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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Hip ImplantA couple of months ago, we reported on a $10 million punitive verdict in the first hip implant case to go to trial against Wright Medical Technology. Last week, Wright Medical filed its opening brief in support of its post-trial motions.  From the looks of the brief, Wright Medical has a number of promising arguments.

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Last week, we posted about a $10 million award of punitive damages in a product liability action against a manufacturer of hip implants.  We explained our view that the award was excessive, in part because hundreds of similar cases are pending across the country.

Roulette Wheel_LargeWe’ve also been following a much larger set of cases against medical device manufacturers—those involving injuries allegedly resulting from the use of surgical mesh to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. An astonishing 85,000 cases against surgical mesh manufacturers have been centralized for pre-trial proceedings in federal district court in West Virginia, and thousands of additional cases have been filed in state courts.  As may be inevitable with so many turns of the Roulette wheel, a few plaintiffs have hit the jackpot.

The biggest verdict so far came last May, when a Delaware jury returned a $100 million award against Boston Scientific—comprising $25 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. In an October 9 order, the trial court in Barbra v. Boston Scientific Corp. reduced the verdict by a factor of ten—leaving Boston Scientific facing a judgment of $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in punitive damages.   That’s obviously a substantial improvement, but in our view the reduced award remains quite excessive.  
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Hip ImplantIn a post last month, we reported on a district court’s rulings on motions in limine in the first bellwether hip implant trial against Wright Medical Technology Incorporated. The case subsequently went to trial, and last week a federal jury in Atlanta returned a jaw-dropping verdict of $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.

The jury found that the plaintiff’s hip implant was defectively designed and that the defendant negligently misrepresented how long the device would last. In addition, the jury found that, in marketing the hip implant, the defendant demonstrated knowing and reckless indifference to the rights of others—the standard for imposition of punitive damages under the applicable state law (Utah).
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Do Not Duplicate StampIn prior posts, we have occasionally adverted to the issue of multiple punishments in the constitutional context.  Just before the new year, a California appellate court issued an unpublished decision in Paletz v. Adaya bearing on a different aspect of the multiple punishment problem.  In Paletz, the Court of Appeal reversed an award of punitive damages as duplicative of an award of statutory penalties, concluding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to collect both forms of punishment for the same course of conduct.
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