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The gift-giving season lasted throughout 2002 as jurors handed out generous awards in case after case. In October alone, a Los Angeles jury decided that Philip Morris Inc. should pay $28 billion to a dying smoker, and a Kentucky jury determined that Equitable Resources Inc. owed $271 million to a burn victim. And while megaverdicts are often reversed or reduced on appeal, some have survived, like a record $290 million punitive damages award against the Ford Motor Company that recently passed muster with the California Supreme Court. Why were juries so eager to play Santa? “I think that as the amounts keep getting bigger and bigger, the public becomes desensitized to these large amounts,” says Theodore Boutros of Los Angeles’s Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who is defending Ford in the $290 million personal injury case. “It’s a game-show mentality. Courts and juries lose the focus that this is real money.” Business lobbyists agree that awards are skyrocketing because jurors have become numb to high numbers — and they want to sock it to big business. “I think, number one, [jurors] are angry. And, number two, the numbers don’t seem as big as they used to,” says Michael Hotra, director of legislation and communications for the American Tort Reform Association. “We’ve just come though the Internet bubble that [turned] millionaires [into] billionaires. The only way that jurors feel they can have an effect is to return an equally large verdict.” Plaintiffs attorneys, not surprisingly, don’t see anything wrong with the recent string of huge awards. Gary Johnson, who helped the Kentucky burn victim win $271 million against Equitable Resources, ar-gues that jurors know best. “These juries are saying, ‘Enough is enough, corporate America. It’s time to be accountable.’”

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