In 2002, Igen International was awarded $505 million dollars from Roche Diagnostics for patent violations, with $404 million of those dollars being punitive damages.
Isn’t it interesting that many tort reformers want to see a $250k cap on awards for physical pain and suffering, but not for financial pain and suffering? Apparently, some tort reformers feel that awards into the millions aren't justified in the case of catastrophic injury or death, but are justified in cases of theft of intellectual property.
The Igen case presents an interesting demonstration of how big business - particularly the medical industry - wants to have it both ways: If an engineer at Roche diagnostics had designed a faulty product that paralyzed a child, Roche would be liable to that family for $250k in punitive damages - if proposed tort reform legislation were in effect. But if that engineer had stolen designs for that faulty product from Igen, they would be liable for $400+ million in punitive damages.
One of the core beliefs of our society, and our legal system is that no property is worth more than human life. But putting a cap on pain & suffering would subvert that principle and make human property more valuable than human life.
Big business never benefits from personal injury cases, but they often benefit from financial injury cases. In fact, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, financial injury cases are four times more likely to receive punitive damages than personal injury cases – that’s from a 1997 RAND group study. That same study also shows that the awards in financial injury cases are generally larger than those in personal injury cases. Perhaps most telling is that the majority of financial injury cases are brought by corporations, and not individuals.
Big business routinely calls juries "out of control" for awarding multimillion dollar verdicts to those who are catastrophically injured. Yet those same companies praise juries for awarding even larger verdicts when their bottom lines are catastrophically injured. It will be a sad day for America when a verdict for tortious interference with a contract is larger than a verdict for someone who was tortured by a badly designed product.
The next time you hear about a big corporation complaining about "runaway jury verdicts", why not ask them if they plan on refunding any awards they receive in excess of the $250k caps they argue for?