Potential Supreme Court Review of Another Punitive Damages Case

Much of the nation is understandably focused on the presidential election results, as well as the troubling rise in COVID-19 cases across the country. While questions of punitive damages are likely far from the minds of most everyone at the present, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a bid from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to review the $2.1 billion damages award rendered against it in favor of a group of women suing over alleged ovarian cancer risks.

As readers may recall, the initial verdict against J&J came in June 2018 for $4.7 billion, including $1.6 billion in punitive damages. Earlier this year, the Missouri Court of Appeals reduced the overall verdict from $4.7 billion to $2.1 billion, but left the $1.6 billion punitive damages award intact. J&J sought further review of the entire verdict in the Missouri Supreme Court, but the state’s highest court declined to take up J&J’s challenge. According to press reports, J&J intends to seek further review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The recent confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court was notable for a variety of issues, including partisan questions about abortion, presidential power, and the sanctity of precedent. But if questions about punitive damages were included in the Senate confirmation hearings (I confess I did not take time from work to watch all of the hearings), I missed them. Nevertheless, with Justice Barrett on the Supreme Court, there are now six conservative justices. If J&J does successfully petition the court to grant review of this verdict against it―including the $1.6 billion punitive damages award―it is likely that many in the legal field across the country, including those in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, will watch with great interest to see what, if anything, the court may say on this important topic. Stay tuned.

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