We all know defense firms sometimes spy on opposing parties, but evidence of that spying is very rare. But, there was such evidence in one Georgia case. Cruz Mezquital sued a driver who was insured by American Family Insurance. She won a $30 million judgment. On appeal, the verdict was reversed. The higher court ordered a new trial. The law firm defending the suit was Baker Donelson, headquartered in Atlanta. With over 650 attorneys in multiple cities, Baker Donelson qualifies as a mega firm by any definition.
On remand, the law firm hired Martinelli Investigations to learn more about Ms. Mezquital’s injuries. They installed GPS devices on her vehicle and set up trail cameras on her property. They trespassed on Ms. Mezquital’s property to place those cameras and devices. Ms. Mezquital became aware of the spying. At some point before the second trial, Baker Donelsen used photos acquired from the surveillance. The plaintiff then settled the car wreck case.
Ms. Mezquital then sued two lawyers at Baker Donelson, the insurance company and the investigator for invasion of privacy, trespass to property, and trespass to personalty. Mezquital is seeking $12.2 billion from the insurance company and $1 billion from the law firm in punitive damages. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the court largely denied. It did dismiss a claim based on negligence per se, but allowed the other claims to remain. It denied a motion based on res judicata, finding the lawsuit for a car crash and one for spying were very different. The court also found that a release signed by the plaintiff for her first case did not apply to the second lawsuit. The plaintiff’s attorney said he expected to see frivolous appeals. I bet he does. See ABA Bar Journal report.