Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiffs Oscar and Audrey Madrigal sued defendant Hyundai Motor America (Hyundai) under California’s automobile lemon law. Early in the case, Hyundai made two offers to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998, both of which were rejected. After a jury was sworn in, plaintiffs settled with Hyundai for a principal amount that was less than Hyundai’s second section 998 offer. The parties elected to leave the issue of costs and attorney fees for the trial court to decide upon motion. Under the settlement agreement, once the issue of costs and attorney fees was resolved and payment was made by Hyundai, plaintiffs would dismiss their complaint with prejudice. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether section 998’s cost-shifting penalty provisions apply when an offer to compromise is rejected and the case ends in settlement. Under the facts of this case, the Court held that it did and therefore reversed the order of the trial court. View "Madrigal v. Hyundai Motor America" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed claims against the Ford Motor Company (FMC) for alleged defects in vehicles the company manufactured. FMC filed a motion to compel arbitration of plaintiffs’ claims based on the arbitration provision in the sale contracts. Plaintiffs opposed FMC’s motion, including on the grounds that FMC had waived its right to compel arbitration through its litigation conduct. The trial court denied FMC’s motion on its merits.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that it agreed with the trial court that FMC could not compel arbitration based on Plaintiffs’ agreements with the dealers that sold them the vehicles. Equitable estoppel does not apply because, contrary to FMC’s arguments, Plaintiffs’ claims against it in no way rely on the agreements. FMC was not a third-party beneficiary of those agreements, as there is no basis to conclude Plaintiffs and their dealers entered into them with the intention of benefitting FMC. And FMC is not entitled to enforce the agreements as an undisclosed principal because there is no nexus between Plaintiffs’ claims, any alleged agency between FMC and the dealers, and the agreements. View "Ford Motor Warranty Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff River’s Side at Washington Square Homeowners Association was established to manage a development consisting of 25 residential units and common areas. It sued Defendants River’s Side LLC et al. for construction defects in the residential units. Defendants demurred to six of the seven causes of action asserted against them, arguing a homeowners association lacked standing to sue on behalf of its members for defects in residential units that it did not own and had no obligation to repair. Plaintiff alleged it had standing to bring this action on behalf of its members pursuant to Civil Code section 945, Civil Code section 5980, and Code of Civil Procedure section 382. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, holding that Plaintiff lacked standing under Civil Code sections 945 and 5980, and that Code of Civil Procedure section 382 was inapplicable. Because the order sustaining the demurrer left one cause of action remaining, it was not immediately appealable, and Plaintiff thus challenged the order by petition for writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal concluded Plaintiff had standing to bring claims for damages to the common areas pursuant to Civil Code sections 945 and 5980, and that it at least nominally alleged such damages. The Court further concluded Plaintiff might have standing to bring claims for damages to the residential units that sound in contract or fraud if it could meet the requirements for bringing a representative action pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 382. The Court also determined Plaintiff should have been granted leave to amend to cure any standing defect. The Court thus granted the petition for mandamus relief and directed the trial court to reversed its order granting the demurrer. View "River's Side at Washington Sq. Homeowners Assn. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-buyers Melissa and Geoffrey Williams sued defendant FCA US LLC (manufacturer) for violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (popularly known as the lemon law), seeking restitution for a defective truck that was manufactured and warranted by manufacturer. Buyers sought restitution from manufacturer after trading in the defective truck for another vehicle at an unrelated dealership. The parties disputed whether manufacturer was entitled to a credit for the trade-in value of the truck in calculating “the actual price paid or payable by the buyer” under the restitution provision. Instead of resolving the question of statutory interpretation presented, the trial court transmitted the question to the jury and told the parties the jury would decide, based on the parties’ closing arguments, what should be included in “the actual price paid.” The jury found manufacturer breached its express written warranty to buyers when it (or its authorized repair facility) failed to repair the defects in buyers’ truck “to match the written warranty after a reasonable number of opportunities to do so.” The jury further found manufacturer willfully failed to promptly replace or repurchase the defective truck and awarded buyers damages and a civil penalty. The trial court subsequently denied buyers’ motion for a new trial, in which buyers argued the damages were inadequate as a matter of law because the jury’s calculation of “the actual price paid or payable” impermissibly deducted the $29,500 credit buyers previously received when they traded in the defective truck for a new vehicle. Buyers appealed, raising the issue of whether the jury impermissibly deducted the trade-in credit when it calculated “the actual price paid or payable by the buyer,” as provided in the restitution provision. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the jury inappropriately and prejudicially deducted the $29,500 trade-in value of the defective vehicle from the buyers’ statutory restitution award, and thus the damages awarded were inadequate as a matter of law. View "Williams v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Rodrigo Rodriguez Preciado, Norma Janeth Banda Arreola, Alejandro Rodriguez Banda, and Haydee Antonieta Zumaeta appealed a trial court order quashing service of summons filed by defendant Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC). This litigation arose from a February 22, 2020 bus accident that occurred on Interstate 15 in San Diego County, resulting in the death of Cynthia Karely Rodriguez Banda (Cynthia) and injury to Zumaeta. Approximately one year later, Zumaeta, along with Cynthia’s parents and brother (as survivors), filed a lawsuit against several defendants. As specifically relevant here, the defendants also included FCCC, which manufactured the bus’s chassis. All of the causes of action asserted against FCCC were based on various theories of products liability. FCCC argued that Plaintiffs could not “meet their burden of establishing the requisite connection between FCCC, California, and this litigation to justify general or specific jurisdiction over FCCC.” Plaintiffs contended the trial court erred in concluding that they failed to establish that California had general or specific jurisdiction over FCCC in this action. The Court of Appeal concluded Plaintiffs’ arguments lacked merit, and accordingly it affirmed the order granting FCCC’s motion to quash and dismissing it from this action. View "Preciado v. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp." on Justia Law

