Voelker Litigation Group wins a reversal in landmark decision on the award of punitive damages in Illinois!

Download the Decision… (PDF)

On November 18, 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois reversed the decision of the Appellate Court to reduce punative damages in the Parillo vs. Doe case from $8 million to $1 million and reinstated the $8 million judgement.

Some excerpts from the decision follow:

In Circuit Court, Judge Varga characterized the defense’s conduct as “the most audacious attempt to undermine the judicial process which this Court has seen in over twenty-four years.”

Judge Varga revisited his conclusion that [Parrillo’s attorneys] abandoned the case:

“Did Ms. Muth or Mr. Holstein seek to participate during the trial, despite standing in the hallway and looking through the glass doors? Participation during trial means opening statements, examination of witnesses, and closing arguments. The only act Ms. Muth or Mr. Holstein did through the trial was file and argue a motion for mistrial after the jury entered the jury room to begin deliberations. The Court denied the motion. *** Did Ms. Muth and Mr. Holstein make a conscious decision not to participate during trial? Did they abandon the trial? The Court pressed them: after the Emergency Motion to Continue Trial was not presented and the case remained for trial in [Judge Varga’s courtroom], what were they going to do? The Court concludes that they walked away from the trial and abandon[ed] it.”

Judge Varga then summarized his impressions:

“[T]he defendant lied in an affidavit to seek a trial continuance, the defense attorneys failed to follow a well-known and well-understood circuit court rule ***, and the defense attorneys and defendant abandoned the trial. In conclusion the title of defendant’s attempt should read, ‘A Conspiracy to Undermine the Integrity of the Judicial Process—or— How Not to Get a Trial Continuance in the Law Division.’ First, lie; second, don’t follow rules; and third, if the first and second don’t work, don’t show up for trial.”

In 2020, The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision in every respect, except as to punitive damages.

The appellate court further held that Judge Varga’s decision to proceed with the trial in Parrillo’s absence did not violate due process. He and his attorneys had notice of the trial, but Muth and Holstein abdicated their ethical obligations to their client.

The court reasoned:

“Counsel refused to participate in jury selection or trial or take steps to properly present the motion for a continuance to the presiding judge. Parrillo filed an untruthful affidavit. Together, this appears more like a tactic to secure a continuance than a series of unfortunate events. We do not know when Parrillo learned of his counsel’s refusal to participate in the trial, to walk away and take their chances. Either Parrillo chose to rely on (and perhaps participate) in his attorneys’ decision or laid low to conceal his falsehoods.”

The appellate court then rejected Parrillo’s contention that the amount of compensatory damages was excessive.

“Based on the evidence in the record, we cannot say the amount awarded exceeded the range of fair and reasonable compensation or was so large as to shock the judicial conscience.”

Finally, the appellate court addressed Parrillo’s argument that the jury’s $8 million punitive damages award violated due process. The appellate court… identified three guideposts to determine whether punitive damages pass constitutional muster. The appellate court found Parrillo’s arguments on each guidepost uncompelling…The court concluded that punitive damages eight times the amount of compensatory damages crosses that line. Accordingly, the court reduced Doe’s punitive damages to $1 million.

This court allowed Doe’s petition for leave to appeal.

The Illinois Supreme Court considered Doe’s case…Regarding reprehensibility, it instructed reviewing courts to consider several factors, including whether “the harm caused was physical as opposed to economic; the tortious conduct evinced an indifference to or a reckless disregard of the health or safety of others; the target of the conduct had financial vulnerability; the conduct involved repeated actions or was an isolated incident; and the harm was the result of intentional malice, trickery, or deceit, or mere accident.”

Parrillo asserts that reprehensibility is “impossible” to consider given the absence of a trial record. We disagree. As evidenced by the photographs introduced as trial exhibits, her injuries were undoubtedly physical. Further, Parrillo’s conduct showed not simply an indifference or reckless disregard for Doe’s health, but actual intent to harm her on five occasions. On one of those occasions, December 12, 2015, Parrillo apparently told Doe that he would “ruin” her and that “things” would “get worse” for her while they would “get fun” for him. Then he advised her to “look over her shoulder” and “flee.” Judge Varga, while acknowledging that he was not the trier of fact, stated that he listened to Doe’s testimony that she was “the victim of sexual assault—in the old days, it was more descriptive, it was rape,” as well as the victim of physical and psychological assault. He described the evidence: “The facts were, they were intentional acts. It was a physical act. You know, scars. I remember that. *** I mean, it was mental, it was sexual abuse, which was physical.” When Neville mentioned reprehensibility and maintained that the jury could not make that determination because Parrillo did not testify and “they didn’t hear both sides,” Judge Varga responded quickly: “Reprehensible conduct? She said he sexually assaulted her. Ain’t that reprehensible?”

In conclusion, the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois reversed the appellate court’s judgment as to punitive damages and affirm that judgment in all other respects, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment. Appellate court judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part. Circuit court judgment affirmed.

Link to full transcript…

Download the Decision… (PDF)

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Ill. Justices Urged To Restore Abuse Suit’s Slashed $8M Award

By Lauraann Wood

An Illinois woman urged the state Supreme Court on Thursday to reinstate a jury’s $8 million punitive damages verdict against an ex-boyfriend who didn’t appear in court to defend himself against her abuse claims at trial, arguing an appellate panel slashed her award against precedent and its own reasoning.

