Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries
Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. John Wickersham, Jr. was seriously injured in an automobile accident. After months of severe pain from the injuries he received in the accident, he committed suicide. His widow filed lawsuits for wrongful death, survival, and loss of consortium against Ford Motor Company in state circuit court. She alleged that defects in the airbag system in Mr. Wickersham's Ford Escape enhanced his injuries, increasing the severity of his pain, which in turn proximately caused his suicide. She included causes of action for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Ford removed the cases to the federal district court, then moved for summary judgment in the wrongful death suit, arguing Mrs. Wickersham had no wrongful death claim under South Carolina law because Mr. Wickersham's suicide was an intervening act that could not be proximately caused by a defective airbag. The district court denied Ford's motion, ruling Mrs. Wickersham could prevail on the wrongful death claim if she proved the enhanced injuries Mr. Wickersham sustained in the accident as a result of the defective airbag caused severe pain that led to an "uncontrollable impulse" to commit suicide. Ford renewed the motion during and after trial, but the district court denied both motions. In returning a verdict for Mrs. Wickersham, the jury found the airbag was defective and proximately caused Mr. Wickersham's enhanced injuries and suicide. However, the jury also found Mr. Wickersham's actions in being out of position enhanced his injuries, and found his share of the fault was thirty percent. The district court entered judgment for Mrs. Wickersham, but denied Ford's request to reduce the damages based on Mr. Wickersham's fault. Ford filed motions to alter or amend the judgment, for judgment as a matter of law, and for a new trial, all of which the district court denied. Responding to the two questions certified by the federal appellate court, the South Carolina Supreme Court held traditional principles of proximate cause governed whether a personal representative has a valid claim for wrongful death from suicide, and whether a person's own actions that enhance his injuries, as opposed to those that cause the accident itself, should be compared to the tortious conduct of a defendant in determining liability. View "Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co" on Justia Law
Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson
This case is one of several coordinated actions alleging that talcum powder products manufactured by defendants caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In 2017, bellwether plaintiff's case was tried to a jury on a single claim and the jury returned a verdict in her favor. Defendants filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability and punitive damages, as well as a joint motion for a new trial. After the trial court granted the motions, both sides appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the JNOV in favor of Johnson & Johnson, but partially reversed as to JJCI. The court held that there was no substantial evidence to support a finding of liability as to Johnson & Johnson, a parent company that stopped manufacturing Johnson's Baby Powder in 1967, several years before there were any investigations or studies about a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the evidence failed to support a finding of malice as required for a punitive damages award. The court affirmed the JNOV for JJCI on that ground, but held that there was substantial evidence to support the jury's other findings as to JJCI. The court reversed the JNOV in favor of JJCI as to liability, but affirmed the trial court's order granting JJCI's motion for a new trial. View "Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Hernandez v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of S.F.
In 2004, Hernandez, age 11, was a passenger in a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass that was involved in a head-on collision; she was seriously injured. Hernandez alleged that the Cutlass was not designed to be crashworthy and did not provide adequate protection to children riding in the back seat when the vehicle was involved in a frontal collision. Hernandez did not attempt to hold the manufacturer liable but sued Enterprise. Hernandez argued that a rental car company, NCRS, was strictly liable because NCRS placed the Oldsmobile “into the stream of commerce.” NCRS has sold its business in 1995 and, after a series of transactions, Enterprise became a successor in 2003. The case was stayed while Hernandez litigated an unsuccessful identical legal claim against other alleged NCRS affiliates. The trial court granted Enterprise summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Enterprise did not succeed to any liability NCRS would have had for Hernandez’s injuries. After the sale of NCRS’s assets plaintiffs such as Hernandez could have sought recourse against General Motors. In addition, one of the successor owners entered bankruptcy through no fault of the acquiring entities, so the subsequent owners do not come within an exception to the general rule against successor liability in an asset sale. View "Hernandez v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of S.F." on Justia Law
Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc
Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Internet Law, Personal Injury, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Lucero v. Ford Motor Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Ford Motor Company's motion to change venue in this case alleging claims for strict liability for design defects, strict liability for failure to warn, and negligence, holding that the named plaintiff in this proceeding properly brought a survival and wrongful death action against Ford in Cascade County pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 25-2-122(2)(b). The Decedent, a resident of Mineral County, died of injuries she suffered when her Ford Explorer lost stability and rolled into a ditch in Mineral County. Charles Lucero, the personal representative of Decedent's estate, filed suit against Ford in Cascade County on behalf of Decedent and her heirs. Ford, which had a registered agent in Missoula County, filed a motion for change of venue, requesting that venue be changed to Mineral or Missoula County. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Lucero resided in Cascade County venue was proper in Cascade County under section 25-2-122(2). View "Lucero v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC
Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Rutherford v. Talisker Canyons Finance, Co.
