Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Court of Appeal
Phillips v. Honeywell International Inc.
After a jury found that the mesothelioma contracted by James Lester Phillips was caused in part by exposure to asbestos contained in Bendix brakes, Honeywell challenged the $5.8 million awarded to Phillips's wife and surviving children. In the published portion of the opinion, the court rejected Honeywell's claims of evidentiary error, concluding that the trial court properly admitted a 1966 letter of a Bendix employee sarcastically addressing an article in Chemical Week magazine that stated asbestos had been accused, but not yet convicted, as a significant health hazard. The court reasoned that the letter was circumstantial evidence relevant to the issue of Bendix's awareness of asbestos's potential to cause cancer. The court noted that Illinois and Florida cases holding admission of this letter was prejudicial were distinguishable because they did not include a limiting instruction. The court also concluded that the trial court properly admitted the testimony of plaintiffs' expert about causation and the contributions to Phillips's risk of cancer from every identified exposure to asbestos that Phillips experienced. The court rejected Honeywell's remaining contentions in the unpublished portion of the opinion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Phillips v. Honeywell International Inc." on Justia Law
Johnson v. ArvinMeritor, Inc.
Johnson sued automotive parts manufacturers for injuries alleged to have been caused by secondary exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, claiming that he suffered exposure from asbestos contamination brought into his home by his father, a mechanic, and from asbestos released from the mechanical components during times he visited his father at work. The defendant manufacturers argued that Johnson did not have and could not obtain evidence that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from their products. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Johnson had no personal knowledge that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. The potential product identification witnesses named by Johnson either could not be located or had no knowledge that Johnson or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. View "Johnson v. ArvinMeritor, Inc." on Justia Law
Acqua Vista Homeowners Assn. v. MWI, Inc.
Acqua Vista Homeowners Association ("the HOA") sued MWI, Inc. ("MWI"), a supplier of pipe used in the construction of the Acqua Vista condominium development. The operative third amended complaint contained a claim for a violation of Civil Code section 8951 et seq. ("the Act") standards in which the HOA alleged that "[d]efective cast iron pipe manufactured in China [was] used throughout the building." At a pretrial hearing, the HOA explained that it was not pursuing a claim premised on the doctrine of strict liability, only that it was alleging a single cause of action against MWI for violations of the Act's standards. During a jury trial, near the close of evidence, MWI filed a motion for a directed verdict on the ground that the HOA failed to present any evidence that MWI had caused a violation of the Act's standards as a result of MWI's negligence or breach of contract, as required. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the HOA was not required to prove that any violations of the Act's standards were caused by MWI's negligence or breach of contract. On appeal, MWI claimed that the trial court misinterpreted the Act and, as a result, erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict and motion for JNOV. After review, the Court of appeal agreed, reversed and remanded for entry of MWI’s directed verdict. View "Acqua Vista Homeowners Assn. v. MWI, Inc." on Justia Law
Chen v. L.A. Truck Centers
After a bus rollover accident in Arizona caused injuries and deaths, plaintiffs filed suit seeking to recover in strict liability. Plaintiffs, Chinese nationals, are the passengers who were injured, and the survivors of the passengers who were killed. Plaintiffs' theory of the case is that passenger seatbelts would have prevented the deaths and greatly lessened the injuries suffered. The court concluded that the trial court erred in applying Indiana products liability law, which is substantially less favorable to plaintiffs, as opposed to California products liability law. In this case, the tour bus had been manufactured in Indiana, by an Indiana manufacturer, but the manufacturer had previously settled out of the case. The court explained that the trial court should have fully reconsidered the choice of law issue after the manufacturer's settlement with plaintiffs. On de novo review, the court concluded that, considering the governmental interests at stake, California law has an interest in applying its laws, while Indiana does not. The court stated that California’s interest in imposing its rules of strict products liability, in which a California dealership ordered an allegedly defective product, imported it into the state, and sold it to a California tour company, for use on California roads, is strong. Because the trial court erred in applying Indiana law and the error was prejudicial, the court reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Chen v. L.A. Truck Centers" on Justia Law
Kase v. Metalclad Insulation Corp.
Kase was exposed to asbestos insulation used on nuclear submarines during the early 1970s. The trial court rejected claims against a broker that arranged for asbestos-containing insulation to be shipped to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where workers packed it around the submarine piping it protected. The court held, on summary judgment, that the Navy‘s procurement of asbestos insulation for its nuclear submarines implicated the government contractor defense set forth in the Supreme Court’s 1988 holding, Boyle v. United Technologies Corp. The broker procured the insulation pursuant to and in compliance with relatively detailed performance and testing specifications, although those specifications did not expressly call out for asbestos in the insulation. According to undisputed evidence, the specifications could only be met by asbestos-containing insulation, and the only product on the Navy‘s approved list of suitable products was the product at issue, Unibestos. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that the defense does not necessarily exclude the procurement of products also sold commercially. The Navy‘s procurement of the asbestos insulation at issue occurred after years of evaluating and weighing the utility of and the health hazards associated with asbestos products and pursuant to specifications that required an asbestos product. View "Kase v. Metalclad Insulation Corp." on Justia Law
Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc.
