The plaintiffs asked for $15 million. The jury awarded $0. Why? “Put your cards on the table!”
Every Judge tells every jury that sympathy should play no part in their verdict. But no one believes that. After all, juries are made up of laypeople untrained in the sometimes harsh nuances of the legal system. “Burden of proof,” “causation,” and “standard of care” are cold concepts compared to the feel-good warmth of “sticking it to the man” and “winning one for the little guy.” So, when the plaintiff was a husband and father with cancer and the defendant was one of the world’s largest corporations, it seemed inevitable that the jury would grant the man’s dying wish and render the $15 million verdict his lawyers were asking for. Even worse, the gentleman passed away in the middle of the trial leaving his daughter to sit in his place at counsel’s table for closing arguments. The Trial Team faced a tough road representing a defendant under these circumstances.
Lawrence Phillips was married for 44 years, the father of two children, and an Air Force veteran. Mr. Phillips was honorably discharged from his military service in 1969 and began working for Exxon that same year. He worked as a pipefitter and welder until he retired in 2002. Mr. Phillips testified that as a pipefitter and welder, he would remove asbestos gaskets and asbestos pipe insulation by scraping and grinding the material from the pipes creating clouds of asbestos dust. Mr. Phillips never worked for any other company other than Exxon. In August 2019, Mr. Phillips developed shortness of breath and fatigue, which led his doctors to order a chest X-ray and further testing. That testing revealed the presence of mesothelioma in the lining of his lungs. In other words, the plaintiff was a husband, father, veteran, and 30-year Exxon refinery employee who developed cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. When the plaintiff’s lawyer began his opening statement by saying, “I’m holding all the Aces,” he wasn’t far off.
One lawyer who worked with The Trial Team on the case remarked, “The facts were brutal, but James is extremely competitive. I remember trying to convince him that he would need to rethink his definition of ‘winning’ because we were not likely to get an outright victory in this case. James said, ‘if there is a path to complete victory, my team will find it.’ They did just that.” The testimony at trial was emotional and gut-wrenching. Yet, The Trial Team found a way to neutralize the impact of that testimony. The Trial Team masterfully humanized Exxon in front of the jury by vividly illustrating that Exxon is not a cold autonomous corporation but rather an organization made up of compassionate and dedicated people who work hard to make the world a better place.
James Williams amazed the jury at the start of his closing argument by performing a magic trick. He reminded the jury how his opponent told them in his opening statement that he was “… holding all the aces.” James then produced four playing cards from his suit pocket and fanned them out in front of the jury. He was holding four aces. He then collapsed the four cards and fanned them out again to reveal four Kings. He collapsed the same cards again and fanned them out one more time to reveal four Queens. James told the jury that anyone who plays cards knows that if someone is bragging about “holding all the aces,” they are probably bluffing. That’s why everyone should “put their cards on the table.” He then put each of the four cards down on a table in front of the jury so they could see he had been using trick cards. James questioned why the plaintiffs were so reluctant to put their cards on the table if the case was as simple in their favor as they told the jury it would be. Could it be that they were trying to trick the jury? James told the jury that if they caught the plaintiff lawyers playing tricks, they could rule in Exxon’s favor and award $0. Everyone in the courtroom was shocked when that’s exactly what they did.