TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, October 21, 2016

FAA Preemption

In April, the Third Circuit ruled that the FAA does not preempt state law standards in aviation products liability; FAA standards do not eliminate the possibility of a design defect:

The Appeals Court turned to a federal case, Abdullah v. American Airlines, in which the FAA was found to have jurisdiction in the “field of aviation safety.” But the Appeals Court determined that applied to in-air operational safety issues and “does not include product manufacture and design, which continues to be governed by state tort law.” The court further noted that courts “have consistently applied state law to tort claims arising from airplane crashes.”

The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.  AIN Online has details.

October 21, 2016 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

PA: Dispute Over Products Jury Instructions

In late 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Tincher v. Omega Flex, overruling several unusual aspects of state law and declining to adopt R3.  The case created a lot of uncertainty, which has been compounded by recent turnover on the court.  This summer, the civil instructions subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee for Proposed Standard Jury Instructions unveiled the first changes to standard products jury instructions in forty years.  The defense bar and manufacturers are not happy.  In a ten-page letter (Download DC-#626926-v1-Pa__jury_instruction_protest_letter_2016)  sent to the subcommittee's chair, partners from multiple law firms and twenty companies, including Johnson & Johnson; Pfizer Inc.; GlaxoSmithKline; Ford; Shell Oil, and Eli Lilly, raised objections to the proposed standard jury instructions.  The Legal Intelligencer reports:

Chief among those issues, the defense bar said, is the update's failure to include any mention of the requirement under Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts that a product defect must be "unreasonably dangerous" to support strict liability. The instructions are inconsistent with Tincher's adoption of the "prevailing standard of proof" reflected in the jury instructions of most states that follow Section 402A, and should be rewritten to include an instruction on the issue, the letter said.

The subcommittee chair responded that the subcommittee had taken all perspectives into account when crafting the revisions, but would nevertheless review the proposed instructions again at its next meeting.  The full article (behind a free sign-up wall) is here.

August 18, 2016 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

TX: General Contractor Not a "Seller" for Purposes of Products Liability Indemnification

Many jurisdictions have enacted protections for "innocent" sellers of products found to be defective in an attempt to place the burden of compensation on the party with (the most) fault, generally the manufacturer.  Texas has a statute allowing an innocent seller to receive indemnification.  A general contractor incorporated a defective roof truss into its project and the issue arose whether the contractor was a "seller" for purposes of the statute.  The court ruled it was not, as it was not in the business of selling roof trusses, rather the provision of roof trusses was incidental to its general construction services.  Jones Day's website has details

August 4, 2016 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Procter & Gamble's Products Liability Exposure

Dan Monk at WCPO in Cincinnati has written an article about P&G's products exposure.  Monk finds suits against 9 of P&G's products (they have between 100 and 200 products).  He chronicles the various cases against such brands as Tide Pods, Old Spice, and Charmin.   

July 28, 2016 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 15, 2016

2d Cir: Tort Claims Can Proceed in GM Ignitition Switch Products Cases, Despite Bankruptcy

This week, the Second Circuit endorsed the general proposition that certain types of bankruptcy asset sales bar successor liability.  Regarding claims against GM based on ignition switch defects, however, the court ruled the 2009 bankruptcy of "Old GM" does not bar those cases against "New GM", the company that bought Old GM's assets.  The court based its ruling on the fact GM hid the defect at the time of the bankruptcy proceeding.  The New York Times has more

July 15, 2016 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

NJ: Liability in Take-Home Toxic Tort Cases Extends Beyond Spouses

Take-home exposure cases, in which a worker brought home a toxic substance like asbestos on his or her clothes and sickened a spouse, are being expanded in New Jersey.  Last week the court unanimously held such cases were not restricted to spouses.  The facts involve a woman who later became the spouse of a worker bringing home toxic substances.  She was not, however, married to him at the time the exposure began.  The court stated the spousal relationship was not necessary; several factors must be weighed, the most important of which is foreseeability.  NJ Spotlight has the story.

July 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

First Self-Driving Car Fatality

A man driving a Tesla Model S in Florida has become the first self-driving car fatality.  Statements by Tesla and NHTSA concur that, while in Autopilot mode, the car failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor trailer from the bright May sky; the brakes were not applied.  The man's family has retained an attorney.  This case will begin sorting out all of the unanswered questions created by the new technology.  The ABA Journal has details.

Updated:  Analysis from The Guardian here.

