Last week, an Oakland County, California jury ruled in favor of the defendants in a wrongful death case involving synthetic marijuana. The Estate of John Anthony Sdao filed suit against Yassmine Wholesalers, the distributor of the substance, and a local gas station after Sdao, 20, committed suicide after smoking K2, a brand of synthetic marijuana. The sale of synthetic marijuana was legal at the time of the event, but it has now been banned by California law. The plaintiff presented evidence at trial of numerous other suicides which allegedly occurred as a result of using the substance. Apparently, the jury didn’t buy it under the facts of this case.
We here at Abnormal Use have not seen the verdict form nor are we aware of the full scope of evidence presented at trial. Lee Ann Rutila, who represented Yassmine, had this to say about the result:
We were pleased with the result, and I guess we’re not surprised. . . . They were basically unable to say that the suicide really wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It could have happened with or without the K2. They couldn’t put that as being the contributing factor.
It always appeared that the suicide was unrelated to the product, and that’s been our defense all along, and that’s why I believe the jury came to the conclusions they came to.
The plaintiff apparently plans to appeal the verdict. However, the reports are not clear as to the grounds of any such appeal.
The case of synthetic marijuana is an interesting one. In the shadow of Four Loko, it is difficult to gauge how a jury may handle a product which, while legal at the time of the injury, has been banned by the time of trial. In this case, the personal accountability of the decedent apparently also played a role in the jury’s decision. Proving that it was the product, and not the decedent’s own tendencies, that caused the suicide is a difficult burden to bear.
Despite the result in this trial, we expect to see more of these synthetic marijuana cases in the future. We will be sure to keep you posted.