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Whitfield Bryson & Mason

“The View” from the Plaintiff’s Table

As a third year law student, I have been lucky enough to work on a number of trials. Most recently, I worked with WBM Partner John Whitfield on a case filed in 2001 in the Hopkins Circuit Court styled Hayes Equipment Inc. v. Quality Fabrication Inc. The four day trial ultimately ended in a favorable Plaintiff’s verdict. Below is my view from the Plaintiff’s table, highlighted by all the TV shows that came to mind while I was attempting to write this blog.

Our Hayes Equipment trial began like any other trial, which just so happens to resemble the calling of names on “The Price is Right.” The only difference is generally on “The Price is Right,” those in the audience are praying for their name to get called. In our case, we can only speculate that potential jurors were praying to not hear their name or magic juror number for our intensely complicated and highly anticipated rock crusher trial. Those who were lucky enough to get called to the front for questioning took their places and listened intently while the judge and each attorney took their turn with questions.

While the Plaintiff’s attorney, John Whitfield, was finishing up his part of voir dire (questions to the jury), we were all “Saved by the Bell,” literally. In the brand new, $19 Million dollar Hopkins County Judicial Center, the fire alarm started going off. Thankfully no one panicked. In fact, no one moved at all. Thinking this was simply a drill, everyone remained seated and stayed calm. About a minute later we got instructions from the bench to calmly exit the building. The fire department concluded the alarm got set off because of smoke in one of the inmate holding cells. It is particularly interesting to me that an inmate could smuggle something into the new courthouse that could be used to cause a fire, considering I got patted down by the “Entourage” because of a bottle of water in my bag and my watch which set off the metal detector.

Once back in the courtroom, the jury was seated and opening statements ensued. The jury learned that this case involved two rock crushers and the contracts surrounding the orders to produce these crushers. At this point, if you are like me, you are “Lost.” You have never heard of a rock crusher and have no idea what they do. Well, let me take this moment to educate you about a topic you will only use in Trivial Pursuit. Rock crushers are semi-truck sized machines which are basically mounted on a trailer and can be pulled behind a massive truck. The portable crushers we were dealing with in this case were to be used to crush limestone from about 2 foot squares into manageable pieces, generally around softball size. Once crushed, these rocks are used for materials such as concrete. The main dispute of the case concerned cost overruns on the production of the first crusher. The purchase order specifically stated that all cost overruns had to be approved in writing. Long story short, there was no approval of overruns in writing and the cost of the first crusher ended up being 88% higher than the agreed upon price. The defendant then put a lien on the second crusher being built to obtain the 88% cost overruns from the first. Plaintiff wants his crusher back, defendant wants the overruns, and plaintiff wants damages he had to pay to finish production on the second crusher because the defendant stopped work on it. Easy enough, right? Only problem was, the purchase order was never signed, so one of the jury questions was whether this was still an enforceable contract.

Throughout the witness examinations, there are numerous notable quotes which could not have been more entertaining if they were acted out on “Saturday Night Live.” For some reason, a couple witnesses that took the stand thought it would be beneficial to begin asking Mr. Whitfield questions, instead of answering the ones asked to them. Whitfield politely let them know that he was not the “Person of Interest,” was not under oath, and would be asking the questions. The defendant in particular, like most, wanted “Revenge” for what he believed to be harm done to him. He was quick to tell the jury while he was on the stand that he had waited 12 years for this day (this case was filed back in 2001) and attempted to disagree with just about any question posed to him.

The Plaintiff’s case lasted almost three full days. The Defense then presented proof for the rest of day three and a couple hours into day four. At that point, it was time for “The Closer.” Defense counsel was short, focusing on jury instructions. Mr. Whitfield then took his place in front of the jury to summarize the proof and tell why the Plaintiff should win. Surprisingly, mid-closing, there was an outburst from the congregation by the Defendant’s wife, who felt it pertinent to interject her opinion about the proof. I guess that was her “Big Bang Theory” in an effort to assist her husband. Once silenced, she decided to storm out of the courtroom, and to say a few choice words on the way out. Personally, I chalk her up as being a “Survivor,” since she was not escorted out of the courthouse by the “Heroes” in “Suits” (AKA bailiffs). Mr. Whitfield finished his closing and the jury retired to deliberate.

After “60 Minutes” there was a knock at the jury door. Unfortunately, it was because the jury had a couple questions for the judge. They asked the judge whether an unsigned purchase order constituted a contract, which made our chances look “Grimm.” In our minds, this question indicated that the jury was thinking there may not have been a contract at all, which would mean the Plaintiff owes all of the overages. The judge told the jury he could not answer this question, and they again returned to deliberate. After another hour, they came back with a verdict. As we all sat on the edge of our seats, the judge read the jury form which indicated a Plaintiff’s verdict on all counts. The jury agreed with our client on every instruction presented to them.

These are the “Happy Days” for attorneys. When we can represent clients, fight for them through the “Weeds,” and obtain verdicts that help them move on through life. While every story may not start with “Once upon a Time,” it is final verdicts like this one, which was 11 years in the making, that make practicing law worthwhile.

Time to return to “The Office” and see what we missed. “Cheers.”