The Latest

Trial Win in West Virginia Rated One of Top Defense Wins of 2017

Courtroom View Network ranked our win in Call/Crawford v. Subaru as one of the top defense wins of 2017.  http://blog.cvn.com/cvn-top-10-most-impressive-defense-verdicts-of-2017  The families of two teenagers alleged that there was a flaw in an engine that caused a post-collision fire.  A Charleston, WV jury took just 3 hours to conclude that there was no defect and that the fire was caused by the off-the-charts severity of the crash.

Two Wins in Two Days

Following a big trial victory in West Virginia, a Spencer Shuford team pressured a pair of plaintiffs into dropping their defective airbag case, bringing home the firm’s second win in two days.

The plaintiffs maintained that their airbag should have deployed in a frontal crash with a Geo Tracker.  The Tracker was hit broadside and tipped over.  Our analysis showed that the crash pulse was in the grey zone between the no-fire and must-fire thresholds.  A low delta-v and a long pulse combined to prevent the airbag from deploying.  After months of bluster and threats, the plaintiffs finally accepted that the defense was not going to back down.  Following the advice of the great sage Kenny Rogers, they knew when to walk away.

Firm Scores Major Win in West Virginia

The firm won a hotly contested product liability trial before a Kanawha County (Charleston), West Virginia jury on February 2.  A local mother was driving her teenaged daughter and a friend to school when they were hit head on by another driver who was on the wrong side of the road.  Their vehicle was knocked backward and off the road where it came to rest nose down 40 degrees.  A fire erupted, killing the back seat passenger, who was unable to get out of the car.  Her estate brought a wrongful death and survival action, as did the estate of the front seat passenger, which alleged that she, too, had burned to death in the fire.

At trial, the plaintiffs alleged that a key fuel line was routed so as to put it at risk of breach in a collision.  The defense contended that the fire was started by hot, oily fluids that flowed onto hot exhaust system elements after the transmission and oil coolers were ripped from the engine.  After nine days of evidence and deliberations, the jury took just under 3 1/2 hours to find in favor of the defense.

During the trial, we wrangled a half-vehicle buck into the courtroom and had the company witness use it to take the jury under the hood and explain the fuel line routing.

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Firm Forces Plaintiffs To Drop Case

Crash

The firm mounted an effort that resulted in the plaintiffs simply dropping a significant products liability case.

Filing in West Virginia, the plaintiffs alleged that their vehicle was defective and caused substantial injuries in a single vehicle crash.  Discovery revealed no defect in the vehicle, but the plaintiffs still pushed forward, demanding many thousands of dollars in settlement.  We resolutely refused to settle the case, with the result that the plaintiffs dropped the matter without getting a dime.

Firm Scores Big Win for Porsche in Paul Walker Litigation

Obit Paul Walker

Spencer Shuford led a charge that ended in summary judgment for Porsche Cars North America, Inc. in litigation arising out of the crash in which Paul Walker died.

The case was brought by the widow of Roger Rodas, the vehicle’s driver.  She claimed that the Porsche Carrera GT had insufficient side impact resistance and that it should have been equipped with racing gear such as a fuel cell and a crash cage.  She also claimed that the crash itself was caused when a suspension part broke while Rodas was going only about 50 mph.

By the time the litigation was done, Rodas admitted that it was “undisputed” that Rodas was traveling nearly 100 mph in the moments before the crash, and that he had been “sucking asphalt” and hitting the rev limiter (the device that keeps the engine from being run too fast and breaking apart) as he roared around an industrial park and shopping area.  She also admitted that she had been wrong about the vehicle’s crashworthiness, conceding that the vehicle’s side impact resistance so far exceeded all standards and industry practices as to be “impressive.”  She also conceded that the fuel tank design did not matter (because Rodas was killed before there was any fire) and that a crash cage–which she conceded was “a little much”–would have made no difference (because the occupant compartment was not compromised).  While Rodas dug in her heels on the suspension part allegation, Judge Philip Gutierrez of the United States District Court for the Central District of California found that there was “no competent evidence” to support that claim and threw out the entire case.

This came on the heels of an order rejecting Rodas’s attempt to avoid defeat by withdrawing her federal claim and proceeding to state court.  Judge Gutierrez found it “persuasive that Plaintiff’s counsel appears to be forum shopping in order to rectify its own errors and avoid an adverse ruling by this Court.”

Related Filings:

Court-Order Denying Pltf’s Mot to Remand & Vol Dismissal Court-Order Granting MSJ

Court-Order Granting MSJ

Plaintiff-MSJ-Stmt of Disputed Facts (ECF 90)

Client Wins Summary Judgment in Hard-Fought Trademark Case

Capri Jewelers defeated Diamonds Direct, a North Carolina based jewelry chain financed by an Israeli consortium, in a trademark fight over the use of the name “Diamonds Direct” in Virginia.  Judge Henry Hudson agreed with our client that there was no evidence to support any of the claims that Diamonds Direct had asserted.  This was a remarkable victory for our client, one which we were very proud to have won.

