Huge jury verdicts against companies over fatal flaws in their products made a comeback last year, which may foretell more bad news for car makers with defective parts. Absent for a decade, billion-dollar verdicts returned in product defect suits in 2014. The largest was for $23.6 billion in favor of the family of a smoker who died at 36. Coming in second was one for $9 billion to a New Yorker who linked his bladder cancer to a diabetes medication.
“People now come into the jury room really suspicious, instead of wondering is this ambulance-chasing lawyer trying to squeeze money out of a company,” said Erik Gordon, a law and business professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Jurors now come in expecting to hear a story of corporate wrong-doing and are being very receptive to these stories.”
The biggest awards were for punitive damages, meant to punish companies for bad conduct and not to cover actual losses. One silver lining for the companies: based on past court rulings,it’s unlikely anything close to the initial verdict amounts will ever be paid.