Trials & Litigation

Judge nixes $25M settlement because plaintiff's lawyer was told of jury note before defense counsel


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A Chicago-area judge tossed a $25 million settlement agreement Tuesday because the plaintiff’s lawyer in the case was told by a court clerk about the contents of a jury note before the defense heard about it.

In the half-hour interim, attorney Mark McNabola settled the case, committing fraud by not informing opposing counsel of the note, Judge Daniel Lynch ruled from the bench in the Cook County Circuit Court case. McNabola had contended he did nothing wrong and had no reason to believe the defense hadn’t been told about the note, too. He visibly slumped as Lynch made his ruling, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

At issue in the case was a 2009 boating accident that paralyzed Scot Vandenberg when he fell from the upper deck of Bad Influence II, a luxury yacht. The vessel had been rented for a company event on Lake Michigan.

Defendants Brunswick Corp. and Brunswick Boat Group said they would not have made the settlement if they had known about the note.

The clerk for Judge Elizabeth Budzinski, who presided over the trial, denied telling McNabola about the contents of the note. However, a law student intern, who said she overheard the conversation in which the clerk did so, informed Budzinski.

Lynch found no evidence of a conspiracy between the clerk and McNabola to conceal the information from the defense, but said it must, at some point, have become obvious to McNabola that Brunswick didn’t know about the note, the Sun-Times reports.

Lynch denied a Brunswick request for a directed defense verdict but did not decide whether to order a new trial, urging the parties to resume settlement negotiations.

Related coverage: “Lawyer denies telling clerk to hold off disclosing jury note while he completed $25M settlement”

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