Disney loses deathbed case

(BBC News, April 22, 2000)

A Californian court has found that the Walt Disney Corporation forced a dying executive to sign away millions of dollars in benefits.

The court heard that Robert Jahn, a senior vice-president at Disney, was on his deathbed when the company forced him to relinquish more than $2m worth of stock options and life insurance payments.

Witnesses said the company threatened to expose Mr Jahn for taking kickbacks if he didn't give up his claim to the funds.

Lawyers for his estate said Mr Jahn was dying of Aids and too weak to fight the allegations.

A few days later he went into a coma.

Rat and mouse

The jury rejected Disney's claim that Mr Jahn had agreed to give up the benefits.

"In regards to what they did I thought they represented not a mouse but a rat," said Greg Hafif, an attorney for the Jahn estate.

"It's a moral victory. This is the appropriate verdict," said fellow attorney Larry Sackey.

"And I hope this corporation gets the message. It shouldn't conduct business like this."

During the case, Disney attorney John Quinn showed the jury a full-page advertisement of a weeping Mickey Mouse the company placed in a trade publication the day after Mr Jahn's death.

He said the executive was treated with compassion.

A district judge will now decide how much Disney owes Mr Jahn's estate.

Mr Jahn was a senior executive at Disney Motion Pictures & Television, in charge of making trailers and TV ads for Disney films.

He died of Aids-related complications in 1996.