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Product liability awards rise in 2014

When products have design or manufacturing defects, they can put the public at risk for serious injury or even death. In the past year, product recalls have increased, Congress has held hearings and juries have awarded more billion-dollar settlements than they have in a decade. The largest award was for $23.6 billion for the family of a 36-year-old smoker who died, and the second-largest for $9 billion was to a New Yorker man who claimed that his bladder cancer was the result of a diabetes medicine.

Companies appeal large awards, which are typically for punitive damages rather than actual losses, as verdicts may damage their reputation and stock values. Such an appeal was successful during a $145-billion class-action suit over tobacco, the largest of its kind in 2000.

A Pensacola, Florida, jury awarded a laborer, who had started smoking in his teens, actual damages of $16.9 million and punitive damages of $23.6 billion. The verdict was eventually reduced to only the actual damages of $16.9 million. Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds took the judge’s offer for a new trial so they could seek setting aside the entire verdict. General Motors has settled many lawsuits for death and injury due to faulty ignition switches in a program that is an alternative to litigation, but GM still faces other lawsuits outside the program.

In motor vehicle accidents involving an auto defect, a Louisiana lawyer could help an injured party or the deceased’s family seek compensation for medical bills. For accidents involving dangerous products that came into recall, a lawyer may also be able to seek punitive damages as well as compensation for legal expenses.

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