July 6, 2016 in Products Liability, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

IKEA Sued Over Tipping Dressers

At least 6 children have been crushed to death by IKEA dressers, prompting the company to recall approximately 29 million dressers dating to 2002.  Suit filed against IKEA alleges problems with the design and warnings on the products.  ABC has the story.

June 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tesla: Wheel Detaches; Waivers and Nondisclosure Agreements

I'm teaching Products Liability this summer.  It's a fun course to teach, and I have a sense of relief about many of the products defects we no longer have to deal with on a regular basis.  For example, last night in class we covered a case in which a wheel flew off a car and injured a child.  That seemed to me an antiquated problem.  Yet today one of my students sent me this article about a 2013 Tesla Model S electric car having the same issue.  Moreover, the company sometimes proffers consumers waivers and nondisclosure agreements as part of the repair process.  Nondisclosure agreements are common in lawsuit settlements, but this seems unusual.

June 15, 2016 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sharkey on the Economic Loss Rule in Products Cases

Cathy Sharkey has posted to SSRN The Remains of the Citadel (Economic Loss Rule in Products Cases)The abstract provides:

Though its seeds may have been planted long before, the economic loss rule in products liability tort law emerged in full force at the very same moment as the doctrine of strict products liability in the mid-1960s. This moment, fueled by the fall of privity and the rise of implied warranty earlier in the century, was of great doctrinal import — a moment when strict liability threatened to erase altogether the boundary between tort and contract in the context of defective products cases and move those cases firmly into the tort realm. The economic loss rule emerged as a crucial new levee against a flood of potentially limitless tort liability. It forged a new dividing line, keeping cases involving pure financial losses within the domain of con-tract by denying recovery for such losses under any theory of tort. Seen in this light, the economic loss rule emerged to protect the “remains” of the citadel of privity.

William Prosser, so intently focused on the dramatic siege on the citadel of privity, overlooked a few, highly significant cases, where courts continued to require privity in order for the plaintiff to recover for negligently inflicted economic losses by defective products. Over the two decades that followed Prosser’s The Fall of the Citadel, the debate over the economic loss rule in products cases continued to unfold, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s embrace in East River Steamship. That case ensured the economic loss rule would keep contract from “drowning in a sea of tort” and that the wall between the “separate spheres” of tort and contract law could not be breached.

After an exploration of the evolution of, and rationales for, the economic loss rule in products cases, this Article examines whether the citadel’s last bastion should be preserved. It con-cludes that the economic loss rule in products cases may be best justified as a means to induce the putative victims — here, the parties with superior information regarding risk of financial loss — to protect themselves.

May 4, 2016 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lens on Product Recalls

Jill Lens has posted to SSRN Product Recalls:  Why is Tort Law Deferring to Agency Inaction?.  The abstract provides:

Tort law currently recognizes liability related to a product recall in only narrow circumstances. Liability is possible if the manufacturer acts unreasonably in an agency-ordered recall or in a voluntary recall, which is likely the result of agency encouragement. What this narrow standard leaves out is possible liability for a manufacturer’s choice to simply not recall. But courts agree that only government agencies are equipped to evaluate the reasonableness of a recall and to determine if one is justified. Thus, if an agency never effects a product recall, tort liability is not possible.

A few commentators have applauded or criticized the narrow standard for liability. But this Article is the first to thoroughly question the standard in light of its real basis—deference to administrative agencies. The Article contrasts this complete deference on recall orders to the very limited deference courts give to agency determinations in traditional defect claims, modern post-sale warning claims, and within decisions to punish the manufacturer by imposing punitive damages. The Article also questions the wisdom of complete deference to an agency’s inaction in not ordering a recall and the legal validity of such deference based on its inconsistency with negligence per se principles. Last, the Article argues that there is nothing special about product recalls deserving of such special deference.

April 7, 2016 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bernstein on Voluntary Recalls

Anita Bernstein has posted Voluntary Recalls to SSRN.  The abstract provides:

The voluntary recall of a defective product, whereby a manufacturer or seller encourages purchasers to return a defective item, looks like a much happier phenomenon than what it fends off: injury for the buyer, liability for the seller, burdens on regulators. Acknowledging these advantages, this Article reviews other aspects of the voluntary-recall fix. First, the term recall has no consistent definition or usage in the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations. Second, product recalls are not really voluntary: sellers and buyers alike do not make informed, uncoerced choices to participate in this remedy. The Article concludes with two sets of recommendations to reform the law of product recalls, the first modest and the second ambitious.

