Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Hystron Fibers, Inc. hired Daniel Construction Company in 1965 to build a polyester fiber plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. When the plant began operating in 1967, Hystron retained Daniel to provide all maintenance and repair workers at the plant. Hystron soon became Hoechst Fibers, Inc. Pursuant to a series of written contracts, Hoechst paid Daniel an annual fee and reimbursed Daniel for certain costs. The contracts required Daniel to purchase workers' compensation insurance for the workers and required Hoechst to reimburse Daniel for the workers' compensation insurance premiums. Dennis Seay was employed by Daniel. Seay worked various maintenance and repair positions at the Hoechst plant from 1971 until 1980. The manufacture of polyester fibers required the piping of very hot liquid polyester through asbestos-insulated pipes. He eventually developed lung problems, which were later diagnosed as mesothelioma, a cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Seay and his wife filed this lawsuit against CNA Holdings (Hoechst's corporate successor) claiming Hoechst acted negligently in using asbestos and in failing to warn of its dangers. After Seay died from mesothelioma, his daughter, Angie Keene, took over the lawsuit as personal representative of his estate. Throughout the litigation, CNA Holdings argued Seay was a statutory employee and the Workers' Compensation Law provided the exclusive remedy for his claims. The circuit court disagreed and denied CNA Holdings' motion for summary judgment. A jury awarded Seay's estate $14 million in actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages. The trial court denied CNA Holdings' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, again finding Seay was not a statutory employee. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the circuit court and the court of appeals correctly determined the injured worker in this case was not the statutory employee of the defendant. View "Keene v, CNA Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident that occurred while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to Crookham on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims fail as a matter of law because Crookham is not a “manufacturer.” The Idaho Supreme Court determined that given the totality of the evidence in this case, which included prior OSHA violations for similar safety issues, the district court erred by failing to consider whether Crookham consciously disregarded information suggesting a significant risk to its employees working at or under the picking tables, which were neither locked nor tagged out, as they existed on the date of the accident. On this basis, the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to Crookham was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to apply the proper standard for proving an act of unprovoked physical aggression, and to determine whether there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Crookham consciously disregarded knowledge of a serious risk to Mrs. Gomez. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed the district court's decision to grant Crookham’s motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims failed as a matter of law because Crookham was not a “manufacturer.” In affirming in part and reversing in part, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it failed to consider whether Crookham committed an act of unprovoked physical aggression upon Mrs. Gomez by consciously disregarding knowledge that an injury would result. As such, the matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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In this action to recover damages for personal injuries resulting from an allegedly defective product the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, holding that the amendment to the statute of repose in Number 17-97 of the 2017 Public Acts (P.A. 17-97) retroactively applied to Plaintiff's claims.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the statute of repose applied to her product liability claims is unconstitutional because it creates two classes of claimants - employees subject to a ten-year statute of repose and nonemployees not subject to the statute of repose if the claimant shows the product was within its useful safe life when the injury occurred. While Defendants' motions for summary judgment were pending the legislature enacted P.A. 17-97, which combined the two classes of claimants by removing the limitation provision applicable to employees. The trial court concluded that P.A. 17-97 was not retroactive and applied the ten-year statute of repose to bar Plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the amendment to the statute of repose in P.A. 17-97 retroactively applied to Plaintiff's claims. The Court remanded to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the injury occurred during the safe life of the product. View "King v. Volvo Excavators AB" on Justia Law

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Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law

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The family of Mrs. Francisca Gomez (the Gomezes) appealed a district court decision granting Crookham Company’s (Crookham) motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. Crookham is a wholesale seed distributor located in Caldwell, Idaho. Mrs. Gomez was an employee of Crookham for more than thirty years before her death. In early 2015, Crookham decided that a new picking table was necessary to sort seeds more efficiently. A Crookham employee fabricated the new table and it was installed in the company’s “Scancore” room in late 2015. Although OSHA had previously cited Crookham for violating machine guard safety standards and lockout-tagout protocol with its former picking tables, the new picking table’s drive shaft was not fully guarded and Crookham did not perform the required lockout-tagout procedures while employees cleaned the table. While working in the Scanscore room, Mrs. Gomez was under the picking table attempting to clean it when the table’s exposed drive shaft caught her hair and pulled her into the machine. She died as a result of her injuries. OSHA subsequently investigated Crookham and issued “serious” violations to the company because it exposed its employees to the unguarded drive shaft without implementing lockout-tagout procedures. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working in the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims fail as a matter of law because Crookham is not a “manufacturer.” Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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In 1952, the patent for a “Composite Fire Door,” issued to Owens‐Illinois. The patent claims never specifically mention asbestos, but describe a fire door with a “core of inorganic, rigid, fireproof, lightweight material of a substantially uniform apparent density and consistency throughout.” In 1956, Owens‐Illinois licensed the patent to Weyerhauser’s predecessor. Until 1978, its Marshfield, Wisconsin plant produced fire doors that used asbestos as a thermal insulator. The plaintiffs were all employees of that Marshfield plant and developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their claims as covered by the exclusive remedy provisions of Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation Act, Wis. Stat. 102.03(2). The court rejected an attempt to avoid that bar by recharacterizing their injuries as occurring off the job based on a “public nuisance” theory involving ambient asbestos. The court characterized the claims against Owen‐Illinois claims as frivolous. View "Masephol v. Weyerhaeuser Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the packaging and labeling of sodium bromate, a chemical which contributed to a fire that occurred in a plant owned by Engelhard Corporation in June 2004. At the time of the fire, Scott Lawing worked at Engelhard's Seneca plant as a maintenance mechanic. Engelhard produced a precious metal catalyst used in the automobile industry, and refined metals from recycled materials. In this products liability action, Trinity Manufacturing, Inc. and Matrix Outsourcing, LLC argued that the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to them on a strict liability cause of action. In their cross-appeal, Scott and Tammy Lawing asked the Supreme Court to reverse the court of appeals' decision affirming the trial court's decision to charge the jury on the "sophisticated user" defense. After review, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals. The Court found the appellate court erred in setting forth its broad definition of "user," and affirmed as modified the court of appeals' decision on this issue. Furthermore, the Court concluded the appellate court erred in affirming the trial court's decision to charge the sophisticated user defense to the jury. The appellate court did not err, however, in reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Trinity and Matrix on the Lawings' strict liability claim. The Supreme Court found that the evidence in this case did not support the sophisticated user defense, so the trial court erred in charging the defense to the jury. The case was remanded for a new trial on the Lawings' negligence and implied warranty of merchantability claims. View "Lawing v. Univar" on Justia Law