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FEATURED CASE

ECONOMIST TESTIMONY ASSISTS JURY IN $13.7 MILLION VERDICT AGAINST OEA


Robert W. Johnson & Associates was retained to provide economic testimony quantifying (a) the present cash value of lost wages and benefits, as well as future medical costs to the plaintiff and (b) OEA’s financial wealth, health and ability to pay punitive damages. The $13.7 million verdict is one of the highest in Solano County.

Location: Vallejo, California

Case: Shugart v. OEA

Court: Solano County, California Superior Court, No. L-11697

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Paul Kranz, Law Offices of Paul Kranz, Berkeley, CA; William Veen and Cynthia Bernet-McGuinn, Law Offices of William L. Veen, San Francisco, CA

Case Synopsis: On December 18, 1995, a week before Christmas, Ms. Patricia Shugart was completing a 10-hour shift employed as an assembler of explosive devices by a company which was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the defendant OEA, the parent corporation of the plaintiff’s employer. While transporting 200 small explosive cartridges, a chain reaction was caused due to static electricity resulting in an explosion, nearly killing Ms. Shugart and injuring eight of her co-workers. The detonation of the explosives caused her to suffer the loss of an eye.

Expert Consultation: Mr. Johnson first testified to plaintiff’s diminished earnings capacity and future medical expenses. The total present value of the plaintiff’s lost wages, benefits and future medical expenses was over $800,000. Secondly, Mr. Johnson was prepared to testify to the financial health, wealth and economic ability of OEA to pay punitive damages. Mr. Johnson reviewed annual and quarterly statements filed by OEA with the SEC.

Result: The jury awarded $3.7 million in compensatory damages. In the punitive damages phase of the case, the jury awarded $10 million.

Attorney Comments: "Mr. Johnson did an extraordinary job in overcoming the defendant’s contention that Ms. Shugart’s future lost earnings could be calculated based on standard work-life statistical tables and the actual average amount of time someone her age would “actually” would work. Instead, Mr. Johnson presented an analysis based on plaintiff’s work ethic derived from the particular work history of this plaintiff. When the defense cross-examined Mr. Johnson about the justification for his approach, Mr. Johnson emphasized the very positive qualities of plaintiff’s attitude towards work as evidenced by her work history.

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"With respect to punitive damages, Mr. Johnson was involved in the case early to analyze financial information pertinent to the relationship between plaintiff’s employer and the defendant, the employer’s parent corporation. During the pendency of the litigation, the defendant was purchased by another corporation and Mr. Johnson evaluated the terms of the purchase for determining the value of the parent corporation. At trial, defendant claimed that it was worth only 20% of its $200 million purchase price. Mr. Johnson was essential in establishing that the full $200 million was the proper value for purposes of punitive damages and this was the value which was used by the jury."