In this case arising from a severe injury Levi Rutherford sustained when he skied into a patch of machine-made snow the Supreme Court declined Defendant's invitations to hold that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by a release of liability signed by Levi's father or, alternatively, Utah's Inherent Risks of Skiing Act, Utah Code 78B-4-401 to -404 (the Act), holding that the district court correctly denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the district court held (1) the preinjury release signed by Levi's father was unenforceable; and (2) pursuant to Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort, 808 P.2d 1037 (Utah 1991), summary judgment was not appropriate as to Plaintiff's claims under the Act. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals with respect to the preinjury release, holding that the release was void as against public policy and affirmed the court of appeals to the extent that it chose to apply Clover to the facts of this case but remanded for a determination in accordance with this Court's clarified implementation of Clover's holding. View "Rutherford v. Talisker Canyons Finance, Co." on Justia Law
Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc.
Seattle’s Duncan Place condominium complex was built in 2009, with Danze faucets in all 63 units. The faucets’ water hoses can corrode and crack in normal use. Several faucets failed, causing property damage and replacement costs. Danze’s “limited lifetime warranty” promises to replace defective parts. Danze refused to repair or replace the faucets. The Owners Association filed suit on behalf of itself, unit owners, and a proposed nationwide class, asserting claims under Washington law. The judge rejected all claims, holding that Washington’s independent-duty doctrine barred claims of negligence and strict product liability; the unjust-enrichment claim was premised on fraud but did not satisfy the FRCP 9(b) heightened pleading requirements. A Washington claim for breach of an express warranty requires that the plaintiff was aware of the warranty. Duncan Place was unable to make that allegation in good faith with respect to any unit owners. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The Washington Product Liability Act subsumes the negligence and strict-liability claims; the “independent duty doctrine” generally bars recovery in tort for direct and consequential economic losses stemming from the product’s failure (damages associated with the “injury” to the product itself) but does not bar recovery for damage to other property. Duncan Place alleged in general terms that the defective faucets caused damage to other condominium property, so the WPLA claim is not entirely blocked by the independent duty doctrine. View "Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Marchand v. Barnhill, et al.
Blue Bell Creameries USA, Inc. suffered a listeria outbreak in early 2015, causing the company to recall all of its products, shut down production at all of its plants, and lay off over a third of its workforce. Three people died as a result of the listeria outbreak. Pertinent here, stockholders also suffered losses because, after the operational shutdown, Blue Bell suffered a liquidity crisis that forced it to accept a dilutive private equity investment. Based on these unfortunate events, a stockholder brought a derivative suit against two key executives and against Blue Bell’s directors claiming breaches of the defendants’ fiduciary duties. The complaint alleges that the executives breached their duties of care and loyalty by knowingly disregarding contamination risks and failing to oversee the safety of Blue Bell’s food-making operations, and that the directors breached their duty of loyalty. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to plead demand futility. The Court of Chancery granted the motion as to both claims. The Delaware reversed: "the mundane reality that Blue Bell is in a highly regulated industry and complied with some of the applicable regulations does not foreclose any pleading-stage inference that the directors’ lack of attentiveness rose to the level of bad faith indifference required to state a 'Caremark' claim. ... The complaint pled facts supporting a fair inference that no board-level system of monitoring or reporting on food safety existed." View "Marchand v. Barnhill, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Civil Procedure, Delaware Supreme Court, Products Liability, Securities Law
Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Fox used Amazon.com to order a hoverboard equipped with a battery pack. Although Fox claims she thought she was buying from Amazon, the hoverboard was owned and sold by a third-party that used Amazon marketplace, which handles communications with the buyer and processes payments. The board arrived in an Amazon-labeled box. The parties dispute whether Amazon provided storage and shipment. In November 2015, following news reports of hoverboard fires and explosions, Amazon began an investigation. On December 11, Amazon ceased all hoverboard sales worldwide. Approximately 250,000 hoverboards had been sold on its marketplace in the previous 30 days. Amazon anticipated more fires and explosions, scheduling employees to work on December 26, to monitor news reports and customer complaints. On December 12, Amazon sent a "non-alarmist" email to hoverboard purchasers. Fox does not recall receiving the email but testified that she would not have let the hoverboard remain in her home had she known all the facts. On January 9, Matthew Fox played with the hoverboard and left it on the first floor of the family’s two-story home. When a fire later broke out, caused by the hoverboard’s battery pack, two children were trapped on the second floor. Everyone escaped with various injuries; their home was destroyed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of allegations that Amazon sold the defective or unreasonably dangerous product (Tennessee Products Liability Act) and caused confusion about the source of that product (Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977) but reversed a claim that Amazon breached a duty to warn about the defective or unreasonably dangerous nature of that product under Tennessee tort law. View "Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Personal Injury, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit