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Teenager wins his day in court

Medford 19-year-old wins recompense for an accident in a chain store: all of &

36;94.35

A Medford teen fresh out of home school took on a corporate giant Tuesday.

And won.

With only two weeks to prepare arguments for his first trial, 19-year-old Marshall Huffman went up against Portland attorney John MacMillan in a personal injury suit against Meier and Frank. Huffman was awarded &

36;94.35 for medical expenses, pain and suffering.

But the money didn't matter. The family just wanted to bring to light what they say are dangerous conditions in the Medford department store, said Huffman's mother, Margo Huffman.

The sharp edge of a clothing rack cut Marshall Huffman's forehead while he was shopping in the store with his mother in December 1999. Huffman bent down to a pick up a blouse that had fallen on the floor when he hit his head on the edge of the rack, which was hidden by other pieces of clothing.

To this day, when we're in a store ... I have to remind myself not to pick up anything because I just don't want anything like this to ever happen again, Huffman told Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca Orf.

The store's security guard cleaned up the cut and recommended that Huffman go to the emergency room at Providence Medford Medical Center, where doctors examined the wound and gave the boy a tetanus shot. The cut did not require stitches. The family was billed &

36;44.35.

Huffman argued that Meier & Frank was liable for physical and emotional distress he experienced in the emergency room. Because of his fear of needles and the way medical staff berated him for panicking, he was traumatized and humiliated, Huffman said.

MacMillan, Meier & Frank's attorney, said he believed the family was in court Tuesday in large part because of their treatment in the emergency room. Meier & Frank never believed they were liable for Huffman's injury and would not settle the case, he said.

Although Orf chastised Huffman for overreacting to what she viewed as a superficial scratch, the judge awarded Huffman the cost of his medical bills and &

36;50 for pain and suffering.

If the 19-year-old could get a handle on his emotions and reaction to stress, he should consider going to law school, she said.

I felt like (the money) was almost a reward for a job well done, MacMillan said, adding that Meier & Frank spent more than 25 times that amount to pay MacMillan to represent the company in court.

He's a smart kid.

Orf struck down an injunction to order Meier & Frank to repair sharp end caps on all their clothing racks.

After Huffman's parents couldn't find a lawyer to represent them in the case, they forged ahead on their own. Huffman and his mother, Margo, spent weeks poring over legal documents in the Circuit Court law library and viewed one of Orf's trials.

Two weeks before their court date, the family learned that MacMillan planned to object to Margo Huffman's participation in the case. She would have assisted her son in trial if a separate claim had been filed before the statute of limitations ran out.

Accustomed to being her son's teacher, Margo Huffman had to hold back whispered suggestions from the back of the courtroom. But as the trial went on, it was apparent that her son's performance would have eclipsed her own, she said.

How he stood on his feet and came up with that rebuttal, I will never know, she said, referring to an argument her son made in the case.

But learning how to represent himself has cured him of any aspirations to a career in law, Marshall Huffman said. The teen plans on a career in computer graphics.

Margo Huffman, her husband, Michael, and their two sons, Marshall, 19, and Mathew, 16, work on their court case in the Jackson County Justice Building lobby. Marshall represented himself in a lawsuit against a local department store. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell