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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Stanley Gamble v. U-Haul: The Start of $4 Million Personal Injury Verdicts in Alabama

By: Donald V. Watkins

February 21, 2024


Thirty-nine years ago, three Black lawyers achieved something in Montgomery, Alabama that had never been accomplished before.  These lawyers were Billy L. Carter, Karen Lynne Neal Knight, and Donald V. Watkins.

 

These three lawyers represented a severely injured Montgomery resident named Stanley Gamble in an automobile-truck accident case where the plaintiff's injuries were caused by multiple acts of negligence that rendered a rented U-Haul truck unsafe. The brakes on this U-Haul truck failed, thereby causing the vehicle to slam into Stanley Gamble's car four days before Christmas in 1984. As a result, Stanley Gamble was comatose for next several years.


The case of Stanley Gamble v. U-Haul was brought to trial within eleven months from the date of the accident.  This was, and still is, a speedy trial record in a personal injury case.

 

After a nine-day trial, a Montgomery County jury returned a verdict on November 27, 1985, for $4.1 million in Stanley Gamble’s favor.  At the time, this amount was the highest verdict for a personal injury case in America involving a comatose injury. 

 

The verdict was front-page news.  Media organizations around the nation recognized our achievements in Stanley Gamble's case. All three of us were quoted in media articles about the case.


When it was all said and done, Billy, Karen, and I had achieved two records in the annals of American jurisprudence with Stanley Gamble’s case -- (a) we made it to trial in record time, and (b) we won a jury verdict in a record amount for a comatose accident victim.

 

Nobody but Angela Gamble (Stanley’s wife) believed we could achieve this remarkable feat. Angela stood by us every step of the way, even when many Blacks in Montgomery tried to convince her to dump Watkins, Carter & Knight and use a local White law firm.

 

We turned down a $1 million offer from U-Haul for a continuance of the scheduled trial.  The offer signaled to us that U-Haul was not ready for a trial.

 

We did not associate any White law firm to help us develop and present the case at trial, which was the standard practice of Black lawyers at the time and remains so today.  We financed the trial preparation costs, including expert witnesses, via a $25,000 bank loan. 

 

The jury was comprised of nine Whites and three Blacks.  The trial judge was Mark Kennedy, who went on to become a distinguished Associate Justice on the Alabama Supreme Court.

 

The courtroom was packed with mostly White observers when the jury verdicts were announced -- $4.1 million for Stanley Gamble and $15,000 for Angela Gamble (for loss of consortium). Several weeks later, we settled the case for about $4 million (which was "big money" in 1985).

 

Billy, Karen, and I had the confidence we needed to get the justice our clients deserved. We took extreme pride in the fact that three Black lawyers in Alabama had established two national records in this 1984-85 case.

 

After this remarkable achievement in law, embattled Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., recruited me to Birmingham to serve as his special counsel for the next 14 years.

 

Stanley Gamble passed away on December 7, 1997, in Montgomery.


Karen Knight died on March 19, 2012. She was a brilliant lawyer, a great friend, and a wonderful law partner. Karen was serving as a Montgomery municipal court judge at the time of her death. I miss her dearly.


Billy Carter is retired from the practice of law, but we regularly talk about our childhoods, careers, achievements, and families. In a recent conversation, Billy reminded me of our record-setting achievements in Stanley Gamble's case.


I retired from the practice of law in 2019 and now focus solely on climbing the mountains of international business, which I enjoy immensely. I climb the mountains for my parents, my children, my K-12 teachers, and Billy and Karen.  I feel their positive "can do" spirit every step of the way.


When I look back on my legal career with Billy and Karen, every record we achieved was deemed by many people to be impossible. Our talents, energy, goals, and positive outcomes in law knew no bounds.

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livingtho2
Feb 22

I think you are one of greatest trial lawyers of all times. In fact you're a legend. I've known you to take on very complicated cases and scored victory.


You may currently be retired from law practice, but not without recognizing an exemplary legacy you left behind for all aspiring young men and women pursuing legal careers. Much more, you add richness and vitality to African history and is fitting to say that every lawschool across the globe should store case studies on your extraordinary contribution to the field of law.


No better time than now - African history month to honor such accomplishments.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Feb 22
Replying to

I had a great legal career. A janitor at the University of Alabama's law school named Ramus Rhodes trained me to be the "best of the best" litigator in the courtroom. I represented him everytime I went into battle. I never wanted to let him down. My life today centers on international business, which I find to be more thrilling than law.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Feb 21

Karen Lynne Neal Knight was a super-smart attorney. Plus, she could properly prepare and successfully try a complex case to a favorable conclusion. She made full partner in our law firm after only one year.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Feb 23
Replying to

They were not related.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Feb 21

If we do not teach our history, nobody else will.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Feb 21

In addition to the records Billy, Karen, and I achieved, I hold the national record for winning the most felony counts (85) in a single defendant case (U.S. v. Richard Scrushy). I also hold the national record for winning 155 straight courtroom victories.


By 2019, the "rigging" of judicial proceedings became unbearable for me and I retired from the practice of law. It's done on a routine basis. Today, I get my thrill in the world of international business.

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