Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Commercial Painting Co. v. Weitz Co., LLC
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals as to the applicability of the economic loss doctrine in this case, holding that the economic loss doctrine applies only in products liability cases and should not be expanded to apply outside the products liability context.In the underlying suit brought by a drywall subcontractor against a general contractor under theories of breach of contract and tort a jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the subcontractor. The court of appeals affirmed in part the award of compensatory damages for breach of contract, dismissed the tort claim, and reversed the award for punitive damages, holding that the economic loss doctrine applied outside the products liability context when the contract was negotiated between sophisticated commercial entities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the economic loss doctrine only applies in products liability cases and should not be extended to other claims; and (2) the economic loss doctrine did not bar the subcontractor's recovery of compensatory and punitive damages based on its tort claim. View "Commercial Painting Co. v. Weitz Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Alcala v. Verbruggen Palletizing Solutions, Inc.
This consolidated appeal arose from personal injuries Adrian Carillo Alcala (“Carillo”) suffered at a potato packaging plant, SunRiver of Idaho, Inc. (“SunRiver”), after his head and shoulders were crushed by a box palletizer designed, manufactured, delivered, and installed by a Dutch company, Verbruggen Emmeloord, B.V. (“VE”), along with its United States affiliate, Verbruggen Palletizing Solutions, Inc. (“VPS”). The box palletizer was one of seven machines SunRiver purchased in a transaction with Volm Companies, Inc. (“Volm”). Because this was a workplace injury, Carillo received worker’s compensation benefits through his employers, SunRiver, Employers Resource Management Company, and Employers Resource of America, Inc.—and the surety American Zurich Insurance Company (collectively “the SunRiver Plaintiffs”). Afterwards, the SunRiver Plaintiffs jointly with, and in the name of Carillo, sued Volm, VE, and VPS. Pursuant to a stipulation and compromise agreement, Volm was dismissed from this suit before this appeal. The district court granted summary judgment to Respondents and dismissed all claims after concluding that VE and VPS were Carillo’s statutory co-employees immune from common law liability under Richardson v. Z & H Construction, LLC, 470 P.3d 1154 (2020). On appeal, the SunRiver Plaintiffs and Carillo argued that the transaction between SunRiver and Volm did not make Carillo, VE, and VPS statutory co-employees because it was a “hybrid” transaction consisting of goods with incidental services under Kelly v. TRC Fabrication, LLC, 487 P.3d 723 (2021). VE and VPS cross-appealed the district court’s denial of attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-120(3). The Idaho Supreme Court agreed with the SunRiver Plaintiffs and Carillo. VE and VPS were “third parties” and were not entitled to immunity from suit in tort under the Worker’s Compensation law. The district court’s judgment dismissing all claims was vacated, the grant of summary judgment to VE and VPS was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court also rejected VE’s and VPS’s argument that the SunRiver Plaintiffs’ subrogation interest was barred at summary judgment. The Court found evidence in the record sufficient to create a disputed issue of material fact over whether the SunRiver Plaintiffs had any comparative fault for Carillo’s accident. As for the cross-appeal, the Court vacated the district court’s decision denying attorney fees under section 12-120(3) below because there was not yet a prevailing party. View "Alcala v. Verbruggen Palletizing Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law
MacNaughton v. Young Living Essential Oils, LC
The National Advertising Division (“NAD”), a self-regulatory organization, concluded that Defendant Young Living Essential Oils, LC’s (“Young Living”) claims that its oils are “therapeutic-grade” and impart physical and/or mental health benefits are “unsupported,” and recommended that Young Living stop making these claims. Plaintiff had already spent money on Young Living’s products, including lavender oil advertised to “promote [a] feeling of calm and fight occasional nervous tension” and peppermint oil that allegedly “helps to maintain energy levels.” Feeling misled by claims that the products would have effects like “promoting feelings of relaxation & tranquility,” Plaintiff sued, on behalf of herself and other similarly situated individuals, asserting claims under common law and various state statutes that she believes protect consumers like her against companies like Young Living. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit, finding that Young Living’s claims that its products would do things like “help to maintain energy levels” was run-of-the-mill puffery that companies use when trying to persuade potential customers to part with their dollars. The Second Circuit vacated in part and affirmed in part. The court vacated the district court’s ruling insofar as it dismissed the New York General Business Law claims for being based on statements of non-actionable puffery and the unjust enrichment claim for not satisfying the Rule 9(b) requirement. The court affirmed the ruling as to the dismissal of the breach of warranty claims. The court found that Plaintiff’s stated the circumstances constituting fraud with sufficient particularity to satisfy Rule 9(b) and certainly with enough particularity to give fair notice of her claim and enable the preparation of a defense. View "MacNaughton v. Young Living Essential Oils, LC" on Justia Law
Brown, et al. v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, et al.
