Articles Tagged with punitive damages

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Studies have linked Roundup to non-Hodgkins lymphoma
The makers of Roundup just lost another big case, this time involving a couple who used the weedkiller and were later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This month, a jury in California awarded Alva and Alberta Pilliod more than two billion dollars. The jury found that Monsanto and Bayer acted negligently and failed to warn the plaintiffs of the dangers of using Roundup. The key active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, has been shown in studies to increase the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The jury then awarded Mr. Pilliod $18 million in “compensatory damages,” which is a money award for actual injuries suffered. The jury awarded Ms. Pilliod $37 million in compensatory damages, for a total of $55 million in compensatory damages. Finally, the jury awarded the Pilliods $1 billion each in punitive damages. The final jury award was $2,055,000,000. A truly astonishing number, and a major rebuke to the makers of Roundup.

The Pilliods testified that they used Roundup on their property for more than thirty years, from 1975 and 2011. They were diagnosed with NHL in 2011 and 2015.

Punitive damages play an important role in consumer protection. Punitives are awarded by a jury to punish or deter a bad-acting company, and similarly situated companies, from engaging in similarly awful conduct. Punitive damages are not common, and are usually awarded when a jury decides that the defendants had prior knowledge of a serious issue or problem and ignored this knowledge to the serious injury or detriment of other people.

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Seven years after filing suit, a North Carolina woman and her husband were awarded $68 million dollars for serious injuries caused by C.R. Bard’s defective pelvic mesh products.

Surgeon implants C.R. Bard pelvic mesh into woman
In 2009 Mary McGinnis was implanted with the Avaulta Solo Support System and Align Trans-Obturator Yrethral Support System, two pelvic mesh products manufactured and sold by C.R. Bard, Inc. and other defendants. Ms. McGinnis was implanted with these mesh products in an attempt to treat Ms. McGinnis’ stress urinary incontinence and to provide bladder support. Shortly after implantation of the mesh, Ms. McGinnis began having severe pains from nerve damage and pain during sex. She had to undergo several surgeries to attempt to correct the problems.

Ms. McGinnis and her husband filed suit in 2011, alleging that C.R. Bard knew the pelvic mesh was unsafe at the time the products were implanted in Ms. McGinnis, and that Bard failed to warn doctors about the dangers of the Avaulta and Align pelvic mesh. At trial lawyers for Bard argued that the Defendants met all industry standards and requirements for placing the Avaulta and Align mesh products on the markets.

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Plaintiff Sherri Booker Wins Jury Verdict Against C.R. Bard
Victims of C.R. Bard’s IVC filters got some great news two weeks ago. An Arizona jury in the first bellwether trial awarded a woman $3.6 million for injuries she suffered after Bard’s “G2” IVC filter broke into pieces in her inferior vena cava vein, requiring open heart surgery to remove the broken pieces.

The plaintiff, Sherri Booker, was implanted with Bard G2 IVC filter to prevent blood clots from reaching the heart and lungs. The problem was, the G2 moved inside her inferior vena cava (it is not supposed to move), then it broke apart. In 2014, she had to undergo open heart surgery. The surgeon was not able to retrieve all the broken pieces.

The Jury’s Verdict

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Damages in a Lawsuit Involving Opioids
The opioid epidemic in America is a national crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that more than 64,000 people died in 2016 from drug overdoses, with the great majority of those deaths caused by opioids. The numbers for 2017 only look worse.

Last month, I wrote about whether people affected by the opioid epidemic can sue the drug manufacturers and distributors, doctors, pharmacies, and other suppliers who contributed to the addiction that destroyed their lives. But what can victims recover in lawsuits involving dangerously addictive prescription drugs?

You know all too well what you have lost—your financial security, your health, or perhaps even a loved one’s life. Now, let’s review the legal terms we use to discuss these losses.

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Calculating DePuy Pinnacle Jury AwardsIn the last three DePuy Pinnacle artificial hip bellwether trials, three juries awarded the following amounts of money: $502,000,000.00, $1,041,311,648.17, and $247,000,000.00. That’s a total of $1.79 billion dollars. The juries awarded plaintiffs compensatory damages (or actual damages) and punitive damages (to “punish” the defendant companies). Remember that these juries settled on these huge amounts of money based on their findings in three separate trials that DePuy and Johnson & Johnson were liable for design and manufacturing defects, that the defendants failed to warn plaintiffs about the risks of the defective artificial hip, and that defendants acted recklessly, intentionally, and even maliciously in marketing and selling the flawed DePuy Pinnacle hip. These last findings permitted the juries to award punitive damages.

In the bellwether trial in March 2016, a jury awarded more than $500,000,000.00 to five plaintiffs. On December 1, 2016 a jury awarded more than one billion dollars to six plaintiffs and four spouses. And finally, just two weeks ago, a jury awarded six plaintiffs (and four spouses) $247,000,000.00 in compensatory and punitive damages. Compared to the total awards, the amounts awarded to the spouses of the hip victims were modest, and appear to have totaled around $6,700,000.00.

