A Cook County legal malpractice lawsuit involving the 2002 purchase of a private jet by former Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen recently came to a close. The former NBA star sued his Chicago law firm, Pedersen & Houpt, alleging that it had not properly disclosed the details of the ’02 transaction that left him the sole owner of a private jet. Pippen received $2 million as a result of the Cook County jury trial; Pippen & Air Pip, Inc. v. Pedersen & Houpt, et al., No. 04 L 34444.
Pippen’s complaint alleged that at the time he was purchasing the private jet he was under the impression that he was investing $1 million for a quarter-share of the plane and would only need to pay for expenses related to its use and upkeep. However, in reality the basketball player was purchasing 51 percent of the plane, taking out a loan of $5 million to do so.
When signing the documents Pippen stated that he believed that his lawyers at Pedersen & Houpt had approved the deal and was unaware that the conditions of the purchase had changed and that he was taking out a loan. According to the allegations Pippen lost $8 million as a result of the purchase.
After a three-week trial the Cook County jury found in favor of Pippen and agreed that he had sustained around $8 million in damages as a result of his attorneys’ negligence. However, the jury also found that the law firm was only about 25% responsible for this loss and that Pippen was 75% responsible for his own loss. As a result Pippen’s award was reduced by 75%, leaving him with an ultimate award of $2 million.
In Cook County when a jury is asked to review the case there are several different factors that they are asked to consider, all of which should be laid out in a jury verdict form. The jury verdict forms are individualized for each case and are composed of instructions submitted by both parties; the judge has the final approval and determines which instructions make it to the jury form and which do not.
Based on these instructions the jury reviews the facts of the case and agrees on their final verdict. In Pippen, it would appear that the jury was asked to review whether Pippen did lose around $8 million as a result of the transaction and if so, then how much of that was his fault versus his attorneys. In Illinois whenever the plaintiff is found to have contributed to the alleged negligence any jury verdict award is then reduced by that amount.
In Pippen it was reduced by 75%; however, this still left the former NBA star with $2 million. However, whether he will in fact receive the complete $2 million in damages remains to be seen. The court must still review whether the final award should be set off with respect to previous settlements that Pippen made with this financial advisor and insurance companies.
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