After more than eight hours of deliberation on Tuesday, jurors hearing the lawsuit filed by Summer Wind Farm owners Frank and Jane Lyon against Coolmore Stud partners, Ashford Stud and Eaton Sales over the disputed $2.1 million sale of Love Me Only at the 2011 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale told Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone they could not come to a decision.
The jury's announcement came at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday evening.
“We just have to respect that,” Scorsone said. “Sometimes it happens, and they can reach a settlement after a trial has failed to reach a verdict.” With that, he adjourned a case that began Monday, Oct. 20, and included 25 witnesses over 6 ½ days of often intensive and complicated testimony concerning Keeneland's Conditions of Sales and Medication Policy, the efficacy of the anti-inflammatory butazolidan, drug testing withdrawal times, and one of the most complex and mysterious equine diseases of all – laminitis. Expert witnesses from both sides put forth persuasive arguments, using white-boards to illustrate laminitis, showing videos of lame and healthy horses walking, and analyzing X-rays for the jury.
The lawsuit alleged defendants defrauded the Lyons by using phenylbutazone to mask a laminitic condition in Love Me Only when she was on the Keeneland sale grounds. Days after being sold and arriving at Summer Wind Farm in Georgetown, Ky., Love Me Only was lame and diagnosed with laminitis by three veterinarians. The Lyons also charged Love Me Only's former owners (Coolmore's John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) and agents with concealing the fact 3-year-old Love Me Only was unsuccessfully bred to Danehill Dancer in February 2011 prior to a mating to Sea the Stars three months later that led to her pregnancy. She produced the foal she was carrying, was bred back to Distorted Humor in 2012, and produced a 2013 foal. Love Me Only currently is in foal to Smart Strike.
The Lyons sought to have the sale rescinded, their money refunded and receive punitive damages.
William Hoskins, closing for the plaintiffs, said Love Me Only was “crippled 48 hours after the sale when those drugs wore off,” adding that “any reputable seller of any product accepts returns.” Citing a section of the Keeneland-endorsed Sales Integrity Program that calls for transparency, Hoskins said: “Let's protect our industry. Let's stop these types of games.”
Prior to closing arguments, Scorsone read instructions to the jury that included a lengthy list of questions they were to answer. Among them: Was evidence of any fraudulent activity “clear and convincing?” Did defendants knowingly make false representations about Love Me Only's condition or breeding history? Did Summer Wind act on those false representations and were the buyers injured financially by purchasing Love Me Only?
If nine or more of the 12 jurors answered yes to those questions, they were then to consider punitive damages as a way of punishing the defendants and deter them from similar actitions in the future. In his closing argument, Hoskins suggested $2.1 million, the amount Love Me Only sold for, as an appropriate sum for punitive damages.
In the end, nearly three years after Love Me Only sold and over 2 1/2 years since the lawsuit was filed, jurors could not reach a consensus. Barry Hunter, co-counsel for the defendants, said it was the first time a jury failed to reach a decision on any civil case he's tried.
The options, going forward, are to either to go back to the drawing board and re-try the case or settle it out of court.
The day after the trial ended, Summer Wind and Coolmore issued statements about the case, with Summer Wind indicating they will move for a new trial.
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