Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

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Hundreds of plaintiffs sued the drug manufacturer Merck, alleging that the osteoporosis drug Fosamax caused them to suffer serious thigh bone fractures. Each brought a state-law tort claim alleging that Merck failed to add an adequate warning of the risk to Fosamax’s FDA-approved drug label. Many also brought claims including defective design, negligence, and breach of warranty. Plaintiffs’ suits were consolidated in multi-district litigation in the District of New Jersey. Following discovery and a bellwether trial, the court granted Merck summary judgment, based on the Supreme Court’s holding in Wyeth v. Levine, that state-law failure-to-warn claims are preempted when there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved the warning that plaintiffs claim was necessary. The Third Circuit vacated. Preemption is an affirmative defense; Merck did not carry its burden to prove that it is entitled to that defense. The Wyeth “clear evidence” standard is demanding and fact-sensitive. It requires a court sitting in summary judgment to anticipate the range of conclusions that a reasonable juror might reach and the certainty with which the juror would reach them. Here, plaintiffs produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the FDA would have approved a properly-worded warning about the risk of thigh fractures—or to conclude that the odds of FDA rejection were less than highly probable. View "In Re: Fosamax Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the first of over 500 cases regarding the Wright Medical Conserve "metal-on-metal" hip replacement device designed and manufactured by defendant. Plaintiff filed a products liability suit alleging, among other things, that defendant was liable for design defect based on strict liability and negligence. On appeal, defendant challenged the entry of a $2,100,000 judgment. The court rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred in ordering the jury to continue deliberations after the jury had already begun to deliver its verdict. In this case, upon recognizing the inconsistency in the jury verdict, the district court immediately halted publication of the verdict and instructed the jury that an error had been made; the district court acted in a neutral and non-biased manner in acknowledging and addressing the inconsistent verdict; and the district court also recharged the jury. The court also rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred in its instructions on Utah's products liability law with regard to the unavoidably unsafe product defense in Comment k of Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. The court explained that any categorical bar to liability for an unavoidably unsafe product was not available to defendant and thus the district court did not err in failing to give such an instruction to the jury. Furthermore, any error by the district court in instructing the jury on the unavoidably unsafe defense did not affect the result in this case because the jury found that defendant had not proven the defense. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court's error was harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Christiansen v. Wright Medical Technology Inc." on Justia Law

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After a jury found that the mesothelioma contracted by James Lester Phillips was caused in part by exposure to asbestos contained in Bendix brakes, Honeywell challenged the $5.8 million awarded to Phillips's wife and surviving children. In the published portion of the opinion, the court rejected Honeywell's claims of evidentiary error, concluding that the trial court properly admitted a 1966 letter of a Bendix employee sarcastically addressing an article in Chemical Week magazine that stated asbestos had been accused, but not yet convicted, as a significant health hazard. The court reasoned that the letter was circumstantial evidence relevant to the issue of Bendix's awareness of asbestos's potential to cause cancer. The court noted that Illinois and Florida cases holding admission of this letter was prejudicial were distinguishable because they did not include a limiting instruction. The court also concluded that the trial court properly admitted the testimony of plaintiffs' expert about causation and the contributions to Phillips's risk of cancer from every identified exposure to asbestos that Phillips experienced. The court rejected Honeywell's remaining contentions in the unpublished portion of the opinion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Phillips v. Honeywell International Inc." on Justia Law

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Johnson sued automotive parts manufacturers for injuries alleged to have been caused by secondary exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, claiming that he suffered exposure from asbestos contamination brought into his home by his father, a mechanic, and from asbestos released from the mechanical components during times he visited his father at work. The defendant manufacturers argued that Johnson did not have and could not obtain evidence that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from their products. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Johnson had no personal knowledge that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. The potential product identification witnesses named by Johnson either could not be located or had no knowledge that Johnson or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. View "Johnson v. ArvinMeritor, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, a manufacturer sold a surgical device to a hospital, which credentialed some of its physicians to perform surgery with the device. The manufacturer's warnings regarding that device were at the heart of this case: whether the manufacturer owed a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. The manufacturer argued that since it warned the physician who performed the surgery, it had no duty to warn any other party. The Supreme Court disagreed because the doctor was often not the product purchaser. The Court found that the WPLA required manufacturers to warn purchasers about their dangerous medical devices. “Hospitals need these warnings to credential the operating physicians and to provide optimal care for patients. In this case, the trial court did not instruct the jury that the manufacturer had a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. Consequently, we find that the trial court erred.” View "Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc." on Justia Law

