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EMPLOYMENT Housing agency settles whistleblower claim A Michigan city’s housing commission settled a whistleblower suit brought against it by a former employee for $20,000 on Dec. 10, 2003. Lori Burtt, 53, was a director in the Traverse City, Mich., Housing Commission. When she learned that the state’s Department of Civil Rights had uncovered civil rights violations within the city’s Department of Housing, some involving Native Americans, Burtt-who is herself Native American-reported them to the vice chairwoman of the commission, who took no action. Burtt went on medical leave and was fired soon after she returned. She sued for violation of the state’s whistleblower and civil rights statutes. The defense claimed she was fired for financial shortcomings. Burtt v. Traverse City Housing Comm’n, No. 03-22591-CL (Grand Traverse Co., Mich., Cir. Ct.). PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: C. Enrico Schaefer, Traverse City, Mich. DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Gretchen Olsen, Traverse City GOVERNMENT Order regarding breathalyzers reversed A lawyer successfully obtained the reversal of an order by the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health that turned off the memory function of the Datamaster breath-testing devices used in the state. David Sleigh, whose firm, Sleigh & Williams of St. Johnsbury, Vt., worked on driving while intoxicated cases, claimed that when the order went into effect, it was no longer able to access pertinent information for the defense of a DWI case. Sleigh, on behalf of all unnamed motorists to be charged with drunken driving, sued the commissioner to reverse the order. The defense had argued that the memory function was costly and was not statutorily mandated. On Dec. 12, 2003, the state Board of Health reversed the order, finding it improperly made and motivated. Sleigh v. Commissioner of Health (Vt. Bd. of Health). PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: David Sleigh, Sleigh & Williams, St. Johnsbury, Vt. DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Mark Patane, Vermont attorney general’s office, Waterbury, Vt. MEDICAL MALPRACTICE Unsanitary surgeon hit with $340,000 verdict An operation on a 51-year-old obese, diabetic man that went awry because the surgeon failed to follow infection-control techniques, thus requiring a second operation and a five-day hospital stay, resulted in a Missouri jury verdict of $340,000 on Dec. 29, 2003. The award included $200,000 in punitives. James Lightner claimed his doctor, Gaston Guerra, failed to give him an antibiotic before performing elective hernia surgery, resulting in formation of a large pocket of pus. During the second surgery, Guerra failed to change gloves for the dressing change and then packed the wound with bare hands. It wasn’t until Lightner changed hospitals that he became infection-free. Lightner v. Guerra, No. 02CV220365 (Jackson Co., Mo., Cir. Ct.). PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: Stephen R. Bough and Denise Henning, Henning & Bough, Kansas City, Mo. DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: David P. Madden and Janet Mittenfelner, Fisher Patterson Sayler & Smith, Overland Park, Kan. $7.2 million for failure to head off hemorrhage A woman who claimed her doctor’s failure to treat her headaches led to a disabling brain-stem hemorrhage was awarded $7.2 million by a New Jersey jury on Dec. 10, 2003, reduced to $4.7 million for contributory negligence. From 1996 to 1998, Noemi Gonzalez complained of headaches during visits to Dr. Ashoke Agarwal. In August 1999, she suffered the hemorrhage. She and her husband sued Agarwal, alleging that he was negligent in not ordering an MRI, which would have shown the headaches were caused by a congenital lesion treatable with radiation. Agarwal contended she never complained of headaches until a final visit and ignored advice to return if the condition continued. Gonzalez v. Agarwal, No. MID-L-869-00 (Middlesex Co., N.J., Super. Ct.). PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEY: Joseph Collini, Emolo & Collini, Paterson, N.J. DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sean P. Buckley, Buckley & Theroux, Princeton, N.J. NEGLIGENT MAINTENANCE Elevator’s abrupt stop leads to $750,000 award An elevator maintenance company agreed on Dec. 15, 2003, to pay $750,000 for knee and lumbar injuries a corrections officer suffered