Author Archive Michael Cole

Virginia’s Largest Verdicts of 2014 – Bennett v. Shea – $1.2 Million

Bennett v. Shea – Legal malpractice
Newport News Circuit Court

Attorneys: Jeremiah A. Denton III, Rhiannon M. Jordan and Vivile R. Dietrich, Virginia Beach

Summary: A Newport News jury handed down a $1.2 million verdict to a woman who lost her rights to spousal support after her divorce attorney
failed to enter an appearance.

In 2008, the plaintiff’s husband sued her for divorce in Newport News Circuit Court. The plaintiff retained attorney Kevin P. Shea and his firm to defend the divorce case. When she retained the defendant attorney, she gave him a letter by her husband admitting adultery and cruelty and offering to give more than $1 million in support and equitable distribution to be paid out over her lifetime. Defendant failed to enter an appearance until after the final decree of divorce was entered and 21 days had elapsed. The divorce decree became final, irrevocable and unmodifiable.

Because of defendant’s negligent failure to enter an appearance and perform legal services in a competent manner, and because of his failure to bring this error to the court’s attention within the
21-day period after the entry of final decree, the plaintiff lost all eligibility and entitlement to spousal support for an undefined period, a lifetime of her former husband’s military pension, other equitable distribution and forgiveness of, and/or indemnity on, certain debts and obligations.

The jury awarded $1.2 million – the full amount plaintiff’s counsel requested – in closing argument.


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Virginia’s Largest Verdicts of 2012 – Walsh v. WAVY Broadcasting LLC – $1.2 Million

Walsh v. WAVY Broadcasting LLC, et al. – Defamation
U.S. District Court, Norfolk

Attorneys: Jeremiah A. Denton III, Rhiannon M. Jordan and Vivile R. Dietrich, Virginia Beach

Summary: Plaintiffs, a husband and wife who owned a special events rental company, brought a defamation suit against WAVY Broadcasting and its parent company. In 2010, the defendants had aired a broadcast that falsely stated or implied plaintiffs had accepted deposits for their services, knowing that they were about to close their business.

In fact, plaintiffs had merged their company with a competitor, who had agreed to honor existing deposits and contracts. Several former customers were confused about the merger and contacted the TV station. The station’s reporter interviewed the couple, who gave their side of the story, but the station edited much of the interview for the aired broadcast.

A Norfolk federal jury awarded $600,000 each to the husband and wife. The parties settled the case post-trial.


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Virginia’s Largest Verdicts of 2012 – Webb v. Virginian-Pilot Media Companies LLC – $3 Million

Webb v. Virginian-Pilot Media Companies LLC – Defamation
Chesapeake Circuit Court

Attorneys: Jeremiah A. Denton, Vivile R. Dietrich and Rhiannon M. Jordan, Virginia Beach

Summary: In December 2009, The Virginian-Pilot published a news article about a public school assistant principal and his son, a student in the same school system. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant newspaper falsely implied that the principal had improperly used his position to obtain preferential treatment for his son.

The article also linked the father to numerous unflattering statements about the son. These statements had previously yielded a $5 million jury verdict against the newspaper in favor of the son.

Last May, in a separate trial, a Chesapeake Circuit Court jury awarded $3 million to the father.

In August, Circuit Judge Randall D. Smith dismissed the verdict, finding that the plaintiff failed to show the article was published with actual malice. Plaintiff’s counsel has filed an appeal.

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