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Swift Connecticut Jury Decision for ExxonMobil

Thomson Reuters

June 8, 2009

After only 40 minutes of deliberations, a Connecticut Superior Court jury in Willimantic, Conn. recently returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, the Exxon Mobil Corporation (ExxonMobil). The law firm of Shipman & Goodwin LLP represented ExxonMobil.

The June 2, 2009 decision was the culmination of a three-day trial that involved a claim by the plaintiff, Janet Dilisio of Killeen, Tx., that ExxonMobil was at fault for a January 22, 2006 fall she had at a highway gas station. The property on I-395 South in Plainfield, Conn. is owned by the Connecticut State Department of Transportation (DOT) and is leased by ExxonMobil. The trial judge was Michael Riley.

In 2007, Dilisio, who was a Nashua, NH resident at the time of the incident, filed a lawsuit against both the DOT and ExxonMobil seeking compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and past and future pain and suffering. However, one week before the trial began, Ms. Dilisio’s attorneys, the law firm of Faulkner and Boyce, withdrew her claim against the DOT, charging that ExxonMobil alone had control over the area at issue and therefore was solely responsible for the accident and all reparations.

“This is one of the few cases in the U.S. where a jury has decided that a commercial tenant, which operates a facility on the premises where a defect existed, was not found to be in control of the area,” explains Atty. Robert R. Simpson of Shipman & Goodwin LLP, the lead trial attorney for ExxonMobil.

“What is particularly interesting is that the plaintiff apparently thought she had a better chance of winning financial retribution if a major corporation was solely to blame, even though ExxonMobil did not own the property and was not in control of the area,” says Atty. Simpson. “It is significant that after listening to all of the testimony and reviewing the operative lease, the jury decided the case on its merits and did not grant the plaintiff the six-figure award she was seeking.”

During the trial, Atty. Simpson and ExxonMobil raised serious questions about how the fall occurred, pointing out that the plaintiff and her husband testified they were prepared to bring a lawsuit from the moment she fell. There also were inconsistencies in Ms. Dilisio’s story about her fall. The issue of possible negligence was not addressed because it was decided that ExxonMobil did not control the premises.

In addition, it was established in court that the DOT was clearly in control of the property. Two months after the alleged fall, the DOT repaired the area in question. Rather than being an absentee landlord, it was shown that the DOT inspected the gas station property at least two to four times a month and prepared a repair task sheet for ExxonMobil during each inspection. The DOT also handled all landscaping and snowplowing of the property.

On June 2, the jury received the case at 4:05 p.m. They were asked to determine “whether the plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the ExxonMobil had control over the area at issue”. At 4:45 p.m., they delivered their answer, “No” and entered a verdict for the defendant.
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