in an elevator accident. During a power outage at the Union County, N.J., jail, the elevator James Sporer was riding in came to an abrupt halt while descending. Sporer and his wife sued Global Elevator Technologies of Totowa, N.J., which had a contract to maintain the elevators, claiming that properly maintained brakes would not have stopped in such an abrupt manner. They also sued Public Service Electric & Gas, claiming that a transformer that serviced the jail exploded, causing the outage. Public Service was released from the case. Sporer v. Global Elevator Technologies, No. UNN-L-1883-01 (Union Co., N.J., Super. Ct.). PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEY: Michael Forrester, Perrotta, Fraser, Forrester & Panitch, Clark, N.J. DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: George Keefer III, Law Office of William Frees, Newark, N.J.; Joseph E. Kelley, Maloof, Lebowitz, Connahan & Oleske, Chatham, N.J. PRODUCTS LIABILITY Herbicide did not cause pulmonary fibrosis Chevron Corp., maker of the herbicide Paraquat, was found not liable by a California jury on Dec. 19, 2003, for the death of a state government worker involved in the state’s vegetation-control program. In the early 1970s, Norman Turner applied commercial pesticides and herbicides, including Paraquat, for use along highways. In the late 1990s, Turner was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. He sued more than 25 manufacturers of the products to which he had been exposed. All settled except Chevron, which claimed Turner’s pulmonary fibrosis was not caused by Paraquat use because his exposure was not toxicologically significant, as evidenced by the nearly 20-year delay in the onset of symptoms. Turner v. Chevron Corp., No. BC256293 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.) PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: Raphael Metzger, Long Beach, Calif. DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Lawrence P. Riff, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Los Angeles TORTS Tattoo parlor liable for customer’s hepatitis C A woman who contracted hepatitis C during a cosmetic procedure was awarded $551,600 by a Texas jury on Dec. 3, 2003. C. Deborah Anderson, 52, sought applications of permanent, cosmetic lip coloring in five or six sessions at a tattoo parlor. When she went to donate blood a few months later, she discovered that she had hepatitis C. Anderson had no other risk factors for the disease, and a health inspection conducted a few months after the work was done revealed unsanitary conditions. She sued Permanent Cosmetics by John Shumate, where she underwent the procedures, as well as the employee who worked on her. Anderson claimed that while her medical bills were only $1,600, she eventually will need a liver transplant. A Texas jury found the shop 70% at fault and the employee 30% at fault and awarded Anderson $551,600. Anderson v. Shumate, No. 2000-CI-13904 (Bexar Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: Mary I. Wilson and LoAn Vo, Lyons & Rhodes, San Antonio DEFENSE ATTORNEY: John Wennermark, San Antonio Victim of dog attacksettles negligence claim A visitor to a friend’s home who was mauled by a 135-pound dog settled her negligence claim against the dog’s owner for $350,000 on Dec. 12, 2003. Simone LaRochelle, 57, was visiting Teresa Reilly at her home in Agawam, Mass. There, Reilly’s Great Dane attacked LaRochelle without provocation, biting her on the thigh and knocking her to the ground, where it proceeded to bite her head and right arm. She required a total of 36 inches of stitches, resulting in permanent scarring. LaRochelle and her husband sued Reilly, claiming the dog should have been on a leash. Settlement funds came from Reilly’s homeowners’ policy. LaRochelle v. Reilly, No. 0378 (Hampden Co., Mass., Super. Ct.). PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEY: William Y. Christie Jr., Springfield, Mass. DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Mark C. Darling, Fuller, Rosenberg, Palmer & Beliveau, Worcester, Mass. More information about these cases, as well as full reports on other verdicts and settlements, can be found in the VerdictSearch National Reporter or at www.VerdictSearch.com. To submit a case, call (212)313-9057, fax (212)313-9145 or use the form at www.VerdictSearch.com/submit. For subscription information or jury verdict research, call (800)832-1900.

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