chance of collecting. The verdict also calls for the insurance company to pay attorney's fees.
Attorney Stephanie Ball of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith and Frederick represented National Bank of Commerce in the case. Gondik said the two worked together and the bank will be paid the money owed on the harvester -- $299,000 according to court records.
Dan J. Gendreau, attorney for Milwaukee Insurance, declined to comment on the verdict or whether an appeal is planned.