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Products Liability Law Legal Research Blog

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Manufacturer Not Strictly Liable for Sale of Product Containing Defective Components

Posted by Jeremy Y. Taylor on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     New York's highest court recently addressed the issue of whether an automobile manufacturer could be held strictly liable for a mechanic's malignant mesothelioma allegedly caused by the mechanic's exposure to asbestos while replacing asbestos-containing brakes, clutches, and engine parts in the manufacturer's automobiles. See Finerty v. Abex Corp., 2016 N.Y. slip op. 03411, 2016 WL 1735804 (N.Y. May 3, 2016). The plaintiff claimed that he was exposed to asbestos during the 1970s and 1980s while working on engine parts in tractors and passenger vehicles manufactured by the defendant, Ford Motor Company. The plaintiff was later diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. The plaintiff sued Ford and others alleging strict products liability under theories of defective design and failure to warn.

     The New York Court of Appeals concluded that Ford could not be held liable under the plaintiff's theories. At the threshold, the court noted that a manufacturer of defective products which places those products into the stream of commerce may be held strictly liable for injuries caused by its products, since it is the manufacturer alone who (a) can fairly be said to know and to understand when a product is suitably designed and safely made for its intended purpose, and (b) has the practical opportunity to produce safe products. The court observed that product sellers are subject to strict liability with respect to allegedly defective products because they may be said to have assumed a special responsibility to the public, which has come to expect them to stand behind their products.

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Topics: Jeremy Y. Taylor, products liability, defective components, manufacturer liability

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: What Statute of Limitations Governs Breach-of-Warranty Claims for Personal Injury?

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 @ 17:02 PM

The Lawletter Vol. 41, No. 2

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The New Mexico Supreme Court has resolved an issue of first impression in that state: When a product causes personal injury and suit is filed for breach of warranty, what statute of limitations applies? In Badilla v. Wal-Mart Stores East, 2015-NMSC-029, 357 P.3d 936, the plaintiff bought a pair of work boots at a Wal-Mart store. More than three years after he was injured while wearing the boots, he filed a personal injury suit, alleging that the soles of the boots became unglued and caused him to trip on debris.

     In New Mexico, tort claims are generally subject to a three-year statute of limitations, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 37-1-8, while claims for breach of warranty under the Uniform Commercial Code ("U.C.C.") are generally subject to a four-year statute of limitations, id. § 55-2-725(1). The plaintiff based his claim on breaches of an express warranty and the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The trial court and court of appeals ruled that the claims were time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations.

     On appeal, the Badilla court noted that courts in other states have reached different conclusions as to which statute of limitations should apply. The court outlined the two approaches taken by other courts, as follows:

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Topics: Alfred C. Shackelford III, products liability, statute of limitations, breach-of-warranty claim, personal injury

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Strict Liability—Definition of "Product User" Expanded

Posted by Jeremy Y. Taylor on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 @ 11:02 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 1

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently addressed the issue of who is a product "user" for purposes of holding the manufacturer liable for injuries under the theory of strict liability. See Lawing v. Univar, USA, Inc., No. 2013-002464, 2015 WL 7756860 (S.C. Dec. 2, 2015) (not yet released for publication). The plaintiff in Lawing was a maintenance mechanic in a factory that refined metals. The plaintiff was injured when some bags of sodium bromate, an oxidizer, caught fire when the plaintiff and other workers were using oxyacetylene torches near the bags. The plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer of the sodium bromate was strictly liable for failing to warn users of the dangers posed by the product. The manufacturer argued that it could not be held strictly liable to the plaintiff, because the plaintiff was not a "user" of the product.

     The South Carolina Supreme Court, as a matter of first impression, held that the plaintiff was a "user" of the product, even though he did not actually handle the bags of sodium bromate. The court noted that South Carolina's strict liability statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-73-10, has adopted the Official Comments to section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, from which the statute was derived. Official Comment l to section 402A provides that a "user" includes those who are utilizing a product for purposes of doing work upon it. The court rejected as overbroad the court of appeals' definition of a "user" as anyone who could foreseeably come into contact with the dangerous nature of a product, in that such a definition would allow a mere bystander to recover in strict liability, a proposition that the South Carolina Supreme Court had previously rejected. Rather, according to the court, the determination of who constitutes a user requires a case-by-case analysis.

