Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard she purchased from a third party seller named TurnUpUp on Amazon's website. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon.The Fourth District recently addressed this issue as a matter of first impression in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger), review denied November 18, 2020, holding that Amazon is an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and concluded that Bolger properly applied a well-established strict liability law to the facts of its case and was correctly decided. Based on the court's review of Amazon's third-party business model under the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), the court is persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine. Although the court concluded that Amazon is a link in the vertical chain of distribution, the court nevertheless recognizes that e-commerce may not neatly fit into a traditional sales structure. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact as to liability under the stream of commerce approach and thus the trial court erroneously granted summary adjudication on the strict liability claim. The court rejected Amazon's contention that it was merely a service provider and thus not strictly liable for plaintiff's injuries. Furthermore, the court was not persuaded by Amazon's reliance on those decisions that restrict strict liability to sellers or manufacturers by applying out-of-state law. The court also concluded that policy considerations underlying the doctrine are furthered by imposing strict products liability in this case. Finally, summary adjudication was improperly granted as to the negligent products liability claim where Amazon provides no legal support for its argument that negligent products liability may only be imposed on manufacturers and sellers. View "Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC" 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
Santana v. FCA US, LLC
A jury held defendant FCA US, LLC (Chrysler) liable on three causes of action arising from plaintiff Jose Santana’s defective vehicle: breach of the express and implied warranty under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, and fraudulent concealment. After an award of fees and costs, the total judgment amounted to $1,740,169.58. Chrysler contended most of those damages should have been vacated because there was no substantial evidence of fraudulent concealment. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: Santana’s fraud theory was that Chrysler concealed an electrical defect in Santana’s vehicle. But the Court found there was no evidence Chrysler was aware of the defect until after Santana purchased his vehicle, and thus no evidence that Chrysler concealed it. Because the fraud judgment could not be supported, the separate award of economic damages, the noneconomic damages, and the punitive damages fell with it. In addition, Chrysler contended there was no evidence of a willful violation of the Song-Beverly Act. To this the Court disagreed, finding that by the time Chrysler’s duty to repurchase arose, it was aware of the electrical defect in Santana’s vehicle, which it chose not to repair adequately. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects, and remanded the case for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Chrysler on the fraud cause of action, striking the additional economic damages of $33,839.91, the noneconomic damages of $100,000, and the punitive damages of $1 million. View "Santana v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law
Bader v. Avon Products, Inc.
Schmitz's estate sued Avon, alleging that Schmitz used Avon’s perfumed talc powder products for around 20 years and that these products contained asbestos and caused Schmitz’s mesothelioma. The court granted Avon’s motion to quash service of summons, concluding that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over Avon because Bader failed to establish that her claims were related to or arose from Avon’s forum contacts--Bader failed to establish that Avon sold, and Schmitz used, in California talc powder products that contained asbestos as opposed to talc powder products without asbestos. The court also found that Bader failed to show that Avon injected the particular products at issue into California in a manner that related to Schmitz’s acquisition and usage of those products.The court of appeal reversed. Bader satisfied her burden on the relatedness prong and Avon does not contest purposeful availment or argue that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over it would be unreasonable. Precedent does not require the estate to establish at the jurisdictional stage the alleged defect in the Avon products that she used. Bader contended and Avon never disputed that Avon’s sale of talc powder products through its sales representatives directly to Schmitz in California are contacts that Avon created with California that satisfy purposeful availment; the claims arise out of or relate to Avon’s California contacts. View "Bader v. Avon Products, Inc." on Justia Law
Shih v. Starbucks Corp.
Plaintiff filed suit against Starbucks after she spilled a cup of hot tea she purchased from a Starbucks store and suffered second degree burns, alleging causes of action for products liability and negligence.The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that any alleged defect in the Starbucks cup did not cause plaintiff's injuries. The panel held that Starbucks met its burden of negating an element of plaintiff's products liability cause of action by showing the alleged defects in the cup of tea it served her were not a proximate cause of her injuries. In this case, plaintiff spilled her drink because, after she walked to the table with the two hot drinks in her hands, put her drink down, and removed the lid, she bent over the table, pushed out her chair, lost her balance, grabbed the table to avoid failing, and knocked her drink off the table. The court also held that Starbucks' alleged negligence by serving the allegedly defective cup was not a proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. View "Shih v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law
Felisilda v. FCA US LLC
