Court Decision Holds. Lewmar Inc. engaged in fraud, collusion and tortious Conduct in connection with Owen Hart case
The Honorable Douglas Long, sitting by special appointment of the Missouri Supreme Court, ruled that the settlement between the Plaintiff and Lewmar for no money was conceived in a fraudulent manner. The judge said that there was overwhelming evidence in the record that "the Plaintiffs and/or Plaintiffs’ counsel and Lewmar engaged in fraud, collusion and/or tortious conduct in negotiating, executing and seeking approval" of Lewmar’s settlement with the Plaintiff.
The WWEÔ announced an $18 million settlement in November 2000 with the Plaintiff and then challenged the validity of the Lewmar release. The judge noted that Lewmar had $50 million in insurance coverage for damages arising from Owen Hart’s death. The judge said the failure of the Plaintiff’s legal firm, Robb & Robb, to recommend the Plaintiff demand payment for all or a significant portion of these funds from Lewmar was questionable and that "…substantial evidence exists that Plaintiffs’ counsel was motivated by a desire to prevent facts concerning Lewmar’s liability for this accident from coming to light in an effort to construct a punitive damages claim against WWE," the judge stated. If the release had been upheld by the Court, the settlement between Lewmar and the Plaintiff would have prevented WWE from seeking redress against Lewmar for its role in the accident. WWE’s attorney, Jerry McDevitt of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, said the company can now move forward with a case against Lewmar, which is set for trial in September 2003.
"This order contained some of the strongest judicial statements I’ve seen in my 22 years of practice about a case which, from the onset, was tainted by irregularities," said McDevitt. "First, attempts to manipulate the judicial selection process caused the Missouri Supreme Court to specially appoint Judge Long. Next, we discovered Plaintiff and her counsel had entered into a written agreement to share the proceeds of any recovery with fact witnesses in the case. The propriety of that Agreement was about to be passed upon by the appellate courts of Missouri literally days before Plaintiff and her counsel decided to settle the case. When testimony was taken from Lewmar representatives in England, no attempt was made by Plaintiff’s counsel to establish the factual basis for Lewmar’s responsibility, and when we attempted to do so, Plaintiff’s counsel actually objected to questions proving their liability. As soon as the deposition was over, Plaintiff and her counsel announced they had released Lewmar from the case for no money even though Lewmar had offered to pay money. Now, as a result of Judge Long’s ruling, Lewmar will have to face up to its role in this tragedy and all that it did to avoid a decision on the merits."
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