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Lawyers USA’s Top 10 Jury Verdicts of 2010

By TONY OGDEN, Lawyers USA, the national sister paper of Lawyers Weekly

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The size of the Top 10 Jury Verdicts increased again in 2010.

The average increased less than the prior year, however, rising from nearly $145 million to just under $157 million. (The average for 2009 increased nearly $33 million from the prior year.)

The top award was significantly higher in 2010 – $505 million versus $370 million. But there then was a sharp drop: the No. 2 award was $208.8 million, and the No. 3 award was $152 million. In contrast, 2009 saw three awards in the $300 million range.

The year’s top verdict went to a Las Vegas principal who developed hepatitis C several weeks after undergoing a routine colonoscopy. During the procedure, he was given anesthesia from a 50 ml vial that had been reused from another patient.

The No. 2 award went to a California woman who developed mesothelioma from exposure to her husband’s asbestos-laced laundry, and three of the Top 10 were against tobacco companies.

Lawyers USA compiles the Top 10 Jury Verdicts each year, applying certain ground rules. First, verdicts must be to an individual plaintiff, defined as a single person, family or small group of individuals injured in a single incident who had their claims tried in one case before the same jury.

Second, we do not include business-against-business suits, class actions or consolidated cases. Finally, cases must have been defended – default verdicts and suits against incarcerated individuals are not included.

10. Tobacco plaintiff wins $80 million verdict. After eight straight defense verdicts in the individual tobacco litigation in Florida, the daughter of a smoker who died of lung cancer won a resounding $80 million verdict in November, including $72 million in punitive damages.

9. Jury delivers $82.5 million verdict in gas plant blast case. A Texas jury has handed down a verdict of more than $82 million against two natural gas plant companies after a worker in a rebuilt and refurbished plant was killed in an explosion.

8. $89 million in airplane crash case. In April of last year, a Pennsylvania jury handed down an $89 million verdict against the manufacturer of an airplane carburetor after a crash killed four people and severely injured a fifth.

7. Fla. jury awards $90.8 million to smoker’s widow. In April, a Florida jury awarded $90.8 million to the wife of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.

6. Law firm slammed with $103 million verdict for working against client. In October, a Mississippi jury hit the world’s largest law firm with a $103 million verdict in a suit alleging legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duties, conspiracy and interfering with business relationships.

5. Jury awards $124.5 million in passenger van crash. A Texas jury found a bus company and driver liable for $124.5 million to seven passengers injured or killed while riding in a van in a state where it was not licensed to operate.

4. Small firm lawyers win $132.5M in Ford rollover retrial. The third time was a charm for small-firm lawyers who won $132.5 million against Ford for a rollover accident that killed 22-year-old New York Mets prospect Brian Cole.

3. $152 million for estate of woman given free cigarettes as a child. A Massachusetts jury awarded $152 million to the son of a deceased woman who received free cigarettes as a child from representatives of tobacco company Lorillard.

2. Worker’s wife awarded $208.8 million for asbestos-laced laundry. In April 2010, 68-year-old Rhoda Evans won $208.8 million for the mesothelioma caused by asbestos contamination that her husband brought home from his job. The jury awarded $8.8 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages. The compensatory award was split 70/30 between the pipe maker and the employer, but the pipe maker alone was held responsible the entire punitive award.

1. Small firm wins $505.1 million verdict. Arguing that oversized vials of a drug were “weapons of mass infection” that led to an outbreak of Hepatitis C at outpatient surgical centers, Las Vegas plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Eglet convinced a jury that the manufacturer and its distributor should be punished with $500 million in punitive damages, in addition to $5.1 million in compensatory damages.

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