Category: Punitive Damages

Florida Rule Change Permits Immediate Appeals on Punitive Damages

The Florida Supreme Court has accepted a proposed rule amendment to permit interlocutory appeals of court orders on punitive damages claims. On January 6, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court approved by 6-1 an amendment to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130 to allow interlocutory appeals of nonfinal orders granting or denying leave to amend a complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. Prior to this amendment, a party could only appeal such an order by petitioning for a writ of certiorari. And in that posture, the appellate court’s review was limited only to whether the trial court complied with the procedural requirements for making such a claim.

Practically, this means Florida appellate courts will be able to immediately review trial court orders regarding punitive damages claims on both procedural and substantive grounds. With this amendment, the merits of a plaintiff’s punitive damages claim can now be appealed prior to any discovery of a defendant’s financial information. The new rule takes effect April 1, 2022.

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510(k) Clearance Precludes Punitive Damages in Arizona

We know the plaintiffs’ bar’s feelings about the FDA’s 510(k) clearance process. They tell the jury and the court it is antiquated. They say it does not constitute a finding of safety or efficacy. They do all they can to paint the FDA’s regulatory clearance process as meaningless and not worthy of consideration by a judge or jury. Such arguments may have some vitality in some jurisdictions. But, as we learned twice again in the last month, not in Arizona.

Back in 2012, the Arizona legislature passed a law stating that a manufacturer may not be held liable for exemplary or punitive damages if “[t]he product alleged to have caused the harm was designed, manufactured, packaged, labeled, sold or represented . . . according to the terms of an approval, conditional approval, clearance, license or similar determination of a government agency.” A.R.S. § 12-689(A)(1). The statute broadly defined “manufacturer” to include those engaged in designing, manufacturing, or formulating a product. A.R.S. § 12-689(D)(3). And it further defined “government agency” to mean any federal or Arizona agency with authority “to issue rules, regulations, orders or standards concerning the design, manufacture, packaging, labeling or advertising of a product[.]” A.R.S. § 12-689(D)(2).

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California [Again] Confronts the High Cost of Litigation Uncertainty

The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.

Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.

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California Confronts the High Liability Costs of Scientific Uncertainty

Much has been said about the eye-popping verdict and the post-trial rulings in the Roundup case tried in San Francisco earlier this year. Johnson v. Monsanto Co., 2018 WL 5246323 (S.F. Super. Ct. Oct. 22, 2018). The court sustained the jury’s award of ~$39 million in compensatory damages, including $37 million in non-economic damages, and its finding that Monsanto was liable for punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive award on due process grounds to a one-to-one ratio, slashing it from $250 million to approximately $39 million. Monsanto recently filed its notice of appeal, and as we await the briefing and argument, a few issues and takeaways merit further discussion, particularly several disturbing issues surrounding the award of punitive damages. We will save for another day (or post) other significant liability and damages issues.

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§ 510(k) Safety and Effectiveness – A Changing Landscape for Punitive Damages?

The Central District of California recently issued an opinion that breathes new life into the argument that the § 510(k) substantial equivalence process for Class II medical devices involves an FDA finding of safety and effectiveness. It is part of a trend of recent federal cases giving credence to the § 510(k) process, which could have significant implications for punitive damages claims brought against manufacturers of Class II devices.

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