On Thursday, a Shawnee County jury returned a verdict in the amount of $11,630,000 to Rochelle Chatfield of Topeka who was injured by a shotgun blast that struck her in the face. Wichita attorneys Dustin L. DeVaughn, Richard W. James and Cody G. Claassen of DeVaughn James Injury Lawyers represented Chatfield. Claassen is a Newton resident.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the courtroom," said Claassen. "The jury knew how important this was to our client, and they really came through for her. Of the $11,630,000 that was awarded, $10 million was for pain, suffering and disability. Unfortunately, the $10 million will be reduced down to $250,000 as these types of damages are capped at that amount. Those individuals that support caps on damages for pain, suffering and disfigurement should be ashamed of themselves. We trust jurors to determine whether a criminal should receive the death penalty, but don’t allow them to determine the amount of damages an individual should receive. It really makes no sense. This case is a perfect example of why the statutory cap is unconscionable.”
Claassen is a 2000 Newton High School graduate and has been an attorney since 2010. He attended law school at Washburn University.
The jury found defendant Robert Brown was negligent and failed to use reasonable care in the handling of a shotgun that catastrophically injured Rochelle Chatfield. The case now becomes a battle with the insurance company for payment. The defendant had a homeowner’s insurance policy through Kemper Protective Insurance Company. Despite collecting insurance premiums from the defendant for years, Kemper refused to defend the defendant until one week prior to trial.
When Kemper attempted to hire an attorney and defend the homeowner just prior to trial, it agreed to do so only under a reservation of rights (a limited defense not providing full protection). The defendant rejected and then assigned his insurance coverage rights against Kemper to the injured woman.
Rochelle Chatfield stated, “I am so thankful to my attorneys and the jury. This verdict will enable me to pay bills and get the medical treatment I need.” Chatfield has undergone eight major surgeries and is expected to undergo multiple additional surgeries in an attempt to reconstruct her face that was destroyed by the blast. She will also require plastic surgery and counseling.
“It was such a privilege to represent Rochelle and her son. This was an incredible family whose lives have been devastated by this horrific incident,” said trial attorney Dustin DeVaughn. “The right to a trial by a jury for people who have been injured is absolutely essential for justice.”
Rochelle Chatfield was a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Army who served as a field medic. She served in combat in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She was the sole source of financial support to her 16-year-old son.
The jury’s award will be limited by the Kansas Non-Economic Damage Cap, which limits damages for pain, suffering and disfigurement to $250,000. The $250,000 limit had been in place with no adjustment for more than 25 years, then the legislature adjusted the cap to $300,000 for cases occurring after July 2014.
“At the end of the day, our client will know that she received one of the largest personal injury verdicts in Kansas," Claassen said. "No matter what the caps are, no one can ever take that away from her.”