Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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McNeal was exposed to asbestos from several sources. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. The jury found his asbestos exposure included the use of Old Spice talcum powder on a daily basis, 1958-1980, except for one year while he was in Vietnam. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral with cosmetic uses. Asbestos, a known carcinogen when inhaled, is also a naturally occurring mineral. When talc is mined, it sometimes contains asbestos.A jury awarded McNeal punitive damages. The defendant, the supplier of the talc in Old Spice that contained asbestos fiber, did not contest the finding it was negligent and otherwise responsible for McNeal's harm but argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that any officer, director, or managing agent acted with the malice, oppression or fraud necessary for an award of punitive damages. The court of appeal agreed and reversed the award of punitive damages. The evidence does not show that defendant’s executives knew there were “probable dangerous consequences” from trace levels of asbestos in its talc, and deliberately did nothing to avoid them. It was not known until 1994 that the contamination of talc with trace amounts of asbestos could cause mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. View "McNeal v. Whittaker, Clark & Daniels" on Justia Law

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Ryan Lawhon alleged he was severely injured when an 18650 lithium-ion battery he bought from a San Diego vape shop suddenly exploded in his pants pocket. In addition to the vape shop and vape distributor, he sued LG Chem Ltd. (LG Chem), the South Korean manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for negligence and product liability. The trial court denied LG Chem’s motion to quash service of summons for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding the court’s exercise of specific jurisdiction over LG Chem comported with federal due process. LG Chem petitioned the California Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion to quash. The Court issued the writ: LG Chem sold 18650 batteries as industrial component products to original equipment manufacturers and battery packers who sell to original equipment manufacturers. It did not design, manufacture, distribute, advertise or sell the batteries for sale to or use by individual consumers as standalone, replaceable batteries. It had no connection to the vape shop or the vape distributor responsible for selling the defective battery that injured Lawhon. Its activities in California consisted of sales of 18650 batteries to three California companies in the electric vehicle industry for use in electric vehicles. The question presented was whether Lawhon’s personal injury claims arose from or related to those sales, to which the Court concluded they did not. Thus, the Court granted the petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion to quash, and to enter a new order granting the motion. View "LG Chem, Ltd. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Ralph and Heidi Bowser bought a 2006 Ford F-250 Super Duty truck, with a 6.0-liter diesel engine (6.0L engine). They had owned a 2004 model of the same truck; that turned out to be a lemon. The dealership, however, assured them that Ford had “fixed” the problems. After the purchase, the truck required repair after repair. After the truck had about 100,000 miles on it, the Bowsers largely stopped driving it; it mostly sat in their driveway. The Bowsers’ expert testified that, in his opinion, the 6.0L engine had defective fuel delivery and air management systems. Over Ford’s objections, the Bowsers introduced a number of internal Ford emails and presentations showing that Ford was aware that certain parts of the 6.0L engine, including fuel injectors, turbochargers, and EGR valves, were failing at excessive rates, and that Ford was struggling to find the root cause of some of these failures. Ford conceded liability under the Song-Beverly Act. A jury found for the Bowsers on all causes of action, and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Ford appealed, raising a number of alleged evidentiary errors at trial, and challenged the jury’s award of damages. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Bowser v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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A cryogenic storage tank, manufactured by Chart and used by PFC, a San Francisco fertility clinic, to store patients’ reproductive material, experienced a failure. A putative class action was filed in federal court against four defendants. Claims against Chart proceeded in federal court; claims against other defendants proceeded in arbitration. Claimants not involved in the federal litigation filed subsequently-coordinated suits in California state courts against the four defendants. Arbitration was compelled for about 260 claims against PFC but not the other defendants. After 18 months of negotiations and discovery, three defendants reached an agreement to resolve the claims against them in all proceedings. The trial court entered a good faith settlement determination, dismissing with prejudice “[a]ll existing cross-complaints” for equitable indemnity or contribution against the settling defendants.Chart, the non-settling defendant, unsuccessfully challenged the good faith settlement determination in a mandamus proceeding, then filed an appeal. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal, noting a split among the divisions. When one tortfeasor defendant intends to settle a case before it is resolved against all defendants, the tortfeasor may petition the court for a determination that the settlement was made in good faith. (Code Civ. Proc. 877.6.) so that the other defendants are barred from obtaining contribution or indemnification from the settling tortfeasor based on the parties’ comparative negligence or fault. The court’s good faith determination is reviewable only by a timely petition for writ of mandate. View "Pacific Fertility Cases" on Justia Law

