The jury just rendered its verdict on punitive damages in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case.

Daniel McGraw, our reporter in the courtroom, reports that in addition to the $11.2 million compensatory damages awarded last Friday, the jury awarded a total of $33 million in punitive damages, which will probably be reduced by the court to $22 million because of the state law cap at twice compensatory (it’s not an absolute cap, but probably will apply here). That brings the total damages to $33 million. We will have the breakdown soon. The jury also awarded attorney’s fees, to be determined by the judge.

The breakdown was:

David Gibson – $17.5 million punitive damages

Allyn W. Gibson — $8.75 million punitive damages

Gibson Bros. Inc. (the Bakery) – $6,973,500 punitive damages

MY STATEMENT about the verdict:

“Oberlin College tried to sacrifice a beloved 5th-generation bakery, its owners, and its employees, at the altar of political correctness in order to appease the campus ‘social justice warfare’ mob. The jury sent a clear message that the truth matters, and so do the reputations and lives of people targeted by false accusations, particularly when those false accusations are spread by powerful institutions. Throughout the trial the Oberlin College defense was tone-deaf and demeaning towards the bakery and its owners, calling the bakery nearly worthless. The jury sent a message that all lives matter, including the lives of ordinary working people who did nothing wrong other than stop people from stealing.”


David Gibson reacted:

I appreciate from the jury that they took care of this Goliath. That took a lot of guts on their part. They made it so that we have a chance and an opportunity to keep the lights on. [overcome with emotion] Gives us an opportunity to keep the lights on for another generation.”

Daniel McGraw Reports on What Happened When The Verdict Was Read

The Gibson family was visibly shocked by the amount, as most in the courtroom were thinking the jury’s final punitive damages verdict in the case might top out at maybe $10 million. The fact that it was triple that amount means in many ways that perhaps the jury understood that the whole country was watching.

“We never wanted any of this to go to court and have to spend all this time in litigation,” David Gibson said exclusively to the Legal Insurrection. David Gibson is the lead plaintiff in the case and is the principal owner of the business.

“People have no idea on how much stress this has had on our family and business for almost three years. But from the beginning, we just didn’t understand why they were punishing us for something we had nothing to do with.”

“We appreciate that the jury understood what we had gone through, and I think they were saying to the entire country that we can’t allow this to happen to hard-working, small business people whose lives are defined by their business, their family, and their community,” he said.” What the college was doing was trying to take away all those things from us, and we fought hard against that.”

The final tally on punitive damages that Oberlin College has been ordered to pay for by the jury is thus: $17,500,000 million for David Gibson, $8,750,000 for Allyn W. “Grandpa” Gibson, and $6,973,500 for the bakery business.

Allyn W. Gibson, age 90 and the patriarch of the business that has been in Oberlin since 1885, wanted to make sure people understood the Gibson family and business were not against students at Oberlin College in any way.

“I have been here my whole life and I love the students and the energy they bring to our community, and people who know me know I always love being with them,” he said. “Students can be great people or they can be bad, just like all of us can be, but they need guidance at that age, and they weren’t getting it when this all started.”

Some of the defenders of Oberlin College have claimed that the Gibsons’ were just in it for punishment on this case, and never tried to settle. That could not be further from the truth. According to Lee Plakas, lead attorney for the Gibsons’, a letter was sent before the case was filed in Nov. of 2017 asking for at least some talks on settlement and no answer was sent back (this reporter has seen it).

In early 2018, according to Plakas, two days of talks with a mediator were done, but nothing close to a settlement was achieved. In fact, the talks were initiated by the Gibson’s and “We were ready, willing and able to not have this case go to trial, but Oberlin College and their insurance company seemed to have no interest in settling this case,” Plakas said.

“As they have done throughout this case, they thought that they were above everyone else, and that the rules and working to settle such an egregious case of defaming a good family like the Gibsons’ was beneath them,” he added.

