Whatever Happened to that $42,000,000 Employment Jury Verdict against Nationwide?

posted by Neil E. Klingshirn | March 13, 2019 in Employment Law

In November of 2012, a jury awarded Christine Lucarell $42 million for her claims that Nationwide Insurance Company fraudulently and in bad faith induced her to open a new insurance agency when it intended all along to terminate her once she generated a profitable book of business. For Ms. Lucarell, however, that was the end of the good news.
First, the trial court reduced the $42 million award to $14 million by applying legally required caps on damages. Second, the Seventh District the Court of Appeals affirmed part of the trial court’s judgment but reversed on others, which resulted in a reduction of Lucarell’s total award to $2.3 million, plus attorney fees and prejudgment interest. Both Lucarell and Nationwide appealed this outcome to the Ohio Supreme Court.
There, the Ohio Supreme Court reduced what was left of Lucarell’s award to nothing. It did so on a number of grounds, including that a party to a contract does not breach the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing by seeking to enforce the agreement as written or by acting in accordance with its express terms. In this case, since Ms. Lucarell agreed that Nationwide could terminate her employment, Nationwide was free to do so, even for a bad reason, like to take the business she had built. The Ohio Supreme Court also held that rosy predictions or projections relating to future performance cannot constitute fraud. Rather, a fraudulent misrepresentation must involve a matter of fact that relates to the past or present.
Apart from the legal precedent it set, what Ms. Lucarell’s case tells us is that eye-popping jury verdicts usually fare poorly on appeal. The entire Ohio Supreme Court opinion can be found at Lucarell v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 152 Ohio St.3d 453, 2018-Ohio-15.
(This is general legal information and is not offered as specific legal advice.  Do not rely on this information to make decisions about your rights.  If you have questions about disability discrimination in the workplace, contact an attorney)

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