Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Gibson v. Armstrong Containers, Inc.
In this consolidated appeal of multiple toxic tort cases, approximately 170 plaintiffs alleged harm from exposure to white lead carbonate (WLC), a lead paint pigment, during their childhood in the 1990s and early 2000s. They sued several manufacturers of WLC for negligence and strict liability. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision in part and reversed in part. The court upheld the district court’s application of the law of the case doctrine to dismiss many of the plaintiffs' claims, finding that the plaintiffs had chosen to bring their claims under a single complaint and were therefore bound by the court's earlier rulings. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment against a small group of plaintiffs who had filed their own cases, ruling that due process protected their right to try their claims. View "Gibson v. Armstrong Containers, Inc." on Justia Law
Cannon v. Armstrong Containers Inc.
In this toxic tort case, a group of plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by exposure to white lead carbonate (WLC), a lead paint pigment, while growing up in Milwaukee homes in the 1990s and early 2000s. They sought to hold several manufacturers of WLC liable under state-law negligence and strict liability theories. The case was managed such that groups of plaintiffs would try their claims in a series of waves. The initial waves of plaintiffs met defeat in both the district court and the Court of Appeals, resulting in summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. The district court then extended these rulings to the remaining plaintiffs based on the law of the case and issue preclusion.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that most of the plaintiffs indeed were bound by the district court's rulings due to their decision to proceed under a single complaint. However, a small group of plaintiffs who filed their own cases were found to be entitled to try their claims, as due process protected their rights. The court affirmed the district court's decision in large part, but reversed it in small part, sending the case back to the district court for further proceedings with respect to this small group of plaintiffs. View "Cannon v. Armstrong Containers Inc." on Justia Law
B. D. v. Samsung SDI Co., Ltd.
The case arises from severe burns suffered by a minor, B.D., when a Samsung SDI battery exploded in his pocket in Indiana. B.D. sued Samsung SDI, a corporation organized under the laws of the Republic of Korea with no physical presence in Indiana, in Indiana state court for product liability. Samsung SDI moved the case to federal court and sought to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied Samsung SDI's motion to dismiss, finding that specific personal jurisdiction existed over Samsung SDI in Indiana. Samsung SDI subsequently appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court's record did not contain sufficient facts to assess whether the requirements of the stream-of-commerce theory, which may establish a defendant's minimum contacts with a forum state, were met in this case. The court also found that the district court's reliance on the Supreme Court case of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eight Judicial District Court was distinguishable as Samsung SDI did not advertise, sell, or service the specific batteries in question in Indiana. The court noted that the extent of Samsung SDI's knowledge and expectations about the 18650 batteries entering Indiana was unclear.The court also found that the record did not clearly show whether Samsung SDI's contacts with Indiana were related to the alleged injury. Lastly, the court determined that more facts were needed to assess whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be fair.Given these uncertainties, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case for further jurisdictional discovery to gather more information about Samsung SDI's contacts with Indiana concerning B.D.'s claimed injuries. The court clarified that this remand was limited to the question of personal jurisdiction and did not obligate the district court to consider or reconsider any non-jurisdictional issues. View "B. D. v. Samsung SDI Co., Ltd." on Justia Law
Hakim v. Safariland, LLC
Hakim, a DuPage County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) SWAT officer, was accidentally shot by a colleague during a training exercise, using a Safariland “breaching” shotgun round. Breaching rounds assist in breaking down doors by disabling hinges and other attachments on doorframes. When used as intended, they disintegrate harmlessly on impact with a metal attachment mechanism. Hakim’s fellow officer missed the door hinge he was shooting at. The round struck wood, remained live, and hit Hakim in the spine. Hakim’s 13-month recovery required multiple surgeries. He still experiences severe pain. Hakim sued Safariland under Illinois’s strict product liability law. Hakim claimed that the Safariland round was defective in its manufacture and design and that Safariland failed to provide adequate warning that its rounds do not disintegrate if they strike wood instead of metal.A jury found for Safariland on the manufacturing- and design-defect claims, but awarded Hakim $7.5 million on his failure-to-warn claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The fact that the rounds might be complex in some respects does not mean that expert testimony is required for every product liability claim involving them. The jury reasonably could have found Safariland’s warnings inadequate. Even assuming that DCSO was negligent, Safariland’s own failure to warn could constitute an additional proximate cause of Hakim’s injuries. The jury’s award of $7.5 million, “while perhaps on the high side,” was not unreasonable. View "Hakim v. Safariland, LLC" on Justia Law
Johnson v. C. R. Bard, Inc.
