The Georgia Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday afternoon in the appeal of what has become known among lawyers as the $30 million “hand verdict.”
The auto case verdict was delivered in September 2016 by a Fulton County jury for injuries to the plaintiff’s hand and arm. Laurie Webb Daniel, chair of Holland & Knight’s national appellate team and leader of the firm’s Atlanta litigation practice, told the court she wouldn’t belabor the sheer amount of the verdict—although she did mention it was “many, many times” in excess of judgments in comparable cases. Instead she focused on Fulton County State Court Judge Eric Richardson’s instructions to the jury.
The judge, Daniel said, declined to include in the jury charge the sole defense raised by her client, Abdulmohsen Almassud: That he lost control of his Jeep because of a mechanical defect in the steering. He had recently modified the Jeep for off-road use.
“He was trying to upgrade,” Daniel said. “He had spent a lot of money.”
As for the sum, in her brief asking the court to overturn the verdict and order a new trial, Daniel called it a “patently excessive award tainted by passion and prejudice.”
Luisa Mezquital, a 29-year-old factory worker at the time of the 2012 accident, injured her hand and lost a finger when Almassud’s Jeep crossed the centerline on a Forsyth County road and hit her minivan in 2012. Her attorney, Ben Brodhead of Brodhead Law, said he decided not to have her testify or attend the 2016 trial because of the severity of her post-traumatic stress disorder from the crash. He produced a psychiatrist to testify to that effect.
Brodhead also said after the verdict that the defense had refused multiple offers to settle for the $100,000 insurance policy limit.
Arguing against Daniel Tuesday before a panel that included Presiding Judge Christopher McFadden and Judges Elizabeth Branch and Charles Bethel, Brodhead focused on the strength of his case at trial.
“The verdict was supported by the evidence,” Brodhead said. “Not only did the jury agree with the evidence, but the trial judge agreed with the evidence.”
In his brief, Brodhead accused Daniel of “intentional misrepresentations of both law and fact” in an “attempt to show error where none exists.”
In his argument, Brodhead took note of the limitations of the appellate forum compared to a trial: “There’s nothing I can say to y’all in 15 minutes that will make you understand it, but the jury spent a week on it and understood it.”
The case is Almassud v. Mezquital, No. A17A2119.