Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Baker v. Croda Inc.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The question arose in connection with a toxic tort class action in the federal district court for the District of Delaware that was appealed to the Third Circuit. Delaware resident Catherine Baker filed suit individually and on behalf of fellow residents who lived near Atlas Point, a chemical plant that regularly used and emitted ethylene oxide, a dangerous chemical. The question asked whether an increased risk of illness, without present manifestation of a physical harm, was a cognizable injury under Delaware law. Put another way: did an increased risk of harm only constitute a cognizable injury once it manifested in a physical disease? To this, the Supreme Court answered: an increased risk of illness without present manifestation of a physical harm is not a cognizable injury under Delaware law. View "Baker v. Croda Inc." on Justia Law
Delaware v. Monsanto Company
According to allegations in the complaint, for over forty years, Monsanto was the only U.S. manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). The federal government and states spent enormous sums cleaning up PCB environmental contamination. The State of Delaware alleged Monsanto knew that the PCBs it produced and sold to industry and to consumers would eventually be released into the environment and would cause lasting damage to public health and the State’s lands and waters. The State brought this action to hold Monsanto responsible for its cleanup costs, asserting claims for public nuisance, trespass, and unjust enrichment. A Delaware superior court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that even though the State alleged Monsanto knew for decades PCBs that were toxic and would contaminate the environment for generations, the State: (1) could not assert a public nuisance claim or trespass claim because Monsanto manufactured PCB products, which entered the environment after sale to third parties; (2) State did not have standing to bring a trespass claim because it held public lands in trust rather than outright and therefore did not have the exclusive possession of land needed to assert a trespass claim; (3) the superior court held it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the unjust enrichment claim as a standalone claim; and (4) the State could not use an unjust enrichment claim to recover future cleanup costs. The Delaware Supreme Court found the State pled sufficiently that even though Monsanto did not control the PCBs after sale it substantially participated in creating the public nuisance and causing the trespass by actively misleading the public and continuing to supply PCBs to industry and consumers knowing that PCBs were hazardous, would escape into the environment after sale to third parties, and would lead to widespread and lasting contamination of Delaware’s lands and waters. Further, the Supreme Court found the State alleged that it owned some land directly and therefore had exclusive possession of that land needed to assert a trespass claim. The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Delaware v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law
Droz v. Hennessy Industries, LLC
Shelley Droz alleged that her husband, Eric Droz, used an arc grinding machine to resurface brake drum shoes that contained asbestos. She claimed the arc grinder manufacturer, Hennessy, knew that the grinding process generated asbestos dust, and Hennessy had a duty under Washington State law to warn about the dangers of asbestos dust exposure. Eric Droz died of mesothelioma while the litigation was pending. The Superior Court granted Hennessy’s summary judgment motion, holding that once Hennessy showed that the arc grinder could be used with asbestos-containing and asbestos-free brake drum shoes, the burden shifted to Ms. Droz to show that Mr. Droz used asbestos-containing brake drum shoes with the arc grinder. The court agreed with Hennessy that Droz did not offer sufficient evidence of exposure to brake drum shoe asbestos dust to counter Hennessy’s summary judgment motion. The issues for the Delaware Supreme Court were whether the Superior Court misapplied Superior Court Rule 56’s burden-shifting framework and, once the burden shifted to the plaintiff to raise a genuine issue of material fact, whether Ms. Droz came forward with evidence demonstrating that Mr. Droz used asbestos-containing brake drum shoes with the arc grinder. The Supreme Court found the Superior Court properly allocated the summary judgment burdens. But the Court reversed, finding Ms. Droz met her burden to raise a genuine issue of material fact whether Mr. Droz was exposed to asbestos dust from using the arc grinder with asbestos-containing brake drum shoes. View "Droz v. Hennessy Industries, LLC" on Justia Law
Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al.
Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They sued the plantations in Delaware in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane (“DBCP”). Defendants-Appellees were numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what was sometimes referred to as Delaware’s McWane doctrine (the “Dismissal Order”). On December 31, 2018 Plaintiffs moved to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. Plaintiffs have appealed that order to the Delaware Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al." on Justia Law
Ford Motor Company v. Knecht, et al.
Plaintiff-appellee Paula Knecht, individually and as executrix of the estate of her late husband, Larry Knecht filed suit against 18 defendants alleging defendants failed to warn Mr. Knecht of the dangers of asbestos. During his lifetime, Mr. Knecht developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. While the case was awaiting trial, Mr. Knecht passed away. When the trial date arrived, there was only one remaining defendant appellant Ford Motor Company. A jury held Ford liable for Mr. Knecht's illness and awarded damages. Negligence was apportioned between the parties, Ford was assigned a 20% share of the total negligence. The trial judge then applied 20% to the $40,625,000 damages award and arrived at a compensatory damages award against Ford of $8,125,000. The jury also awarded plaintiff $1,000,000 in punitive damages. After the jury returned its verdict, Ford filed two motions: (1) a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Superior Court Rule 50(b) or, in the alternative, a new trial; and (2) a motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. The trial judge denied both motions. On appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Ford argued: (1) the Superior Court erred by not granting Ford judgment as a matter of law on the ground that plaintiff failed to prove that Mr. Knecht’s injury was caused by Ford’s failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos; (2) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial on the ground that the jury rendered an irreconcilably inconsistent verdict; and (3) the Superior Court erred by not granting a new trial or remittitur on the ground that the compensatory damages verdict is excessive. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings against Ford on the first two claims were correct. However, the Court concurred the third contention had merit, reversed judgment and remanded to the Superior Court for further consideration of Ford’s motion for a new trial, or, in the alternative, remittitur. View "Ford Motor Company v. Knecht, et al." on Justia Law
Marchand v. Barnhill, et al.
Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law