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Video: Jilted bride sues ex-fiancé

TODAY contributor
updated 7/25/2008 9:34:05 AM ET 2008-07-25T13:34:05

Men (or women) who decide to get on bended knee: Be warned. You could find yourself on both knees, facing a judge instead of a justice of the peace.

That’s what happened in Florida this week, when a woman was awarded $150,000 after suing her former fiancé for calling off their wedding.

For RoseMary Shell, the jilted bride-to-be who left a high-paying job in Pensacola to live with her prospective partner in Gainesville, there was a “wow” in lieu of a vow.

“[I was] a little bit [surprised], but I was thrilled,” Shell told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Friday. “But I felt like justice was really done.”

For Wayne Gibbs, the ex-fiancé, a case of cold feet came at a price.

“Mr. Gibbs feels that the verdict did not accurately reflect the evidence and will appeal,” Hammond Law, Gibbs’ attorney, told TODAY in a statement. “In addition, there are significant legal questions to address, including, but not limited to, whether or not breach of promise to marry is a viable action under Georgia law in 2008.”

From bliss to diss
It was 2001 when Shell and Gibbs, who were each divorced with grown children, met through mutual friends and began dating.

According to Shell, the couple had intended to get married when her youngest son went off to college in 2005. When that didn’t happen, she broke up with Gibbs and moved to Pensacola, where she landed a human resources job that paid $81,000 with benefits. Trying to carry on with her life, she started to date someone new.

But in October 2006, Gibbs asked her to move back to Gainesville — and he proposed with a 2-carat diamond ring. Shell said yes. A wedding date of Dec. 2 was set.

About a month after Shell moved back in with Gibbs, however, Gibbs expressed second thoughts in a note he left in their bathroom: He wanted to postpone the wedding.

Gibbs and Shell stayed together a few more months before officially parting in March 2007. Shell chose to take legal action and sued three months later.

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“Primarily because he made a promise to me and I relied on that promise and gave up a lot of things because of that promise,” Shell explained.

“And I suffered significantly for it,” she added. “I just felt like people shouldn’t be allowed to do people that way.”

During the three-day trial, Shell testified that she had given up a good salary with benefits to move back with Gibbs. In her current job, in the accounting department at North Georgia College and State University, Shell is making $31,000 a year.

Gibbs testified that he took Shell on several skiing trips during their renewed partnership, made house payments for her, and gave her $30,000 to pay off some of her credit-card debt. He claimed he got cold feet after learning she had even more debt.

Shell disputed that Gibbs was unaware of her overall debt of $42,000. “It’s simply not true,” Shell told Vieira. “We discussed my debts before I left Florida. We discussed my debts when I came back from Florida. He had a list. He knew exactly what I owed. That’s all just kind of a smokescreen.”

A precedent?
After hearing the case, a Hall County jury awarded Shell $150,000 on Wednesday.

Lydia Sartain, Shell’s attorney, said her only reservations about taking on the case were over the “conservative” nature of area residents who might make up the jury.

“We really debated quite extensively whether to bring the case,” Sartain said. “But we just felt so strongly that in this case he had told her to quit her job and she relied on his promise. He came to her in Florida and moved her back into his house, took steps above and beyond the usual ‘Will you marry me, let’s plan a wedding’ and then somebody backs out.”

“Really, we believe now that he never intended to follow through on the promise to marry,” Sartain added.

Sartain also told Vieira that she hopes the case sets a precedent that an engagement can be a binding contract: “When you give your word to do something and you cause people to rely on it to their detriment, then you may be held accountable for any damages that you cause.”

As for her engagement ring, which she displayed to Vieira and TODAY viewers, Shell said she does not know the value — but she will try to sell it.

“It means nothing now,” she said.

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