Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries
In re: Samsung Top-Load
In 2015, consumers owning Samsung top-load washing machines experienced issues with the door detaching mid-cycle. Litigation ensued across the country, with the cases consolidated into the multidistrict litigation underlying this appeal. Class counsel and the defendants negotiated a Settlement Agreement that provided class members five forms of relief. The district court, over objector-appellant John Morgan’s objection, granted final class certification and final approval to the settlement. Essential to Morgan’s objections was the Settlement Agreement’s inclusion of a “kicker” agreement and a “clear-sailing” agreement relative to the award of attorneys’ fees and costs. Morgan argued that under the “clear-sailing” agreement, Samsung agreed not to contest any request by class counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs of up to $6.55 million. Attempting to resolve his objections, Morgan and Samsung sought to negotiate a side agreement providing for the possible distribution to the class of a portion of the difference between the $6.55 million maximum permissible attorneys’ fees and costs, and the actual amount awarded by the district court. Ratification of this side agreement, however, never occurred, with Morgan walking away based on a purported fear that class counsel might sue him and his counsel if he and Samsung finalized the side agreement. On appeal, Morgan argued: (1) the district court made clear errors of fact regarding settlement negotiations and the side agreement; (2) the district court abused its discretion by granting final approval to the Settlement Agreement where it included both a “kicker” and a “clear-sailing” agreement; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by granting final class certification and allowing class counsel to continue in its role after class counsel placed its interests ahead of the class’s interests. The Tenth Circuit held a district court must apply heightened scrutiny before approving a settlement that includes both a “kicker” agreement and a “clear-sailing” agreement. But its review of the record gave the Court confidence the district court did just that. And although the district court made one clear error in its fact-finding process, the Tenth Circuit concluded the error was harmless to its ultimate decisions regarding final class certification, final approval of the Settlement Agreement, and its award of attorneys’ fees and costs. View "In re: Samsung Top-Load" on Justia Law
Salinero v. Johnson & Johnson
Plaintiff and her husband filed suit against Ethicon and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, in the Southern District of Florida for failure to warn of the adverse health consequences of an Artisyn YMesh implant. After defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, plaintiff and her husband appealed, asking the court to create a "financial bias" exception to the learned intermediary doctrine.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and concluded that it was Erie bound to follow the decisions of the Florida courts. Without any indication from Florida's appellate courts that they would create a "financial bias" exception to the learned intermediary doctrine insofar as it applies to physicians, the court held that the learned intermediary doctrine is available and that, under the facts of this case, it plainly entitles defendants to summary judgment on the failure-to-warn claim. In this case, the treating physician was both aware of the risks surrounding the mesh implant and stood by his decision to use it to treat plaintiff's prolapse. The court explained that, under Florida law, an inadequate warning could not be the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries and, therefore, the learned intermediary doctrine bars a failure-to-warn claim. View "Salinero v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard she purchased from a third party seller named TurnUpUp on Amazon's website. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon.The Fourth District recently addressed this issue as a matter of first impression in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger), review denied November 18, 2020, holding that Amazon is an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and concluded that Bolger properly applied a well-established strict liability law to the facts of its case and was correctly decided. Based on the court's review of Amazon's third-party business model under the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), the court is persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine. Although the court concluded that Amazon is a link in the vertical chain of distribution, the court nevertheless recognizes that e-commerce may not neatly fit into a traditional sales structure. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact as to liability under the stream of commerce approach and thus the trial court erroneously granted summary adjudication on the strict liability claim. The court rejected Amazon's contention that it was merely a service provider and thus not strictly liable for plaintiff's injuries. Furthermore, the court was not persuaded by Amazon's reliance on those decisions that restrict strict liability to sellers or manufacturers by applying out-of-state law. The court also concluded that policy considerations underlying the doctrine are furthered by imposing strict products liability in this case. Finally, summary adjudication was improperly granted as to the negligent products liability claim where Amazon provides no legal support for its argument that negligent products liability may only be imposed on manufacturers and sellers. View "Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC" on Justia Law
Petersen v. Raymond Corporation
Plaintiff Nathan Petersen Plaintiff injured himself while operating the Raymond Model 4200 stand-up counterbalance lift truck (“Raymond forklift”). The Raymond forklift had an open compartment. So it did not fully enclose the operator’s lower extremities. When Plaintiff lost control of the Raymond forklift, his left leg slid out of the open compartment and he crushed it against warehouse racking. Plaintiff argued the district court impermissibly closed the door on the strict products liability claim he brought against Defendant Raymond Corporation (“Raymond”) alleging it defectively manufactured a forklift. In support of his claim he sought to offer expert testimony that the forklift would be safer if it had a literal door on it. The district court found the expert’s testimony unreliable and excluded it. It then granted a related motion for summary judgment in Raymond’s favor. Plaintiff appealed. "The district court serves as a gatekeeper, shutting the door on unreliable expert testimony." Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "Petersen v. Raymond Corporation" on Justia Law
Phillips v. Sanofi U.S. Services, Inc.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's failure-to-warn claim asserted against the manufacturers of Taxotere, a chemotherapy medication. Plaintiff argues that Taxotere's manufacturers failed to provide an adequate warning of potentially permanent hair loss, which caused her injuries.The court concluded that, under Louisiana law, plaintiff cannot establish causation where, on this record, it is beyond any genuine dispute that a warning of the risk of permanent hair loss—as opposed to temporary hair loss—would not have affected the prescribing physician's decision to prescribe Taxotere. Therefore, plaintiff's claim fails as a matter of law. View "Phillips v. Sanofi U.S. Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Emerson Electric Co. v. Johnson
In this products liability action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court against Petitioners, holding that legally sufficient evidence supported the jury's design-defect findings and that the trial court's jury instructions did not cause an improper verdict.An electric terminal manufacturer made two terminals for essentially the same cost, but the older of the two designs was more susceptible to failure. A corporate affiliate of the terminal maker decided to use the older product in manufacturing new air conditioning compressors. When an experienced HVAC technician purchased and installed a compressor containing the older terminal design, the compressor became overheated and the terminal emitted scalding pressurized fluids that ignited and covered the technician. The technician, who received serious burns, brought this action. The jury found that the older terminal design was unreasonably dangerous and that both the design and the failure warn caused the technician's injuries. The court rendered judgment on the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. View "Emerson Electric Co. v. Johnson" on Justia Law
Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc.
