Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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
Verrazono v. Gehl Co.
Verrazono was seriously injured when a rough terrain forklift he was operating tipped over. He sued the manufacturer. The jury returned a defense verdict, finding the forklift was not defective and the manufacturer was not negligent. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Verrazono’s claim that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the “consumer expectations” test for design defect and erred in giving a “dynamite instruction” when the jury became deadlocked. Verrazono presented no evidence as to the safety expectations of a “hypothetical reasonable” telehandler user under the circumstances that occurred. Rather, Verrazono’s engineering expert’s testimony bore on a risk-benefit analysis. This was not a case where evidence about the objective features of the product, alone, was sufficient for an evaluation of whether the forklift was defectively designed in the manner Verrazono claimed. Verrazono’s failure to set forth all material evidence forfeited his substantial evidence claims. View "Verrazono v. Gehl Co." on Justia Law
Sharufa v. Festival Fun Parks, LLC
While going down Festival’s waterslide, Sharufa inadvertently slipped from a seated position on an inner tube onto his stomach. When he entered the pool below, his feet hit the bottom with enough force to fracture his hip and pelvis. Sharufa sued for negligence, product liability (including breach of express and implied warranties), and negligent misrepresentation. Sharufa’s opposition to a summary judgment motion included a mechanical engineer's opinion that going down the slide on one’s stomach could lead to injury because it would cause a person to enter the water with more velocity than sliding on one’s back. The court found that the engineer did not qualify as an expert on the relevant subject matter and granted Festival summary adjudication on all but the negligent misrepresentation claim. Sharufa dismissed that claim without prejudice to allow an appeal. The court of appeal affirmed as to Sharufa’s negligence cause of action, Festival owes a heightened duty of care as a common carrier; but there was no evidence of breach. The court reversed as to Sharufa’s products liability causes of action; the record is insufficient to show the park provided primarily a service rather than use of a product. The purpose of riding a waterslide is “entertainment and amusement,” but where a product is intended for entertainment, to allow a supplier to be characterized as an “amusement service” provider would risk weakening product liability protections for consumers. View "Sharufa v. Festival Fun Parks, LLC" on Justia Law
Waller v. FCA US LLC
Plaintiff appealed the trial court's judgment in favor of FCA in an action brought under the Song-Beverly Warranty Act, for claims of breach of express and implied warranties and fraudulent concealment based on plaintiff's purchase of a 2013 Dodge Durango manufactured by FCA.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err by precluding plaintiff's mechanical expert from testifying that a faulty fuel pump relay was one of the possible causes of a claimed lack of power in plaintiff's vehicle. In this case, the expert did not provide any rational explanation of how a faulty fuel pump relay could have caused the power loss that occurred in plaintiff's vehicle; did not provide any explanation for how a problem with the fuel pump relay could have caused an intermittent power loss both before and after the repair; and admitted several times in his deposition that the fuel pump relay was only a possible, not a probable, cause of the power loss. Therefore, the court held that the trial court did not exclude the expert's opinion as speculative. View "Waller v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law
Montoya v. Ford Motor Co.
Gabriel Montoya bought a 2003 Ford Excursion in April 2003. A jury found that as of November 30, 2005, he knew it was a lemon. The statute of limitations for breaches of the implied warranty of merchantability was four years. Montoya didn’t sue Ford for another seven-and-one-half years, waiting until June 2013. Yet he was able to obtain a judgment against Ford of almost $59,000 for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. This was roughly an $8,000 return over what he had originally paid for the vehicle 10 years earlier. This was possible because there were two periods during which the statute of limitations was tolled while separate national class actions were pending against Ford, both of which were applied to Montoya’s case. The Court of Appeal determined a second class action filed in this case did not toll Montoya's claim. "The four-year statute of limitations therefore expired no later than 2010. He sued in 2013. His claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability was therefore untimely presented." View "Montoya v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law