Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case involves three consolidated appeals by Dexcom, Inc., a California-based company, against the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California to remand three product liability actions back to California state court. The remand was based on the forum defendant rule, which prohibits removal based on diversity jurisdiction if any of the defendants is a citizen of the state where the action is brought.Dexcom had removed the cases to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction after the complaints were submitted electronically but before they were officially filed by the clerk of court. Dexcom argued that the forum defendant rule did not bar removal because it had not yet been “joined and served” as a defendant.The district court held that an electronically submitted complaint is not “filed” in California state court until it is processed and endorsed or otherwise acknowledged as officially filed by the clerk of the court. Therefore, Dexcom’s removals were ineffectual attempts to remove cases that did not yet exist as civil actions pending in state court. As a result, the district court had the power to grant the plaintiffs’ eventual motions to remand based on a perceived violation of the forum defendant rule, even though the motions were brought 31 days after Dexcom’s initial (ineffectual) notices of removal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeals for lack of jurisdiction, as the district court had the power under § 1447(c) to order remand based on the forum defendant rule. View "Casola v. Dexcom, Inc." on Justia Law

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On July 4, 2022, a mass shooting occurred in Highland Park, Illinois, where Robert Eugene Crimo III used a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle to kill seven people and wound 48 others. Victims of the shooting and their estates filed multiple consolidated suits against Crimo, his father, the gun shops where Crimo acquired the rifle, and the rifle's manufacturer, Smith & Wesson. The plaintiffs argued that Smith & Wesson should not have offered the M&P15 to civilians, as it is a machine gun reserved for police and military use. They also claimed that the manufacturer is liable because the weapon was advertised in a way that attracted irresponsible individuals.The defendants, including Smith & Wesson, filed notices of removal to federal court, asserting that the victims' claims arise under federal law. However, the two Crimos, who are the principal asserted wrongdoers, neither filed their own notices of removal nor consented to Smith & Wesson’s. This led the plaintiffs to move for remand, arguing that all defendants must consent to removal under federal law. Smith & Wesson countered that removal was authorized by a statute that allows removal whether or not other defendants elect to be in federal court.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois was not persuaded by Smith & Wesson's arguments and remanded the cases to state court. Smith & Wesson appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to remand the cases to state court. The court rejected Smith & Wesson's argument that the state suits presented multiple "claims" against them, stating that the company's belief that each legal theory is a separate "claim" is incorrect. The court clarified that the core claim in these suits is that Crimo killed and injured multiple persons, and Smith & Wesson may bear secondary liability for their role in facilitating his acts. The court also suggested that the district judge should consider whether Smith & Wesson must reimburse the plaintiffs' costs and fees occasioned by the unjustified removal and appeal. View "Roberts v. Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon, the plaintiffs, Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London, sued TNA NA Manufacturing, Inc. and Food Design, Inc., claiming negligence and product liability for a listeria outbreak that resulted from using the defendants' food processing equipment. The outbreak cost the plaintiffs around $20 million. The trial court and Court of Appeals upheld that the plaintiffs had waived any action in tort through their purchase contract with the defendants, as the contract contained a waiver of tort liability. The Supreme Court of Oregon, however, disagreed.The court ruled that, under Oregon law, a contract will not be construed to provide immunity from consequences of a party’s own negligence unless that intention is clearly and unequivocally expressed. The court found that the language in the contract between the plaintiffs and defendants did not meet this standard. The court held that to waive tort liability, contract language must be clear and explicit, stating that the waiver will not be deduced from inference or implication. The text of the contract must unambiguously show that the parties intended to disclaim actions outside of contract, i.e., actions in tort.Consequently, the court reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. The court confirmed that, while no magic words are required for a waiver of tort liability to be effective, the use of terms such as "negligence" or "tort" may be helpful in demonstrating an explicit intent to waive such liability. View "Certain Underwriters v. TNA NA Manufacturing" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated appeal of multiple toxic tort cases, approximately 170 plaintiffs alleged harm from exposure to white lead carbonate (WLC), a lead paint pigment, during their childhood in the 1990s and early 2000s. They sued several manufacturers of WLC for negligence and strict liability. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision in part and reversed in part. The court upheld the district court’s application of the law of the case doctrine to dismiss many of the plaintiffs' claims, finding that the plaintiffs had chosen to bring their claims under a single complaint and were therefore bound by the court's earlier rulings. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment against a small group of plaintiffs who had filed their own cases, ruling that due process protected their right to try their claims. View "Gibson v. Armstrong Containers, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this toxic tort case, a group of plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by exposure to white lead carbonate (WLC), a lead paint pigment, while growing up in Milwaukee homes in the 1990s and early 2000s. They sought to hold several manufacturers of WLC liable under state-law negligence and strict liability theories. The case was managed such that groups of plaintiffs would try their claims in a series of waves. The initial waves of plaintiffs met defeat in both the district court and the Court of Appeals, resulting in summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. The district court then extended these rulings to the remaining plaintiffs based on the law of the case and issue preclusion.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that most of the plaintiffs indeed were bound by the district court's rulings due to their decision to proceed under a single complaint. However, a small group of plaintiffs who filed their own cases were found to be entitled to try their claims, as due process protected their rights. The court affirmed the district court's decision in large part, but reversed it in small part, sending the case back to the district court for further proceedings with respect to this small group of plaintiffs. View "Cannon v. Armstrong Containers Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, John Edward Griffith II and Christina M. Griffith sued LG Chem America, Inc., and Shoemaker’s Truck Station, Inc., after lithium-ion rechargeable batteries purchased at a Shoemaker's Truck Station store in Nebraska exploded in Mr. Griffith's pocket in Pennsylvania, causing him serious burns and permanent injuries.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision that Nebraska lacked personal jurisdiction over LG Chem America, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Atlanta, Georgia. The court found that LG Chem America had no substantial connection to Nebraska related to the case. The company's activities in Nebraska, which included renting warehouse space for the storage of petrochemical products and selling those products to two customers in the state, were unrelated to the sale and distribution of the lithium-ion batteries at issue in the case.The court also affirmed the lower court's decision to apply Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations to the Griffiths' negligence and loss of consortium claims, given that the injury occurred in Pennsylvania. The court found that Pennsylvania had a more significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties than Nebraska, where the batteries were purchased. As a result, the Griffiths' claims, filed more than two years after the injury, were time-barred under Pennsylvania law. View "Griffith v. LG Chem America" on Justia Law

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The case arises from severe burns suffered by a minor, B.D., when a Samsung SDI battery exploded in his pocket in Indiana. B.D. sued Samsung SDI, a corporation organized under the laws of the Republic of Korea with no physical presence in Indiana, in Indiana state court for product liability. Samsung SDI moved the case to federal court and sought to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied Samsung SDI's motion to dismiss, finding that specific personal jurisdiction existed over Samsung SDI in Indiana. Samsung SDI subsequently appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court's record did not contain sufficient facts to assess whether the requirements of the stream-of-commerce theory, which may establish a defendant's minimum contacts with a forum state, were met in this case. The court also found that the district court's reliance on the Supreme Court case of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eight Judicial District Court was distinguishable as Samsung SDI did not advertise, sell, or service the specific batteries in question in Indiana. The court noted that the extent of Samsung SDI's knowledge and expectations about the 18650 batteries entering Indiana was unclear.The court also found that the record did not clearly show whether Samsung SDI's contacts with Indiana were related to the alleged injury. Lastly, the court determined that more facts were needed to assess whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be fair.Given these uncertainties, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case for further jurisdictional discovery to gather more information about Samsung SDI's contacts with Indiana concerning B.D.'s claimed injuries. The court clarified that this remand was limited to the question of personal jurisdiction and did not obligate the district court to consider or reconsider any non-jurisdictional issues. View "B. D. v. Samsung SDI Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, plaintiff Carla J. Kappel, acting on behalf of her deceased