Our firm recently won a $15,950,000 personal injury jury verdict in Whitfield County, Georgia for a defective firework that flew sideways instead of upward. The firework struck our client in the eye, and his eye had to be removed as a result. We handled and tried the case with our friend Matt Stoddard, who served as lead counsel. Details follow, although some names have been changed.
Defective Firework Results in Loss of Eye
On July 4, 2018, Mr. Harris Zimmerman and his family went outside to do what most American families do on the 4th of July—set off some fireworks to celebrate. Unfortunately, this Fourth of July would not be cause for celebration.
Mr. Zimmerman, his wife, and his two children gathered in the carport of their home to watch other family members light fireworks from the concrete pad in front of the carport. A picture of the area appears to the right.
Mr. Zimmerman and his father took turns positioning fireworks
on the concrete pad, lighting the fuses, and then returning to the carport to watch the fireworks go off. When it was Mr. Zimmerman’s father’s turn, Mr. Zimmerman’s father placed a ‘Zing!!!’
firework on the pad, lit the fuse, then returned to the carport to watch the firework go off. A picture of ‘Zing!!!’ fireworks and their packaging appears to the below. Rather than moving only upward like it was supposed to move, the ‘Zing!!!’ firework flew sideways and hit Mr. Zimmerman in the eye. Immediately, Mr. Zimmerman could not see out of his left eye and knew something was wrong.
The firework caused massive damage to Mr. Zimmerman’s left eye and blood poured from the wound as his wife rushed Mr. Zimmerman to the hospital.
A picture of Mr. Zimmerman the day of the accident appears to the left.
While doctors tried for several months to save Mr. Zimmerman’s left eye, the eye eventually had to be removed about eight months after the accident.
Defendant Fails to Answer Personal Injury Lawsuit
BLF and the Stoddard Firm filed a lawsuit against King Bird Fireworks, LLC—the manufacturer, importer, distributor, and seller of the ‘Zing!!!’ firework. That lawsuit alleged that King Bird Fireworks, LLC manufactured, imported, distributed, and sold the ‘Zing!!!’ firework that it knew was defective, unreasonably dangerous, and not accompanied by proper warnings.
King Bird Fireworks, LLC did not file an answer to Mr. Zimmerman’s lawsuit on time. In Georgia, the failure to answer a lawsuit on time results in default—or the admission that everything Mr. Zimmerman said in his lawsuit is true.
Stated differently, by failing to file an answer on time, King Bird Fireworks, LLC admitted that it knew the ‘Zing!!!’ firework it manufactured, imported, distributed, and sold was defective, unreasonably dangerous, and not accompanied by proper warnings. However, that did not stop King Bird Fireworks, LLC from trying to get out of compensating Mr. Zimmerman for his injuries.
Building Evidence about Effects of Personal Injuries
Because King Bird Fireworks, LLC did not file an answer on time, the only remaining issue to given to a jury was Mr. Zimmerman’s damages. To build evidence of Mr. Zimmerman’s damages, BLF first requested all of Mr. Zimmerman’s medical records. Next, BLF reviewed those records to determine which doctors were most involved in Mr. Zimmerman’s treatment and would have the most information about Mr. Zimmerman’s damages.
BLF then spoke with two of Mr. Zimmerman’s doctors to ask their opinions on the injury Mr. Zimmerman suffered, the pain Mr. Zimmerman was in at the time of the injury and during treatment, the pain Mr. Zimmerman continues to feel, and the overall effects to Mr. Zimmerman as the result of the loss of his eye. Specifically, BLF obtained verbal testimony though depositions from two of Mr. Zimmerman’s treating doctors. So that we could show the doctors’ testimony to the jury, we video-recorded their deposition testimony and played the videos of both doctors for the jury at trial.
Dr. Paula Nicola
Dr. Michael Yablick
Defendant Tries to Avoid Responsibility for Personal Injuries
Between January 2019 (when the case was filed) and November 2021 (when the case was tried), Defendant King Bird Fireworks, LLC tried to get out of default no less than five times. One of those attempts was in front of the Georgia Court of Appeals—which rejected King Bird’s arguments and agreed with Mr. Zimmerman.
When those procedural attempts to avoid responsibility failed, King Bird Fireworks, LLC just stopped showing up. When the trial started, nobody from King Bird Fireworks, LLC showed up.
Making Defendant Pay Our Client’s Attorneys’ Fees
Georgia law allows personal injury plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees from a defendant when that defendant has acted in bad faith, has been stubbornly litigious, or has caused the plaintiff unnecessary trouble and expense. See O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11. Again, because Defendant King Bird Fireworks, LLC failed to answer the lawsuit on time, it admitted that it had acted in bad faith, been stubbornly litigious, and caused the Zimmermans unnecessary trouble and expense.
The jury heard testimony from Mr. Stoddard about the amount of work the Stoddard Firm and BLF put into the case. Mr. Stoddard explained that Defendant King Bird Fireworks, LLC tried to get out of default five times, resulting in hours upon hours of work and a visit to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Mr. Stoddard also explained the time and effort it takes to properly and completely investigate a case.
Whitfield County Jury Awards $15.975 Million to Zimmermans
Trial went forward, and BLF presented Mr. Zimmerman’s case. During opening statement and again in closing arguments, Mr. Butler and Mr. Stoddard asked the jury to award $10,500,000 to the Zimmermans and $4,725,000 in attorney’s fees. After testimony from Mr. Zimmerman, Mr. Zimmerman’s wife, two doctors that treated Mr. Zimmerman, and Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers, the jury awarded $11,000,000 to the Zimmermans and $4,975,000 in attorney’s fees. In other words, the jury returned a verdict that was higher than what we’d asked for. In total, the jury returned a verdict of $15,975,000.00 in favor of our clients, the Zimmermans.
Any lawsuit—especially personal injury, products liability lawsuits—can become complicated and convoluted. Many times, defendants do not want to accept responsibility for their actions. When that happens, you need a law firm that is willing to go the distance. If you don’t hire a firm that is willing to go the distance, you might end up settling your case for less than it is worth.