Hoping to minimize her risk of suffering serious complications from future blood clots, Johnson underwent surgery to implant a retrievable intravascular filter–a medical device that is placed in the inferior vena cava to prevent blood clots that develop in the lower body from flowing into the heart and lungs. Johnson’s doctor selected the Meridian filter, which was supposed to be temporary and easily removable. Johnson’s filter migrated and fractured, leaving shards embedded in the wall of her heart and elsewhere. Her surgeon was unable to remove the device safely and fully. As a result, Johnson faces an ongoing risk of infection, pain, and other complications.Johnson sued the manufacturers of the Meridian filter (Bard), claiming that they defectively designed the Meridian filter and failed to warn medical providers about the device’s risks, in violation of Wisconsin law. A jury rejected most of Johnson’s theories but returned a $3.3 million verdict in her favor on her strict liability failure-to-warn count. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that its decision “should not be misinterpreted as our endorsement of some of Johnson’s counsel’s trial tactics.” There was no reversible error in instructing the jury or in permitting certain testimony, in alleged violation of expert witness disclosure requirements. View "Johnson v. C. R. Bard, Inc." on Justia Law
Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) centralized cases arising out of alleged defects in Cook’s inferior vena cava (IVC) filters, 28 U.S.C. 1407(a). Many plaintiffs in the MDL claim that Cook’s filters cause pain and suffering, disabilities, emotional injuries, lost earnings, increased medical bills, and in some cases death. To help manage the litigation, the district court adopted direct filing and case categorization procedures. Parton and Sykes were each implanted with a Cook IVC filter. Years later, CT scans revealed that their filters had perforated their IVC walls. They experienced no pain or other symptoms, but they pursued product liability claims against Cook. The direct-filing procedure did not require Parton or Sykes to file a standard complaint; each filed a short-form complaint, which incorporated allegations from a master complaint that ostensibly applied to all direct-filing plaintiffs.The district court granted Cook summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in these cases is based solely on diversity of citizenship, which requires the amount in controversy in each case to exceed $75,000, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Parton and Sykes allege the proper amount in controversy, but the nature of their alleged injuries indicates that no more than $75,000 is at stake in either case. They have not suffered the injuries alleged in the master complaint; the allegations in their short-form complaints were inadequate. View "Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC" on Justia Law
Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc.
Plaintiff was taking a testosterone replacement therapy drug (“TRT”) called Androderm when he suffered a heart attack. The resulting lawsuits against TRT-producing pharmaceutical companies were consolidated as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), and Plaintiff filed his lawsuit as part of that MDL. When Defendant Actavis, the company that produces Androderm, reached a global settlement with most of the MDL plaintiffs, Plaintiff opted to take his case to trial. Plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Actavis had intentionally withheld evidence to protect its defense strategy against Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s attorney received the last documents in a months-overdue discovery production for another Androderm case in the MDL on which he was also lead counsel. These documents included a previously undisclosed letter from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requiring Actavis to conduct a trial to study a potential causal link between Androderm and high blood pressure. The district court denied the motion, holding that the evidence did not warrant a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the FDA letter would probably not have resulted in a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. The court explained that even if the high blood pressure evidence had been more important to the trial, the considerations highlighted in Marcus make clear that the FDA study would not have made a new outcome probable. Removing Actavis’s blood pressure argument would leave seven alternative causes for Plaintiff’s heart attack. And the significance of Plaintiff’s blood pressure had already been undercut throughout trial. Taken together, the introduction of the FDA letter simply would not make a different outcome probable. View "Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc." on Justia Law
Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation
Plaintiff initially brought this product liability action in state court against Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation (“Orton”). She alleged that her late husband, Bruce Johnson, contracted mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos contained in vermiculite packaging material used by Orton. Orton removed the action to federal court, and, in due course, the district court granted summary judgment for Orton. It held that, under applicable Illinois state law, Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson. The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded this case. The court explained that the district court should not have granted summary judgment on the issue of Orton’s duty in the period after September 1981. Orton had actual knowledge during that time period that the W.R. Grace vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos, and there is a genuine issue of triable fact as to Orton’s continued use of W.R. Grace vermiculite after receiving the Data Sheet. Further, the court reasoned that the district court, because it concluded that Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson, did not reach the question of whether Ms. Johnson can establish causation. The court wrote it declined to consider the issue of causation in the first instance. View "Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation" on Justia Law
Anderson v. Raymond Corp.
While working as a standup forklift operator, Anderson hit a bump and fell onto the floor. The forklift continued moving and ran over her leg; the resulting injuries necessitated its amputation. Anderson sued the forklift’s manufacturer, Raymond, alleging that the forklift was negligently designed. The parties disputed the admissibility of the testimony of Dr. Meyer, one of Anderson’s experts. Meyer believed that Raymond could have made several changes to its design that would have prevented Anderson’s accident. Meyer’s primary suggestion was a door to enclose the operating compartment, which would prevent operators from falling into the forklift’s path. Like other standup forklift manufacturers, Raymond offers doors as an option but does not fit doors to its forklifts as standard, claiming that a door could impede the operator’s ability to make a quick exit if the forklift runs off a loading dock or begins to tip over. The district court concluded that Meyer’s opinion about a door was inadmissible because it did not satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702 or the “Daubert” test but admitted Meyer’s opinions on other potential design improvements.The Seventh Circuit reversed a judgment in Raymond's favor. The exclusion of Meyer’s opinion was substantially prejudicial to Anderson’s case. Meyer has a “full range of practical experience," academic, and technical training and his methodology rested on accepted scientific principles, Raymond’s critiques go to the weight his opinion should be given rather than its admissibility. View "Anderson v. Raymond Corp." on Justia Law
T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson
Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law