Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the Fair Share Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 7102, required a factfinder to apportion liability on a percentage, as opposed to per capita, basis in strict liability asbestos actions. William Roverano was exposed to a variety of asbestos products from 1971 to 1981 in the course of his employment as a helper and a carpenter with PECO Energy Company. Additionally, he smoked cigarettes for approximately thirty years until 1997. In November 2013, Roverano was diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs. In 2014, Roverano brought a strict liability lawsuit against thirty defendants, including John Crane, Inc. (Crane) and Brand Insulations, Inc. (Brand), asserting that exposure to their asbestos products caused his lung cancer. His wife, Jacqueline Roverano, filed a loss of consortium claim. Before trial, several defendants, including Crane and Brand, filed a motion in limine seeking a ruling that the Fair Share Act applied to asbestos cases. The Supreme Court concluded the Act’s plain language was consistent with per capita apportionment in asbestos cases, the Act does not specifically preempt Pennsylvania common law favoring per capita apportionment, and percentage apportionment in asbestos cases was impossible of execution. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order, which vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for a new trial to apportion damages on a percentage basis. Additionally, the Supreme Court considered whether the Act required a factfinder to apportion liability to bankrupt entities that entered into a release with the plaintiff. To this, the Court concluded that upon appropriate requests and proofs, bankruptcy trusts that were either joined as third-party defendants or that have entered into a release with the plaintiff could be included on the verdict sheet for purposes of liability only. Accordingly, this case was remanded to the trial court to consider whether Appellees submitted sufficient requests and proofs to apportion liability to the settled bankruptcy trusts. View "Roverano. v. John Crane, Inc." on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident that occurred while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to Crookham on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims fail as a matter of law because Crookham is not a “manufacturer.” The Idaho Supreme Court determined that given the totality of the evidence in this case, which included prior OSHA violations for similar safety issues, the district court erred by failing to consider whether Crookham consciously disregarded information suggesting a significant risk to its employees working at or under the picking tables, which were neither locked nor tagged out, as they existed on the date of the accident. On this basis, the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to Crookham was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to apply the proper standard for proving an act of unprovoked physical aggression, and to determine whether there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Crookham consciously disregarded knowledge of a serious risk to Mrs. Gomez. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Vermeer in Missouri state court, alleging that he was injured while operating a Vermeer wood chipper. After Vermeer successfully removed to federal court, the district court denied plaintiff's motions to remand and for leave to amend, granting summary judgment to Vermeer. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not improperly remove the case where plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the only nondiverse party that was in the case at the time. Furthermore, even if the district court did not err, plaintiff could not get the relief he sought in light of Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 64 (1996). The court also held that plaintiff failed to sufficiently establish good cause and the district court was well within its discretion to deny the motion for leave to amend his complaint to add a claim of agency liability against Vermeer. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on the products liability and failure to warn claims. In this case, the record clearly established that Vermeer did not manufacture the winch attachment that injured plaintiff. View "Ellingsworth v. Vermeer Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine the preclusive effect of a written compromise agreement. The agreement was executed by a tort victim in settlement of an action for damages resulting from occupational exposure to toxic materials. At issue was the effect of the compromise on a subsequent survival action brought by the La. C.C. art. 2315.1 beneficiaries of the tort victim, who contracted mesothelioma and died after entering into the compromise. Finding the intent of the parties to the compromise to be clear, unambiguous and unequivocal, and the elements of the res judicata plea satisfied, the Supreme Court concluded the compromise should have been accorded preclusive effect. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court judgment that declined to give res judicata effect to the compromise and sustained the exception of res judicata with respect to the survival action. View "Joseph v. Huntington Ingalls Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her spouse filed suit alleging that the Shower to Shower cosmetic powder and Johnson's Baby Powder plaintiff used for two decades were contaminated with asbestos and a substantial factor in causing her mesothelioma. The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of JJCI, holding that JJCI's expert's declaration -- that JJCI's talcum powder and the talc from its source mines did not contain asbestos -- shifted the burden to plaintiff to produce evidence of threshold exposure to asbestos from JJCI's products. The court also held that plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of fact as to the presence of asbestos in the JJCI talc products plaintiff used. In this case, plaintiff failed to present expert testimony to counter JJCI's expert's opinion, and failed to offer verified admissions or interrogatory answers by JJCI. View "Gibbons v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc." on Justia Law

