Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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
Systems Solutions of Kentucky LLC, v. DHL Express (USA), Inc.
Rankins, a DHL employee, was seriously injured at work when a cable within a winch system snapped. Rankins received workers’ compensation benefits. The winch system was designed and installed by SSK. Rankins brought products-liability claims in state court against SSK. DHL lost the physical pieces of the winch system after the suit was removed to federal court. SSK brought a third-party suit against DHL seeking damages for the spoliation of evidence and seeking contribution under the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. DHL settled with Rankins by waiving its workers’ compensation lien ($455,229.17) and paying an additional $87,500. DHL then argued that its good-faith contribution settlement with Rankins entitled it under state law to a full dismissal of all third-party claims stemming from Rankins’s injury. The district court rejected SSK’s argument that the settlement did not compensate SSK for its own spoliation-related difficulties and dismissed SSK’s third-party complaint.The court found that, under FRCP 54(b), there was no just cause for delaying SSK’s appeal of the dismissal of the spoliation claim. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The spoliation and product liability claims are not factually and legally separable to the extent required by Rule 54(b), so there is no final judgment. View "Systems Solutions of Kentucky LLC, v. DHL Express (USA), Inc." on Justia Law
Terry Paulsen v. Abbott Laboratories
To treat her endometriosis, Paulsen received Lupron injections in 2004 from her physician in Georgia. Shortly afterward she began experiencing health problems, including severe bone and joint pain, memory loss, and fevers. In April 2010, Paulsen filed a personal injury suit. Paulsen voluntarily dismissed her claims in 2014. In 2015, Paulsen filed a second lawsuit asserting product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and misrepresentation. After several amended complaints and the addition of a defendant, two claims remained: a strict liability failure-to-warn claim against AbbVie and Abbott; and a negligent misrepresentation claim against Abbott. Limited discovery was permitted.The district court subsequently applied Illinois procedural law and Georgia substantive law, reasoning that Paulsen’s injury occurred in Georgia, and Illinois lacked a stronger relationship to the action, then granted the defendants summary judgment. The court ruled that Paulsen’s strict liability failure-to-warn claim was time-barred by Georgia’s 10-year statute of repose. Georgia does not recognize a stand-alone misrepresentation claim in product liability cases. Even if this cause of action did exist, the court reasoned, Paulsen’s misrepresentation claim would fail because “the undisputed evidence show[ed] that Abbott did not make any representations regarding Lupron.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court noted extensive evidence that Paulsen’s claims accrued before April 2008 and are barred by the Illinois two-year statute of limitations for personal injuries. View "Terry Paulsen v. Abbott Laboratories" on Justia Law
Stevenson v. Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.
Stevenson was injured in the course of his employment while moving a portable ladder in order to clean a component of a Windmoeller printing press. The ladder was supplied with the machine and was necessary to reach an interior printing plate. The ladder caught on the cable attached to the machine, which caused Stevenson to twist and injure his shoulder and back; he required surgery.Stevenson’s product-liability suit argued that the design of the machine, including the placement of the cable near the access door used to service the machine’s interior components, was defective and foreseeably gave rise to his injury. Stevenson asked the court to appoint an engineering expert. Fed. R. Evid. 706 codifies the power of a trial judge to appoint an expert to function as a neutral expert serving the court rather than any party. The district court denied this motion, reasoning Stevenson was really asking for the appointment of an expert to support his case, rather than a neutral expert. Stevenson contends that the month that the court allowed him to respond to a subsequent summary judgment motion was insufficient to hire his own expert, allow related discovery, and file his response.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Windmoeller. Only an advocate expert could have filled the gap in Stevenson’s case. Stevenson could have asked for pre-authorization of the payment for such an expert from a court fund under Local Rule 83.40. View "Stevenson v. Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp." on Justia Law