Judge reduces jury award in case against Nationwide

By Peter H. Milliken



A judge has overruled a Nationwide Insurance Co. motion for a new trial of Christine Lucarell vs. Nationwide Insurance Co., unless Lucarell, a former Nationwide agent, wants one on the issue of damage amounts alone.

In Monday’s judgment entry, visiting Judge Thomas J. Pokorny of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who presided over last fall’s trial, reduced the award from the $42.8 million granted by the eight-man jury to $14.517 million.

In overruling the company’s motion for a new trial, Judge Pokorny wrote: “The court cannot find that the evidence presented by the plaintiff or arguments of counsel inflamed the passion or prejudice” of the jury. “The jury has apparently viewed the defendant’s acts with a high degree of reprehensibility,” the judge added.

In her civil lawsuit, Lucarell, of Boardman, alleged the Columbus-based insurance giant enrolled her in an agency-executive program, then withheld financing from her agency and made her working conditions so intolerable she was forced to quit.

“There are over 400 other agents across the country who experienced the same thing that happened to me, and now the gate is open for them” to pursue their claims against Nationwide, Lucarell said, adding that she feels “vindicated” by the judge’s decision.

Lucarell said she will discuss with her lawyer, Caryn Groedel of Cleveland, whether she will seek a new trial on the issue of damage amounts.

In a prepared statement, Nationwide said it was pleased with the reduction of the award, but it disagrees with the verdict, believes errors in the trial improperly affected the outcome of the case and intends to appeal the verdict to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Also Monday, Judge Pokorny also overruled Nationwide’s motion for cancellation of the verdict and set attorney fees of $187,546 and expenses of $21,558 to be paid by Nationwide to Lucarell if the verdict is upheld on appeal.

Judge Pokorny has stayed all payments from Nationwide to Lucarell pending appeal.

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