This matter arose from Whitney Engler's use of a medical device, the Polar Care 500, that was manufactured by Breg, Inc. (Breg) and prescribed by David Chao, M.D. Engler suffered injuries as a result of her use of the Polar Care 500, and she brought various tort claims against Chao, his medical group Oasis MSO, Inc. (Oasis), and Breg, among others. The jury made findings of malice, oppression, or fraud as to each defendant on at least one claim. In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury awarded $500,000 against Chao and $7 million against Breg. The jury declined to award any punitive damages against Oasis. Breg, Chao, Oasis, and Virginia Bigler-Engler, as administrator of Engler's estate, appeal. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments on appeal of the outcome of the trial, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in part, concluding the jury's verdict as to several claims was not supported by the evidence, including Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg and her strict products liability claim against Oasis. In light of this reversal of Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg, the jury's punitive damages award against Breg had to be reversed too. The Court also concluded the jury's award of noneconomic compensatory damages and the jury's award of punitive damages as to Chao were excessive. Those awards were reversed the case remanded for a new trial unless Bigler-Engler accepted reductions in those awards to $1,300,000 and $150,000 respectively. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc." on Justia Law
Duran v. Obesity Research Institute
Fred Duran filed a putative class action complaint against Obesity Research Institute, LLC (ORI) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) (collectively, defendants). Duran alleged defendants falsely claimed that ORI's products, Lipozene and MetaboUp, had weight loss benefits. The court approved a claims-made settlement providing that class members submitting a claim without proof of purchase would receive $15, and those submitting receipt(s) would receive one refund of double the unit price paid. The settlement also provided that ORI would cease making certain assertions in product advertising. Defendants also agreed to not oppose a motion seeking $100,000 in attorney fees to class counsel. Objectors, class members DeMarie Fernandez, Alfonso Mendoza, and Brian Horowitz appealed, contending the settlement was the product of collusion. Objectors claimed the class did not receive sufficient notice of settlement, and the settlement was unreasonable and inadequate. They also contended the attorney fee award was excessive. The Court of Appeal reviewed the case and concluded that the trial court's judgment had to be reversed because the class notice failed in its fundamental purpose, to apprise class members of the terms of the proposed settlement. "The erroneous notice injected a fatal flaw into the entire settlement process and undermines the court's analysis of the settlement's fairness." View "Duran v. Obesity Research Institute" on Justia Law
Choi v. Mario Badescu Skin Care, Inc.
In December 2012, the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety suspended the sales of Mario Badescu's Healing Cream after testing revealed the product contained two unlabeled corticosteroids, hydrocortisone and triamcinolone acetonide. Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and a nationwide class of face cream purchasers, filed suit seeking economic damages and equitable relief. Defendants agreed to settle the action before the class was certified. In this appeal, nine class members raise numerous challenges. In the published portion of the opinion, the court held that the one-time publication of the notice of settlement did not violate the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Civ. Code, 1750 et seq. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Choi v. Mario Badescu Skin Care, Inc." on Justia Law
Rondon v. Hennessy Indus., Inc.
Hennessy manufactured and supplied brake arcing machines used to grind asbestos brakes. Rondon used Hennessy’s machines while working as a mechanic, 1965-1988. Rondon developed mesothelioma as the result of exposure to asbestos while working as a mechanic and brought claims for strict liability and negligence against Hennessy, alleging that its brake arcing machines released asbestos dust that caused him injury when he used them to grind standard brake linings. Hennessy’s grinders themselves did not contain asbestos. Hennessy alleged that the machines were not designed to be used exclusively with asbestos-containing products and were used on non-asbestos brakes. The trial court dismissed. The court of appeal reversed, citing the 2015 decision from the Second District Court of Appeal in Sherman v. Hennessy, holding that the proper test is not the “exclusive use” standard argued by Hennessy and relied on by the trial court, but whether the “inevitable use” of Hennessy’s machines would expose a worker like Rondon to asbestos dust absent safety protection or adequate warning. Rondon produced sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the “inevitable use” standard was met. View "Rondon v. Hennessy Indus., Inc." on Justia Law
Hetzel v. Hennessy Indus., Inc.
Hennessy manufactured and supplied brake shoe arcing machines, (grinders) used to grind asbestos brakes. Hetzel allegedly used its grinder while working as a mechanic from 1958 to 1962 and alleged Hennessy knew or should have known its grinders would be used in conjunction with asbestos-containing brake linings. All brake shoe linings used with automobiles during the relevant period contained asbestos. He claimed Hennessy had a duty to warn of the risks. Hennessy’s grinders did not contain asbestos and are designed to reshape the friction material of a brake shoe, regardless of the shoe’s composition, by mechanical abrasion. When the grinder comes into contact with an asbestos-containing brake shoe, it releases asbestos into the air. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Hennessy, reasoning that brake shoes without asbestos existed at the time of plaintiff’s exposure and Hennessy’s grinders worked on all brake linings, regardless of whether they contained asbestos. Hetzel, who suffered lung damage, died in 2012. The court of appeal reversed. The combined use of Hennessy’s machines with the asbestos brakes inevitably created a hazardous condition by releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Hennessy was in a position to provide safeguards from this exposure. View "Hetzel v. Hennessy Indus., Inc." on Justia Law