A St. Louis jury ordered the distributor and local seller of Whip-It! nitrous oxide cartridges to pay a whopping $745 million for their “deliberate disregard” of public safety by selling the food-prep product to a young driver who inhaled the contents, got behind the wheel of a car and killed 25-year-old Marissa Politte.
Politte, a radiology technician, was killed when 20-year-old Trenton Geiger passed out while driving. After the accident, police discovered that Geiger had been abusing Whip-It! nitrous oxide behind the wheel, then threw some of the used containers into the woods where it was recovered by investigators. Whip-It! nitrous oxide chargers (also known as “whippets”) are small steel canisters used with whipped cream dispensers for food preparation. However, the evidence presented at trial showed that Whip-It! chargers are often used as inhalants — which can cause addiction and brain damage.
Politte’s parents brought a wrongful death lawsuit against United Brands Products Design Development and Marketing, Inc., an international distributor of Whip-It!, for allegedly exploiting the illicit market for nitrous oxide by selling the product to retailers far outside the food business, such as tobacco stores and head shops.
The jury found United Brands Products Design Development and Marketing, Inc. and Coughing Cardinal, LLC, a St. Louis head shop, conspired to sell the product to Geiger.
At trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs introduced the testimony of a former United Brands warehouse employee who estimated 75% of the company’s product went to smoke shops and that marketing campaigns specifically targeted young people at concerts and parties.
At the close of the case on Friday, the defendants each moved for a directed verdict in their favor. The court denied both motions, thereby clearing the way for the jury to assess the massive damages against the losing litigants.
Of the $745 million judgment, $20 million represented compensatory damages, while $700 million was assessed in punitive damages against United Brands and another $25 million in punitive damages against Coughing Cardinal.
Johnny M. Simon, attorney for the Politte family, reacted to the verdict in a statement Sunday:
We hope that her life is memorialized through this verdict, and no family will ever have to live with the pain that the Politte family has lived with and will live with forever. We thank the jurors for their dedication and service and look forward to the day when nitrous oxide is off the shelves of smoke and head shops.
Geiger, now 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia, and evidence tampering. He was sentenced to two years in prison for each count.
Attorneys for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
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Whip-It! seller to pay $745 million in Marissa Politte death
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