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Top 10 Civil Justice Stories of 2019 – Part II (i.e. Top 5)
Richard Shapiro
Partner with Shapiro & Appleton Personal Injury Law Firm
Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn
(800) 752-0042

We have reached the top five civil justice stories of 2019.  This is Part II of Legal Examiner’s annual compilation of the 10 most important civil cases of 2018, created by Virginia Beach, VA attorney-author Richard N. (Rick) Shapiro and his research assistants, a year end compilation tradition provided for Legal Examiner since 2012.  In Part I, we counted down from 10 through 6, and in this second installment, we highlight the top five civil justice stories of 2019.

  1. Widower Awarded More Than $157 Million in Nation’s First Same-Sex Wrongful Death Case Against Big Tobacco

  • Why It’s Big
    • This was the first same‑sex wrongful death case against big tobacco to go to trial in the entire country. It is also the largest jury award against big tobacco since July 2014 when jurors in Pensacola entered a $23 billion verdict against R.J. Reynolds related to the death of a man named Michael Johnson.
  • What We Learned
    • Perseverance pays off. This case began all the way back in 2007 when Edward Caprio filed a lawsuit against the aforementioned R.J. Reynolds and Phillips Morris, two large tobacco companies. Caprio subsequently died of respiratory disease. As a result, his husband, Bryan Rintoul, sought financial restitution on behalf of his deceased spouse. Despite years of litigation that featured setbacks and challenges, justice ultimately prevailed.
  • Dig Deeper
  1. Multiple States, Including Virginia, Enact Laws Allowing Abuse Victims to Sue the Catholic Church

  • Why It’s Big
    • The Associated Press reported that an array of new laws enacted across the country, including Virginia, could result in thousands of new civil cases filed against the Roman Catholic Church. There are also reports that the potential payouts to claimants could exceed $4 billion.
  • What We Learned
    • In 15 states, there are now laws are on the books that enable people to file claims of sexual abuse going back decades against members of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, a grand jury report issued in a Pennsylvania court found that 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in just Pennsylvania alone for decades.
    • In Virginia, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims was extended to 20 years, which means the Commonwealth has one of the longest statute of limitations for these types of claims in the Country.
    • In North Carolina, the legislature modified its statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in order to let a victim file a lawsuit up until the age of 28.
  • Dig Deeper
  1. Global Opioid Settlement Being Negotiated Where Manufacturers Could Pay Out Billions to Victims and Their Families

  • Why It’s Big
    • The fact that a “global” settlement is even being discussed at this point publicly is remarkable. Consider the opioid litigation in comparison to the (still) active litigation against big tobacco companies.
    • The possibility of reaching a resolution via settlement became more realistic after large drug companies reached a $250 million settlement with two of Ohio’s most populous counties. This would have been the first federal opioid case to go to trial, but the settlement ended that possibility. This is a sign that there may be trepidation on the part of the drug companies from having a highly-publicized jury trial where they could wind up getting hit with a massive verdict.
  • What We Learned
    • It is estimated that more than 400,000 lives were lost between 1997 and 2017 as a result of opioid use, according to government data.
    • Roughly 2,600 lawsuits have been brought nationwide by states, local and tribal governments.
    • Four state Attorneys General – specifically the AGs of North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Texas – proposed the sweeping $48 billion opioid settlement that would resolve these claims. Notably, this is a “bipartisan” group of AGs featuring two Democrats and two Republicans. The proposal also received the support of Iowa’s AG and the AG of Colorado.
    • Despite some states showing support for a “global” settlement, the prospect of this type of settlement actually being reached is rather dim at the moment due to many state AGs openly criticizing, or voicing serious concerns, with the framework of the proposed settlement. For example, the AG of West Virginia described the proposed settlement as “Dead on Arrival” (not the best choice of words under the circumstances).
  • Dig Deeper
  1. Jury Orders Monsanto to Pay More Than $2 Billion to Couple Struggling with Cancer After Long-Term Use of RoundUp

  • Why It’s Big
    • The damages award. Only $55 million was designated as compensatory damages while the remaining $2 billion was designated as punitive damages. This means the jury wanted to send a clear, unmistakable message to Monsanto and other large corporations – do not ignore public safety to maximize your profits.
    • There is growing concern that individuals participating in occupations requiring the repeated daily use of RoundUp (e.g., landscapers, farmers, groundskeepers, etc.) increases the risk of developing cancer. For example, the plaintiffs in this case started using RoundUp in the 1970s and continued to do so on a regular basis for decades.
  • What We Learned
    • The jury determined that the plaintiff’s developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of their use of the glyphosate-based herbicide that is the main ingredient in RoundUp.
    • The evidence introduced in court indicated that Monsanto likely had improper and undue influence over U.S. regulators related to the cancer risks associated with glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup.
  • Dig Deeper

And the No. 1 Civil Justice Story of 2019 is….

  1. Johnson & Johnson’s Talc-Based Powder Products Appear to Be Way More Dangerous Than Anyone Realized

  • Why It’s Big
    • We gave the No. 1 spot in our 2018 top civil justice stories to the massive, multi-million-dollar verdicts rendered against Johnson & Johnson for the harms caused by its talcum powder products (e.g., baby powder). Well, the situation only got worse in 2019. We learned, through a shocking Reuters report, that J&J knew its raw talc and powders tested positive for asbestos. Yes, asbestos – a toxic substance for which there is no safe level of exposure. If that was not bad enough, the Reuters report revealed that that J&J knew of the talc-asbestos connection dating back to the 1970s and into the early 2000s. What did J&J do? Nothing.
  • What We Learned
    • When a company prioritizes profits over the safety of the general public, eventually justice will prevail, and that company will be held accountable for their callous indifference to the welfare of consumers.
  • Dig Deeper
    • https://virginiabeach.legalexaminer.com/health/toxic-substances/is-asbestos-in-talcum-baby-powder-the-crime-of-the-century/
    • https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/baby-powder-manufacturer-voluntarily-recalls-products-asbestos
    • https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-talc/jj-recalls-33000-bottles-of-baby-powder-as-fda-finds-asbestos-in-sample-idUSKBN1WX1L3#:~:targetText=The%20voluntary%20recall%20announced%20on,no%20asbestos%20in%20their%20talc.
    • https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/
    • https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-health-fda-talc/

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