Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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Five people were killed when a commercial truck rear-ended a line of traffic on an interstate highway. The truck driver was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for his misconduct. The issue on this appeal was the liability, if any, of the manufacturer of the truck. Plaintiffs, suing on behalf of the heirs and estates of the decedents, contended the manufacturer, Daimler Trucks North America, should have been held liable in tort under design-defect and warning-defect theories of products liability because it failed to equip the truck with two collision-mitigation systems—forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking—and did not warn of the dangers caused by that failure. The district court granted summary judgment to Daimler. After its review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding many of the arguments made by Plaintiffs on appeal were inadequately preserved for appellate review, and the remaining arguments lacked merit. View "Butler, et al. v. Daimler Trucks North America" on Justia Law

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In this diversity case, Plaintiff sued Biomet Inc. and Zimmer, Inc. (collectively, “Biomet”) under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”). The district court found Plaintiff’s claims were prescribed and granted summary judgment in favor of Biomet.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, including any additional discovery the district court may order. The court explained that given Plaintiff’s consultations with his doctor, a medical professional. But on the other hand, a jury could just as reasonably determine that contra non valentem tolled prescription until some point in time before September 2019. It is unclear whether Plaintiff stopped suffering complications from infections after the removal, such that his recovery after the device’s removal would have put him on notice of any fault of Biomet’s before the letter was received. As the record stands, when the prescriptive period expired, and whether contra non valentum applies, is a question best left for the jury. View "Bruno v. Biomet" on Justia Law

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Raul Camacho was installing glass panels when he fell out of a scissor lift manufactured by JLG Industries Inc. (JLG). Camacho failed to latch a chain that was designed to guard the lift’s entrance. Camacho sued JLG for strict products liability, failure to warn, and related claims. At a jury trial, Camacho alleged the scissor lift as designed with the chain invited human error, and the foreseeable risk of harm could have been avoided if JLG had marketed only its alternative design with a self-closing gate. Camacho also alleged there was a defective warning label on the lift. At the close of evidence, JLG moved for a directed verdict. The trial court granted the motion. The court ruled in order to show causation Camacho needed to prove if the chain been latched, “the accident would have happened anyway.” To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "Camacho only needed to make a prima facie showing that the alternative design with the self-closing gate would have prevented his fall. Under a risk-benefit test, it was then JLG’s burden to prove the benefits of the chain outweighed its risks." The Court found Camacho made a prima facie showing of causation, and the jury could have reasonably inferred that had a self-closing gate been in place, Camacho’s fall would have been prevented. The Court also found the jurors could have reasonably inferred JLG’s allegedly defective warning label was also a substantial factor in causing Camacho’s injuries. Thus, the Court reversed the judgment and directed the trial court to vacate its order granting JLG’s motion for a directed verdict. View "Camacho v. JLG Industries" on Justia Law

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Several cities in Minnesota alleged that a chemical in refined coal tar that was used in pavement sealants contaminated their stormwater ponds. They filed an action seeking damages from refiners and manufacturers of the tar. The “refiner” defendants take raw coal tar and refine it into a product used by the “manufacturer” defendants to create pavement sealants. The district court dismissed all of the claims against the refiners and dismissed all but three of the claims against the manufacturers. The Cities moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) for entry of final judgment against the refiners. The district court, however, denied the motion because the Cities had not “demonstrated a danger of hardship or injustice through delay which would be alleviated by immediate appeal.” The Cities then entered into an agreement with the manufacturers, which provided that the Cities would conditionally dismiss their claims against the manufacturers. The Cities then appealed the district court’s decision dismissing claims against the refiners, and some of the refiners cross-appealed.   The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that this conditional dismissal of the Cities’ claims against the manufacturers does not create a final decision under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291. The whole purpose of pairing the voluntary dismissal with the tolling agreement was to provide for reinstatement of the claims in the event of reversal—that is, to make the dismissal conditional. The court wrote that its only power to prevent the manipulation of appellate jurisdiction is a rigorous application of the final judgment requirement. View "City of Burnsville v. Koppers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, through his estate, sued Ford Motor Company, inter alia, for wrongful death and product liability pursuant to the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine (AEMLD). He alleged that a faulty seatbelt design in his 2003 Ford Mustang caused his fatal injury. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Ford. Plaintiff now appealed, arguing that the district court erroneously ruled on several evidentiary issues, a motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), and a motion for a new trial. Ford filed a cross-appeal in anticipation of a possible reversal, challenging the district court’s denial of its motion to exclude expert testimony at trial.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the rulings challenged by Plaintiff. As for Ford’s cross-appeal,  the court dismissed for lack of standing. Here, the working seatbelt from the crash was admitted into evidence alongside expert testimony opining that the driver likely caused the excess webbing. A reasonable jury could have weighed this evidence against the evidence introduced by Plaintiff and “might reach different conclusions” about whether Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Id. Therefore, JMOL is not proper, and the court affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion. Further, the court explained that although Ford has identified cases where the court has addressed a victorious Plaintiff’s cross-appeal, the court is not bound by a prior decision’s sub silentio treatment of a jurisdictional question. View "Mark Henderson v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the effect of an antiwaiver provision of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act on a release executed as part of a pre-litigation settlement between plaintiff-appellant Derek Rheinhart and defendants-respondents Nissan North America, Inc. and Mossy Nissan, Inc. (collectively Nissan) over issues that had arisen with Rheinhart’s leased Nissan vehicle. After Rheinhart entered into the settlement agreement and release, he filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the Act and seeking repurchase of his vehicle as well as other statutory remedies. Nissan moved for summary judgment on grounds the settlement agreement and release, which Rheinhart admitted he read and had an opportunity to review before signing, extinguished his claims. The trial court granted the motion, finding section 1790.1 of the Act applied to waivers of consumer warranties in connection with a product purchase, not to releases negotiated to end disputes about those warranties, and thus rejected Rheinhart’s argument that the settlement was unenforceable. Rheinhart contends the court erred. He argued the settlement agreement and release violated section 1790.1 and was unenforceable as a matter of law. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the settlement agreement and release contravened Rheinhart’s substantive rights under the Act and was void and unenforceable as against public policy. View "Rheinhart v. Nissan North America" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) centralized cases arising out of alleged defects in Cook’s inferior vena cava (IVC) filters, 28 U.S.C. 1407(a). Many plaintiffs in the MDL claim that Cook’s filters cause pain and suffering, disabilities, emotional injuries, lost earnings, increased medical bills, and in some cases death. To help manage the litigation, the district court adopted direct filing and case categorization procedures. Parton and Sykes were each implanted with a Cook IVC filter. Years later, CT scans revealed that their filters had perforated their IVC walls. They experienced no pain or other symptoms, but they pursued product liability claims against Cook. The direct-filing procedure did not require Parton or Sykes to file a standard complaint; each filed a short-form complaint, which incorporated allegations from a master complaint that ostensibly applied to all direct-filing plaintiffs.The district court granted Cook summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in these cases is based solely on diversity of citizenship, which requires the amount in controversy in each case to exceed $75,000, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Parton and Sykes allege the proper amount in controversy, but the nature of their alleged injuries indicates that no more than $75,000 is at stake in either case. They have not suffered the injuries alleged in the master complaint; the allegations in their short-form complaints were inadequate. View "Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, a Cessna Model 525 corporate jet tried to fly from Sellersburg, Indiana, to Chicago, Illinois. It never made it to Chicago. It crashed a few minutes after takeoff in Clark County, Indiana. The pilot of the plane and the two passengers were killed instantly. Representatives for the three decedents brought this wrongful death and product liability suit against Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, LLC, in the District of Idaho. Cranfield is incorporated in and has its principal place of business in England. Appellants alleged that a load alleviation system, the Tamarack Active Winglet Load System—trademarked as the ATLAS system—caused the plane crash. Cranfield helped Tamarack obtain the Federal Aviation Administration supplemental type certification for the ATLAS system.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Idaho federal district court’s judgment dismissing for lack of personal jurisdiction over. The panel held when considering specific jurisdiction under the first prong, courts should comprehensively evaluate the extent of the defendant’s contacts with the forum state and those contacts’ relationship to the plaintiffs’ claims—which may mean looking at both purposeful availment and purposeful direction. The panel held that under either approach, jurisdiction over Cranfield in Idaho was lacking. The purposeful direction test cannot support jurisdiction here because Appellants failed to allege that Cranfield injured them in Idaho. The panel agreed with the district court that Appellants failed to establish that Cranfield purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections of Idaho. The panel declined to proceed to the remaining two prongs of the specific jurisdiction test and held that the district court properly declined to exercise jurisdiction over Cranfield. View "ERICA DAVIS, ET AL V. CRANFIELD AEROSPACE SOLUTIONS" on Justia Law

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According to allegations in the complaint, for over forty years, Monsanto was the only U.S. manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). The federal government and states spent enormous sums cleaning up PCB environmental contamination. The State of Delaware alleged Monsanto knew that the PCBs it produced and sold to industry and to consumers would eventually be released into the environment and would cause lasting damage to public health and the State’s lands and waters. The State brought this action to hold Monsanto responsible for its cleanup costs, asserting claims for public nuisance, trespass, and unjust enrichment. A Delaware superior court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that even though the State alleged Monsanto knew for decades PCBs that were toxic and would contaminate the environment for generations, the State: (1) could not assert a public nuisance claim or trespass claim because Monsanto manufactured PCB products, which entered the environment after sale to third parties; (2) State did not have standing to bring a trespass claim because it held public lands in trust rather than outright and therefore did not have the exclusive possession of land needed to assert a trespass claim; (3) the superior court held it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the unjust enrichment claim as a standalone claim; and (4) the State could not use an unjust enrichment claim to recover future cleanup costs. The Delaware Supreme Court found the State pled sufficiently that even though Monsanto did not control the PCBs after sale it substantially participated in creating the public nuisance and causing the trespass by actively misleading the public and continuing to supply PCBs to industry and consumers knowing that PCBs were hazardous, would escape into the environment after sale to third parties, and would lead to widespread and lasting contamination of Delaware’s lands and waters. Further, the Supreme Court found the State alleged that it owned some land directly and therefore had exclusive possession of that land needed to assert a trespass claim. The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Delaware v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was taking a testosterone replacement therapy drug (“TRT”) called Androderm when he suffered a heart attack. The resulting lawsuits against TRT-producing pharmaceutical companies were consolidated as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), and Plaintiff filed his lawsuit as part of that MDL. When Defendant Actavis, the company that produces Androderm, reached a global settlement with most of the MDL plaintiffs, Plaintiff opted to take his case to trial. Plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Actavis had intentionally withheld evidence to protect its defense strategy against Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s attorney received the last documents in a months-overdue discovery production for another Androderm case in the MDL on which he was also lead counsel. These documents included a previously undisclosed letter from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requiring Actavis to conduct a trial to study a potential causal link between Androderm and high blood pressure. The district court denied the motion, holding that the evidence did not warrant a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the FDA letter would probably not have resulted in a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. The court explained that even if the high blood pressure evidence had been more important to the trial, the considerations highlighted in Marcus make clear that the FDA study would not have made a new outcome probable. Removing Actavis’s blood pressure argument would leave seven alternative causes for Plaintiff’s heart attack. And the significance of Plaintiff’s blood pressure had already been undercut throughout trial. Taken together, the introduction of the FDA letter simply would not make a different outcome probable. View "Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc." on Justia Law