We reported on a bunch of eye-popping punitive awards in 2017. There have been further developments in a number of those cases. Though we may provide more comprehensive discussions of some of those developments, here is a quick update.
On January 3, we reported on two large punitive awards returned by Missouri juries—a $10 million award against Orkin that was 82 times the compensatory damages, and a $20 million award against American Family Insurance that was 44 times the compensatory damages.
Shockingly, the trial court in the Orkin case allowed the punitive damages to stand. Orkin has appealed.
In the American Family case, the trial court, applying Missouri’s statutory cap, reduced the punitive damages to five times the compensatory damages. For purposes of the cap, the court included in the denominator, not just the jury’s award of compensatory damages, but also attorneys’ fees, costs, and front pay awarded by the court post-verdict. The court then concluded that the resulting reduced punitive award of $8.4 million was not unconstitutionally excessive under BMW and State Farm. American Family appealed, but later dismissed the appeal, presumably as the result of a settlement.
On April 18, we reported on a $45 million exaction in a bankruptcy proceeding, $40 million of which the court ordered to be paid to consumer groups and law schools selected by the Bankruptcy Court. The parties thereafter settled the case with the defendant agreeing to pay the plaintiffs a confidential amount that substantially exceeds the $6 million that the court had awarded to the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs agreeing to pay $600,000 pre-tax to the designated consumer groups and law schools.
On May 2, 2017, we reported on a $17.5 million punitive award against Johnson & Johnson that was seven times the compensatory damages. The trial court did not deem the punitive damages to be excessive, but nonetheless reduced the exaction to $12.5 million under New Jersey’s statutory cap. Both parties have appealed.
On May 12, we reported on a $105 million punitive award against Johnson & Johnson that was closed to 20 times the compensatory damages. Amazingly, the trial court let that monstrosity stand. J&J has appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
On August 30, we reported on a $150 million punitive verdict against AbbVie in a case in which the jury awarded no compensatory damages. Finding the jury’s verdicts “logically incompatible,” the federal district court ordered a new trial.
On September 5, we reported on a $347 million punitive award against Johnson & Johnson in a case in which the jury also awarded $70 million in compensatory damages. The trial court granted J&J judgment notwithstanding the verdict and, in the alternative, a new trial as to both the underlying torts and punitive liability. Both parties have appealed.