TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Janger & Twerski on Amazon as a Seller

Edward Janger & Aaron Twerski have posted to SSRN The Heavy Hand of Amazon:  A Seller Not a Neutral Platform.  The abstract provides:

Since the adoption of Section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts, every party in a product’s distribution chain has been potentially liable for injuries caused by product defects. Consumers who buy from reputable sellers are almost always guaranteed that they will have a solvent defendant if injured by a product defect. Amazon, though responsible for a vast number of retail sales, has sought to avoid liability by claiming that it is not a seller but a neutral platform that merely facilitates third-party sales to consumers. With the exception of one court most courts have sided with Amazon and left injured consumers without a remedy against insolvent third-party sellers. All of the decided cases have failed to examine the nuances and complexity of how Amazon does business. This essay puts the lie to Amazon’s claim that it is not a seller by demonstrating how Amazon controls third-party sales and hides its true role from consumers.

October 16, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

$8 Billion Punies Verdict Against J&J

I'm a bit late reporting this, but last week a Philadelphia jury awarded $8 billion in punitive damages to a man who alleged a drug manufactured by J&J caused him to grow breasts.  The lawsuit claimed J&J was aware of the risk, but failed to warn physicians.  In 2015, the plaintiff was awarded $680,000 in compensatory damages.  Undoubtedly a challenge based on the ratio is forthcoming.  America Now has details.

October 15, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

PA: Wawa Settles Claim for Defective Coffee Cup

A Philadelphia man alleged Wawa knowingly sold coffee in defective cups, leading to his scalding injury:

The main thrust of the litigation is that the defendants allegedly knew the model cup manufactured by RPC Letica and used by Wawa, the Model 24 HDC Cup, was defective, but took no action to correct the cup’s design and make it safe for consumers.

The suit stated on Feb. 25, 2017, Hall purchased coffee from a Wawa store and when holding the cup in his hand, the sides of the cup buckled, causing the cup's contents of scalding hot coffee to spill onto his lap, resulting in severe injuries.

The case settled for an undisclosed amount of money.  The plaintiff was seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus punitive damages, costs and interest.  Pennsylvania Record has the story.

September 5, 2019 in Food and Drink, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

3d Circuit Agrees to En Banc Review of Case Holding Amazon Is a Seller of Third-Party Products

Back in July, I reported the Third Circuit had held that, under Pennsylvania law, for products liability purposes, Amazon is a seller of items appearing on its website, even if they are owned by third parties.  The Third Circuit has agreed to take up the issue en banc.  Law 360 has the story.

August 29, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

OK: J&J Liable for Opioid Abuse; Must Pay $572M

In the first trial against an opioid manufacturer, a judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson liable for a public nuisance and ordered it to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma.  The court found J&J played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, forcing the state to pay addiction treatment costs.  The state had sought $17 billion.  J&J promises to appeal.  NYT has the story.

August 27, 2019 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Gentry & McMichael on Tort Incentives

Elissa Philip Gentry and Benjamin McMichael have posted to SSRN Responses to Liability Immunization:  Evidence from Medical Devices.  The abstract provides:

The Supreme Court's decision in Riegel v. Medtronic unexpectedly and immediately immunized medical device manufacturers from certain types of state tort liability. Riegel immunized manufacturers from liability if their devices had been approved through the Food and Drug Administration's most rigorous|and costly|review process, premarket approval ("PMA"). Exploiting this unanticipated decision, we examine whether manufacturers strategically respond to this new immunity. We find evidence that, following the Riegel decision, device manufacturers file more PMA applications for high risk product categories (relative to the comparable change for low risk categories), suggesting that firms are sensitive to the newly immunized risk. We additionally find evidence that physician treatment patterns with respect to medical devices also change, consistent with Riegel shifting liability away from device manufacturers and towards physicians. The analysis provides evidence that sophisticated actors respond to changes in their expected legal liability and that technical legal decisions have important ramifications for the provision of health care.

July 22, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 12, 2019

6th Cir.: Amazon Can Be a "Seller" of Products of Third Party

A week after a similar holding in the Third Circuit, the Sixth Circuit ruled that, under Tennessee law, Amazon can be a "seller" of products owned by a third party and advertised on its website.  The case involved a hoverboard fire that destroyed the plaintiffs' home.  The court further held plaintiffs had not actually proven Amazon was a seller on these specific facts, but sent the case back to the district court on the theory that Amazon assumed a duty to warn when it sent an email about the dangers of the product.  The district court must decide if Amazon's warning was negligent.  ABC News has the story.

July 12, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

PA: J&J Subsidiary Loses Motion to Move Mesh Mass Tort Cases from Philly

Citing media coverage, Ethicon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, filed a motion to move consolidated pelvic mesh cases outside of Philadelphia and the five counties surrounding it.  In the past few months, several large verdicts have been returned against Ethicon in Philly.  Court of Common Pleas Judge Arnold New denied the motion in a one-page order that did not provide reasoning.  The Legal Intelligencer has the story.

