Wednesday, November 12, 2008
On Friday, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Southern Union v. Irvin (pdf). The court previously had vacated and remanded the original punitive award, which was 153 times the compensatories. On remand, the trial court reduced the punitive damages award to $4 million, and the defendant appealed again. Notably, this time, the Ninth Circuit wasn't messing around - no remand; it decided that 3 to 1 was the right ratio and reduced the punitive damages award to just over $1.8 million.
Monday, October 27, 2008
According to a press release issued by TASER, although it was found 15% responsible for the death of a man tasered by police, the judge, on post-trial motions, vacated the jury's grant of punitive damages. An earlier story on the verdict is available here [PDF], and this page has a lot of Taser-related stories (from a very anti-Taser standpoint).
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The family of a Marietta, Georgia, college student, Tyler Cross, who died in an alleged frat hazing at the University of Texas was awarded $16.2 million in a default judgment against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
Cross, a 2006 Lovett School graduate, fell from the fifth floor of a dormitory during freshman pledge week in the run-up to SAE’s renowned “Jungle Party.” Texas law-enforcement officials discovered that Cross and other pledges had been given half-gallon liquor bottles to drink the night before he died.
Cross’ blood-alcohol level registered 0.19 at the time of his death, more than double the legal driving limit in Texas, after a week of sleep deprivation from hazing, according to the lawsuit.
It's not entirely clear why there was a default judgment; the fraternity exists and blames the default on an administrative error. They are seeking to remove the default and defend the suit. A suit against the alumni advisory group and the housing corporation is pending as well.
Monday, October 20, 2008
There's a new RAND paper at SSRN, written by James Anderson of that organization, discussing a situation in which not requiring (indeed, not permitting) confidentiality in settling mass tort cases may be beneficial to defendants. His case study is of the Baycol litigation. The abstract:
Settlement agreements that require a plaintiff not to disclose or publicize any information about her claim are both common and controversial. Under some conditions, however, a mass tort defendant will rationally choose to discourage such secrecy. A defendant can use publicity to act as a commitment device akin to a most-favored-nation agreement to increase its bargaining power with plaintiffs. The paper uses the real world example of Bayer's cerivastatin litigation as a case study to illustrate this theory in practice and to explore the public policy implications of this finding.
(I was a defense lawyer for Bayer in the Baycol litigation but had no involvement in this paper.)
We don't usually get to hear a lot about what happens after money is released to satisfy (part of) judgments, but in the Exxon Valdez case, we do:
It took better than 19 years for Alaska commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs to win sizeable punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp. for the disastrous 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound.
Now that some money is in hand -- about $383 million -- it still could be months away from distribution.
Because of new legal squabbling among the plaintiffs about how to slice the pie.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Cal Punitive Damages has posted links to the opening set of merits briefs in Philip Morris v. Williams III. The Court granted review back in June on the first question presented:
"Whether, after this Court has adjudicated the merits on a party's federal claim and remanded the case to state court with instructions to "apply" the correct constitutional standard, the state court may interpose -- for the first time in the litigation -- a state-law procedural bar that is neither firmly established nor regularly followed."
The Court declined to review the second issue presented, namely the constitutional excessiveness of the punitive damages award. - SBS
The Court declined to review the second issue presented, namely the constitutional excessiveness of the punitive damages award.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Senator John McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, comments on Exxon Shipping v. Baker, in which the Supreme Court reduced the punitive damages award to $515 million. In the interview (from last June), Palin expressed her "disappointment" in the Court decision. Cal Punitive Damages has the video interview.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
We hope to have a "Roundup" category in the near future. In the meantime, however, you can find previous editions of the Roundup by scrolling under the Current Affairs category (in the Topical Archive off to the lower right).
Now on to the week in torts:
Reform, Legislation, Policy
- Bills to overturn the Supreme Court's preemption decision in Riegel v. Medtronic have been introduced in both the House and Senate. [TortsProf, Point of Law, Drug&Device]
- FDA to advertise a fake blood pressure drug in order to study whether the visuals divert consumers from the warnings. [Pharmalot]
- NY Assembly Speaker makes personal loans to Counsel Financial, a company that finances plaintiffs' contingency fee litigation. [NY Times]
- State AGs, lawyers and lobbyists all attend Conference of Western Attorneys General. [Legal Newsline]
- Senate bill would create "Health Care Comparative Effectiveness Research Institute" to review clinical research on drugs, devices and surgical procedures. [Pharmalot]
- FDA announces new conflict-of-interest rules for advisory committees. [FDA, SanFran Chronicle]
- Debate on medical malpractice. [Overlawyered]
- Finally, a lawsuit in the salmonella outbreak [WSJ Law Blog].
