Appellate Court wraps up hotly-disputed Gaylord negligence trial against insurance agent
In 2004, Zaremba Equipment, Inc., sued its insurance company and insurance agent, claiming they had been negligent and had also misprepresented the value of insurance coverage that the agent, Patrick Musall, recommended buying. Zaremba had experienced a fire in 2003 and had experienced losses far in excess of their insurance coverage for replacement of the building and contents.
The agent argued that rulings by the Republican majority of the Supreme Court established that he owed no duty to the insured, that his only duty was to "take orders" for the company, and that Zaremba's failure to read its policy pre-empted any claim that Zaremba might have. In a prior appeal, the higher court concluded that the agent might owe a duty to Zaremba based on his allegedly negligent analysis of the building's value and his allegedly negligent advice about "full coverage."
The case was finally tried in a contentious, uncivil atmosphere with mutual claims of falsehood or misbehavior. The jury ultimately found that the agent did not commit fraud, but that he was negligent in fulfilling the duties he had assumed to the insured; it concluded that Zaremba was also negligent in failing to read the policy, and it awarded damages that were ultimately computed to be slightly over $1.2 million dollars. The trial judge rejected the Defendants' arguments that the verdict was improper or a product of attorney misconduct and the Defendants appealed a second time.The higher court rejected the defendants' attempt to re-argue the claims that had already been decided on appeal. In particular, it rejected the Defendants' claims that failing to read the policy language constituted a waiver of any possible negligence claim. It found ample evidence to support the jury's verdict and no "studied" effort by Zaremba's counsel to improperly influence the jury's handling of the issues. As had the trial judge, the Court of Appeals concluded that while the trial wasn't perfect and while it was emotion-laden, it had been essentially fair and had achieved a reasonable outcome.