Let’s do a little math:

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A few weeks ago I wrote about an Androgel testosterone case being tried in Illinois. We now have the verdict, and the result is, well, a mixed bag. Still, on balance, it must be viewed as a win for plaintiffs, and a major rebuke for companies like AbbVie, Inc. who aggressively market their prescription drugs for off-label uses. After all, at the end of trial the jury awarded the plaintiffs $150 million in punitive damages for fraudulent misrepresentation.

Androgel testosterone trial
Just to recap, Androgel is a roll-on testosterone product. Jesse Mitchell began taking Androgel in 2007 after doctors ran blood tests and found that Mitchell’s testosterone levels were quite low. In 2012, at the age of 49, Jesse Mitchell had a massive heart attack. From what I’ve read, the heart attack almost killed him.

Mitchell and his wife sued AbbVie in 2014, claiming the company marketed and sold Androgel without properly warning men about the increased risk for heart attacks. During the trial an expert for the Mitchells testified that in his opinion there was a connection between Mitchell’s 2012 heart attack and his extended use of Androgel.

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Depuy Pinnacle AppealNow it’s the plaintiffs’ turn. The five victims of the Depuy Pinnacle artificial hip have answered the appeal of Depuy Orthopaedics and Johnson & Johnson in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And as they did at trial, the plaintiffs have come out fighting.

Recap of Depuy’s Appeal

A few weeks ago I wrote about the appeal brought by Depuy and Johnson & Johnson after a Texas jury awarded $502 million dollars to five plaintiffs. You can read about the Defendants’ appeal here. But to recap, Depuy and J&J argue that they were unfairly prejudiced by the plaintiffs’ team aggressive tactics at trial. They argue that Defendants are entitled to a new trial because the plaintiffs’ team had “a strategy” to “inflame the jury through highly prejudicial evidence and wholly inappropriate argument.”

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Depuy Pinnacle MDL TexasImagine going to sleep the night after making the decision to strip five hundred million dollars from six families. I imagine it would be unsettling. On Tuesday, Judge Ed Kinkeade, a federal judge in Texas overseeing the Depuy Pinnacle MDL, made the decision to cut $500,000,000.00 from a jury award presented to six families after a grueling ten-week trial last fall. You can read about the trial and the jury’s verdict here. In that post I wrote that the jury’s verdict was “staggering,” and it was. It may be more staggering that a judge, less than a month later, would wipe out half a billion dollars of the jury’s award.

“Single-Digit Multipliers”

On January 3, 2017, Judge Kinkeade issued his post-trial court order reducing the amount of punitive damages awarded to the six families, writing that “constitutional considerations limit the amount a plaintiff may recover in punitive damages.” The relevant portion of the Order states:

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Depuy Pinnacle Jury AwardIn March 2016 five people injured by the Depuy Pinnacle metal-on-metal artificial hip scored a huge courtroom victory. In that case a Texas jury awarded five plaintiffs $502,043,908.00 for injuries suffered by the failure of the Depuy Pinnacle hip. That figure was divided in different ways to the five injured people. Of that amount, $360,000,000.00 was awarded by the jury for punitive damages. The jury concluded that the Pinnacle hip sold by Depuy was defective and that Depuy knew about the flaws but did not adequately warn patients and their doctors of the risks. Like I said, this was a huge win. Unfortunately, the punitive damages award did not last long.

Judge Forced to Reduce Punitive Damages Award

Punitive damages are money damages, separate from compensatory damages, which are awarded by a jury and which are intended to punish or deter a bad-acting defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct. Judge Kinkeade, who is the federal judge presiding over the Depuy Pinnacle multi-district litigation (MDL), stated that he was bound by a Texas statute which puts a limit or “cap” on the amount of punitive damages a jury can award. Thus, Judge Kinkeade was required by law to reduce the punitive damages award, which a jury of twelve individuals, after a 42 day trial, thought was appropriate.

Thank You, Tort Reform!

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Judge Stripping Punitive Damages From Jury Verdict

A lawsuit can be a minefield. For one, it can go on for years. And in that time opposing counsel can (and will) challenge a person’s lawsuit in large and small ways. By large I mean bringing “dispositive motions,” which are motions that “dispose” of a case, like a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment.  These motions are defensive attempts to kick a lawsuit out of court before it reaches a jury. By small I mean opposing counsel may refuse to produce certain documents or information in the “discovery” process, or may simply use motions or other tools to slow down and delay the plaintiff’s opportunity to have her case reach a jury.

But the fight is not over when the jury reaches a verdict in a product liability case. If a plaintiff wins her lawsuit, the defense will typically file “post-trial motions,” and after those motions are heard will likely appeal to a higher court. Merely getting a good jury verdict is by no means the end of the story.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Georgia stepped in after a jury verdict and stripped almost nine million dollars of punitive damages from the amount of money the jury awarded to the injured plaintiff.

But I need to back up.

In Re: Wright Medical Technology Inc. Conserve Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2329); Christiansen, No. 13-00297 (N.D. Ga.)

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