Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries
Ortega Garcia v. United States
Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law
Cote v. Philip Morris USA, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying Philip Morris's motion for a new trial or to reduce the punitive damages award in favor of Judith Berger, concluding that the punitive damages award is not unconstitutionally excessive and does not violate due process. In this case, a jury awarded Judith $6.25 million in compensatory damages and approximately $20.7 million in punitive damages for smoking-related injuries. The court concluded that Philip Morris's argument that the punitive damages award is unconstitutionally excessive is not barred by the court's decision in Cote I. The court also concluded that the punitive damages award is not unconstitutionally excessive in light of the degree of reprehensibility of Philip Morris's conduct; the ratio of the punitive damages award to the actual or potential harm suffered by Judith; and the difference between the punitive damages award and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. View "Cote v. Philip Morris USA, Inc." on Justia Law
Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al.
Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They sued the plantations in Delaware in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane (“DBCP”). Defendants-Appellees were numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what was sometimes referred to as Delaware’s McWane doctrine (the “Dismissal Order”). On December 31, 2018 Plaintiffs moved to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. Plaintiffs have appealed that order to the Delaware Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al." on Justia Law
Coffman v. Armstrong International, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the manufacturers of certain equipment (Equipment Defendants) in this product liability action, holding that, on the facts and applicable law, the Equipment Defendants had no duty to warn of the dangers associated with the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing materials manufactured and sold by others.Plaintiffs asserted claims against the Equipment Defendants under the Tennessee Products Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-28-101 through -108, for failing to warn of the dangers of exposure to asbestos-containing products that the Equipment Defendants did not manufacture or sell. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Equipment Defendants. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the Equipment Defendants owed a common law duty to warn about the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing products manufactured and sold by others. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the language of the Act, the Equipment Defendants could not be held liable for injuries resulting from products that they did not make, distribute, or sell. View "Coffman v. Armstrong International, Inc." on Justia Law
Reinard v. Crown Equipment Corporation
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's admission of evidence over plaintiffs' objection and denial of plaintiffs' motion for a new trial in a products liability action brought against Crown, a forklift manufacturer. The court applied Huff v. Heckendorn Manufacturing Co., 991 F.2d 464, 467 (8th Cir. 1993), and concluded that plaintiffs waived their challenge to the admission of the video simulations where they preemptively introduced the simulations into evidence. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion for a new trial. View "Reinard v. Crown Equipment Corporation" on Justia Law
Hubbard v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals Inc.
In 2012, 41-year-old Karen Hubbard suffered a catastrophic stroke caused by a blood clot to her brain--a venous sinus thrombosis, a type of venous thromboembolism (VTE). She had been taking Beyaz, a birth control pill manufactured by Bayer. While she first received a prescription for Beyaz on December 27, 2011, Karen had been taking similar Bayer birth control products since 2001. The pills are associated with an increased risk of blood clots. The Beyaz warning label in place at the time of Karen’s Beyaz prescription warned of a risk of VTEs and summarized studies.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Bayer. Georgia’s learned intermediary doctrine controls this diversity jurisdiction case. That doctrine imposes on prescription drug manufacturers a duty to adequately warn physicians, rather than patients, of the risks their products pose. A plaintiff claiming a manufacturer’s warning was inadequate bears the burden of establishing that an improved warning would have caused her doctor not to prescribe her the drug in question. The Hubbards have not met this burden. The prescribing physician testified unambiguously that even with the benefit of the most up-to-date risk information about Beyaz, he considers his decision to prescribe Beyaz to Karen to be sound and appropriate. View "Hubbard v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals Inc." on Justia Law
McMillan v. Amazon.com, Inc.
The Fifth Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Texas: Under Texas products-liability law, is Amazon a "seller" of third-party products sold on Amazon's website when Amazon does not hold title to the product but controls the process of the transaction and delivery through Amazon's Fulfillment by Amazon program? View "McMillan v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Clabo v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc.
In 2003, Clabo underwent surgery to correct pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Clabo’s doctor implanted her with a TVT transvaginal mesh sling device that the Defendants manufactured. By 2006, she began experiencing pelvic pain, urinary issues, scarring, and pain during sexual intercourse. After being notified by her doctor that the mesh from her device had eroded through her vaginal canal, Clabo had a procedure in April 2006 to remove the TVT implant. A month later, Clabo had surgery to implant a mesh sling similar to the one she had removed. In 2011, Clabo had another surgery to have pieces of her second implant removed and other parts repaired, again due to mesh erosion. Clabo alleges that it was not until July 2012 that she finally realized, after speaking with a physician-friend, that the TVT mesh product was the likely cause of her persistent pain and suffering.In May 2013, Clabo filed suit under the Tennessee Products Liability Act. The court dismissed Clabo’s claims as barred by Tennessee’s statute of repose, which prohibits product liability claims brought more than six years after the date of the injury that gave rise to the suit, finding that Clabo’s initial injury occurred during 2006. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; the record demonstrates that Clabo’s injuries occurred outside of the statute of repose period. View "Clabo v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC.
Law firm Petway Olsen, LLC, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to set aside its order granting the motion filed by Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), seeking to disqualify the firm from representing the plaintiffs in the underlying case and to enter an order allowing the firm to represent the plaintiffs. In 2017, Valisha Cartwell was driving a 1998 Mercedes ML320. As she was pulling into a parking space in front a dental office operated by Vital Smiles Alabama, P.C., the vehicle suddenly accelerated and crashed into the front of the dental office, killing a six-year-old child and injuring others. Grelinda Lee, as personal representative of the child's estate, sued Cartwell and the owner of the Mercedes ML320 (and other fictitiously named defendants) for wrongful death. An amended complaint added Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. The second amended complaint was signed by D. Bruce Petway of Petway Olsen and included the names of other attorneys with different law firms who were also representing the plaintiffs. Both Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI") and MBUSA asserted as a defense that Petway Olsen was "disqualified [from representing the plaintiffs] because one of its members [was] a former in-house attorney and general counsel for MBUSI." After review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it granted MBUSA's motion to disqualify Petway Olsen from representing the plaintiffs. The petition for mandamus relief was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its previous order granting MBUSA's motion. View "Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC." on Justia Law
Wickersham v. Ford Motor Company
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. John Harley 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 United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Ford then filed a motion for summary judgment in the wrongful death suit, arguing Mrs. Wickersham has 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. 194 F. Supp. 3d at 448. The court ruled 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. A jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of Mrs. Wickersham on all claims. Ford appealed, and the Fourth Circuit asked: (1) whether South Carolina recognized an "uncontrollable impulse" exception to the general rule that suicide breaks the causal chain for wrongful death claims; and (2) did comparative negligence in causing enhanced injuries apply in a crashworthiness case when the plaintiff alleges claims of strict liability and breach of warranty and is seeking damages related only to the plaintiff's enhanced injuries? The Supreme Court responded that (1) South Carolina did not recognize a general rule that suicide was an intervening act which breaks the chain of causation and categorically precludes recovery in wrongful death actions. "Rather, our courts have applied traditional principles of proximate cause to individual factual situations when considering whether a personal representative has a valid claim for wrongful death from suicide." With respect to the federal court's second question, the Supreme Court held a plaintiff's actions that do not cause an accident but are nevertheless a contributing cause to the enhancement of his injuries, are not necessarily a legally remote cause. "Mr. Wickersham's non-tortious actions that were not misuse are not relevant to Ford's liability for enhancement of his injuries in terms of the defense of comparative negligence or fault." View "Wickersham v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law