LAS VEGAS — With billions of dollars on the line, a Nevada jury was deliberating Tuesday whether the state's largest health management organization should pay punitive damages in a negligence lawsuit stemming from a Las Vegas hepatitis outbreak called the largest in U.S. history.

The Clark County District Court jury began deliberating the morning after plaintiffs' lawyer Robert Eglet asked them on Monday to order Health Plan of Nevada and Sierra Health Services to pay almost $2.5 billion in punitive damages in the civil lawsuit.

Eglet said the large amount was needed to send a message that corporations shouldn't put profits ahead of patient safety.

Attorney D. Lee Roberts Jr., representing the two companies, argued that such a large award would be unreasonable, disproportionate and ruinous.

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