LAS VEGAS — A Nevada jury has awarded about $130 million in damages in a lawsuit filed by five people who suffered liver damage after drinking bottled water marketed by a Las Vegas-based company before the product was recalled from store shelves in 2021.
The Clark County District Court jury awarded more than $30 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs including Myles Hunwardsen, a Henderson man who underwent a liver transplant at age 29. The jury levied another $100 million in punitive damages.
The verdict reached Tuesday was the second large-sum award in a negligence and product liability case involving AffinityLifestyles.com Inc. and its Real Water brand, which was sold in distinctive boxy blue bottles as premium treated “alkalized” drinking water with healthy detoxifying properties.
In October, a state court jury awarded more than $228 million in damages to several plaintiffs including relatives of a 69-year-old woman who died and a 7-month-old boy who was hospitalized. Both were diagnosed with severe liver failure.
“We want to send a message to food and beverage manufacturers that they should be committed to quality assurance,” Will Kemp, a lawyer who represented plaintiffs in both trials, said Thursday.
Kemp said several more negligence and product liability cases are pending against the company, including one scheduled to begin in May stemming from liver damage diagnoses of six children who ranged in age from 7 months to 11 years old at the time.
Affinitylifestyles.com was headed by Brent Jones, who served as a Republican state Assembly member from 2016 to 2018. Kemp said Jones has declared bankruptcy and moved out of the state. Telephone calls to Jones on Thursday rang busy and an email request for comment was not answered.
Other defendants in the case reached confidential settlements before trial, including Whole Foods Market and Costco Wholesale, which sold the water, and testing meter companies Hanna Instruments and Milwaukee Instruments. Terrible Herbst, a convenience store chain, reached a settlement during the trial.
At trial, jurors were told that tests found Real Water contained hydrazine, a chemical used in rocket fuel that may have been introduced during treatment before bottling.
Real Water attorney Joel Odou argued that the company was unintentionally negligent, not reckless, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He said the company didn’t know hydrazine was in the water and didn’t know to test for it.
The water the company used was from the Las Vegas-area public supply, which mainly comes from the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority, the region’s main public supplier, monitors and tests for 166 different possible contaminants, spokesman Bronson Mack said Thursday. Hydrazine is not among them.
Mack noted that the water authority was not a defendant in the lawsuits and said the area’s municipal water supply meets or surpasses all federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
Real Water was sold for at least eight years, primarily in Central and Southern California, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Utah. It was also promoted on social media and sold online.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Las Vegas-based Clark County Health District issued public warnings beginning in March 2021 not to drink or use the product, and ordered it pulled from store shelves.