Plaintiffs, who grew up in Milwaukee homes that had lead-based wall paint, were diagnosed with lead poisoning as children in the 1990s or early 2000s. Years later, they sued manufacturers of white lead carbonate; they identified the paint pigment in their childhood homes as white lead carbonate, but could not identify the specific company responsible for manufacturing the white lead carbonate that they ingested. They relied on “Thomas,” in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted a “risk-contribution” theory of liability for plaintiffs suing manufacturers of white lead carbonate. That theory modifies the ordinary rule in tort law that a plaintiff must prove that a specific defendant’s conduct caused his injury and instead apportions liability among the “pool of defendants” who could have caused the injury. A jury found three manufacturers liable and awarded the plaintiffs $2 million each.The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court committed three significant errors about the scope of Wisconsin products liability law, impermissibly expanding the defendants’ potential liability and a separate error in the admission of expert testimony. The court improperly extended Thomas, allowing jurors to find the defendants liable in their capacity as paint manufacturers, rather than white lead carbonate manufacturers, erroneously allowed jurors to find Sherwin-Williams liable on negligence claims without proof of a product defect, and erroneously allowed jurors to find two defendants liable on strict liability claims in the absence of a duty to warn or any proof that the lack of a warning caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Griffin v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates LTD.
Mary Clare Griffin purchased a bottle of Italian wine, which broke in her hands as she attempted to open it, causing substantial injuries. Griffin and her son, a minor who witnessed the event, brought a product liability suit against Zignago Vetro S.P.A. (Zignago), the Italian manufacturer of the wine bottle; Marchesi Antinori SRL (Antinori), the Italian wine company that purchased the bottle from Zignago, filled it with wine, and exported it to the United States; Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd. (Ste. Michelle), the United States importer; S & C Importers and Distributors, Inc. (S&C), the Idaho distributor who purchased the bottle from Ste. Michelle; and, Albertson’s LLC (Albertson’s), the retailer that sold the bottle to Griffin. Zignago successfully moved the district court to dismiss Griffin’s complaint based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. Griffin appealed the district court’s decision, asking the Court of Appeal to apply the personal jurisdiction framework established by World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980). Griffin also appealed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to Antinori and Ste. Michelle on the grounds that Griffin failed to meet her burden to show a prima facie case for a product liability claim. Additionally, Griffin appealed several adverse discovery rulings. The Idaho Supreme Court found the correct test when determining personal jurisdictional issues remained the “stream of commerce” test adopted by the United States Supreme Court in World-Wide Volkswagen. Applying that test to the case here, the Court reversed the district court’s decision to grant Zignago’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court affirmed the district court’s decision granting Antinori’s and Ste. Michelle’s motions for summary judgment, finding it did not abuse its discretion in failing to grant Griffin’s motion to compel discovery against Antinori and Ste. Michelle. View "Griffin v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates LTD." on Justia Law
Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH
Hamer underwent open-heart surgery using LivaNova’s 3T Heater-Cooler System. He developed an infection in the incision, which his physicians suspected stemmed from a non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM). The hospital had experienced an outbreak of NTM infections in other patients who had undergone surgery using the 3T System. Hamer’s treatment team never isolated NTM from any of the swabs or cultures. Hamer, alleging that his treatment caused him lasting injuries, filed suit under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) for failure to warn and inadequate design.Hamer’s case was transferred to Multidistrict Litigation case 2816, along with other cases alleging damages from the NTM infection caused by the 3T System. Case Management Order 15 (CMO 15) required plaintiffs to show “proof of NTM infection” through “positive bacterial culture results.” Hamer did not comply but opposed dismissal, claiming he had stated a prima facie claim under Louisiana law and sought remand.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal. The court could have dismissed Hamer’s claims without prejudice, could have suggested remand, or could have dismissed Hamer’s claims with prejudice, if it found that Hamer had not stated a prima facie case under Louisiana law. .Under the LPLA, Hamer’s facts might state a prima facie case for defective design. Hamer’s allegations may diverge from those of other cases in MDL 2816 in which an NTM infection was verified but stating alternative theories of liability cannot justify foreclosing his claims. View "Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH" on Justia Law
Rustico v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Intuitive Surgical, the designer and manufacturer of the da Vinci surgical robot, in a product liability action brought by plaintiff and her husband, holding that the action was time-barred under California's two-year statute of limitations under California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.The panel concluded that the two-year California—not three-year Connecticut—statute of limitations applies to plaintiff's claim. The panel explained that, although the district court erred by failing to consider whether Connecticut had a legitimate interest in seeing its law applied, the district court correctly held that California's statute of limitations governs the claims. The panel also concluded that the Tolling Agreement does not render plaintiff's claims timely. In this case, because the Tolling Agreement expressly preserved Intuitive's statute-of-limitations defense for "the applicable" jurisdiction, Intuitive is entitled to employ its statute-of-limitations defense under California law. Finally, the panel concluded that equitable estoppel did not apply to plaintiff's claims where she failed to submit evidence identifying a misrepresentation, material omission, or false promise made on behalf of Intuitive. View "Rustico v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc." on Justia Law