The woman, identified as Jane Doe, told Illinois’ justices during oral argument the intermediate court improperly substituted its own judgment for the jury’s when it found her punitive damages award unreasonably excessive and reduced it to $1 million. The panel’s decision contradicts 175 years of Illinois precedent stating juries should receive great latitude with their verdicts, and failed to even follow a bright-line reasonableness test it cited from Third District appellate precedent, her attorney, Daniel Voelker of Voelker Litigation Group, told the justices.

… Voelker asked the justices, “respectfully, how would the court know that’s enough?”.

“They didn’t hear the evidence. The jury heard the evidence,” he said. The jury only heard from Doe before awarding her a total of $9 million in 2019 because Parrillo failed to defend himself against her allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse. The trial court observed the abuse as rape, and indicated in later proceedings that Parrillo’s counsel had engaged in one of the most egregious examples of gamesmanship it had ever experienced, Voelker told the state high court.

Voelker argued Parrillo’s failure to defend himself at trial should “absolutely not” factor into the state high court’s review because punitive damages don’t reflect the quality of a defendant’s representation. Whether the jury considered Parrillo and his counsel’s trial behavior during deliberations is something “we’ll never know, but that’s the predicament he created for himself,” he said.

Voelker also slammed Neville’s representation that Parrillo’s trial counsel had been improperly blocked from participating in a post-trial jury instruction conference. The trial court had “bent over backwards” to give Parrillo a fair trial, and his counsel has no foundation to submit legal documents characterizing events from a courtroom she wasn’t in, he argued.

Part of the issue with determining a punitive award’s reasonableness is that Illinois doesn’t have a bright-line test on the issue, Voelker told the justices. The lower appellate panel seemed to interpret appellate precedent in Blount v. Stroud to find that punitive damages awards shouldn’t total more than four times a compensatory award, but that contradicts state precedent, he said.

If the justices agree with that interpretation, however, they should at least raise Doe’s punitive damages to $4 million, Voelker argued. The intermediate panel’s 1:1 reduction was arbitrary and capricious, and “after spending their time and reviewing the jury instructions and reaching a unanimous verdict, that verdict … should be sustained,” he argued.

Read the full story from Law 360…

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Voelker Litigation Group Secures $9 Million Jury Verdict in Chicago Women’s Rights Case

UPDATED Sept 28, 2020

CHICAGO, Jan. 16, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — In the space of just one day, a Chicago jury awarded $1,000,000 in compensatory damages and $8,000,000 in punitive damages to a Chicago woman, in her case against a wealthy Chicago insurance executive, for his egregious conduct. The jury of six men and six women deliberated for one hour before returning a unanimous decision, finding the defendant guilty of one count of sexual assault and four counts of assault and battery against the woman.

The verdict was reached on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois Law Division.

The Executive, who owns interests in several Chicagoland insurance companies, was found guilty of multiple transgressions of the rights of a woman with whom he was acquittanced, between October 5, 2015 and March 23, 2016. The charges against the Executive included strangling, physical and verbal violence and non-consensual sexual behavior.

“This is a strong message from the heart of the #metoo movement to defend women against powerful men who feel that because they have wealth, they can act with callous disregard for the laws of humanity and the Republic. It took a jury of 12 people just one hour to determine that one woman’s suffering was worth eight million dollars in remuneration for scars that will last a lifetime. I can only hope that if this example doesn’t at least deter this kind of behavior, it sends a message that if you are a victim with a voice, the public has an ear,” said attorney Daniel J. Voelker. Voelker and Olga S. Dmytriyeva, who represented the victim, and are available for comment.


Appellate Court Opinion

The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, issued an opinion September 28, 2020, upholding the original trial but reducing the punitive damages from $8 million to $1 million for a total verdict of $2 million.
Read the entire opinion…

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Voelker Litigation Group Wins Trial by Proving Forgery with Expert Witness

Voelker Litigation Group Sales Commission Attorneys won a hotly contested two-day trial in Will County, Illinois for their sales representative client recovering all of the sales commissions the sales representative was owed plus attorney fees.

The Defense claimed that it entered into a hold harmless agreement, releasing all of the sales representative’s claims in this action thus our client should get nothing. The Defendant admitted on cross-examination that, had the sales representative not signed this release, the Defendant would owe the sales representative commissions. The sales representative testified he did not sign the release. The Voelker sales commission lawyer retained a certified forensic document examiner expert witness who testified unequivocally, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that the sales representative did not sign the Hold Harmless and Release.

Based on the testimony of the expert witness and the cross examination of the corporate representative, the Court found the release did not apply and awarded commissions and attorney fees pursuant to the Illinois Sales Representative Act 820 ILCS 120/3.

The total recovery in this case was nearly ten times the amount originally offered to the sales representative before trial.

Your results may not always be the same, but this case makes clear Voelker Litigation Group will go to any length to get what our sales representative clients earned.


$26 million award against Fortune 250 manufacturing firm

We are extremely proud to announce that on February 1, 2013, the United States District Court ruled in favor of Voelker Litigation Group’s client and against a giant Fortune 250 manufacturing company, and awarded a judgment in excess of $26,000,000. Daniel J. Voelker has acted as lead counsel in this matter since the suit was filed several years ago. A true success story!