Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V.
Baugh fell off a five‐foot, A‐frame aluminum ladder while working on a gutter. Baugh sustained significant bleeding in his brain, which caused seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia. In a suit against Cuprum, which designed and manufactured the ladder, alleging a design defect under strict liability and negligence theories, Baugh argued that the ladder was not designed to accommodate 200-pound individuals and that a feasible alternate design would have prevented the accident. Cuprum argued that the accident occurred because Baugh climbed too high on the ladder, standing on its fourth step and pail shelf, neither of which were intended to be stood on. A jury found in Cuprum’s favor. On remand, Baugh elicited testimony from neighbors and a paramedic, all of whom arrived post‐accident, and from experts relating to the cause of the accident and the severity of his resulting injuries. There was testimony concerning how many pounds per square inch could be exerted on the ladder and how Baugh was standing on the ladder. Cuprum elicited contrary testimony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of $11 million. Baugh’s experts’ methodologies were adequate; Cuprum’s challenges concerned the weight of their testimony rather than its admissibility. A reasonable jury could find in Baugh’s favor. Baugh supplied sufficient evidence that a feasible alternative existed, and that the accident was more likely attributable to the ladder’s original defective design than to its improper use. View "Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V." on Justia Law
Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc,
Juan purchased Professional Strength Goof Off to remove paint from a concrete basement floor; its primary active ingredient is acetone, which is extremely flammable and evaporates quickly at room temperature. The can contained warnings in English and Spanish and instructed users who wanted to remove concrete stains to “[a]pply directly. Agitate with brush.” Juan claims that he read most of the warnings and opened a window and two doors to the outside. It is unclear whether he turned off pilot lights for two water heaters and a furnace in a separate portion of the basement. While Juan was using a broom to spread the product, a fire erupted and severely burned his face, head, neck, and hands. Juan sued. The district judge rejected his claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of a failure‐to‐warn claim. The warning label adequately identified the principal hazards and precautionary measures to be taken while using the product. The court reversed rejection of the design defect claims under both strict liability and negligence. Juan adequately established that the fire may have been caused by static sparks created when Juan agitated Goof Off with a brush as the label instructed. A genuine factual issue exists as to whether an ordinary consumer would expect a fire to erupt under these circumstances, whether this risk outweighs the product's benefits, and whether the manufacturer should have known that agitation could create static sparks sufficient for ignition. View "Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc," on Justia Law
Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC
Schaefer’s employer, Brand Energy, was erecting scaffolding at a Dynegy power plant. Brand had complete control over the scaffold construction. Brand acquired the scaffold components from Universal, but Dynegy paid for the scaffolding and owned it. Brand workers had difficulties with the Universal components because faulty components would not readily lock. A bar popped loose and struck Schaefer on the head. Schaefer suffered serious injuries. In addition to bringing a workers’ compensation claim against Brand, Schaefer sued Universal. Because the piece of scaffolding that hit him was lost, he added claims for negligent spoliation of evidence against Brand and Dynegy. Schaefer also alleged construction negligence and failure to warn against Dynegy. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that without the missing piece, Schaefer could not prove his product liability claims; that Dynegy was not liable for any defects or negligence; and that Schaefer could not prove the spoliation claims because, without proof that the missing piece was defective, it was not possible to prove that its loss caused any damage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, but reversed as to spoliation. Illinois law does not require a plaintiff to prove that he would have won his case but for the spoliation, it requires only that the plaintiff show a “reasonable probability” of success. Schaefer adduced evidence from which a jury could make this finding: the batch of scaffolding had a large number of defective pieces. View "Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC" on Justia Law
Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc.
The class representatives in three suits had purchased the Smoothing Kit, a hair product that supposedly would smooth hair and coat it with Keratin, a protein found naturally in hair. The Smoothing Kit was a disaster. Its active ingredient is extremely corrosive; if left on long enough, can dissolve the hair and burn the scalp. Asserting claims for breach of warranty, violations of state consumer fraud and deceptive practices laws, and unjust enrichment, plaintiffs in several states filed class action lawsuits. The cases were consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois, resulting in a settlement agreement. Martin objected to its approval which would provide a one‐time payment of $10 per person (the cost of the Smoothing Kit) plus payment to who suffered bodily injury. The Seventh Circuit upheld the approval, rejecting Martin’s argument that the personal injury settlement’s value was too low because it failed to recog‐ nize that there are a number of different applicable laws. The district court reasonably concluded that it had enough data for an informed decision and that the dollar amounts were within a reasonable range and reasonably considered and rejected injunctive relief. View "Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc." on Justia Law
Carson v. All Erection & Crane Rental Co
ALL leased a crane to White Construction. Carson worked for White, providing general maintenance and serving as the “eyes and ears” of crane operator Dowell. Carson and Dowell were told to move the crane to a wind turbine platform several miles away. As the crane approached a road with overhead power lines. Carson signaled for Dowell to stop at the base of some wood matting placed to help the crane cross the road. Dowell stopped, but the crane began moving again, onto the matting where Carson was standing. As the crane pushed one end down, the other end rose. Carson slid down the slope. The crane’s treads crushed his foot, which had to be amputated. Dowell testified that he took the crane out of its “travel detent,” meaning that the crane should not have moved. The crane was inspected by Scholl, hired by White, and by a crane mechanic employed by ALL. Both concluded that the crane had moved forward because a malfunction in the controls caused the throttles to re‐engage without action by Dowell. The problem was intermittent and difficult to replicate and to detect. In his negligence suit, Carson argued that ALL had a duty to reasonably inspect the crane upon delivering it to White. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding no evidence that ALL’s alleged breach was the proximate cause of Carson’s injury. View "Carson v. All Erection & Crane Rental Co" on Justia Law