November 30, 2006
Japan Enacts Tougher Consumer Product Law
According to an article in the Japan Times, the Japan House of Councilors adopted amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Law on Wednesday that will require manufacturers and importers to report serious accidents caused by their products. The Consumer Product Safety Law is due to take effect in the spring. The amendments were prompted by a series of serious injuries and fatal accidents caused by gas-powered water heaters and criticisms of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for failing to issue prompt warnings about the heaters and warnings about the dangers to children from shredding machines. Other laws require motor vehicle and pharmaceutical manufacturers to report accidents, but the new law applies to all other consumer products. Companies are required by the law to inform the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of serious accidents caused by their products. The Ministry will then post the generic names of those products on its website and disclose the specific product names and their sellers when the Ministry believes that there is a risk of recurrence of the hazards. The penalty for deliberately concealing facts is a maximum prison term of one year or a fine of up to 1 million yen.
Do Seatbelts Increase Risk of Accidents?
The perception that seat belts provide greater protection from injury in an accident may actually increase our willingness to drive more daringly, thereby increasing the risk of accidents, according to a risk expert at University College, London. See David Bjerklie's story in Time.
November 28, 2006
International Product Safety Conference Opens Wednesday
The European Commission opened a major international two-day conference today in Brussels on ways to ensure global product safety and international cooperation between consumer safety authorities. The theme is "Cooperation in the Global Marketplace - Meeting the Challenges of Consumer Product Safety." The conference is organized by the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organisation (ICPHSO). There are 150 participants, including authorities from EU Member States, manufacturers, retailers, importers, legal advisers, and consumer representatives. By Elina Miaouli
Madison County Gets $17.6 Million Windfall Despite Philip Morris' Escape From $10 Billion Judgment
By the time the U.S. Supreme Court refused yesterday to review the Illinois Supreme Court's decision overturning a $10.1 billion fraud judgment against Philip Morris for its sale of "light" cigarettes, Madison County, Illinois, was nevertheless $17.6 million richer as a result of the case being tried there. After the judgment was rendered in March 2003, the trial court required Philip Morris to post a $12 billion appeal bond, later reduced to $6 billion by the Illinois Supreme Court. The bond was secured with a $2.15 billion cash escrow account from which Madison County received a portion of the interest. The county will be allowed to keep the money in spite of the outcome of the case. The windfall has been used to pay off virtually all of the county's debt including that on its administration and criminal courts buildings. It also helped to finance an early-retirement incentive program for county employees and a $2 million computerized radio dispatch system for law enforcement and emergency response use. The county still has about $3.5 million left over according to Steve Whitworth's story for the Alton (Ill.) Telegraph.
November 27, 2006
Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Price v. Philip Morris, Inc. Letting Illinois Supreme Court's Reversal of $10.1 Billion Verdict Stand
The U.S. Supreme Court today denied the petition for certiorari in Price v. Philip Morris, Inc., letting stand the Illinois Supreme Court's opinion (848 N.E.2d 1 (Ill. 2005)),overturning a $10.1 billion verdict against Philip Morris in a class action based on the fraudulent manufacture, distribution, marketing, and sale of "light" and "lowered tar and nicotine" cigarettes." See CNN.Com for an expanded story.
November 22, 2006
Merck Judge Refuses Class Action Status
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon of New Orleans has ruled that users of Merck & Company's Vioxx painkiller who claim the drug contributed to heart attacks and strokes, cannot sue as a class. More than 7000 cases have been consolidated in Judge Fallon's court for pretrial proceedings. Four cases, of which Merck has prevailed in three, have been tried there. In his ruling refusing to certify the class, he ruled that the differences among individual suits were too great to permit them to be tried together. See Bob Voris's story for Bloomberg.
Jury Awards $15 Million in Ford Rollover Case
A federal jury in Tulsa, OK, returned a $15 million compensatory damages verdict against Ford Motor Co. in a suit brought by the parents of a teenager who died when the 1995 Ford Explorer he was driving rolled over in an accident. The teen driver lost control of the vehicle while he was passing another vehicle in a no passing zone on a curve. The vehicle came to rest on its roof which collapsed due to inadequate strength, trapping the plaintiff with his neck pushed into his chest, impeding his airway and causing his death. See the Associated Press story.
November 17, 2006
Federal Jury Clears Merck in Latest Vioxx Trial
A federal jury in New Orleans returned a defense verdict in a case brought by a man who suffered a heart attack in 2003 after taking Vioxx for 10 1/2 months. He had not taken the drug during the four days immediately preceding his heart attack, a point given much emphasis in closing argument by the defense. In the eleven Vioxx cases tried thus far, Merck has won two previous cases tried in federal court and lost one. In state courts, it has won three and lost three. In a fourth state case decided in Merck's favor, the judge later ordered a retrial. This was the fourth case tried before Judge Eldon Fallon who is handling pretrial matters for all federal lawsuits. A fifth case is scheduled to go to trial in Fallon's court on November 27th. See Janet McConnaughey's story for the Associated Press.
