THE ROBERT PAHLKE LAW GROUP
Our team at The Robert Pahlke Law Group is dedicated to obtaining the best possible results for our clients. Some of our cases have even been featured on the television program Insider Exclusive– watch the episodes here. Learn more about our experience and skills in the courtroom by reading some of our past case results below!
RONALD “TIM” BACON V. DB INDUSTRIES, AKA DBI/SALA –$21,131,633
- The Robert Pahlke Law Group retried a product liability case in which the victim was paralyzed after his fall protection gear failed to warn him.
- The Robert Pahlke Law Group represented a man who was severely injured after he was rear-ended by a speeding tractor-trailer.
JAMESON V. LIQUID CONTROLS CORP. –$5,000,000
- The Robert Pahlke Law Group fought for justice for a man who suffered extensive burns and severe injuries when his defective gasoline equipment malfunctioned and exploded into flames.
- The Robert Pahlke Law Group represented the family of a man who was killed after getting in a trailer being pulled by a friend’s truck for what he assumed was a quick drive around the block. The victim was killed after he fell out of the trailer and was drug by the truck for more than a mile down a highway before his friends noticed.
Verdict for product liability for failure to warn: $21,131,633.00
The Robert Pahlke Law Group was asked to retry a product liability case involving fall protection that failed to warn resulting in paraplegia. Ronald Tim Bacon was a ironworker working from second story of the fire escape in the Qwest Center in Omaha when a crane load of decking was brought in overhead. Initially one piece of decking weighing 140 to 190 pounds came down which Mr. Bacon deflected, protecting the man on the deck below. A second deck plate came down and hit a glancing blow to his lifeline fall protection which then failed to arrest his fall. Mr. Bacon fell approximately 12 feet and suffered paraplegia as a result. A lawsuit was brought against the company operating the crane, the safety company and DBI Sala. Shortly before the first trial the cases against the crane company and safety company were resolved and the case proceeded to trial against the DBI Sala, the manufacturer of the self-retracting lifeline. At the close of Plaintiff’s evidence the court directed a verdict for DBI. On appeal the Court of Appeals reversed and sent the case back for trial only on the theory of failure to warn. No offers were made by defendant before trial. After the Trial Judge overruled the motion for directed verdict defendant offered $250,000.00. Mr. Bacon declined that offer and placed his trust in the jury. The jury returned a verdict in the amount suggested by Robert Pahlke in his closing argument. The verdict was a record verdict. Robert Pahlke and Robert Hippe of the Robert Pahlke Law Group tried this case with Britany Shotkoski of Harris Kuhn. One of the things that impressed Mr. Pahlke and he believes the jury was Mr. Bacon’s refusal to give up. Mr. Bacon described the one time when he was pain free. He said “I just wanted to lay there, not moving, not even breathing, in hopes the pain would stay away.” It didn’t. But even though badly injured and often in horrific pain, Mr. Bacon wanted to make things better for others. Mr. Bacon had a wheelchair lift on his Jeep which shorted out in the rain, stranding him in the rain. To protect himself and others at the time of trial he was working on a wheel chair lift that would cost about a third of what others did and would have the breaker at the wheelchair, not under the hood like the lift that stranded him. He was also working on a wheelchair lift to allow wheelchair users when they came in out of the rain or snow to jack up their wheelchair to allow the user to remove and clean the wheels so he or she could avoid tracking up their house. Mr. Bacon had a spirit that would not give in and we believe that the jury recognized that despite his injuries, Mr. Bacon answered the call.
ART CARBAJAL V. FRONTIER EQUIPMENT AND MELVIN HAVELY
Art, in the broad light of day, was driving to work along a busy highway. The highway, near a construction zone and itself the site of a recently completed construction project, demanded attentive driving from those who used it. Art was careful. He obeyed the speed limit and kept a lookout for other traffic on the road. Soon, his alertness drew his eyes to a large truck and trailer fast approaching from the rear. Seconds later, a violent collision sent his entire life on a permanent detour.
The Collision While Art stayed within the speed limit, defendant Melvin Havely—an employee of defendant Frontier Equipment—barreled down the highway at 75 miles-per-hour on his way to deliver a tractor. In a moment’s time, Havely caught up with Art, who had reached a bridge that limited his escape routes. Havely smashed into the rear end of Art’s car, hurling him about 100 feet and into a guardrail.
