The Daily

Moorman v. American Safety Equipment

It’s a mad dog promenade

So walk tall

Or baby, don’t walk at all

Bruce Springsteen

My Dad’s favorite latin words were “nunc pro tunc”. It all started after Duane Moorman’s trial. A jury had returned a verdict of $3 million in Duane’s case after the Ford pickup in which he was traveling in rolled over. Duane testified that he’d tried several times to pull the lap belt across and that it was stuck. After the accident, an investigator found the buckle was trapped below the double stitching – meaning that it could not be pulled across the waist because there was no slack. Essentially, the investigator confirmed what Duane told the police.

The manufacturer of the belt, of course, insisted this was impossible. Until a retired line worker from the American Safety plant testified that it happened all the time while he was employed there.

The Judge in Duane’s case set aside the jury verdict because of a perceived inconsistency. That led to a scene outside the Broward County Courthouse right after the hearing: Ron Fitzgerald, the lawyer for ASE, was on the north sidewalk waving his fresh order gutting the verdict high in the air and laughing while my Dad, on the other side of the street, fuming, was screaming something about shoving that order where the sun never shines.

This busy curbside exchange became something of a legend in Ft. Lauderdale.

Anyway, I went to work for my Dad in 1991. A year after I started, the ruling came down from Florida’s Supreme Court. The original verdict was good. Not only that, the Supreme Court, ruled – it was good as though it had never been set aside. Nunc Pro Tunc. This meant that the interest accrued while the case was on appeal was due. That more than doubled the value of the case. Where the sun don’t shine, indeed. The old man and I spent weeks writing uproarious correspondence after that until the thing resolved. He demanded I channel my best ‘Hunter Thompson’ and I did my level best. You can read the reported Supreme Court decision here.

There’s a certain swashbuckling bravado in my memory of these cases. It makes it easier to turn them into fond recollections. At the time they occur, however, they are much more dangerous and sinister. Clients are fearful and have everything at stake. Duane had been thrown clear of the truck because of the lack of a belt and broke his neck. He lived on as a quadriplegic.

At the end of that war, Duane gave my Dad an old manual typewriter that my Dad displayed everywhere he worked after.