ex-husband's estate and as mother to their minor children, sued LL Flooring, Inc., alleging that the company's Chinese-manufactured laminate flooring caused her ex-husband's death due to exposure to formaldehyde.The district court dismissed Kappel's wrongful death lawsuit, arguing that her claim was barred by a settlement agreement that had been reached in connection with two multidistrict litigation (MDL) actions related to LL Flooring's products. The court maintained that the deceased, Mr. Tarabus, was a class member subject to that settlement agreement and thus his claims, including any claims involving bodily injuries or death caused by the subject flooring, had been settled.On appeal, Kappel argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to make the dismissal order and that the MDL settlement agreement did not bar her wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the children. The Court of Appeals agreed with Kappel's latter argument and held that the settlement agreement failed to resolve Kappel’s wrongful death lawsuit.The Court found that the claims in Kappel's lawsuit, which concerned the bodily injuries Mr. Tarabus experienced and the alleged causal connection between the laminate flooring and his cancer diagnosis, were materially distinct from the claims in the MDL proceedings. Notably, the settlement class representatives had twice made clear that they were not pursuing personal injury claims on a class-wide basis, and at no point did any class representative ever allege or pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.Therefore, the Court vacated the lower court's dismissal of Kappel's lawsuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kappel v. LL Flooring, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Michael and Melissa Sullivan sued Werner Company and Lowe's Companies, Inc. over a mobile scaffold that collapsed and caused serious injury to Michael Sullivan. The Sullivans claimed the scaffold was defectively designed because it was possible for a user to inadvertently rotate the deck pins off the platform during normal use.Before trial, the Sullivans filed a motion to preclude Werner and Lowe’s from admitting into evidence any industry or government standards, which the trial court granted. The jury ultimately found Werner and Lowe’s liable for the design defect and awarded the Sullivans $2.5 million in damages.Werner and Lowe's appealed, arguing that they should have been allowed to present evidence that the mobile scaffold complied with industry and governmental safety standards. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the lower courts' decisions, ruling that such compliance evidence remained inadmissible in products liability cases.The court applied the risk-utility test, which asserts that a product is in a defective condition if a ‘reasonable person’ would conclude that the probability and seriousness of harm caused by the product outweigh the burden or costs of taking precautions. The court concluded that evidence of a product’s compliance with governmental regulations or industry standards is inadmissible in design defect cases to show a product is not defective under the risk-utility theory because such evidence goes to the reasonableness of the manufacturer’s conduct in making its design choice, not to whether the product was defectively designed. View "Sullivan v. Werner Co." on Justia Law

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In this case before the Supreme Court of Alabama, the plaintiffs were the children of Robert Crum Jr., who was killed when the concrete truck he was driving overturned due to a tire failure. The tire was a 10-year-old Hankook AH10 tire, and the plaintiffs sued the companies that allegedly designed, manufactured, and distributed the tire, Hankook Tire America Corporation and Hankook Tire & Technology Co., Ltd. ("Hankook"). The plaintiffs alleged that the tire was defective and caused the accident. They sought to depose Hankook's designated corporate representative, Won Yong Choi, and claimed that he provided evasive answers or did not answer at all. They also alleged that Hankook's attorney consistently interrupted the deposition, objected to questions, and instructed Choi not to answer. As a result, the plaintiffs moved the trial court to impose sanctions against Hankook.The trial court granted the motion and imposed sanctions that included prohibiting Hankook from having any corporate representative give testimony at trial that went beyond Choi's deposition testimony, barring Hankook from disputing at trial that the failed tire was defective, and striking 10 of Hankook's affirmative defenses. The trial court also ordered the plaintiffs to submit evidence of the attorneys' fees and costs they had incurred in preparing for and taking Choi's deposition. After they did so, the trial court entered an order awarding the plaintiffs $66,550 in attorneys' fees.Hankook petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of mandamus, asking the court to direct the trial court to vacate the sanctions order and the fee order. The Supreme Court of Alabama granted the petition, holding that the sanctions imposed by the trial court were not authorized by Rule 37(d) because Choi did not fail to appear for the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. Therefore, the court directed the trial court to vacate both its initial order sanctioning Hankook and its later order imposing a monetary sanction. View "Ex parte Hankook Tire America Corporation PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS" on Justia Law