TAMPA – To Mac Brown, his lawsuit against the carwash responsible for his wife’s death was never about the money.After being awarded more than $7.5 million in compensatory damages, Brown stunned a Hillsborough County courtroom Friday by turning his back on even more – possibly tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages.
“The jury has spoken and justice has been done,” attorney Steve Yerrid announced to jurors and spectators. “Mr. Brown believes forgiveness is a virtue. He believes enough pain has been inflicted.”
With that, he said, Brown was withdrawing his claim for punitive damages.
Had he decided to pursue the claim, Brown could have received much more, according to juror Jennifer Townsend.
“We were starting to talk about” how much to award Brown, she said. “It would have been substantial – tens of millions of dollars.”
Brenda Brown, 43, was killed in 2005 after a black Isuzu Rodeo rolling out of a bay at the Town ‘N Country Car Wash accidentally shifted into gear and struck her as she pushed the couple’s 18-month-old son in a stroller.
The carwash employee in the SUV, 50-year-old Denzil Blake, did not have a driver’s license. Blake told investigators he was cleaning the inside of the Rodeo when he accidentally knocked the gearshift into drive. He said he panicked and hit the accelerator instead of the brake. The carwash owners admitted the business had been negligent and was responsible for Brenda Brown’s death. But attorneys urged jurors to temper their decision and not to find the conduct was horrendous enough to warrant punitive damages.
Juror Townsend, a 37-year-old Target team leader from Temple Terrace, said there was a lot of negotiation among jurors who deliberated two hours about compensatory damages awarded to Mac Brown.
“Some jurors wanted to go higher, some lower,” she said, adding that the range was from the tens of millions on the high end to $5 million on the low end.
Townsend said she was moved by Brown’s emotional testimony during the trial. “He lost a wonderful woman,” she said. “I was one of the jurors who was crying.”
The jury, she said, wanted to hold the carwash owners accountable.
“I just felt that no amount of money we could have awarded would bring this lady back,” she said. The owners “put profits above someone’s safety.”
That Brown would turn down so much money shows his character, Townsend said. “He is a very honorable man,” she said.
Fellow juror Dennis Strickland agreed. “He is a very upstanding man,” said Strickland, 56, of Citrus Park, a facilities assigner for Verizon. “He wanted it known that they did wrong, and he wants something down to where it doesn’t happen again.”
Strickland said he has particular anger toward Thomas Lyons, former owner of the Town ‘N Country Car Wash. “I felt like he just felt it was an accident and that was just the way it was,” Strickland said. “He wasn’t a whole lot worried about it.”
“This was never about the money,” Brown said after the decision was announced. “It was always about the message of an incredible woman.” He said his intent all along was to tell businesses to be more careful so that no one else has to go through what his family experienced.
Lyons had tears in his eyes after the announcement. Lyons, who said he sold the business four months ago, was surprised. “I think it just shows the class of the man we’re dealing with here,” he told reporters.
Brown, 49, a vice president of a medical device company, said his gesture was what his wife, Brenda, would have wanted, which is to ensure that no one would ever “be hurt like this.” Brown said his ideas of forgiveness come largely from his strong Christian background.
Yerrid’s announcement came after jurors returned a verdict in the first phase of their deliberations, giving Mac Brown a total of $2.5 million for his own past and future noneconomic damages and $5 million for the Browns’ young son’s past and future noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.
The award was added to $92,000 the carwash had agreed to pay for documented financial damages, such as funeral and medical expenses.
The jury said in its verdict that punitive damages were warranted in this case. Attorneys were about to present their arguments about the amount when Yerrid cut the proceedings short with his declaration.
“I would hope that this award for Mr. Brown is going to give him some closure,” Lyons said afterward. “My wife and I have already extended our condolences [to] him.”
Yerrid, Brown’s attorney, said his client had told him from the beginning that his main priority was to protect others from this pain. That’s why he took the case.
“We had the sword out,” Yerrid said. “We just chose not to use it.”
Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837 or esilvestrini @tampatrib.com. Editor Howard Altman can be reached at (813) 259-7629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.