Matt Wojcik, a shareholder at Bullivant Houser Bailey in Seattle, has been batting with success. He defends clients in civil litigation, primarily in the areas of medical malpractice, product liability, professional liability, and construction defect. Matt has 20 years of trial, arbitration, and mediation experience in the federal, state, and tribal courts of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
Single – Beard v. Mighty Lift, 224 F. Supp. 3d 1131
Plaintiff alleged that Defendant designed and sold a defective pallet truck under Washington’s strict liability products liability statute, causing significant injury to a delivery person. Important to this fact pattern, Washington has laws that make an employer immune from tort lawsuits in workplace injury cases, hampering the defense’s ability to discuss the failure of Plaintiff’s employer to provide safer alternatives or adequately train the Plaintiff.
Plaintiff was delivering a 2,000 pound load of floor tiles to a home at the base of a steep hill. Plaintiff elected to park the delivery truck on the hill, then placed himself downhill of the load in the back of the semi-truck, utilizing a pallet jack to unload the tiles. The pallet jack quickly accelerated from the inertia of the heavy load and the 14 percent grade. Plaintiff was able to jump of the lift gate, but the load landed next to him and toppled over on him. Plaintiff claimed significant medical expenses and an inability to work for the rest of his life. Plaintiff claimed damages of more than $2 million.
Plaintiff’s theory was rooted in the argument that the pallet truck was not designed to drop “fast enough” on an incline when the release lever was triggered. The defense filed a motion for summary judgment rooted in causation – arguing that even though facts relating to breach were contested, because the pallet truck had not been designed for use on an incline and Defendant expressly warned against such use, the causal chain was broken. The Federal Court agreed, finding that Plaintiff could not establish legal causation when he did not comply with warnings he admittedly understood. The Court granted summary judgment.
Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit. The parties subsequently entered into a settlement favorable to the defense.
Double – Minimal Verdict on Admitted Liability Case with Multi-Million Dollar Exposure
Just weeks after the summary judgment victory, the defense proceeded to trial on an admitted liability case involving a five-vehicle pileup on Interstate 5 in Seattle caused by a semi-truck driven by Defendant. This case was transferred to Bullivant one month before the originally scheduled trial date. The Defendants obtained a short trial continuance and proceeded with expert discovery. Plaintiff was an iron worker with pre-existing shoulder conditions, and presented evidence demonstrating that he would be unable to continue in his current career path and would need to be retrained in a position with a significant lower salary. The claimed damages were large as Plaintiff was under 40 and had several working years left. The defense focused on causation and the extent of damages, developing expert testimony to address each issue. At trial, Plaintiff asked the jury to return a verdict for between $3.3 and $4.7 million. Despite Defendant’s admission of liability, the jury awarded only $84,587.25 in a unanimous verdict, one juror commenting that he would have awarded $0 had he been asked to.
Triple – Directed Defense Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case
Next up on the docket was a medical malpractice trial in eastern Washington. Plaintiff alleged that the medical negligence of a foot surgeon resulted in the need for additional surgeries and a significant risk of amputation. The emotional appeal of the case was compelling, and Plaintiff’s proposed exhibits included grotesque photographs of a mangled foot after numerous infections and revised surgeries, coupled with Plaintiff’s elderly mother comparing the Plaintiff’s foot in appearance and smell to rotting hamburger. The defense strongly contested negligence and causation.
This case was won with court rules and discovery sanctions. Objections during the day and briefing developed each night prevented the Plaintiff’s attorney from introducing much of the evidence he sought to put before the jury. At the close of Plaintiff’s case, the defense moved for a directed verdict, in whole or in part, on each of the 15 theories of liability Plaintiff advanced. The Court prepared a 10-page, single-spaced ruling that the judge read into the record, detailing why Plaintiff failed to meet his evidentiary burden for each theory of liability. The case was dismissed after eight days of trial and the half-day testimony of Plaintiff’s standard of care expert. No appeal was taken.
Homer – Denial of Class Certification in a case with $92 Million Exposure
Last but not least, the Bullivant team brought home an order that drastically reduced the value of a case that threatened the survival of their client’s business. The class action was filed in the District Court of Alaska, and is pursued by a Chicago boutique class action firm that seeks out and takes advantage of well-intended but broadly-written laws in order to leverage significant settlements. In the case, Plaintiff (on behalf of a purported class of 920) sought to apply a DNA privacy law to a genealogical social media platform.
The defense strategized a series of motions to provide three “exit doors” to the Court. If one approach failed, the Court would be directed toward adoption of another approach, detrimental to Plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff followed the bait, necessarily contradicting former positions when responding to later briefing. Ultimately, the Court left open certain constitutional pitfalls but denied certification of the class. The case remains pending, but the ruling reduced the potential case exposure from $92 million to $100,000.