The first half of 2014 produced at least five product liability verdicts topping $100 million, underscoring not only the ongoing vigor of long-running asbestos disputes, but the impact that an acrimonious discovery dispute can have on verdict size, as it did with the $6 billion award against Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd.
Here is a list of all the product liability verdicts this year that exceeded $50 million and the firms that helped win them, including well-known plaintiffs firms including the Lanier Law Firm, Neblett Beard & Arsenault and Weitz & Luxenberg PC.
Punitive damages accounted for a large portion of the biggest awards. The $6 billion punitive damages award against Japanese drugmaker Takeda in litigation over its diabetes drug Actos illustrates how a company’s discovery failures, which defense attorneys usually characterize as a distraction from the actual merits of the case, can impact its success in the overall litigation, attorneys say.
“Fifty years ago, they could just put that one burning hot internal memo in the shredder, but in today’s electronic world, it’s impossible to shred that kind of evidence,” said Bill Curtis of the Curtis Law Group.
Meanwhile, a larger number of cases, particularly in tobacco litigation, are going to trial in jurisdictions outside of states such as Texas that have implemented changes to tort laws that increase barriers for plaintiffs, attorneys say. The so-called Engle progeny tobacco injury cases in Florida are among them.
“Years ago, verdicts would be spread out, sprinkled across the country,” said Colin Kelly of Alston & Bird LLP. “But as certain states have developed tort reform, suits haven’t changed, but just moved to jurisdictions in California, Florida and Illinois.”
In addition, in verdicts against the automotive industry, juries may have been influenced at least in part by press reports about major automotive defect crises including the Toyota sudden-acceleration litigation and the General Motors Co. ignition switch defect, attorneys said.
“The effect of all these auto defect cases and the general feeling of the public based on the news will likely ratcheted up the settlement values on these cases,” said Brendan Kenny of Blackwell Burke P.A. “Will it lead companies to settle cases to avoid adverse verdicts? Or will they determine that the values of these cases are inflated and that they need to fight it out and come up with a winning strategy? It’s hard to say, but these sort of big verdicts would tend to make even a seasoned trial counsel blush.”
These are the largest product liability verdicts of 2014 so far and the firms that won them:
1. $9 billion in Allen et al. v. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.: Lanier Law, Neblett Beard, Weitz & Luxenberg
In the first federal bellwether trial over allegations that Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and Eli Lilly & Co. hid the cancer risks of diabetes drug Actos, a Louisiana federal jury awarded $9 billion in damages for plaintiffs Terrence and Susan Allen.
Takeda was hit with $6 billion of that amount in punitive damages, after U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty found that the Japanese drugmaker had destroyed emails and other documents with information about Actos despite having a litigation hold in place since 2002.
The plaintiffs are represented by W. Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm, Paul J. Pennock of Weitz & Luxenberg PC and Richard J. Arsenault of Neblett Beard & Arsenault.
Takeda and Eli Lilly are represented by Sara J. Gourley and Sherry A. Knutson of Sidley Austin LLP; John E. McElligott Jr. of Davidson Meaux Sonnier McElligott Fontenot Gideon & Edwards; and Bruce R. Parker of Venable LLP.
The case is Allen et al. v. Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. et al., case number 6:12-cv-00064; and the MDL is In re: Actos (Pioglitazone) Products Liability Litigation, case number 6:11-md-02299, both in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
2. $1.15B in The People of the State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co.: Cotchett Pitre, Motley Rice, others
A California state judge in January ordered Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and ConAgra Grocery Products LLC to pay $1.15 billion to fund a government-run program to address health risks posed by lead paint in California homes. Her ruling increased the amount the companies had to pay by $50 million from a tentative order that she had issued in the previous month.
The long-running suit, first filed in 2000, had sought to hold numerous gasoline, paint and chemical companies responsible for the “massive public health crisis” caused by lead in California’s homes and public buildings, according to court documents.
The municipalities are represented by Joseph Cotchett, Nancy Fineman, Aron Liang and Brian Schnarr of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP and Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice LLC, among others.
The companies are represented variously by Arnold & Porter LLP, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, McGrath North Mullin & Kratz PC, Glynn & Finley LLP, McGuireWoods LLP, McManis Faulkner, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP and Jones Day.
