May 9, 2018

District court rejects constitutional challenge to North Carolina cap on punitive damages

Last week we blogged about a nuisance lawsuit in which 10 plaintiffs each won $5 million in punitive damages against a hog farm. WRAL.com reports that the trial judge, U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt, has reduced each award to $250,000 under North Carolina's cap, rejecting the plaintiffs' argument that the cap is unconstitutional.   

May 5, 2018

San Diego jury awards $16 million in punitive damages against Allstate in employment case

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that a jury this week awarded $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $16 million in punitive damages against Allstate Insurance in an employment case involving some unusual facts.   

According to the story, Michael Tilkey, a longtime Allstate employee, was arrested on domestic violence charges after an argument with his then-girlfriend.  Prosecutors dismissed he charges after Tilkey entered into a plea deal requiring him to attend anger-management classes. His ex-girlfriend, however, sent an email to Allstate accusing Tilkey of threatening her.  She demanded that the company investigate Tilkey's conduct. Allstate fired him three months later, after concluding that he violated company policy by engaging in threatening behavior.

Tilkey's lawsuit accused Allstate of violating state law by firing him for an arrest that did not result in a conviction.  Apparently the jury not only agreed with that theory, but was sufficiently outraged by Allstate's misconduct that they awarded a huge amount of punitive damages.  Allstate says it will appeal.

May 4, 2018

Orange County jury awards $13 million in punitive damages against GEICO for bad faith

A reader tipped me off to this verdict, which was handed down a few weeks ago in Orange County.  A jury awarded just under $10 million in compensatory damages, plus $13 million in punitive damages, against GEICO Insurance Co. 

Omar Daoud, a GEICO insured, was injured in an auto accident with a driver who had $100,000 in liability coverage.  Daoud demanded that GEICO pay the $400,000 underinsured motorist policy limits on his policy.  According to Daoud, GEICO unreasonably delayed in paying those benefits, which caused him to lose two homes to foreclosure.

GEICO says it plans to appeal, according to this story in the Orange County Register.

May 3, 2018

North Carolina plaintiffs gearing up to challenge state's cap on punitive damages (again)

Indyweek.com reports that attorneys suing Murphy-Brown LLC, a pork producer, are preparing to challenge the North Carolina statute that limits punitive damages to three times compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.

The plaintiffs won a verdict against Murphy-Brown last week in a nuisance case.  The 10 individual plaintiffs each won $75,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.  Under the statute, each punitive damages award must be reduced to a maximum of $325,000.  That would reduce the total judgment from $50.75 million to $3.25 million.

The plaintiffs' legal team thinks they can avoid that reduction by challenging the statute as unconstitutional.  They have an uphill battle.  The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute back in 2004. But the plaintiffs argue that case doesn't apply here because it involved personal injuries, rather than nuisance claims.  They argue that the right to a jury trial under the North Carolina constitution is stronger in nuisance claims, and apparently, they believe that the right to a jury trial necessarily includes a right to unlimited damages.  As silly as that sounds, similar arguments have found a receptive audience in other states.

April 26, 2018

Fifth Circuit reverses punitive damages award against Johnson & Johnson in hip implant case

The Fifth Circuit issued this opinion yesterday, reversing a $151 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, DePuy Orthopaedics, in a case involving alleged defects in its artificial hip implants.

The original jury award was $502 million, including $360 million in punitive damages, but the trial court reduced punitive damages award to $9.6 million pursuant to Texas's statutory cap.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the entire award was tainted by highly prejudicial and irrelevant evidence about (1) bribes that Johnson and Johnson allegedly paid to foreign officials, including Saddam Hussein, and (2) allegations of racial discrimination.  The court found that plaintiffs' counsel Mark Lanier invited the jury to infer J&J 's liability and punish it based solely on these improper considerations.

The court also found that Lanier misled the jury by creating the impression that two expert witnesses had volunteered to testify for the plaintiffs without any compensation, when in fact Lanier had written a $10,000 check to the witnesses' favorite charity before trial, and made large payments directly to the witnesses after trial.

Lanier, undeterred, told Bloomberg that he expects to get an even larger verdict when the case is retried. 

Kentucky jury awards $62.5 million in punitive damages against 3M

The Sacramento Bee reports that a jury in Kentucky has awarded $62.5 million in punitive damages, on top of $5 million in compensatory damages, to two former coal miners who sued 3M Co. for making allegedly defective respirators.  The workers claimed they developed black lung disease because the respirators failed to function properly.  3M says it plans to appeal.

Los Angeles jury awards $2 million in punitive damages to paralegal in retaliation case

MyNewsLA is reporting that a jury in Los Angeles superior court awarded nearly $2 million in punitive damages yesterday to a paralegal who alleged that she was fired for complaining about sexual harassment. 

According to the story. plaintiff Soledad Albarracin worked for Fidelity National Financial.  She claimed she was harassed by one of the company's attorneys at a "team-building" retreat, and was fired for complaining.  In the first phase of trial she won $250,000 in compensatory damages, and the jury tacked on $1.95 million in punitive damages in phase two.     

April 15, 2018

New Jersey jury awards $35 million in punitive damages in pelvic mesh case

Law 360 reports that a jury in a New Jersey state court lawsuit has awarded $35 million in punitive damages and $33 million in compensatory damages against C.R. Bard, Inc.  The plaintiffs, husband and wife, claim the company's pelvic mesh devices were defectively designed, causing debilitating pain to the wife, who had the devices implanted in 2009.  New Jersey juries have been busy lately

April 13, 2018

Johnson & Johnson hit for $80 million in punitive damages in New Jersey talc case

Reuters reports that a jury in New Jersey has awarded $80 million in punitive damages, on top of $37 million in compensatory damages, to a plaintiff who claimed he developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson's talc products.

Reuters says this is the first time Johnson & Johnson has lost a trial involving alleged asbestos contamination of its talc product.  It won a similar case that went to trial last year in California.

The company has been hit with some big punitive damages awards in cases involving claims that talc itself causes ovarian cancer, but so far those awards have been tossed out during post-trial motions or on appeal.

Related posts:

Los Angeles trial court tosses $417 million talc verdict

Missouri appellate court reverses $62 million punitive damages award in talc case, finding no jurisdiction (Fox v. Johnson & Johnson)

L.A. jury awards $347 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson in talc case