Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

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Jackson died in a car accident on U.S. Highway 70 after he lost control of his 2012 Ford Focus. Mrs. Jackson, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. She sued, alleging that Ford was responsible for the accident because it equipped the car with a defective “Electronic Power Assisted Steering” (EPAS) system that caused the loss of control. The district court dismissed, finding that Jackson did not adequately plead proximate cause. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that “the district court demanded too much of Jackson under the familiar Iqbal and Twombly pleading requirements.” Jackson plausibly alleged that a defect in the 2012 Ford Focus’s EPAS system was a substantial factor in bringing about the accident, as is apparent from the litany of other accidents identified by Jackson where the EPAS system allegedly failed, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Ford’s “hypertechnical arguments regarding the allegations” in Jackson’s complaint rest on an inaccurate understanding of notice pleading. View "Jackson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Kase was exposed to asbestos insulation used on nuclear submarines during the early 1970s. The trial court rejected claims against a broker that arranged for asbestos-containing insulation to be shipped to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where workers packed it around the submarine piping it protected. The court held, on summary judgment, that the Navy‘s procurement of asbestos insulation for its nuclear submarines implicated the government contractor defense set forth in the Supreme Court’s 1988 holding, Boyle v. United Technologies Corp. The broker procured the insulation pursuant to and in compliance with relatively detailed performance and testing specifications, although those specifications did not expressly call out for asbestos in the insulation. According to undisputed evidence, the specifications could only be met by asbestos-containing insulation, and the only product on the Navy‘s approved list of suitable products was the product at issue, Unibestos. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that the defense does not necessarily exclude the procurement of products also sold commercially. The Navy‘s procurement of the asbestos insulation at issue occurred after years of evaluating and weighing the utility of and the health hazards associated with asbestos products and pursuant to specifications that required an asbestos product. View "Kase v. Metalclad Insulation Corp." on Justia Law

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In October 2009, Appellees Richard and Joyce Rost filed suit against multiple manufacturers of asbestos, averring that exposure to the defendants’ asbestos containing products caused Richard to contract mesothelioma. Before trial, the Rosts settled their claims against all defendants except for Appellant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). Over Ford’s objections, the trial court consolidated the case for trial with two other mesothelioma cases. Trial commenced in September 2011, at which time the trial court reminded the parties of a pre-trial ruling, precluding any expert from offering testimony that “each and every breath” of asbestos may constitute an evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant’s product was a substantial cause of mesothelioma. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation, seeking to provide further illumination on the principles set forth in its decisions in this area. After review, the Court concluded the trial court and the Superior Court properly applied those principles in this case, and thus affirmed the judgment entered in favor of Appellees. View "Rost v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Zen Magnets, LLC (“Zen”) challenged a regulation promulgated by Respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (“the Commission”) restricting the size and strength of the rare earth magnets that Zen sold. The sets consisted of small, high-powered magnets that users could arrange and rearrange in various geometric designs. The component magnets are unusually small (their diameters are approximately five millimeters) and unusually powerful. Magnets of this type have been marketed and sold to consumers (by Zen and other distributors) as desktop trinkets, stress-relief puzzles, and toys, and apparently also for educational and scientific purposes. Although the strength of these magnets was part of their appeal, it could also pose a grave danger when the magnets are misused, particularly if two or more magnets were ingested. During 2011, in response to reports of injured children, Commission staff began evaluating whether the magnet sets currently on the market complied with ASTM F963 (“the toy standard”). In May 2012, the Commission required the thirteen leading magnet set distributors to report any information of which they were aware reasonably supporting the conclusion that their magnets did not comply with an applicable safety standard, contained a defect, or created an unreasonable risk of serious injury. Four months after eliminating ten of the leading magnet set distributors, the Commission proposed a new safety standard aimed at regulating the size and strength of all magnet sets. Unlike the toy standard, the final rule was not limited to magnets designed or marketed as toys for children under fourteen years of age, but rather applied to all magnet sets. Zen was the only remaining importer and distributor of the magnet sets targeted by the final rule. Over the years, Zen made efforts to comply with the toy standard by implementing age restrictions and placing warnings on its website and packaging, as well as by imposing sales restrictions on its retail distributors. Its magnet sets, however, did not comply with the strength and size restrictions of the final rule. Zen sought judicial review of that safety standard. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Commission’s prerequisite factual findings, which were compulsory under the Consumer Product Safety Act, were incomplete and inadequately explained. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded this case back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Juan purchased Professional Strength Goof Off to remove paint from a concrete basement floor; its primary active ingredient is acetone, which is extremely flammable and evaporates quickly at room temperature. The can contained warnings in English and Spanish and instructed users who wanted to remove concrete stains to “[a]pply directly. Agitate with brush.” Juan claims that he read most of the warnings and opened a window and two doors to the outside. It is unclear whether he turned off pilot lights for two water heaters and a furnace in a separate portion of the basement. While Juan was using a broom to spread the product, a fire erupted and severely burned his face, head, neck, and hands. Juan sued. The district judge rejected his claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of a failure‐to‐warn claim. The warning label adequately identified the principal hazards and precautionary measures to be taken while using the product. The court reversed rejection of the design defect claims under both strict liability and negligence. Juan adequately established that the fire may have been caused by static sparks created when Juan agitated Goof Off with a brush as the label instructed. A genuine factual issue exists as to whether an ordinary consumer would expect a fire to erupt under these circumstances, whether this risk outweighs the product's benefits, and whether the manufacturer should have known that agitation could create static sparks sufficient for ignition. View "Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc," on Justia Law

