Nuclear Verdicts

case full of dollar

Have you heard the term “nuclear verdicts” before? What about plaintiffs’ injury lawyers referred to as “greedy injury lawyers” or “ambulance chasers?”

These are both examples of how interest groups try to craft a narrative about the American civil justice system. Much like the ubiquitous political ads we were recently bombarded with, the people making these statements have an angle. No one should accept these “assessments” at face value.

An Example

One need only look at a recent verdict against a company called Sterigenics and its predecessor and successor companies. A jury in Cook County, Illinois returned the verdict in favor of a woman who contracted breast cancer as a result of the release of ethylene oxide gas (EtO). While she recovered and survived, the verdict came in at a jaw-dropping $363 million ($38 M compensatory and $325M punitive, for “punishment”).

Another great example was the infamous McDonald’s “Hot Coffee” verdict. There, a woman was burned severely by hot coffee she held in her lap. While the defense industry painted this as a ridiculous result, the facts showed that McDonald’s knew its coffee was too hot, would burn people, and that it was foreseeable that people would put a cup in their lap to take the top off, among other things.

Why would a jury return such an enormous verdict for a person who is still alive and functioning?

Because it was angry. Outraged. Infuriated.

What would be the source of such outrage and anger? The plaintiff’s attorneys proved to the jury that the companies running the plant, which used EtO to sterilize medical equipment, knew for many years that the gas was carcinogenic and deadly.

Despite this knowledge, they still used it. For three and a half DECADES more, AFTER it knew of the huge risk of cancer for people living near the plant.

Spare Me Your Outrage

Is the amount a ridiculously high number? Sure is.

Is it out of line considering how outrageous it is that a company knowingly polluted the air for over thirty years despite knowing of the dire and dangerous effects? Not from my vantage point.

In fact, the entire reason I became a plaintiffs’ lawyer is because I want to hold corporations, insurance companies and their insureds, and other bad actors (“tortfeasors”) accountable for their bad actions.

What have the folks on the other side of verdicts like this said? Much of what they’ve always said. They claim it is all about plaintiffs’ lawyers trying to hit the jackpot. They use language like “nuclear verdicts,” “greedy trial lawyers,” and similar verbiage to skew perception.

Instead of cleaning up their act, they attack the verdicts, the attorneys, and the plaintiffs.

The System Works

A case like the Sterigenics one (and there are nearly a thousand more cases involving illnesses caused by the gases emitted by this plant waiting for trial) did not settle quickly or easily. There was never a reasonable attempt by the defendants to take responsibility and pay the plaintiff for her pain and suffering, loss of a normal life, or other damages sustained.

Just to get to trial took four long years.


Because the typical playbook followed by so many defendants, insurance companies, and defense lawyers is to “delay, deny, and don’t pay” (to quote an apocryphal motto of one defense firm in Chicago).

Foot-dragging and denial makes it worse and infuriates jurors.

Could the Sterigenics verdict be a turning point in how such cases are handled? We shall see. But the sting of this one was intended to hurt a company that deliberately put profits over peoples’ health and lives. At least that appears to be the message sent by the jury.


  • Nuclear verdicts are deemed to be “out of control,” but actually reflect the mood of angry jurors
  • Interest groups have an agenda and attempt to paint certain opponents as unethical or out of line
  • Learn the facts from neutral sources before arriving at an opinion about the latest large injury verdict

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury, medical malpractice, or other injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.

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