You’ve likely seen by now media reports about an Illinois federal jury’s $150 million punitive award against AbbVie in a case brought by a plaintiff who alleged that AbbVie’s low-T medication AndroGel caused his heart attack.

The jury found against the plaintiff on his strict-liability and negligence claims. It found in favor of the plaintiff on his fraudulent-misrepresentation claim.  However, the jury awarded no compensatory damages on that claim; nevertheless, it imposed $150 million in punitive damages.
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Application of the Supreme Court’s excessiveness guideposts to cases involving multiple defendants is one of the more confounding problems that arises in punitive damages jurisprudence. The Supreme Court of Texas got the issue right in Horizon Health Corp. v. Acadia Healthcare Co., a case in which several defendants were jointly liable for compensatory damages but individually liable for separate punitive awards.
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Just about a week after suffering its third punitive award in pelvic-mesh litigation, Johnson & Johnson found itself on the wrong end of a $105 million punitive award—close to 20 times the $5.4 million compensatory award—in litigation alleging that its iconic talcum powder causes ovarian cancer in women.
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800px-Judge_Henry_FriendlyAs early as 1967, Judge Friendly worried about the phenomenon of punitive damages overkill in mass tort litigation. Fifty years later, the problem persists.

Last week, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, jury awarded a plaintiff $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $17.5 million in punitive damages—seven times the compensatory damages—in the latest of a large series of cases alleging that Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon had failed to warn about the risks of its pelvic-mesh device. In previous cases, juries had imposed punitive awards of $5 million, $7 million, and $10 million.
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A bankruptcy judge in the Eastern District of California recently issued a decision that is sure to raise appellate eyebrows.

Concluding in In re Sundquist that the defendant bank had violated the automatic stay by foreclosing on the home of a bankrupt mortgagor and enraged by what it perceived to be heavy-handed behavior both before and after the stay violation, the court awarded the plaintiffs $1,074,581.50 in compensatory damages and ordered the defendant to pay a whopping $45 million in punitive damages—i.e., nearly 42 times the quite substantial compensatory award.

But concerned that such a massive amount of punitive damages would be a windfall to the plaintiffs, the judge ordered the plaintiffs to pay $40 million, minus applicable taxes, to two non-profit organizations whose stated mission is to advance the interests of consumers in litigation and bankruptcy proceedings—the National Consumer Law Center and the National Consumer Bankruptcy Rights Center—and the five California state law schools. Specifically, the judge decided to bestow $10 million each (before taxes) on the two consumer law centers and $4 million each (before taxes) on the five law schools.
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Car insuranceSeemingly minor legal issues sometimes can have a surprisingly significant effect. That is particularly true with the ratio guidepost because the effect of any dispute about the guidepost’s application is literally multiplied. We recently filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of organizations in an Eighth Circuit appeal that proves the point: Dziadek v. The Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company, No. 16-4070.
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600px-I-70.svgSt. Louis and Kansas City have long been cross-state baseball rivals. Who can forget the 1985 I-70 World Series?

So it is hardly surprising that on the eve of St. Louis being named by the American Tort Reform Association as the number one Judicial Hellhole in the country, juries in Jackson County (home to Kansas City) would stake their own claim to that dubious distinction by returning two jaw-dropping punitive awards in consecutive days.
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Hot, burning tunnel & light. Way to another worldIn recent years, St. Louis has done much to earn a place on the American Tort Reform Association’s list of judicial hell holes.  Not content to rest on its laurels, the St. Louis circuit court grabbed the headlines again last week with a draw-dropping $70 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson ($67.25 million, including $65 million in punitive damages) and Imerys Talc America ($2.75 million, including $2.5 million in punitive damages) in a case alleging that J&J talcum powder caused the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer.
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Everything for your ailmentsThings have been quiet in the world of punitive damages for the last few months, but two recent decisions substantially reducing punitive awards under the BMW/State Farm factors warrant mention. My colleague Miriam Nemetz will discuss one of them—Grant Thornton, LLP v. Yung—in a forthcoming post. In today’s post, I will address the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Mitri v. Walgreen Co.­a case in which my colleague Michele Odorizzi and I represented the defendant.
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