TRLF Makes Mark with Groundbreaking Toxic Shock Verdict

Shortly after Tom Riley founded his law firm in 1980, he and client Michael Kehm would win judgment in a suit against international corporation Procter & Gamble Company, putting the seasoned attorney Mr. Riley and his young firm on the map as a “go to” litigator in the United States.

On April 21, 1982, Mr. Riley won a verdict against Procter & Gamble for the death of a young Cedar Rapids woman, Patricia Kehm, who died of Toxic Shock Syndrome after using Rely tampons, manufactured by Procter & Gamble.

A Federal jury found the Procter & Gamble Company liable for the death from toxic shock syndrome of Mrs. Kehm, who used its Rely tampons. It ordered the company to pay her husband, Michael, $300,000 in actual damages. In his lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Kehm, Mr. Riley contended that Rely tampons were responsible for the death of then 25-year-old Patricia on Sept. 6, 1980.

“This trial – and the ensuing verdict – was especially instrumental in my father continuing to build the reputation of the Tom Riley Law Firm,” says Peter C. Riley, an attorney with the Tom Riley Law Firm. “Not only was he successful in representing the interests of Mr. and Mrs. Kehm, but he was able to raise an important medical issue that had the ability to impact hundreds of thousands of women across the nation. He considered this trial and its outcome one of the most influential and important of his career.”

During the trial, Mr. Riley asked the jury to “set an example” by making the company pay up to $30 million. “Pat Kehm died because Procter & Gamble let her die,” Mr. Riley said in his closing statement to the jury. “They were more concerned about their product than warning their customers.”

Four Cedar Rapids doctors, including one who performed an autopsy on Mrs. Kehm, testified that she died of toxic shock syndrome. The company said that a uterine infection, stemming from Mrs. Kehm’s use of an intrauterine device, was responsible for her death. Mr. Riley maintained that Procter & Gamble knew that the Centers for Disease Control had linked the disease with tampon use in the early summer of 1980.

Toxic shock syndrome was identified in 1978, but it was not until 1980 that officials at the Centers for Disease Control noted an increase in reported cases and that the majority involved menstruating women, nearly all of whom used tampons.