Nuclear Verdicts Surge to $14.5 Billion in 2023, Report Shows

By | June 3, 2024

Nuclear verdicts of at least $10 million reached a 15-year high in 2023, while 27 verdicts were “thermonuclear,” or more than $100 million, according to a new study by research firm Marathon Strategies.

The report, “Corporate Verdicts Go Thermonuclear,” found that the number of nuclear jury verdicts increased by 27% in 2023 compared to the prior year. In 2023, the median nuclear verdict rose to $44 million, up from $21 million in 2020.

Marathon’s research found that verdicts are increasingly influenced by shifts in jury pool demographics, driven by a rise of Millennial and Gen X voters. Marathon identified corporate mistrust, social pessimism, erosion of tort reform and public desensitization to large numbers are top factors to why nuclear verdicts have risen over the last decade and a half.

The report found 89 nuclear verdicts against companies in 2023, resulting in jury awards totaling $14.5 billion. The median verdict increased 7.3% from the previous year.

Product liability cases represented the largest share of nuclear verdicts at 38%, with much of the total driven by claims that Bayer AG’s weedkiller causes cancer. Nine-figure verdicts against car makers Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki Motor also drove that total.

Intellectual property claims made up the second-highest share of nuclear verdicts (23%), followed by wrongful death (13%) and antitrust (12%), according to the study.

The report found that cases in state courts represented $9.1 billion, or 62% of nuclear verdicts, compared to $5.5 billion, or 32%, in federal courts. The discrepancy is mostly due to the largest case category — product liability — going through state venues, the report said.

Show-Me The Money

Four states had total nuclear verdict sums more than $1 billion in 2023, led by Missouri with $4 billion. The report said that nearly all the nuclear verdicts in Missouri had been ordered by juries in the St. Louis County Court, a court known for awarding high punitive damages. Missouri allows plaintiffs’ attorneys to request a specific amount for damages.

Missouri was home to the two largest verdicts in 2023: a $1.8 billion antitrust case against the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and two brokerage firms, and a $1.5 billion Roundup case against Bayer AG/Monsanto, the report said. A judge recently slashed Bayer’s $1.5 billion verdict to $600 million.

Texas had the next-highest total of nuclear verdicts ($3.7 billion), followed by Pennsylvania ($1.2 billion) and Washington ($1.1 billion). Since 2009, Texas has led all states, with 207 nuclear verdicts totaling $45 billion.

Industries Most Impacted

Real estate management and development led all sectors with more than $2.7 billion in total verdicts, the report found. The majority of the total came from the $1.8 billion antitrust lawsuit against NAR and two brokerage firms. In March, NAR agreed to settle litigation over for $418 million.

“Besides its economic impact, the NAR verdict and settlement has pushed the real estate industry into ongoing public relations defense against the media as well as the Biden administration,” the report said.

Chemicals were the second-most impacted industry with $2 billion in total verdicts, followed by automobiles ($1.1 billion), oil and gas ($798 million), home furnishings ($787 million) and food, beverage and tobacco ($745 million).

Marathon’s findings were compiled using verdict and settlement data from LexisNexis, the National Law Review, various state and federal court records databases, legal journals, white papers, and media reports, among other sources.

Topics Trends Missouri

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