July 2, 2008

West Virginia Governor Files Amicus Brief Urging West Virginia Supreme Court to Review Punitive Damages Award Against DuPont

Newsvine.com is reporting that Joe Manchin, the governor of West Virginia, has filed an amicus brief in the West Virginia Supreme Court supporting DuPont's petition for review in a case involving a $196.2 million punitive damages award.

The lead plaintiffs' lawyer, Michael Papantonio, is calling the Gov. Manchin's action unprecedented. I have to admit, I've never heard of a sitting governor asking his own state's supreme court to take up a particular case.

Papatonio is probably overstating his case a bit, however, when he says that Gov. Manchin's action shows how much the deck is stacked against the little guys in West Virginia who are trying to take on corporate America. Perhaps Papantanio, a Florida lawyer, is unaware of the history of punitive damages litigation in West Virginia. This is the state that brought us the TXO case ($19,000 in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages), the state whose litigation climate is consistently ranked last or second-to-last in surveys of corporate counsel, the state that leads the nation in high jury verdicts and punitive damages awards, the state whose Supreme Court recently declined to even review a case involving a $270 million punitive damages award, and the state that recently allowed a reverse-bifurcation procedure in two separate cases, under which a jury will decide punitive damages before even deciding liability or compensatory damages. If anything, the deck seems stacked in favor of plaintiffs' lawyers, not against them.