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An Ohio jury one vote shy of a defense verdict surprised the courtroom with an $8 million change of heart that swung the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The two-week trial in Summit County, Ohio, was a products liability dispute over an all-weather outdoor adhesive. The glue was being used by two workers installing carpet in a basement when a hot-water heater switched on. The resulting fire left the workers with third-degree burns. Lawyers for the defendant, Para-Chem, based in Simpsonville, S.C., argued that the workers failed to heed warning labels saying the product was to be used outdoors. The trial closed on July 5, and the jury quit for the weekend. It resumed deliberations, and early on Monday returned a verdict, 5-3, in favor of the defense. Common Pleas Judge James E. Murphy rejected the vote and told the jury to deliberate until six members agreed, as required under Ohio law. Hours later the jury sent a note to the judge that it was still deadlocked. Both sides asked for a mistrial. The judge told jurors to keep at it. Late in the afternoon, the jury returned with a surprise: a 6-2 verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The workers were awarded $8 million: $5 million to Gregory Roach and $3 million to Gordon Falkner, the installers for Callahan Carpet House in Kent, Ohio. They had sought $20 million and $15 million, respectively. According to one of the jurors, 75-year-old George M. Duhon of Akron, Ohio, the panel reviewed evidence and tried to stick close to the judge’s written instructions to decide the case upon the question of whether the warning labels were adequate. “It seemed to me the definitive words here were ‘adequate or not’ and if we could decide that question fairly, then we could move on to the petition of the plaintiffs. That was where we turned a corner,” Duhon said. “I like the idea of sending the law back to the jury so they can read it,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Alan Schulman, a solo practitioner in Akron. Schulman and co-counsel Brian Zimmerman, a solo practitioner in Canton, Ohio, represented Roach. The second plaintiff, Falkner, was represented by Robert Meeker and Michael Bowler of Akron’s Blakemore, Meeker and Bowler. The plaintiffs’ attorneys admitted they were devastated by the jury’s initial vote, but grew more hopeful for a mistrial as time went on. “We went from the depths of despair to the pinnacle of joy within hours,” Schulman said. Duhon said he was with the plaintiffs from the start. He was most convinced by a chart the plaintiffs’ attorneys used during closing arguments to depict how the warning language on the label of the can had been mitigated since the time the product first entered the market. The defendants were represented by Kenneth Abarrno and John Reagan of Cleveland’s Reminger & Reminger and co-counsel John Patton of Chicago’s Rusin Patton Maciorowski & Friedman. Abarrno called the decision “incorrect” and said there are post-trial motions to appeal. Roach v. Para-Chem, No. 2000-094089 (Summit Co., Ohio, Ct. C.P.).

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