Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Ferraro v. Best Buy Stores, L.P.
Ferraro suffered serious burns after falling asleep next to the power adapter of her newly purchased laptop computer. She filed a product liability suit, alleging a design defect that allowed the power adapter to overheat, that HP failed to include adequate warnings about the power adapter’s propensity to overheat, and that HP breached an implied warranty of merchantability. The district court granted HP summary judgment, reasoning that Ferraro would be unable to show that the adapter was “unreasonably dangerous,” as required for her design defect claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Illinois law provides two alternative methods of establishing unreasonable danger: the “consumer-expectations test” and the “risk-utility test.” Ferraro appealed with respect to the consumer expectations test, but, under Illinois law, the risk-utility test “trumps” in design defect cases if the two methods of establishing unreasonable dangerousness have conflicting results. The district court’s finding that Ferraro could not succeed under the risk-utility test furnished an independent, unchallenged ground for its decision. View "Ferraro v. Best Buy Stores, L.P." on Justia Law
Schultz v. Glidden Co.
From 1981 to 1989, Schultz worked painting equipment, floors, walls, ceilings, and pipes at AMC company plants. In 2005 he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He died 2006. His wife sued paint companies, alleging that the companies produced or distributed the paint Schultz used at work and that benzene from the paints caused his disease. She offered reports from two experts: Stewart, an industrial hygienist, who reconstructed Schultz’s work with the paints to quantify his benzene exposure, and Gore, an oncologist, who testified that benzene is generally known to cause AML and specifically was a substantial factor in the development of Schultz’s disease. The district court granted the companies summary judgment on the ground that Gore’s testimony was scientifically unreliable; without that evidence, Schultz had no way of linking his disease to the paints. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding that the district court erred in excluding Gore’s testimony. View "Schultz v. Glidden Co." on Justia Law
Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.
The underlying suits arise from alleged defects in Kenmore-brand Sears washing machines sold in periods beginning in 2001 and 2004. One asserted a defect that causes mold; the other asserted a defect that stops the machine inopportunely. The district court denied certification of the class complaining of mold and granted certification of the class complaining of sudden stoppage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed certification of the stoppage claims and reversed denial of certification for the mold claims. Rule 23(b)(3) conditions maintenance of a class action on a finding “that the questions of fact or law common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” The basic question in the litigation is: were the machines defective in permitting mold to accumulate and generate noxious odors? The question is common to the entire mold class, although the answer may vary with the differences in design. The individual questions are the amount of damages owed particular class members. It is more efficient for the question whether the washing machines were defective to be resolved in a single proceeding than for it to be litigated separately in hundreds of different trials View "Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co." on Justia Law
Lapsley v. Xtek, Inc.
Industrial grease, propelled in a jet with enough energy to penetrate and pass through the human body like a bullet, hit and disabled a worker at a steel rolling mill. At trial the jury found that the accident was caused by a design defect in a heavy industrial product designed and manufactured by Xtek and installed in the mill. That equipment contained an internal spring that could exert over 10,000 pounds of force. The jury accepted the theory of plaintiffs’ expert witness, Dr. Hutter, that the spring was the culprit mechanism behind the accident and that an alternative design of a thrust plate in the equipment would have prevented the disabling accident. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in denying Daubert motion that sought to bar Dr. Hutter from offering his expert opinions, which were essential to the plaintiffs’ case. The purpose of the Daubert inquiry is to scrutinize proposed expert witness testimony to determine if it has “the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field” so as to be deemed reliable enough to present to a jury. View "Lapsley v. Xtek, Inc." on Justia Law
Gonzalez-Servin v. Ford Motor Co.
The Seventh Circuit consolidated two cases involving transfer to courts in another country. One is an appeal from an order to transfer cases involving vehicular accidents allegedly caused by tires installed on vehicles in Latin America, from the Southern District of Indiana to the courts of Mexico. Its i a suit by Mexican citizens arising from the death of another Mexican citizen in an accident in Mexico. The second involves transfer, to Israel, of suits against manufacturers of blood products used by hemophiliacs, which turned out to be contaminated by HIV; it was brought by Israeli citizens infected by the products in Israel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the transfers. Noting the existence of apparently dispositive precedent, the court referred to "ostrich-like tactic of pretending that potentially dispositive authority against a litigant's contention does not exist." View "Gonzalez-Servin v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Bielskis v. Louisville Ladders, Inc.
After falling from a three-foot-high mini-scaffold and injuring his hand and knee, plaintiff brought a product liability action against the manufacturer of the scaffold. The district court granted defendant's motion to bar the trial testimony of plaintiff’s expert witness and granted summary judgment after concluding that plaintiff could not prove his case without expert testimony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. After concluding that that the expert's education and experience rendered him qualified to testify, the district court properly focused on methodology, and was within its discretion in concluding that it fell short under the Daubert factors. Summary judgment was appropriate; plaintiff did not produce sufficient evidence that the mini-scaffold was defective at the time it left defendant' control. View "Bielskis v. Louisville Ladders, Inc." on Justia Law
Show v. Ford Motor Co.
A 1993 Ford Explorer, struck by another car near the left rear wheel, rolled over. Plaintiffs, driver and passenger, were injured. At the close of discovery in their case against the manufacturer, plaintiffs had not designated an expert on the subject of the vehicle's design. The magistrate judge concluded that the suit could not proceed without expert testimony and granted summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Consumer expectations are just one factor in the inquiry whether a product is unreasonably dangerous. A jury unassisted by expert testimony would have to rely on speculation. The record did not show whether the vehicles are unduly (or unexpectedly) dangerous, based on: under what circumstances they roll over; under what circumstances consumers expect them to do so; whether it would be possible to reduce the rollover rate; and whether a different and safer design would have averted this particular accident. View "Show v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Cleary v. Philip Morris Inc.
A class action suit against tobacco-related entities, first filed in 1998, alleged that for years the tobacco companies conspired to conceal the facts about the addictive and dangerous nature of cigarettes by intentionally using incomplete, misleading, or untruthful marketing and advertising. The putative class consists of Illinois residents who bought or smoked cigarettes, seeking disgorgement of profits on an unjust enrichment theory. After extensive proceedings, the district court dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Mere violation of a consumer's legal right to know about a product's risks, without anything more, cannot support a claim that the manufacturer unjustly retained the revenue from the product's sale to the consumer’s detriment. Plaintiffs did not allege that they suffered any harm, that they relied on the marketing, or that they would have acted differently had the defendants been truthful. View "Cleary v. Philip Morris Inc." on Justia Law