Big Losses in Product Liability Cases
Altria Group Inc. and Pfizer were the biggest losers in product liability cases last year and the business community is bracing itself for juries who have soured on big business.
Bloomberg reports that the top five product-defect verdicts rose to $620 million in 2009 - an increase of 52 percent in total value. The recession, rising unemployment, the eroding trust in corporate America, and maybe a little payback, are all hurting manufacturers of defective products in the courtroom.
Among the biggest business losers in 2009:
* Pfizer - $34 million verdict against Pfizer, $78 million verdict in claims against subsidiary, Wyeth over hormone replacement drugs over breast cancer.
* Altria’s Philip Morris – A $300 million verdict in Florida state court ($224 million in punitive) in a case filed by a former smoker who developed cancer. 40 more tobacco related cases are set for trial this year.
* Abbott Laboratories - Johnson & Johnson’s Centocor unit awarded $1.67 billion in patent-infringement case
* Ford Motor Company - $4.5 million award against Ford in defective seat-belts. Ford lost at least four defective product cases of $10 million or more.
“Because of the mess with the banks, Bernie Madoff, people have less respect for companies,” said Randy Barnhart, an Englewood, Colorado, lawyer who won a $4.5 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. for a seat-belt defect tells Bloomberg. “The jurors were more willing to listen to our side.”
The eventual victory of Diana Levine in her case against drug maker Wyeth sparked about 250 lawsuits. Wyeth had claimed federal pre-emption should trump Levine’s failure-to-warn lawsuit she won in lower court.
In March 2009, in one of the most significant decisions this term, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with musician, Levine, and rejected the concept that federal approval from the Food and Drug Administration provides drug makers with a defense from state law product liability lawsuits. #