After encountering problems with their used 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan, plaintiffs Dina C. and Pastor O. Felisilda brought an action against Elk Grove Auto Group, Inc., doing business as Elk Grove Dodge Chrysler Jeep (Elk Grove Dodge) and the manufacturer, FCA US LLC (FCA) for violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Relying on the retail installment sales contract signed by the Felisildas, Elk Grove Dodge moved to compel arbitration. FCA filed a notice of nonopposition to the motion to compel. The trial court ordered the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against both Elk Grove Dodge and FCA. In response, the Felisildas dismissed Elk Grove Dodge. The matter was submitted to arbitration, and the arbitrator found in favor of FCA. The trial court confirmed the arbitrator’s decision. The Felisildas appealed, contending: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to compel them to arbitrate their claim against FCA for lack of notice that the motion to compel included FCA; and (2) the trial court lacked discretion to order the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against FCA because FCA was a nonsignatory to the sales contract. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Felisildas forfeited their claim regarding lack of notice by arguing against FCA’s participation in arbitration. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court correctly determined the Felisildas’ claim against FCA was encompassed by the arbitration provision in the sales contract. View "Felisilda v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law
Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC
Plaintiff Angela Bolger bought a replacement laptop computer battery on the online shopping website operated by defendant Amazon.com, LLC. The listing for the battery identified the seller as “E-Life,” a fictitious name used on Amazon by Lenoge Technology (HK) Ltd. (Lenoge). Amazon charged Bolger for the purchase, retrieved the laptop battery from its location in an Amazon warehouse, prepared the battery for shipment in Amazon-branded packaging, and sent it to Bolger. Bolger alleged the battery exploded several months later, and she suffered severe burns as a result. Bolger sued Amazon and several other defendants, including Lenoge, alleging causes of action for strict products liability, negligent products liability, breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty, and “negligence/negligent undertaking.” Lenoge was served but did not appear, so the trial court entered its default. Amazon then moved for summary judgment, arguing primarily that the doctrine of strict products liability, as well as any similar tort theory, did not apply to it because it did not distribute, manufacture, or sell the product in question. It claimed its website was an “online marketplace” and E-Life (Lenoge) was the product seller, not Amazon. The trial court agreed, granted Amazon’s motion, and entered judgment accordingly. Bolger appealed, arguing that Amazon was strictly liable for defective products offered on its website by third-party sellers like Lenoge. In the circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed: "Amazon placed itself between Lenoge and Bolger in the chain of distribution of the product at issue here. ... Under established principles of strict liability, Amazon should be held liable if a product sold through its website turns out to be defective. Strict liability here “affords maximum protection to the injured plaintiff and works no injustice to the defendants, for they can adjust the costs of such protection between them in the course of their continuing business relationship." View "Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Monsanto Co.
Johnson, a school district’s grounds manager and a heavy user of Roundup herbicides made by Monsanto, sued Monsanto after contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury found that Monsanto failed to adequately warn of its products’ potential dangers and that its products had a design defect. It awarded Johnson around $39.3 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. The court denied Monsanto’s motion for a new trial on the condition that Johnson accept a reduced award of punitive damages.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Monsanto was liable on the failure-to-warn claims because substantial evidence was presented that Roundup’s risks were “known or knowable” to Monsanto. The trial court did not err in allowing Johnson to proceed on a consumer expectations theory of design defect. Johnson presented abundant—and certainly substantial— evidence that the ingredients in Roundup, caused his cancer. Johnson’s causes of action were not preempted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, 7 U.S.C. 136. Monsanto has not established that the trial court erred in admitting or excluding evidence. The court reversed in part. The evidence does not support the entire award for future noneconomic damages. Johnson was entitled to punitive damages, but they should be reduced commensurate with the reduction of future noneconomic damages. View "Johnson v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law
Mize v. Mentor Worldwide LLC
Plaintiffs filed suit against Mentor, alleging causes of action for negligence and negligence per se based on Mentor's negligent failure to warn and negligent manufacturing of breast implants, strict products liability for failure to warn, and strict products liability for manufacturing defects.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and entered an order overruling the demurrer to the third amended complaint. The court held that the tort claims in this case survive preemption because they are premised on conduct that both violates the Medical Device Amendments (MDA) to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act and would give rise to a recovery under state law even in the absence of the MDA. The court also held that plaintiffs pleaded the requisite causal connection between their injuries and Mentor's tortious acts to survive a demurrer. Finally, the trial court erroneously sustained Mentor's demurrer to the loss of consortium claim because it was derivative of the other claims. View "Mize v. Mentor Worldwide LLC" on Justia Law
Estes v. Eaton Corp.
Estes worked as an electrician in two Bay Area naval shipyards and was exposed to asbestos-containing products manufactured or supplied to the Navy by approximately 50 companies. Later, he developed asbestos-related mesothelioma. In Estes’ personal injury lawsuit, a jury returned a defense verdict for an electrical component manufacturer, Eaton. The trial court granted Estes a new trial.The court of appeal reversed that order; the explanation of reasons for granting a new trial was not sufficient under Code of Civil Procedure section 657. The court overturned the verdict because “plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that he worked with arc chutes manufactured and supplied by [Eaton’s predecessor]; the arc chutes contained asbestos; asbestos fibers from the arc chutes were released during plaintiff’s work with them; and the levels of fibers released posed a hazard to plaintiff, and may have been a substantial factor in causing injury to him” whereas “[t]he evidence submitted by Eaton was not sufficient to rebut this evidence submitted by plaintiff.” This reasoning is little more than a conclusion that the plaintiff introduced sufficient evidence to prove that the arc chutes released hazardous levels of asbestos during Estes’s encounter with them in the workplace. The explanation is too vague to enable meaningful review. The court also rejected Estes’s substantial evidence challenge to the verdict exonerating Eaton of liability. View "Estes v. Eaton Corp." on Justia Law