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Could large products liability awards be making a comeback?

If there was one thing that tort reform supporters wanted when legislation was proposed, it was that jury awards be in line with “reality.” This essentially meant that personal injury plaintiffs could not receive huge windfalls that would bankrupt a company or affect an entire industry because of the fear of blockbuster verdicts.

For over a decade, tort reform basically did what reformers promised. Multi-million dollar jury awards were few and far between. But last year, it appears that these verdicts came back. For instance, a man who developed cancer as a result of a diabetes medicine passed away; and the family was awarded $9 billion (yes, billion) in damages. Another case where a 36 year man passed away after years of smoking tobacco, the surviving family was awarded, $23.6 billion.

The bulk of these awards were made up of punitive damages to punish the corporations for their respective practices. While the punitive damage awards were either slashed by the trial court or thrown out on appeal, they suggest that a new era of huge personal injury or products liability awards may be coming.

This may be especially true for automakers and their suppliers. The recalls that took place in 2014 could lead to lawsuits this year and beyond. It remains to be seen if lawsuits against Takata, the Japanese airbag maker that produced products that could explode and send metal shards into unsuspecting drivers, will be filed. Also, it remains to be seen whether products liability class actions will be filed. 

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