2017-03-09 / Front Page

Story prompts mistrial motion

Did juror go too far?
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

An attorney for Suttons Bay business owner Pam Leonard’s insurance company has filed a motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct.

The petition seeks to overturn what is considered the largest personal injury settlement ever awarded by a jury in Leelanau or Grand Traverse counties.

Leonard’s brother, Gary Leonard, was awarded a $5 million settlement in February after he was injured in an explosion in a food truck owned by Pam Leonard.

J. Scott Fanzini of the St. Clair Shores firm of Merry, Farnen & Ryan P.C., filed the motion Friday in 13th Circuit Court.

The misconduct motion stems from the actions of juror Ray Pleva, who took a picture of a gas line he had capped off at his home and showed it to fellow jurors, according to the motion filed by Fanzini.

The introduction of such extraneous information is “substantially related to the material issue in the case,” Fanzini wrote, “... and created a real and substantial possibility that it could have affected the jury’s verdict.”

Pleva’s conduct violated court instructions that only evidence admitted at trial could be considered by the jury, Fanzini wrote.

The information came from an interview of Pleva done by the Enterprise for a story that appeared on Feb. 23. A copy of the article was included in the motion.

Pleva, the former owner of Pleva Meats, was one of seven jury members.

Gary Leonard’s attorney, J. Paul Janes, is with the Grand Rapids-based Gruel Mills Nims & Pylman PLLC. Janes has not yet filed an answer to the motion.

He declined to comment on the case.

Gary Leonard was burned over half of his body in 2013 when a gas leak on a commercial food truck caused an explosion when he lit an oven in the truck.

The food truck was owned by Pam Leonard as part of the her two businesses — The Vineyard Inn on Suttons Bay and Wine Country Weddings & Events. She is Gary Leonard’s sister.

The four-day trial was presided over by Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Power. Jurors deliberated for a little over three hours before coming back with their verdict, which included $2.8 million for future pain, anguish and medical conditions that Gary Leonard will face; $1.4 million for the pain and anguish Leonard has experienced to date; $739,269 for past medical expenses; and $70,000 for future medical care and treatment.

The jury also determined that Gary Leonard was not responsible for the explosion.

The lawsuit was filed against Pam Leonard in March 2016. Leonard has said her brother sued her insurance company — not her personally.

Pam Leonard, who did not know that the motion seeking a retrial had been filed, declined to comment.

She had previously told the Enterprise that she has been fighting her insurance company since the accident to pay for her brother’s extensive medical treatment, which included skin grafts, joint replacement and other therapies.

She also told the Enterprise that she had to be proven neglectful in order to win the suit.

The truck had several appliances that were fueled by propane. The explosion resulted from a gas line with an unsecured valve cock from an appliance that had been removed from the truck, according to the complaint.

The truck had been regularly inspected by the Benzie-Leelanau County District Health Department, but not by the county building inspector as required.

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