Summit County awards nearly $8.7 million in civil lawsuit involving competing lighting companies [The Akron Beacon Journal :: ]
(Akron Beacon Journal (OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 21--A Summit County jury has awarded nearly $8.7 million in damages in a civil lawsuit involving two now-defunct competing lighting companies that dates back five years.
The jury awarded $7 million in punitive damages Friday to the former Phoenix Lighting Group LLC against Genlyte Thomas Group LLC, a subsidiary of Philips Electronics, a publicly traded Dutch company that is one of the largest lighting and electrical appliance manufacturers in the world. This followed the jury's decision earlier this month to award $1,680,970 in compensatory damages to Phoenix, a small company that was doing business as Lighting Sales Inc. and owned by Patrick Duffy of Silver Lake.
Frank Witschey, Duffy's attorney, described this as a "David vs. Goliath" case and said the verdict is one of Summit County's largest commercial verdicts in recent years. The trial took nearly five weeks.
"We're flying pretty high right now," he said in a phone interview.
Judge Alison McCarty, who presided over the trial, said Friday that the verdict is the largest in her 15 years on the bench.
Attorneys for the defendants, who are expected to appeal, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The case isn't over yet. McCarty will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. July 18 to handle several issues, including the awarding of attorney fees and whether Genlyte Thomas Group, which was doing business as Daybrite, Capri, Omega, didn't negotiate in good faith to settle the case.
The case alleged that two employees from Phoenix in the fall of 2008 approached Genlyte about taking employees from Phoenix and starting an agency for Genlyte called Intelligent Illumination. The employees wrote a business plan using Phoenix's computers, which was deleted but retrieved, Witschey said.
Genlyte hired three employees from Phoenix, and Phoenix got an injunction that prevented two others from being hired. Phoenix lost 70 percent of its workforce and went out of business, Witschey said.
Intelligent Illumination also is no longer operating.
Both Phoenix and Genlyte were lighting companies that served as manufacturers' representatives, selling their lighting products to other companies for use on private and public projects.
The jury awarded compensatory damages for interference with a business relationship, misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of loyalty, good faith and trust, with the last garnering a $600,000 award, according to court documents. The jury deliberated over punitive damages for two days.
Witschey said juries in civil cases like this one can use punitive damages to send a message to the industry about behavior that won't be tolerated to act as a deterrent for the future. He said this jury wanted to show that companies that "engage in this kind of conduct can be punished."
Duffy owns another company, called Jack Duffy & Associates Inc., that is operating in the Akron and Cleveland areas. Witschey said his client was "beside himself" with the jury's verdict.
"We are humbled by a jury that totally engaged in the facts of the case," he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal's political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.
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