Jury deliberations will resume in ex-agent’s suit against Nationwide
By Peter H. Milliken
An eight-man jury will resume deliberations Monday concerning a lawsuit by a former Nationwide Insurance agent, who alleged Nationwide enrolled her in an agency executive program, then withheld financing from her agency and made her working conditions so intolerable that she was forced to quit.
The former agent, Christine Lucarell of Boardman, who sued Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. of Columbus in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, seeks $5 million in damages.
The trial has been under way for two weeks before visiting Judge Thomas J. Pokorny.
A full day of deliberations on Friday failed to yield a verdict, and the jurors will return to the courthouse at 9:15 a.m. Monday.
In response to an inquiry from the jurors just before they suspended their deliberations for the weekend, Judge Pokorny said there are no caps on damage awards and that the guidelines concerning damage awards are contained in the written instructions he gave them before they began deliberating.
Lucarell, who has worked in the insurance industry for 20 years, said she was one of about 400 Nationwide agents who participated in the company’s three-year agency executive program.
Nationwide told her she could earn more than $200,000 in annual commissions by participating in the program and that agents successfully completing the program could become independent insurance agents, Lucarell said in her civil lawsuit.
“Nationwide withheld from her the training and support services she needed to succeed as a sales agent” after she opened her Nationwide agency in 2006, Lucarell’s lawyers wrote in the complaint they filed on her behalf.
Even though her agency was profitable, Nationwide stopped financing Lucarell’s Boardman agency in April 2009 and forced her to resign in July 2009, Lucarell said.
Nationwide terminated about 90 percent of its agency executive agencies, including Lucarell’s “using unsustainable monthly production quotas to withhold financing from the agencies and then terminating them once the agents had generated a profitable book of business,” the suit said.
Nationwide denied Lucarell’s allegations and said Lucarell was an independent contractor, not an employee of the insurance company.
Nationwide acknowledged that Lucarell “needed to achieve certain production goals” to obtain loan disbursements from the company.
However, the company’s lawyers said in a trial brief: “Plaintiff’s damages, if any, were not caused by Nationwide, but rather were self-inflicted and caused by her own business decisions.”
With about 36,000 employees, Nationwide is one of the world’s largest insurance and financial services companies with more than $30 billion in annual revenues.