• Biggest California verdicts continue to go to corporate plaintiffs Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    Attacks on the civil justice system often focus on “runaway juries” and “jackpot justice,” terms used to describe large, presumably unjustified, verdicts. Left unsaid in these attacks is that the largest verdicts today don’t go to individuals suing businesses. They typically go to businesses suing other businesses.

    The latest example comes from the legal newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, which on Feb. 13 published its review of the top verdicts in California in 2012. (The stories on the paper’s website are available only to subscribers.) Seven of the top eight plaintiffs’ verdicts by dollar amount involved corporate or government plaintiffs. This continues a trend; in 2011, seven of the nine largest verdicts in California went to corporate plaintiffs.

    Here’s a rundown of those big 2012 verdicts, with links to accounts from other publications:

    1) Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. A federal jury in San Jose awarded nearly $1.05 billion to Apple, upholding the majority of the computer giant’s claims that Samsung had infringed on its patents in designing smartphones and tablet computers. The verdict is being appealed.

    2) FDIC as Receiver for IndyMac Bank v. Van Dellen A federal jury in Los Angeles awarded $168 million in damages to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had seized IndyMac Bank when it collapsed. The verdict was against three former IndyMac executives found negligent in approving loans to homebuilders. But as the Daily Journal points out, “some significant complications remain in the case – including whether the $168 million can be paid.”

    3) Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare West The only one of these top verdicts involving an individual plaintiff saw a federal jury in Sacramento award $167 million to a physician’s assistant who was sexually harassed and retaliated against at the hospital where she worked and was fired. The verdict was later reduced to $82 million by the judge, and the two sides reached a confidential settlement for an undisclosed amount.

    4) Mformation Technologies Inc. v. Research in Motion Ltd. Another technology case that saw a jury in San Francisco federal court award $147 million to a software company that said the maker of BlackBerry smartphones had infringed on its patent. However, the judge wiped out the verdict shortly thereafter, and Mformation has appealed.

    5) Grail Semiconductor v. Mitsubishi This verdict by a state court jury in San Jose awarded $124 million to a semiconductor company in a breach of contract suit after the company alleged Mitsubishi had illegally used confidential information. But the court later vacated the damages award, and a new trial will be held to determine damages.

    6) Brocade Communications Systems Inc. v. A10 Networks Inc. Another case involving infringements of patents and copyrights saw a federal jury in San Jose award $112 million in damages. Last month a judge reduced the verdict to $60 million for some of the claims, with a new trial to be held to determine damages for other claims.

    7) Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Santa Fe Pacific Pipelines This case involving the value of pipeline easements on railroad right of way resulted in a verdict of just over $100 million in state court in Los Angeles.

    8) In Re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation A federal jury in San Francisco awarded $87 million in damages after finding Toshiba had been involved in a price-fixing conspiracy. The case was later settled for $30 million.

    The other lesson to be learned here, aside from the fact that the largest verdicts are typically awarded to corporate plaintiffs, is that the dollar amount that makes the headline in the immediate wake of the verdict is rarely the amount that actually changes hands.

    –J.G. Preston


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