TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

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)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

IN: Misuse Is a Complete Bar to Recovery in Products Cases

Last month, the Supreme Court of Indiana held that Indiana's statutory defense of misuse is an absolute bar to recovery and not a mere factor in a comparative fault analysis.  In dicta, earlier cases had leaned in the other direction.  The court issued a caveat:

This is not to say that any allegation on the part of a seller that a plaintiff misused the product will suffice. The misuse defense is qualified by the plain language in the statute. That is, in order to successfully employ misuse as a defense, the seller must show both that the misuse of the product is: 1) the cause of the harm; and 2) not reasonably expected by the seller. If a plaintiff misuses a product but it is not the cause of the harm and/or the misuse can reasonably be expected by the seller, then the misuse would not serve as a complete defense and comparative fault principles would apply.

The case is Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Co. v. Johnson, , 109 N.E.3d 953 (Ind. 2018).

December 4, 2018 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

NJ Supreme Court Dismisses Hundreds of Claims Against Manufacturer of Accutane

From the Boston Globe's "Talking Points" earlier this month:

New Jersey’s Supreme Court has dismissed more than 500 lawsuits against the maker of an acne drug that caused some patients to develop a gastrointestinal disease. The court ruled Wednesday that Hoffmann-LaRoche’s warning labels for its Accutane treatment were adequate. Plaintiffs have contended the warnings should have said Accutane ‘‘causes,’’ rather than ‘‘is associated with,’’ inflammatory bowel disease. A trial court had dismissed the suits in 2015, but an appeals court had reinstated most of them. The Supreme Court also ruled the 532 product-liability claims from patients in multiple states were properly consolidated in New Jersey, where Hoffmann-LaRoche has its principal place of business.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS

October 23, 2018 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Abilify Mass Tort Suit: Alleged Danger of Compulsive Sex and Gambling

Abilify, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is the subject of a mass tort suit claiming it leads to destructive behaviors.  The drug was brought into the U.S. market by Otsuka America and Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2002.  Prior to any warnings in the U.S., European and Canadian warning labels stated that Abilify could unleash "destructive behaviors."  On May 3, 2016, the FDA required an addition to Abilify's labels warning of  “compulsive or uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop, and have sex.”  Complaints allege failure to warn and failure to adequately test the drug.  The Daily Beast has the story.

October 1, 2018 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

PA: Families of Girls Killed in Fire Sue Manufacturer of Hoverboard

Last March,  a tragic fire here in Harrisburg killed two girls (a two-year-old and a ten-year-old).  The fire allegedly occurred when a LayZBoard hoverboard overheated while it was charging.  The families are now suing the manufacturer and seeking more than $500,000 in damages.  A further tragedy occurred as a fireman was responding to the call; he was killed when a driver who was high ran a stop sign.  The proximate cause implications are exam-worthy.  The Tampa Bay Times has details.

July 10, 2018 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hubbard & Sobocinski on Crashworthiness

F. Patrick Hubbard & Evan Sobocinski have posted to SSRN Crashworthiness:  The Collision of Sellers' Responsibility For Product Safety with Comparative Fault.  The abstract provides:

Crashworthiness cases often involve the following issue: Should any wrongdoing by the plaintiff in causing the initial collision reduce or bar the plaintiff’s recovery for defective crashworthiness? Jurisdictions disagree on the answer to this issue. This disagreement results in large part from differing positions on two questions. First, should products liability law use duty rules to impose liability in a way that ensures efficient accident cost reduction or should it seek fairness through relatively unstructured jury allocations of liability based on fault? Second, in addressing the first issue, should for-profit corporations be viewed as: (1) “tools” to achieve human goals like efficient reduction of accident costs or (2) “persons” entitled to fair treatment in the same way as humans.

Relying on an analysis of doctrine, history, and policy, this Article argues (1) that for-profit corporations are tools, not persons with moral rights, and (2) because these corporations are not “moral persons”, the concern for efficient reduction of accident costs by internalizing the cost of injuries from product defects to corporations should prevail over a concern for “fairness” to these corporations in allocating accident costs. Therefore, because reducing manufacturers’ liability for crashworthiness also reduces the efficient internalization to manufacturers of the cost of their failure to provide cost-effective safety, the plaintiff’s role in causing the initial accident should be irrelevant to plaintiff’s claim for defective crashworthiness. This concern for internalization also supports the expansion of plaintiff’s rights in other areas of liability for defective vehicle design.

June 8, 2018 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Feldthusen, Green, Goldberg & Sharkey on Product Liability in North America

Bruce Feldthusen, Mike Green, John Goldberg & Cathy Sharkey have posted to SSRN Product Liability in North America.  The abstract provides:

This book chapter provides an overview of the rules governing liability for product-related injuries in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the context in which those rules operate. Included are discussions of the rationales for, and the development of, the U.S. doctrine of strict products liability, and the application of strict products liability and negligence doctrines to hypothetical cases.

