Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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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

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In this case, Crista Miller tripped on a vertical misalignment of less than one inch between a metal plate covering an underground utility vault, owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and the surrounding sidewalk adjacent to a property owned by Hip Sen Benevolent Association (Hip Sen), resulting in an injury to her ankle. Miller filed a lawsuit against both PG&E and Hip Sen, alleging general negligence and premises liability. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that the lawsuit was barred by the trivial defect doctrine.Miller appealed, but the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, Division Three, affirmed the trial court's ruling. The appellate court concluded that the vertical misalignment was a trivial defect as a matter of law. The court stated that to recover damages for negligence or premises liability, Miller had to prove that the defendants breached a legal duty to either repair or warn about the existence of the misalignment. However, it is well-established law that landowners are not liable for damages caused by minor, trivial, or insignificant defects in property. Even considering the steepness of the sidewalk, the weather conditions, the time of the incident, and the crowded nature of the street, the court found that these factors did not render the misalignment a dangerous condition. The court also found that the city's guidelines and repair notices did not impose a legal duty to repair such minor defects.Miller also argued that the city's repair notices to PG&E and Hip Sen for their violations of the city's Guidelines rendered them liable under a theory of negligence per se. However, the appellate court found this argument to be forfeited as Miller did not raise this issue in the trial court and only presented it for the first time in her appellate reply brief.Therefore, the appellate court concluded that no reasonable trier of fact could find the trivial sidewalk defect posed a substantial risk of injury to a foreseeable pedestrian exercising due care and affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. View "Miller v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants’ father died in a multi-car accident caused by a deer crossing State Route 154 (SR-154). Appellants sued respondent California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and others for negligence. They alleged the road constituted a dangerous condition under Government Code section 835. The trial court found that design immunity applied to Caltrans and granted summary judgment. Appellants contend the trial court erred when it found design immunity was a complete defense to Caltrans’ liability. They also contend the court failed to address a separate basis of liability, failed to warn when it ruled on the motion for summary judgment.The Second Appellate District affirmed. Appellants’ theory of the case, in sum, is that Caltrans designed SR-154 without certain specific features they contend would have made the highway safer. The court explained that Caltrans need not produce additional evidence to prove this point. A traffic engineer attested to the applicable design standards and how Caltrans addressed the dangers posed by deer entering traffic and vehicles crossing the median. This constitutes substantial evidence of advance approval. The court wrote that it would not second-guess the decision of Caltrans to include or omit certain design features. The court concluded that substantial evidence showed that a reasonable public employee would have adopted the SR-154 design plans, even without the features and changes Appellants contend Caltrans should have considered and included. View "Stufkosky v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Mercedes-Benz USA and Daimler AG have sold and leased a number of different Mercedes-Benz vehicles painted in a color called 590 Mars Red. Either due to a defect in the paint or some other reasons the paint on some of these vehicles has deteriorated. Emily Pinon is the owner/lessee of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle painted in Mars Red. Ms. Pinon asserted numerous claims under federal and state law. The third amended class action complaint, the operative pleading, named six other individuals as plaintiffs: (collectively the “Pinon plaintiffs”). The Pinon plaintiffs submitted a motion for preliminary approval of the proposed class action settlement agreement and preliminary certification of the nationwide settlement. Collaboration between the Pinon plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in the District of New Jersey action (collectively the “Ponzio objectors”) failed. The district court rejected the contention of the Ponzio objectors that the settlement agreement failed to provide benefits to the great majority of the class members.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the class action settlement. The court explained that it rejects the Ponzio objectors’ argument that “the economic interests of substantial portions of the [c]lass [m]embers are in substantial conflict” and the “interests of the [Pinon] class representatives are not aligned with, and are actually antagonistic to, the interests of a majority of [c]lass [m]embers. The court explained that it was satisfied that the district court took the objections of the Ponzio objectors seriously and, after rejecting those objections, acted within its discretion in approving the settlement agreement. View "Robert Ponzio, et al v. Emily Pinon, et al v." on Justia Law

