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Jury blames insurer for failing to resolve claim over teen’s death

In 2019, after an appeals court said the mother of a teenager killed in a St. Louis nightclub could collect at least a portion of her damages from an insurer, her attorney said the case had just begun. .

“The underlying tort judgment is only the starting point for the damages,” Jim O’Leary said at the time.

He was right.

On Jan. 27, a St. Louis jury awarded $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Latronya Adams over her claim that insurer Lloyd’s of London had refused to settle its lawsuit against the plant operator in which his 16-year-old son, Orlando Willis, was fatally injured on Christmas Day 2010.

Willis and a number of other young people went to a party at Pulse Night Club, even though the event was only open to those over the age of 18. A fight broke out, shots were fired, and Willis, who had been there to help organize the party, was shot in the face. He later died of his injuries.

Willis’ mother is suing party organizer Eric Galloway, who ran the club and two adjacent businesses. One of Galloway’s business operations, Lights on Broadway, was insured by underwriters affiliated with Lloyd’s of London. The insurer declined to provide a defense, citing a policy provision that excluded damages arising from assault or battery.

As a result, Galloway agreed to drop his defense, and Adams took out a $5 million judgment against him in a bench trial in 2014. He then sought to collect the money from the insurer. Under his agreement with Galloway, she also reiterated his claim that the insurer had acted in bad faith by refusing to defend the case.

Adams’s just foreclosure suit initially collapsed when a circuit judge found that Lloyd’s policy provided no coverage. But in 2019, the Eastern District Court of Appeals found both that the insurer had a duty to defend the claim and that the policy provided coverage. The court found that the insurer was in trouble over the policy limit of $1 million plus his interest and remanded the case to determine whether the insurer’s refusal to provide a defense was made in bad faith.

The bad faith claim was tried in January in Circuit Court in St. Louis. The jury returned a unanimous verdict for the underlying judgment of $5 million. After further discussions, the jury voted 9-3 to award an additional $5 million in punitive damages. O’Leary said it was among the largest bad faith jury verdicts for refusal to settle a claim in Missouri history.

After the trial, Judge Michael Noble entered judgment over the original $1 million in policy limits, plus $760,931.50 in accumulated interest, bringing the total award to more than $11.76 million.

Dorothy White-Coleman, an attorney for the insurer, was not immediately contacted for comment.

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$10 million verdict, plus $1.76 million judgment


Location: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case number/date: 1422-CC09515-01/Jan. 27, 2023

Judge: Michael Noble

Last Preliminary Request: $6,000,000

Latest Preliminary Offer: $3,000,000

Plaintiff’s Expert: Ronald Clifton, St. Louis (insurance claims management)

Defendant Expert: Douglas R. Richmond, AON, Olathe, Kansas (insurance)

Caption: Latronya Adams v. Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s, London Signing of certificate no. LCL 004029

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: James D. O’Leary Jr., O’Leary, Shelton, Corrigan, Peterson, Dalton & Quillin, St. Louis; Matthew P. O’Grady, OnderLaw, St. Louis

Defendant’s attorneys: Dorothy White-Coleman, White Coleman & Associates, St. Louis; Robert T. Plunkert, Pitzer Snodgrass, St. Louis; Colleen Costello, Novak Law, Chicago, Illinois

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the amount of the last preliminary question. It was 6 million dollars. We are sorry for the mistake.

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