Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the district court granting judgment as a matter of law to Lycoming Engines on Mark Kedrowski's claim that a defective fuel pump manufactured by Lycoming caused the airplane he was piloting to lose power and crash, holding that the district court abused its discretion by excluding that opinion of Kedrowski's sole expert on causation. The jury returned a $27.7 million verdict for Kedrowski. Thereafter, the district court granted Lycoming's motion for judgment as a matter of law, concluding that the opinion of Kedrowski's sole causation expert lacked foundational reliability and that, without this opinion, Kedrowski's claims failed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court's evidentiary exclusion was overbroad and an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court remanded the case for a new trial on liability. View "Kedrowskib v. Lycoming Engines" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted certified questions of law from the federal court related to a case involving artificial hip implants, answering to what extent implanted medical devices should be immune from strict liability design defect claims under Utah law because they are "unavoidably unsafe," meaning they are "incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use" but their marketing and use is justified because of the benefit they provide. Specifically, the Court answered (1) while some implanted medical devices are unavoidably unsafe, under current federal regulations, this question should be treated as an affirmative defense and determined by the fact-finder on a case-by-case basis with regard to devices that enter the market through the 510(k) process; and (2) for devices that go through a more rigorous premarket approval process, the Court does not opine on whether such devices might be unavoidably unsafe as a matter of law because they are already exempt from design defect claims under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. 552 U.S. 312 (2008). View "Burningham v. Wright Medical Technology, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff suffered serious injuries from falling off a Vulcan ladder, he and his wife filed suit against Vulcan and GP. The jury rejected plaintiffs' design defect claim, but found that defendants breached an express warranty. The jury awarded plaintiff damages and the district court denied defendants' post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and, in the alternative, a new trial. The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiff's expert was qualified and his testimony was properly admitted under Federal Rule of Evidence 702; the expert provided a sufficient case-specific basis to support his opinion and he did not simply speculate on causation after a great deal of prodding; GP waived its statute of limitations defense; and the evidence was sufficient to support the jury verdict on the breach of contract claim; defendants waived their remaining arguments; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' motion for a new trial. View "Klingenberg v. Vulcan Ladder USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Philip Morris under the Connecticut Product Liability Act, alleging that the company's Marlboro and Marlboro Lights cigarettes were negligently designed and caused his wife's death. After a jury found for Philip Morris, plaintiff appealed. The Second Circuit held that, although the district court misapplied the nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel standard, the error did not necessarily require vacatur of the judgment. Therefore, the court remanded and directed the district court to consider whether the application of nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel would be unfair. View "Bifolck v. Philip Morris USA Inc." on Justia Law

