A total of 89 lawsuits against US corporate defendants resulted in a “nuclear verdict” award last year, the largest number of cases research experts Marathon Strategies has identified in a single year since 2009.

Nuclear verdicts of at least £7.9m ($10m) reached a 15-year high in 2023, while 27 verdicts were “thermonuclear,” or more than £79m ($100m), according to the new study by Marathon Strategies.

Nearly 50 unique industries faced cases last year, including chemicals, automobiles, home furnishings, internet services, and electric utilities. A nuclear verdict can cost companies tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, but the reputational impact of headline-grabbing awards can be catastrophic.

Marathon identified corporate mistrust, social pessimism, erosion of tort reform and public desensitisation are top factors to explain why nuclear verdicts have risen. The cases in the US ranged from rapper Flo Rida’s £65m ($82m) breach of contract case against an energy drink company to a nearly £798m ($1 billion) sports car liability award against Mitsubishi.

Mark Dutton, director W Denis has warned businesses need to be aware of the need for sufficient product liability insurance. He explained: “It doesn’t just affect businesses situated within and selling products inside North America. Businesses from elsewhere in the world are also exposed if they export products to North America.

“This continued rising level of damages awards means that businesses selling products to North American buyers need to keep evaluating the sufficiency of their Product Liability Insurance limits. We can arrange very high insurance limits where needed.” 

The Marathon report, “Corporate Verdicts Go Thermonuclear,” found verdicts are increasingly influenced by shifts in jury pool demographics, driven by a rise of Millennial and Gen X voters.

Product liability cases represented the largest share of US nuclear verdicts at 38%, with much of the total driven by claims that Bayer AG’s weedkiller causes cancer. Nine-figure verdicts against car makers Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki Motor also drove that total.

Intellectual property claims made up the second-highest share of nuclear verdicts (23%), followed by wrongful death (13%) and antitrust (12%), according to the study.

W Denis has a long history in arranging Product Liability Insurance for all types of organisations from start-ups, to global public companies. For a quotation please contact mark.dutton@wdenis.co.uk or arrange an appointment via Daniel.moss@wdenis.co.uk.

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Mark Dutton

Executive Director / Group Head of Broking & Business Development

T. +44 (0) 7831 366 469

E. mark.dutton@wdenis.co.uk

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