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Papp alleged that his late wife suffered secondary “take home” asbestos exposure while washing the work clothes of her first husband, Keck. Keck had several jobs that exposed him to asbestos. Papp sued multiple companies in New Jersey. In a deposition, he indicated that the landing gear Keck sandblasted was for a C-47 military cargo plane, built by Boeing’s predecessor. Boeing removed the case, citing the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(1). Boeing asserted that it was entitled to government contractor immunity because the C-47 was produced for, and under the specific supervision of, the U.S. military and that the supervision extended to labels and warnings for all parts of the aircraft, including those parts laden with the asbestos to which Keck would later be exposed. The district court remanded, reasoning that Boeing, as a contractor and not a federal officer, had a “special burden” to demonstrate “that a federal officer or agency directly prohibited Boeing from issuing, or otherwise providing, warnings as to the risks associated with exposure to asbestos contained in products on which third-parties … worked or otherwise provided services.” The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the statute extends to contractors who possess a colorable federal defense and that Boeing made a sufficient showing of such a defense. View "Papp v. Fore-Kast Sales Co Inc" on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Stryker purchased a Pfizer subsidiary that made orthopedic products, including the “Uni-knee” artificial joint. It was later discovered that those devices were sterilized using gamma rays, which caused polyethylene to degrade. If implanted past their five-year shelf-life, the knees could fail. Expired Uni-Knees were implanted in patients. Stryker, facing individual product-liability claims and potentially liable to Pfizer, sought defense and indemnification under a $15 million XL “commercial umbrella” policy, and a TIG “excess liability” policy that kicked in after the umbrella policy was fully “exhausted.” XL denied coverage, arguing that the Uni-Knee claims were “known or suspected” before the inception of the policy. Stryker filed lawsuits against the insurers, then unilaterally settled its individual product-liability claims for $7.6 million. Stryker was adjudicated liable to Pfizer for $17.7 million. About 10 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that XL was obliged to provide coverage. XL paid out the Pfizer judgment first, exhausting coverage limits. TIG declined to pay the remaining $7.6 million, arguing that Stryker failed to obtain “written consent” at the time the settlements were made. Stryker claimed that the policy was latently ambiguous because XL satisfied the Pfizer judgment first, Stryker was forced to present its settlements to TIG years after they were made. The district court granted Stryker summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the contract unambiguous in requiring consent. View "Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit in Virginia state court against Appellants and others, alleging that plaintiff's husband, Bernard W. Ripley, was exposed to asbestos contained in products Appellants manufactured for the Navy, and that Appellants are liable for failure to warn of asbestos hazards. Appellants removed the case pursuant to the federal officer removal statute to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court remanded to state court, citing longstanding precedent in the district that denies the government contractor defense in failure to warn cases. However, given the weight of opposing precedent and the rationales supporting the defense, the court held that the government contractor defense is available in failure to warn cases. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to consider whether Appellants have presented sufficient proof to warrant removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1442. View "Ripley v. Foster Wheeler LLC" on Justia Law

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When Plaintiff’s utility terrain vehicle (UTV) overturned the roof of the UTV failed and caused Plaintiff injuries. Plaintiff sued Chesterfield Valley Sports, Inc. (Defendant). Prior to trial, Plaintiff designated Herbert Newbold as an expert witness. Plaintiff then rescinded Newbold’s expert witness designation without disclosing Newbold’s expert analysis or conclusions. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion to amend the scheduling order to permit Newbold’s deposition. Plaintiff objected, asserting that Newbold’s opinions and conclusions were protected from discovery by the work product doctrine. The trial court sustained Defendant’s motion, concluding that Plaintiff had waived the protections afforded by the work product doctrine by designating Newbold as an expert witness. Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant petition for a writ of prohibition. The Supreme Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition, which it made permanent, holding (1) designating an expert witness does not, standing alone, irrevocably waive the protections afforded by the work product doctrine; and (2) in this case, there was no disclosing event that waived the work product privilege. View "State ex rel. Malashock v. Honorable Michael T. Jamison" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from Whitney Engler's use of a medical device, the Polar Care 500, that was manufactured by Breg, Inc. (Breg) and prescribed by David Chao, M.D. Engler suffered injuries as a result of her use of the Polar Care 500, and she brought various tort claims against Chao, his medical group Oasis MSO, Inc. (Oasis), and Breg, among others. The jury made findings of malice, oppression, or fraud as to each defendant on at least one claim. In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury awarded $500,000 against Chao and $7 million against Breg. The jury declined to award any punitive damages against Oasis. Breg, Chao, Oasis, and Virginia Bigler-Engler, as administrator of Engler's estate, appeal. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments on appeal of the outcome of the trial, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in part, concluding the jury's verdict as to several claims was not supported by the evidence, including Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg and her strict products liability claim against Oasis. In light of this reversal of Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg, the jury's punitive damages award against Breg had to be reversed too. The Court also concluded the jury's award of noneconomic compensatory damages and the jury's award of punitive damages as to Chao were excessive. Those awards were reversed the case remanded for a new trial unless Bigler-Engler accepted reductions in those awards to $1,300,000 and $150,000 respectively. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc." on Justia Law