Editor’s Choice: Jury Awards Edition
- Jury awards parents $74 million for baby born with cerebral palsy
A California couple won $74 million in a jury trial against their doctor for negligence during the delivery that caused the baby to develop cerebral palsy.
Andrew and Jennifer Blunt gave birth to Sofia on April 19, 2009 with Dr. Kurt Haupt overseeing the delivery. Both sides agreed that the lack of oxygen to Sofia’s brain caused her to develop cerebral palsy.
During the medical malpractice trial, the couple’s attorney, Nicholas Rowley, argued that the baby’s heart rate fluctuated wildly and that the doctor should have responded by speeding up the delivery or properly checking umbilical cord blood.
The doctor’s lawyer, Peter Bertling, contended that the reason the baby lacked oxygen was that mucus blocked her airway – not an irregular heart rate. He said his client had practiced for 34 years and would appeal the judgment.
After awarding $74 million to the family mostly to cover medical costs for the rest of Sofia’s life, jurors said it was an emotional case but they made their decision based on the evidence.
“Nobody wants to make someone pay for no reason. This was a life-changing event,” said the jury’s forewoman.
Sofia’s father said that they sued to make sure Sofia would be taken care of even after he and his wife were no longer alive. He also said the lawsuit gave them answers that they weren’t getting from the hospital on their own.
“Nobody was telling us anything when we first started this process. If we didn’t do this, we never would have had justice,” Andrew Blunt said.
Sofia, who turned three years old a day before the jury reached its verdict, appeared at court in a stroller with a harness.
Lawyers involved in the case said the verdict is likely to be reduced.
- Couple wins $13.8 million for lies posted about them on the Internet
A Texas couple accused of being sexual deviants, rapists and drug dealers by anonymous postings on an Internet site won a $13.8 million jury award for defamation.
Mark and Rhonda Lesher sued the the anonymous posters who wrote the accusations on Topix.com, an online local forum. Mark, a 63-year-old attorney, and Rhonda, a 50 year-old hair dresser, said they were forced to move out of town and sell Rhonda’s salon and day spa.
When they filed the lawsuit, they did not know the identity of the posters so they had to subpoena Topix to get their names. A judge ordered the Internet site to hand over IP addresses leading to Shannon Coyel, her husband and brother-in-law. Back in 2008, Coyel had accused the couple of sexual assault in a criminal case.
The Leshers were acquitted of all charges in the criminal case after a trial in 2009. But even before the trial, more than 25,000 comments flooded the Internet, the worst of which accused the Leshers of murder, encouraging pedophilia and drug dealing.
The couple’s attorneys, William Peiratt Demond and Meagan Hassan, called the defamation verdict a victory for all.
“This victory does more than just help clear the Leshers‘ names; it evidences the pricelessness of our reputations, the fundamental importance of free speech, and the relationship of each to the other,” the attorneys said.
Privacy law professor Ryan Calo said the large verdict could stop people from posting comments online even if they are true.
“Everybody knows people say crazy things on the Internet, especially when they do it anonymously…. If the award is upheld, then people will think twice about what they say,” Calo said.
- Bus driver beaten by police awarded $6 million for racial profiling
A Los Angeles bus driver won $6 million from a jury who found that police racially profiled him by stopping him, beating and kicking him in the face until his eye socket broke.
Deon Dirk, a 33 year-old school bus driver had just left a store in Compton when he was pulled over for speeding. When two deputies, Robert Martinez and Pablo Partida, told him to get out of the car, he asked why and told them the driver’s side door of his mother’s Buick was jammed. When he got out, one of the deputies forced Dirk’s arm behind his back, pepper sprayed him, then punched him the head. They then continued to attack him, kneeing him in the face and slamming his head on the pavement.
Dirk was thrown in jail for five days and charged with assaulting the deputies and resisting arrest, but at the criminal trial a jury was deadlocked and the prosecutor then dismissed all charges against him.
Dirk who risked losing sight in his left eye and lost his certification to drive a school bus as a result of the charges, sued the county for racial profiling, excessive force, violating his civil rights and filing false statement in the criminal case.
After a three-day trial in federal court, a jury awarded Dirk $6 million.
The Sheriff’s department called the verdict excessive and claimed the use of force was appropriate.
But Dirk didn’t think the verdict was excessive. “They’re not the ones who took a beating, or were falsely accused, and lost their job, and couldn’t provide for their kids,” he said.
In fact, according to Dirk’s attorney, Glen Jonas, one of the deputies got promoted to sergeant after the incident.
“They committed crimes. Serious felonies. Federal crimes. And what does the Sheriff’s department do? They promote them. It’s disgusting,” said Jonas.
- Woman wins at least $4 million against menopause drug maker
A 66 year-old Connecticut woman won a jury award of $4 million against the maker of hormone therapy drug Prempro for causing her to develop breast cancer.
Margaret Fraser, an elementary school principal in Connecticut, took Prempro to treat menopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.
Prempro is a combination of estrogen-based Premarin, made by Pfizer’s Wyeth unit, and progestin-based Provera, manufactured by Pfizer’s Upjohn unit.
Over 6 million women took Prempro until a 2002 government study by the Women’s Health Initiative showed links to breast cancer.
According to Fraser’s attorney, Greg Bubalo, the jury found the drug was an “unreasonably dangerous product” and the company failed to warn patients about its risks.
The jury also said Pfizer should be punished with additional damages, to be decided by the trial judge.
“The jury found Wyeth’s conduct was so extreme that it warranted an award of punitive damages,” said Neal Moskow, another attorney for Fraser.