Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries
Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson
Strobel, diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2019, died at age 68 in 2020. Strobel had sued for product liability, negligence, and fraud, alleging that continuous exposure to asbestos in J&J’s Baby Powder (JBP), a product he used regularly for 60 years, was a substantial contributing cause of his mesothelioma. J&J’s expert swore that JBP was at all relevant times asbestos-free. The Strobels filed declarations from five experts, all contradicting J&J’s experts. The court sustained J&J’s hearsay objections to much of the Strobels’ proffered expert testimony and concluded that, after the exclusion of this testimony, the Strobels could not bear their burden of proof on legal causation because what remained—opinions from Drs. Fitzgerald and Compton—only confirmed the presence of asbestos in the talcum ore J&J used to manufacture JBP, not in JBP offered for sale as a finished product during the years Strobel used it.The court of appeal reversed a judgment in favor of J&J. The Strobels presented sufficient admissible evidence on legal causation to create a triable issue. The court noted the evidence of long-term usage in this case and concluded that Fitzgerald fairly drew the inference that JBP dating from within the exposure period contained asbestos. View "Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. McCall
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to reconsider one of its holdings in Allstate Insurance Co. v. Klein, 422 SE2d 863 (1992). In Klein, the Court held that Georgia courts could exercise general personal jurisdiction over any out-of-state corporation that was “authorized to do or transact business in this state at the time a claim arises.” Although Klein’s general-jurisdiction holding was in tension with a recent line of United States Supreme Court cases addressing when state courts may exercise general personal jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations in a manner that accords with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution, the Georgia Court held Klein did not violate federal due process under Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Co. of Philadelphia v. Gold Issue Mining & Milling Co., 243 U. S. 93 (1917), a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court has not overruled. "Thus, we are not required to overrule Klein as a matter of binding federal constitutional law. We also decline to overrule Klein as a matter of statutory interpretation. Therefore, we affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision, which followed Klein." View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. McCall" on Justia Law
Hyundai Motor America et al. v. Hutton et al.
The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review arose from a single-car accident involving a 2005 Santa Fe Hyundai, which had been rented by Joyce Hutton, and driven by Derek Bell on U.S. Highway 61. It was reported to the police officer that the car drifted into the median, and Bell lost control. Both Bell and Hutton were injured. Hutton filed suit against Hyundai Motor America, Hyundai Motor Company, and Bell, and Bell filed a cross-claim against Hyundai. Hutton settled her injury claims against Bell prior to trial. Bell and Hutton proceeded against Hyundai. At trial, both alleged the car was defectively designed. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged the Hyundai was defectively designed due to an exposed, unprotected component of the anti-lock braking system (ABS). Plaintiffs claimed that an unseen and never-discovered object of unknown elements and composition struck a component part, dislodging an ABS tone ring temporarily, which caused the vehicle’s computer to send erratic braking signals. The erratic signals in turn caused the ABS computer to assume that the front right wheel was not turning, which in turn caused braking to occur on the front left side. The alleged one-sided braking caused Bell to lose control before the vehicle overturned multiple times. Hyundai countered that a phantom object was never seen, found, or identified by Bell, Hutton, the state trooper who investigated the accident, eyewitnesses to the accident, Plaintiffs’ witnesses (experts or otherwise), or anyone else. Further, Hyundai argued that, assuming arguendo that Plaintiffs’ multiple-chain-reaction theory were possible, the trajectory of any object would have occurred within fifty milliseconds - a scientific, physical impossibility. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiffs: $193,000 for Hutton and $2 million for Bell. Hyundai appealed, claiming a number of errors by the trial court. The Supreme Court the trial court committed reversible error, therefore the verdict was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of Hyundai. View "Hyundai Motor America et al. v. Hutton et al." on Justia Law
Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp.
Sardis was attempting to adjust a container containing a garage door hood on a forklift when the wood slat constituting the container’s handhold broke off, causing him to fall off a ladder rack and hit his head on the pavement nine feet below. He died two weeks later. His estate sued, alleging that ODC was negligent in designing the container’s handholds, and had a duty to warn foreseeable users of the container to not rely on the handholds for pulling it. The estate offered Sher Singh, Ph.D., a packaging design engineer, as its sole expert on design defects and Michael Wogalter, Ph.D., who described himself as an expert on “human factors,” as the sole expert on failure to warn. The court rejected “Daubert” challenges to both experts. The jury rendered a $4.84 million verdict.The Fourth Circuit reversed. The district court abdicated its critical gatekeeping role to the jury and admitted Singh’s and Wogalter’s “irrelevant and unreliable” testimony without engaging in the required Rule 702 analysis. Without that testimony, the estate offered insufficient admissible evidence as a matter of law to prevail on any of the claims. Even if an expert provides relevant testimony as to how an allegedly defective product breached a governing industry standard (which Singh did not), that says nothing about whether the expert reliably opined that said breach caused a plaintiff’s harm. Wogalter’s testimony was incompatible with the governing Virginia “reason to know” standard. View "Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp." on Justia Law
Gareis v. 3M Company
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in plaintiffs' case, which is part of the Bair Hugger multidistrict litigation (MDL). The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding (1) evidence of 3M's knowledge of the risks and utility of the Bair Hugger and (2) evidence of reasonable alternative designs to the Bair Hugger besides the TableGard. Furthermore, even assuming the risk-utility and reasonable-alternative design evidence was erroneously excluded, plaintiffs failed to show that they suffered prejudice from the exclusion of the evidence. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing 3M's expert to testify about operating-room airflow. Even if the admission of the testimony was erroneous, there was no basis to reverse the jury's verdict on this ground. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to 3M on plaintiffs' failure-to-warn claim asserted under both negligence and strict-liability theories. The court explained that, even if the district court erred, the error was harmless. View "Gareis v. 3M Company" on Justia Law
Forrest v. Polaris Industries, Inc.
