Russell Lewis was working at an ethanol plant in 1993 when there was an explosion. The blast sent a sent a portion of a centrifuge through the roof at the plant and blew hot corn mash into Russell’s ear causing severe burns on his head, face and neck and permanent hearing loss.
While trying to find a lawyer, Russell had been turned away by larger firms in his area because his case was complex and the company he’d be suing was a major employer in the area and an international oil company.
That’s when Russell hired Angela Greene. At the time, she was an unknown trial attorney without having tried a single jury case. Russell Lewis v. Alfa Laval Separation Inc. would be the first case of Angela Greene’s career in the courtroom.
Russell and Angela both took a leap of faith when they filed the suit. Over the course of two years, Angela invested her entire life savings to prepare the case. On the morning of their first day of trial, they turned down a six-figure settlement and decided to take their case against the oil giant to a jury.
The crux of the case came down to whether or not the company was liable for Russell’s injury. He wasn’t wearing the company-issued ear protection at the time of the explosion. The pivotal testimony came when Angela put an expert witness on the stand to prove that, had Russell been wearing the company-issued ear protection, his injuries would have been worse. The expert testified that the ear plugs issued by the company would have caught fire and melted inside his ear, potentially killing him.
The jury awarded Russell $650,000 in damages. But the story did not end there.
The ethanol plant’s lawyers appealed the case on the grounds that the evidence provided by the expert should not have been admitted to the court, among other complaints. After two more years of legal proceedings, the Court of Appeals of Ohio upheld the original verdict and required interest to be paid on the delayed compensation.
The final number awarded to Russell and his wife, Minnie, totaled more than $1 million.
The appeal and Angela’s arguments had an impact on the way evidence is admitted in civil cases. And Angela Greene holds the current record for the highest jury verdict for a female attorney in Lawrence County, Ohio.
The complete appeals court decision in the case is available online.