November 16, 2006
Vioxx Class Action Authorized By Canadian Judge
A judge in Quebec has authorized a class action suit againt Merck & Co. involving injuries alleged to have resulted from the use of VIoxx, the arthritis painkiller withdrawn from the market nearly three years ago by the company. The class would include an undetermined number of Vioxx users from that province who claim that their use of the drug caused them physical harm. Excluded from the class is a much larger number of people who took Vioxx and want reimbursements for the drug's costs but who are not claiming other injury. This class certification, as well as the earlier certification of a class in New Jersey that would include unions, health plans and other third-party payors, undermines Merck's strategy of defending each lawsuit individually. See Linda Johnson's story for the Associated Press.
November 14, 2006
CPSC and AARP Issue Holiday Safety Tips
At a Tuesday press conference the Consumer Product Safety Commission joined with the AARP to issue its top safe shopping tips for this year:
Magnets – For children under age six, avoid building sets with small magnets. If swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur.
Small Parts – For children younger than age three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
Ride-on Toys – Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be sized to fit.
Projectile Toys – Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and sling shots are for older children. Improper use of these toys can result in serious eye injuries.
Chargers and Adapters – Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children.
November 8, 2006
New York Court Rules That Parties Must Quantify Exposure in Toxic Tort Cases
A key issue in toxic tort cases is whether the plaintiff has been exposed to a toxin at a sufficient level to cause the injury from which the plaintiff suffers. Many courts have been somewhat lax in requiring plaintiffs to prove that they were exposed to a sufficient dose to cause harm saying, on one hand, that plaintiff's must prove that they have been exposed to harmful levels of a toxin, but on the other hand, saying that precise data on the exact degree of exposure is not required.
In Parker v. Mobil Oil Corp., 2006 WL 2945397 (N.Y., Oct. 17, 2006) the plaintiff alleged that benzene exposure during his years as a gas station attendant had caused his leukemia. The plaintiff offered expert testimony in the form of two experts' reports. One expert's report said that a study of rubber-plant workers linked benzene exposure to leukemia and plaintiff's exposure to gasoline was "extensive" and that he had "abundant opportunity" for exposure. A second expert's report relied on a study showing a link between benzene exposure of refinery workers and leukemia and concluded that plaintiff had "far more" exposure that refinery workers without saying how. The trial court denied the defendants' motions to exclude this evidence. The Appellate Division reversed saying that the plaintiff's offer of evidence failed to quantify his level of exposure and that it was, therefore, impossible for the experts to determine whether his exposure exceeded the threshold level exposures previously shown to cause leukemia.
The New York Court of Appeals affirmed, saying that the plaintiff's experts' opinions lacked adequate foundation because the experts did not quantify the plaintiff's exposure to benzene. The conclusions in the disputed experts' reports, said the court, were "conclusory," "subjective," and not scientifically reliable. The court specifically said that a plaintiff need not prove the exact amount of his exposure, a difficult and sometimes impossible task. However, the court makes clear that a plaintiff must prove not only that he was exposed to a toxin that is capable of causing his alleged injury, but exposed at a level sufficient to cause the illness.
November 7, 2006
FDA Seeks Injunction Against Seafood Processor
In a November 6, 2006 press release, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is seeking a permanent injunction against Worldwide Fish & Seafood, Inc., Suzanne Weinstein, its president and owner, and Timothy A. Lauer, its general manager. Worldwide Fish does business as Coastal Seafood, a Minneapolis seafood processor that distributes seafood products to restaurants in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. The government's complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota after settlement talks failed. It charges the defendants with violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by processing seafood products under conditions that may cause the food to become injurious to health.
November 5, 2006
Consumer Reports Safety Blog
Consumer Reports has a new blog, www.consumerreports.org/safetyblog, that covers product safety issues for the protection of consumer families. The blog says it will " cut through the ad hype, PR spin, and government rhetoric to give you unbiased insight and analysis of safety issues that are important to you." Recent postings cover ATVs, pool alarms, ladders, cooking fires, portable generators, furniture dangers, batteries, and lead in children's jewelry. The bloggers are Donald L. Mays, who is Senior Director of Product Safety and Consumer Sciences at Consumers Union and Caroline Mayer, a former Washington Post reporter who has specialized on consumer affairs.
November 3, 2006
The Difficulty of Defining Damages
On November 1 the California Supreme Court denied review in Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 147 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006), a Ford Explorer rollover case that resulted in a jury verdict for the plaintiff, who suffered paralysis in the accident, of more $368 million in damages. Of that amount, $246 million was for punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the award to $150 million. The 4th District Court of Appeal cut it to $82.6 million. In its petition for review to the California Supreme Court, Ford argueds that the trial court erred in computing punitive damages and that the judge also erred in excluding evidence of industry standards in the trial. The denial of review lets the $82.6 million award stand. Findlaw
November 2, 2006
D.C. Circuit Blocks Ban on "Light" Cigarette Advertising
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has blocked a federal trial judge's landmark August ruling that banned the advertising of "light," "low tar," "mild," or "ultra light" cigarettes. The trial court also ordered the publication of "corrective statements" on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking. Judge Gladys Kessler's order was based on a finding that the cigarette companies had violated racketeering laws and conspired for decades to mislead the public about the health hazards of smoking. The appellate court will consider arguments in the case at a later date. See Matt Apuzzo's story for the Associated Press.