by George Thompson
A Day County jury returned $2,242,000 verdicts on May 30 in favor of two local men who filed a civil suit against Nationwide Insurance Company.
With interest, attorney’s fees and costs the final judgment is expected to be between $2.4 million and $2.5 million.
Local beekeepers Mike Block, Webster, and Monte Amman, Wilmot, were sued by a competitor.
They had purchased commercial insurance, which defends small businessmen from the kind of claims that were initially made against them.
Nationwide, their carrier, refused to defend them so the plaintiffs had to fight the suit on their own and were eventually forced into a settlement they didn’t want to get rid of the financial risk.
They then hired Watertown attorney Lee Schoenbeck to review their insurance policy to see if there was any wrongdoing by the carrier.
Schoenbeck determined his clients had been wronged and filed suit in circuit court in Webster.
The defendents hired the Shook Hardy firm, Kansas City, and local counsel, Kent Cutler, Sioux Falls to represent them.
The five-day jury trial took place in the Day County Courtroom and ended last week with a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
A separate special verdict form was used for each plaintiff, and the jury had to answer 23 separate issues.
The jury found against Nationwide on all 23 issues, returning verdicts for breach of duty to indemnify, and bad faith breach of duty to defend and to indemnify.
Trial court judge Scott Myron had previously ruled that Nationwide had breached their duty to defend, and ordered that the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees be paid prior to the trial.
The jury award also included $1 million of punitive damages.
“They fought us tooth and nail the whole way,” said Schoenbeck in a statement following the verdict.
“Mike and Monte were relieved and vindicated when the Day County jury returned a verdict for them,” he continued. “I thought the jury worked very hard and this case was a reaffirmation of our right to trial by jury. My clients were people who were victimized by a big conglomerate that has taken over the insurance industry and made it a practice to deny their insureds coverage. It is hard for the average person to fight these denials and receive the promises in the insurance contract that they paid for.”
Schoenbeck Law Firm specializes in insurance coverage issues and representing those who have been denied coverage.
The previous high civil verdict in Day County was $300,000 in a trial Schoenbeck litigated in 2002.
Attorney Lee Schoenbeck is Webster born and now resides in Watertown.