By David Hedges, Publisher

A $404 million verdict returned by a Roane jury last year was the third largest jury verdict in the nation in 2007.

The verdict in the case known as Tawney vs. Columbia Natural Resources was among the top 10 in the nation, according to a listing published in the National Law Journal this month.

A six-person jury heard three weeks of testimony in January 2007 in the class-action case involving over 10,000 natural gas well royalty owners in the state. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $134.3 million in compensatory damages and $270 million in punitive damages.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs alleged that CNR underpaid royalties by deducting post-production expenses and failed to pay royalty owners market value for gas sold under long-term contracts.

CNR was sold to Chesapeake Energy between the time the suit was filed in 2003 and the case went to trial. The verdict was against Chesapeake and NiSource, a related company.

Three of the nation's top seven verdicts came out of West Virginia cases.

The fifth largest was a $251 million verdict awarded in Harrison County against DuPont, which was convicted of wanton, willful and reckless conduct at a former zinc-smelting plant. Jurors found the company lied about health hazards from the plant.

The nation's seventh largest verdict, $219 million, came in a Brooke County case in which Wheeling Pitt sued Central West Virginia Energy, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, for violating terms of a coal supply agreement.

The nation's largest verdict in 2007 was $1.5 billion awarded in an intellectual property suit in California (Lucent Technologies vs. Gateway) while the year's only other verdict to exceed the Tawney case in Roane County was $521 million award for fraud in a Florida case (Banco Espirito Santa International vs. BDO Seidman).


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