Adam Voyles, a partner in Houston's Lubel Voyles
Adam Voyles, a partner in Houston’s Lubel Voyles (Handout photo)

Why would a jury award a plaintiff nearly 50 percent more in damages than requested? Houston lawyer Adam Voyles thinks it’s because he was able to prove a lack of concern for his injured client, plus the long-term effects of a concussion, which might not be immediately apparent.

Voyles, a partner in Lubel Voyles, represented Rene Munguia in a negligence suit. On Jan. 7 in the 80th District Court in Houston, a jury awarded Munguia $1.16 million—$400,000 more than requested—for injuries he suffered when a bottle of deck wash fell off a shelf at a Big Lots store and hit him in the head, according to Voyles.

Voyles had asked the jury for $700,000.

According to an amended petition filed on Aug. 27, 2013, in Munguia v. Big Lots Stores, Munguia leaned down on April 15, 2011, to replace two jugs of deck wash that had dropped from a shelf to the floor. Then, another jug fell, due to a store stocker’s actions, and hit Munguia on the head near his ear.

Munguia initially exited the Big Lots store in Pasadena thinking he had sustained no serious injuries, according to Voyles.

“He filled out an incident report, but he didn’t ask for medical care,” Voyles said.

In the ensuing weeks, Munguia realized he had a concussion. But when he attempted to follow up with the company, he got little empathy or attention, Voyles said. So, he filed a lawsuit.

Munguia initially sued Big Lots and PNS Stores Inc., the company that leased the Big Lots location. In an amended answer filed on June 26, 2013, PNS denied the allegations and as an affirmative defense stated that Munguia was responsible for his own injuries.

On Sept. 9, 2013, 80th District Judge Larry Weiman granted an unopposed, no-evidence summary judgment motion dismissing the allegations against Big Lots, based on its argument that it did not operate the store or employ the stocker whose actions allegedly led to the falling deck wash. Big Lots also had denied the allegations.

Scott Kossoudji, of counsel at Houston’s Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease who represents PNS and Big Lots, did not return a call for comment. Ron Parisotto, Big Lots Stores’ GC and senior vice president, also did not return a call seeking comment.

Voyles said PNS only sent a store representative to testify at the two-day trial, not someone from the senior management level. Voyles argued that the store-level employee had done his job but the company had neglected his client.

The jury allotted 90 percent of the responsibility for Munguia’s damages to PNS and 10 percent to the plaintiff, but still decided on that generous dollar figure.

“They ignored this guy after he left the store; the jury was very dissatisfied with the way he was treated,” Voyles said.