Rhodes Hieronymus appeal reverses $12 million verdict.

July 20th, 2018|

In rural Oklahoma, two teenagers were critically injured in an explosion at a grain elevator. In the months leading up to the explosion, the grain elevator was advised by its workers compensation insurer that there was no policy in force. The insured had failed to return premium audit forms, resulting in the cancellation of the policy by the insurer. When the insured realized it had no policy, it returned the audit forms. But that did not result in restoration of the policy– instead, a new application for insurance was required. This was completed by the grain elevator’s manager and placed in the mail the very same day as the explosion. Jury was waived and the case was tried to a trial judge of the District Court of Oklahoma County. The grain company claimed the insurer wrongfully denied coverage because the grain company knew or should have known that it wanted to reapply for a policy. The grain company explained that it had done everything asked of it by the insurer as of the date of the accident, and thus, coverage should have been bound by that time. On appeal, our lawyers Kerry Lewis and Jim Johnson countered that the trial judge misapplied the evidence to the law. With no dissenting justices, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed. Despite appealing arguments by the grain company as to its best efforts to be insured, as well as the tragic underlying facts, we were able to demonstrate that the legal duties at issue did not allow a trial court to deviate from application of established Oklahoma law. Unlike trial work, appellate representation rewards extensive research and persuasiveness on paper, because oral presentations are rare in Oklahoma’s appellate courts. An unfortunate trial result often stems from awful facts, uncharismatic defense witnesses and colorful theatrics by plaintiffs lawyers. Appellate work presents an opportunity to counter all that with the hard truth of the written record and legal precedent. This was just such a case.