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A Fulton County, Ga., jury has returned a verdict of $3.4 million for a legal videographer who was attacked on the job by a lawyer’s dog. The jury last week awarded Melanie Poston and her husband, Robert Poston, $3,379,000 for injuries Melanie sustained when she was attacked and chased by a German shepherd more than two years ago. Melanie, who owns and operates Loganville, Ga.-based Expert Legal Video with her husband, was on her way to film a home inspection in Alpharetta, Ga. The verdict was returned against the dog’s owners, Marietta, Ga., lawyer Paul J. Fleming and his wife. The Postons — well-known in the Atlanta-area litigation community for their work — will recover only $628,000 from the Flemings because of a high-low agreement they reached last fall, says the Flemings’ lawyer, W. Bruce Barrickman. However, the Postons may have another source of recovery. They entered into a confidential settlement with another defendant — the Atlanta law firm of Newman, Sapp & Davis — in the midst of trial, says plaintiffs’ attorney Mary Donne Peters, who tried the case with partner Michael J. Gorby of Atlanta-based Gorby, Reeves, Peters & Burns. The Postons earlier had dismissed their claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against a third lawyer, Mary Prebula. The Fulton case had its origins in Cobb County, Ga., litigation. The Flemings were suing the builder of their home, Lewis Newman and his construction company. The couple was represented by Prebula, and Newman was represented by his nephew Alan L. Newman, a principal with Newman, Sapp & Davis. An inspection of the Flemings’ property was scheduled, per a court order, for June 10, 1999, and the Newman Sapp firm hired Melanie Poston to videotape it. According to Peters, the Flemings’ dog, Leigh, had bitten or nipped at least three people, and the Newman Sapp law firm knew that because it had come up already in the litigation. The builder had alleged that the dog’s aggressive behavior had prevented contractors from making requested repairs to the Fleming property. The Flemings’ attorney had warned Newman Sapp that no one should come onto the Fleming property before 10 a.m. and then should be escorted by Paul Fleming, Peters says. But Newman Sapp never told that to Poston, who arrived alone at 9:45 a.m. As she went up the Flemings’ driveway, Poston was attacked by the dog, which had been in the yard. According to Peters, Poston was bitten on the thigh. As she turned, the dog jumped on her back and ripped her shirt, then chased her off an 8-foot-high retaining wall. Poston fell onto a concrete driveway, Peters says, shattering the bones in both lower legs and leaving her with permanent leg impairments and disfigurement. The Flemings had Leigh put to sleep that day, says their lawyer, Barrickman. The Postons sued the Flemings over the attack and the Newman Sapp firm on a failure-to-warn claim. They also alleged Prebula stood over the injured Poston and screamed at her for coming onto the property early, prompting the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Prebula denied having said anything to Poston. Newman Sapp’s attorney, L. Bruce Hedrick of Atlanta-based Gray, Hedrick & Edenfield, says his client disputed liability in the case, arguing that it had no legal duty to Poston, could not have foreseen the attack, and the firm’s actions or failures to act were not the proximate cause of Poston’s injuries. Trial began Feb. 18 before Fulton State Court Judge Myra H. Dixon. Midweek, the plaintiffs settled with the law firm, leaving only the Flemings as defendants. Hedrick says Dixon had granted a directed verdict to Newman Sapp on issues of liability, and the firm then reached an agreement with the Postons to resolve the dispute. Fulton State Court Judge M. Gino Brogdon had been scheduled to testify as a fact witness expected to talk about the Postons’ work. Brogdon hired the couple in 1999 to videotape for the court a lengthy crime-fraud hearing in a products liability suit against General Motors Corp. But Dixon, according to Peters, concluded that a sitting judge’s testimony would carry undue weight, and refused to allow Brogdon to testify. Barrickman says he didn’t argue damages to the jury and concedes that Poston’s injuries were severe. Jurors deliberated more than six hours before returning their verdict Feb. 22. They declined to award attorney fees. Poston v. Fleming, No. 99-VS-159111-C (Fult. St. Feb. 22, 2002). Peters says Melanie Poston is “probably the most courageous and incredible person” she has ever met. Poston, she says, continued to work despite being in a wheelchair with casts on both legs so the couple’s business would survive.

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