The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of law for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's consideration. Plaintiffs, individuals who presently or formerly lived in the Merrimack area, brought tort claims, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, and negligent failure to warn, alleging that defendants’ manufacturing process at its facility in the Town of Merrimack used chemicals that included perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They alleged PFOA was a toxic chemical that was released into the air from the Merrimack facility and has contaminated the air, ground, and water in Merrimack and nearby towns. As a result, plaintiffs alleged the wells and other drinking water sources in those places were contaminated, exposing them to PFOA, placing them at risk of developing health problems, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, immunotoxicity, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy induced hypertension. The first question from the federal circuit court asked whether New Hampshire recognized “a claim for the costs of medical monitoring as a remedy or as a cause of action” in plaintiffs' context. Depending on the answer to the first question, the second question asked, “what are the requirements and elements of a remedy or cause of action for medical monitoring” under New Hampshire law. Because the Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative, it did not address the second question. View "Brown, et al. v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, et al." on Justia Law
Wasatch Transportation v. Forest River
A transportation company, Wasatch Transportation, Inc., needed three buses to comply with a state contract. Compliance required "particularly durable buses" because the routes would exceed 350 miles in inclement weather with substantial changes in elevation. Wasatch bought Synergy buses from the manufacturer, Forest River, Inc., based on assurances from a Forest River sales personnel that the buses were “[q]uality buses” that Forest River “would take really good care of” and would “be amazing when they were done.” For each bus, Forest River provided a warranty packet containing three limitations: (1) the warranty covered only repair costs; (2) the warranty was exclusive, taking the place of other possible warranties; and (3) the warranty provided the buyer’s only remedy for defects under any legal theory. After the purchase, the buses developed mechanical problems. Even after the bus was repaired, it continued to break down. Another bus broke down soon after the purchase and was usable only a third of the next year. Given the breakdowns, Wasatch allegedly had to buy another bus to comply with the state contract; but the state cancelled the contract anyway. Wasatch thereafter sued Forest River for: breach of an express warranty; breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose; and fraud. The district court granted summary judgment to Forest River, reasoning that its warranty packet prevented any relief. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined there were genuine issues of material fact to preclude the district court's grant of summary judgment. That judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wasatch Transportation v. Forest River" on Justia Law
In re State of Colorado v. Juul Labs, Inc.
Defendants were California residents who served in various capacities as officers or directors of JUUL Labs, Inc. (“JUUL”), an e-cigarette manufacturer, or its predecessor companies. The State of Colorado filed an amended complaint alleging that defendants in their individual capacities, along with JUUL as a corporation, violated several provisions of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (“CCPA”) and were subject to personal jurisdiction in Colorado. Defendants contended the district court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over them was improper because they lacked the requisite minimum contacts with Colorado and the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them was unreasonable under the circumstances. JUUL did not argue that the district court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that because: (1) the district court based its determination on allegations directed against JUUL and the group of defendants as a whole, rather than on an individualized assessment of each defendant’s actions; and (2) the State did not allege sufficient facts to establish either that defendants were primary participants in wrongful conduct that they purposefully directed at Colorado, or that the injuries alleged in the amended complaint arose out of or related to defendants’ Colorado-directed activities, the district court erred in finding that the State had made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction in this matter. View "In re State of Colorado v. Juul Labs, Inc." on Justia Law
Salazar v. Walmart, Inc.
After Plaintiff-appellant David Salazar bought Walmart, Inc.’s “Great Value White Baking Chips” incorrectly thinking they contained white chocolate, he filed this class action against Walmart for false advertising under various consumer protection statutes. The trial court sustained Walmart’s demurrers without leave to amend, finding as a matter of law that no reasonable consumer would believe Walmart’s White Baking Chips contain white chocolate. The thrust of Salazar's claims was that he was reasonably misled to believe the White Baking Chips had real white chocolate because of the product’s label and its placement near products with real chocolate. Salazar also alleged that the results of a survey he conducted show that 90 percent of consumers were deceived by the White Baking Chips’ advertising and incorrectly believed they contained white chocolate. “California courts . . . have recognized that whether a business practice is deceptive will usually be a question of fact not appropriate for decision on demurrer. ... These are matters of fact, subject to proof that can be tested at trial, even if as judges we might be tempted to debate and speculate further about them.” After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal determined that a reasonable consumer could reasonably believe the morsels had white chocolate. As a result, the Court found Salazar plausibly alleged that “‘a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled’” by the chips' advertising. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Salazar v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law
Salazar v. Target Corp.
