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Jury awards $92M to man shot by police officer CASE TYPE: personal injury CASE: Rodriguez v. City of New York, No. 17422/96 (Sup. Ct. Kings Co., New York) PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEY: David Dean, of New York’s Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath & Cannavo DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Terrence Liley, assistant corporation counsel for the city of New York JURY VERDICT: $92 million Jason Rodriguez, then 17, was confronted by three other young men while he was standing on 86th Street in Brooklyn, N.Y., in June 1995 with his girlfriend, said plaintiff’s attorney David Dean. “One guy hit him in the mouth, and Jason reached over to his girlfriend’s knapsack and took out a gun. He fired two shots in the direction of these people,” Dean added. Rodriguez did not hit anyone or intend to hit anyone, he said. The other youths ran off, and Rodriguez pocketed the gun. At that point, off-duty New York police officer David Dugan, who had heard the gunshots, approached. “The cop takes out his gun and tells Jason, ‘Drop the fucking gun and get on the fucking ground,’” said Dean. “And that’s what Jason did.” As Rodriguez knelt, Dean alleged, the police officer shot the teen-ager twice. One bullet hit his arm, “the other went through his neck in a downward direction, smashing his seventh vertebra,” Dean said. Rodriguez was rendered paraplegic. He pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and spent six months in jail, Dean said. Rodriguez sued, charging excessive force. The defense contended that Rodriguez did not obey repeated demands by the officer to stop and that the officer shot the standing Rodriguez after the plaintiff lifted a 9 mm automatic and pointed it at the officer’s head — a claim the plaintiff called “impossible,” said Dean. “There was a downward trajectory of the bullet. It couldn’t have worked that way if both of them were standing.” No witnesses were produced. A Brooklyn jury awarded Rodriguez $41.02 million, which was set aside. A new trial was ordered due to improper jury instructions, Dean said. During the second trial, Dean noted, the city “produced an eyewitness who said he saw Jason point the gun at the police officer. But there were discrepancies with his testimony and his original statement.” The retrial again focused on the trajectory of the bullet. “The cop said that Jason was standing and both his arms were extended at 90 degrees,” Dean said. “But the cop was two inches shorter than Jason.” If both had been standing, said Dean, “the bullet would have gone through Jason’s neck and shoulder and out the other side. Jason was kneeling in a surrender position.” On May 18, the second Brooklyn jury awarded Rodriguez $92 million. An appeal is expected. A wrongful-termination suit brings $7M in Miss. CASE TYPE: wrongful termination CASE: Morgan v. Bufete Industrial Inc., No. 98-121-CV1 (Cir. Ct., Lowndes Co., Miss.) PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: David W. Baria and Dow Yoder, of Jackson, Miss.’ Baria, Holaday & Johnson; and Mark Pearson, of Jackson DEFENSE ATTORNEY: none at trial JURY VERDICT: $7.37 million Keith Morgan was working as a superintendent for a joint construction venture by Bufete Industrial Inc. and H.J. Group Inc. at the Columbus, Miss., Air Force base, when he saw an employee allegedly stealing materials, said his attorney David W. Baria: “He reported this to his superior and was asked to document it.” Morgan then photographed the employee taking materials. The other employee was eventually confronted with the evidence, said Baria: “This person, instead of admitting the theft, claimed my client was stealing. He also accused my client of poor work.” Morgan was fired in early 1998. Morgan sued Bufete and H.J. Group. The companies said that Morgan was fired because of inadequate work performance. H.J. Group agreed to settle for $500,000. Bufete Industrial was not represented by counsel at trial, Baria said. As a result, a default judgment on liability was entered. The jury considered only damages, and on May 10, it awarded Morgan $373,000 in compensatories and $7 million in punitives. The time for post-trial motions has already passed, Baria noted, and Bufete Industrial failed to file any to set aside or reduce the verdict. The plaintiff is pursuing collection.

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