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April 17th, 2013

Las Vegas Editorial Condemns Clark County’s ‘Lawsuit Lottery’

Nevada’s leading newspaper has condemned the latest absurd verdict and half-billion dollar award for punitive damages in a string of deep pocket-targeting cases that has helped make Clark County courts look more and more like Las Vegas casinos.

In an editorial today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal declared Sin City to be “the undisputed jackpot justice capital of the world.”

Judicial Hellholes readers will remember the first of these cases back in 2010, when an innocent drug manufacturer and distributor where held liable for the criminally unsanitary procedures at an endoscopy clinic to the tune of, what a coincidence, a half-billion dollars.

“On Tuesday, [another] Clark County District Court jury slapped local insurer Health Plan of Nevada (HPN) with $500 million in punitive damages for its nonexistent role in the spread of hepatitis C at Dipak Desai’s endoscopy clinic six years ago,” the R-V editorial declares.  “The breathtaking stupidity of this verdict would be comical if it didn’t have such costly ramifications for every resident of this valley.”

“The case is part of the ongoing shakedown of every entity that did business with Desai. He knowingly engaged in disgustingly unsafe infection control practices to save a few bucks, sickening several of his patients and forcing tens of thousands more to be tested for blood-borne diseases. But Desai’s pockets are only so deep, and whatever wealth he amassed has been spent delaying his criminal trials, which may or may not finally start this year.

” . . . It’s easy to mock jurors who are willing to award such enormous sums to so few parties, fantastical numbers that have no nexus to actual, economic damages. The jurors clearly have no idea they’ve voted to make health care even more unaffordable for themselves and everyone in this community, that they’ve declared all health insurers are now liable for the malpractice of physicians and health care providers.

“But the jurors are obligated to base their decision only on what they hear in the courtroom. And in the HPN case, . . . District Judge Timothy C. Williams barred the jury from hearing . . . evidence that showed how insurers rely on numerous private and government regulatory” agencies’ credentialing and licensing of clinics like Desai’s.  Neither were jurors told that “other juries had determined the drug companies were at fault.”

Judge Williams let plaintiff lawyers Robert Eglet and Will Kemp “to build a case around the demonization of health insurers, which are about as popular with the public as, well, lawyers.

“Desai’s despicable behavior was a black eye for the medical community. But the trial bar’s response, and the judiciary’s eagerness to enable lawsuit lotteries, has been just as embarrassing for this valley. It’s a warning to businesses everywhere: You won’t get a fair shake in the Nevada justice system — not even close.  . . . [T]he casinos offer fair play. But the courts are rigged.

“If these verdicts don’t persuade the Legislature to enact major tort reform, with hard caps on punitive damages, nothing will,” the R-V editorial concludes.

Well said.

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