All posts tagged: wrongful death

Successful Jury Verdict in High-Profile Shooting Case

WRAL recently covered one of our Jury Trials in a mini-series, Presumption of Fear.  Below is their story from the day after the verdict.  You can also watch video of closing arguments here.

A Harnett County jury Wednesday found that an Angier pastor is responsible for the wrongful death of his son-in-law, who he shot and killed in 2013.

The Rev. Pat Chisenhall has said 23-year-old Christian Griggs was threatening him and breaking into his home when Chisenhall shot him six times with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Griggs was struck once in the stomach, once in the shoulder and four times in the back. The pastor was never criminally charged in the shooting, and said he was fearful for his and his daughter’s lives.

The Griggs’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Chisenhall in 2015, disputing his version of events. They say their son was at the Chisenhall homestead to pick up his then 4-year-old daughter for scheduled visitation.

The case was the subject of an investigative series published and aired by WRAL News in November.

It took the 12-member jury about an hour and a half to return a unanimous verdict that Chisenhall is civilly liable for the wrongful death of Christian Griggs and was not protected by arguments of self defense, defense of his daughter’s life or defense of his home. They awarded $250,000 in damage to Griggs’ estate, money that will go to his 10-year-daughter Jaden.

Dolly Griggs, the plaintiff in the suit and the mother of Christian Griggs, said after the verdict that the citizens of Harnett County “saw the truth in the courtroom today.” She also called on elected officials to act.

“The truth is out there, and now I challenge DA Stewart, Sheriff Coats, Governor Cooper, Josh Stein to look into this case, because Harnett County needs help,” Dolly Griggs said. “Please help us here.”

Speaking for Chisenhall, who left the courtroom shortly after the verdict, attorney Robert Levin said his client was disappointed in the decision, but did not plan to appeal.

Neither Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats, whose office investigated the case, nor District Attorney Vernon Stewart, who ultimately decided not to press criminal charges, were available for comment Wednesday afternoon following the verdict.

At the center of the civil case was North Carolina’s Castle Doctrine, which protects those who injure or kill in defense of their lives or their property while in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.

Testimony recounted Griggs’ final moments

The jury heard five full days of testimony in the case, which saw evidence from the medical examiner who performed Griggs’ autopsy, detectives who investigated the case, Griggs’ father and Chisenhall himself, who said on the stand he had trouble remembering many of the details of the shooting.

The pastor of the Abundant Life Worship Center in Angier said on the stand that Griggs had arrived at his home in Angier on the morning of Oct. 12, 2013 hostile and demanding to see his estranged wife, Katie, and their then 4-year-old daughter Jaden.

Chisenhall said Griggs became enraged when he was informed his wife had taken out a restraining order against him for an incident the night before. There was no such restraining order, but Katie Griggs had taken out misdemeanor warrants against her husband the night before for breaking and entering, property damage and domestic criminal trespass.

Chisenhall and his daughter both called 911, the jury heard, and retreated into Chisenhall’s home on NC Highway 210 in Angier. He said he struggled to get the door closed with his son-in-law on the other side, and moments later heard the glass in the front window shatter. But following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Chisenhall said he couldn’t remember anything after that glass broke.

That left him unable to remember interviews he gave to Harnett County sheriff’s deputies in the days after the shooting, when he said he shot Griggs from behind a sofa 10 to 12 feet away from a partially busted in window as his son-in-law was attempting to crawl in. Chisenhall told investigators at the time that Griggs at threatened to kill him and his daughter, and that they were both terrified of what would happen if he got into the house.

On the stand, Associate Chief Medical Examiner Lauren Scott said her autopsy on Griggs in 2013 showed that he had been shot six times. Four of those shots were in the back, with upward trajectories that suggested Griggs was either bent parallel to the ground or lying down when he was hit by the Winchester rifle.

Scott also testified that two of the four shots in the back would have been fatal wounds for Griggs, regardless of any medical intervention.

Chisenhall described his son-in-law as a great, but troubled man who he loved and was close with throughout a tumultuous, on- and off-again relationship with his daughter. He presided over their marriage when they were just out of high school at 18 years old, new parents of a two-month old daughter. Griggs wrote the pastor letters while he was deployed as an enlisted soldier, and considered him at one point to be his spiritual adviser.

Chisenhall even baptized Griggs in his backyard swimming pool three weeks before the shooting.

But he said Griggs had a darker side that emerged on Oct. 12, 2013, when he said he saw his son-in-law launched into a “monstrous rage” that terrified him and his daughter. His lawyer argued he had no choice but to take Griggs’ life in self-defense.

