michael j. romano - laywer of harrison county, wv
Results in North-Central West Virginia
Michael J. Romano of Harrison County, WV, secures the best results possible for his clients in West Virginia. He commits to securing justice and fair results for each client according to the laws of our state and the laws of our federal government. Contact our office today for a free initial consultation. Call (304) 624-1100 to schedule an appointment.
Harrison Jury Finds for Hess Oil in Suit Against Insurer
Sunday, December 22, 2011
Former Shareholders awarded $58 million
By Matt Harvey, Assistant Managing Editor
CLARKSBURG – A Harrison County jury has awarded the former shareholders of Elkins-based Hess Oil $58 million from insurance giant AIG.
The jury found AIG Domestic Claims Inc., violated the Unfair Claims Settlement Act and violated its “duty of good faith and fair dealing” in adjusting the claims of Hess Oil.
At issue was the cleanup of a leak from a Hess Oil-owned storage tank system off U.S. 50 in Mount Storm. AIG had overseen and paid for cleanup until mid-2009, when it refused further claims. In denying the further claims, AIG had asserted that Hess oil was untruthful with the insurance company.
AIG’s assertions were “concocted,” a “fabricated story,” said Mike Romano, one of the lawyers for the Brown family of Elkins, the main shareholders in Hess Oil before it was dissolved in 2008 and sold to another oil company.
“We had good facts, and we just presented them,” said Romano, who was joined on the defense team by James Varner of McNeer, McMunn and Varner.
“The jury made a good judgement, ” Romano said. “They knew what was going on, and it came out the way it was supposed to.”
An effort to contact AIG lawyers John Tinney and John Tinney Jr. of Charleston for this report was unsuccessful Wednesday.
AIG spokesman Mark Herr provided a statement from the company Wednesday afternoon via email.
“We are asking the judge to set aside a clearly erroneous jury verdict that awards compensatory damages unsupported by the facts and law and punitive damages that are clearly excessive and unjustifiable,” Herr wrote.
“The inarguable fact is we paid out 90 percent of the limits of the policy over a decade’s worth of cleanup to a policyholder who did not provide us with material information when it took out its policy. The facts, law and justice do not support the jury’s verdict,” Herr wrote.
The plaintiffs had asserted to the jury that the remaining cleanup costs were between $550,000 and $850,000.
The jury also could consider attorney fees, annoyance, inconvenience and humiliation in establishing the compensatory award.
On the punitive damages, jurors first found that AIG had “willfully, maliciously and intentionally utilized an unfair business practice in settling, or failed to settle in good faith, the claim of Hess Oil and its former shareholders…”
The jury then came back with the $53 million award.
The jury looked at AIG’s conduct in the Hess Oil case and in other cases around West Virginia in arriving at that amount, Romano said.
With the verdict, jurors meant to “send a message to the highest levels of AIG that this kind of conduct has to stop,” Romano said.
Case law is believed to set the outer limits of punitive damages at a 9-to-1 ratio with compensatory damages. In this case, that would amount to a total of $45 million.
Barring a settlement or a decision by Bedell to throw out the verdict, the awarding of damages is likely to be postponed a year or longer in the appeals process.
AIG “offered almost nothing to settle this matter before trial,” Romano said. “And they made clear during the trial, before the verdict was ever returned, they would appeal this using every appeal available to them.”
The case started Dec. 12, and jurors returned their final verdict after about 3 1/2 hours of total deliberations early Tuesday evening.
The initial court filing, in 2010, had been by a Bridgeport-based environmental cleanup company suing both AIG and Hess Oil. AIG settled that claim, believed to have been for about a quarter of a million dollars. But cross-claims filed by Hess Oil against AIG, and AIG vs Hess Oil, remained.
Parent company American International Group Inc. is an insurer that reports it has customers in more than 130 countries. The company received an $85 billion loan form the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in September 2008. The U.S. Treasury later in 2008 also purchased $40 billion of AIG shares through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to AIG’s website.
Romano Unseated Tansill in Case of Deceptive Residence Claim
Judge Rules Against Tansill in Taylor County Election
By Matt Harvey, Assistant Managing Editor
The seat was for County Commissioner from the Western District of Taylor County.
Special Judge James A. Matish of Harrison County ruled that Tansill, a Republican, hadn’t established residence in the Western District of Taylor County, but rather was residing in Taylor’s Eastern District at the time of the primary.
“By the Defendant Tansill’s own admission, as of May 13, 2008, the date of the primary election, Defendant Tansill had not even spent one night at the property” in the Western District, Matish wrote in a court order.
Matish’s order discounted two other assertions that Tansill’s residence was in Tucker County, where he works at YMCA Camp Horseshoe, or in Charleston, where he spends time as a legislator.
Tansill had no comment, saying he wanted to read the 33-page ruling first. His lawyer, Charles Trump IV of Berkeley Springs, didn’t immediately return a phone message.
The court challenge was filed by Harrison County lawyer, Mike Romano, and Charleston lawyer, Nicholas Casey, Jr., on behalf of Taylor County resident Diane Parker of Grafton, who is a Democrat like Gobel. Tansill defeated parker for the 42nd District House of Delegates seat in 2004.
“I believe all of the evidence was brought out, and in the end, the facts were overwhelming, and justice was done,” Romano said.
He added that it simply wouldn’t do to have election laws skirted for political gain.
The decision by the court came after the recount was stopped earlier Friday after a few precincts had been tallied. Tansill had lost a few votes, and Gobel had gained a few, but it appeared unlikely the outcome would change, The Exponent Telegram was informed by various sources.
Taylor Clerk Nancy Fowler continued to be unavailable for comment to The Exponent Telegram.