Mr. Pahlke’s Closing Argument: An Excerpt So how do you [the jury] deal with [Art’s injuries]? You can run and hide, the defendants would love you for it, or you can just go to work and do your job. If you were to roll back the clock one day, and a man comes to Art’s house and he has in his hand an envelope and he sets it on the table and he says, “Art, this is yours. I’ve placed something in it of great value, it is yours. But, if you want it, you have to get up in front of the table, you have to come over and pick it up.” “If you do, tomorrow, when you’re going to work, some guy’s going to be barreling down the road, 16,000 pounds, he’s going to hit you going about 75 miles-per-hour, he’s going to knock you 100 feet right in front of a semi, and you’re going to take the guardrail like a spear to the chest. You’re going to demolish your vehicle, just like a giant fist of an angry God struck you. And you’re thinking before he hits you… ‘Slow down, buddy, slow down.’ “And after it’s all over, you will wonder, ‘Was this caused because these guys didn’t care, because they were in a race to deliver a tractor, because they had bad brakes, or because they were just not paying attention?’ “Those things won’t matter because the facts are…you just lost your job; [the defendants] have fired you without permission… “He has pain every day. Every day. Spasms most of every day. “If it’s a bad day, you won’t sleep at all at night. You’ll be married to pain, and there will be no separation and no divorce. You will lose your life as you knew it, your health, your ability to enjoy life and a little boy, your ability to support; you will lose your dignity. And then, when you try and get a just result, [the defendant] will try and steal it with testimony that’s false; that’s what you get buddy.
Bob’s Thoughts: “At this point in the trial, I like to make the issue clear in the jurors’ minds: I want them to see, hear, and feel what Art has to go through each day, each hour of his life. I want the jury to focus on health that has been stolen by carelessness. I think it puts a fine point on how little money means when all we want is our health—health that has been stolen by carelessness.”
“So…for taking the best part from Arthur Carbajal, his health, the enjoyment of life, and his dignity, if there’s $2 million in that envelope for pain and suffering, would Arthur Carbajal get up and walk over to the table and pick it up and say, “I accept, I will make the trade”? Would anybody do that? You decide. Thank you.” The jury returned with a verdict of $3,250,000.
JAMESON V. LIQUID CONTROLS CORP.
Allan Jameson and his son, Richard, worked together in their family business, Sandhill Oil Company. Allan, over 37 years, had grown the business from a two-customer beginning to its role as a major supplier of fuel for local farmers and ranchers. Richard, since he was five years old, aspired to one day follow in his father’s footsteps by taking over the family business. Richard’s plans—and his whole life—changed one hot summer afternoon. We recount the story by looking at the opening statement and closing argument Mr. Pahlke made for Richard to a Lincoln County jury. Out of respect for Richard and his family, we left out descriptions of the extensive and permanent injuries Richard tragically suffered.
The Day that Changed Everything “It was a Sunday…in the middle of haying season, and it’s late in the afternoon, … Allan and Richard are getting ready for business the next day,” Mr. Pahlke began. “And Richard thinks to himself, ‘Pretty soon I’ll be going home, I’ll be going home to my wife and kids.’” After a pause, Pahlke finished the thought: “Richard Jameson did not go home that night. Richard Jameson did not go home for the next 90 nights.”
The Injury How could Richard have been so wrong in thinking he could go home to his family? Because, unbeknownst to him or Allan, they were working with defective gasoline equipment. The equipment included a Liquid Controls meter—which was brand new—and a Blackmer pump. There was no warning that these products could, even when used correctly, cause serious injury or death. The injury happened at their service station where Allan and Richard were attempting to solve the mystery of the malfunctioning system. After Allan turned the Blackmer pump on, only a small amount of gas registered in the Liquid Controls meter. Confounded by the failure of a brand new meter, he tried to understand what went wrong by examining the device. A few minutes later, Allan turned the pump on again. This time it unexpectedly worked and shot gasoline—liquid and vapor—through the system with enough force that it escaped, shot in Richard’s direction, exploded into flames, and engulfed Richard.
The Liquid Controls Meter and the Blackmer Pump What was wrong with this equipment? How could it cause such a tragedy? Pahlke summed up the manufacturers’ failures in five points: they failed to “design and manufacture a safe product…to test the product…to know their customers…to educate their customers…and to warn the customer that…there is anything unsafe or potentially dangerous about the product.” In particular, Liquid Controls failed to put a sufficiently protective strainer on its meter; this meant that particles that could clog the meter could get through the “protective” strainer. Pahlke described this inexplicable failure saying, “Even though [an effective strainer] ought to be on there, it’s like Liquid Controls saying to you, ‘I know you bought the car but the headlights were optional. If you’re going to drive after dark you should put on headlights.’ That’s ridiculous.”
The Closing Argument Though the trial began with two defendants—Liquid Controls and Blackmer—it ended with one. Blackmer after participating in the trial and approximately two minutes before the closing argument, thought it best to settle than let the jury decide. This left only Liquid Controls. Near the end of his closing argument, Pahlke showed the jurors that the lone remaining defendant was going to ask them for a favor: “They are going to be asking you for immunity from being responsible.” They are asking for “a King’s X so they don’t have to step up to the plate, and do what responsible manufacturers have to do.” He then asked the jury to hold them accountable: “On behalf of Richard Jameson I’m asking you to say no, no, mister manufacturer, not today, not ever. You don’t get to do this to Richard Jameson.” In his last minutes, Mr. Pahlke talked about how clients like Richard enrich his life: “You know, one of the best things about this case is that I got to meet Richard. This case has been a struggle, been a fight every inch of the way. But Richard has always been a guy who has never quit. And, he is a person that I’d like to have my children be like.”
Bob’s Thoughts: “As I often say, one of the best parts of my profession is meeting and getting to know clients of great character and courage, Richard was such a client.”