Attorneys for Griggs’ family countered that the shots in Griggs’ back demonstrated that he was no longer a threat, and that arguments of self-defense and defense of habitation did not apply.

 

Robby JessupSuccessful Jury Verdict in High-Profile Shooting Case
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One Million Dollar Recovery Reported in Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)

Trial Briefs Magazine reported as follows on one of our recent cases:

In February of 2019, Robby Jessup [of RDU Injury Law] in Raleigh settled a Wake County wrongful death case for the policy limit of $1 million. Plaintiff’s Decedent was a 75-year-old man who was hit in a marked crosswalk at Rex Hospital. Despite heroic efforts to save him, he ultimately died from his injuries.

Liability was disputed, but the main issue in the case was how to determine life expectancy and economic loss. These obstacles were overcome by a complete medical history summary and an economist’s opinion of the value of the home health care services the Decedent had been providing to his wheelchair-using wife. Gary Albrecht, PhD was utilized as Plaintiff’s expert.

Robby JessupOne Million Dollar Recovery Reported in Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)
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Two Million Dollar Recovery Reported In Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)

NCAJ’s Trial Briefs Magazine recently featured the following story on one of our cases:

In April of 2018, Robby Jessup and Joan Davis [of RDU Injury Law] obtained a Two Million Dollar settlement for the wrongful death of a motorcyclist.

Phil Sabino, a 45-year-old father, was killed in August of 2015 when a Honda Accord crossed under the median cable on I-540 and entered his lane of travel.  The driver of the Honda Accord was an inexperienced driver, who became confused and panicked in the merging traffic lanes of the I-540/I-40 interchange.

The insurance company for the Honda Accord tendered its liability policy limits of $100,000 within weeks of the crash.  Sabino had UIM coverage on his motorcycle of $250,000, and the attorneys discovered another automobile policy with $250,000 of UIM that was stacked for a $500,000 recovery.  A limited release and waiver of subrogation for the liability and UIM policy limits was negotiated.

Thereafter, upon completing an accident reconstruction, witness interviews, and evaluation of thousands of records from the NCDOT, numerous problems with the cable median barrier were discovered.

A tort claim was filed in the Industrial Commission against the NCDOT, and after a year of litigation, a separate lawsuit was filed against the NCDOT contractor charged with maintenance and repair of the cable medians.

After 23 depositions, including eyewitnesses, state officials, maintenance crews and company representatives, as well as local accident reconstruction engineers and national cable median experts on both sides, the cases against the NCDOT and contractor were settled post-mediation, two weeks before trial, for an additional $1.5 Million.  An aggregate settlement of Two Million Dollars was recovered for the Sabino family.

Robby JessupTwo Million Dollar Recovery Reported In Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)
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One Million Dollar Recovery Reported By NCAJ’s Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)

The truck driver’s story just didn’t add up, and when our attorneys, Robby Jessup and Joan Davis, began to investigate and ask questions, the whole thing unraveled.  NCAJ’s Trial Briefs Magazine reported as follows on their work:

ROBBY JESSUP and JOAN DAVIS of the law firm RDU Injury Law in Raleigh, in association with RUSSELL JOHNSON of the law firm Diener Law in Greenville, obtained a One Million Dollar Settlement in a disputed liability wrongful death case. These attorneys represented the estate of a Mexican immigrant who was killed in a head-on collision with a transfer truck. The truck driver and trucking company initiated the lawsuit by asserting claims against the estate for personal injury and property damage. The estate proceeded to counter­claim for wrongful death.The State Troopers and initial experts who investigated the crash all said that the Mexican immigrant was at fault for causing the wreck and had crossed the center line. In fact, in the incident report, the investigating officer indicated that he suspected alcohol was a factor in the wreck. The family of the decedent reported that he had just left for work, approximately fifteen minutes before the wreck and was sober. The autopsy confirmed that the decedent was not under the influence of alcohol.

After investigating the claims, an eyewitness to the crash was discovered who had called 911 (but had not spoken to law enforcement at the scene). This eyewitness reported that it was the truck driver who crossed the center line and caused the wreck, not the Mexican immigrant.

In discovery, it was found that the truck driver had a revoked driver’s license at the time of the wreck, and had a driving history that disqualified him from employment as a commercial driver. Surveillance videos of the truck driver (taken by the trucking company’s workers comp carrier) also came to light that cast serious doubt on his claimed injuries.

Policy limits for the trucking company of $1,000,000 were paid at mediation with Bill King in April of 2017.

Robby JessupOne Million Dollar Recovery Reported By NCAJ’s Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)
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