Atlanta, Ga. — After a six-year case and seven-week trial, a jury ruled in favor of Crane Composites, Inc., the defendant in a $263 million claim brought by Wayne Farms for damages resulting from a fire at their chicken processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia.
In the case, Wayne Farms claimed that fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP) manufactured by Crane Composites and installed with nylon rivets failed in a 2003 fire allegedly caused by a malfunctioning burner. The plaintiffs claimed that the panels, attached to the ceiling of the oven room, sagged toward the flames causing the fire to spread uncontrollably and consume the facility. It was plaintiffs' contention that, if the panels had not failed, the repair costs and loss of profits resulting from the fire would have totaled $300,000 and $1.9 million respectively. With the alleged failure, they claimed the resulting damages were $263 million which also reflected projected lost profits.
Smith Moore Leatherwood trial team was headed by Edward Newsom and ably assisted by partners Lawrence Myers, Steven Henry and chief paralegal Stacy Delk. Crane introduced evidence that the plaintiff had spoliated evidence. The defense proffered evidence that the plant had bypassed safety features on pieces of heat-producing equipment, had been negligent with its maintenance history, and lacked a plant-wide sprinkler system. They further disputed the claimed cause of the fire based on witness testimony.
The case, initially brought in 2006 by Wayne Farms and four of its insurers against Crane Composites and a second defendant, took a turn in 2009 when the judge denied multiple motions for summary judgment brought by both parties. Upon appeal in 2010, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed some of the judge's decisions on the defendants' motions, and Crane's co-defendant was dismissed from the case. After an unsuccessful 2011 mediation, the four insurance companies dismissed their claims.
Jury selection for the trial began on April 11, 2012, and after seven weeks and 30 to 40 witnesses, the jury took only five and a half hours to reach a defense verdict.
"This was a long, complex case with lots of twists and turns," said Edward Newsom, lead attorney for Smith Moore Leatherwood on the case. "I am extremely proud of the work of our team, and certainly pleased with the verdict on behalf of Crane Composites. It was the right result."
"The case, however, is not completely finished. Crane also plans to seek $4 million in legal fees and expenses from Wayne Farms, based on our belief that their claims lacked merit from the outset." Under Georgia's offer-of- judgment rule, if a party rejects a settlement offer but does not do much better at trial than if they accepted the offer, the prevailing party may be entitled to attorneys' fees.
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