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In this case, a Pennsylvania trial court transferred venue based on a determination the corporate defendant did not regularly conduct business in Philadelphia County because only 0.005% of the company’s total national revenue was derived from that county. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, holding the trial court abused its discretion in transferring venue. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to evaluate the Superior Court’s determination, and affirmed: venue was proper in Philadelphia County. View "Hangey, et al. v. Husqvarna, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court adopted conspiracy jurisdiction in this case in which three law firms petitioned the Court to order a judge to dismiss them from the underlying lawsuit, holding that the law firms demonstrated a "clear and indisputable right to the relief requested and a lack of other means to redress adequately the alleged wrong or to obtain he requested action."Plaintiffs sued certain cigarette manufacturers and retailers, bringing product liability, fraud, and conspiracy claims. Plaintiff also sued three law firms that counseled the tobacco companies, alleging two counts of conspiracy. The law firms each filed motions to dismiss under Haw. R. Civ. P. (HRCP) Rule 12(b)(2), claiming that Hawai'i courts lacked general and specific jurisdiction over them. The circuit court denied the motions to dismiss without making minimum contacts findings or undertaking any due process analysis. The law firms subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition and, alternatively, for a writ of mandamus ordering dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. The Court adopted conspiracy jurisdiction and granted the law firms' writ of prohibition, holding that the circuit court clearly exercised jurisdiction beyond its authority, and there were no other means for the law firms to adequately address the alleged wrong or to obtain dismissal. View "Dickinson v. Kim" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals as to the applicability of the economic loss doctrine in this case, holding that the economic loss doctrine applies only in products liability cases and should not be expanded to apply outside the products liability context.In the underlying suit brought by a drywall subcontractor against a general contractor under theories of breach of contract and tort a jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the subcontractor. The court of appeals affirmed in part the award of compensatory damages for breach of contract, dismissed the tort claim, and reversed the award for punitive damages, holding that the economic loss doctrine applied outside the products liability context when the contract was negotiated between sophisticated commercial entities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the economic loss doctrine only applies in products liability cases and should not be extended to other claims; and (2) the economic loss doctrine did not bar the subcontractor's recovery of compensatory and punitive damages based on its tort claim. View "Commercial Painting Co. v. Weitz Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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In the multidistrict National Prescription Opiate Litigation, municipalities from across the nation, Indian Tribes, and other entities allege that opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies, and retailers acted in concert to mislead medical professionals into prescribing, and millions of Americans into taking and often becoming addicted to, opiates. Two northeast Ohio counties, Trumbull and Lake, alleged that national pharmaceutical chains “created, perpetuated, and maintained” the opioid epidemic by filling prescriptions for opioids without controls in place to stop the distribution of those that were illicitly prescribed and that conduct caused an absolute public nuisance remediable by abatement under Ohio common law.The district court ordered a bellwether trial, after which a jury concluded that the “oversupply of legal prescription opioids, and diversion of those opioids into the illicit market” was a public nuisance in those counties and that defendants “engaged in intentional and/or illegal conduct which was a substantial factor in producing" that nuisance. The district court entered a $650 million abatement order and an injunction requiring defendants to “ensure they are complying fully with the Controlled Substances Act and avoiding further improper dispensing conduct.” On appeal, the Sixth Circuit certified a question of law to the Ohio Supreme Court: Whether the Ohio Product Liability Act, Ohio Revised Code 2307.71, abrogates a common law claim of absolute public nuisance resulting from the sale of a product in commerce in which the plaintiffs seek equitable abatement, including both monetary and injunctive remedies? View "Trumbull County v. Purdue Pharma, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff RSD Leasing Inc., a company that leases and, eventually, resells trucks to other commercial entities, appealed from a district court decision, granting in relevant part summary judgment to Defendants Navistar International Corp. and Navistar, Inc., the manufacturer of several allegedly substandard trucks in RSD’s fleet. The sole question on appeal is whether, for purposes of its purchase of those trucks, RSD qualifies as a “consumer” under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act and therefore is eligible to invoke the Act’s protections. In the absence of any on-point Vermont caselaw signaling whether the statute extends “consumer” protections to a business that purchases a good intending exclusively to lease that good to a third party and then to resell it at the end of the lease term, the district court relied in substantial part on two brief passages from the Act’s legislative history, holding that RSD was not acting as a “consumer” when it purchased the trucks at issue.   The Second Circuit wrote that it is unable to confidently predict how the Vermont Supreme Court would decide the matter. Therefore, the court certified to the Vermont Supreme Court the following question: Does a business that purchases goods intending first to lease those goods to end users and then to resell them at the termination of the lease term qualify as a ‘consumer’ under the VCPA? View "RSD Leasing, Inc. v. Navistar Int'l Corp." on Justia Law

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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