Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Daimler-Benz AG acquired Freightliner Corporation (Freightliner) from Consolidated Freightways (now Con-Way) in 1981. As part of the transaction, it liquidated Freightliner’s assets and liabilities into a subsidiary, Daimler Trucks North America LLC (Daimler). Between 1952 and 1982, Freightliner and then Daimler had engaged in business activities, primarily the manufacture of trucks, that subsequently led to several environmental remediation proceedings, including claims related to the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, and to some 1,500 asbestos personal injury claims. Plaintiffs Allianz Global Risk US Insurance and Allianz Underwriters Insurance Company (Allianz) insured Freightliner in 1981 and Daimler from 1981 to 1986 through a general commercial liability insurance policy. Daimler also purchased from Allianz another policy to provide coverage for future claims that might be made against Freightliner based on its past operations that were “incurred but not yet reported.” By the time it filed the operative complaint in this action in 2014, Allianz had spent more than $24 million defending and paying environmental and asbestos claims against Daimler and the now-dissolved Freightliner arising from Freightliner’s business operations between 1952 and 1982. In this litigation, Allianz sought contribution for the payments it has made and will make in the future based on those environmental and asbestos claims from insurance companies that insured Freightliner -- either directly or through its parent, Con-Way -- from 1976 to 1982. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that Daimler did not assume the contingent liabilities of Freightliner (including the liabilities at issue here) and affirmed the jury verdict on that issue. On Allianz's appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the question of whether, because of side agreements between Con-Way/Freightliner and the insurers, those insurers had a "duty to defend or indemnify Freightliner" -- that question was to be decided by the trial court as a matter of law based on the relevant policies. As to the "London pollution exclusion", the Supreme Court agreed with Allianz that it was error for the trial court not to provide a legal interpretation of a key provision in the policy as part of the jury instructions. The Court also concluded that the jury instructions regarding the London pollution exclusion should be similar to those regarding the Domestic exclusion. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The limited judgments of the trial court were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Allianz Global Risks v. ACE Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Double Press Manufacturing, Inc. petitioned for review of a Court of Appeals decision affirming a trial court judgment against defendant that included an award of noneconomic damages to plaintiff Zeferino Vasquez, in the amount of $4,860,000. In the course of his employment with a feed dealer, plaintiff was responsible for operating and cleaning a machine used in hay baling. One day in 2010, plaintiff did not follow the machine's shut-down procedure; to remove jammed material, plaintiff climbed into an area of the machine where a hydraulic ram was located. The machine, still in automatic mode, pinched plaintiff between a hydraulic ram and the frame of the machine, crushing his spine and causing other injuries. As a result of those injuries, plaintiff was rendered paraplegic. Defendant contended the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution precluded a reduction of plaintiff’s noneconomic damages to $500,000 in accordance with the statutory damages cap set out in ORS 31.710(1). Plaintiff requested review of another aspect of the decision, arguing that the Court of Appeals erroneously rejected his statutory argument that his claim was exempt from the damages cap. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with plaintiff, and affirmed the judgment of the trial court and the decision of the Court of Appeals, but on different grounds, namely, that plaintiff’s claim fell within a statutory exception to the damages cap for “claims subject to * * * ORS chapter 656.” View "Vasquez v. Double Press Mfg., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were two individuals who purchased Marlboro Light cigarettes in Oregon. Defendant Philip Morris was the company that manufactured, marketed, and sold Marlboro Lights. Plaintiffs brought this action under Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA), alleging that defendant misrepresented that Marlboro Lights would deliver less tar and nicotine than regular Marlboros and that, as a result of that misrepresentation, plaintiffs suffered economic losses. Plaintiffs moved to certify a class consisting of approximately 100,000 individuals who had purchased at least one pack of Marlboro Lights in Oregon over a 30-year period (from 1971 to 2001). The trial court denied plaintiffs’ motion after concluding that individual inquiries so predominated over common ones that a class action was not a superior means to adjudicate the putative class’s UTPA claim. On appeal, a majority of the Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s predominance assessment, concluding that the essential elements of the UTPA claim could be proved through evidence common to the class. The majority remanded to the trial court to reconsider whether, without the trial court’s predominance assessment, a class action was a superior means of litigating the class claims. In granting defendant’s petition for review, the Supreme Court considered whether common issues predominated for purposes of the class action certification decision, and what a private plaintiff in a UTPA case of this nature had to prove. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly denied class certification, and accordingly, it reversed the contrary decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on the individual plaintiffs’ claims. View "Pearson v. Philip Morris, Inc." on Justia Law