In his first solo trial, lawyer Chris Leavitt recently won $261,724.51 for his client Caribbean United Church. But it’s a question jurors asked the Houston trial judge during deliberations that especially pleases Leavitt: Could they award the plaintiff more damages than it had sought?
The dispute between the church and its insurer and agent began on Sept. 21, 2010, when Leavitt’s client filed Caribbean United Church v. Lindsey Gaston, et al. In its Feb. 3 amended petition, the plaintiff alleged that in 2008 defendant Lindsey Gaston, an insurance agent for defendant Church Solutions Inc., sold Caribbean United a policy that lacked windstorm coverage even though Caribbean United had requested the same coverage it had in a previous policy that had included windstorm coverage. As a result, the plaintiff alleged, when Hurricane Ike hit Galveston later in 2008, the church had no windstorm coverage for damage it sustained.
The plaintiff’s causes of action included negligence, breach of contract and common-law fraud.
In their Feb. 16 answer, the defendants denied the allegations and demanded strict proof. Defense counsel A. Charles Gaston did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
When jurors asked if they could award more damages than the plaintiff sought, Judge Randy Wilson instructed the jury to award damages as warranted by the evidence, according to the judge’s written response.
In a May 30 verdict, the 157th District Court jury found that Gaston, an employee of Church Solutions, was negligent and awarded the plaintiff $241,332.51 in damages.
Wilson added $20,392 in prejudgment interest to the Sept. 12 final judgment and ordered Gaston to pay the $261,724.51 total.
Leavitt, a lawyer at Houston’s Buzbee Law Firm who has practiced since 2006, says the fact that his client was a church “could not have hurt” his case. He also hopes the outcome in Caribbean United represents is “more than beginner’s luck.”
He says he’s thrilled the jurors asked if they could award the plaintiff more than the $241,332.51 it sought in damages.
Notes Leavitt, “I’ve never heard of a jury doing that.”