Upon being sued for fraud, Mr. Marks turned the claims over to his professional liability insurer. But the insurer refused to defend him, saying that coverage of these particular claims was excluded by his policy. Mr. Marks relied on a line of case law suggesting that when an insurer refuses outright to defend (rather than defending under a reservation of rights) the insurer is estopped from asserting a policy exclusion in its defense. Judge Sankovitz traced the law back to its roots and concluded that the court must consider the contract as a whole, policy exclusions and all. The analysis was affirmed by the Court of Appeals and then by the Supreme Court, which explicitly overruled the contrary line of cases on which Mr. Marks relied.
Judge Sankovitz presided over multiple pretrial motions and a five-week jury trial in this historic product liability case involving alleged childhood exposure to lead pigment. It was the first of its kind in the nation, decided under a law in force at the time requiring that the court apply a risk contribution theory in certain lead pigment cases.
Three antitrust class actions, filed in three counties around the State in the wake of the government’s prosecution of Microsoft, were consolidated before Judge Sankovitz. The case was quickly settled, but Judge Sankovitz declined to approve the settlement that was initially proposed, because the settlement did not serve the best interests of Wisconsin consumers. The parties continued to negotiate and four months later the parties proposed a substantially improved agreement. What followed was an extremely hard-fought fee dispute. Attorneys representing one of the three plaintiff classes sought more than $25 million in fees. Judge Sankovitz awarded approximately $5.7 million.
At dispute was whether a tort suit arising under state law is pre-empted by the 1976 Medical Device Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The case, presented to Judge Sankovitz in 2006, was a preview of sorts of the issues presented later to the United States Supreme Court in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 552 U.S. 312, 128 S. Ct. 999 (2008).
A complex executive compensation dispute in which Judge Sankovitz fashioned legal principles to guide trial courts in deciding the measure of damages to apply in a promissory estoppel case. A jury found that the defendant made promises that induced the executive to continue consulting with the company rather than pursuing other employment opportunities. In a separate proceeding, Judge Sankovitz determined, however, that the executive did not prove that he had incurred any reliance damages.
In its decision affirming a jury verdict in favor of a freight conductor injured on a locomotive, the court commented, “[t]he trial court denied each of the Railroad’s post-verdict claims in a particularly thorough and well-reasoned analysis.”
In its decision affirming Judge Sankovitz’s interpretation of a labor agreement concerning whether retirees were entitled to free health insurance, the court commented, “In a thorough, well-reasoned oral decision, the circuit court granted summary judgment to the County.”
In its decision affirming Judge Sankovitz’s decision to order the disgorgement of a portion of a contingent attorney’s fee, the court wrote, “We are aided in our review by a thorough, well-reasoned and well-documented decision provided by the trial court.”
In its decision affirming summary judgment to the seller in a dispute over whether the indemnification clause of a stock purchase agreement made in 1972 covered asbestos claims that arose decades later, the court wrote, “we first note that although our review is de novo, we find the trial court’s analysis of the issue to be very helpful, not only because it is exceptionally thorough, but also because both sides . . . addressed it in great detail.”