13.3 Million From Hostage to Hero Verdict During COVID-19

In King County, WA, the trial team of Alex Caggiano, Phil Chu, Chris Madeksho, and Brian Weinstein won a verdict of $13.4 million for their client. The case was on behalf of a man with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos in a joint compound product. He worked with the product, called “Kaiser Gypsum Joint Compound” between 1962 to 1971. He was the sole witness to his exposure. His identification of the product was contested by the defendant, Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc. The defense also disputed that the chrysotile asbestos in their product was capable of causing mesothelioma.

The only causes of action were for negligence and strict liability. The plaintiff received a jury verdict on both. The verdict was $13 million in noneconomic damages to the plaintiff only, and the remainder were medical expenses. Because of a criminal history issue, the trial team was forced to drop all claims other than personal injury for the plaintiff. There were no other claims for loss of consortium, etc., and no love of family or family love for him was permitted, otherwise the criminal history would come in.

The trial was also the first Zoom and socially distanced civil jury trial in Washington State since COVID-19: 

  • Five out of six voir dire panels were conducted via zoom.
  • One voir dire panel was conducted live because of privacy concerns relevant to zoom and also because one panelist had difficulty with the zoom technology.
  • All evidence was presented in a large conference hall, with jurors socially distanced.
  • All participants were masked, including the court and staff.
  • Visitors were permitted pursuant to WA State open courts law, but limited to those who could socially distance.
  • All witnesses were projected onto large screens so the jurors could see them from a distance.
  • Only one witness appeared in person, the remainder appeared solely via zoom.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Chris Madeksho shared with us strategies from From Hostage to Hero that he used to win the case:

Sari’s book helped me organize my voir dire so that I could examine the panel in an organized way given the time constraints (30 minutes per panel) that parties were given. Further, Sari’s book gave clear advice on how to “make it about the jury” by using their language and their ideas in opening and closing. The jury “got it” because of this advice.

In addition to the book, her podcasts and group work educated me on group dynamics and her From Hostage to Hero community deserve mention.

During voir dire, I used group-building techniques developed with help from the From Hostage to Hero community. It wasn’t easy developing a group over zoom. But we did it. Likewise, during closing, my observance of the jurors’ nonverbal cues helped me moderate my tone, my message, and to see the jury respond when I gave them their specific language they had given to me in voir dire. Likewise, the jury’s nonverbal cues during the defense’s closing was consistent with their verdict.

Chris worked with the Weinstein Caggiano firm, and his co-counsel at trial were Alex Caggiano and Phil Chu. Alex presented the critical causation witness for three days of testimony, and cross-examined the defense causation expert and delivered the rebuttal closing. Chris presented and cross-examined all other witnesses, conducted voir dire, and delivered opening and closing. Phil Chu managed law and motion during trial and Brian Weinstein worked diligently behind the scenes to make sure the team prepared and developed the record properly.

 

From Hostage to Hero by Sari de la Motte

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