Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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Teddy and Melanie Scott filed a lawsuit against Dyno Nobel, Inc., alleging that Teddy suffered serious injuries from exposure to a toxic gas cloud negligently emitted from Dyno’s nitric acid plant in Louisiana, Missouri. The incident occurred on March 20, 2015, when an equipment failure during a startup led to the release of nitrogen oxide gas, which enveloped Teddy while he was working at a nearby plant. Teddy experienced immediate physical symptoms and has since suffered from ongoing health issues, including irritable larynx syndrome, headaches, and back pain. Melanie claimed loss of consortium due to Teddy’s injuries.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri initially granted summary judgment in favor of Dyno, concluding that Dyno owed no duty of care to Teddy. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed this decision, finding that the issue of foreseeability, which determines duty, should be decided by a jury. On remand, a jury trial resulted in a verdict for the Scotts, awarding Teddy $13,750,000 in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, and Melanie $3 million in compensatory damages. Dyno’s post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial were denied.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court’s judgment in part. The appellate court found that the jury had sufficient evidence to determine that Dyno’s actions created a foreseeable risk of harm and that Dyno breached its duty of care. However, the court reversed the award of punitive damages, concluding that the Scotts did not provide clear and convincing evidence that Dyno acted with a culpable mental state necessary for punitive damages under Missouri law. The case was remanded for entry of an amended judgment omitting the punitive damages award. View "Scott v. Dyno Nobel, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a products liability lawsuit filed by Virginia Redding against Coloplast Corporation. Redding alleged that vaginal mesh devices inserted inside her body were defectively designed. Coloplast argued that Redding's suit was time-barred under Florida's four-year statute of limitations for products liability lawsuits, as her claim accrued more than four years before she filed suit. The district court sided with Redding, and Coloplast appealed.The case was previously reviewed by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The district court denied Coloplast's motion for summary judgment, arguing that Redding's suit was time-barred. The court found that the facts in a similar case, Eghnayem v. Boston Scientific Corporation, were "strikingly similar" to Redding's case and compelled the conclusion that Redding's injuries were not sufficiently different from the symptoms that could have occurred as a result of the surgeries to put her on notice.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Redding, did not overwhelmingly establish that she knew or should have known about a compensable injury arising out of Coloplast's mesh before September 18, 2010, such that a reasonable jury could not conclude otherwise. As a result, Redding's claims were not time-barred under Florida's four-year statute of limitations. View "Redding v. Coloplast Corp." on Justia Law

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The case involves Michael D. Ruble and Brenda K. Ruble, who filed a lawsuit against Rust-Oleum Corporation and other defendants. Michael Ruble alleged that he was injured due to exposure to defective, toxic chemicals at his workplace, which were manufactured by third parties. He filed a product-defect lawsuit against these manufacturers and a workers' compensation claim with his employer. The workers' compensation administrative process concluded that Ruble failed to prove he developed an injury as a result of his employment. The third-party manufacturers then moved to dismiss the product-defect lawsuit, arguing that Ruble was barred from litigating causation in court due to the workers' compensation decision. The Circuit Court of Cabell County granted the motion to dismiss.The Circuit Court of Cabell County ruled in favor of the third-party manufacturers, applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The court held that the workers' compensation decision precluded Ruble from litigating the causation issue in court. The court found that the workers' compensation process involved legal standards and procedural rules that were substantially different from those in a courtroom, and that process did not afford Ruble a full and fair opportunity to litigate whether the third-party manufacturers' chemicals were a cause of his injury.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the circuit court's decision. The court found that the workers' compensation administrative procedures were not an adequate substitute for juridical procedures in the circuit court. The court held that Ruble did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of causation in the prior workers' compensation administrative proceedings. The court concluded that it was error for the circuit court to have applied collateral estoppel to Ruble's claims. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ruble v. Rust-Oleum Corporation" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the burden of proof in a strict liability claim based on a design defect. The petitioners, Judith and Gary Shears, filed a lawsuit against Ethicon, Inc., and Johnson & Johnson, alleging injuries caused by Ethicon’s Tension-Free Vaginal Tape (TVT), a mesh sling used to treat stress urinary incontinence. The Shearses claimed that the TVT device was defectively designed. The case was part of a multidistrict litigation proceeding against Ethicon.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, where Ethicon argued that the plaintiffs must prove that an alternative, feasible design would have materially reduced the plaintiff’s injuries. The district court rejected this argument. However, after the publication of the West Virginia Pattern Jury Instructions for Civil Cases (PJI) § 411, which stated that a plaintiff must prove that there was an alternative, feasible design that eliminated the risk that injured the plaintiff, the district court reconsidered its decision and agreed with Ethicon's argument. The case was then transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was asked to clarify certain elements of proof required to establish a prima facie case in a strict liability claim based on a design defect. The court held that PJI § 411 does not correctly specify a plaintiff’s burden of proof in a strict liability claim based on a design defect. The court further held that a plaintiff asserting a strict liability claim for a design defect must prove that an alternative, feasible design was available to the manufacturer at the time the product in question was manufactured. Lastly, the court held that a plaintiff is required to prove that an alternative, feasible design existing at the time the subject product was made would have substantially reduced the risk of the specific injury suffered by the plaintiff. View "Shears v. Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a products-liability claim brought by Jennifer Parks, individually and as the guardian of Samuel Gama, against Ford Motor Company. Gama suffered serious injuries when his 2001 Ford Explorer Sport rolled over. Parks alleged that the Explorer's design made it unstable and prone to rollovers, and that the design of its roof and restraint system increased the risk of injury in a crash. Ford moved for summary judgment, arguing that Parks’ suit is foreclosed by the statute of repose in Section 16.012(b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which requires that a products liability action be brought within 15 years of the sale of a product.The trial court's proceedings were protracted and winding, with the court initially granting Ford’s summary-judgment motion, then vacating that order and granting Parks’ motion for new trial, then denying Ford’s renewed summary-judgment motion, then denying Ford’s motion for reconsideration of that order, before finally granting another summary-judgment motion by Ford. The evidence that Ford sold the Explorer to a dealership more than 15 years before Parks filed suit was overwhelming.On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, holding that Ford did not conclusively establish the 'date of the sale' from which section 16.012(b)’s claimed protection ran. The court reasoned that Ford was required to establish the specific date on which the dealership paid Ford for the Explorer in full and that Ford has not done so.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment. The court held that the timing of a sale does not turn on the date of payment, and any inconsistency in Ford’s evidence regarding the timing of the dealership’s payment to Ford for the Explorer is immaterial and not a basis for denying or reversing summary judgment. The court concluded that Ford's evidence easily meets the test of proving that the sale must have occurred outside the statutory period, and thus, Ford is entitled to summary judgment. View "FORD MOTOR COMPANY v. PARKS" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Grant and Sarah Palmquist, on behalf of their minor son, sued baby-food manufacturer Hain Celestial Group, Inc. and grocery retailer Whole Foods Market, Inc. in Texas state court. They sought damages for their son Ethan’s physical and mental decline, which they allege began when he was about thirty months old and had been consuming Hain’s Earth’s Best Organic Products, purchased from Whole Foods. The Palmquists attributed Ethan's health issues to heavy metal toxicity caused by the baby food. The case was removed to federal court, where Whole Foods was dismissed as improperly joined and judgment was granted in favor of Hain during trial.The district court dismissed Whole Foods on the grounds of improper joinder and denied the Palmquists’ motion to remand the case to state court. The court also granted Hain’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, concluding that the Palmquists had presented no evidence of general causation. The Palmquists appealed these decisions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment denying the Palmquists’ motion to remand, vacated the final judgment of the district court, and remanded with instructions for the district court to remand the case to the state court. The court held that the Palmquists were entitled to a remand to state court because the allegations in their state-court complaint stated plausible claims against Whole Foods. The court did not address whether the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of Hain. View "Palmquist v. Hain Celestial Group" on Justia Law

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The case involves four plaintiffs who took docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug, as part of their treatment for early-stage breast cancer and subsequently suffered permanent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (PCIA). The plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers of the drug, Hospira, Inc., Hospira Worldwide, LLC, and Accord Healthcare, Inc., violated state law by failing to warn them that docetaxel could cause PCIA.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiffs' state law failure-to-warn claims were preempted by federal law. The district court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was tasked with determining whether federal law preempts the plaintiffs' state law failure-to-warn claims against the defendant drug manufacturers. The court found that the district court had erred in its interpretation of what constitutes "newly acquired information" under the changes-being-effected (CBE) regulation, which allows manufacturers to file a supplemental application with the FDA and simultaneously implement a labeling change before obtaining FDA approval. The court held that the district court failed to enforce the requirement that newly acquired information must "reveal risks of a different type or greater severity or frequency than previously included in submissions to FDA."The court vacated the district court's judgment on the plaintiffs' failure-to-warn claims and remanded the case for further consideration of one outstanding issue: whether the Bertrand Abstract, a scientific study, constituted "newly acquired information" that revealed a greater risk of PCIA than previously known. If the Bertrand Abstract does not meet this standard, the court held that the defendants would not be liable to the plaintiffs on their state law failure-to-warn claims. View "Hickey v. Hospira" on Justia Law

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This case involves a lawsuit filed by Cornelius Williams against J-M Manufacturing Company, Inc. (JMM), a supplier of asbestos-cement pipe. Williams alleged that he developed mesothelioma due to secondary exposure to asbestos from his brother Nathan's work with asbestos-cement pipe over a period of more than 20 years. Williams and Nathan did not live together, but had regular close contact during Nathan's employment. The jury found JMM liable under theories of design defect and failure to warn, concluding that the pipe sold by JMM was a substantial factor in increasing Williams' risk of developing cancer. JMM appealed the decision.The trial court dismissed Williams' negligence claim, but not the strict liability claim. The jury found in favor of Williams on his remaining strict liability claim, awarding him significant damages. JMM moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and, in the alternative, for a new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in its interpretation and application of a previous case, Kesner v. Superior Court, to preclude only the negligence cause of action. The motion was denied. JMM also appealed from the judgment and order denying its motion for JNOV.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Two affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court rejected JMM's arguments that (1) judgment must be entered in its favor because, under Kesner, strict liability does not apply to Williams; (2) the judgment must be reversed for lack of substantial evidence; or (3) a new trial is necessary because the trial court abused its discretion on certain evidentiary rulings. View "Williams v. J-M Manufacturing Company" on Justia Law

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Nicholas and Julie Kuhar filed a product liability claim against Thompson Manufacturing, a Utah company, seeking compensation for injuries Nicholas sustained when his safety harness failed while he was cleaning rain gutters in New Jersey. This was not the first lawsuit the Kuhars had brought regarding this incident. They had previously sued Thompson and other defendants in New Jersey federal court, alleging that the harness was defective. That suit was unsuccessful, with Thompson being dismissed from the case due to a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Kuhars then refiled their claims against Thompson in Utah.In the New Jersey case, the Kuhars' expert witness was excluded, and the remaining defendants were granted summary judgment. Thompson then moved in the Utah case to preclude the Kuhars from litigating the issue of whether the harness was defective. The district court agreed with Thompson and dismissed the Kuhars' claims. However, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed this decision, concluding that the issue litigated and decided in New Jersey was not identical to the issue Thompson sought to preclude in Utah.The Supreme Court of the State of Utah, however, disagreed with the Court of Appeals. It concluded that the elements of issue preclusion were satisfied. The court clarified that to determine the issue-preclusive effect of the New Jersey federal court’s judgment in this case, the substantive law of New Jersey applies. Under that law, the court concluded that the issue Thompson sought to preclude the Kuhars from litigating—whether the harness was defective—was actually litigated and decided on the merits in the New Jersey court’s summary judgment order. Therefore, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Kuhar v. Thompson Manufacturing" on Justia Law

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The case involves three consolidated appeals by Dexcom, Inc., a California-based company, against the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California to remand three product liability actions back to California state court. The remand was based on the forum defendant rule, which prohibits removal based on diversity jurisdiction if any of the defendants is a citizen of the state where the action is brought.Dexcom had removed the cases to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction after the complaints were submitted electronically but before they were officially filed by the clerk of court. Dexcom argued that the forum defendant rule did not bar removal because it had not yet been “joined and served” as a defendant.The district court held that an electronically submitted complaint is not “filed” in California state court until it is processed and endorsed or otherwise acknowledged as officially filed by the clerk of the court. Therefore, Dexcom’s removals were ineffectual attempts to remove cases that did not yet exist as civil actions pending in state court. As a result, the district court had the power to grant the plaintiffs’ eventual motions to remand based on a perceived violation of the forum defendant rule, even though the motions were brought 31 days after Dexcom’s initial (ineffectual) notices of removal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeals for lack of jurisdiction, as the district court had the power under § 1447(c) to order remand based on the forum defendant rule. View "Casola v. Dexcom, Inc." on Justia Law