Congratulations to Mark W. Smith, his team and his client on this tremendous jury verdict and ultimate settlement. This long and storied case began with a murder in 1980 for which Mr. Smith’s client, Gerald Burge, was investigated, convicted and eventually exonerated. Mr. Burge was convicted of the murder in 1986. Years later it was discovered that the lead investigator, Hale, had hidden exculpatory evidence. Burge was able to secure a new trial in 1992. With all of the evidence in hand, Burge was exonerated and found “not guilty” at a second trial in 1992 after having already served six (6) years of hard labor. The travesty of the criminal case included:
1. Exculpatory evidence that was hidden by Hale during the first trial leading to the conviction;
2. Marriage of the investigating officer Hale to one of the key witnesses, the decedent’s sister, and his prompting his wife and mother-in-law to lie on the witness stand during the first trial.
Burge brought suit against Hale in USDC in 1991 for violation of his state and federal constitutional rights, wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution and a variety of other state torts. In discovery it was determined that the insurer for Hale had become insolvent and that Hale was covered only by an insurance policy with $100,000 limits. Extensive attempts to uncover excess coverage were unsuccessful as Hale, the Sheriff's office, the insolvent insurer, and their attorneys all denied that any additional coverage had ever been procured beyond that provided by the insolvent insurer. At NO time was the existence or possibility of an excess insurer ever revealed. The primary carrier provided legal counsel to Hale. After years of hard fought litigation, including three trips to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal the civil case was tried in federal court in May of 2001 with the jury returning a verdict for Mr. Burge in the amount of $4,075,000.
Hale was forced into bankruptcy and a trustee was appointed to represent the estate. The trustee sued the original insurance carrier alleging bad faith and Hale’s attorney alleging legal malpractice. During that litigation the trustee gained access to the insurance company’s internal files and discovered, contrary to all prior representations, an excess coverage policy in the amount of $900,000 had been in effect for a very short period of time that coincided with some of the events of the underlying prosecution of Burge. Burge brought suit against the excess carrier.
From 2003 to 2013 Hale's attorneys, their insurers and the excess insurance carrier filed a litany of motions and appeals in both federal and state court that resulted in over five trips to higher courts for review of the various rulings. In early 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the excess carrier’s final writ applications and the matter was set for trial. Confidential settlements were reached. When all was said and done the various defendants in the various litigations ended up paying more than the original jury verdict of $4,075,000.
Mark W. Smith & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law focus their practice on accidents, medical malpractice, and negligence litigation. Mark W. Smith has earned an "AV" rating from Martindale Hubbell and he is a member of The Top Trial Lawyers of America, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Multi Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To read more about the firm and their cases, click here.
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