In Amazon Prime Video’s biographical film ‘The Burial,’ Mississippi-based funeral home owner Jeremiah O’Keefe sues the Loewen Group, a multi-billion-dollar death care provider that strikes a deal with the former to buy his three funeral homes. As the film depicts, Raymond “Ray” Loewen then decided against buying the homes, only for O’Keefe to believe that the businessman was waiting for him to go bankrupt. The Mississippi man then fought a highly intriguing legal battle against Ray and won the same. Naturally, the viewers must be interested in the specifics of O’Keefe’s win against the Loewen Group. Well, here’s what we can share about the same!
The Half-a-Billion Dollar Win
At the end of the case, the jury directed the Loewen Group to pay Jeremiah O’Keefe $500 million in damages. After the verdict, O’Keefe settled for $175 million. At the start of the negotiations, O’Keefe’s lawyer Michael Cavanaugh asked for $6.5 million, only for the Loewen Group attorneys to dismiss the same. “I did everything but get down on my knees and beg for four million. They said, ‘That’s outrageous! Our client would fire us if we brought that back to him,’” Cavanaugh told Jonathan Harr for his The New Yorker article “The Burial,” the source text of the film.
The demand drastically changed when the famed Willie E. Gary became O’Keefe’s lead prosecutor. Willie demanded $125 million for a settlement even after O’Keefe’s friend and lawyer Mike Allred calculated the damages to about $16 million. When Loewen didn’t even formally respond to the demand, the case went to the court. The multi-billion-dollar company CEO believed that he had nothing to worry about. “His [Loewen’s] legal counsel had assured him that he would win the case. And even if, for some unforeseen reason, he did not win, the maximum probable exposure his company faced, his lawyers told him, would be a loss of between six and twelve million dollars, the approximate amount of O’Keefe’s damages,” Harr’s article reads.
At the end of the trial, the jury awarded O’Keefe $260 million. This sum was excluding the compensatory damages and punitive damages, which took the total amount to $500 million. “On Monday, November 6th, Judge Graves signed the formal entry of judgment in the amount of five hundred million dollars for the plaintiffs,” Harr wrote in his article. “I could not believe what I was hearing. I was absolutely stunned. I thought, this can’t be happening,” Loewen said about listening to the verdict, as per the source text.
Even though O’Keefe won $500 million in total, he considered the aftermath of Loewen’s potential appeal. “O’Keefe had no doubt that Loewen would like to appeal if he was able. Neither O’Keefe nor Gary relished the idea of an appeal, which could take years to grind its way through the judicial system, and could also, of course, end in a reversal. The day after the entry of judgment, O’Keefe asked Gary to contact Loewen’s lawyers with the aim of settling the case,” Harr wrote about O’Keefe’s decision to settle instead of aiming for $500 million. O’Keefe then settled for $175 million.