Fall 2023

Billion Dollar Verdicts from Liability Cases

Over time, jury verdicts have steadily risen. According to a June 2020 research paper published by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), entitled “The Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry,” the average size of verdicts from 2010 to 2018 increased from just over $2.3M to just under $23M – an increase of nearly 1000%. However, since COVID-19, jury verdicts have appeared to increase rapidly.  In 2021, there were at least 11 auto liability settlements of $15 million or more and three with verdicts that have exceeded $100 million.  As such, taking a case to trial has presented significantly more risk for the carriers involved. One example of such an extraordinary verdict occurred recently in Philadelphia, PA: Francis Amagasu v. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.

Francis Amagasu (“Plaintiff”) was driving his 1992 Mitsubishi 3000GT in Buckingham Township, PA, on November 11. 2017, and when he tried to avoid another vehicle on the road his car rolled over. Though Plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt, it was one made with a so-called “rip-stitch” design, in which the belt rips apart to, in theory, better manage the forces in a crash. The plaintiff argued the seatbelt intentionally tears apart and becomes four inches longer, making it easier for the driver to move around. As a result, the plaintiff’s head was pressed into the car’s roof, and he broke his neck.

On November 20, 2018, Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Mitsubishi and various automobile dealers involved. In short, Plaintiff alleged that Mitsubishi failed to conduct proper tests on its seatbelt system, and the company was reckless in its design of the 3000GT vehicle. Unable to resolve the matter via settlement, this case recently went to trial. On October 31, 2023, the jury determined that Mitsubishi was strictly liable for a defective product and failure to warn. However, the most shocking part was the verdict. The plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $156,488,384.01. His wife was awarded $20,000,000.00 in damages for Loss of Consortium. Lastly, punitive damages in the amount of $800,000,000.00 were awarded to the plaintiffs against Mitsubishi.  In total, the judgment amounted to $976,488,384.01 (almost 1 billion dollars).

Since the verdict, Mitsubishi has stated its intent to appeal the decision and referenced its multiple safety awards for its vehicles.

It definitely is a scary time to insure manufacturers of automobiles. Please remain vigilant.

Written by associate Michael Divver.