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Michael Smalley sued Subaru of America, Inc. (Subaru) under California’s lemon law. Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998, Subaru made a settlement offer to Smalley, which Smalley did not accept. The matter went to trial, and Smalley prevailed, but recovered less than the section 998 offer. In accordance with the fee shifting rules of section 998, the trial court awarded Smalley his pre-offer costs, but awarded Subaru its post-offer costs. Smalley appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded the section 998 offer was valid, reasonable, and made in good faith. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court’s costs awards. Because of the pendency of the appeal on the costs awards, the trial court deferred a ruling on Smalley’s motion for attorney fees. Smalley also appealed the order delaying ruling on the attorney fees motion. The Court of Appeal concluded that order is not appealable, and no grounds existed to construe it as an extraordinary writ. That appeal was dismissed. View "Smalley v. Subaru of America, Inc." on Justia Law

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As a child, Schmitz applied J&J’s Baby Powder to her siblings and used it herself. She later applied the powder to her aging father and mother when she cared for them. Schmitz used Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet on a daily basis from the age of 13 until her late forties. The products created visible dust that she breathed in. Schmitz also used perfumed talc sold by Avon. Schmitz was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018. She sued 10 defendants, including J&J, Colgate, and Avon, alleging that they knowingly concealed the presence of asbestos in their products and the health risks the products posed. The trial centered on whether the experts correctly identified various structures as asbestos, whether the talc products Schmitz used contained asbestos, and, if so, whether that use substantially contributed to her risk of developing mesothelioma.A jury returned a special verdict in Schmitz’s favor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain expert testimony, gave an adverse inference instruction that was unjustified and prejudicial, erred in failing to grant a mistrial after references to talc causing ovarian cancer, failed to instruct the jury on a critical element of fraudulent concealment, and erred in entering judgment nunc pro tunc. The evidence was sufficient to support a verdict for fraudulent concealment. View "Bader v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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Amiodarone was developed in the 1960s for the treatment of angina and was released in other countries. Amiodarone is associated with side effects, including pulmonary fibrosis, blindness, thyroid cancer, and death. In the 1970s, U.S. physicians began obtaining amiodarone from other countries for use in patients with life-threatening ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia who did not respond to other drugs. In 1985, the FDA approved Wyeth’s formulation of amiodarone, Cordarone, as a drug of last resort for patients suffering from recurring life-threatening ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. The FDA’s “special needs” approval issued without randomized clinical trials. In 1989, the FDA described Wyeth’s promotional activities as promoting an unapproved use of the drug. In 1992, the FDA objected to promotional labeling pieces for Cordarone. Other manufacturers developed generic amiodarone, which has been available since 1998.Consolidated lawsuits alleged that plaintiffs suffered unnecessary, serious side effects when they took amiodarone, as prescribed by their doctors, for off-label use to treat atrial fibrillation, a more common, less serious, condition than ventricular fibrillation. The FDA never approved amiodarone for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, even on a special-needs basis. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuits. The claims are preempted as attempts to privately enforce the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. 301, regulations governing medication guides and labeling and have no independent basis in state law. The court also rejected fraud claims under California’s unfair competition law and Consumers Legal Remedy Act. View "Amiodarone Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Nissan, alleging the transmission in a 2013 Nissan Sentra they purchased was defective, bringing statutory claims under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code 1790) and a common law fraud claim alleging that Nissan, by fraudulently concealing the defects, induced them to purchase the car. The trial court dismissed the fraudulent inducement claim as barred by the “economic loss rule.” The court also struck the plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages.The court of appeal reversed. Under California law, the economic loss rule does not bar the fraudulent inducement claim. The fraudulent inducement exception to the economic loss rule applies; fraudulent inducement is a viable tort claim under California law. The plaintiffs adequately pleaded that the transmissions installed in numerous Nissan vehicles (including the one they purchased) were defective; Nissan knew of the defects and the hazards they posed; Nissan had exclusive knowledge of the defects but intentionally concealed and failed to disclose that information; Nissan intended to deceive plaintiffs by concealing known transmission problems; plaintiffs would not have purchased the car if they had known of the defects; and plaintiffs suffered damages in the form of money paid to purchase the car. View "Dhital v. Nissan North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Chad Defries suffered injuries while riding a Yamaha dirt bike. He sued the U.S. distributor of that dirt bike, defendant-respondent Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (Yamaha), among others, asserting that the accident was caused by a throttle assembly that fell off the handlebar as he was riding. The jury found in Yamaha’s favor, and the trial court later awarded Yamaha costs. On appeal, Defries contended, among other things, that the trial court erroneously denied his request to instruct the jury that Yamaha was liable for its dealer’s negligent assembly of the dirt bike, a ruling that limited Defries’s negligence cause of action to Yamaha’s own negligence. The Court of Appeal found that California law, however, placed “responsibility for defects, whether negligently or nonnegligently caused, on the manufacturer of the completed product . . . regardless of what part of the manufacturing process the manufacturer chooses to delegate to third parties.” The same principle applied to distributors. And as the distributor of a completed product, Yamaha “cannot delegate its duty . . . [and thus] cannot escape liability on the ground that the defect in [Defries’s bike] may have been caused by something one of its authorized dealers did or failed to do.” If the dealer negligently assembled the product, Yamaha was jointly liable for damages caused by that negligence. Because the requested instruction should have been given, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the negligence cause of action, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Defries v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A." on Justia Law