On December 17, 2015, Jason Benton
, a partner in Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP’s Charlotte office, won a defense verdict in a Mecklenburg County jury trial involving breach of contract and unfair and deceptive trade practices claims against a gas utility company. The dispute arose out of an easement obtained by the gas company to install a pipeline needed to deliver clean-burning natural gas to a power plant to replace the plant’s use of coal. The gas company entered into a contract with the plaintiff-landowner in which the gas company agreed to “minimize” the cutting of trees. The landowner alleged that the gas company’s agent told him that it would only cut trees in a specific, narrow area. The agent denied making that representation. The week before trial, Jason learned that his key fact witness, the agent who denied making representations to the land owner about the limits of clearing, was in the hospital for medical treatment and unavailable for trial. Jason had to rely on that witness’ deposition testimony. (The witness died during trial.) During the 2-week trial, the plaintiff called 9 witnesses, 4 of whom were tendered as experts in real estate appraisal, site planning, surveying and forestry. Plaintiff asked the jury to award $159,000 for the alleged diminution in value of its property due to the tree removal and for the court to treble that number for a total recovery of a little under $500,000. After deliberating for only 45 minutes, the jury returned a complete defense verdict, finding no breach of contract and no unfair/deceptive acts on the part of the defendant-gas company. Since the Plaintiff recovered no damages in the trial, the gas company is entitled to recover its costs due to an offer of judgment made over a year ago.