Ninth Court guts Mostyn Law jury verdict win against State Farm, wipes firm’s fees too

By David Yates | Mar 15, 2017

BEAUMONT – The Ninth Court of Appeals recently shaved hundreds of thousands of dollars off a jury verdict win obtained by Mostyn Law in a trial against State Farm Lloyds that took place nearly two years ago.

BEAUMONT – The Ninth Court of Appeals recently shaved hundreds of thousands of dollars off a jury verdict win obtained by Mostyn Law in a trial against State Farm Lloyds that took place nearly two years ago.

State Farm Lloyds had appealed in October 2015, seeking to axe the verdict on the grounds that the opinions of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses were “unreliable and inadmissible.”

The trial against State Farm transpired in May 2015.

The Mostyn Law Firm, on behalf of plaintiff Dennis Webb, landed a jury verdict totaling $260,000 in damages -- $165,000 of which was allotted to attorney’s fees.

The trial focused on whether State Farm fully compensated Webb after a pipe in his home burst and caused water and foundation damage.

The jury found that State Farm failed to comply with Webb’s insurance policy; and engaged in deceptive trade practices by failing to settle his claim fairly and refusing to pay a claim without conducting a reasonable investigation, court records show.

Jurors awarded Webb $15,000 for breach of contract, $20,000 in damages for unfair settlement practices and $60,000 in additional deceptive practices damages.

On March 9, the Ninth Court slashed all extra-contractual damages awarded to Webb, concluding that “the evidence would not enable reasonable and fair-minded people” to find that State Farm engaged in deceptive practices, according to the court’s opinion.

Justices also found that the plaintiff’s expert findings of causation were reliable and affirmed Webb’s breach of contract win, which netted him $15,000 from jurors.

However, because the unsegregated damages award required a remand, justices ordered a new trial with respect to Webb’s recoverable attorney’s fees.

On appeal, State Farm argued:

- Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying State Farm’s motion to exclude the testimony and opinions of Webb’s expert witness, Peter Rabner, when his testimony was not reliable under Texas Rule of Evidence 702. State Farm believes the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury’s breach of contract and damages findings;

- Whether the trial court erred in refusing to allow State Farm to introduce its claim adjuster’s field notes that documented cracks in the same kitchen tile during Webb’s 2008 Hurricane Ike claim, after his sole causation expert, Rabner, testified “nobody at the insurance company ever noticed cracks in the tile before” as the only objective data supporting his hypothesis that the absence of cracks until just before the 2012 leak established that the leak caused foundation movement; and

- Whether legally and factually insufficient evidence to support extra-contractual damages exists when Webb failed to introduce evidence of an injury independent of the denial of insurance policy benefits, and admitted he had not suffered any injury separate and apart from the denial of policy benefits.

According to the original petition, on May 6, 2012, a plumbing pipe burst at Webb’s Beaumont home, causing significant water damage to his residence.

Webb then submitted a policy claim with State Farm, which in turn assigned adjusters, who were also named as defendants but non-suited before trial, to assess the damage.

The suit accused State Farm of failing to properly oversee the work of the adjusters and ultimately approving an inadequate and unfair settlement.

Beaumont attorney Gregory Cox of the Mostyn Law firm represents Webb.

The Mostyn law firm has made hundreds of millions of dollars suing insurance providers in the state of Texas.

State Farm is represented by attorney Edward Frank, David Fisher and Hampton Skelton.

Judge Kent Walston, 58th District Court, presided over the trial.

Trial case No. A194-468

Appeals case No. 09-15-00408-CV

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