For attorney D. Joseph Chapman of SchmidtKramer, his recent $4 million verdict in the trial of Hobbins v. Miller followed what he called a “strange” trial where the underlying facts were perhaps no less eye-catching.
First off, at the bench trial, there was no Miller in sight.
The defendant, Leroy Miller, “wanted nothing to do with the litigation” and did not oppose the action filed by Michael Hobbins and his wife, Chapman said, after Miller shot Hobbins in the face in an apparent hunting accident, blinding him.
Following the trial, in which the plaintiffs put on their case as the defendant sat in a prison cell, a Union County judge awarded a $4 million verdict to Hobbins and his wife, entirely against Miller, last Thursday.
Miller was on probation for a DUI and other offenses when the accident took place in May 2010. Because he violated his probation by possessing a firearm, Miller is now serving at least 30 months in state prison, according to court records.
Chapman admitted that recouping the award, entered by Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael T. Hudock, would be somewhat of a long shot.
In other words, his law firm probably wasn’t getting paid.
Chapman called the verdict a “Pyrrhic victory.”
The way Chapman put it, Hobbins, his wife, Terry Hobbins, and their lawyers proceeded knowing “the potential that [Michael Hobbins] will never see a dime.”
“We can only hope when [Miller] gets out of prison, he’ll be a productive member of society,” Chapman said. “If he develops any assets there’s a chance we could get to them in the future.”
So why move forward with the case?
“These guys needed to hear from an independent person that what they went through is worth something,” Chapman said. And the judge’s verdict is a good start, he said.
Chapman also noted that two expert witnesses he employed, after learning about the case, refused to accept compensation from his law firm for their reports and testimony.
The attorney said his client was a likeable guy with a compelling story.
According to interviews with Chapman and court filings, the incident unfolded as both men were hunting back in 2010. Hobbins had a license to hunt.
Miller, on the other hand, the plaintiffs alleged, did not have a license to hunt and was breaking his probation by carrying a gun.
Miller also apparently doesn’t have the best eye.
“He thought my guy was a turkey, so he shot him,” Chapman said.
The attorney noted his client, a production supervisor at a manufacturing company and an assistant high school football coach, was permanently injured from the accident, and will never work again.
His projected future lost income and lost wages totaled $664,999.
“Miller owed a duty to other hunters to identify his target, and refrain from shooting people,” the plaintiffs pleaded in a pretrial filing. “When he shot Michael Hobbins, he failed in his duty.”
The court papers later added: “Because of the shooting, Michael Hobbins endured, and continues to endure, and will endure in the future, great pain and suffering, has permanent deformity due to facial droop from nerve damage, and suffers embarrassment from the deformity as well as the noticeable manifestations of his blindness, such as the use of a cane.”
The plaintiffs also filed for punitive damages and claimed Terry Hobbins lost the “society, companionship and services” of her husband.
Miller’s criminal records show he pleaded guilty to DUI, attempting to elude an officer and other offenses. After the hunting incident, prosecutors moved to revoke his probation.
He was sentenced to 30 to 60 months in state prison in December 2010.