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Virginia $10.6M Wrongful Death Verdict May Be Voided by Alleged Attorney Misconduct

When the lead attorney for a Charlottesville, Virginia (VA), man who lost his wife to injuries suffered in a collision with a cement truck secured a $10.6 million jury verdict in the wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver and building supplies company, the news went national. Seven months later, that verdict, which amounted to $12 million when interest was added to the award, is in jeopardy.

Charlottesville's Daily Progress reported on July 21, 2011, that the defense team for the truck driver and Allied Concrete Co. filed papers with the circuit court asking a judge to either reduce the total by at least $8 million dollars, vacate the original verdict and call a new trial, or throw the case out altogether. The defense team claims that plaintiff's attorney Matthew Murray lied to the trial court, advised his client to attempt to destroy evidence that could have weakened the case and did not inform the original judge or defense that he knew and had worked as a volunteer with the woman who served as forewoman of the civil trial jury. The evidence at issue consists of a group of photos that appeared on the plaintiff's Facebook page.

Murray, who did not speak with the newspaper, resigned from his position as a managing partner with the law firm Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen the day after the accusation of lying, evidence tampering and possible conflict of interest were made on July 5, 2011. Murray also informed colleagues he was retiring from practicing law after more than 30 years in the profession.

I do not know enough about the case or its handling to even begin speculating on whether Murray acted unprofessionally or unethically in representing his client and presenting evidence. But as a Virginia-based personal injury attorney who has assisted families in wrongful death lawsuits, I know that all lawyers owe it to themselves, their clients and the judicial system itself to hold themselves to the highest standards for collecting and presenting evidence and dealing with court officers.

Up until now, the reputation of this injury lawyer was excellent. Sometimes, mistakes are made in the heat of battle for a client against insurance companies that are trying to twist facts to save money. New media such as Facebook photo sharing add potential problems for accident lawyers because folks do not realize the lengths defense lawyers will go to find mud to smear on the family making a claim.

That written, ethics can never take a back seat to attaining a positive settlement or verdict for a client. If that did happen in the Charlottesville wrongful death case, the court will have little choice but to alter or invalidate the outcome of the original trial. Any violation of legal ethics by a plantiff's or defense lawyer prevents justice from being done. I'll be keeping an eye on the request from the defense because, regardless of the circuit court's decision, this incident has valuable lessons to teach about how to conduct injury and wrongful death law.

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