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Jury awards about $130M in damages in case against Real Water

Updated February 7, 2024 - 7:50 pm

A Las Vegas jury awarded about $130 million in damages on Tuesday to five people who sued Real Water after the company’s product made them sick.

“We hope that this sends a message to other food and water manufacturers to take more safeguards with their product,” said attorney Will Kemp, one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs at trial.

The verdict marked the second case in which a jury awarded a nine-figure sum to plaintiffs who sued the bottled water company.

The water, which contained a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel, was tied to an outbreak of liver illnesses and at least one death.

According to the lawsuit that led to Tuesday’s verdict, the bottled water was marketed as “alkalized water infused with negative ions” and claimed to be “the healthiest drinking water available.”

Myles Hunwardsen, the lead plaintiff in the case, was diagnosed with acute liver failure and had to receive a liver transplant.

The jury awarded about $30 million in compensatory damages, as well as $100 million in punitive damages.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had asked for about $1 billion in punitive damages.

Other defendants in the lawsuit, including Whole Foods Market, Costco Wholesale and the testing meter companies Hanna Instruments and Milwaukee Instruments, reached confidential settlements before trial. Kemp said Terrible Herbst, which also was a defendant, reached a settlement during the trial.

The lawsuit alleged that Hunwardsen purchased Real Water from Whole Foods and Terrible Herbst.

Illnesses linked to the water were traced back to November 2018, 10 months before Hunwardsen was diagnosed with liver failure and flown to UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital for a liver transplant.

The damages the jury awarded to Hunwardsen included $14 million for his reduced life expectancy.

The four other plaintiffs — Jazmin Schaffer, Tina Hartshorn, Miriam Brody and Christina Sosa — each were awarded more than $1 million in compensatory damages

In October, a jury awarded more than $228 million in total damages in a separate lawsuit filed against the Las Vegas-based company.

Plaintiffs in that case included the families of a 69-year-old woman who died from liver failure and a 7-month-old boy hospitalized with severe liver failure.

Kemp said he is representing 63 plaintiffs in more than a dozen lawsuits against Real Water. The company has been investigated by the Southern Nevada Health District and the Food and Drug Administration, which pulled the product from shelves.

The lawsuit that went to trial in October also alleged that the company hired unqualified employees to manage water testing.

Before the jury deliberated over punitive damages on Tuesday, attorney Theodore Parker argued that the company failed to run proper tests on the water to detect hydrazine, a chemical used in rocket fuel.

He said Real Water showed a “complete and deliberate disregard for every safety flag.”

“You have to consider what can you do to ensure that others, as well as Real Water in the future, does not engage in the type of conduct that we’ve seen throughout this trial,” Parker told the jury.

Attorney Joel Odou, who represented Real Water, admitted that the company was negligent, but he argued that the company did not know that hydrazine was in the water and did not know to test for it.

“This isn’t somebody doing something intentional. This is somebody doing something recklessly,” Odou said.

Odou declined to comment on the case following Tuesday’s verdict.

The next jury trial for one of the Real Water lawsuits is set to begin in May, Kemp said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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