Plaintiffs, 14 purchasers of off-road vehicles, filed a putative class action against Polaris alleging that a design defect caused the vehicles, all of which contain "ProStar" engines, to produce excessive heat. Plaintiffs claim that the heat degrades vehicle parts, reduces service life, and creates a risk of catastrophic fires. 7 of the 14 plaintiffs experienced fires which destroyed their vehicles.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Polaris's motion to dismiss the claims of the "no-fire" purchasers, because they failed to allege an injury in fact as required to establish an Article III case or controversy. The court concluded that the district court correctly applied circuit precedent in determining that the no-fire purchasers failed to allege an injury sufficient to confer standing. View "Forrest v. Polaris Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
Amador v. 3M Company
In December 2015, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation created and centralized the In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices Products Liability Litigation (MDL) in the District of Minnesota for coordinated pretrial proceedings. Plaintiffs in the MDL brought claims against 3M alleging that they contracted periprosthetic joint infections (PJIs) due to the use of 3M's Bair Hugger, a convective (or forced-air ) patient-warming device, during their orthopedic-implant surgeries. The MDL court excluded plaintiffs' general-causation medical experts as well as one of their engineering experts, and it then granted 3M summary judgment as to all of plaintiffs' claims, subsequently entering an MDL-wide final judgment.The Eighth Circuit reversed in full the exclusion of plaintiffs' general-causation medical experts and reversed in part the exclusion of their engineering expert; reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of 3M; affirmed the discovery order that plaintiffs challenged; affirmed the MDL court's decision to seal the filings plaintiffs seek to have unsealed; and denied plaintiffs' motion to unseal those same filings on the court's own docket. View "Amador v. 3M Company" on Justia Law
Keene v, CNA Holdings, LLC
Hystron Fibers, Inc. hired Daniel Construction Company in 1965 to build a polyester fiber plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. When the plant began operating in 1967, Hystron retained Daniel to provide all maintenance and repair workers at the plant. Hystron soon became Hoechst Fibers, Inc. Pursuant to a series of written contracts, Hoechst paid Daniel an annual fee and reimbursed Daniel for certain costs. The contracts required Daniel to purchase workers' compensation insurance for the workers and required Hoechst to reimburse Daniel for the workers' compensation insurance premiums. Dennis Seay was employed by Daniel. Seay worked various maintenance and repair positions at the Hoechst plant from 1971 until 1980. The manufacture of polyester fibers required the piping of very hot liquid polyester through asbestos-insulated pipes. He eventually developed lung problems, which were later diagnosed as mesothelioma, a cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Seay and his wife filed this lawsuit against CNA Holdings (Hoechst's corporate successor) claiming Hoechst acted negligently in using asbestos and in failing to warn of its dangers. After Seay died from mesothelioma, his daughter, Angie Keene, took over the lawsuit as personal representative of his estate. Throughout the litigation, CNA Holdings argued Seay was a statutory employee and the Workers' Compensation Law provided the exclusive remedy for his claims. The circuit court disagreed and denied CNA Holdings' motion for summary judgment. A jury awarded Seay's estate $14 million in actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages. The trial court denied CNA Holdings' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, again finding Seay was not a statutory employee. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the circuit court and the court of appeals correctly determined the injured worker in this case was not the statutory employee of the defendant. View "Keene v, CNA Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
Pilliod v. Monsanto Co.
After years of spraying Roundup herbicide on their property, Pilliod and her husband, Pilliod, each developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Pilliods sued Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, alleging design defect and failure to warn. After a six-week trial, the jury awarded Alberta over $37 million in compensatory damages, awarded Alva over $18 million in compensatory damages, and awarded each of them $1 billion in punitive damages. The trial court conditionally denied Monsanto’s motion for new trial, contingent on the Pilliods’ acceptance of substantially reduced compensatory and punitive damages, resulting in a total award to Alberta of about $56 million (including about $45 million in punitive damages) and a total award to Alva of about $31 million (including about $25 million in punitive damages). The Pilliods accepted the reductions.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Monsanto’s arguments that the claims were preempted by federal law, the jury’s liability findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the jury was improperly instructed as to the Pilliods’ design defect claim, the jury’s causation findings are legally and factually flawed, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence, the verdict is the product of attorney misconduct, the punitive damages awards should be stricken or further reduced because they are unsupported by evidence and constitutionally excessive. View "Pilliod v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law
Axline v. 3M Company
Plaintiff, whose case is part of the Bair Hugger multidistrict litigation (MDL) against 3M, appeals the district court's orders deciding that Ohio substantive law applies in her case and denying her motion for leave to amend her complaint. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that, after consideration of the eleven factors that may be considered in an Ohio choice-of-law analysis, the district court did not err in deciding that Ohio substantive law governed this case. In this case, plaintiff has not rebutted the presumption that the substantive law of Ohio, the state where she was injured, governs this products liability case. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint where plaintiff failed to comply with local rules. View "Axline v. 3M Company" on Justia Law