June 5, 2019 in MDLs and Class Actions, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Faure on an Economic Analysis of Product Liability

Michael Faure has posted to SSRN An Economic Analysis of Product Liability.  The abstract provides:

This chapter in a book on European product liability provides a summary of the economic approach to product liability. The economic theory of product liability based on the Coase Theorem is explained. Next, product liability when damage is suffered by third parties is analyzed. Specific attention is paid to the EU Product Liability Directive and to more recent literature.

May 30, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

USSC Clarifies "Clear Evidence" for Preemption

Yesterday, in Merck Sharpe & Dohme v. Albrecht, the Court held that judges, not juries, should decide whether FDA actions preempt state tort suit alleging failure to warn.  The opinion explained that Wyeth v. Levine's "clear evidence" standard contemplates an irreconcilable conflict between federal and state law, rather than a heightened standard of evidentiary proof:

This point of procedural clarity has enormous strategic value for products-liability defendants because it confirms that courts may conclusively rule on the pre-emption defense as early as a pre-answer motion, though the factual complexity of FDA communications likely will push the issue in many drug-pre-emption cases to summary judgment. 

Elizabeth McCuskey at SCOTUSblog has details.

May 22, 2019 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Davis on Pharmaceutical Products Liability

Mary Davis has posted to SSRN Time For a Fresh Look at Strict Liability for Pharmaceuticals.  The abstract provides:

Over the ensuing 50 years from the promulgation of § 402A, products liability in general has seen a retrenchment from strict liability. The Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability openly adopted negligence principles for design and warning claims, and created an entirely new provision to protect pharmaceutical manufacturers even more robust than 402A's comment k. Regarding pharmaceutical liability, the trend away from any liability at all has been remarkable. In the face of this legal history, and in spite of it, this Article proposes taking a fresh look at strict liability for pharmaceutical injuries. What has changed since the adoption of the Products Liability Restatement, which endorsed a virtual immunity from liability for pharmaceuticals? Such a suggestion is likely to be met with cries of “absolute liability” and concern for a chilling effect on innovation for much needed therapeutic treatments. There are three primary reasons this Article proposes a reassessment for strict tort liability in this context. First, the expansive federal preemption doctrine that the United States Supreme Court has fashioned in the last decade defeats almost all state tort liability for pharmaceuticals, particularly for generic pharmaceuticals which comprise over 85 percent of the prescriptions in this country. Second, both the pre-marketing approval process and the post-marketing risk assessment regulatory structures fundamentally cannot adequately identify, communicate, and reduce adverse drug events and, consequently, those events are increasing and likely to continue to do so. Third, the structure of pharmaceutical marketing, increasingly unregulated, has influenced prescribing practices in ways that compound the likelihood and severity of adverse drug events.

These trends in pharmaceutical marketing practices, coupled with the systemic limitations on information-gathering and response in the regulatory system, has created a demand for pharmaceuticals that increases the likelihood of adverse drug events with no meaningful mechanism to identify and reduce the risks presented. While the legal landscape has become barren to the use of tort liability to compensate for the inevitable risk of adverse drug effects, the medical care landscape has become more fertile for those side effects to occur. The convergence of these trends supports a reevaluation of the use of strict, non-fault liability on producers of pharmaceuticals for the harms their products cause.

May 8, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Feldman on the Sandy Hook Ruling

Heidi Li Feldman has posted to SSRN Why the Latest Ruling in the Sandy Hook Shooting Litigation Matters.  The abstract provides:

On March 19, 2019 the Connecticut Supreme Court officially released its opinion in Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC. Because the decision greenlights civil discovery and trial for the Sandy Hook plaintiffs seeking compensation from the maker, distributor, and retailer of the gun used by the shooter, the ruling received much attention in the popular press. It is, however, very easy to get the wrong impression about the significance of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision and the avenues it creates for both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the litigation. The decision is both more and less significant than it seems at first glance. It opens a serious pathway to liability under the PLCAA and creates a strategic dilemma for the defendant as to whether to appeal or go to trial. Yet the PLCAA remains a bar to most types of civil action to which other product makers and sellers are subject. In the absence of comprehensive congressional regulation, it will remain difficult to require or motivate gun makers to enhance the safety of firearms design and distribution.

April 16, 2019 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Fisher-Price Rock 'N Roll Play Sleepers Recalled

Last week, all models of Fisher-Price's Rock 'N Roll Play Sleepers (approximately 5 million units) were recalled.  Since the product debuted in 2009, it is reported that over 30 infants have died using the product.  Days before the recall, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged it upon the CPSC and Fisher-Price.  WaPo has the story.

April 15, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

4th Cir.: "the Flaming Headlamp Case"

Last week the Fourth Circuit heard arguments in an appeal to answer the following question:  Is Amazon responsible when a third-party seller's product malfunctions and burns down a buyer's home?  Buyer purchased a headlamp from a third-party seller through Amazon.  The headlamp, delivered by Amazon, malfunctioned and burned the buyer's house to the ground.  The buyer's homeowner's insurer paid the buyer over $300,000 in damages.  Insurer then sued Amazon in negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability to recoup the money. 

