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Report: Louisiana had $436M in nuclear verdicts in 2023

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(The Center Square) – A recently-released report says Louisiana courts awarded $436 million in “nuclear verdicts” that exceed $10 million.

The report by Marathon Strategies found that the number of these verdicts increased by 27% in 2023 and the median verdict value rose to $44 million from a low of $21 million in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report says most of these verdicts – which were mostly against pharmaceutical, oil and gas and trucking companies – were in state courts, where $409 million was awarded, with $27.7 million in Louisiana federal courts.

Earlier this year, reports by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found the gross product lost to excessive tort litigation in Louisiana is about $5.17 billion each year, with $3.54 billion in direct costs.

Several reform bills, including one that would provide transparency for third-party financing for lawsuits, are stalled in the Louisiana Senate.

According to the report, 89 lawsuits nationally against a corporate defendant resulted in a “nuclear verdict” of at least $10 million, while 27 were what the report termed “thermonuclear” with an award of $100 million or more. The reports say it is the largest number of cases Marathon has identified in a year since 2009. While many of these involve a much lower settlement, compliance costs are often passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices for goods and services.

Those verdicts added up to $14.5 billion, with most of those verdicts coming in product liability cases (38%), while those concerning intellectual property declined by 43% from normal according to the report.

Phil Singer, the founder and CEO of Marathon Strategies, told The Center Square that while he’s not a policy expert, some of the ways that state legislatures can reduce these verdicts is through tort reforms such as damage caps and transparency through third-party financing.

One of the positive effects of such reforms is the reduction in the number of “nuclear” verdicts in states that enact reform. Florida dropped from second worst with “nuclear verdicts” from 2009 to 2022 to seventh in 2023.

“I think one of the interesting elements of this is there are a number of states that have passed legislation or have proposals on the table to either increase transparency and things like third-party litigation financing, you know, put caps on damages, either in, in general or in certain sectors like trucking,” Singer said, mentioning Iowa’s liability cap for trucking companies.

Singer said trial attorneys use several tactics to increase jury awards, including the “reptile theory” in which plaintiff attorneys appeal to the emotions of jurors and “anchoring,” where a large award is suggested by attorneys to anchor it in the minds of jurors.

The report used an analysis of verdict and settlement data from LexisNexis, the National Law Review, state and federal court databases, legal journals, white papers and media reports.