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In July 2003, plaintiff Andrew McCarrell filed a products-liability action alleging that Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. (Roche) had failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks and side effects associated with taking Accutane. Plaintiff timely filed this products-liability action within New Jersey's statute of limitations, but Alabama's limitations period had expired by the time of the filing. The issue is which state's statute of limitations applied under New Jersey s choice-of-law jurisprudence. Roche moved for summary judgment, citing Alabama's two-year statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the governmental-interest test set forth in "Gantes v. Kason Corp.," (145 N.J.478 (1996)), directed that New Jersey's statute of limitations governed the case. The jury found in favor of McCarrell on the failure-to-warn claim, but the Appellate Division reversed based on evidentiary issues. The Appellate Division approved the trial court's application of New Jersey's statute of limitations to the case, however, and the Court denied Roche's petition for certification. After a new trial, a jury found Roche liable for failure to warn, awarding McCarrell $25,159,530. Roche challenged the verdict on the ground that the governmental-interest test had been supplanted by the most-significant-relationship test of sections 146, 145, and 6 of the Second Restatement of Conflicts of Law and argued that, under this test, Alabama's statute of limitations applied. The trial court denied the challenge as untimely. An appellate panel expressly declined to apply section 142 of the Second Restatement, vacated the jury's verdict and award, dismissed McCarrell's complaint as untimely, and did not reach the remaining issues raised by Roche on appeal. McCarrell's petition for certification was granted. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the jury's verdict and award. Analysis under section 142 of the Second Restatement lead to the conclusion that New Jersey's statute of limitations was properly applied to this action. The matter was remanded to the Appellate Division for consideration of unaddressed issues remaining on appeal. View "McCarrell v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc." on Justia Law

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Howard and Nancy Nease filed a products liability suit against Ford, alleging that Howard sustained serious injuries in an accident caused by a design defect in the speed control system of his 2001 Ford Ranger pickup truck. The jury awarded plaintiffs over $3 million in damages. The district court denied Ford's post-trial motions. The court concluded that the expert testimony of Samuel Sero regarding the speed control cable should not have been admitted. The court explained that Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. applies to Sero's testimony and the district court did not perform its gatekeeping duties with respect to Sero’s testimony. In this case, Sero’s testimony should have been excluded under Daubert because it was unsupported. Without any other expert testimony to establish that the 2001 Ford Ranger was defectively designed and that there were safer alternative designs available that a reasonably prudent manufacturer would have adopted, the court concluded that the Neases cannot prove their case under West Virginia law. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in Ford's favor. View "Nease v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her husband filed a products liability suit against Ethicon after she experienced complications from the implantation of a transvaginal mesh medical device. On appeal, Ethicon challenges the denial of its post-trial renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The court affirmed the judgment, concluding that the district court did not commit reversible error where plaintiffs offered sufficient evidence to sustain the jury's general verdict for plaintiffs on their design defect, failure to warn, and loss of consortium claims. In this case, the district court did not err by excluding evidence of the FDA's section 510(k) evaluation process; excluding the FDA Advisory Committee evidence; and excluding evidence of the Prolene suture's regulatory history. View "Huskey v. Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Virgil Becker, a retired doctor, was killed in a plane crash. His estate claimed that a faulty carburetor caused the crash. Forward Technology Industries Inc. (FTI) built a component for that carburetor. The Estate brought numerous claims against FTI, including a state product liability claim implicating a faulty carburetor component. FTI moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 preempted state law. The federal district court for the Third Circuit recently found that federal aviation regulations do not preempt the state product liability of an aviation systems manufacturer because they were “not so pervasive as to indicate congressional intent to preempt state law.” The Washington Supreme Court followed the Third Circuit and found that the Federal Aviation Act did not preempt state law, reversed the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary, and remanded this case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Estate of Becker v. Forward Tech. Indus., Inc." on Justia Law

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Acqua Vista Homeowners Association ("the HOA") sued MWI, Inc. ("MWI"), a supplier of pipe used in the construction of the Acqua Vista condominium development. The operative third amended complaint contained a claim for a violation of Civil Code section 8951 et seq. ("the Act") standards in which the HOA alleged that "[d]efective cast iron pipe manufactured in China [was] used throughout the building." At a pretrial hearing, the HOA explained that it was not pursuing a claim premised on the doctrine of strict liability, only that it was alleging a single cause of action against MWI for violations of the Act's standards. During a jury trial, near the close of evidence, MWI filed a motion for a directed verdict on the ground that the HOA failed to present any evidence that MWI had caused a violation of the Act's standards as a result of MWI's negligence or breach of contract, as required. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the HOA was not required to prove that any violations of the Act's standards were caused by MWI's negligence or breach of contract. On appeal, MWI claimed that the trial court misinterpreted the Act and, as a result, erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict and motion for JNOV. After review, the Court of appeal agreed, reversed and remanded for entry of MWI’s directed verdict. View "Acqua Vista Homeowners Assn. v. MWI, Inc." on Justia Law