Walt Disney Co. must pay $240 million to two men who accused executives of the world’s No. 2 media company of stealing their idea for a sports-theme amusement park, a Florida jury found.
Jurors in Orange County Circuit Court in Orlando deliberated for 12 hours before finding that Disney should pay damages for misappropriating trade secrets in connection with its Wide World of Sports complex, court officials said.
Nicholas Stracick, a former baseball umpire, and architect Edward Russell sued in 1997, alleging Disney executives had gotten the idea for the sports park after seeing their plans and a model for such a facility in a 1987 meeting. Disney denied the allegations.
“The evidence was overwhelming that the idea for the sports complex was independently created by Walt Disney employees,” said Louis M. Meisinger, Disney’s executive vice president and general counsel. “We feel that this verdict was driven by [an] appeal to the jury’s prejudices against corporations and business in general.”
Lawyers for Stracick, Russell and their company, All Pro Sports Camps Inc., weren’t immediately available to comment on the verdict.
Disney’s sports park includes a stadium that is the spring training home for major league baseball’s Atlanta Braves. It also offers facilities for other sports.
Stracick’s and Russell’s lawyers had sought $1.6 billion in damages in the case, saying that’s how much the idea for the sports complex has been worth to Disney since it opened three years ago.
Disney executives said Stracick’s and Russell’s earlier suits over the sports park dispute had been dismissed in both state and federal court.
“We have a high level of confidence that this verdict will be set aside,” Meisinger said.
Shares of Burbank-based Disney rose 38 cents to $40.88 on the New York Stock Exchange.