Trials & Litigation

Did man's frog phobia help him win $1.6 million verdict in land-runoff case?


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Nobody knows for sure how much Paul Marinaccio’s testimony about his frog phobia may have upped the ante in a $1.6 million jury award over a land runoff case.

However, the 65-year-old’s detailed explanation of how “petrified” he is by the small creatures now proliferating on his property wasn’t enough to persuade the New York Court of Appeals to uphold a $250,000 punitive damages award, according to the Buffalo News.

“We find that although the injury was considerable and the acts undeniably intentional, the evidence in this case was insufficient for an award of punitive damages,” the court held in a written opinion .

Marinaccio said he has his adult daughter come over to his property regularly to scout his land for frogs and remove them and once paid a union worker $65 an hour to work beside him on a job and put frogs in a bucket. His phobia dates back to his childhood, he told the jury.

At issue in the runoff case was a 40-acre parcel on which Marinaccio lives in Clarence. After development took place on neighboring land, the runoff was diverted onto his property, turning it into a wetlands environment on which frogs became commonplace, the article explains. It also made the land unsuitable for subdivision and development.

After a 2009 trial, the jury awarded Marinaccio compensatory damages of $1.3 million against the Town of Clarence, which had a role in overseeing the development. Another $328,400 was to come from Bernard Kieffer, who owns the property, and his Kieffer Enterprises development company.

A post-verdict mitigation plan is expected to address the runoff issue.

Attorney Michael B. Powers, who represents Kieffer, says the 83-year-old would have been devastated if required to pay the $250,000 in punitive damages and calls the appellate ruling “one of the most gratifying of my career,” the newspaper reports.

The town and Powers blamed Marinaccio for not cooperating to resolve the runoff issue and failing to take appropriate mitigation measures. Powers also portrayed his client as a man who had done everything the town told him to do, then got hit with a seven-year litigation battle.

Marinaccio says his litigation opponents thought they could take advantage of an immigrant with little formal schooling but found out otherwise.

“They looked at me like I was some dumb Italian, with no education, and could just roll over me,” he told the newspaper. “They never thought I was going to win the case. You should have seen their faces the day of the verdict.”

The verdict more than covered his $300,000 in attorney fees, the article notes.

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