May 8, 2010

Las Vegas Jury Awards $500 Million in Punitive Damages

For those of you wondering where have all the punitive damages gone, they're baaack! With a vengeance. On the heels of a $200 million punitive damages award by a jury in Los Angeles, a jury in Las Vegas has topped that by dishing out $500 million in punitive damages.

As reported by the Associated Press, a jury awarded awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $500 million in punitive damages to a husband and wife who alleged that the husband was infected with Hepatitis C during a colonoscopy. The jury awarded punitive damages not against the medical facility that infected the plaintiff, but against two drug companies that made and distributed propofol, the anesthetic drug used during the procedure. The plaintiffs alleged that the companies, Teva Parenteral Medicines and Baxter Healthcare Corp., supplied the drugs in vials that were larger than necessary, tempting the healthcare providers to re-use the vials on multiple patients, even though the vials were labeled for individual use. During the trial, the plaintiffs' attorney referred to the vials as "weapons of mass infection." (See this report in the Sun Times.)

This award is destined to be reversed or reduced. The basis for imposing punitive damages seems shaky and the amount of the award is simply absurd. An affirmance of this award would literally be unprecedented. Not surprisingly, the defendants have announced their plans to appeal. But even if the defendants get this award tossed, they won't be out of the woods. Apparently there are series of similar cases in the pipe-line. This was just the first to make it to trial.