A rainy September in Western Alaska caused all kinds of problems for flying and hunting for the ALO crowd, but a successful 2 ½ week trial made it seem a little more pleasant. No moose were harvested, the fish got off pretty easy, but All State Insurance took quite a hit.
The case involved a serious car wreck 13 years ago in Bethel. There were several chapters to the saga, including a Federal court trial in Anchorage that was appealed to the Ninth Circuit. It all came to a head in front of a Bethel jury, with three lawyers on one side and four on the other. Four of the witnesses were lawyers who had previously worked on the case. The main question was whether All State had an early opportunity to settle the case for policy limits of $100,000, and missed a deadline set by the injured party. The plaintiff was a 15 year old girl at the time of the crash, and she suffered a fractured skull, punctured lung, and moderate brain damage. The jury decided All State was negligent and reckless in the way it handled the claim, and awarded $1.9 million in compensatory damages along with $15 million in punitive damages. Here is the verdict form
and the punitive damages verdict form,
for those who have never seen one before, and here is an account of the case from the Anchorage newspaper.
The trial was hotly contested throughout. One highlight was during closing argument, when one of the defense lawyers stated emphatically that Mr. Angstman was not to be trusted. That likely seemed to be good strategy at the time, but perhaps the timing was bad. Moments after that attack, it was time for the final word, this time from the guy who can't be trusted. Now folks from Bethel say lots of things about the old lawyer who hangs out at ALO, and not all of those things are kind. In fact, some are not even printable. But rarely is the question of trust raised, and certainly not in the context of legal happenings. 41 years of practice in a small community has that effect.
Up until then Al Clayton, the lawyer who made the comment, had been a minor participant in the trial. Suddenly he was elevated to a starring role, and the first few minutes of the response were devoted to making sure his ears burned. It is suspected that All State, once it reads the transcipt, will not be amused. There is no doubt his comment contributed to the final result. Insurance companies do not take kindly to verdicts like this one. It represents the largest verdict ever in rural Alaska according to people who have been keeping track, surpassing the previous record which was also held by ALO. It also figures among the largest such awards in Alaska history.
The case will likely be appealed, and such appeals normally take a couple years. Meanwhile, the case has produced no revenue for ALO, but wins of this sort provide rewards that can't be measured in dollars. All State gave this case its best shot, and came up short.
One interesting side story involves the choice of attire for counsel in this big case. Bethel lawyers never have been known as fashionable, and for many years most male lawyers kept a jacket and tie hanging on a rack at the old court house, to comply with the somewhat flexible dress code in place for all lawyers. When the old courthouse closed, that rack of jackets had grown to about 20, as many lawyers came and went over the years and forgot to take their finery with them. It so happened that ALO handled the last trial at that courthouse (as well as the first) and on the next to last day before the move to the new courthouse, a court clerk warned the lawyers to retrieve their jackets or they would be given to charity. Finding a charity to take them might have posed a challenge, but it seemed worthwhile to check the rack anyway. Closing argument in that case was set for the next morning, and it was a long trial where the jury might have tired of the same couple of jackets day after day. A quick glance at the rack revealed one jacket that was far superior to anything worn up to that time during the trial, so it was selected for the final argument. It worked wonders, and the jury awarded several million dollars in damages. Thereafter, that lucky jacket has been involved in every final argument with near perfect results. That includes the most recent win against All State.
A recent trip to Nome for court allowed enough time for a short ride to the edge of town where these critters have taken up residence.
Some locals are unhappy with the musk ox, but Nome is one of the few communities in the world with a resident herd of these ancient animals. Polar bears make the news this time of the year when they gather on the northern coast of Alaska waiting for sea ice to form. Fellow musher Sebastian Schnuelle took this video.
Northern lights have been a common sight for late night folks in Bethel in recent years. One of the most stunning photos was taken by Greg Lincoln for the Delta Discovery newspaper. The plane on the left should be familiar to folks who follow the ALO news. Actually, the stars are just as impressive as the northern lights.
Princeton High School's class of 1965 holds its 50th reunion soon, and the organizers believe an Alaska lawyer might be able to help with emcee duties. That sounds like a mistake. Perhaps they have forgotten about the time in second grade when a little farm kid, fresh from country school, was forced to stand for 15 minutes with his nose firmly placed inside a chalk circle on the blackboard as punishment for cussing on the playground. And that was second grade. Clearly things have gotten progressively worse since that time. Should be an interesting night.