A Maryland district judge dismissed the claim on the ground that Amazon was not the seller of the headlamp; the court also held Amazon was insulated by the Communications Decency Act, which protects providers from liability for content created by third-parties.  The insurer argued that Maryland state law, including its Uniform Commercial Code, defines seller as “a person who sells or contracts to sell goods,” which should include Amazon considering its platform was used in the transaction and the product was warehoused at an Amazon facility.  Amazon's attorney claimed that every court that had ruled on this issue sided with Amazon.  There is no timetable for a ruling on the case.  Courthouse News Service has the story.

March 25, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Insurance for the Marijuana Business

Marijuana laws are undergoing a rapid transformation.  Although still criminal at the federal level, 33 states and D.C. have authorized medical marijuana and 10 states and D.C. have authorized it for recreational use.  The business incentives are certainly there.  Expected revenue from marijuana businesses in 2019 is projected at $13.7B, and will grow to $22.1B in 2022.  One problem involves insurance.  Commercial general liability, property liability, and products liability policies often provide only $1M per occurrence and $2M in the aggregate.  According to a report released yesterday by A.M. Best, that may be insufficient for marijuana businesses.  Moreover, because this is an emerging market, insurers are inclined to stick with the limits.  Business Insurance has details.

March 14, 2019 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Vandall on Strict Products Liability Versus Negligence in Pennsylvania

Frank Vandall has posted to SSRN Tincher Unmasked.  The abstract provides:

Over 76 years ago, Justice Traynor of the California Supreme Court called for the adoption of strict liability for products liability cases and for the rejection of negligence in such cases. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently agreed in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc. Strict liability leads to corporate liability and this results in increased payments to victims and slightly lower profits. Corporations responded to strict liability with a firm embrace of the negligence cause of action, which puts both parties on an equal footing. This results in corporations winning more cases. The PLAC (an association of corporations that file amici briefs defending corporations) argued for negligence in Tincher.

In this paper I argue in favor of strict liability and support the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Tincher.

February 25, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

PA: Wrongful Death Suit Against Gun Store, Manufacturer Dismissed

In 2016, a 13-year-old and 14-year-old were left with a babysitter and three younger children in Mt. Pleasant, PA.  The 14-year-old found a gun and it discharged, killing the 13-year-old.  The deceased's parents sued:

The Gustafsons’ lawsuit alleged Springfield Armory and Saloom made and sold a 9mm semiautomatic handgun without warnings and safety features, including one that would prevent a gun from firing when the magazine is removed.

The judge dismissed the case, citing the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.  Trib Live has the story.

January 24, 2019 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Comparative Pharmaceutical Products Liability

The latest issue of the journal "Pharmaceuticals Policy and Law" is devoted to comparative pharmaceutical products liability.  Mike Green and I contributed a descriptive piece on U.S. law, and Marshall Shapo did as well.  The lineup:

Pharmaceutical Product Liability Systems:  Regulatory Models and Challenges, Miquel Martin Casals & Jose Luis Valverde

Some Comparative Remarks on Pharmaceutical Product Liability, Miquel Martin Casals

Pharmaceutical Product Liability in the United States of America, Christopher J. Robinette & Michael D. Green

Some Aspects of Pharmaceutical Product Liability in the United States of America, Marshall S. Shapo

Pharmaceuticals Products Liability in Japan, Fumihiro Nagano & Antonios Karaiskos

Pharmaceuticals Product Liability in Brazil, Rafael Peteffi da Silva

Pharmaceutical Product Liability in France, Zoe Jacquemin

Product Liability for Medicinal Pharmaceuticals in Germany, Ulrich Magnus

Pharmaceutical Products Liability in the United Kingdom, James Goudkamp

Pharmaceutical Products Liability in Poland, Piotr Machnikowski

Pharmaceutical Product Liability in Spain, Josep Sole Feliu

The Development Risk Defence of the EU Product Liability Directive, Bernhard A. Koch

January 8, 2019 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

FDA Withdraws Proposal for Liability for Generic Drug Makers

The Supreme Court's preemption cases shield generic pharmaceutical manufacturers from liability.  In 2013, the FDA proposed a new federal rule that would have allowed liability against manufacturers of generic drugs.  Last week, the FDA withdrew that proposal.  The Wall Street Journal has details.

December 19, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

PA: Should Liability Be Allocated Differently in Asbestos Cases?

In 2011, Pennsylvania replaced joint and several liability with a statute referred to as the "Fair Share Act."  The statute provided that if an individual defendant was found less than 60 percent liable in a given case, then dollar-amount damages for said defendant would be set at a level proportional to their percentage of liability in that case.  A Court of Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia held that the Fair Share Act did not apply to asbestos, despite the lack of an explicit carve-out, because asbestos exposure is not quantifiable.  The Superior Court held this was erroneous and now the case is before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  The case is Roverano v. Crane, Inc.  The Pennsylvania Record has the story.

December 12, 2018 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)