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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Civil justice cases grabbed huge headlines in 2017, proving the value of the civil justice system in improving United States health and safety. The largest product recall in automotive history was issued this year as a result of civil justice lawsuits over dangerous Takata airbags, there were multiple dangerous product or medical device jury verdicts returned against companies like Johnson & Johnson for damages in excess of $100 million, and social media outrage fueled a sizable confidential injury settlement for a passenger forcibly removed from a flight.

As in years past attorney-author Rick Shapiro has researched the various news stories, jury verdicts, and legislative actions to compile his top-10 list of civil justice stories for 2017.

This is part 2 of a series; here is where you can find part 1.


No. 5 – Jury Awards $247 Million in Damages to DePuy Pinnacle Hip Implant Patients

Why It’s Bidepuy-hip-replacementg
Large verdicts against DePuy hip implant manufacturers are going to become the norm rather than an outlier, as the 2017 jury verdicts were for defective Pinnacle hip implants. For example, the number of lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson and DePuy distributed defective metal-on-metal hip implants has increased by more than 13 percent in 2017, and these J & J implants, recalled in 2014, were supposedly newly improved over the ASR line of implants recalled in 2010.

What Did We Learn?
The panel awarded a total of $79 million in actual damages and $168 million in punitive damages against J & J to a group of six New York residents whose hips had to be surgically removed as a result of the defective Pinnacle hip implant devices. Another jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $502 million to a group of five patients who accused the company of hiding defects in the hips. The Pinnacle devices weren’t covered by J&J’s $2.5 billion prior settlement of claims over its prior ASR line of artificial hips that J&J recalled in August 2010.

Dig Deeper
Dallas Jury Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $247 Million to Hip Implant Patients (The Dallas Morning News)


No. 4 – Congress Attempts To Weaken Civil Justice System

Why It’s Big
For decades, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests have lobbied members of Congress to enact sweeping tort law reform and other laws that would effectively limit or deny individuals’ fair access to the civil justice system. It appears the current House of Representatives is now working steadily to try and enact various civil justice limitations.

What Did We Learn?
The U.S. House of Representatives is working to pass a series of bills that will weaken rights to utilize the civil justice system, which often seek to hold corporations and negligent individuals accountable. For example, the House passed “The Innocent Party Protection Act” which would shift some claims to the federal system from state courts, where big companies believe they may have advantages. In addition, the House passed “The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” which would permit class action lawsuits to proceed in federal court only if every person in the class had “an injury of the same type and scope.” Another proposal would limit monetary awards in medical malpractice suits to $250,000 for noneconomic damages, which would include all kinds and types of pain and suffering. Currently, there is no federal law purporting to place limits on medical malpractice claims.  You may note that these House bills have titles mentioning ‘fairness,’ ‘innocence’ and ‘protections,’ but the unifying theme is protection of major corporation profits, and the forfeiting of middle class rights for no good reason.

Dig Deeper
House GOP Quietly Advances Key Elements of Tort Reform (Washington Post)


No. 3 – Supreme Court Sides With Railroad Companies Over Injured Railroad Workers On Where Suits Can Be Filed

Why It’s Big
For a century, courts across the country agreed that railroads could be sued where they did business, typically including where their tracks ran.  But long standing precedent gives way to corporate protectionism in the new world order of the Roberts Court, in a civil case that affects not only suits against railroads, but all suits against corporations.

What Did We Learn?
The United States Supreme Court effectively upended a century of railroad/Federal Employers Liability Act precedent allowing a suit in a jurisdiction where any railroad “did business.” In BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, the court announced that corporations, whether railroads or otherwise, can usually be sued only in the following locations:

  • the state where incorporated;
  • the state where they have a principal place of business; and
  • any state where the company does business, if the suit’s claims are related to the company’s business there.

Dig Deeper
U.S. Supreme Court Tyrrell Decision Impacts Virginia Cases against CSX and Norfolk Southern

BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell (Harvard Law Review)


No. 2 – Class Action Lawsuit by Women Against Sexual Predator Harvey Weinstein

Why It’s Big
We are in the midst of a monumental shift in our society concerning how allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct are handled in the workplace and elsewhere. This story highlights how the “me too” victims of sexual assault and harassment are not only bringing their stories to light in the press, but are taking legal action, both civilly and criminally, to hold sexual predators accountable.

What Did We Learn?
Sexual power predatory conduct is now under a spotlight, and 2017 was a transcendent year for standing up to predators.  “Weinstein’s widespread sexual misconduct did not occur without the help of others,” the suit states. “Rather, over time, Weinstein enlisted the aid of other firms and individuals to facilitate and conceal his pattern of unwanted sexual conduct. This coalition of firms and individuals became part of the growing ‘Weinstein Sexual Enterprise,’ a RICO enterprise,” according to the suit.

The 14-count civil action, brought by six women who seek class action certification, include witness tampering, mail and wire fraud, assault, civil battery, negligent supervision and retention and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs sued Miramax, and current and former board members of Weinstein Co.

Dig Deeper
Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein Co. Face Class-Action Racketeering Lawsuit over Sexual Harassment (Variety)


No. 1 – Takata Faulty Air Bag Recall

Why It’s Bigairbag2
This was the largest automotive safety product recall in United States history effecting millions of motorists across the country. We all drive cars, and when cars have hidden dangers that can randomly kill drivers, we pay attention.

What Did We Learn?
The company’s faulty airbag inflators have blasted shrapnel into drivers and passengers, even slicing the carotid artery, resulting in the recall of tens of millions of vehicles. 11 deaths in the U.S. and several others elsewhere have been linked to Takata faulty airbags. Takata admitted to withholding key information for years, even after its airbags started exploding in people’s cars. It pleaded guilty in the U.S. to a criminal charge of wire fraud,  and must pay $1 billion, including a $125 million fund for victims and their families.

Dig Deeper
Takata, brought Down by Airbag Crisis, Files for Bankruptcy (CNN)


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