Biggest Verdict in Nevada History – Perhaps a Case of Misplaced Anger?

A Nevada jury on May 7 handed down what is reportedly the largest punitive damages award in the state’s history and, as the Plaintiff’s lawyer announced at a subsequent press conference, the “largest verdict in Nevada history, period.” The jury awarded $500 million in punitive damages to the Plaintiff, 62, who reportedly contracted hepatitis C because nurse anesthetists assisting with the Plaintiff’s colonoscopy reused between various patients vials of anesthetic, which had become contaminated by syringes that nurses had reused among patients with hepatitis C. Who got hit with the $500 million dollar verdict? The maker of the anesthetic!

Darren McKinney, spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association, reportedly called the verdict “insane.” He said that “to suggest that drugmakers can be held liable for the unhygienic use of a drug is obscene. They went after drug companies because they knew they had the deep pockets.”

The Plaintiff’s theories of liability against the makers of the drug reportedly were: (1) that the drug packaging did not include appropriate warnings against reusing vials between patients; and (2) that 50-milliliter vials of the anesthetic should not have been sold to endoscopy centers because “they tempted nurses to reuse the vials instead of throwing away leftover sedative.” Of note, nurse anesthetists, like those who could not withstand the temptations presented by drug manufacturers here, are trained specialists in the administration of anesthesia and for whom the median annual salary in 2009 was $157,724.00. The doctor and nurses who performed the Plaintiff’s colonoscopy, however, reportedly settled their malpractice claims prior to trial.

Whatever the theory of liability relied upon, it certainly appears as though something inflamed the jury. One possible explanation may be the actions of one of the defendant’s representatives during the trial itself. Reportedly, the jurors were “miffed nobody from the Israel-based [company] attended the trial, and they universally ridiculed” the United States-based company executive who testified about the drug and its uses. The jury forewoman reportedly said of the witness: “Mr. Lea did not impress us. What he said, what he didn’t say, all that stammering. The defendants need to get more aggressive if they want to win some of these cases.”

Both defendants, including the Israel-based Teva Pharmeceutical Industries, have said they will appeal the verdict.

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