TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hess Lawyers Seek $130M+ in Tobacco Case

The AP has details; $100M of the amount sought is punitive damages.  The jury found causation in an earlier phase of the trial, and the since-decertified class action established in Florida that the tobacco companies hid risks of smoking.


February 18, 2009 in Damages, MDLs and Class Actions, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Updated: First Post-Engle Trial Begins

A few years ago, the Florida Supreme Court threw out a $145 billion class verdict against various members of the tobacco industry.  Now, as Sheila noted in last week's roundup, the first Florida trial post-Engle has begun; Bloomberg has a somewhat more detailed piece on the trial's start.  In the trial, the plaintiffs do get to take advantage of the preclusive effect of the class finding that cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer. 

The trial is in three parts, with the first focusing on liability; the second (if needed) on compensatory damages and the availability of punitive damages; and the third (again if needed) on the amount of punitive damages.

Update: In case you're particularly interested in the case, you can watch it live (for a charge) at


February 9, 2009 in Damages, MDLs and Class Actions, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pain-and-Suffering Awards for Hip and Pelvis Injuries

Over at New York Injury Cases Blog, John Hochfelder has an intriguing post demonstrating the variability of pain-and-suffering awards for hip and pelvis injuries.


February 7, 2009 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hochfelder Surveys NY Foot Fracture Verdicts

Over at New York Injury Cases Blog, John Hochfelder surveys verdicts and settlements in recent foot injury cases (excluding amputations).  Hochfelder finds a wide range from a low of $75,000 to a high of $2.2 million.   He attributes the disparity to the nature of the injury - the $75k for example was for an injured pinky toe while the $2.2 million was for a crushed foot requiring complex reconstruction surgery. 


January 20, 2009 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

No Health Effects, but Punitives Possible Against 3M on Trespass and Negligence

The Star Tribune has details on the trial court ruling relating to PFCs in the groundwater in Washington County, Minnesota.  Essentially, the plaintiffs can't go forward with claims that the PFCs harmed their health, but can proceed on a trespass claim and a (slightly vague from the story) negligence claim, and have the potential to obtain punitive damages on those claims.


January 3, 2009 in Current Affairs, Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Liptak on Williams v. Philip Morris



December 11, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Med Mal & Punitive Damages

An article posted on drew a response on, pointing out some misconceptions about punitive damages and medical malpractice.

(h/t Eric Turkewitz)


December 9, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

First Payments in Valdez Litigation

Only nearly twenty years after the oil spill, plaintiffs are starting to get damages.


December 6, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Williams Punitives, Round Three

SCOTUSBlog has a preview of Wednesday's argument -- the third! -- relating to the Oregon state court tort litigation against Philip Morris and the punitive damages awarded in that litigation.


December 2, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Exxon Damages Inching Ever Closer to, You Know, Plaintiffs

The federal judge overseeing the eternal Exxon Valdez litigation rejected a request to modify the plan for distribution of punitive damages, a portion of which will -- maybe, perhaps, soon -- be distributed to plaintiffs while the parties continue to fight over some remaining parts.


November 16, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

9th Circuit Imposes 3 to 1 Ratio on Punitive Damages Award

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.   

Lisa Baird at Life Sciences Legal Update provides a concise summary of the decision. 


November 12, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Punitives Rejected in Taser Death

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).


October 27, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

$16.2 Million Default Award in Hazing Death Lawsuit

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.


October 26, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Confidentiality in Settlements

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.)


October 20, 2008 in Damages, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Squabbling Over Exxon Punitive Damages

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.


October 20, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Argument Scheduled in Philip Morris III

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument for Wednesday, December 3rd in Philip Morris v. Williams (pdf).   

(Via Cal Punitive Damages).


September 9, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Set of Merits Briefs in Philip Morris v. Williams III

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.


September 3, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin on Exxon Shipping v. Baker

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


September 2, 2008 in Current Affairs, Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Richard Dreyfus Seeks Punitive Damages Against Dad

Cal Punitive Damages notes that Dreyfus has sued his uncle and father for malice and fraud in connection with an unpaid loan, and seeks repayment, interest, and yes, punitive damages. 


August 12, 2008 in Damages | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Personal Injury Roundup No. 2 (8/8/2008)

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]

New Lawsuits

  • 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 [].
  • Second amended complaint in AutoAdmit lawsuit identifies one defendant.  [ABA JournalWSJ 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


  • 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/]
  • Fourth Circuit rejects defamation claim against Air American radio host. [AmLawyer/]
  • 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]

Goofy Stuff

  • 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)


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August 8, 2008 in Current Affairs, Damages, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, MDLs and Class Actions, Products Liability, Roundup | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)