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While jury verdicts jumped precipitously in 2000, the number of gigantic settlements declined. Some of the biggest pretrial settlements were carryovers from agreements reached in principle in 1999, such as the $5.2 billion settlement of Holocaust claims against the German government and German industry; the nearly $4 billion settlement by American Home Products Corp. of fen-phen litigation; and the $2.8 billion settlement to shareholders in the Cendant Corp. securities litigation. The billion-dollar settlements common in the past few years didn’t happen in 2000, although there were numerous settlements in the hundreds of millions, and settlements in personal-injury cases rose significantly. $745M FOR QUI TAM One of the largest settlements of 2000 came in the medical fraud, qui tam action against Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., when HCA agreed to pay $745 million to settle some of the civil charges. Some 30 false claims actions were filed against Columbia/HCA, said Peter W. Chatfield of Washington, D.C.’s Phillips & Cohen. Columbia/HCA has resolved actions charging irregularities in the areas of laboratory billing, upcoding, home health visit billing and Columbia’s purchase of Olsten Corp.’s home health business. Still unresolved are various actions involving cost reporting, as well as allegations of illegal kickbacks, said Chatfield. In re Columbia/HCA Healthcare Qui Tam Litigation, No. 99-MS-432 (RCL) (D.D.C.). In an antitrust action in September, the auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s agreed to pay $256 million each, for a total of $512 million, to individuals and businesses who bought and sold goods at non-Internet auctions in the United States. The plaintiffs contended that the auction houses had conspired to manipulate prices, said plaintiffs’ attorney Richard Drubel of New York’s Boies, Schiller & Flexner. In re Auction Houses Antitrust Litigation, No. 00 Civ. 0648 (S.D.N.Y.). In the largest-ever employment discrimination settlement, reached in March, the federal government agreed to pay $508 million to some 1,100 women who were denied jobs and promotions at the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America. The settlement has not been paid yet, said plaintiffs’ counsel Bruce A. Fredrickson of Washington, D.C.’s Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw. Several members of the class have objected and, he said, “disbursement won’t happen until all appeals are exhausted.” Between September 1996 and December 1999, the claims of 48 workers went to trial, resuiting in verdicts for 46 of the plaintiffs; these workers’ claims have been paid, he said. Hartman v. Albright, No. 77-2019 (D.D.C.). In February, Marriott International Inc. and Host Marriott Corp. agreed to pay $434 million to settle lawsuits filed by the limited partnerships that had bought the Marriott, Courtyard, Fairfield and other hotels and motels in the Marriott chain. The parent companies had sold the Marriott hotels to the limited partnerships and arranged management contracts to run the hotels, said plaintiffs’ attorney David Berg of Houston’s Berg & Androphy. “We alleged the management agreements were commercially unreasonable and obtained by fraud,” he said. The limited partners also charged that Marriott had overvalued the price of the hotel chains. Milkes v. Host Marriott Corp., No. 96-CI-08327; Haas v. Marriott International Inc., No. 98-CI-04092 (Bexar Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). In May, Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to pay $275 million plus legal fees to Sumitomo Corp. over charges arising from a loss of some $2.6 billion through the unauthorized trading by one of Sumitomo’s former copper traders. The case was never filed; Merrill Lynch settled to avoid litigation. The largest securities-fraud settlement of the year came in November against 3Com Corp., for $259 million. The plaintiffs alleged misrepresentations by 3Com relating to the company’s acquisition in June 1997 of U.S. Robotics Corp., said plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Singer of New York’s Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann. In particular, he said, the plaintiffs alleged that “prior to the merger, 3Com misrepresented the business condition of Robotics” and did not reveal the actual condition until November 1997. The class period covers about 140 million shares of stock purchased from April 23, 1997, to Nov. 5, 1997, he said. In re 3Com Securities Litigation, Master File No. C-97-21083 (N.D. Calif.). MCI WORLDCOM: $200M In a substantial breach-of-contract matter, MCI WorldCom Inc. agreed to pay $200 million to Cable & Wireless USA Inc. Cable & Wireless had charged MCI with breaches of agreements to sell it the Internet “backbone” of MCI, said plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Wegener of Washington, D.C.’s Howrey Simon Arnold & White. An arbitration hearing was conducted in December 1999. The parties settled in February 2000. Cable & Wireless USA Inc. v. MCI WorldCom Inc., Civ. 99-204-JJF (D. Del). One of the most publicized settlements came in the employment discrimination action against Coca-Cola Co. The plaintiffs, some 2,000 African-American workers at Coke, charged the company with “systemic racial discrimination in policies and practices for promotions, compensation and evaluations,” said plaintiffs’ counsel Cyrus Mehri of Washington, D.C.’s Mehri, Malkin & Ross. In November, Coke announced that it would pay the plaintiffs $192.5 million, plus institute changes in employment practices; the settlement won preliminary court approval Dec. 22. Abdallah v. The Coca-Cola Co., 188CV3679 (RWS) (N.D. Ga.). In another large employment case, Microsoft Corp. agreed in December to pay $97 million to a class of some 10,000 long-term temporary and contract employees. The employees claimed that Microsoft had “failed to put the employees in an employee stock option plan by calling them temporaries or contract workers when they were in fact employees of Microsoft,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen K. Strong of Seattle’s Bendich, Stobaugh & Strong. Formal approval is scheduled for Feb. 27, he added. Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., C93-178C; Hughes v. Microsoft Corp., C98-1646C (W.D. Wash.). INDIVIDUAL SETTLEMENTS Although massive class action settlements were down, settlement for individuals in products liability, personal injury and medical malpractice were up, and eight-figure settlements were common. One of the largest-ever wrongful death settlements came in Texas this June to the family of a 49-year-old woman who was killed when her car was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer truck leased by Refrigerated Transport Inc. (RFI). The family of Janie Bartula contended that the driver of the truck had been on the road for more than 20 hours at the time of the accident, in violation of federal regulations of truckers’ hours, and claimed that RFI was responsible for failing to properly supervise the driver, said plaintiffs’ attorney John S. Jose of Fort Worth, Texas’ Jose, Henry, Brantley & Keltner. Bartula v. Refrigerated Transport Inc., No. 48-180452-99 (Tarrant Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). WWF: $18M In another well-publicized case, the World Wrestling Federation agreed to pay $18 million to settle the actions brought over the death of professional wrestler Owen Hart. Hart was killed in May 1999 while preparing to make a showy descent and entrance at a nationally televised WWF event at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. His widow, Martha Hart, their two children and Hart’s parents sued the World Wrestling Federation and WWF executives Vince and Linda McMahon, charging negligence in designing and supervising the stunt. The settlement was approved on Nov. 7, said plaintiffs’ attorney Gary C. Robb of Kansas City’s Robb & Robb. Also in November, the city of Los Angeles agreed to pay $15 million to Javier Ovando, who had been shot by Los Angeles Police Department officers. One of the officers, Rafael Perez, was later “caught with cocaine” and became a key figure in the Rampart police corruption investigation, said plaintiff’s attorney Gregory W. Moreno of Montebello, Calif.’s Moreno, Becerra & Guerrero. Mr. Ovando, who was shot in the head, sustained extensive brain damage and paralysis on his right side. Ovando v. City of Los Angeles, 99-11629 (C.D. Calif.).

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