Nitrous Distributor Hit With $745M Verdict Over Crash Death

A Missouri jury decided that a manufacturer and a retailer of nitrous oxide canisters must pay $745 million to the parents of a 25-year-old woman who died after a driver high on Whip-It drove into her on a sidewalk.

Nitrous Factory
Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Written byCarolyn Casey, J.D.

- Published on October 17, 2023

Nitrous Factory

What Happened

In October 2020, while driving his Honda SUV, Trenton Geiger, passed out after inhaling Whip-It!. He had purchased the product at Coughing Cardinal. Ms. Politte was a radiologic technologist at Total Access Urgent Care medical facility. On that fateful day, as she walked out of her workplace, Geiger’s SUV struck her and pushed her into the building. Politte died from her injuries.

Police found Whip-It! containers in the 20-year-old Geiger’s car and in the woods where he threw them shortly after the accident.

The Lawsuit

The parents of Marissa Polittes filed a wrongful lawsuit against United Brands, the manufacturer of Whip-It, Coughing Cardinal, a St. Louis Smoke Shop, and Trento Geiger, the driver who hit Marissa after inhaling nitrous oxide he bought at Coughing Cardinal.

United Brand makes culinary products including Whip-It! cream dispensers and chargers, known as whippets. Whipped cream dispensers such as Whip-It! use nitrous oxide as a preservative and propellant. It’s also known as laughing gas for the high people experience when they inhale it.

In the filing, the Polittes alleged that United Brands and Coughing Cardinal “have operated a drug distribution ring” that sold an often-abused, addictive drug to consumers for recreational use. The complaint states that United Brands exploited an illicit nitrous oxide market when it sold its food product to places that did not sell food such as tobacco stores and headshops.

Trial and Testimony

The predominant issue at trial was whether United Brands conspired with Coughing Cardinal to sell Whip-It! to customers they knew intended to illegally inhale the gas for a high.

A former United Brands warehouse employee testified that approximately 75% of the company’s products went to smoke shops. Trial evidence included United Brand’s marketing campaigns that targeted young people who went to concerts and parties. The jury also saw emails between the company and smoke shops, along with records detailing past deaths and injuries due to Whip-It! abuse.

Trial evidence also established that Mr. Geiger bought the Whip-It! canisters at the Coughing Cardinal in Des Peres before the fatal accident. Des Peres is a city in West St. Louis County.

United Brands’ lawyers argued that Thomas Geiger should be held solely responsible for misusing the product and ignoring the warning labels against inhaling Whip-It!.

The Verdict

After a two-week trial, the jury found that United Brands had conspired to sell the drug as an inhalant to consumers with Coughing Cardinal.

The jury determined that United Brands Products Design Development, the company that distributes Whip-It!, was 70% at fault. The fact-finders also assigned Coughing Cardinal, 20%, and Geiger, 10%, of the responsibility for Marissa Polittes’ death.

The Whip-It! company must pay the family $20 million in compensatory damages and $700 million for aggravating circumstances. Coughing Cardinal’s aggravating circumstances damages are $25 million. There was no damages award assessed against Thomas Geiger.

Johnny M. Simon, the lawyer for the Polittes family, believes this is the first time a U.S. jury has seen a Whip-It! abuse case. His hope is that the verdict will lead to reforms.

At this time, it is unclear if the defendants will appeal the verdict.

Manslaughter Plea Deal

The now 23-year-old Geiger pleaded guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter and other crimes in March 2023. St. Louise County prosecutors agreed to a two-year prison sentence in the deal.