Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Dan Monk at WCPO in Cincinnati has a story about Tide Pods. Several companies, most notably Proctor & Gamble (maker of "Tide"), have made a single-load laundry package, designed to enhance the convenience of washing clothes. Many of them are designed with colorful swirls. Unfortunately, children seem to be attracted to the product and put it in their mouths. There have been approximately 13,000 reports of such occurrences documented by poison control centers in the last 2 years. The American Association of Poison Control Centers states there have been over 6,700 such poisoning cases involving children under 5 in the first 8 months of 2013. P&G has been responsive by making the containers opaque and more difficult to open; additionally, they launched a public safety campaign.
A Chicago grandmother, however, argues those precautions do not help prevent many accidents based on the use of this particular product. Because of the product's convenience, many people take the package with them in their laundry baskets, allowing children access. She started a Change.org petition asking P&G to individually wrap Tide Pods and change the warning label about what to do if a child does ingest a Pod. She says she is not interested in suing, but only wants to enhance the safety of the product. If someone were to sue, there is an obvious contributory/comparative negligence issue, and she acknowledges it. She says she used to say it is the care giver's responsibility to keep the product away from children, but she was in the room when her grandson put the Pod in his mouth. She states, "If you blink for a second, the baby can get it in their mouth."
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Victor Schwartz, Phil Goldberg and Cary Silverman (Shook Hardy & Bacon) recently published Warning: Shifting Liability to Manufacturers of Brand-Name Medicines When the Harm Was Allegedly Caused by Generic Drug Has Severe Side Effects in Fordham Law Review. The abstract provides:
Can a product manufacturer be subject to liability for a competitor’s product? American tort law has always said, “No.” It does not matter if the products are identical. Companies are not to be their competitors’ keepers.
Nevertheless, over the past few years, three courts have overturned this fundamental of tort law, holding that a manufacturer of a brand-name prescription drug can be subject to liability even when a plaintiff alleges that he or she was harmed by a generic drug made by the brand-name manufacturer’s competitor. Most courts, including four federal courts of appeal and dozens of federal district and state trial courts, have rejected this expansion of tort law.
This debate has intensified since 2011, when the Supreme Court of the United States held that all duty to warn claims against manufacturers of generic drugs are preempted by federal drug. The personal injury bar is hoping that courts will give competitor liability theories a new look, particularly when courts find that there is no other path for users of generic drugs to sue.
This Article explains the reasons courts should continue resisting any temptation to change state tort law to allow for competitor liability: (1) it is driven by a search for pockets for paying claims in violation of fundamental tort law principles; (2) the overwhelming majority of courts have continued rejecting competitor liability, even since the Supreme Court ruling; and (3) shifting liability to manufacturers of brand-name drugs could have significant adverse legal and health care consequences.
Monday, April 8, 2013
The National Law Journal reports that consumers have filed economic loss claims against Ford based on the risk of sudden unintended acceleration. The national class action has been filed in federal court in West Virginia. Unsurprisingly, the claims exclude potential personal injury or wrongful death claims. Rather, the claims sound in contract and include Magnuson-Moss, state warranty, consumer protection and unfair trade practices claims. The full article is behind a free registration wall.
I have written about these risk-based claims in Against Liability for Private Risk-Exposure.
Friday, April 5, 2013
Daniel Cummins: "A Maze of Uncertainty: PA Products Liability Law Remains in a Confusing State of Flux"
As of the writing of this article in January of 2013, confusion is reigning in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on the uncertain issue of whether the Restatement (Second) of Torts or the different analysis set forth in the Restatement (Third) of Torts should be utilized in Pennsylvania products liability cases. This uncertainty is the result of an ever-growing split of authority not only between the Pennsylvania state and federal courts, but also among, and even within, the different federal district courts across the Commonwealth.
The situation has now spiraled downward to the point that litigants with cases pending in the Pennsylvania federal court system have to research whether the particular federal district court judge presiding over the case has previously issued a decision on the issue in order to determine which Restatement standard will be applied in that case. While one Pennsylvania federal court judge has politely noted that this area of the law in Pennsylvania is in a “state of flux,” See Sikkelee v. Precision Automotive, Inc., 876 F. Supp. 2d 479, 489 (M.D. Pa. 2012 Jones, J.). another has more aptly described Pennsylvania products liability law as being “a maze of uncertainty.” See Samson v. Crown Equipment, 2:10-CV-0958, 2012 WL 3027989 (W.D. Pa. 2012 Hornak, J.).
