One day, Brian McGrory, a Globe columnist, received a letter from an attorney in Campbell County, Kentucky. The subject was about Liberty Mutual. In the first line of the e-mail, Attorney Jeffery Sanders was saying thank you to McGrory. Why? The answer is for opening his eyes to see who Liberty Mutual actually was.
Sanders was representing James Demetre. Sanders described Demetre as a self-made business man who grew up above a fish market. He now owns a successful company that sells electronics to department stores in Kentucky and Ohio. A while ago, Demetre and his wife had acquired a piece of land from his in-laws. Fifty years earlier, this land had housed a gas station. The underground tanks were removed in 1998.
A few years ago, Demetre’s neighbors sued him claiming the toxic petroleum fumes had been flowing into their house from his land and had injured their six children. Demetre immediately turned this over to his insurance company, Indiana Insurance, which was a “Liberty Mutual Company.” They did just the opposite of what Demetre thought they would. They turned around and sued Demetre saying he must have known there was a problem with his land. Demetre was not going to take this, so he sued back and accused them of breach of contract. They fought back and forth for over three years.
Sanders was preparing for trial to represent Demetre against Indiana Insurance when he came across a series of columns that McGrory had written. Sanders stated, “It helped me focus. It assured me that there’s something there. There’s a reason for the behavior in this case. It starts to make sense when you go back and see some the excesses at the highest level of the corporation.”
Liberty Mutual was known for their executives having large salaries. Nine executives were paid a total of $108,000,000 in one year. The recently departed CEO received an annual pay package of $50,000,000 for four years in row. These are just a few examples of the money they have. So Sanders fought back, and he fought hard. Indiana Insurance settled the suit with Demetre’s neighbor for $165,000. Shortly after, Demetre and Indiana Insurance went to trial. The trial lasted eight days. Once it was over and the jurors met, they came back with a verdict against Indiana Insurance and awarded Demetre $3,425,000. They still do not know if Indiana Insurance is going to appeal or not. However, it makes it plain to see that money isn’t a big deal to Liberty Mutual until they have to pay a policy holder for the company’s own negligence.
Sanders said, “They money is secondary. It’s about standing up to large corporations that don’t follow the rules. They were a corporate bully too large to care, and they did everything possible to punish James Demetre for standing up to them.” Who do you think is in the wrong? Liberty Mutual or James Demetre?