Jurors side with Garth Brooks in hospital naming-rights lawsuit
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
1/25/12 at 7:15 AM
CLAREMORE - A jury awarded Garth Brooks $1 million Tuesday night in a civil dispute involving the country music entertainer and a naming-rights' promise he said was made by the largest health-care system in the state.
A Rogers County jury deliberated for three hours in awarding him $500,000 on breach of contract and fraud claims against Integris Rural Health Inc. and only 15 minutes before awarding the same amount of punitive damages.
The amounts were the legal maximums in this case.
Brooks, who lives near Owasso but grew up in Yukon, sued Integris in 2009, alleging that it reneged on a promise to name a new women's health center at a Yukon hospital after his mother, Colleen Brooks, in exchange for his $500,000 donation.
Colleen Brooks died of complications from cancer in 1999.
"My mom was bigger than all of this and always has been," Brooks said outside the courtroom after the verdict. "It's almost like she was free again to get to approach this again.
"One day Mom's name is going to go on the women's center right there where the hospital is. But that hospital won't be owned by Integris when it happens, I can tell you that. That's my dream."
In awarding the fraud claim, the jury of nine women and three men found that Integris acted in "reckless disregard" and "intentionally with malice toward others."
Additional actual damages of $150,000 that initially were awarded by the panel were stricken by District Judge Dynda Post because they exceeded the maximum allowed by law.
Juror Beverly Lacy of Inola said the panel "wanted to show them not to do that anymore to other people who couldn't take them to court if they needed to."
The weeklong trial featured at times a carnival-like atmosphere.
At every idle moment of the proceedings, fans introduced themselves to Brooks, requesting that he autograph everything from guitars to pictures to iPhones
Following the trial, which ended just before 8 p.m., Brooks was greeted by a throng of about 40 people, with the star's music playing loudly in the background.
"I want people to know that those 12 people are heroes," he said of the jurors. "They had to stand up, and they had to stand up with their names out front.
"Everyone in that courtroom knows what they do for a living. Everyone knows how many kids they've got. And these people stood up and took charge, and I can't thank them enough for showing that courage."
Hardy Watkins is Integris Health's vice president of marketing and communications.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed that the jury awarded money above and beyond the donation," he said. "We felt strongly that this was a disagreement from the beginning. It's been surprising and disheartening."
Watkins said defense attorneys will review the case before deciding whether to appeal.
"This is a very high-profile, isolated incident where you have differing opinions of the same circumstance," he said. "I think we have a tremendous track record of very successful donations."
The case boiled down largely to a he-said, he-said between Brooks and James Moore, CEO of Integris Canadian Valley Regional Hospital in Yukon.
Brooks testified Friday that he had a telephone conversation with Moore in the early summer of 2005. In it, Brooks said, he made a spoken agreement with Moore in which he donated $500,000 in exchange for the hospital's naming a new women's center after his mother.
On the stand, Brooks spoke in glowing terms about his mother, sometimes breaking down.
He testified: "I was her favorite. ... She was my buddy. I was her biggest fan."
But Moore told jurors that Brooks' gift, which he sent anonymously to Integris in December 2005, carried no spending restrictions.
Moore also testified that he and the country music superstar spoke about several naming opportunities, including one they discussed at an Edmond restaurant in July 2005. At that meeting, talk centered on a $15 million gift, which Brooks declined to make, in exchange for the hospital's renaming the entire facility after Colleen Brooks.
Moore told jurors that although he did promise to honor Colleen Brooks for her son's donation, no deal regarding a naming right for the women's center was ever mentioned. A women's center hasn't been built, and Integris has not spent the donation, evidence showed.
In the years following Brooks' donation, negotiations began to break down between Brooks and Moore, testimony indicated.
In March 2009, Brooks testified, he learned for the first time that there was an existing women's center, and at that point, he said, "I'm not sure what we're talking about."
A Nashville, Tenn., attorney of Brooks' asked Integris to return the donation or transfer it to one of Brooks' charities.
A March 2009 memo from Moore to Integris staffers said, "We may not deny Garth access to the money, however, we can sure as hell make him work to get it back," testimony showed.
The case was filed in Rogers County because a substantial portion of the cause of action arose there, the petition states.
Original Print Headline: Jury sides with Brooks
Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395
Singer Garth Brooks covers his heart while talking to a bevy of reporters Tuesday after he was awarded $1 million in a civil trial at the Rogers County Courthouse in Claremore. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Country singer Garth Brooks signs autographs and greets fans Tuesday at the Rogers County Courthouse in Claremore after jurors hearing his breach-of-contract lawsuit sided in his favor. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World