Which standard is applied could make or break a case. Although the Restatement (Second) favors strict liability concepts over negligence principles in the products liability context, the Restatement (Third) decreases the impact of concepts such as "intended use" and "intended user" and places a greater emphasis on the negligence principle of "reasonable foreseeability." All of these changes in the Restatement (Third) arguably shift the balance in favor of manufacturer defendants in personal injury cases based upon allegations that a defective product was the cause of the injury.
As noted below, under the current status of Pennsylvania products liability law, whether the case will be governed by the Restatement (Second) of Torts or the Restatement (Third) of Torts depends upon whether the case is in state or federal court, and if the case is in federal court, the answer may further depend upon which particular federal district court judge is presiding over the case.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Sunday, March 17, 2013
When the Supreme Court hears oral argument in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, it will embark on its third elaboration of “impossibility preemption” in the prescription-drugs context. This line of cases is reshaping preemption doctrine, and it is doing so with little regard for a basic legal idea: the distinction between a property rule and a liability rule.
The question at issue is whether it is “impossible” for prescription drug manufacturers to comply with both Food & Drug Administration requirements and state tort law. State tort liability for design defect or failure-to-warn is predicated on a judgment that a drug or drug label was not designed safely. But manufacturers generally cannot alter drugs or labels without FDA approval. Thus, manufacturers argue, it is impossible for them to comply with both tort law and FDA requirements.
The Supreme Court implicitly accepted this view in 2009’s Wyeth v. Levine, when it found no impossibility preemption of a failure-to-warn claim against Wyeth. The Court rested this conclusion on the view that, under FDA regulations, Wyeth could have changed its drug’s warning label without prior FDA approval. Wyeth thus could have avoided tort liability while complying with FDA rules.
This analysis was always dubious: labeling changes ultimately require FDA approval, and thus a manufacturer’s power to make unilateral changes is short-lived and mostly hypothetical. But there soon arose a side effect which the majority in Wyeth, led by Justice Stevens, surely neither foresaw nor intended. To the extent that the power to make unilateral changes exists at all, it is enjoyed only by brand-name manufacturers and not by makers of generic drugs.
Thus when, in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, the manufacturer of a generic drug made an impossibility preemption claim, the Court sprang the trap it had set in Wyeth. If impossibility was avoided only to the extent that manufacturers could change their labels, then impossibility must exist with respect to generic drugs.
In Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, the Court is being asked to extend this analysis to preempt some suits against generic manufacturers for design defects. And the United States, for its part, appears to ask the Court to feel free to endorse this rule for all design-defect claims, for both generic and brand-name drugs, on the theory that no manufacturer can alter the substance of its drug without FDA approval. What started as a ground for rejecting preemption in Wyeth is now poised to eliminate virtually all tort liability for prescription drug manufacturers, all in the name of “impossibility.”
But if we know one thing about tort law, we know that it is not impossible to comply with it and FDA requirements simultaneously. We know this because drug manufacturers have been complying with both since the passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938.
Moreover, anyone briefed in the most basic attributes of tort liability and FDA regulation can explain why. Tort liability requires manufacturers to pay damages, not to alter their products. A manufacturer may market a drug as approved while paying tort damages. The manufacturer has other options, such as seeking to modify a drug or label, or developing improved products. But it is entirely possible to change nothing and comply with both sets of laws.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Forbes reports that Pfizer is asking the Alabama Supreme Court to reconsider its decision holding Pfizer liable for failing to warn a consumer who took a generic version of the drug Reglan. The article points out the regulation, not litigation, may answer this one:
Meanwhile, though, the issue may be decided by the FDA. The agency recently disclosed plans to revise its regulations so that generic drugmakers can update product labeling and warn patients about risks associated with their drugs. If the FDA were to make such a change, generic drugmakers could be sued in state courts – if they become aware of evidence of serious side effects, but do not take action to update the product labeling (back story).
Monday, January 28, 2013
The Legal Intelligencer reports that Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Nitza Alejandro has denied Johnson & Johnson's McNeil-PPC's post-trial motions in a case involving over the counter Children's Motrin. In the case, a jury awarded $10 million to a young girl who suffered Stevens-Johnson syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis after taking Children's Motrin. The full story is behind a free registration wall.
Thanks to Lisa Smith-Butler for the alert.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Friday, January 11, 2013
Muddling the preemption waters, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that a plaintiff can bring a state law failure to warn claim against a medical device manufacturer. The court found the claim was not preempted by the Medical Device Amendments to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. A copy of the opinion is here. The Recorder (via law.com) has more.
