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Top Product Verdicts of the First Half of 2014

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The first half of 2014 has proven to be a hotbed for large product liability verdicts. Many of the largest verdicts from January 2014 to June 2014 include significant punitive damages. Some of the largest product verdicts are as follows:

1.          $23.6 billion in Cynthia Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

In July of 2014, a Florida state jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company responsible for the death of smoker Michael Johnson Sr. Johnson, a long-time smoker, died of lung cancer in 1996. The jury awarded Johnson’s wife $17 million in compensatory damages and $23.6 billion in punitive damages. The verdict is the largest of the Engle group of tobacco cases to date.

2.          $1.15 billion in The People of the State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co.

In January of 2014, a California state judge in Santa Clara County ordered Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc., and ConAgra Grocery Products LLC to pay $1.15 billion into a state fund to address health risks posed by lead paint in California homes. The funds were to be distributed to the ten plaintiff cities and counties as needed by grants. The lengthy suit, first filed in 2000, sought to hold numerous gasoline, paint and chemical companies responsible for the alleged “massive public health crisis” caused by lead in California’s homes and public buildings. The lawsuit sought to recover costs for medical care, educational programs for children, inspections, and abatement.

3.          $125 million in In re: Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC

 In January of 2014, Garlock was hit with $125 million in estimated liability for present and future mesothelioma claims. Mesothelioma claimants argued that damages should have been $1.25 billion based on Garlock’s settlement history.  A court ruling reduced Garlock’s estimated liability to $125 million.

4.          $110.1 million in Damon Andrade et al. v. MHC Operating LP

In April of 2014, a California state jury found real estate investment trust firm Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. liable for breach of contract, negligence and nuisance for failing to maintain one of its mobile home developments. The residents claimed that the mobile park owner ignored the residents’ complaints of open sewage spills near the homes, an “unbearable stench” throughout the park, discolored water, and inadequate lighting and security for the grounds. The jury awarded $110 million to 61 residents of the property, which included $15.3 million in compensatory damages and $95.8 million in punitive damages.

5.          $25 million in Ivan Sweberg v. ABB Inc. et al., and Selwyn Hackshaw v. ABB Inc. et al.

 In June of 2014, a New York state jury found Crane Company liable to two plaintiffs who asserted mesothelioma claims in a consolidated trial. The plaintiffs had been exposed to asbestos while working as electricians in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The jury awarded Ivan Sweberg $15 million. The estate of Selwyn Hacksaw, who died in 2013 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, was awarded $10 million.  However, Crane will only be responsible for paying a portion of the total verdict. The jury found Crane liable for 9 percent of Sweberg’s award and 20 percent of Hackshaw’s award.

6.          $20 million in Gwendolyn E. Odom, Personal Representative of the Estate of Juanita Thurston v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

 In June of 2014, a Florida state jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company responsible for the death of Juanita Thurston. She died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 58 after years of smoking cigarettes, including a number of cigarette brands manufactured by R.J. Reynolds. The jury awarded $6 million in compensatory damages and $14 million in punitive damages. Thurston was found to be 25 percent liable for her own death so her compensatory damages will be reduced to $4.5 million.

7.          $10.9 million in Charity Phillips et al. v. Honeywell International Inc.

 In June of 2014, a California state jury found Honeywell International Inc. liable in an asbestos suit filed by the family of a man who died from mesothelioma caused by Honeywell unit’s automotive products.  James Lester Phillips was an auto enthusiast who spent a lot of time fixing and modifying race cars, trucks and heavy equipment beginning in the 1960s. The jury awarded $7.4 million in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages to the plaintiffs, who were heirs of Mr. Phillips’ estate.