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Every attorney hopes for a sympathetic client . . . and this was one of those cases. A man donated half a million dollars to a local hospital to name a women’s center in honor of his mother who died of cancer, but the hospital never built the women’s center. Oh, and did I mention that this benevolent donor is also hometown hero Garth Brooks?
In what was described as a “teary testimony,” Brooks explained that his mother was pregnant as a teenager and he felt that a women’s center fit her image because she wanted to “help every kid out there.” After Brooks made the $500,000 donation, the Yukon, Oklahoma based hospital failed to build a women’s center. In 2005, when Brooks learned that the hospital wanted to use the money for other construction projects he sued for breach of contract.
The hospital argued that Brooks’s donation was an “unconditional gift,” but the jury disagreed. Last month a jury awarded Brooks $500,000 in punitive damages in addition to the $500,000 he donated, which the jury ruled the hospital must return to him.
This begs the question, “Did Brooks win his case on the merits, or as a result of his fame?” The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lists Garth Brooks as the third highest selling artist in America of all time, and the number one selling artist in America since the 1990′s. That makes it hard to find an impartial jury (especially since no potential juror was born after the 1990′s). In fact, when the potential jury pool was asked if they had heard of the country music star, “[n]early everyone in the jury pool raised their hands.” Of the possible jurors, eight said that they were fans, and several said they had attended one or more of his concerts. Additionally, Brooks was accompanied in the court room by his wife, three-time Grammy winner Trisha Yearwood, and a number of potential jurors said they were fans of Yearwood’s too.
Concededly, Brooks may have had a strong case (and surely could afford adequate counsel), but it is interesting to think about whether any of the jurors could ignore Brooks’s celebrity when squaring off against a faceless hospital.
– Talor Bearman
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