- Class action against Ford over not-so-limited edition Mustang. [Reuters]
- Another mortgage meltdown suit: Connecticut sues Countrywide, alleging company violated state consumer protection laws by misleading borrowers to take on loans that they could not afford. CT joins California, Illinois, Florida and the City of San Diego in pursuing litigation against the financial lender. [Newsday/AP]
- Beat up because he's a Red Sox fan; suing the Yankees [MassLive.com].
- Second amended complaint in AutoAdmit lawsuit identifies one defendant. [ABA Journal, WSJ Law Blog, Overlawyered]
- Medblogs give outsiders chance to eavesdrop on break-room conversations and learn insiders thoughts on clinical studies. [LA Times, GruntDoc]
Trials, Settlements & Other Ends
- Judge tosses Don King's libel suit against ESPN. [American Lawyer via Law.com]
- 8 year old skier sued for collision with adult settles suit. [Overlawyered]
- Food manufacturers settle suit by the CA AG concerning carcinogen levels in potato products. [TortsProf].
- Trials galore, free to watch online [The Mac Lawyer].
- Mapractice suit against white collar defense lawyer Michele Roberts dismissed with prejudice. [BLT, Legal Times/law.com]
- Study finds settlement nets more cash than trial. [NY Times]
- Second Circuit certifies strict liability question on "when a seller of used machinery may be deemed a regular seller" to New York Court of Appeals. [Court's opinion (pdf), NY Law Journal/law.com]
- Fourth Circuit rejects defamation claim against Air American radio host. [AmLawyer/Law.com]
- In a case of first impression, Seventh Circuit affirms removal of 144 plaintiff Burlington Northern wood processing case to federal court under CAFA's provision for "mass actions." [Court's opinion (pdf), Business Insurance]
- Eighth Circuit affirms dismissal of switched-at-birth suit under Federal Tort Claims Act on SOL grounds. [OnPoint]
- Ninth Circuit considering meaning of "interception" in civil e-mail hacking lawsuit. [WaPo]
- Federal Circuit hears oral argument in Bikini Atoll nuclear case. [WSJ Law Blog]
- House passes bill authorizing unlimited punitive damages in pay discrimination cases. [Cal Punitive Damages]
- Bryan Cave starts FDA practice group. [BLT]
- Okay, this has nothing to do with torts or personal injury, but I just love those guys over at JibJab.
Shameless Self-Promotion (favorite posts of this week)
- Bill: Q: What'd you do today, Daddy? A: Um, dug around domain registrations and corporate filings. Good times!
- Sheila: Animal Law Conversation at Slippery Slope.
If you enjoy the Roundup, please send us suggested links; our e-mail addresses are to the left.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Welcome to the first Personal Injury Roundup (and, like Eric, I've no idea whether it should be "round up," "round-up", or "roundup," but let's go with "roundup") on TortsProf. We hope to maintain the quality of his year doing it and that of Brooks. As always, but especially for this, we'd love suggested links; e-mail addresses are off to the left.
It's getting to the end of summer, with all of us scrambling to finish various pieces, but it's still an interesting week in TortLand.
Reform, Legislation, Policy
- Public Citizen criticizes the pro-arbitration analysis performed in recent Chamber studies. [Public Citizen].
- Eric Turkewitz's op-ed published in regional NY paper; Ted Frank starts a dialogue on the statistics used within; commenters include Turkewitz and people from Public Citizen, originator of the stat in question [NY PI Law Blog, Overlawyered].
- Reforms in New Zealand [SSRN].
- Congress sends president bill banning lead, etc., in toys [AP, see also this week on TortsProf, and two-plus years ago on TortsProf].
- In a civil suit, what would have been said about this case without video? [Simple Justice]
- Six Flags discovery muddles along; 77 deps and at least 18 more months until trial on an accident that happened over a year ago [TortsProf].
- Bad documents from Zyprexa production in Alaska suggest avoidance of diabetes talk by reps [WSJ Health Blog].
Experts & Science
- Ongoing discussion of the "pharma-free expert list" prepared for journalists; most focuses on the import, or not, of it including some who have been paid litigation experts for plaintiffs [TortsProf, Beck & Herrmann, Tort Deform, Pharmalot, and HealthNewsReview.org (the list is there)].
Trials & Settlements
- An update on the Kivalina global warming litigation: Defendants have moved to dismiss arguing no cognizable tort. Hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9th. [Point of Law].
- Libya & U.S. are close to a settlement relating to 1980s terrorism [WSJ Law Blog].
- Mirapex/compulsive gambling bellwether trials start and one ends with a plaintiff's verdict [WSJ Law Blog; Pharmalot (notes $8.2 million verdict, evidently including punitives).
- $16 million verdict against Allstate upheld; could have settled the case for $50K limits [KansasCity.com].
- ScotusBlog discusses and links to Sharkey's Riegel piece and notes Levine's argument date (Nov. 3) [ScotusBlog].
