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Apple’s $1 Billion Verdict: “Justice” For Corporate America, but Not for Victims of Negligence

3 comments

Last week, in the culmination of a lawsuit that began in April of last year, a jury of nine determined that Samsung Electronics Company owed Apple Inc. just over $1 billion for infringing on various patents. While the verdict has been touted as a victory for the maker of the iconic iPod, iPhone, and iPad, both parties remain unsatisfied. Apple had been asking for more than twice as much in damages, and Samsung had countersued for over $500 million. The jury reached its conclusion remarkably quickly, resolving the complicated technical claims in less than 3 days of deliberation, but the case is far from over. With post-trial motions, appeals, and lawsuits in two other countries, we haven’t heard the last of the Apple v Samsung clash. If the verdict stands, however, Samsung will have to reach into its cash reserves, estimated to be between $18 billion and $24 billion, to pay off the claim.

The patents at issue in the case can be boiled down to some key design and software elements. The rectangular, keyless touchscreen shape of the devices and the “bounce-back” animation when scrolling to the end of a menu are two examples of disputed intellectual property. For this, the jury delivered a ten-figure award.

In Michigan, a victim of medical malpractice would almost certainly be denied the sort of justice that Apple received. Because of strict procedural requirements and the high costs of investigation, only meritorious claims with the most serious injuries will typically result in actual litigation. And even if a victim overcomes all the technicalities and persuades a jury that he or she has endured pain, suffering, limitation, humiliation, and disability as a result of a doctor’s carelessness, the noneconomic damages are capped. In other words, if a jury were to decide that a malpractice victim’s pain and suffering was worth $3 million, the judge would be required by law to reduce the amount to about $425,000 (in most cases, including those involving a death) or about $760,000 (under certain narrow exceptions).

Why do we trust in juries to resolve highly technical, multi-billion-dollar lawsuits between enormous transnational corporations, but undermine their ability to determine the value of a uniquely human aspect of damages – pain and suffering? The arbitrary damages caps were put in place by our legislature without regard to the nuances of individual cases, but knowing full well that insurance companies would benefit from limited financial exposure. As a result, corporations can receive the full measure of justice, but ordinary people are often left without reasonable and adequate compensation.

3 Comments

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  1. Jeff P. says:
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    Exactly how does an intellectual property infringement claim relate to a negligence claim? I think this jump in logic, which may appeal to those suffering from medical malpractice because of the “justice” of the $1 Billion jury award, only supports and amplifies the criticism against the litigation profession.

    If you truly feel these topics have relevant correlation, perhaps you could draw some logical similarities between stealing ideas for unearned business profit and negligence resulting in damage to health and well-being.

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    well Jeff P. the jump goes like this…there is vitually no regulation on the amount of money one corporation can sue another one and receive a full measure of damages but when a victim/survivor(person) of medical malpractice attempts to hold a corporation(hospital,doc professional corp) accountable even if a jury awards millions for pain and suffering say if a doctor instead of removing one kidney takes both or if a woman has both breasts removed based on a pathologist reading the wrong slides,the amount is reduced to an arbitrary cap amount lobbied for by corporate America…what i’m saying is its just NOT FAIR,kapish(think of it in terms of this happening to your wife or mom or sister or daughter) is 250K a full measure of damages for a young women sentenced to a lifetime of dialysis of a lifetime of disfigurement as the result of someone elses negligence? do U understand this Jeff?

  3. Jeff P. says:
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    Here’s what I understand- the limit to economic damages in the Apple vs. Samsung case were an ACTUAL 1.04 billion dollars. There was no “pain and suffering” added on. The only decision remaining for the judge was to determine whether the infringements were willful, which could potentially add damages, and I can see how some parallel can be drawn by the layman between those excess “willful infringement” penalties and “pain and suffering” damages. However, as a counselor of law, you certainly should understand that the purpose of business patents is to protect the value of intellectual property. When a patent violator earns money on the basis of those patents, then the law protects the patent holder by returning the revenues to their rightful owner.

    On a separate note, even if the tort system insists that monetary awards are an appropriate mode of compensation for emotional loss or suffering, perhaps a more just arrangement would be to limit the portion of those awards that can be appropriated to legal counsel. I think a good starting point would be $200,000 per plaintiff, in excess of actual expenses incurred. This way, the truism propogated by trial lawyers of “it’s never enough to compensate for loss” could be more amply satisfied by allowing the plaintiff to retain more of the “just amount” awarded by a judge or jury. If a family is awarded $10 million as compensation for “pain and suffering” following a tragic event, why should their attorney keep $3 million or more of it? Wasn’t that money supposed to compensate the family?

    Surely you can see the conflict of interest that exists in the current arrangement. An attorney seeks higher judgment awards in large part because that attorney stands to share in the award by up to 33% of the judgment amount. All too many attorneys see this as a “lottery ticket”, and it draws many to the profession. Limiting that attorney’s monetary share may reduce suits altogether, may reduce awards sought, or at the least, would allow successful plaintiffs to keep more of the award with which they are supposed to compensate themselves–not their counsel. I believe every laborer is worthy of his hire, and I also believe $200,000 is ample reward for assisting a plaintiff in reaching a favorable verdict.

    And, don’t talk down to me. Capisce?