He finished with, “I have mixed emotions, I hate to let go, because as soon as I sit down I can no longer be responsible for Richard’s future. I’ve done all that I can. And when I sit down I begin to feel this burden that we’ve borne so long together, being lifted from our shoulders. His future is in your hands. And I ask that you guard it well. Thank you.”
Bob’s Thoughts: “This part of a case is always hard for me. We’ve dedicated so much energy and time to a client and I have to let it all go and leave the jury to decide if my client gets compensation for what has happened to him. I think it’s important to let the jury know that from the point that I sit down, they control the rest of my client’s life.”
ESTATE OF SHANE WOLFENDEN V. HUBERT, HILDERHOFF & G3 ENTERPRISES
Late on July night, G3 employee Hubert was having a party at his place some 25 miles distant from his employer. Hubert had driven home the company’s large gravel truck and pup trailer and parked it in front of his apartment. It was common for G3 employees to stay on the company premises after work and have several beers. After that, Todd Hubert would head home driving the large gravel truck and trailer and part it in front of his home. On the night in question, a party was held at Hubert’s apartment. Before the party was over, Shane Wolfenden’s life would end as a result of several poor decisions made by Hubert and Hubert’s Ted Hilderhoff. The verdict in this case was substantial but was much less than others shown on our site. This case is noteworthy because of the legal difficulties it presented The Robert Pahlke Law Group—and that the team overcame them and made Shayne’s family as nearly whole as the law could muster.
The Facts On that July night, Hubert and several of his friends are drinking through the night and into the following morning out in front of his apartment and adjacent to the parked company truck and trailer. At about 2:45 a.m., employee Hubert allowed Hilderhoff to drive the truck. Hilderhoff was unlicensed, unqualified, and impaired if not drunk. The truck, per company policy and common practice, was left with the keys in it. When Hilderhoff started the truck, his claimed intention was to drive it around the block. As he pulled out of the lot, Hubert thought better of the permission previously granted Hilderhoff and jumped on the tongue of the pup-trailer and into the box of the trailer. Shane, almost instantly followed suit, for what had been represented to be a short trip around the block. Shortly thereafter Hilderhoff took a right on highway 97, crossed the railroad tracks. At the railroad crossing Shane was half in and half out of the trailer with Hubert holding on. Hubert let Shane go and Shane fell. Screams were heard 140 feet away, however, driver Hilderhoff and the guy standing on his running board heard nothing. Hilderhoff continued to Highway 2, took a right, and proceeded west. Shane fell but managed to hang onto the trailer until it had drug him to his death 1.3 miles down the highway.
The Legal Difficulties: Comparative Negligence and Assumption of Risk When Shayne’s family brought the lawsuit, giving them justice in court was difficult because of two problems: comparative negligence and assumption of risk. With comparative negligence, if the plaintiff is partially at fault, he can only recover from the defendants for the amount of damage that they caused and none for the damage he caused. In our case, Shayne had been drinking, suggesting that his actions that night may have been partially negligent. Assumption of risk is a legal doctrine that says if you knowingly decide to do a dangerous thing and you get injured doing it, your decision to do the activity waives your right to recover when you’re injured. For Shayne, he did decide to get on the trailer, a decision that the defense argued was an assumption of the risk of injury or death.
Dealing with the Comparative Negligence Argument: An Excerpt from Mr. Pahlke’s Closing Argument Let’s take a look at Shayne. It’s [the defense’s] job to blame Shayne. It’s their job and they will. And I’m here to tell you I think he should be blamed too, to a degree.
Bob’s Thoughts: Tell the truth. Only one thing has the ring of truth – the truth. Juries recognize when being told the truth and when they’re not. My client was partially at fault, and I knew we had to own up to the responsibility. The jury knew they heard the truth on that day and responded accordingly.
In retrospect he shouldn’t have done it, but under the circumstances, what he knew was it was just around the block. It wasn’t some hell-bent-for-election trip to Whitman or whatever it was going to be… It was a split second decision, he had no time to weigh the pros and cons of this. Defendant Hubert admits there was not enough time to decide if it was safe or not safe.
Dealing with the Assumption of Risk Argument: Another Excerpt If the defense is going to argue assumption of the risk, which is really their asking for immunity for their actions, if the attorneys ask for that, I think you have to ask yourself in your heart and soul whether or not the actual defendants would even ask for that atrocious, harsh, unfair, unjustified remedy. The driver said, “Just around the block, boys.” Shayne cannot know that this is a false statement. You cannot assume the risk of what you don’t know: 1.3 miles down Highway 2. This is unknown to Shayne. He did not know and he could not know. You can’t assume the risk that you don’t know about.
The Verdict This case presented special difficulties for the plaintiff. In fact, the pre-trial polling research showed that the plaintiff was unlikely to win. Even still, when it counted, before a jury, Mr. Pahlke made the most of the Wolfenden family’s day in court. The jury returned a verdict $1.105M before reduction for contributory negligence. Afterwards, Shayne’s father signed the jury form and wrote, “When Bob Pahlke speaks, the jury listens!”