Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
by
In 2005-2006, GM changed the dashboard used for GMT900 model cars from a multi-piece design to a single-piece design, which made the dashboard prone to cracking in two places. Plaintiffs, from 25 states, alleged that GMT900 vehicles produced in 2007-2014 contained a faulty, dangerous dashboard and that GM knew of the defective dashboards before GTM900 vehicles hit the market. The complaint contained no allegation that any of the plaintiffs have been hurt by the allegedly defective dashboards. The complaint, filed on behalf of a nationwide class, alleged fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment, and violations of state consumer protection statutes and the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. At worst, Plaintiffs suffered only cosmetic damage and a potential reduced resale value from owning cars with cracked dashboards. Although the plaintiffs claimed that routine testing, customer complaints, and increased warranty claims alerted GM to the defective dashboards and accompanying danger, that is not enough to survive a motion to dismiss without specifics about how and when GM learned about the defect and its hazards, and concealed the allegedly dangerous defect from consumers. Even accepting that GM produced defective vehicles, under the common legal principles of the several states, the plaintiffs must show that GM had sufficient knowledge of the harmful defect to render its sales fraudulent. View "Smith v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

by
In 2003, Clabo underwent surgery to correct pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Clabo’s doctor implanted her with a TVT transvaginal mesh sling device that the Defendants manufactured. By 2006, she began experiencing pelvic pain, urinary issues, scarring, and pain during sexual intercourse. After being notified by her doctor that the mesh from her device had eroded through her vaginal canal, Clabo had a procedure in April 2006 to remove the TVT implant. A month later, Clabo had surgery to implant a mesh sling similar to the one she had removed. In 2011, Clabo had another surgery to have pieces of her second implant removed and other parts repaired, again due to mesh erosion. Clabo alleges that it was not until July 2012 that she finally realized, after speaking with a physician-friend, that the TVT mesh product was the likely cause of her persistent pain and suffering.In May 2013, Clabo filed suit under the Tennessee Products Liability Act. The court dismissed Clabo’s claims as barred by Tennessee’s statute of repose, which prohibits product liability claims brought more than six years after the date of the injury that gave rise to the suit, finding that Clabo’s initial injury occurred during 2006. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; the record demonstrates that Clabo’s injuries occurred outside of the statute of repose period. View "Clabo v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Malone was adjusting the blade on his Craftsman table saw when the guard came off, causing injury to his fingers. Malone was later notified of a safety recall on the saw. Malone filed suit in an Ohio state court, against several Sears and Craftsman entities and Rexon, a Taiwanese company. Rexon removed the case to a federal district court, citing diversity jurisdiction, then moved to dismiss, arguing that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction. Rexon admitted that it manufactured the saw in question and conceded, for the purpose of its motion, that it had purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections offered by the State of Ohio. The district court dismissed the case.The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court noted that the injury occurred in Ohio and that Rexon has a “high volume of business activity” in Ohio, so Malone “could plausibly show, with additional discovery, that Rexon derived ‘substantial revenue’ from table saw sales in Ohio.” Jurisdictional discovery is necessary to determine whether Rexon had sufficient contacts with the state to satisfy due process. View "Malone v. Stanley Black & Decker, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Since 2010, the Northern District of Ohio has been the home of multidistrict litigation involving a DePuy medical device used in hip-replacement surgeries that, at its peak, contained more than 8,500 cases. In 2013, the defendants entered into a broad settlement agreement with U.S. resident plaintiffs.Foreign plaintiffs brought the 12 suits at issue. In 2012, they filed “short-form” complaints, each alleging that a plaintiff had been implanted with the DePuy device during hip surgery in Spain. The complaints did not identify the basis for subject-matter jurisdiction; the civil cover sheets listed diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332. The complaints alleged that the plaintiffs were Spanish residents and either Spanish or British citizens. The defendants never disputed diversity jurisdiction. In 2015, the defendants followed through on earlier notices by filing motions to dismiss based on forum non-conveniens. The court granted the motions, finding that Spain provided the better forum.The Sixth Circuit vacated. “After eight years the parties now concede that the district court lacked diversity jurisdiction all along.” If foreign citizens are on both sides of a dispute but a state citizen is on only one side, the fact pattern does not fit section 1332(a)(3) because citizens of different states do not fall on both sides. Section 1332(a)(2) does not apply because it requires “complete” diversity— only state citizens are on one side of the dispute and only foreign citizens are on the other. View "Boal v. DePuy Orthopaedics" on Justia Law

by
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

by
Wilden, age 19, and her infant son were involved in a traffic accident with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Wilden suffered severe brain damage when her sedan was pulled beneath the side of the trailer in a “side-underride” crash. The remaining defendant is Great Dane, the trailer’s manufacturer. The district court excluded plaintiffs’ expert-witness testimony about an alternative design that allegedly would have prevented, or at least mitigated, Wilden’s injuries. That alternative design is a “telescoping side guard.” An ordinary, fixed-position side guard would block the space underneath the side of the trailer so that, in a crash, automobiles would not go underneath. A telescoping side guard would also slide and expand to protect the space opened up when a truck’s sliding rear-axle— which trucks use to meet weight-per-axle regulations—is moved toward the rear of the truck. Although elements of the telescoping design have existed for some time, and computer simulations suggest that the design could work, nobody has ever built or tested one in the real world. The court held that the testimony of the two experts was unreliable and inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Great Dane. Given the total absence of real-world, physical-prototype testing and that neither expert had designed a telescoping side guard, the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the evidence. View "Wilden v. Laury Transportation, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Jackson died in a car accident on U.S. Highway 70 after he lost control of his 2012 Ford Focus. Mrs. Jackson, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. She sued, alleging that Ford was responsible for the accident because it equipped the car with a defective “Electronic Power Assisted Steering” (EPAS) system that caused the loss of control. The district court dismissed, finding that Jackson did not adequately plead proximate cause. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that “the district court demanded too much of Jackson under the familiar Iqbal and Twombly pleading requirements.” Jackson plausibly alleged that a defect in the 2012 Ford Focus’s EPAS system was a substantial factor in bringing about the accident, as is apparent from the litany of other accidents identified by Jackson where the EPAS system allegedly failed, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Ford’s “hypertechnical arguments regarding the allegations” in Jackson’s complaint rest on an inaccurate understanding of notice pleading. View "Jackson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

by
In the 1990s, Stryker purchased a Pfizer subsidiary that made orthopedic products, including the “Uni-knee” artificial joint. It was later discovered that those devices were sterilized using gamma rays, which caused polyethylene to degrade. If implanted past their five-year shelf-life, the knees could fail. Expired Uni-Knees were implanted in patients. Stryker, facing individual product-liability claims and potentially liable to Pfizer, sought defense and indemnification under a $15 million XL “commercial umbrella” policy, and a TIG “excess liability” policy that kicked in after the umbrella policy was fully “exhausted.” XL denied coverage, arguing that the Uni-Knee claims were “known or suspected” before the inception of the policy. Stryker filed lawsuits against the insurers, then unilaterally settled its individual product-liability claims for $7.6 million. Stryker was adjudicated liable to Pfizer for $17.7 million. About 10 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that XL was obliged to provide coverage. XL paid out the Pfizer judgment first, exhausting coverage limits. TIG declined to pay the remaining $7.6 million, arguing that Stryker failed to obtain “written consent” at the time the settlements were made. Stryker claimed that the policy was latently ambiguous because XL satisfied the Pfizer judgment first, Stryker was forced to present its settlements to TIG years after they were made. The district court granted Stryker summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the contract unambiguous in requiring consent. View "Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
The American husband and German wife have lived together in Germany since 2002. They sought damages for complications that arose when a surgical stapler manufactured in Mexico by an American corporation, Ethicon, allegedly malfunctioned during a 2012 surgery that husband underwent in Germany. An Ohio district court dismissed on the ground of forum non conveniens in favor of litigating in Germany. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Where a district court has considered all relevant public- and private-interest factors, and has reasonably balanced those factors, its decision deserves substantial deference. Private-interest factors include the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process and the cost of obtaining witnesses; possibility of view of premises, id appropriate; and all other practical problems. Public-interest factors include administrative difficulties from court congestion; the local interest in the controversy’; the interest in having the trial in a forum that is at home with the law that governs the action; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty. The court here correctly concluded that Ethicon met its burden of showing that if the case remained in Ohio, the vexation it would endure and trouble to the court would be disproportionate to the plaintiffs’ minimal convenience. View "Hefferan v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc." on Justia Law

by
While working amidst a high-wall mining (HWM) system at Southern Coal’s Harlan County mine, Smith, disengaging a conveyor car from the system, inadvertently placed his foot in a “pinch point” that existed between a hydraulic pusher used to launch cars into the mine and an outer guide rail on the mining platform. When the hydraulic pusher was prematurely activated by another worker, it crushed Smith’s foot against the guide rail. The injury resulted in the amputation of his lower left leg. In Smith’s suit, alleging negligence and strict liability for defective design and failure to warn, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the HWM manufacturer (Joy). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Smith's arguments that the district court erred by instructing the jury that Joy could be liable for negligent failure to warn only if Smith was unaware of the danger he faced and regarding a rebuttable presumption of nondefectiveness. The court declined a request to certify to the Kentucky Supreme Court questions of state law concerning both of those jury instructions. View "Smith v. Joy Techs., Inc." on Justia Law