JURIES SEND A $1.33 BILLION MESSAGEPosted On: Jan. 21, 1996 12:00 AM CST
BOSTON-Medical malpractice and product liability cases accounted for the bulk of the $1.33 billion awarded in the top 10 jury verdicts in the United States last year, according to a legal newspaper.
Of the 10 largest cash verdicts, seven remain under appeal, four have been reduced and the largest-a half-billion dollar award-may never be paid because the defendant company is no longer in business, said Lawyers Weekly USA, a newspaper for small law firms.
It noted several interesting facts: none of the medical malpractice awards included any punitive damages; and none of the Top 10 awards occurred in Texas, a state long known as friendly to personal injury plaintiffs.
Although large award cases tend to settle for a fraction of initial damages, the numbers still make businesses and insurers shudder.
Topping the list was the $500 million awarded in a wrongful death case in Hillsborough County Circuit Court in Tampa against the already closed William Recht Co. of Tampa, which presented no defense. The firm was found responsible for the death of a 9-year-old boy who died after inhaling toxic fumes from chemicals stored near his home.
Of the remaining awards, three product liability claims totaled $510 million, five medical malpractice awards totaled $265.8 million, and a single sexual harassment award was $50.4 million. The award was reduced to $5 million with an appeal pending.
The largest product liability award was a $350 million verdict against Turbomeca S.A. and other defendants in July in a wrongful death case involving a helicopter crash. The French firm was found responsible because the failure of one its engines led to the crash of Life Flight helicopter ambulance, which killed the pilot. The award was later reduced to $77.5 by the judge. In a separate suit involving the crash, which also killed a patient being transported, Turbomeca was hit with the No. 5 award of the year: $70 million.
The largest medical malpractice award was $98.5 million in the case of a baby who was left quadriplegic after being deprived of oxygen during birth in Long Beach, Calif.
Reprints of the Jan. 15 Lawyers Weekly article are available by calling 800-444-5297.