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Jury awards jilted bride $150,000

Ex-fiance found in breach of contract

POSTED: July 27, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A Hall County man owes his ex-fiancee $150,000 for breaking off their engagement, a jury decided Wednesday.

The six-man, six-woman panel spent about three hours deliberating before ruling in favor of RoseMary Shell, who sued Wayne Gibbs for breach of contract after he called off their nuptials.

"I’m thrilled, needless to say," a beaming Shell said after the verdict. She referred all other questions to her attorney, Lydia Sartain.

Gibbs and his attorney, Hammond Law, both declined to comment on the verdict.

Law had earlier argued that a verdict in favor of the plaintiff would send the wrong message to the community.

"You would be sending the message that if you have a dispute with somebody and you think they have been a scoundrel, go get a lawyer and hope the Brinks truck backs up to the jury room," Law said during his closing argument to the jury. "If you award one penny, you’re saying, ‘file frivolous lawsuits.’ "

The jury award was "significantly higher" than an amount Shell said she would accept during pre-trial settlement discussions, Sartain said.

"We’re certainly pleased with the verdict of the jury and very satisfied with the amount awarded," Sartain said. "Obviously they took this case very seriously and understood that Mr. Gibbs had without justification breached a contract and caused my client a great deal of harm, financially and emotionally."

During the three-day trial, Shell testified that she quit a job paying $81,000 a year in Pensacola, Fla., to move back to Gainesville and be with Gibbs after he proposed in October 2006. In December he left a note in the couple’s bathroom expressing second thoughts about the marriage, and he broke off the engagement for good in March 2007. Shell, who now makes $31,000 a year working for North Georgia College & State University, sued the following June.

Juror Delita Smith said after the trial that the jury decided on the amount by calculating one year of Shell’s old salary working as a human resources manager at a newspaper company in Pensacola, counting a 15 percent annual bonus and benefits valued at up to $40,000.

Smith said deliberations were "really, really hard."

"She should have stayed in Florida," Smith said. "I would, if I had that high-paying job. But if he didn’t want to marry her, he shouldn’t have given her the ring. At some point, I think he misled her in a way."

Smith said she was "really shocked" that a broken wedding engagement would end up in court.

Sartain maintained that contract suits for withdrawn marriage proposals are not unusual.

"These cases are tried throughout the United States," Sartain said, though she said they were "not (tried) with great frequency."

Law said earlier this week that he could find only one prior instance of someone suing over a broken wedding engagement in a search of 25 years of Georgia case histories.

Judge Kathlene Gosselin instructed the panel during her jury charge that "breach of promise to marry is a common law contract action."

"By the very nature of the action, there must be an actual promise to marry and acceptance of that promise before one can be held liable for a breach," the judge told the jury.

Sartain told the jury in her closing argument that they should find Gibbs responsible for Shell’s financial and emotional suffering

"If you make an agreement with someone, if you cause them to rely on that agreement to their detriment, you’re responsible," Sartain said.


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