Texas juries award 2 of 2001's largest verdicts
Texas juries awarded some of the largest verdicts in the country last year, according to an annual survey by legal newspaper Lawyers Weekly.

A Fort Worth jury rendered the fourth-largest verdict in 2001, awarding $312.8 million to the family of a patient who died from severe bedsores and malnourishment while living at a nursing home owned by Horizon/CMS Healthcare.

The verdict was exceeded only by a $3 billion award against Philip Morris Cos. for the death of a smoker who had once been addicted to heroin, a $1 billion Louisiana verdict against Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) for radioactive contamination of land owned by a retired judge and a $480 million verdict following the crash of a private airplane in Florida Â* the largest verdict in aviation history.

A jury in Laredo came in eighth with a $108 million award to Mexican heiress Cristina Brittingham in an inheritance lawsuit against her stepmother for failing to repay a $34 million loan. A motion for a new trial was granted in November.

Lawyers Weekly said the 10 largest U.S. jury awards to individuals and families totaled $5.7 billion last year, more than double the previous year's total.

Juries in California, Florida, New York and Texas each handed down two of the top 10 verdicts. One was awarded by a jury in Virginia and one by a jury in Louisiana. Only one of the 10 was awarded after Sept. 11.

For the most part, the top 10 verdicts were more conventional than those in recent years, the newspaper said. Among them were three personal injury and product liability cases, three medical malpractice verdicts, one environmental contamination dispute, an intellectual property case, one inheritance case and a real estate dispute.

This is in marked contrast to the previous year's top 10, which were dominated by murderers, rapists and drug dealers Â* and topped off by a former Playmate of the Year, the article said.

Gone, too, were the purely symbolic verdicts that made up a third of the 2000 list. While five cases in 2000 were tried without any defense, there were no such cases in 2001. And while three of the previous year's top verdicts were awarded by juries who knew the defendants had no money to pay the awards, all but one of the verdicts in 2001 were substantially collectible.

Also in 2001, only half of the verdicts included punitive damages, compared to 80 percent of the verdicts over the four years.

The newspaper added that few of these verdicts survive as the jury awarded them because the vast majority either settle or are reduced substantially.

In the Fort Worth case, two mega-verdicts were awarded against the same nursing home in 2001. Both involved patients who died of malnutrition and bedsores and both were tried before Texas juries.

Yet one jury awarded $312.8 million (including $310 million in punitive damages), while the other awarded $82 million (including $75 million in punitive damages). The larger verdict eventually settled for $20 million, while the smaller one was reduced to $20 million based on a high/low agreement. Web site: http://www.lawyersweekly.com.

Copyright 2002 American City Business Journals Inc