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Donald and Mary Timm sustained serious injuries in a horrific motorcycle accident. A few months later, they received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the accident were recalled. Believing defects with the motorcycle and its rear tire caused the accident—and that their injuries were especially severe because of a defect with their helmets—the Timms brought a products liability action under Indiana law against defendants involved in the sale and manufacture of the motorcycle, its rear tire, and the helmets. Concluding that the Timms failed to present admissible expert testimony to support their claims, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Timms did not present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. The court rejected the Timms’ claims alleging negligent recall and failure to comply with federal safety standards, concluding that the Indiana Products Liability Act permits neither claim. The court properly excluded expert testimony against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear as lacking the reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and “Daubert.” View "Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In March 2016, plaintiff James Virgin filed a personal injury lawsuit against defendants Fireworks of Tilton, LLC (Fireworks of Tilton) and Foursquare Imports, LLC d/b/a AAH Fireworks, LLC (Foursquare). As pertinent to this appeal, the complaint alleged breach of the implied warranty of merchantability for damages purportedly sustained as a result of an incident involving fireworks sold by Fireworks of Tilton, and distributed by Foursquare. In May 2017, Foursquare made a “DeBenedetto” disclosure pursuant to the case structuring order identifying a Chinese company as the manufacturer of the fireworks that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiff moved to strike the disclosure arguing, among other things, that apportionment of fault did not apply to breach of warranty claims. The trial court denied the motion, but later granted plaintiff’s request to file an interlocutory appeal, which the New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted. The Supreme Court concluded RSA 507:7-e (2010) did not apply to personal injuries that alleged breach of the implied warranty of merchantability under RSA 382-A:2-314 (2011), thus permitting a named defendant to apportion fault to a non-litigant. View "Virgin v. Fireworks of Tilton, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. John Wickersham, Jr. was seriously injured in an automobile accident. After months of severe pain from the injuries he received in the accident, he committed suicide. His widow filed lawsuits for wrongful death, survival, and loss of consortium against Ford Motor Company in state circuit court. She alleged that defects in the airbag system in Mr. Wickersham's Ford Escape enhanced his injuries, increasing the severity of his pain, which in turn proximately caused his suicide. She included causes of action for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Ford removed the cases to the federal district court, then moved for summary judgment in the wrongful death suit, arguing Mrs. Wickersham had no wrongful death claim under South Carolina law because Mr. Wickersham's suicide was an intervening act that could not be proximately caused by a defective airbag. The district court denied Ford's motion, ruling Mrs. Wickersham could prevail on the wrongful death claim if she proved the enhanced injuries Mr. Wickersham sustained in the accident as a result of the defective airbag caused severe pain that led to an "uncontrollable impulse" to commit suicide. Ford renewed the motion during and after trial, but the district court denied both motions. In returning a verdict for Mrs. Wickersham, the jury found the airbag was defective and proximately caused Mr. Wickersham's enhanced injuries and suicide. However, the jury also found Mr. Wickersham's actions in being out of position enhanced his injuries, and found his share of the fault was thirty percent. The district court entered judgment for Mrs. Wickersham, but denied Ford's request to reduce the damages based on Mr. Wickersham's fault. Ford filed motions to alter or amend the judgment, for judgment as a matter of law, and for a new trial, all of which the district court denied. Responding to the two questions certified by the federal appellate court, the South Carolina Supreme Court held traditional principles of proximate cause governed whether a personal representative has a valid claim for wrongful death from suicide, and whether a person's own actions that enhance his injuries, as opposed to those that cause the accident itself, should be compared to the tortious conduct of a defendant in determining liability. View "Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co" on Justia Law

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This case is one of several coordinated actions alleging that talcum powder products manufactured by defendants caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In 2017, bellwether plaintiff's case was tried to a jury on a single claim and the jury returned a verdict in her favor. Defendants filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability and punitive damages, as well as a joint motion for a new trial. After the trial court granted the motions, both sides appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the JNOV in favor of Johnson & Johnson, but partially reversed as to JJCI. The court held that there was no substantial evidence to support a finding of liability as to Johnson & Johnson, a parent company that stopped manufacturing Johnson's Baby Powder in 1967, several years before there were any investigations or studies about a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the evidence failed to support a finding of malice as required for a punitive damages award. The court affirmed the JNOV for JJCI on that ground, but held that there was substantial evidence to support the jury's other findings as to JJCI. The court reversed the JNOV in favor of JJCI as to liability, but affirmed the trial court's order granting JJCI's motion for a new trial. View "Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Hernandez, age 11, was a passenger in a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass that was involved in a head-on collision; she was seriously injured. Hernandez alleged that the Cutlass was not designed to be crashworthy and did not provide adequate protection to children riding in the back seat when the vehicle was involved in a frontal collision. Hernandez did not attempt to hold the manufacturer liable but sued Enterprise. Hernandez argued that a rental car company, NCRS, was strictly liable because NCRS placed the Oldsmobile “into the stream of commerce.” NCRS has sold its business in 1995 and, after a series of transactions, Enterprise became a successor in 2003. The case was stayed while Hernandez litigated an unsuccessful identical legal claim against other alleged NCRS affiliates. The trial court granted Enterprise summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Enterprise did not succeed to any liability NCRS would have had for Hernandez’s injuries. After the sale of NCRS’s assets plaintiffs such as Hernandez could have sought recourse against General Motors. In addition, one of the successor owners entered bankruptcy through no fault of the acquiring entities, so the subsequent owners do not come within an exception to the general rule against successor liability in an asset sale. View "Hernandez v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of S.F." on Justia Law

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Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law