What this punitive award means is both simple and complicated in many ways. Under Ohio law, punitive awards are capped in most cases at double the compensatory amount already arrived at. In this case, that would mean the punitive damage could be no more than $22.4 million, half of the compensatory damages laid on Oberlin College and far less than the $33 million waylaid on the school today by the jury.

However, there are exceptions in the legislation passed in Ohio in 2008 on the punitive damages cap (ironically it was passed to protect small businesses from having high damages awarded against them, not for them, as in like this case), and Judge John R. Miraldi, the Lorain County Common Pleas judge in this case, will decide on how much of the $33 million will go to the Gibsons.

But it will be more than likely get down closer to the $22.4 million level. Plus, the jury said that the attorneys’ fees that Gibsons’ would have had to pay out of its verdict awards (often at 30% of jury verdict awards), would now have to be paid by Oberlin College. That could be an additional $10 million put on the school’s plate. Judge Miraldi will decide that as well, not any jury.

For those who have speculated that these jury verdicts will be pared down substantially or denied by an appeals court, that also is not good speculation. Yes, there will likely be appeals, but in order to win an appeal in a civil tort case, Oberlin College would have to prove that Judge Miraldi and the jury made egregious decision that went against Ohio law. For those of us in the courtroom, and for legal observers who know more about this than me, appeals reversals are unlikely. And Miraldi was very careful in setting the bar pretty high on evidentiary rulings.

However, if this does ever get to the Ohio Supreme Court, that could be about two years down the road, not a decade.

But in the end, this was a case that will be one that is pointed to as a “tipping point” of sorts. Plakas repeatedly told the jury that this was bigger than them, and that they could make a statement to the country “that this type of behavior is unacceptable to any community because a big collegiate institution like Oberlin College has a responsibility to their community and neighbors, and not just to themselves.”

Plakas told Legal Insurrection why he joined up to represent the Gibson family in a case that early on seemed to be difficult to win. “I was stunned early on when I saw the early letters and emails from the college on this matter that favored their biased ideology over what should have been some semblance of intellectual balance,” he said.

“What [Oberlin College] did to the Gibsons’ was irrational … and that part of it really angered me as just a private person who saw what was happening to the Gibsons. You would expect a highly regarded university, with a long history of being a great school in this country, would have disregarded what we would think of as a basic thought process,” Plakas continued.

“We worked hard on this, and I am proud of our legal team so much,” he said. “But the Gibson family were the ones that worked the hardest. They knew from the beginning that the only way to get justice, to get their name restored, was to work hard and sacrifice. They had to lay off workers and go without salary, and most would have just quit and folded up the business. But they didn’t.”

“They did what a lot of people wouldn’t do, and the country should realize that what they did will benefit many of us in many ways for many years.”

The View Inside The Courtoom

[Judge John Miraldi reads punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

[Meredith Raimondo and Oberlin College lawyers listen as punitive damages verdict is read][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

[Lee Plakas greets Allyn W. Gibson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

[David Gibson hugs grandson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

[Gibson Family and legal team after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

EARLIER – Closing Arguments

In closing argument, Gibson’s lawyer Lee Plakas argued:

“Why is the country watching you. Because the country agrees that what happened to the Gibsons should not happen to anyone, but could happen to everyone.”

” Colleges are watching us and you. Because they all know the way colleges are run will be affected, and by your decisions, they will be”

Plakas ended by reading to the jury the poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Defense attorney Rachelle Kuznicki argued:

“We cannot change the past, we can learn from it.”

“This will impact people who had nothing to do with the protest …, it also means less students who are not able to afford a college education will be able to do so.”

Legal Insurrection Prior Coverage

We had the most extensive coverage of this dispute and trial. Below are many (but not all) our prior posts, which serve as something of a historical record of this case.

Pre-Trial Posts:

Trial Posts:

Post-Verdict Posts

Punitive Damages Hearing Posts

[Featured Image: David Gibson and Allyn W. Gibson at trial][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]


NOTE: Our trial coverage is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. Your support helps make this type of coverage possible.

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