An article in the January 2019 issue of the American Association for Justice’s Trial Magazine uses a recent injury case to highlight the importance of jurors to our civil justice system. In the case, the question of whether to let a jury decide a pivotal matter arose on the issue of defendants’ summary judgment motion to have the case dismissed entirely.
In 2015, Valeria Cruz Marchan lost an arm to a harvesting machine on a farm in North Dakota. Marchan brought suit in federal court against the farm, the machine’s manufacturer, and the company that sold the machine to the farm. The suit alleged breach of warranty, failure to warn, failure to train, and negligence.
In the course of the litigation, the defendants filed no fewer than five separate summary judgment motions to immediately end the case in their favor, all of which were all denied by the lower court.
In its full opinion, released December 2018, the appellate court analyzed whether the jury or the judge should determine whether the plaintiff can “pierce the [manufacturer’s] corporate veil” to reach KRG Capital Partners. As the court described, this issue carries great significance because the manufacturer is now defunct, and the plaintiff likely cannot recover damages from any of the parties except KRG Capital Partners. Although the Supreme Court of North Dakota has ruled that judges should decide the veil-piercing issue (Watts v. Magic 2 x 52 Mgmt., Inc., 816 N.W.2d 770 (N.D. 2012)), the court found it was not bound by this decision, which analyzed the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution’s Seventh Amendment rights at issue here.
The judge emphatically rejected the idea that “judges are better equipped . . . to weigh legal concepts,” writing that this is “simply not true” and that “[i]n the fact-finding line, anything a judge can do a jury can do better.” The judge cited his 40 years of experience as a trial judge and gave examples of recent issues he had presented to juries, including whether the design of a microscopic, 3-D printing interface layer constituted infringement and whether a settlement between pharmaceutical companies had an anticompetitive effect. “It takes a special kind of arrogance simply to conclude that American jurors cannot handle the veil-piercing issues presented here,” he wrote.
Lieff Cabraser Nashville office Managing Partner Mark P. Chalos applauded the decision and the judge’s emphasis on the importance of juries. “The right to a civil jury trial is so fundamental that our founders included it in the Bill of Rights, and jury trials enable hard-working Americans to hold dishonest corporations accountable for the harm they cause,” Chalos Noted.
About Mark P. Chalos
The managing partner of Lieff Cabraser’s Nashville office, Mark Chalos represents individuals who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries and families whose loved ones died due to the negligence or misconduct of others. Mark represents counties and cities nationwide in the national opioids litigation. He is serving in the national case leadership, including preparing the bellwether cases for trial.
Through jury trials, Chalos has held wrong-doers accountable, including representing 32 school children who were videotaped undressing in their school locker room ($1.28 million jury verdict) and a young woman who suffered a severe brain injury in a car wreck (nearly $4 million jury verdict). He also obtained an $8 million arbitration award on behalf of a business client, and overall has obtained millions of dollars in settlements for families who have been harmed by wrongful conduct.