Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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
Donaldson v. Johnson & Johnson
Donaldson sought treatment for stress urinary incontinence and anterior pelvic organ prolapse. In 2010, to remedy these conditions, Dr. Schultheis surgically implanted in Donaldson two transvaginal polypropylene mesh medical devices. Both were manufactured by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. In 2014, Donaldson sought treatment for injuries resulting from erosion of the mesh into her bladder, vagina, and adjacent tissues, causing scarring, bladder stones, and abdominal pain, among other problems. Information sheets packaged with the devices warned of the risks of erosion but Donaldson never saw the warnings and contends that Dr. Schultheis did not inform her of these risks. Dr. Schultheis testified that he was aware of the possible complications and that he believed that the benefits of the devices outweighed the risks. He also testified that, in implanting the devices, he followed all of the manufacturer’s instructions.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the manufacturers. Although there is no doubt that Donaldson suffered severe and painful complications after the devices were implanted, she failed to produce sufficient evidence to avoid summary judgment in her case for non-specific defects under Illinois product liability law. There was no evidence eliminating abnormal use or secondary causes, or that the device failed to perform as expected. View "Donaldson v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Bensenberg v. FCA US LLC
Bensenberg, age 85, was driving her 2008 Chrysler SUV when she lost consciousness during a medical episode. Her car entered a ditch beside the highway at 45-65 mph, hit a raised earthen driveway, became airborne, and struck a concrete post. The side-curtain airbag deployed when the vehicle’s sensors detected a potential roll-over, but the front airbag did not deploy. Bensenberg's seat belt deployed properly. Bensenberg suffered an undisplaced fracture of the second cervical vertebra in her neck. She wore a cervical collar for three months but did not require surgery. She died of unrelated causes three years later, after filing suit against the car manufacturer, alleging strict liability based on a manufacturing defect and a design defect in the airbag system.The district court granted a motion in limine to exclude the opinion of Bensenberg’s expert that the vehicle’s airbag was defective because the expert did not identify any purported defect in the airbag system but simply assumed from the airbag’s failure to deploy that it must have had a defect. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The opinion of the plaintiff’s expert is admissible to show that the vehicle was traveling at a rate of speed sufficient to command deployment of the front airbag when it collided with the post; this is sufficient to make a prima facie case of a non-specific defect in the airbag system within the parameters that Illinois courts have established. View "Bensenberg v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law
Cortez v. Cook Inc.
Cortez sued Cook, alleging that she was injured by an Inferior Vena Cava Filter, implanted in her in 2006 for the prevention of pulmonary embolisms. Cortez’s action was part of consolidated multidistrict proceedings. Accordingly, Cortez filed a Short‐Form Complaint that incorporated counts from the Master Consolidated Complaint for Individual Claims, alleging product liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranty, and violations of Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act.Cook argued that the product liability claims were filed beyond the time period in the statute of repose of Cortez’s home state, Oregon. Cortez countered that the Oregon statute incorporates Indiana law because the product was manufactured there, which allows for equitable tolling of the limitations period, and that the complaint sufficiently alleged entitlement to tolling based on fraudulent concealment. She alleged that Cook knew the product was defective and, through affirmative misrepresentations and omissions, actively concealed significant risks, continuing to promote the Filter as safe and effective even though inadequate clinical trials had been performed.The district court dismissed the claims, finding the allegations insufficient to demonstrate fraudulent concealment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, applying Indiana law. Because these product liability claims are subject to a statute of repose, and fraudulent concealment cannot extend the time to file claims for such a statute, the claims are untimely. View "Cortez v. Cook Inc." on Justia Law
Sides v. Cook Medical Inc.
Farnolo helped his clients file short‐form complaints in the multidistrict “Cook” litigation, involving product liability claims alleging injuries caused by Cook’s medical device—a filter designed to prevent pulmonary embolism. The case management order instructed all plaintiffs to complete a profile form with general personal and medical background information and details about their device and alleged injuries. In May 2019, the defendants notified attorney Farnolo that they did not have forms from his four clients. By late June, the forms still had not been filed. Farnolo never responded to the defendants' motion to dismiss.The district court dismissed the cases on July 19, 2019. Farnolo learned about the dismissal not by monitoring the docket, but from his client more than a year later. On August 18, 2020, he moved for reconsideration and reinstatement of the cases, claiming that he did not receive an electronic docket notification of the motion to dismiss; he attributed his delay in asking for reconsideration to his email inbox sending the dismissal order to his junk folder. The district court denied Farnolo’s motion as both untimely and meritless. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; all Rule 60(b) motions must be made within a “reasonable time” and Rule 60(c)(1) specifically requires requests for reconsideration predicated on excusable neglect to be brought within one year of entry of judgment. Inexcusable attorney negligence is not an exceptional circumstance justifying relief. View "Sides v. Cook Medical Inc." on Justia Law
Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc.
Plaintiffs, who grew up in Milwaukee homes that had lead-based wall paint, were diagnosed with lead poisoning as children in the 1990s or early 2000s. Years later, they sued manufacturers of white lead carbonate; they identified the paint pigment in their childhood homes as white lead carbonate, but could not identify the specific company responsible for manufacturing the white lead carbonate that they ingested. They relied on “Thomas,” in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted a “risk-contribution” theory of liability for plaintiffs suing manufacturers of white lead carbonate. That theory modifies the ordinary rule in tort law that a plaintiff must prove that a specific defendant’s conduct caused his injury and instead apportions liability among the “pool of defendants” who could have caused the injury. A jury found three manufacturers liable and awarded the plaintiffs $2 million each.The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court committed three significant errors about the scope of Wisconsin products liability law, impermissibly expanding the defendants’ potential liability and a separate error in the admission of expert testimony. The court improperly extended Thomas, allowing jurors to find the defendants liable in their capacity as paint manufacturers, rather than white lead carbonate manufacturers, erroneously allowed jurors to find Sherwin-Williams liable on negligence claims without proof of a product defect, and erroneously allowed jurors to find two defendants liable on strict liability claims in the absence of a duty to warn or any proof that the lack of a warning caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc." on Justia Law