The case is The People of the State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co. et al., case number 1-00-cv-788657, in the California Superior Court, Santa Clara County.
3. $248 million in David Olson et al. v. Hyundai Motor Co.: Bohyer Erickson
Hyundai Motor Corp. was hit with $248 million in damages, most of it a punitive award, over the deaths of two cousins in a 2011 car wreck allegedly caused by a weak component in the steering mechanism.
A Montana state jury found in May that the 2005 Hyundai Tiburon they were driving contained a manufacturing defect in the right front steering knuckle that failed and caused the car to swerve across a median into oncoming traffic on U.S. Highway 93.
The plaintiffs are represented by Bohyer Erickson Beaudette & Tranel PC.
Counsel information for Hyundai was not immediately available.
The case is David Olson et al. v. Hyundai Motor Co. et al., case number DV-11-304, in the Judicial Branch of Montana, 20th Judicial District, Lake County.
4. $125 million in In re: Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC: Caplin & Drysdale, Moon Wright & Houston
Garlock may have been hit with the $125 million in estimated liability for asbestos liability in North Carolina Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges’ January ruling, but it was Garlock that gained the advantage here.
Judge Hodges, who had allowed Garlock to conduct discovery into its earlier asbestos litigation, found that the discovery showed plaintiffs had won inflated settlements in several cases in the past by concealing claims against other companies. His ruling shrank Garlock’s estimated liability from $1.25 billion to $125 million.
Garlock is represented by Garland S. Cassada, D. Blaine Sanders, Jonathan C. Krisko and Richard C. Worf Jr.of Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson PA.
The committee of claimants is represented by Trevor W. Swett III, Jeffrey A. Liesemer, Elihu Inselbuch and Andrew J. Sackett of Caplin & Drysdale Chtd. and Travis W. Moon of Moon Wright & Houston PLLC.
The case is In re: Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC, case number 3:10-bk-31607, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
5. $110.1 million in Damon L. Andrade et al. v. MHC Operating LP: Endeman Lincoln
Punitive damages also figured prominently in this large award against real estate investment trust Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc., which a California state jury in April found to be guilty of breach of contract, negligence and nuisance for failing to maintain one of its mobile home developments.
The more than $110 million award that went to 61 residents of the property included a $15.3 million verdict for compensatory damages and $95.8 million in punitive damages. The residents had sued in 2009 and claimed in a subsequent amended complaint that the mobile home park owner had ignored plaintiffs’ notifications of open sewage spills near the plaintiffs’ homes, an “unbearable stench” throughout the park, discolored water, and inadequate lighting and security for the grounds.
The plaintiffs are represented by Henry E. Heater, James C. Allen and David Semelsberger of Endeman Lincoln Turek & Heater LLP.
Equity Lifestyle is represented by Clarke B. Holland and Brendan J. Fogarty of LHB Pacific Law Partners LLP, Steven S. Fleischman of Horvitz & Levy LLP and Robie & Matthai APC.
The case is Damon L. Andrade et al. v. MHC Operating Limited Partnership et al., case number 109CV140751, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara.
6. $55 million in Carlos Martinez et al. v. American Honda Motors Co.: Eisenbert Rothweiler
Honda was hit with the highest auto verdict ever issued in Pennsylvania when a Philadelphia jury issued a $55 million verdict against it last month over a seatbelt defect that allegedly paralyzed a driver.
Plaintiff Carlos Martinez, who became a quadriplegic after his 1999 Acura Integra rolled over in an accident, had claimed Honda knew of the defect as early as 1992 but neither fixed it nor disclosed it to drivers. The verdict included $25 million for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, $14.6 million for future medical expenses, $15 million for his wife’s loss of consortium and $720,000 for lost future earnings.
Martinez was represented by Stewart J. Eisenberg and Daniel J. Sherry Jr. of Eisenbert Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck PC.
Counsel information for Honda could not be determined.
The case is Carlos Martinez et al. v. American Honda Motors Co., case number 111203763, in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Pa.
If you would like more information regarding product liability verdicts, please subscribe to our blog at Thompson & Tredennick.