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Topics: Jeremy Y. Taylor, products liability, manufacturer liability for injuries, strict liability, product user

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Expert Testimony Based on Unfounded Assumption Inadmissible

Posted by Jeremy Y. Taylor on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 11:03 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 1

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Virginia Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of the admissibility of expert testimony in a products liability case and ruled such testimony inadmissible under the circumstances presented. See Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan, ___ Va. ___, 766 S.E.2d 893 (2015). In Duncan, a driver was severely injured when he lost control of his car and ultimately struck a tree. Although the vehicle was equipped with a side airbag system, the airbag did not deploy. The circuit court entered judgment on a jury verdict for the plaintiff guardian/conservator.

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Topics: products liability, expert testimony, presumption of innocence, unfounded assumption

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Nonmanufacturing Seller May Be Liable

Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 @ 13:12 PM

The Lawletter Vol 39 No 9

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Topics: products liability, nonmanufacturing seller

PRODUCTS LIABILITY UPDATE: Medical Monitoring for Long Term Smokers Denied

Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 @ 15:03 PM

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

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Topics: products liability, Jeremy Taylor, medical monitoring, smoking, no independent cause of action without diagnosis o, Caronia v. Philip Morris, USA, NY Ct App

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Reading a Product Warning Constitutes "Use" of the Product

Posted by Gale Burns on Tue, Dec 3, 2013 @ 10:12 AM

The Lawletter Vol 38 No 9

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Topics: legal research, products liability, Jeremy Taylor, The Lawletter Vol 38 No 9, Lawing v. Trinity Manufacturing, S.C. Court of Appeals, worker not using product at time of accident, user includes one who examines product for warni, recovery under strict liability

PRODUCTS LIABILITY UPDATE: The "Other Property" Exception to the Economic Loss Rule in Tort Claims

Posted by Gale Burns on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 @ 09:07 AM

July 11, 2013

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin recently applied the economic loss rule in a products liability action by a homeowner's property insurer against the manufacturer of an allegedly defective water softener that leaked and damaged drywall, flooring, and woodwork in the home.  See State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Hague Quality Water, Int'l, 2013 WI App 10, 826 N.W.2d 412.  The insurer, State Farm, brought only tort claims against the manufacturer.  The manufacturer defended on the basis that Wisconsin's economic loss doctrine precluded recovery under the plaintiff's theories.  The trial court granted the manufacturer's motion for summary judgment.  The court of appeals rejected the manufacturer's argument, holding that the insurer was entitled to proceed under its tort theories.

At the threshold, the court of appeals noted that the economic loss doctrine bars recovery of purely economic losses through tort remedies when the only damage is to the product purchased by the consumer.  Hence, the doctrine does not apply when a defect in the product causes personal injury or damage to "other property."  It was the "other property" exception with which the court was concerned in the case at hand.

The court noted that Wisconsin engages in a two-part analysis to determine whether damaged property constitutes "other property," so as to allow the pursuit of tort remedies.  First, courts consider whether the defective product and the damaged property are part of an "integrated system."  If they are, then the damaged property is considered to be the product itself and is not "other property."  If they are not, the court then examines the expected function of the product and asks whether the purchaser should have foreseen that the product could cause the damage at issue.  If so, then the damaged property is not "other property."  In order to be "other property," the damaged property must survive both tests.

As to the integrated-system test, the court of appeals concluded that the consumer's water softener was not part of an integrated system, because it had a function apart from the drywall, flooring, and woodwork in the home.  In other words, in order to come within the economic loss doctrine, a defective product must be part of a larger system, and if it lacks a function apart from its value in such a system, it is not "other property" for damage to which an action will lie in tort.  The court noted that property has been deemed to be part of an integrated system precluding a tort recovery when, for example, it consisted of cement that was part of pavers that had been damaged, a replacement gear in a printing press, and windows in a home.

