In 2010, we interviewed Catharine Biggs Arrowood, partner at Parker Poe, for a Q&A featured in the 2011 edition of North Carolina Super Lawyers. In the following excerpt, the business litigator talks about her most memorable case, in which she got her very own Perry Mason moment.
Do you have a most memorable case that you’ve handled?
[Laughs] I do! And it’s funny ’cause it certainly isn’t my biggest or most complex case. … I was a second-chair in the case. We took on a case representing a truck driver from Florida whose father had died in Asheville, N.C., while on vacation. The son had arranged for his father to be cremated and the remains shipped back to Florida for a memorial service and daddy never showed up. So we sued the funeral home and it was just a very dramatic case. …
About a week before we started the trial-this is in federal court in Asheville-a box arrived at our client’s home in Florida, purporting to be the remains of his father. Because they had never put a cause of death on [the death certificate for his dad at the hospital], we were able to get the North Carolina medical examiner to agree that he would look at the box and see what was in it.
We were rehearsing [the medical examiner’s] testimony the night before, going over what he was going to say and what he had found, and he said, “Here’s a bag that contains remains of dentures that I found in these ashes.” Well, the son jumped up and said, “That is not daddy!”
How did he know?
Because his dad’s dentures-he had had two sets of dentures-had been given to him at the hospital; they were not in his mouth when he was cremated.
We tried this funeral home owner. He got on the stand and cried. He said he’d been having all these problems and [was] begging the jury. We were very suspicious. He claimed that they had mailed daddy’s remains and that it must’ve gotten lost in the mail and that’s why it didn’t arrive until two weeks before the trial. So we went down and showed the postmaster the box that it had been mailed in and asked him if, looking at it, could he tell us anything about when it had been mailed. At first, he said, “Well, you can’t really tell.” Then, while we’re in the middle of the trial, he came running upstairs and said, “I’ve just realized-the postage went up. And it is clear that this was mailed after X date.” So we impeached this guy on the stand.
It was a classic Perry Mason case, with high drama in the courtroom, people going, “That’s not true! That’s not daddy!” So that’s why I liked it so much.
So you really got to fulfill what had inspired you early on.
Exactly. I mean it was just like the TV show. There were about 20 different reasons why it’s my favorite case. Not the least of which was that we really felt like we accomplished something for this gentleman. He at least got some answers about what had happened.
In any event, we got around a $25,000 verdict [in 1979]. The local bar could not believe it. They had told us, “You know, juries up here will not pay a dollar for something like this, even if you show they’re liable.” But, it was just a terrific case. It really was.
Read the entire feature here.