April 19, 2007
Ford Rollover Case Draws Minor Punitive Damages Award
Perhaps another sign of Ford Motor Company's present perilous financial condition is a New Jersey jury's very modest punitive damages award in an SUV rollover case. The plaintiff was injured when the Ford Explorer she was driving on the highway lurched forward due to a defective gas pedal design. The driver panicked and turned the wheel suddenly, causing the vehicle to roll over. She suffered permanent serious hand and arm injuries. The jury awarded $10.6 million in compensatory damages. The compensatory award was reduced by 28 percent because the plaintiff was speeding at the time of the accident, and reduced by a further $2 million because she was not wearing a seat belt, to a total of about $7 million.
In addition to the compensatory award, the jury awarded only $42,500 in punitive damages. In rebutting the plaintiff's evidence of Ford's financial condition, the defense introduced evidence of the automaker's recent mass layoffs and losses. Perhaps the jury was influenced by Ford's report of a net loss of $12.7 billion for 2006 and announcement in January 2007 of plans to eliminate 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in North America and to close 14 assembly plants by 2012.
April 2, 2007
Assessing Damages for Pet Deaths
Ontario-based Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of its "cuts and gravy" style wet pet foods in early March. The pet food was sold under a variety of store labels and brands. The recall was initiated after cats became sick and died during routine company testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received over 8,000 complaints and Menu Foods has fielded over 300,000 calls from consumers. Menu Foods has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog. The company has not admitted wrongdoing, but it has offered to pay veterinary bills if a pet's illness or death can be directly linked to the food. Numerous lawsuits have apparently been filed against Menu Foods, some seeking class action status. The potential damages in cases involving injury to or death of pets is limited, however. Claimants are typically limited to the cost of replacement of the animal, according to the AP's Mark Johnson.
There are proposals to expand damages to include not only replacement costs but also damages for emotional distress pet owners suffer upon learning of the death of their pets, as well as damages for lost society. Margit Livingston, The Calculus of Animal Valuation: Crafting a Viable Remedy, 82 Neb. L. Rev. 783 (2004), suggests broadening the allowable damages, although subjecting them to a cap if the remedy is legislatively adopted. On the other hand, Victor E. Schwartz and Emily J. Laird argue in a recent article, Non-Economic Damages in Pet Litigation: The Serious Need to Preserve a Rational Rule, 33 Pepp. L. Rev. 227 (2006), that the prevailing rule should be maintained.
April 1, 2007
Verdict for Merck & Co. in Madison County Vioxx Case
On March 27, 2007, after deliberating for roughly six hours over a two day period, a jury in Madison County, Illinois, found that Vioxx was not the "proximate cause" of the death by heart attack of the plaintiff's decedent, an obese 52-year-old woman who had taken Vioxx for 20 months. The jury found that Merck knew or should have known that Vioxx may have presented dangers for patients such as the decedent, but that it had adequately warned doctors and consumers concerning complications from use of the drug. The verdict was Merck's 10th in 15 Vioxx cases that have been tried. MSNBC