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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Be Careful Out There – $ 500 Million Punitive Damages Award Against United Health

"Let’s be careful out there." Famous advice that ended the squad room meeting of police officers shown on many episodes of Hill Street Blues, a great series from my law school days, and filmed in Chicago. (More nostalgia – in our 3rd year, our unfair trade class was an evening class with an ending time that ran up against the starting time for new episodes of Hill Street Blues. The professor wisely altered the class schedule so that those who were so inclined could race over to the Palmer House bar to see the latest episode. Most of us went, watched and had a beer while enjoying the sparks between Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport.)

Those first 5 words also are good advice for trial lawyers for corporations, especially in health care it seems. At least that’s one inference one can draw from a Nevada jury awarding a total of $ 500 million in punitive damages against health practices found liable for a doctor transmitting hepatitis C to patients via sloppy but revenue generating procedures.

UnitedHealthGroup no doubt will appeal and may obtain some relief – current lore of course is that punitive awards should not be more than 10x of compensatory damages. Here, the jury awarded $ 24 million of compensatory damages, and more or less split the punitive damages award between two defendants.

Regardless of the appeal, however, awards like that warrant going back to the first 5 words.

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