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Kaiser had surgery to implant the Prolift Anterior Pelvic Floor Repair System, a transvaginal mesh medical device that supports the pelvic muscles. A few years later, Kaiser began experiencing severe pelvic pain, bladder spasms, and pain during intercourse. Her physician attributed these conditions to contractions in the mesh. Kaiser had surgery to remove the device, but her surgeon could not completely extract it and informed her that the complications she was experiencing were likely permanent. Kaiser sued Ethicon, Prolift’s manufacturer, under the Indiana Products Liability Act. A jury found Ethicon liable for defectively designing the Prolift device and failing to adequately warn about its complications and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages; the judge reduced a punitive award to $10 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ethicon’s claim of federal preemption. The requirements of the FDA’s premarket-notification process do not directly conflict with Indiana law. A reasonable jury could conclude that Prolift was unreasonably dangerous and could credit the physician’s assertion that additional warnings about complications would have led him to choose a different treatment plan. The court rejected challenges to the damages and to jury instructions. Seventh Circuit precedent interprets the Indiana Product Liability Act to require a plaintiff in a design-defect case to produce evidence of a reasonable alternative design for the product but the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed in 2010. The state supreme court’s decision controls on a matter of state law. View "Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gentek Building Products, Inc. appealed after a jury awarded Richard and Angela Palmer damages of $10,791, plus interest. Gentek also appealed an order awarding attorney fees of $80,379 to the Palmers, and taxation of costs and disbursements. In 2003, the Palmers purchased and installed “Driftwood” steel siding from Gentek on their home in Williston. Gentek provided a lifetime limited warranty for the siding. In September 2011, the paint began to peel on the siding installed on the south side of the home. In January 2012, the Palmers submitted a warranty claim to Gentek. Gentek offered the Palmers the option of either a cash settlement or replacement with a substitute siding under the warranty, since Gentek had discontinued producing the type of siding originally installed. While the Palmers opted to have their siding replaced with a substitute, Gentek had difficulty finding a contractor willing to perform the warranty work due to the oil boom in the area. Thousands of others also experienced delaminated pain on their siding and filed warranty claims with Gentek, resulting in a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Ohio. The federal district court entered a final order and judgment approving a class action settlement. In 2014, the Palmers filed this suit against Gentek, alleging breach of warranty by failing to replace the defective siding. Gentek defended by arguing the Palmers were bound by the federal court's final class action settlement. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the North Dakota district court did not err in holding the Palmers were not bound by the federal district court’s final order and judgment approving a class action settlement. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that the court erred in its award of attorney fees and in not ruling on Gentek’s objection to costs and disbursements. The order awarding attorney fees and taxation of costs and disbursements was reversed, however, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Palmer, et al. v. Gentek Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed the district court's decision to grant Crookham’s motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims failed as a matter of law because Crookham was not a “manufacturer.” In affirming in part and reversing in part, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it failed to consider whether Crookham committed an act of unprovoked physical aggression upon Mrs. Gomez by consciously disregarding knowledge that an injury would result. As such, the matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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A wine bottle shattered in Rolfe Godfrey's hand while he was working as a bartender, injuring him. He filed a products liability suit against the winery, St. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd. and the bottle manufacturer, Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc. (collectively, Ste. Michelle). The case was assigned to Pierce County, Washington Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson, who set the initial case schedule, including discovery deadlines. The case was later reassigned to Judge Katherine Stolz, who, upon a stipulated and jointly proposed order, extended the parties' deadlines to disclose their witnesses. This case turned on the nature of that stipulated order. Two months later, and before Judge Stolz made any other rulings in the case, Godfrey filed an affidavit of prejudice and a motion for Judge Stolz's recusal under former RCW 4.12.040 and .050. Judge Stolz denied the motion, concluding that the earlier stipulated order to extend witness disclosure deadlines involved discretion and, thus, the affidavit of prejudice was not timely. Judge Stolz presided over the bench trial. Ste. Michelle prevailed, and Godfrey appealed. The Washington Supreme Court concluded that under Washington law, a party does not lose the right to remove a judge when the judge takes certain categories of actions, including arranging the calendar. The Court held that a stipulated order extending discovery deadlines that did not delay the trial or otherwise affect the court's schedule was an order arranging the calendar under the former RCW 4.12.050. Accordingly, the affidavit of prejudice was timely, and the case should have been reassigned to a different judge. View "Godfrey v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Joneses sought to recover damages suffered when John contracted lung cancer, resulting from his exposure to “asbestos from one or more” of numerous companies while he was involved in the construction industry and while he repaired the brakes on motor vehicles he owned. Owens and Abex were among the named defendants. The Joneses asserted that the defendants knew that asbestos was dangerous but conspired to misrepresent its dangers and to falsely represent that exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products was safe or nontoxic. Abex and Owens argued that the civil conspiracy claims were based on the same facts as those advanced unsuccessfully by other plaintiffs in numerous earlier cases, particularly the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1999 McClure decision. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Instead of undertaking a meaningful evaluation of the applicability of the legal principles governing civil conspiracy as articulated in the cited precedent, and with no real assessment of whether and to what extent any factual differences between those cases and this one might justify a different result, the appellate court summarily distinguished the prior decisions on the sole grounds that the civil conspiracy claims advanced against Owens and Abex in those cases were decided in the context of motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, while here they were resolved on motions for summary judgment. View "Jones v. Pneumo Abex LLC" on Justia Law