Both sides predict that a $581 million jury verdict against a finance unit of Whirlpool Financial National Bank and Gulf Coast Electronics to pay $580 million in punitive damages and $975,000 in compensatory damages to three plaintiffs, who had charged the defendants with consumer fraud in the sale and financing of two television satellite dishes.
Whirlpool issued a statement calling the verdict “terribly unfair” and contrary to the ratio of punitive to compensatory established by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Whirlpool expects that the verdict will be reduced substantially and possibly reversed, said defense counsel Robert Spotswood, of Birmingham, Ala’s Bradley, Arant, Rose & White LLP.
“This verdict is so clearly the result of bias and prejudice on the face of it that Whirlpool is entitled to a new trial.” Mr. Spotswood said.
“The verdict will be cut way, way down,” said plaintiffs counsel Thomas J. Methvin, of Montgomery, Ala’s Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C.
“The Jurors knew this,” he added when they awarded the big verdict. “But they wanted to send a message to corporate America. Alabama has become a dumping ground for the flim-flam artists. The jurors wanted this to stop.” Carlisle v. Whirlpool Financial National Bank, No. 97-068 (Cir. Ct. Hale Co., Ala.)
Mr. Methvin said that the plaintiffs, Barbara Carlisle and her parents, George and Velma Merriweather, charged Whirlpool with “preying on the elderly and the illiterate” in the state of satellite dishes.
The satellite dishes were sold door to door by Gulf Coast Electronics salespeople who also arranged financing through Whirlpool Financial, he said. Ms. Carlisle and her parents bought dishes in 1995.
The purchase price for each was $1,100,” Mr. Methvin said. “At the time, you could buy the dish for $199 at the store.”
The plaintiffs charged that whirlpool used credit card financing to conceal the number of payments the buyers would pay.
Whirlpool contended that Whirlpool Financial National Bank, which it sold to Transamerica Bank N.A., had nothing to do with any misrepresentations of Gulf Coast salespeople made to buyers of the dishes.