- The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a $13 million punitive damages award against Chrysler in a suit claiming that a collapsing minivan seat caused the death of a eight month old baby. [Point of Law, Overlawyered, ABA Journal]. Chrysler plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Ted Boutrous of Gibson Dunn at the helm. [AmLaw Daily].
- Real earthquake interrupts fake judge [YouTube].
- Ben & Jerry's marketing people are pretty sure the lawyers wouldn't like that video [Turkewitz, and read the URL, Ted].
- How I ended up in a chicken costume [Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child].
Shameless Self-Promotion (favorite posts of this week)
- Bill's: Okay, it's before this week, but hey, it's the first time we've done the round-up: And with that, a surgeon's insurer's head explodes.
- Sheila's: No Punitive Damages for NY Smokers.
Hey, that was fun. See you next week.
August 1, 2008 in Current Affairs, Damages, Experts & Science, Goofy Cases, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, MDLs and Class Actions, Products Liability, Roundup, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
In a decision last week, the New York Appellate Division (First Dept.) held that individual punitive damages claims by NY smokers are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The court reasoned that the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco companies extinguished claims for punitive damages:
[A] claim by a private attorney general to vindicate what is an essentially public interest in imposing a punitive sanction cannot lie where, as here, that interest has been previously and appropriately represented by the State Attorney General in an action addressed, on behalf of all of the people of the State, including plaintiffs and the decedent, to the identical misconduct.
The court rejected the idea that punitive damages serve any private purposes:
[P]unitive damages claims are quintessentially and exclusively public in their ultimate orientation and purpose, and in that respect peculiarly appropriate for prosecution by the Attorney General in parens patriae. Such claims do not, even when asserted in the context of a personal injury action, essentially relate to individual injury. They are allowed, "not to compensate the injured party but rather to punish the tortfeasor and to deter th[e] wrongdoer and others similarly situated from indulging in the same conduct in the future". Indeed, the courts of this State have been so adamant that punitive damages are "a social exemplary remedy,' [and] not a private compensatory remedy," that the imposition of such damages for private purposes has been held to violate public policy.
A claim for punitive damages may, of course, be rooted in personal injury, but for such a claim to succeed the injury must be shown to be emblematic of much more than individually sustained wrong. It must be shown to reflect pervasive and grave misconduct affecting the public generally, to, in a sense, merge with a serious public grievance, and thus merit punitive, indeed quasi-criminal sanction by the State. As Chief Judge Breitel observed in Garrity, punitive damages are in their true aspect a prerogative reserved to the State for the accomplishment of social purposes, and it is thus fitting that those who pursue such damages in the context of private actions should be viewed as acting in the State's behalf, as "private attorneys general." (internal citations omitted).
(My thanks to Meredith Miller for alerting me to the opinion).
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court decided the Exxon Valdez [pdf] punitive damages case today. (Justice Alito did not participate in the decision). The majority opinion was authored by Justice Souter. The Court found the punitive damages award excessive as a "matter of federal maritime law," and imposed a 1:1 ratio between punitive damages and compensatory damages. This holding reduced the punitive damages award to just over $500 million.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
SCOTUSBlog is liveblogging today's orders and opinions and reports that the Court granted cert. in the Williams v. Philip Morris case. You can browse our damages category for many posts about Williams and other punitive damages cases.
A later post states: "Note to readers: the grant in Phillip Morris was limited to the first question presented, regarding the Oregon state law procedural bar."
Friday, June 6, 2008
We are still waiting for the Court's decision on the cert petition in Philip Morris v. Williams, the Oregon punitive damages case upholding a 100 to 1 ratio despite remand from the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition has been punted three times now. Originally scheduled for discussion at the May 22d conference, the petition was re-listed for discussion at the May 29th conference and again at the June 5th conference. Assuming (a big assumption at this point!) that a decision was reached yesterday, the order will be out on Monday.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
No word yet in Philip Morris v. Williams, the Oregon punitive damages case upholding a 100 to 1 ratio despite remand from the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition for certiorari was distributed for discussion at the Justice's conference on May 22d, but was not mentioned on the orders list [pdf] released yesterday.
Notably, as former Chief Justice Rehnquist explained in his book (and elsewhere), petitions of interest to any Justice are placed on the "discuss list" for the conference; petitions not listed on the discuss list are denied. So presumably Philip Morris made the discuss list for the May 22d conference. It's possible that the Court is holding the Philip Morris petition pending its decision in Exxon v. Baker. SCOTUS Blog has listed Philip Morris as a "petition to watch," which means that Akim Gump partner Tom Goldstein has deemed it "to have a reasonable chance of being granted."
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
A photographer has filed a personal injury suit against actor Keanu Reeves based on allegations that Reeves struck the photographer with his car. The suit brings negligence and assault & battery claims. The complaint seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages. Yesterday, Judge Elizabeth Grimes of the L.A. Superior Court denied Reeves's motion to strike the punitive damages claim.
(Via California Punitive Damages).