BEWARE: Nuclear Verdicts® Are Taking Over Pennsylvania!

BEWARE: Nuclear Verdicts® Are Taking Over Pennsylvania!

Philadelphia is famously known for Rocky, soft pretzels, and infamously, for snowballing Santa Claus[i], but it is now becoming notable for Nuclear Verdicts®.  In 2023, the five highest jury verdicts in Pennsylvania were awarded in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.[ii] These Nuclear Verdicts® have continued into 2024. The question now is whether these Nuclear Verdicts® can be controlled or if this is the new normal.

 

What are Nuclear Verdicts®?

What are Nuclear Verdicts®? They are jury verdicts over $10 million or with damages vastly disproportionate to the injury. Plaintiffs’ attorneys exploit unfortunate situations by stoking juror sympathy for an injured plaintiff while enflaming juror anger against what is viewed as a deep-pocketed and unsympathetic corporate defendant. In these situations, plaintiffs’ attorneys persuade an emotional jury to reward the injured plaintiff with a large verdict by convincing the jury that a Nuclear Verdict® is the only way to ensure justice is served. Unfortunately, these Nuclear Verdicts® are often the result of tactics employed by plaintiffs’ attorneys to increase their own profits rather than to obtain justice for all.

 

Nuclear Verdicts® Are Surging in Pennsylvania

A breakdown of recent Pennsylvania Nuclear Verdicts® follows:

In 2023, a jury awarded $180 million to a child born with brain injuries allegedly due to a delayed cesarean section.[iii] Defense counsel argued that the brain injury occurred before the child’s mother arrived at the hospital because she suffered a uterine infection that likely caused the child’s brain injury.[iv] The jury rejected the defense’s argument and awarded plaintiffs the highest medical malpractice award in Pennsylvania history, breaking the previous highest record of $100 million.[v]

Nuclear Verdicts® are not just found in Philadelphia. A Chester County jury awarded a plaintiff $18 million in a medical malpractice matter when a nurse practitioner failed to diagnose breast cancer at a first examination in a twenty-eight year old plaintiff.[vi] When the tumor was found nine months later during a return examination, the tumor had grown in size and displayed other symptoms.[vii] Plaintiff alleged the nurse practitioner was negligent for her failure to run extensive tests at the initial visit due to plaintiff’s young age.[viii] Though plaintiff was able to return to work and resume her activities of daily living, the jury awarded a Nuclear Verdict® due to plaintiff’s alleged decreased life expectancy.[ix]

Nuclear Verdicts® can be found in products liability matters as well. A $176.5 million compensatory damages award, and $800 million punitive damages award was granted in a motor vehicle accident in 2023.[x] Plaintiff sued the seat belt designer for recklessness, alleging the designer of the vehicle was negligent because it failed to conduct appropriate testing on the vehicle and the seat belt system before allowing the defective vehicle into the stream of commerce.[xi]

Philadelphia juries collectively found the makers of Roundup liable for subsequent cancer diagnoses, resulting in verdicts of $2.25 billion, $175 million, and $3.5 million.[xii] In the most recent verdict award, plaintiff was awarded $250 million in compensatory damages, along with $2 billion in punitive damages after arguing that the manufacturer failed to warn of the products’ carcinogenic properties.[xiii] The most recent Roundup trial resulted in a defense verdict following a state court ruling excluding certain scientific references to studies that stated Roundup caused cancer.[xiv]

 

Takeaway

There are signs that the winds are changing, and juries are now more willing to view cases differently and award Nuclear Verdicts®. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties are now becoming known for Nuclear Verdicts®, which also makes them targets for potential forum shopping by plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking large payouts. To combat against plaintiffs’ counsel’s tactics, Tyson and Mendes has identified the pattern that plaintiffs attorneys use to enflame juror anger and stoke juror sympathy in order to obtain Nuclear Verdicts®. In order to counter plaintiffs’ counsel’s tactics, the Pennsylvania defense bar should employ the Tyson & Mendes methods of accepting responsibility, appealing to jurors’ reasonableness and common sense, and personalizing the defendant in order to reduce the chance of future Nuclear Verdicts®.

 

 

 

Keep Reading

Sources


[i] https://whyy.org/articles/philadelphia-eagles-santa-snowball-incident/ Accessed 24 May 2024.

[ii] Furman, Aleeza. “The Legal’s Top 5 Pennsylvania Verdicts of 2023.” Law.com, www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2023/12/26/the-legals-top-5-pennsylvania-verdicts-of-2023/. Accessed 17 May 2024.

[iii] Brubaker, Harold. “A Record Medical Malpractice Verdict Goes Against the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com/health/university-pennsylvania-hospital-medical-malpractice-philadelphia. Accessed 24 May 2024.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] “Chester County Woman, 26, Wins $18 Million Jury Verdict in Breast Cancer Malpractice Case” Front Page News. https://www.dailylocal.com/2022/07/22/chester-county-woman-22-wins-18-million-jury-verdict-in-breast-cancer-malpractice-case/. Accessed 24 May 2024.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Id.

[x] Malfitano, Nicholas. “Jury Hands Down Near $1B Verdict for Man who Was Paralyzed After Seatbelt Allegedly Failed.” Pennsylvania Record. https://pennrecord.com/stories/650967918-jury-hands-down-near-1b-verdict-for-man-who-was-paralyzed-after-seatbelt-allegedly-failed. Accessed 24 May 2024.

[xi] Id.

[xii] D’Annunzio, P.J. “Monsanto Hit With $2.25B Verdict In Philly Roundup Trial” Law360. https://www.law360.com/articles/1787396/. Accessed 24 May 2024.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Woolston, George. “Monsanto Nabs 1st Win In Philly’s Roundup Trial Blitz.” Law 360. https://www.law360.com/articles/1809827/monsanto-nabs-1st-win-in-philly-s-roundup-trial-blitz. Accessed 24 May 2024.