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May 2015

Gordon & Rees Phoenix Team Wins Defense Verdict

On May 8, Gordon & Rees Phoenix partner John Condrey and senior counsel Molly Machold, with support and assistance from paralegal Tui Conner and secretary Kim Davison, successfully obtained a defense verdict in a jury trial of a bad faith/breach of contract action in the US District Court, District of Arizona. Plaintiff, an elderly widower, brought this action arising out of a 2010 hail storm which plaintiff alleged caused extensive damage to his home. The storm was one of the worst ever experienced in the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area and resulted in numerous insurance claims and lawsuits alleging first party breach of insurance contract and bad faith causes of actions.

Condrey’s client, the defendant insurer in this case, brought in adjusters from out-of-state offices to assist with the vast load of claims. During trial, evidence was presented that the first adjuster assigned to handle plaintiff’s claim may have overlooked some things, but that he did his best to evaluate the property, and that plaintiff was aware of what the adjuster planned to pay for when his involvement in the claim ceased. The next handling adjuster was contacted twice concerning newly identified damages, and each time agreed to make payment. The claim was closed and the next notice was through the filing of the complaint.

Plaintiff’s claim was that the insurer willfully failed to adequately inspect the property, missing over $50,000 in additional damage. Condrey’s theory of the case was that plaintiff had been satisfied with the handling of his claim, and much later someone with a personal motive for profit convinced him that he was not properly compensated.

Prior to trial, the team obtained an order which prohibited any mention of plaintiff’s deceased wife, who had passed away four months before the 2010 hail storm. During trial, plaintiff testified about his wife’s death as a basis for his inaction on the claim two years later. Condrey addressed the issue to the Court out of the presence of the jury, and the Court ordered plaintiff not to bring the subject up again. In rebuttal closing argument, plaintiff’s counsel said that plaintiff was dealing with the death of his wife, again as a basis to support the delay in advising the insurer of remaining claim issues. Condrey made a record of the intentional violation and also made a motion for mistrial, at the insistence of his client, which was denied.

After the case had been given to the jury for deliberations, the Court received a question from the jury inquiring as to whether or not they could award attorneys’ fees, to be paid by the attorney for one of the parties, to the other side. The Court answered in the negative. The jury came back with the defense verdict in less than 20 minutes—which included selecting a foreperson, the jury question and answer, voting, and reassembling in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict. The legal team and the client are extremely pleased with the result.

John L. Condrey