February 22, 2006
Lead Paint Makers Held Liable by Rhode Island Jury for Creating Public Nuisance
On Wednesday, a Rhode Island jury found three former lead paint makers liable for creating a public nuisance and continuing to poison children. The companies are Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries, Inc., and Millennium Holdings LLC. Atlantic Richfield, a fourth company, was held not liable. The paint makers will be required to clean up lead paint in the state. The amount of the cleanup costs and mitigation could be in the millions of dollars. The Superior Court Judge in the case, Judge Michael Silverstein, will hear arguments on the issue on Monday. The remedies in the case could range from complete removal of the lead pain and fresh repainting to recoating the lead paint with a protective coat. By Eric Tucker, Associated Press. |Findlaw|
February 21, 2006
Top 100 Verdicts of 2005
The National Law Journal |Sub'n Req'd| has published their annual review of the 100 largest jury verdicts indicates that juries awarded $8.2 billion in compensatory and punitive damages last year, the lowest total since this survey began in 2001. Compensatory awards have remained relatively constant over the five year period from 2001 through 2005, but punitive awards have varied dramatically declining from $36 billion in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2005. Another factor is the declining number of high-stakes cases that now make it to trial. Jury trials now occur in fewer than 2% of all civil cases filed.
The largest verdicts were in cases involving corporate wrongdoing. Sixteen of the top 100 verdicts were in products liability cases. Of these sixteen, eight verdicts were rendered in Texas. Ford Motor Company has evidently decided to be aggressive and try many of its products liability cases as indicated by the fact that seven of these verdicts were against Ford. The judgments in products liability cases ranged from $253.45 million in a Vioxx case (reduced under Texas' punitive damages statute to $26.1 million) to $20 million in a design defect case involving an unguarded control panel for a tumble blaster blamed for a crush injury to the operator.
The products liability cases are:
- Ernst v. Merck & Co., Inc. (TX)
- Interstate Southwest Ltd. v. Avco Corp. (TX)
- Hall-Edwards v. Ford Motor Co. (FL)
- Estate of Mohr v. Daimler-Chrysler Corp. (TX)
- Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co. (IL)
- Marroquin v. Ford Motor Co. (TX)
- Burry v. General Motors Corp. (TX)
- Garcia v. Ford Motor Co. (TX)
- Mallia v. Bennett Auto Supply Inc. (FL)
- Garcia v. Ford Motor Co. (TX)
- Estate of Mikkolajczyk v. Ford Motor Co. (IL)
- Behringer v. Alcoa Inc. (TX)
- Smith v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. (MO)
- Rose v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. (NY)
- Valenti v. Ford Motor Co. (NJ)
- Leyva v. Int'l. Surface Preparation Corp. (PA)
February 20, 2006
Industries Shielded from Lawsuits by U.S. Rules
Past rollover accident cases have prompted the adoption of stiffer roof-safety standards proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in August, but the rules also provide that "[w]hen a motor vehicle safety standard is in effect under this chapter, a State or a political subdivision of a State may prescribe or continue in effect a standard applicable to the same aspect of performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment only if the standard is identical to the standard prescribed under this chapter." |NHTSA Rule|
The rule would preempt all differing state statutes and regulations. The rule is "one in a series of recent steps by federal agencies to shield leading industries from state regulations and civil lawsuits on grounds they conflict with federal authority." The proposed Food and Drug Administration rules governing drug labeling would also be preemptive, according to an FDA legal opinion.
When the Consumer Product Safety Commission adopted new rules to curb mattress fires it asked courts to bar suits against manufacturers complying with the rule. These and other efforts are part of an effort by the Bush administration to provide "industry with an unprecedented degree of protec tion at the expense of an individual's right to sue and a state's right to regulate," according to a recent Los Angeles Times article by Myron Levin and Alan C. Miller. |LA Times|
February 18, 2006
Another Vioxx Defense Verdict
A jury ruled in favor of Merck, the maker of Vioxx, in the first federal court case against the drug maker. The case, brought on behalf of a man who died of a heart attack after taking the painkiller for less than a month, was re-tried in New Orleans after a mistrial in Houston last December. This is the second verdict in favor of Merck which has also lost one case resulting in a $253 million verdict in Texas, reduced to $26.1 million after application of the state's punitive damages cap. An important issue in these cases is causation and there is speculation that Merck faces "more formidable" claims in those cases in which Vioxx was used for longer periods of time. See the Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle.
February 14, 2006
Setting the Record Straight
The Long Island Rail Road declared in a press release today that it wished to set the historical record straight. An accident that occured in August of 1924 at the LIRR's East New York Station in Brooklyn resulted in injuries to Helen Palsgraf. Palsgraf was injured when LIRR employees attempted to assist an unidentified man to board one of it's commuter trains. In the process, the man dropped a package which caused an explosion that toppled a large scale. Palsgraf was injured by the falling scale. She sued the LIRR and prevailed at trial. However, the jury's verdict in her favor was overturned on appeal. Even though the company escaped liability, "we feel that history has judged us wrongly and that many feel that Mrs. Palsgraf's injuries were our fault," said a spokesperson for the railroad. "Perhaps Ms. Palsgraf should have brought a products liability claim against the scale manufacturer," speculated the spokesperson. "However, we truly believe that Palsgraf's injuries were really her own fault." Citing Vice President Cheney's explanation for why he recently shot a friend while bird hunting in Texas, the spokesperson went on to say, "Just as the Vice President's friend is to blame for being shot by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, we feel that Mrs. Palsgraf was to blame for standing where the scale could topple over on her."
