Articles Posted in Products Liability

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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

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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

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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

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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

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In 2004, Yates, 17 years old, was sexually active and was suffering from severe menstrual cramps. Smith, a licensed physician assistant, counseled Yates about various contraceptives, and the risks and benefits accompanying each. Yates admits that she was counseled concerning the risk of a stroke and clotting associated with ORTHO EVRA®. She decided to try Depo-Provera, which requires injections at three-month intervals. In 2005 she discontinued Depo-Provera due to weight gain and switched to the ORTHO EVRA® patch. Smith again discussed side effects. Yates admitted that she would have used ORTHO EVRA® even if she had read package warnings. Yates suffered a stroke while she was wearing her first weekly patch. A board-certified neurologist and neurophysiologist opined that Yates’s “use of the Ortho-Evra patch was the contributing cause of her stroke.” Smith’s suit was transferred for consolidated pretrial proceedings in connection with In re: Ortho Evra Products Liability Litigation. The district court dismissed her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The ORTHO EVRA® warnings in effect when Yates was prescribed the patch adequately warned her prescribing medical provider of the risk of stroke; there was no duty to directly warn Yates. The court rejected design defect, manufacturing defect, and negligence claims. View "Yates v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharma., Inc." on Justia Law

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Bradley purchased ratchet straps to use exclusively on a hunting treestand. In 2008, Bradley used the straps to secure his treestand, exposed to the elements, from early September to mid-October. Bradley then stored the treestand and straps in his garage until 2011. He did not use the treestand until a few months after setting it up. He inspected the treestand and straps before climbing into the stand. Within minutes of Bradley’s ascent, the straps broke, causing Bradley to fall and sustain injuries. Bradley’s suit allegied strict product liability, negligent design and manufacture, strict liability failure to warn, negligent failure to warn, loss of consortium, and violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The court excluded the testimony of two plaintiffs’ experts, one of whom would have testified that the straps failed to include an ultraviolet light inhibitor that would have reduced the rate of polymer degradation due to sunlight exposure and that the defendants failed to warn and instruct consumers how to recognize when the straps were no longer safe, finding the expert’s experience “with the webbing material . . . sparse.” The court dismissed the failure-to-warn claims on other grounds. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the expert qualified and that the court erred by not allowing Bradley to proceed under the consumer expectation test, relying on lay testimony about objective facts and circumstances surrounding the straps’ failure. View "Bradley v. Ameristep, Inc." on Justia Law

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Officer Lapham responded to a call for backup; another officer had stopped a car with expired tags when a passenger—16-year-old Robert—ran from the car, broke into an abandoned house, and hid. Lapham arrived as an officer began to arrest Robert, who then tried to evade the officer’s grasp. A struggle ensued. Lapham de-holstered his taser and shot Robert. One dart hit inches above Robert’s heart, the other inches below. Robert fell to the ground. A medical team could not resuscitate him. In training, officers had been told that, “even when the taser’s darts land on the chest, the weapon is safe.” Robert’s mother settled claims against the officers and the city, then added claims against the weapon’s manufacturer, Taser. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Taser, finding no duty to warn the Warren Police Department about any cardiac risks at the time of sale in 2006, Michigan law precluded any post-sale duty to warn, Taser had not assumed a duty to warn by virtue of its training regimen, and plaintiff could not prove that Lapham would have ever seen a warning even if Taser had issued one. View "Mitchell v. City of Warren" on Justia Law

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GE manufactures Omniscan, an FDA-approved gadolinium-based contrast agent that has been associated in some patients with development of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), a rare and deadly condition that leads to the hardening (fibrosis) of the kidneys. Omniscan was administered to Wahl for two MRIs she received in Nashville in 2006. About one year later, she displayed the first symptoms of NSF. She was officially diagnosed with NSF in 2010. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all pre-trial litigation of Omniscan-related cases in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. In 2011, Wahl filed a complaint in that court. With the agreement of Wahl and GE, the MDL judge transferred the case, in 2013, to the Middle District of Tennessee, the “proper venue.” GE then moved for summary judgment, arguing that all Omniscan doses produced from 2004 to 2006 were marked with expiration dates two years after manufacture, so the Omniscan administered to Wahl must have expired no later than 2008; the Tennessee Products Liability Act’s statute of repose requires suits to be instituted within one year of the expiration date appearing on a product’s packaging. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, favoring GE, applying Tennessee choice-of-law rules. View "Wahl v. Gen. Elec. Co." on Justia Law

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In 1988 Sutherland received breast implants in North Carolina. She filed suit in North Carolina five years later, after learning that the silicone in her implants could be causing a variety of serious medical problems. The Silicone’s manufacturer, Dow Corning, filed for bankruptcy in Michigan, and Sutherland’s suit was transferred there. In 2012, 24 years after Sutherland received the implants, the district court concluded that Sutherland’s claim was barred by Michigan’s statute of limitations and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the district court should have applied North Carolina’s law instead of Michigan’s, and should have concluded that there was a genuine factual issue as to whether Sutherland’s claim was timely-filed under North Carolina law. View "Sutherland v. DCC Litig. Facility, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2005, in connection with a magnetic resonance imaging procedure (MRI), Decker received a dose of Omniscan, a gadoliniumbased contrast agent manufactured by GEHC. After taking Omniscan, Decker developed Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF). In 2012, the Deckers sued GEHC, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). Before the Deckers’ case, hundreds of similar cases in the MDL involving GEHC had been settled. The Decker case was the first case in the MDL to go to trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Deckers on a failure-to-warn claim, awarding $5 million in damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the district court judge should have recused himself from the trial and a motion for a new trial; made several erroneous evidentiary rulings, which were applicable to all MDL cases; erroneously denied GEHC’s motion for a new trial because insufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict regarding the causation element of the Deckers’ failure-to-warn claim; and erroneously failed to issue two proposed jury instructions. View "Decker v. GE Healthcare Inc." on Justia Law