California: “A jury has awarded a local mother more than $185 million in damages in a pregnancy and gender discrimination case against her former employer AutoZone.” [KGTV, auto-plays]
More: Jon Hyman (damage to company’s reputation likely more serious than eventual actual payout).
“…died broke.” [Gothamist] Cases with related fact patterns, though involving lesser sums: San Francisco, Chicago.
Cybex International, a manufacturer of exercise equipment, has agreed to pay $19.5 million to a Buffalo-area woman “who was injured by a piece of Cybex equipment when she improperly used a leg machine to stretch her shoulder.” A jury had awarded $66 million and a New York appellate court upheld the verdict, while reducing the sum to $44 million. [Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York; Lintoid/Seeking Alpha and more; Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association]
“A Mississippi court has reversed a $322 million asbestos verdict against Union Carbide — believed to be the largest in U.S. history — after the judge failed to disclose his own father had pending asbestos litigation against the same company. … The jury ruled for Brown even though nine treating physicians, an independent medical examiner and an X-ray technician all testified that the plaintiff had no symptoms of asbestos-related disease.” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes; earlier here, here and here]
“In a motion filed Tuesday, attorneys for Union Carbide said Circuit Judge Eddie H. Bowen neglected to notify defense lawyers that his parents had been involved in similar asbestos litigation and had settled a case against Union Carbide.” A rural Mississippi jury earlier this month returned the largest asbestos verdict in American history, $322 million, against Union Carbide and other defendants. [AP/Stamford Advocate; Jackson Clarion-Ledger] More problems with verdict: Point of Law.
The defendant wasn’t at trial and didn’t have a lawyer, and plans to appeal; the judgment might as well be for $73 gazillion, as the ex-husband is already in contempt of court for failure to pay spousal support. (Greensboro News-Record March 18 and March 17 via Volokh). We’ve been covering the issue for years, as a click on the tags will reveal.
In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn’t bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father’s employer—and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million, over $20 million of which was noneconomic damages. (Andy Furillo, “Sacramento jury awards record $24.3 million to girl run over by dad’s truck”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 9 (h/t @BobDorigoJones)).
And then the jury awarded $0.00. [NY Post] Thomas Moore of New York’s Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore is generally acknowledged to be among the most nation’s successful medical malpractice lawyers.
Dustin Dibble was intoxicated when a Manhattan subway train ran over him in 2006, but a jury found the transit authority 65% responsible in February: $2.3 million for the lost right leg.
James Sanders stumbled onto the tracks and was hit by a train in 2002, but a New York City jury again found him only 30% responsible: $7 million for a lost right leg and eye.
Gloria Aguilar did not look both ways when she crossed the street; there was a dispute whether she was in the crosswalk. A Manhattan jury–after a seven-week trial–found the transit authority 100% responsible, and awarded $27.5 million for her lost left leg; a judge refused to reduce that figure.
Clearly a left leg is more valuable than a right leg. Or, as I’ve noted several times in the past, noneconomic damages are essentially random jackpots.
New York City is appealing all three verdicts. (Liz Robbins, “Woman Run Over by Bus Is Awarded $27.5 Million”, New York Times, Apr. 16).
Let us stipulate: when Rita Cantrell tried to pay for her goods with a thirty-year-old $100 bill, Target employees were foolish in being unable to recognize the old currency, and mistakenly identified it as a possible counterfeit. Cantrell fled the store when Target asked if she had another means of paying, raising suspicions, so Target security staff passed along a photo of Cantrell to 70 other local stores participating in a loss-prevention consortium to notify them of the incident. One of the stores recognized Cantrell as one of its employees and called in the Secret Service, which investigated, and found that the bill was real; Target passed along a new notice clearing Cantrell of any wrongdoing.
Cantrell, shaken and embarrassed by the involvement of the Secret Service and her employer, incurred $200 of medical expenses–and sued. Cantrell acknowledged that Target had a right to notify other stores of the incident, but complained that the manager could have worded his e-mail differently, and, besides, some of the members of the loss-prevention consortium did not have retail operations and thus did not need to know about the incident. Notwithstanding Target’s motion for summary judgment, the court let the case proceed to a jury, which happily proposed that Cantrell be made a millionaire for the inconvenience–$100,000 in “compensatory” damages, and a 30-1 punitive damages ratio. Magistrate Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks entered judgment without touching the figure or waiting for post-trial briefing, and Target says it will appeal, so we’ll see what the Fourth Circuit does with this next year. (Cantrell v. Target Corp., No. 6:06-cv-02723-BHH (D.S.C. 2008); Eric Connor, “Jury set $3.1 milion award in Target case, lawyer says”, Greenville News, Oct. 28).
Gary Charbonneau had a gambling history, including substantial wins, which devolved into compulsive gambling in 2002. He blames this on his Parkinson’s disease medication, Mirapex, which he started taking in 1997. Mirapex changed its warning label to include reports of a correlation while Charbonneau was taking the drug; Charbonneau’s doctor kept prescribing the drug. Nevertheless, Charbonneau was able to persuade a jury that the failure to warn was what was responsible for his $200,000 gambling losses (much of which came from gambling illegally) and resulting marital troubles. The jury verdict even awarded $8 million in punitive damages, giving a whole new meaning to jackpot justice (though one would expect the trial court to reduce this substantially). The only press coverage of this lawsuit, aside from a handful of blogs (Pharmalot; TortsProf; InjuryBoard), is in an op-ed I wrote for today’s Examiner about the case and about how a Supreme Court case and Congressional legislation could affect it. (Theodore H. Frank, “Jackpot justice gets new meaning,” DC Examiner, Aug. 19).
Hear, hear. (In re Apollo Group, Inc. Securities Litigation (D. Ariz. 2008) via WSJ Law Blog; Bloomberg). Plaintiffs will appeal the trial court’s decision to throw out the $277 million verdict.
We hear frequently that the medical profession doesn’t do enough to police its own. Cases like that of Lawrence Poliner might explain why. In 1997, in response to complaints by nurses at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, and the allegation by a doctor that Poliner had performed an angioplasty on the wrong artery, the hospital asked Poliner to stop work while they investigated. These limited privileges lasted 29 days, followed by a unanimous decision to suspend, a five-month suspension from echocardiography privileges, and then reinstated Poliner five months later subject to conditions that he consult with other cardiologists.
For this, Poliner sued for defamation and under federal antitrust law, alleging that other cardiologists were trying to dominate the market and prevent his competition. The five-month suspension had federal immunity under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq. (just one of many federal tort reforms that promote safety), but the trial court held that the 29-day limited-privileges created a cause of action that should go to a jury. Poliner lost $10,000 in income over that time “but was awarded more than $90 million in defamation damages, nearly all for mental anguish and injury to career. The jury also awarded $110 million in punitive damages”–despite the fact that Poliner would have to prove damages were caused by the allegedly unprivileged temporary limitation rather than by the five-month suspension. We covered the initial $366 million verdict in 2004, the outraged medical blogosphere reaction, and the remittitur to a still ludicrous $22.5 million in 2006.
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Wayne Davis, Jr., had a .203 blood-alcohol level, when he drove his pickup across the center line of a Camden County, Missouri, highway on March 24, 2000, and crashed head on into the compact car of Edward and Virginia Johnson.
You’ll be happy to hear that the Johnsons didn’t try to blame the beer company or the auto manufacturer, and simply sued Davis. Davis’s insurer, Allstate, contacted the Johnsons’ attorney, David Sexton, in April, and asked for access to the Johnsons’ medical record. Sexton responded by demanding the policy limits. Allstate requested the medical records three more times, and finally got the records on December 20. (A Dan Margolies Kansas City Star article (via Childs) incorrectly says Allstate did not respond, but the court’s opinion says otherwise.) Allstate immediately agreed to pay the settlement limits, but now Sexton refused, saying his April offer had expired, and he now wanted $3 million from Allstate. We’ll let the Missouri Court of Appeals explain what happened next:
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41-year-old South Texas personal injury solo practitioner Hermes Villarreal was admitted to a McAllen hospital on April 16, 2005, reporting that his heart was racing. The hospital put him on a 24-hour EKG. Villarreal reported being under stress, but refused a psychiatric consultation or the recommended medication. At 5 a.m. on April 19, 2005, the day of his scheduled discharge, “Villarreal summoned the nurse on duty and requested a razor, saying that he wanted to take a shower and shave his chest, because the EKG monitor leads attached to his chest were bothering him.” The nurse complied with his wishes, and Villarreal locked himself in the bathroom and committed suicide with the razor.
This was, said Villareal’s family, the hospital’s fault; since it’s South Texas, a Hildalgo County jury, after a three-week trial, awarded $9 million in March (which looks to be reduced at least to $1.64 million under Texas law capping damages). Ironically, the opening line of the Texas Lawyer story says “It was a suicide no one saw coming,” but doesn’t question the resulting jury verdict.
Somehow, the trial lawyer, Raymond L. Thomas, a close friend of Villarreal’s, interjected himself into the closing argument, telling an emotional story of a Rolex Villarreal had given him as a gift that left the jury in tears; the press coverage doesn’t acknowledge the blatant violation of ethical rules (see also Texas Rule 3.04(c)(3)), much less indicate whether he got away with it because of the failure of the defense to object or a judge’s failure to oversee her courtroom. (Jenny B. Davis, “Attorney, Interrupted: Seeking Meaning, Recovery for a Legal Life Lost,” May 5 via ABA Journal).
In October 2006, we reported on a $20 million jackpot justice verdict:
Ted Fields was injured in an auto accident with Jimmy Woodley; Woodley’s insurer went bankrupt, so Fields, on January 30, 1997, asked Allstate to pay $25,000 in medical bills and lost wages. Allstate sent Fields forms to fill out, and he did so three weeks later; when Allstate didn’t pay instantaneously, he sued them in March 1997 for bad faith. Fields turned the discovery process into a far-reaching investigation of all of Allstate’s claim procedures; the judge refused to constrain irrelevant deposition questioning, at which point in 1999 Allstate offered Fields the full amount of his $50,000 policy limit rather than waste hundreds of thousands in trial. Fields refused; his attorneys filed several separate motions of default rather than litigate the underlying issues after the trial court denied a summary judgment motion. An appellate court found that Allstate was entitled to summary judgment because of the lack of any evidence of bad-faith in responding to Fields’s claims; the Indiana Supreme Court overturned that ruling on a procedural technicality that the appeal was premature.
The trial court ruled that Allstate was not allowed to present evidence that it was not liable for actual or punitive damages or that it acted “with anything other than dishonest purpose, moral obliquity, furtive design, and/or ill will.” A jury, hearing this one-sided sham of a trial, awarded $20 million in damages, though one would hope the Court of Appeals, hearing a timely appeal, makes the same decision it made before. Press coverage fails to mention that Allstate wasn’t allowed to defend itself at trial; the plaintiff told the jury that the dispute caused high blood pressure, heart problems, and a stroke, though then the question becomes why he isn’t suing his attorney.
Today, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed.