A St. Louis family will receive a settlement of $745 million after their daughter was tragically killed when she was hit by a 20-year-old driver who was huffing nitrous oxide as she left work in October 2020.
The trial hinged on whether or not lawyers could prove that the manufacturers of Whip-It! worked in cahoots with a smoke shop to sell the nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, which is inhaled through a balloon, in the knowledge that purchasers would abuse the substance.
Marissa Politte, 25, was hit by an SUV being driven by 20-year-old Trenton Geiger shortly after he had been inhaling Whip It! This caused him to fall asleep at the wheel, documents in the case state. Geiger’s parents were the owners of the car.
Marissa was leaving her job at the Ballwin Total Access Urgent Care on outskirts of St. Louis at the time.
Prior to the crash, authorities said that Geiger disposed of the nitrous oxide chargers, known as ‘whippets,’ in a wooded area. He bought the laughing gas at a smoke shop named the Coughing Cardinal in Des Peres, Missouri.
Marissa Politte’s family sued the makers of Whip It!, which is supposed to be used to prepare whipped cream, saying they knowingly sold it to a smoke shop
Trenton Geiger pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, among other charges. He received just two years in prison
Whip It! is supposed to be used to make whipped cream but is knowingly sold to smoke shops
The chargers are supposed to be used as a food propellent in order to make whipped cream.
In the trial, the Politte family lawyers, Johnny M. Simon and his father, John G. Simon, were able to prove to a jury that the company includes selling Whip It! to smoke shops as part of its business plan.
‘They’re selling poison disguised as something else,’ Johnny M. Simon said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
‘Each one of those makes 16 ounces of whip cream, so even if they had plausible reasons for selling it, which they don’t, that’s a … a lot of whip cream for a place that doesn’t sell any food,’ the attorney said in a separate statement to KSDK.
The terms of the settlement will see 70 percent or $520 million of the $745 million being paid by United Brands Products Design Development, the company behind Whip It!, 20 percent, $148 million, from the Coughing Cardinal and ten percent, $74 million, from Trenton Geiger.
An initial lawsuit included Geiger’s parents, Douglas and Cathy Geiger, alleging they ‘knew, or in the exercise of due care, should have known, of Defendant Trenton Geiger’s reckless and irresponsible conduct, including his drug use and drug use while operating a motor vehicle.’
The lawsuit also mentioned Total Access Urgent Care, alleging that the exit used by employees is too close to the sidewalk and presented a danger as cars could jump the sidewalk.
Marissa Politte was leaving work in October 2020 when she was struck by an SUV being driven by Geiger
Geiger’s lawyer, Thomas Magee, told the Post-Dispatch in the wake of the lawsuit verdict that his client has ‘always taken responsibility for his actions’
Politte’s parents, Karen Chaplin and Jason Politte, both testified about the devastating loss of their daughter
In the trial, a former Whip It! employee said that 75 percent of product was sent to smoke shops. Jurors were also provided with emails showing company marketing staff dealing directly with smoke shop workers.
Politte’s parents, Karen Chaplin and Jason Politte, both testified about the devastating loss of their daughter, who was a radiologic technologist. The family first filed their suit two months after the crash.
In its defense, lawyers for United Brands said that holding the business accountable to Geiger’s misuse of the product is no different than if the family of the victim of a drunk driving crash sued a company such as Anheuser-Busch.
Lawyers also said that the responsibility for Politte’s death should lie with Geiger because their products come with warnings about the the dangers of solvent abuse.
Huffing nitrous oxide can lead to nausea, dizziness, headaches and can cause fainting.
Geiger, now 23, was sentenced to two years in prison in March this year after pleading guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance, tampering with physical evidence and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia as part of a deal with prosecutors.
He was also forced to pay a $250 fine. A toxicology report found that the suspect had THC in his system at the time of Politte’s death.
His lawyer, Thomas Magee, told the Post-Dispatch in the wake of the lawsuit verdict that his client has ‘always taken responsibility for his actions.
‘We took responsibility for what he did in the trial, but we pointed out to the jury that there’s more to the story than Trent. He fell into a trap of thinking what he was using was harmless. There’s a bigger picture of these companies behind it,’ Magee said.