In 1971 Nance Cacciatore obtained the first $1 Million verdict on behalf of an African American in the United States. The plaintiff Juliana Mason was a concrete worker who was seriously injured when the roof of the Sears building in Melbourne collapsed, causing him to fall some 20 feet. When he awoke, the doctors told him that the news was grim – he was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The defendants in the case were the building contractors involved in the construction of the scaffolding and the roof. There was no settlement offer made before the trial. During jury selection, attorneys Jim Nance and Sammy Cacciatore had to deal with many jurors who had deep-seated prejudice about the prospect of awarding money damages to a black man. The trial lasted over 4 weeks and reporters worked in shifts to cover the story. The jury deliberated for some 33 hours. When the landmark verdict was announced there was an eruption in the courtroom. The headline in the Florida Today newspaper said, “From itinerant cotton picker to millionaire.”
Mason, who was 31 at the time, had grown up in a poverty-stricken area around Tuskegee, Alabama. He was the son of itinerant laborers and picked cotton as a boy. He dropped out of school in the 5th grade and moved to Florida to pick oranges. When he landed a construction job making $1.95 an hour, he said, “I was on top of the world. That was more money than I’d ever made before.” Mason promised to give his son opportunities in life that he’d never had growing up.