May 19, 2010

New York Jury Awards $250 Million in Punitive Damages Against Novartis

Wow. After a brief lull in blockbuster punitive damages awards, juries seem to be making up for lost time. Reuters is reporting that a New York jury has awarded $250 million in punitive damages against drugmaker Novartis AG in an employment discrimination class action.

The Reuters story says that the jury awarded $3.3 million in compensatory damages to 12 of the plaintiffs, but compensatory damages have not yet been determined for the other 5,588 women in the class.

The availability of punitive damages in class actions is a hot topic in punitive damages litigation. As we have previously noted, some commentators believe that awarding punitive damages via class action is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions on punitive damages, particularly Philip Morris v. Williams. This case may also be a vehicle for challenging the so-called "reverse bifurcation" procedure, which some courts have used in mass tort cases to decide the amount of punitive damages before the amount of compensatory damages have been determined. (See our prior posts about two cert. petitions that were filed back in 2008 on this issue.)