A federal judge in Florida has entered an $11.6 million judgment against a kratom distributor, Grow LLC (operating as the Kratom Distro), based in Oregon. The judgment comes in response to a case involving the death of Krystal Talavera, who passed away in 2021 after consuming kratom, an herbal supplement with opioid-like effects. The judge awarded $4.6 million in economic and $7 million in non-economic damages to Talavera’s family.
The family’s initial request for $20 million in non-economic damages was deemed excessive by the judge, who referred to past awards in cases such as tobacco-related lawsuits in Florida. Of the $7 million in non-economic damages, $2 million will be allocated to each of Talavera’s three minor children, and $1 million will go to her adult son.
What is kratom?
Kratom (Mitrogyna Speciosa), a tree native to Southeast Asia, possesses leaves that contain the psychoactive alkaloids mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine. Among the indigenous population of its home region, it holds a longstanding tradition of use by farmers and manual workers, who attribute increased productivity to its effects. In recent times, the plant’s leaves, often consumed as a tea, have gained popularity on a global scale, notably in the United States. Despite lacking international regulation, a common trait among ethnobotanical psychoactives, its legal status varies across regions and countries.
It can also be deadly. NPR says:
At low doses, users say it relieves pain, anxiety and symptoms of opioid withdrawal. But at higher doses, it can produce a euphoric state like an opioid and has been linked to its own addiction, seizures and death.
The Food and Drug Administration warns Americans not to use kratom, saying it stimulates the same brain receptors as morphine and could be addictive. But the agency doesn’t regulate the product or classify it as a drug, rather as a dietary supplement. That leaves consumers to guess at the makeup of the myriad powders, capsules and concentrates flooding the market and how to use them safely.
Florida laws on kratom
A new law concerning the sale and distribution of kratom went into effect on July 1, 2023, shortly before this lawsuit had been resolved.
(3) It is unlawful to sell, deliver, barter, furnish, or give, directly or indirectly, any kratom product to a person who is under 21 years of age.
(4) A violation of subsection (3) is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in . §775.082 or §775.083.
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About the case
This story is interesting on 2 fronts. First, a Federal Judge, not a jury, awarded $11.6M in a non-jury trial which took place in West Palm Beach Federal Court. Second, it is interesting that this Kratom Co. got hit for this from the supplement which it markets as an herbal supplement for pain. There is a rash of deaths resulting from this supplement.
The judgment is seen as a significant development in the kratom industry, with the family’s lawyer highlighting its potential to raise awareness about the dangers of the unregulated substance. The legal action aims to draw attention to the risks of kratom, which include abuse, addiction, and potentially fatal outcomes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously issued warnings about kratom due to its psychoactive compounds, some of which bind to opioid brain receptors, potentially leading to opioid-like effects. Kratom is known to carry risks similar to opioids, and the FDA has expressed concerns about its use and potential health hazards.
Talavera, a registered nurse, had ingested kratom, believing it to be a safe and natural supplement. Unfortunately, she passed away due to acute mitragynine intoxication, a psychoactive compound found in kratom that can cause opioid-like effects, including respiratory failure.
The Kratom Distro had initially defended itself in the lawsuit but later agreed to a default judgment due to financial constraints. The judgment serves as a reminder of the potential risks associated with unregulated supplements and substances.
Bench trials versus jury trials
The determination of whether a verdict in a legal case will be decided by a judge or a jury hinges on a range of factors, including the specific type of case, the jurisdiction in which it’s being heard, and the preferences of the parties involved. The choice between a judge or jury verdict is influenced by considerations such as the complexity of legal issues, the nature of the case, and the legal traditions of the jurisdiction. In instances where intricate legal matters, complex statutes, or technical intricacies are central, a judge may be better equipped to render a verdict due to their legal training and expertise. This is often referred to as a “bench trial.” Conversely, cases involving public interest or sensitive topics often lean towards jury trials. Juries, representing the community, provide diverse perspectives and contribute to fact determination, witness credibility assessment, and judgments based on common sense and community values. The choice between a judge or jury verdict involves a balance of considerations related to legal expertise, public perception, constitutional rights, and the role of checks and balances in the legal process.
The decision to have a bench trial for the kratom lawsuit was likely influenced by the complexity of legal and medical aspects inherent in the case. Given that the lawsuit revolved around the effects of kratom, the intricate medical and scientific considerations were best suited for evaluation by a judge with legal training. The need for interpreting regulations, statutes, and case law related to herbal supplements, opioids, and wrongful death further highlighted the role of a judge’s legal expertise in ensuring accurate assessment. Moreover, bench trials are often more efficient, focusing directly on core legal and medical issues without the complexities associated with jury selection and instructions. Expert witnesses who provided specialized testimony likely contributed to the preference for a judge’s ability to evaluate their credibility and relevance. Ultimately, the decision for a bench trial might have been agreed upon by the parties involved as the most suitable approach for navigating the nuanced legal and medical landscape of the case.
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Hickey Law Firm offers dedicated legal assistance for individuals or their loved ones who have suffered harm while using kratom. We know what questions to ask and what to do. And we listen. We have represented people whose loved ones have died for more than 25 years.
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Our experienced Miami personal injury lawyers handle complex cases related to harmful substances and are committed to seeking justice for those affected by kratom-related harm. We specialize in personal injury and wrongful death claims. We provide personalized attention, aiming to understand your case’s unique circumstances and build strong legal arguments. We fight for you, the seriously injured person, and we work to secure compensation for medical expenses and damages. With a history of handling cases involving dangerous products, our knowledgeable team is ready to provide support and guidance through a challenging legal process.
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