OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma jury decided in favor of native son superstar singer Garth Brooks on Tuesday, saying a hospital company defrauded him by accepting a $500,000 donation and failing to honor his request to name a building for his late mother.
The jury decided on Tuesday evening to award Brooks $1 million, according to Hardy Watkins, vice president of marketing and communications for the hospital company, Integris Health.
The total includes Brooks’s original donation as actual damages plus another $500,000 in punitive damages.
Brooks made the donation in 2005 and said in the lawsuit he had a verbal deal with the president of Integris Canadian Valley Regional Hospital to have a women’s center named after his mother, Colleen, who died of cancer in 1999.
Integris is the largest health care system in Oklahoma.
According to court documents, James Moore, the hospital president, said that no promises were ever made to Brooks but that discussions were held about the possibilities.
Brooks had an anonymous $500,000 check sent to the hospital in December 2005, but it wasn’t until a few weeks later, after Brooks called the hospital, that hospital officials said they knew the check was sent by the country music legend.
Brooks sued Integris Rural Health Inc. in 2009 after the hospital refused to return his donation.
Watkins said Integris tried to return the $500,000 to Brooks after the singer filed his lawsuit, but the offer was turned down. Integris had not offered to return the money before the lawsuit was filed because it was hopeful an agreement could be reached with Brooks, he said.
Brooks and his attorneys argued that Moore “lured” the singer into making the donation.
The hospital, located on Garth Brooks Boulevard in Yukon, Oklahoma, where the singer grew up and where his name adorns the town’s water tower, never built the women’s center and never spent the $500,000 donation, court testimony showed.
Because of Brooks’ fame and reputation, hospital officials acknowledged before the trial that their side of the case would not be popular. “In the court of public opinion, we’re not going to win,” said Watkins.
On Tuesday, however, Watkins declined to attribute the jury’s decision to Brooks’s popularity.
“We are very disappointed the jury awarded dollars above the original donation,” he said, calling the verdict “surprising and disturbing.”
Brooks, 49, and his wife, singer Trisha Yearwood, who live on a ranch near the Tulsa suburb of Owasso, signed autographs and chatted with fans after each court session of the week-long trial.
On Tuesday night, a crowd of admirers gathered outside the Rogers County Courthouse in Claremore, Oklahoma, where they sang along to a recording of one of Brooks’ most famous songs, “Friends in Low Places.”
Brooks, now semi-retired, was named the world’s top-selling solo artist in 2007 by the Recording Industry Association of America, with 123 million albums sold.
Reporting By Steve Olafson; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Peter Bohan