After Plaintiff-appellant David Salazar bought Target Corporation’s White Baking Morsels incorrectly thinking they contained white chocolate, he filed this class action against Target for false advertising under various consumer protection statutes. Salazar claimed he was reasonably mislead to believe the White Baking Morsels had real white chocolate because of the product’s label, its price tag, and its placement near products with real chocolate. To support his position, Salazar alleged that the results of a survey he conducted showed that 88 percent of consumers were deceived by the White Baking Morsels’ advertising and incorrectly believe they contained white chocolate. He also alleged that Target falsely advertised on its website that the “‘chocolate type’” of White Baking Morsels was “‘white chocolate,’” and placed the product in the “‘Baking Chocolate & Cocoa’” category. Target demurred to all three claims on the ground that no reasonable consumer would believe the White Baking Morsels contained real white chocolate. Target also argued that Salazar lacked standing to assert claims based on Target’s website because he did not view the website and did not rely on its representations. The court sustained Target’s demurrer without leave to amend and entered judgment for Target. “California courts . . . have recognized that whether a business practice is deceptive will usually be a question of fact not appropriate for decision on demurrer. ... These are matters of fact, subject to proof that can be tested at trial, even if as judges we might be tempted to debate and speculate further about them.” After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal determined that a reasonable consumer could reasonably believe the morsels had white chocolate. As a result, the Court found Salazar plausibly alleged that “‘a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled’” by the White Baking Morsels’ advertising. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Salazar v. Target Corp." on Justia Law
Norman International, Inc. v. Admiral Insurance Company
The issue this appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on an exclusionary clause in a commercial general liability insurance policy issued by Admiral Insurance Company (Admiral) to Richfield Window Coverings, LLC (Richfield). Richfield sold window coverage products, including blinds, to national retailers like Home Depot and provided retailers with machines to cut the blinds to meet the specifications of the retailers’ customers. Colleen Lorito, an employee of a Home Depot located in Nassau County, was injured while operating the blind cutting machine. She and her husband filed a civil action against Richfield, asserting claims for product liability, breach of warranty, and loss of spousal services. Admiral denied any obligation to defend or indemnify, asserting the claims were not covered under the policy based on the Designated New York Counties Exclusion of the insurance policy. Richfield filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to compel Admiral to defend it in the Lorito case and, if necessary, indemnify it against any monetary damages awarded to the plaintiffs. The Law Division granted summary judgment in favor of Admiral. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that “Richfield’s limited activities and operations have no causal relationship to the causes of action or allegations.” The Supreme Court found that the policy’s broad and unambiguous language made clear that a causal relationship was not required in order for the exclusionary clause to apply; rather, any claim “in any way connected with” the insured’s operations or activities in a county identified in the exclusionary clause was not covered under the policy. Richfield’s operations in an excluded county were alleged to be connected with the injuries for which recovery was sought, so the exclusion applied. Admiral had no duty to defend a claim that it is not contractually obligated to indemnify. View "Norman International, Inc. v. Admiral Insurance Company " on Justia Law
Planet Bingo LLC v. The Burlington Ins. Co.
An electronic gaming device designed and supplied by Planet Bingo, LLC caused a fire in the United Kingdom. Several third parties made demands that Planet Bingo pay their damages resulting from the fire. However, Planet Bingo’s liability insurer, the Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington), denied coverage. Planet Bingo filed this action for breach of contract and bad faith against Burlington. In a previous appeal, the Court of Appeal held that Burlington’s policy did afford coverage, though only if one of the third-party claimants filed suit against Planet Bingo in the United States or Canada. Such a suit was then filed. Burlington accepted the defense and managed to settle the suit for its policy limits. In this action, the trial court granted summary judgment for Burlington, ruling that Burlington had provided all of the benefits due under the policy. Planet Bingo appealed, contending that Burlington conducted an inadequate investigation, and that Burlington wrongfully failed to settle the third-party claims, instead, denying coverage in the hope that the claimants would sue Planet Bingo in the United Kingdom, which would have let Burlington off the coverage hook. Planet Bingo claimed (and Burlington did not dispute) that it lost profits because the fire claims remained pending and unsettled. The Court of Appeal held Planet Bingo made out a prima facie case that Burlington was liable for failure to settle. Even though none of the claimants made a formal offer to settle within the policy limits, one subrogee sent a subrogation demand letter; according to Planet Bingo’s expert witness, in light of the standards of the insurance industry, this represented an opportunity to settle within the policy limits. The Court therefore did not address Planet Bingo’s claim that Burlington conducted an inadequate investigation. The Court also did not decide whether lost profits were recoverable as damages, because this issue was not raised below. View "Planet Bingo LLC v. The Burlington Ins. Co." on Justia Law