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PRODUCTS LIABILITY California jury orders Ford to pay $369 million San Diego (AP)-A woman left paralyzed when her Ford Explorer rolled over has won a $369 million verdict from Ford Motor Co., one of the biggest personal injury awards ever against an automaker. A San Diego County Superior Court jury on June 3 ordered Ford to pay $246 million in punitive damages to Benetta Buell-Wilson, after awarding her and her husband compensatory damages of more than $122.6 million two days earlier. The loss was Ford’s first after 11 victories in rollover lawsuits involving the Explorer, the nation’s best-selling sport utility vehicle. Ford plans to appeal. The trial, which began on March 15, involved a January 2002 accident on an interstate highway east of San Diego. Buell-Wilson swerved to avoid a metal object and lost control of her 1997 Explorer, which rolled 4 1/2 times. The 49-year-old San Diego mother of two offered to knock $100 million off the damages award if Ford recalled millions of the SUVs and corrected the design flaws that she said left her wheelchair-bound. “I’m hoping they’ll fix what’s out there because I don’t want what’s happened to me to happen to anyone else,” she said. In a statement, Ford insisted that the Explorer was safe. “Although the offer makes a great sound bite, it doesn’t change the facts: The Explorer meets or exceeds all federal safety standards. There is no defect with the Explorer,” a spokeswoman said. “We will continue to aggressively defend our products.” The award may be the largest personal-injury verdict against an automaker, said Robert Peck, president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, a Washington law firm whose clients include the American Trial Lawyers Association. Dennis Schoville, of San Diego’s Schoville & Arnell, one of two attorneys who represented Buell-Wilson, contended that Ford had sacrificed passenger safety for profits. The lawsuit involved design issues found on all Explorers made through 2001, Schoville said. Jury rejects claim that drug caused death Los Angeles (AP)-A California state court jury has rejected claims that the diabetes drug Rezulin contributed to the deaths and illness of three people. The jury in the wrongful death lawsuit on May 27 found that Rezulin can cause liver injury but did not agree with the plaintiffs’ claim that the drug was “a substantial factor” in the deaths of Lupe Contreras and Manuel Cervantes, and the illness of Leonard Clinkenbeard. The drug maker had argued that the patients were seriously ill before taking the drug and died of kidney failure. Rezulin, made by Warner-Lambert Co., won Food and Drug Administration approval in 1997 and generated $2.1 billion in revenue before it was banned in March 2000. FDA research linked the drug to 63 deaths from liver failure. Warner-Lambert has been sued more than 35,000 times over the drug. “We always thought we had a very strong case, and the jury obviously agreed,” said Bryant Haskins, a spokesman for Pfizer Inc., which acquired Warner-Lambert three months after Rezulin was pulled from the shelves. “We are very pleased with the verdict.” Although he lost the first Los Angeles Rezulin suit, plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas Girardi of L.A.’s Girardi & Keese said the jury’s finding that Rezulin can cause liver damage will help him argue hundreds of other cases pending against Warner-Lambert in Los Angeles. LEGAL PROFESSION Firm wins $1.4 million in suit over ‘stolen’ clients A New York City personal injury firm, Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff has won a $1.4 million verdict-as the plaintiff, not the plaintiff’s lawyer. Rosenberg Minc had sued a rival personal injury firm, Mallilo & Grossman of Queens, N.Y., and one of that firm’s former associates for engaging in a scheme to steal clients from Rosenberg Minc. The suit charged both defendants with unjust enrichment, tortious interference and misappropriation. On May 24, a New York jury awarded Rosenberg Minc about $100,000 in compensatory damages and more than $1.3 million in punitive damages. Mallilo & Grossman, a 12-attorney firm, is responsible for almost $1 million of the award because the jury decided that the firm authorized and ratified its associate’s acts. That associate, Mason Pimsler, a 1997 graduate of Huntington, N.Y.’s Touro Law Center, went to enormous and ultimately illegal lengths to make himself a rainmaker, at least in part by appropriating the clients of other rainmakers. On almost every weekend between March 1998 and May 1999, Pimsler would call Rosenberg Minc’s answering service pretending to be partner Daniel Minc. He would use the intercepted messages to contact potential clients and get them to sign retainer agreements as quickly as possible. Rosenberg Minc discovered its messages were being intercepted and contacted the Queens district attorney’s office after one of Pimsler’s clients called the firm to complain that a car service vehicle had not arrived to pick him up. Pimsler was arrested in a May 1999 sting operation. Detectives left three messages with Rosenberg Minc’s answering service. Pimsler returned each of the calls and was retained by one of the detectives at a later meeting at the offices of Mallilo & Grossman. Pimsler subsequently pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal impersonation. He was sentenced to three year’s probation. He was disbarred in October 2001. Rosenberg Minc was represented by Philip Vogt of New York’s Altier & Vogt. Jack B. Grossman of Mallilo & Grossman declined to comment. Pimsler’s lawyer, Robert Zausmer of Mineola, N.Y.’s Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, did not return a call seeking comment. - American Lawyer Media

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