Settlement shocks one party's attorneys in Pontoon Beach negligence suit

Amelia Flood Jun. 5, 2009, 12:39am

Attorneys for one of the parties in a complicated Pontoon Beach negligence suit appeared startled Thursday when what they thought was a motion in limine hearing turned into a settlement announcement that would leave them facing trial alone.

Despite their arguments to postpone a trial set for Monday, Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder told those representing the estate of David Groves that they probably should be ready.

"I appreciate that it's suddenly shocking for you to lose the Martins out of the case," Crowder said in response to the flustered faces of attorney Tom Buckley and those representing the Groves party.

Crowder was informed of the settlment by conference call Wednesday. Buckley said he had not been part of the conversation.

The estate of David Groves as represented by Julia Groves is suing Jose Velazquez, the trucking company that employs him, and others for the wrongful death of her husband in 2006. The defendants filed a claim of contribution against the estate. The suit was originally brought by the wife of David Groves' passenger who was severely injured in the same crash. That set of plaintiffs, Russell and Cynthia Martin, settled their case Thursday morning.

Crowder will hear motions if needed Friday morning and could possibly postpone Monday's trial.

Buckley, Groves' attorney, argued that the surprise settlement had recast the defendants' claims against his client.

"This changes the landscape of the case dramatically," Buckley said.

He argued that the defendants would have to amend their claims against the Groves estate, a statement disputed by Matthew Reh, attorney for defendant Proctor and Gamble Manufacturing.

The Groves' attorneys insisted they needed to see the settlement documents before they could take their wrongful death case to trial and questioned whether a settlement had been reached. Buckley cited conversations he and the other Groves' attorneys had conducted with plaintiff Martin over a possible settlement of Martin's claims against the estate and the possibility that the Thursday settlement could expose Julia Groves to excessive damages in the outstanding contribution claim.

Crowder appeared doubtful and questioned the need for a delay.

"They're not making that up," Crowder said of reaching the settlement. "Either the case gets settled or the case gets tried."

Brasher said he could not disclose the amount of the settlement reached with Cynthia and Russell Martin as it was confidential. The settlement would dismiss all of Martin's claims against all defendants including the Groves estate.

The original suit began when Cynthia Martin sued Julia Groves as special representative for her husband's estate over her husband's injuries. Russell Martin was riding in a car driven by David Groves in November 2006 when the car struck a tractor trailer that was backing up from a warehouse in Pontoon Beach.

David Groves died of his injuries weeks later. Martin amended her complaint to name Jose Velazquez, the truck's driver, Werner Enterprises Inc. the trucking company, CP/IPERS, the warehouse leaser, Proctor and Gamble Manufacturing, the tenant, and YRC, the logistics company that oversaw operations at the site. The companies filed several third party complaints including the claim for contribution against the Groves estate. The Groves estate then filed a wrongful death complaint against the companies.

CP/IPERS was a granted summary judgment in May. YRC settled with the Martins and the Groves estate Monday.

If the trial of the remaining claims moves forward, it will start at 9 a.m. Monday.

The Groves estate is represented by Tom Buckley and others. Velazquez and Werner are represented by Richard Nash and Bill Brasher. Proctor and Gamble is represented by Matthew Reh. Reh had also represented CP/IPERS. Michael Kleffner had been lead counsel for YRC. Joseph Bartholomew represented the Martins.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-224.

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