CLAYTON, Mo. – A Missouri jury has awarded $745 million to the parents of Marissa Politte, a young woman who was tragically killed by a driver under the influence of nitrous oxide. The verdict was reached on Friday in the lawsuit brought by Politte’s parents. The incident occurred on October 18, 2020, when Politte was leaving her workplace at the Ballwin Total Access Urgent Care in St. Louis County and was struck by an SUV.
During the two-week trial, the focus was on whether the company that distributes nitrous oxide, known as Whip-It!, conspired with a smoke shop to sell the product to customers who intended to abuse it to get high. The jury found that United Brands Products Design Development, the distributor of Whip-It!, was 70% liable, while the smoke shop was 20% liable, and the driver, Trenton Geiger, was 10% liable.
Evidence presented at the trial revealed that Geiger had passed out behind the wheel after abusing Whip-It! nitrous oxide. Police found Whip-It! containers discarded by Geiger in the woods, indicating his prior purchase at a smoke shop. The lawsuit aimed to hold companies accountable for profiting off the sale of an addictive inhalant.
Politte’s parents, Karen Chaplin and Jason Politte, testified about the devastating loss of their daughter, highlighting the emotional toll caused by her untimely death. Karen Chaplin and Jason Politte expressed their deep grief, stating that no amount of money could bring back their daughter.
Johnny M. Simon, the attorney representing Politte’s parents, argued that Whip-It! is primarily sold as a food propellant but also has a significant market in smoke shops. Email evidence between company staff and smoke shop workers, as well as the company’s marketing campaigns targeting young people in concert and party scenes, were presented during the trial. Additionally, previous records of deaths and injuries linked to the abuse of Whip-It! were introduced as evidence.
While attorneys for United Brands argued that Geiger should take full responsibility for misusing the product, the jury held the company accountable for its distribution practices.
Geiger, now 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter and other charges in March and was sentenced to two years in prison as part of a plea deal. His attorney, Thomas Magee, stated that Geiger had mistakenly believed that the product was harmless.
The multimillion-dollar verdict awarded to Politte’s parents serves as a reminder of the devastating consequences of irresponsible substance abuse. Whether an appeal will be pursued is unclear at this time. The distributors of Whip-It!, United Brands, and the smoke shop share a significant responsibility in this case, according to the jury’s decision. The tragic loss of Marissa Politte will forever impact her family and friends.