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Top Ten Jury Verdicts of 2011

The overall size of the Top Ten Jury Verdicts increased substantially in 2011.

The average increased by $27 million, rising from nearly $157 million to just under $184 million. By contrast, the average for 2010 increased by around $12 million over 2009.

In 2011, the top award was slightly lower – $482 million versus $505.1 million in 2010.

But after the #1 verdict, the drop was much less steep this year as compared to last year: the #2 award was $322 million, and the #3 award was $212 million. The lowest award in this year’s Top Ten was nearly $90 million, almost $10 million more than the #10 award in 2010.

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The year’s top verdict went to a Philadelphia radiologist on his claim that a medical stent manufacturer willfully infringed his patent. The #2 award – the largest single plaintiff’s asbestos verdict in U.S. history – went to a Mississippi man who sued two companies for failing to warn of the dangers of asbestos particles he claimed he inhaled at work. (That award was vacated in December 2011.)

And two of the Top Ten this year involved a rash of hepatitis C infections caused by contaminated vials of anesthetic at Las Vegas colonoscopy and endoscopy clinics, the same litigation that gave rise to the #1 verdict last year.

Why are the top verdicts increasing? Read perspectives from a plaintiffs’ personal injury attorney, an employment defense attorney and a senior jury consultant: Verdict trends: What’s fueling the rise in jury awards?

Lawyers USA compiles the Top Ten Jury Verdicts each year, applying certain rules. First, verdicts must be awarded to an individual plaintiff, defined as a single person, family or small group of individuals injured in a single incident who had their claims tried in a single case before the same jury.

Second, we do not include business-against-business suits, class actions or consolidated cases. Finally, cases must have been defended – default verdicts and suits against incarcerated individuals are not included.

– Susan A. Bocamazo

1. Doctor wins $482 million patent verdict

Plaintiff's attorney Paul Taskier

A Texas jury awarded $482 million to a radiologist on his claim that a medical stent manufacturer willfully infringed his patent. It took only two hours for the jury to deliberate and then find that Cordis Corp., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, willfully infringed on the patent developed by Philadelphia radiologist Dr. Bruce N. Saffran.
2. Jury awards $322 million in asbestos case

Plantiff Thomas Brown Jr., pictured with his niece

In May, a jury awarded Thomas Brown, Jr. $322 million against two companies that manufactured and distributed a product he handled at work for failing to warn of the dangers of asbestos particles Brown claimed he inhaled on the job.
3. ‘Ground breaking’ Botox case leads to $212M verdict
Unlike the Hollywood starlets trying to reverse gravity or other middle-aged mortals seeking to smooth out facial wrinkles, Douglas Ray Jr. went for Botox injections for reasons other than vanity. At the end of April, a federal jury in Virginia found Allergan, the manufacturer of Botox, liable for failing to warn about the drug’s risks and awarded Ray a whopping $212 million in damages.
4. Hepatitis outbreak results in $182.6 million verdict

Plaintiff's attorney Robert Eglet, during closing arguments

Hundreds of miles and worlds away from the Los Angeles trial against Michael Jackson’s doctor for administering a fatal dose of propofol to the King of Pop, a jury in Las Vegas was listening to a very different case over the same drug in October. In the end, the jury awarded $182.6 million to three plaintiffs who contracted hepatitis C from tainted vials of the anesthesia during colonoscopy procedures.
5. Jury returns $144M verdict for girl injured at birth

Plaintiff's attorney Geoffrey Fieger

According to plaintiff’s attorney Geoffrey N. Fieger, Dr. Andrew Jay Halperin should have known that Kimberly VanSlembrouck’s baby was going to be too big to risk a vaginal birth, and he should have called for a Caesarean section. In October of last year, a Michigan jury agreed and awarded $144 million to Fieger’s client, who sustained serious injury during her birth.
6. Lawyer who invested in friend’s company wins $116 million verdict over failure to disclose fraud

Plaintiff D. Bobbit Noel Jr.

A Houston attorney who invested roughly $28,000 in his billionaire friend’s oil and gas company and cashed out for over $6 million won a $116 million verdict against his friend and the company for their failure to disclose that the investment was worth far more.
7. Jury awards $104M to couple for hepatitis infection

Plaintiff Michael Washington and his wife, Josephine, speaking with a reporter

In the third trial over a rash of hepatitis C infections caused by contaminated vials of the anesthetic propofol at Las Vegas colonoscopy and endoscopy clinics, a jury ordered the drug makers to pay $104 million to 71-year-old Michael Washington and his wife Josephine. A key to the win was impeaching the defense’s star witness on causation with a surprise piece of evidence that a lawyer on the plaintiffs’ team discovered while playing around on his iPad while observing the trial one day – an article one of the defense experts had written entirely contradicting his testimony.
8. Store employee wins $95M sexual harassment verdict
An Illinois federal jury has awarded a $95 million verdict – including $80 million in punitive damages – to a store worker who claimed she was sexually harassed and assaulted by a manager while the company turned a blind eye. “[The employer] had a policy that no one had to report complaints of sexual harassment unless they actually witnessed it,” said Benedict Morelli, the plaintiff’s lead counsel at trial. “It was a sexual harassment policy that protected the company, not the employees.”
9. $91.5 million verdict awarded for nursing home death
A West Virginia jury awarded the son of a woman who died of severe dehydration after a brief stay in a nursing home $91.5 million, including an $80 million punitive damages award. “It was like a house of horrors,” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael J. Fuller said of the facility where 87-year-old Dorothy Douglas was admitted in 2009, only to die a few weeks later.
10. Jury awards $89.6M to pipefitter with mesothelioma
A 12-person jury in Illinois awarded $89.6 million – $80 million of it in punitives – against four defendants in a suit brought by a former pipefitter suffering from mesothelioma. Charles Gillenwater, 59, brought suit against Honeywell International, Inc., Pneumo Abex and Owens-Illinois, Inc., arguing that the three companies engaged in a conspiracy to keep consumers and employees from the knowledge that their asbestos-containing products were hazardous to health.