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A surgeon and his clinic sought a writ from the Court of Appeal directing the trial court to vacate its order allowing the survivors of a patient who died from a surgical procedure to amend their complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. The Court of Appeal determined the evidence of the misconduct of the surgeon and the employees of his clinic that the survivors submitted with their motion for leave to amend, if believed by the trier of fact, might well support an award of punitive damages. Nevertheless, because the survivors did not move to amend within the time mandated by statute, the Court granted the requested relief. View "Divino Plastic Surgery, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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California’s 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Health & Saf. Code 25249.5, Proposition 65, provides that no business shall "knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning.” Mercury compounds are listed as Proposition 65 reproductive toxins. Cosmetics containing 0.0001 percent or more of mercury are prohibited under federal law, 21 U.S.C. 331(a)–(c). Lee alleged skin-lightening creams offered for sale on Amazon’s Web site sold by third parties, contain mercury.The trial court concluded that Amazon is immune from liability under the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230, and that Lee failed to establish elements required by Proposition 65. The court of appeal reversed. The stated reasons for concluding that a laboratory test finding a high level of mercury in one unit of a skin-lightening cream is an insufficient basis for inferring other units of the same product contain mercury do not withstand scrutiny. The trial court erred in ruling that Lee was required to prove Amazon had actual knowledge the products contained mercury and in excluding evidence of constructive knowledge. The negligent failure to warn claim did not seek to hold a website owner liable as the “publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” so CDA did not bar the claim. View "Lee v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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In October 2004, plaintiff Shelby Anderson (individually, plaintiff) and his wife, plaintiff Tammy Anderson (Tammy), bought a Ford Super Duty F-250 6.0 liter diesel pickup truck containing an engine sourced from nonparty ITEC, also known as Navistar (Navistar). Plaintiff chose the Ford for its power, towing capacity, and other qualities as represented by defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford) in brochures and advertisements and by Ford dealership sales agents. Plaintiff began experiencing issues with the truck during his second year of ownership. After numerous attempts to have the vehicle repaired so it could perform the functions for which they purchased it, plaintiffs effectively gave up, rendering the truck a “driveway ornament.” After opting out as putative members of a class action involving the 6.0 liter diesel engine, plaintiffs sued Ford. The jury found in favor of plaintiffs on their causes of action pursuant to the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (popularly known as the “lemon law”), the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), and their fraud in the inducement–concealment cause of action. The jury awarded plaintiffs $47,715.60 in actual damages, which was the original purchase price of the truck, $30,000 in statutory civil penalties under the Song-Beverly Act, and $150,000 in punitive damages. The trial court granted plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees in the amount of $643,615. Ford appealed, but finding no reversible error in the judgment and damages awards, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Anderson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Smith’s hip resurfacing implant consists of a metal ball that covers the top of the femur and a cup that fits inside the hip socket. When a surgeon puts these ball-and-cup surfaces in the joint, the polished metal surfaces are supposed to allow smoother movement than the damaged bone or cartilage they replace. Gall, who had hip resurfacing surgery for his left hip, recovered and became physically active. Years later, convinced his implant was unsatisfactory, Gall sued Smith.Gall argued that Smith failed to properly warn Gall’s surgeon, Dr. Hernandez, about the risks of using Smith’s product. The trial court granted Smith summary judgment because Hernandez independently knew these risks and whether Smith gave Hernandez redundant warnings did not matter. Gall also argued that Smith’s product was defective. The trial court granted summary judgment because Gall did not show anything was wrong with his implant. Gall did show Smith’s quality control procedures once failed to satisfy regulatory authorities, but the court concluded this fact did not imply the parts Gall received were defective. The court of appeal affirmed. Gall’s claims share the same causation element and Gall did not establish causation. View "Gall v. Smith & Nephew, Inc." on Justia Law

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Strobel, diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2019, died at age 68 in 2020. Strobel had sued for product liability, negligence, and fraud, alleging that continuous exposure to asbestos in J&J’s Baby Powder (JBP), a product he used regularly for 60 years, was a substantial contributing cause of his mesothelioma. J&J’s expert swore that JBP was at all relevant times asbestos-free. The Strobels filed declarations from five experts, all contradicting J&J’s experts. The court sustained J&J’s hearsay objections to much of the Strobels’ proffered expert testimony and concluded that, after the exclusion of this testimony, the Strobels could not bear their burden of proof on legal causation because what remained—opinions from Drs. Fitzgerald and Compton—only confirmed the presence of asbestos in the talcum ore J&J used to manufacture JBP, not in JBP offered for sale as a finished product during the years Strobel used it.The court of appeal reversed a judgment in favor of J&J. The Strobels presented sufficient admissible evidence on legal causation to create a triable issue. The court noted the evidence of long-term usage in this case and concluded that Fitzgerald fairly drew the inference that JBP dating from within the exposure period contained asbestos. View "Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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After years of spraying Roundup herbicide on their property, Pilliod and her husband, Pilliod, each developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Pilliods sued Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, alleging design defect and failure to warn. After a six-week trial, the jury awarded Alberta over $37 million in compensatory damages, awarded Alva over $18 million in compensatory damages, and awarded each of them $1 billion in punitive damages. The trial court conditionally denied Monsanto’s motion for new trial, contingent on the Pilliods’ acceptance of substantially reduced compensatory and punitive damages, resulting in a total award to Alberta of about $56 million (including about $45 million in punitive damages) and a total award to Alva of about $31 million (including about $25 million in punitive damages). The Pilliods accepted the reductions.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Monsanto’s arguments that the claims were preempted by federal law, the jury’s liability findings are not supported by substantial evidence, the jury was improperly instructed as to the Pilliods’ design defect claim, the jury’s causation findings are legally and factually flawed, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence, the verdict is the product of attorney misconduct, the punitive damages awards should be stricken or further reduced because they are unsupported by evidence and constitutionally excessive. View "Pilliod v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law