The size of the top 10 jury awards rose for a third consecutive year in 2010, according to the latest report from Lawyers USA.

The 10 largest jury verdicts in 2010 totaled $1.6 billion, a slight increase of 4 percent from $1.5 billion in 2009. Between 2008 and 2009, the sum of the top 10 jury awards had increased by 12 percent after more than doubling between 2007 and 2008.

Lawyers USA observed that the average award for 2010 increased less than in 2009, rising to just under $157 million, from nearly $145 million the prior year.

While the top award was significantly higher in 2010 – $505 million versus $370 million – there was then a sharp drop to the second-ranked award at $208.8 million and the third-ranked award at $152 million.

In contrast, 2009 saw three awards in the $300 million range.

Still, we note that you have to go back to 2005 to find a verdict in excess of $500 million.

In the year’s top verdict – a products liability case – a Nevada jury ordered Teva Pharmaceuticals and Baxter Healthcare to pay $500 million in punitive damages in addition to $5.1 million in compensatory damages to a man who developed Hepatitis C several weeks after undergoing a routine colonoscopy where he was anesthetized with propofol.

Another takeaway: three tobacco awards made this year’s top 10.

Lawyers USA compiles the Top 10 Jury Verdicts each year applying certain ground rules. Verdicts must be to an individual plaintiff, defined as a single person, family or small group of individuals injured in a single incident who had their claims tried in one case before the same jury.

The list does not include business-against-business suits, class actions or consolidated suits. Cases must have been defended and default verdicts and suits against incarcerated individuals are not included.

Check out I.I.I. info on the liability system.