Office Wins Preliminary Injunction in Trademark Case, Files $6,600,000 Cybersquatting Case

Judge Henry Hudson of the U.S. District Court in Richmond has granted a preliminary injunction to our client in a trademark infringement case.

Capri Jewelers is a prominent local jewelry store with a 30 year history in Virginia.  For years, it has advertised its business using a “direct diamond” and “buy direct save direct” theme.  It registered the mark Diamonds Direct in Virginia earlier this year.  Diamonds Direct USA, Inc., a Charlotte jeweler, filed suit against Capri Jewelers, alleging that it had senior rights to the mark in Virginia and ought to have the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with a new Richmond location.  Capri Jewelers hired us to defend that claim and to bring a counterclaim asserting that Capri, and not DD, had the Virginia rights to the mark.

The Court recently granted Capri Jewelers’ motion for a preliminary injunction, putting the brakes on DD’s plans to open a store under that name in Virginia.  Judge Hudson’s opinion is available here (Memorandum Opinion Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction), and a related news story is accessible here.

That ruling does not end the case.  Cross motions for summary judgment are pending and a trial is set for October 30.

Meanwhile, we have filed on Capri Jewelers’ behalf a cybersquatting claim arising out of the fact that DD has purchased 66 domain names with some variant of “Capri” and “Capri Jewelers” in each.  Federal law makes it illegal to acquire or use a domain name that uses another’s trademark except in very limited circumstances.

 

Chris Spencer Selected to Best Lawyers in America® Again

Chris Spencer was selected as one of the Best Lawyers in America®, this time in the field of commercial litigation.  He had previously appeared in the category of personal injury defense.  This is a significant honor.  Some other lawyer evaluations are done by popular ballot and involve some vote-trading.  This recognizes our substantial presence in the commercial litigation field, which makes up a considerable portion of our practice.

U.S. Supreme Court Lays Down Hard Line on States’ Ability to Assert Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Defendants

The U.S. Supreme Court has just made it harder for plaintiffs to convince state courts to assert personal jurisdiction over foreign manufacturers on products cases.

In J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, decided June 27, 2011, the question was whether the New Jersey Supreme Court properly exercised jurisdiction over a British manufacturer of scrap metal machines.  The record showed that (1) an independent company had agreed to sell McIntyre’s machines in the United States, (2) McIntyre officials had attended annual conventions of the scrap metal industry in the United States, but never New Jersey, (3) between 1 and 4 of McIntyre’s machines—including the machine that caused the injury—had ended up in New Jersey, (4) McIntyre had U.S. patents on its scrap recycling technology and (5) the injury occurred in New Jersey.

In a plurality opinion and a concurrence, six justices ruled that these facts were not sufficient to support an exercise of personal jurisdiction.  Squarely rejecting “fundamental fairness” and “foreseeability” analyses, and reaffirming that a manufacturer’s amenability to suit does not “travel with the chattel,” the Court applied an analysis heavy on considerations of federalism.  The Court noted that the federal government and the governments of the several states are separate.  Just because a manufacturer is subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government in one kind of matter does not mean that it is subject to the jurisdiction of each of the fifty sovereign states in other matters.  And the mere fact that a manufacturer is subject to jurisdiction in one state does not mean it is subject to jurisdiction in others.  Recognizing that “jurisdiction is power to declare the law,” the Court held that the only way in which a company can be held to have subjected itself to a state’s laws is by purposefully availing itself of the privilege of conducting activities there.  The Court cited express consent, physical presence, citizenship and domicile as examples of the kinds of activities that can constitute “purposeful availment.”

In a striking aside, the Court noted that the same rules would apply to American companies or individuals who are haled into the court of another state.

The plurality opinion said it was “clarifying” confusion that had arisen because of different language used in Justice O’Connor’s plurality opinion in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Ct. of Cal., Solano Cty., 480 U.S. 102 (1987) and Justice Brennan’s concurring opinion in the same case.  Justices Breyer and Alito, concurring with the McIntyre plurality, asserted that the result was clearly compelled by clear precedents.

In summary, the mere fact that an American or foreign manufacturer or seller targets the U.S. market or can foresee that its products will end up in a state does not mean that manufacturer or seller is amenable to jurisdiction in that state.  The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the manufacturer or seller “purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.”

Defense Verdict in Augusta, Georgia

Spencer LLP secured a defense verdict in a major case in U.S. District Court in Augusta.  The case involved allegations that a popular passenger car had a handling defect.  The plaintiff had been rendered a quadriplegic when the driver jerked the steering wheel to avoid another car, then ran into and over a guardrail.  The plaintiff’s demand was in 8 figures prior to trial, and began to drop only while the jury was out.  The 12 person jury returned a unanimous verdict for our client.  Chris Spencer was lead counsel, supported by associate Ellen Bergren and able local counsel Chuck Reed, Suneel Gupta, Jill Kuhn and Nan Morgan from Atlanta’s McKenna, Long and Aldridge.