January 28, 2016 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Warnings Compendium

Barbara Peters has published The Warnings Compendium (available at Amazon).  Topics include:

Designing warnings, deciding when to warn, adequacy, ambiguity, location, conspicuity, attention getting, signal words, color, permanency, cradle-to-grave, audience, intermediaries, complexity, effectiveness, repetition, neurobiology, continuing duty, channels to warn, and legal doctrines affecting warnings.

December 11, 2015 in Books, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Open-Heart Surgery Infection Cases Spread

Last week, I reported that open-heart surgery patients at York Hospital may have been exposed to bacteria that could lead to infections.  This week, Penn State Hershey Medical Center announced that its open-heart surgery patients may have also been exposed to bacteria.  This appears to be developing into potential products liability cases, perhaps all over the world:

The infections have been linked to heater-cooler devices that are part of the process of controlling patients' body temperature during open heart surgery. A department of health spokeswoman said heater-coolers are used in all open heart surgeries.

Pennlive has the story, including pictures of the device in question.

November 13, 2015 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

FL: Supreme Court Chooses Consumer Expectations Over Risk Utility

The case is Aubin v. Union Carbide Corp., No. SC12-2075, 2015 WL 6513924, at *1 (Fla. Oct. 29, 2015), and JD Supra has the story.

November 10, 2015 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Medical Devices Vulnerable to Cyber-Attack

The FDA recently warned that a particular pump could be hacked and give patients incorrect doses of medication.  At JD Supra, Butler Snow discusses problems in applying traditional products liability theories to such an attack.

October 20, 2015 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Volvo Accepts "Full Liability" for Autonomous Cars

Volvo announced it will accept "full liability" for accidents when one of its self-driving cars is operating in autonomous driving mode.  The move would simplify liability issues and perhaps reduce legal barriers to autonomous vehicles.  Automobile has the story.

Thanks to Adam Scales for the tip.

October 8, 2015 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

FL: $34.7M Verdict Against RJ Reynolds

In Florida last week, a jury hit RJ Reynolds with $14.7M in compensatory damages and $20M in punies for the death of an Air Force sergeant in another of the Engle progeny cases.  The jury deliberated only a few hours.  ABA Journal has the story.

September 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Innocent Sellers Fairness Act

Twelve U.S. House members are sponsoring the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 1199), designed to remove liability for product injuries from sellers and keep it on manufacturers.

The bill would make it so that no seller of any product would be liable for damages, except in the following cases:

  • The seller was the manufacturer of the product;
  • The seller participated in the design of the product;
  • The seller participated in the installation of the product;
  • The seller altered, modified or expressly warranted the product in a manner not authorized by the manufacturer;
  • The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product as a result of a recall from the manufacturer or governmental entity authorized to make such recall or actual inspection at the time the seller sold the product to the claimant;
  • The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time the seller supplied the product;
  • The seller intentionally altered or modified a product warranty, warning or instruction from the manufacturer in a way not authorized by the manufacturer; and
  • The seller knowingly made a false representation about an aspect of the product not authorized by the manufacturer.

A version of the bill has been in the House since 2007, but the number of sponsors has risen recently.  U.S.Glass News Network has details.

August 31, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Conk on Comparative Products Liability Jury Instructions

George Conk has posted one of his older pieces to SSRN:  Compared to What?  Instructing the Jury on Product Defect Under the Products Liability Act and the Restatement (Third) of Torts:  Products Liability.  The abstract provides:

Products liability litigation relating to mechanical devices has centered on the concept of design defect, specifically, the unreasonable failure of a manufacturer to take advantage of current design capabilities that would reduce or even eliminate a product's potential dangers. The Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability (Restatement (Third)), promulgated by the American Law Institute in 1997, places the focus of design-defect litigation on proof of the existence of an alternative, safer design for a product, which demonstrates that the product was not designed to be reasonably safe.

The Restatement rejects the long-dominant consumer expectations test of defect and asserts that the risk-utility analysis everywhere relied up must specify that the plaintiff prove as a fact that there was available a safer alternative design which, if omitted, renders the product not reasonably safe.

By concretizing the relevant design-defect considerations, we will be better able both to hold the designer to the ideal of prudence and to avoid the uncritical sympathy for the injured that courts have long seen as a danger of unclear limitations on liability. In case after case, courts uphold verdicts rooted in risk-utility proof and argument - on the balance of costs and benefits of improving the safety of a product's design - without inquiring closely into how to formulate the balance properly.  The New Jersey Products Liability Act states that it is a complete defense if: "At the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, there was not a practical and technically feasible alternative design that would have prevented the harm without substantially impairing the reasonably anticipated or intended function of the product."

August 17, 2015 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)