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Topics: legal research, products liability, Jeremy Taylor, economic loss doctrine, other property is not part of integrated system, integrated property precludes tort recovery

PRODUCTS LIABILITY UPDATE: U.S. District Court in Texas Considers Numerous Choice-of-Law Issues in Applying Hawaii Substantive Law to Plaintiffs' Claims

Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Feb 4, 2013 @ 12:02 PM

February 5, 2013

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas recently decided numerous choice-of-law issues in a products liability action brought by the family of a deceased helicopter pilot.  See Sulak v. Am. Eurocopter Corp., Act. No. 4:09-CV-651-Y, 2012 WL 4740176 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 3, 2012).  The decedent was a resident of Hawaii and was killed in Hawaii while piloting a helicopter manufactured and distributed by the defendants, who were located in France.  The decedent's family filed their action in Hawaii state court, and the defendants removed it to federal court in Hawaii.  The Hawaii federal court then transferred the action to the federal district court in Texas based on one defendant's insufficient contacts with Hawaii.

In light of the fact that the action ended up in federal court in Texas and that the crash had occurred in Hawaii, the court was faced with numerous choice-of-law issues involving both procedural and substantive questions.  Noting that it had jurisdiction over the lawsuit based upon federal diversity jurisdiction, the court stated that it was required to apply Texas choice-of-law rules to determine whether Texas or Hawaii law governed the plaintiffs' action.  Texas applies the most-significant-relationship test set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws.  Under that analysis, it is not necessary that a single state's law control all substantive issues.  Each issue is, therefore, considered separately, and the state law that has the most significant relationship to the issue controls.

The court observed that under the Texas most-significant-relationship analysis, the law of the place of the injury governs questions of substantive law unless the policy considerations of the Restatement's choice-of-law principles show that another forum has a more significant relationship with such an issue.  The court contrasted this rule with the principle that the applicable procedural rules are those of the forum.  The court noted the general rule that if a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure or Evidence governs a disputed point, the Federal Rule is to be followed, even in diversity cases.  The court concluded that the Federal Rule of Evidence restricting the admissibility of subsequent remedial measures should govern in strict products liability cases.  The court also held that it would apply the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure governing the impleading of a third-party defendant, rather than Hawaii law governing the liability of third-party defendants, when the issue was not the substantive question of whether a potential third-party defendant was liable, but the procedural question of whether such a defendant could be impleaded.

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Topics: legal research, products liability, Jeremy Taylor, choice of law, ND Texas, Sulak v. Am, Eurocopter Corp., most-significant relationship test applied in Texa, choice-of-law issues focused on balance of competi, Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws principle

PRODUCTS LIABILITY UPDATE: Sixth Circuit Finds Drug Manufacturer Entitled to Immunity Despite Claims of Fraud on the FDA

Posted by Gale Burns on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 @ 16:09 PM

September 25, 2012

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently decided that an immunity defense given to a drug manufacturer by a state statute was preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act ("FDCA").  See Marsh v. Genentech, Inc., Nos. 11-2373, 11-2385, 11-2419, 11-2417, 2012 WL 3854780 (6th Cir. Sept. 6, 2012).  Therefore, the manufacturer's entitlement to immunity had to be analyzed under federal law, despite the existence of an applicable state immunity provision.

The plaintiffs were consumers who alleged that they suffered life-threatening side effects from their use of the defendant's psoriasis drug "Raptiva."  Raptiva worked by suppressing T cells to prevent them from migrating to the skin and causing psoriasis.  However, because T cells fight infection, their suppression has been linked to life-threatening side effects.  Following reports of such effects, including a rare brain infection in patients taking Raptiva, the defendant removed the drug from the market in 2009. 

One of the plaintiffs in the consolidated cases had begun using Raptiva in 2004 and later suffered viral meningitis and a collapsed lung.  She sued Genentech under the theory of strict liability, alleging defective design and failure to warn, and also under the theories of negligence, breach of warranty, and fraud.  She argued that both before and after approval of Raptiva by the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"), the defendant had known of the dangerous side effects, concealed them from the public, and not included them in the drug's labeling.  The plaintiff further alleged that Genentech had failed to update statements of contraindications, warnings, precautions, and adverse reactions based upon what the defendant knew and that Genentech had negligently failed to comply with various FDA regulations. 

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Topics: legal research, products liability, Jeremy Taylor, fraud on FDA not independent action, Marsh v. Genentech, 6th Circuit, immunity defense of manufacturer analyzed under fe, Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, state statute exceptions to immunity

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