A jury awarded a South Florida woman a whopping $155 million, but then a short time later, with a judge's order, the massive sum vanished. Former principal of the Aventura City of Excellence School Katherine Murphy says she has suffered the ultimate injustice.
Katherine Murphy says she spent six weeks in a coma, had numerous surgeries, and hospital visits. She says it was all the result of the way she was treated while running the Aventura City of Excellence Charter School, a job she was eventually fired from.
"My intestines ruptured. I went into a coma, was not given a chance of survival," Murphy said.
Murphy says she received a number of educational awards but claims the man who was her boss, Aventura City Manager Eric Soroka made her life a living hell. "He told us that we looked like whores and prostitutes out for dinner alone. He accused me of stealing money from a child’s parents," she said.
Murphy ended up suing for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Soroka's lawyer said, "We strongly deny any wrongdoing and the allegations that Murphy has made against the city and the city manager."
The Aventura City of Excellence School says Murphy's claims are unfounded.
The defendants also denied any connection or correlation between Murphy's claims and her medical condition.
But in court before Miami-Dade Judge Rosa Rodriguez, the jury found otherwise and found there was a tie to her coma. It ruled for Murphy and made her a millionaire many times over.
Her lawyer, Richard Burton, said, "The court heard the evidence. We went through with a monthlong jury trial. There was an over $155 million verdict."
A few days later, Judge Rodriguez called both sides back to court and announced she was tossing the gigantic sum aside.
She said, “…I have not read one single case that in a context such as this, the type of statements made with no physical contact do not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct required under the case law.”
The judge found that Soroka was immune from the defamation count and that defamation was not proven.
Nova Southeastern Law Professor Bob Jarvis says judges have the ability to reverse a jury's decision but exercise caution.
"It's sort of like when the video referee looks at something that's been called on the field and then says, 'Wait a second,' and reverses the call on the field," he says.
Attorneys for the school say by tossing the multimillion-dollar verdict, the judge correctly ruled Murphy's allegations were legally and factually lacking.
Murphy at least finds comfort in the fact that the jury was on her side.
"I have feelings of pride that I had a jury with me and believed in me," she says.
Professor Jarvis said there are not any hard numbers, but it's estimated judges step in and do this less than 10 percent of the time.
The battle between Murphy and the school isn't over. Murphy is going to a higher court to try and get her millions back. The school and city manager say they'll ultimately prevail there too.
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