Thanks to Lisa Smith-Butler for the alert.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
On Monday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that, in order to avoid liability, a defendant raising a claim of highly reckless conduct must plead and prove such claim as an affirmative defense. The case, Reott v. Asia Trend, is here.
Thanks to Scott Cooper for the tip.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The Sunday Boston Globe contained an article by Jay Fitzgerald on the potential suits from the outbreak of meningitis linked to a Framingham drug compounding pharmacy. Suffolk's Mike Rustad is quoted in the piece.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The Wall Street Journal reports that mass tort filings in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas have "skyrocketed from 550 in 2008 to nearly 2,700 last year. The surge left an already busy court system buried in lawsuits and scrambling to repair the damage." The article reports:
Also contributing to the surge of cases: the success of the Complex Litigation Center, a specialized Philadelphia court established in 1992 largely to handle the growing asbestos and pharmaceutical docket. The center adopted techniques that were designed to move cases through quickly, such as setting early trial dates, holding frequent meetings among the lawyers, and consolidating similar cases.
The Complex Litigation Center drew more mass-tort cases to Philadelphia. But until recently, it was largely able to manage its docket. Since 2008, the backlog of asbestos and pharmaceutical cases has shot up from about 2,600 to more than 6,100 through last month. Last year, 88% of the pharmaceutical cases were filed by out-of-state plaintiffs, according to the court.
The mess is now largely Judge Herron's to deal with. Since taking over as the administrative judge late last year, he has put into place several measures designed to reverse the trend—and to send a message to out-of-state lawyers to take their lawsuits to other courts. "Go elsewhere," he says, when asked to describe the message he is hoping to send to out-of-state lawyers. "There are a lot of really wonderful courts in the U.S., and you should make broader use of them."
Friday, August 17, 2012
This week, Amaris Elliott-Engel, of PA Law Weekly, wrote the first of a series of articles on tort law. Her first piece is on the uncertainty in Pennsylvania products law. Twice in the last 3 years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has opined that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt the Restatement Third (Products Liability). However, the state Supreme Court has not directly addressed the issue, although there has been some provocative dicta and one instance in which the justices announced they had improvidently granted allocatur to consider whether section 2 of R3 should replace 402A of R2. Thus, in general, state courts are applying 402A and federal courts are applying R3, though even among federal courts, some apply 402A. As elsewhere, most plaintiffs' lawyers tend to prefer 402A and most defense lawyers tend to prefer R3.
Thanks to Scott Cooper for the tip.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Abnormal Use reports that a New Jersey Superior Court has rejected the "innovator liability" theory accepted by a California court in Conte v. Wyeth. Under this theory, a plaintiff sues a brand-name manufacturer of a drug for injuries allegedly caused by taking the generic version of the drug. To date, Conte is the only decision upholding this theory of liability.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Rather than creating an environment to foster safer products, product liability law often has adverse consequences. Some of the problems stem from the inherent nature of product risk decisions and the function of tort liability, while others may derive from individuals’ cognitive limitations and inability to think properly about balancing risk and cost. Thus it would be both incorrect and an oversimplification to blame all the ills on the tort liability system. That system functions reason- ably well for many types of accidents, such as personal motor vehicle accidents. However, tort liability falls short with respect to products.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
On Monday, the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Stengel v. Medtronic, Inc., No. 10-17755, slip op. [pdf]. The case involved a Medtronic pain-pump that the plaintiff alleged caused his paraplegia. The Ninth Circuit upheld dismissal based on Reigel v. Medtronic, Inc., 552 U.S. 312 (2008), and also denied plaintiffs' "failure to report" claim under implied preemption.
Friday, March 9, 2012
The Legal Intelligencer reports on a variety of issues raised by the plaintiffs in a post-trial motion challenging a defense verdict in Webber v. Ford Motor Co. In particular, plaintiffs' counsel alleges that the verdict form was the result of ex parte contact by defense lawyers and the supervising judges in Philadelphia's Mass Torts Program.
Thanks to Lisa Smith-Butler for the alert.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Asbestos.com reports the heirs of dockyard workers in the tiny Mediterranean country of Malta filed asbestos-liability claims in New York against American companies that made products used aboard U.S. Navy ships.
The dock workers were exposed to the asbestos when the Navy ships were brought in for service and repairs. Although the exposure came as long as 40 years ago, some of the worker died only recently. Mesothelioma cancer, which is caused by the asbestos exposure, can linger for up to 50 years before it shows any symptoms.
According to Maltatoday, the leading news service in Malta, up to 400 workers or their families have filed claims through the United States court system.
Thanks to Cary Sklaren for the tip.