Appellate nirvana

Ever since I’ve been licensed, I’ve never understood the infatuation with garishly-large jury verdicts. Trial lawyers seem to bray about and tout them as a measure of the validity of the plaintiff’s claims, ignoring that such victories are illusory until confirmed upon appeal, where the arbiters are less easily swayed by factors unrelated to the law and merits of the case.

The only jury verdict I’ve ever considered worth bragging about is Joe Jamail’s $10.53 billion jury award ($7.53 billion in actual damages and $3 billion in punitive damages) on behalf of Pennzoil against Texaco, because it is the only one of such magnitude of which I am aware that was largely upheld on appeal (the trial court’s $3 billion punitive award was reduced to $1 billion). See Texaco, Inc. v. Pennzoil Co., 729 S.W.2d 768, 774, 866 (Tex. App.–Houst. [1st Dist.] 1987, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

Today, the sister court of the Houston appellate court that upheld the Pennzoil verdict smote down another large jury verdict initially touted as a huge win for the plaintiff.

In 2005, a Texas jury awarded a Vioxx plaintiff $24.5 million for mental anguish and economic losses and $229 million in punitive damages, in total, over a quarter-billion dollar verdict.

Whoopee.

Texas’s punitive damage caps automatically lowered the punitive award from $229 million to $26.1 million–quickly lopping off some $200 million of the jury’s award.

Well today, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals ended all the jubilation that may have existed over the once mighty jury verdict, reversing same and rendering judgment that the plaintiff take nothing on legal sufficiency grounds.

From a quarter billion to zero.

Thx to How Appealing, WSJ Law Blog, and the Texas Appellate Law Blog

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