February 13, 2006
Florida District Court of Appeal Declines to Impose Strict Liability on Used R.V. Seller
In Cataldo v.Lazy Days R.V. Center, Inc., ___ So.2d ___, 2006 WL 305316, 2006 Fla. App. Lexis 1682 (Fla. Ct. App., Feb. 10, 2006 [Docket No. No. 2D04-3904]), the Florida District Court of Appeals in a case of first impression considered the issue of whether a seller of a used an reconditioned motor home is subject to strict liability under Restatement (Second) of Torst § 402A (1965) on the basis that the home is defective and unreasonably dangerous. Carl Cotaldo and his wife Carol bought a used 1988 motor home, designed and manufactured by Beaver Coaches, Inc., from Lazy Days R.V. Center, which advertised itself as the "world's largest" R.V. dealer. The motor home that was the subject of the lawsuit had undergone two pre-delivery inspections and several walk-through inspections before the sale to the Cataldos. It came with a thirty-day limited warranty. The conrtract specifically excluded all other warranties. The accident that led to Mr. Cotaldo's death occurred when he went to turn on the lights of the motor home while opening the door to let his mother in, but inadvertently hit a switch that caused the steps to fully or partially retract. He later stepped through the door and fell, sustaining injuries which resulted in his death approximately a month later. The district court of appeal declined "to extend strict liability to those who do business in used motor vehicles." The court certified the following issue to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great public importance: "Can a Florida court impose strict liablity on the seller of a used and reconditioned motor vehicle that is defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous?" |West|
February 8, 2006
U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and Israel Sign Product Safety Agreement
On February 7, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Hal Stratton and Grisha Doitch, the Director of the Israel Administration oif Standardization in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, signed a Statement of Intent to improve the safety of products traded between Israel and the United States. According to a CPSC press release, "[t]he agreement calls for an exchange of information on consumer product safety, cooperation to prevent injuries from hazardous consumer products, the development of training programs dealing with consumer product safety, and an exchange of officials, experts and professionals to carry out consumer safety programs." The CPSC has also signed agreements with Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, the European Commission, India, Mexico and Taiwan to improve the safety of consumer products.
February 6, 2006
Texas Jury Slaps Ford With $29 Million Verdict
A Texas jury recently awarded $29 million in a suit against Ford Motor Co. involving a rollover accident that, among other things, questioned the auto maker's responsibility in warning drivers about aging tires. The jury decided that both the vehicle design and one of its 10-year-old tires was to blame. According to an article by Karen Lundegaard in the Wall Street Journal for January 27, 2006, "Ford recently included a warning to replace tires more than six years old on its web site and in 2006 vehicle manuals. 'Tires degrade over time, even when they are not being used,' the Web warning says. Heat can accelerate the aging process and spares should be replaced when others are, it says." |WSJ|(Sub'n Req'd)
February 5, 2006
Sixth Circuit Reverses $3,000,000 Punitive Damages Award As Constitutionally Excessive
In Clark v. Chrysler Corp., 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 2435 (6th Cir. Feb. 1, 2006) [Docket No. 04-5279]|Lexis|, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a $3,000,000 punitive damages award against Chrysler in a products liability case was constutionally excessive.
The case arose out of the death of Charles Clark, who was fatally injured in an automobile accident while driving a 1992 Dodge Ram club cab pickup truck when he pulled into an intersection in front of an oncoming vehicle and the two vehicles collided. Mr. Clark, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejectedfrom his vehicle. He died a short time later. His wife sued Chrysler, claiming that its pickup truck was defectively and negligently designed.
After a three-day trial, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict in favor of Mrs. Clark on claims of strict liability, negligence, and failure to warn. The jury found that Mr. Clark and Chrysler were each 50% at fault. It returned a verdict of $471,258.26 in compensatory damages and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The district court court entered a judgment against Chrysler for $3,235,629.13, which included half of the compensatory damages award plus the $3 million in punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court granted Chrysler's petition for certiorari. The Court granted Chrysler's petition, vacated the Sixth Circuit's judgment, and remanded the case "for further consideration in light of State Farm." Chrysler Corp. v. Clark, 540 U.S. 801 (2003). The Sixth Circuit in turn remanded to the district court for reconsideration in light of State Farm.
The district court reaffirmed and Chrysler again appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which held that "application of the Gore guideposts to the facts of this case reveals that a punitive damage award approximately equal to twice the amount of compensatory damages, or $471,258.26, would comport with the requirements of due process." Judge Moore, dissenting from the punitive damages determination, would have sustained the district court's punitive damages award.