December 19, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Wertheimer & Rahdert on PA Products Law

Ellen Wertheimer & Mark Rahdert have posted to SSRN The Force Awakens:  Tincher, Section 402A and the Third Restatement in Pennsylvania.  The abstract provides:

In Tincher v. Omega Flex (2014), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reached two important decisions regarding Pennsylvania product liability law. First, it overruled an earlier decision, Azzarello v. Black Brothers, Inc., which had mandated a bifurcated process for assessing product defects that required trial judges first to assess whether a product was potentially unreasonably dangerous before submitting the question of whether it was defective to the jury. Second, it rejected efforts by some Justices, federal courts and the defense bar to have the Court adopt the negligence-oriented principles of the American Law Institute’s Third Restatement of Torts: Product Liability. Instead, the Court reaffirmed Pennsylvania’s commitment to the strict product liability principles set in Restatement (Second) Section 402A. This article assesses the implications of the Tincher decision for the future development of product liability law in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It explains the foundational principles of strict product liability that the decision affirms, discusses the Court’s establishment of a composite consumer expectation and risk-utility test for determining defects in product design, defends the Court’s commitment to modest and incremental common-law adjudication, and discusses the development of jury charges that are faithful to Tincher’s approach. The article also takes issue with attempts by the product liability defense bar to push post-Tincher adjudication toward a negligence-based framework that is inconsistent with the Court’s reaffirmation in Tincher of a doctrine of strict product liability.

This article will be published in Volume 27 of the Widener Law Journal. It is currently in draft form and should not be quoted without the permission of its authors.

November 3, 2017 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Note: Products Liability in the Sharing Economy

David Berke, who appears to be a Yale Law student, has posted to SSRN Products Liability in the Sharing Economy.  The abstract provides:

This Note undertakes an in-depth review of an important legal problem that has not yet been addressed—the role of products liability in the sharing economy. To date, two foundational questions have not been posed in the sharing economy literature, much less answered. First, what descriptive role, if any, does products liability have in the sharing economy? Second, what role should products liability have in the sharing economy and its regulation, as a normative matter? In Part I, this Note examines a hypothetical sharing economy products liability claim point-by-point and finds that, descriptively, such a claim is conceivably possible but extremely difficult. In Part II, this Note argues against this current state of the law and advocates a more robust role for products liability in the sharing economy.

September 6, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Shapo's Treatise on Products Liability

The latest edition of Marshall Shapo's products liability treatise is available from Elgar.  The blurb provides:

An authoritative, in-depth study of issues in products liability litigation, this comprehensive treatise traces the law of products liability from its roots in contract and tort to its development into the challenging, complex modern law of the subject.

May 19, 2017 in Books, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Yale Study: One-Third of New Drugs Had Safety Issues After FDA Approval

Underscoring the importance of tort warnings.  From NPR:

The Food and Drug Administration is under pressure from the Trump administration to approve drugs faster, but researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that nearly a third of those approved from 2001 through 2010 had major safety issues years after the medications were made widely available to patients.

Seventy-one of the 222 drugs approved in the first decade of the millennium were withdrawn, required a "black box" warning on side effects or warranted a safety announcement about new risks, Dr. Joseph Ross, an associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, and colleagues reported in JAMA on Tuesday. The study included safety actions through Feb. 28.

The full NPR story is here.  Thanks to David Logan and Mike Green for the tip.

May 15, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

FL: Engle Tobacco Claims Not Preempted

On April 6, the Florida Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that Congress's decision to regulate, but not ban, cigarettes does NOT preclude tort claims under state law.  The court reached the opposite conclusion from a 2015 Eleventh Circuit case, which held tort claims undermine the decision by legislators to keep cigarettes on the market.  The Eleventh Circuit is schedule to review its holding en banc, and a final ruling is still pending.  Courtroom View Network has the story

April 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Krauss on Autonomous Vehicles

In Forbes, Michael Krauss opines on "What Should Tort Law Do When Autonomous Vehicles Crash?".  The gist:

How should tort law deal with these kinds of future problems? In my view, the answer follows from a sound understanding of the more sensible elements of America’s often troubling products liability law:

  • In the case of manufacturing defects, manufacturers of autonomous vehicles should be liable to victims for accidents that occurred. Manufacturers have marketed a product that does not perform as advertised, and this misrepresentation provides both the moral grounds for liability and the appropriate economic incentives to perform efficient (not perfect – no one is perfect) quality control.
  • In the case of informational defects (failure-to-warn problems), manufacturers should be liable only if they were negligent (that is, if a reasonable manufacturer would have provided a better warning or better instructions). If, as seems likely, legislation or regulations stipulate what warning an autonomous vehicle should contain, compliance with such law or regulation should exclude liability, just as it should (for example) for the mandated warnings on prescription drugs.
  • In the case of design defects, the rule should again be based on negligence– was this design choice made by the manufacturer a good one, all things considered? Very important moral issues arise here (see my two moose examples above) and in some cases informed consent of risks imposed by programming would likely be required. This is where design and information defects merge, and so it is totally appropriate that the same legal standard apply in both cases. These issues could be left to properly instructed juries’ evolving notions of reasonable care under the Common Law, or could be pre-empted by regulators (who might choose to maximize social utility at the cost of precluding driving choices heretofore felt to be reasonable). Such regulation should be very carefully debated before being adopted – but if it is adopted it should bind tort tribunals until public outcry leads to its change.

April 13, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sandy Hook Plaintiffs Appeal Dismissal to State Supreme Court

Attorneys representing the families of the children slain at Sandy Hook attempted to fit their allegations within an the negligent entrustment exception to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.  Their case was dismissed, and now they are appealing to the state supreme court.  The attorneys rely on a 1977 Michigan case:

The families attorneys are hoping a case involving a slingshot injury in Michigan will help them prove that one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world negligently entrusted the AR-15 to Lanza even though he didn't actually purchase it and help them overcome PLCAA's strict language favoring the gun manufacturers.

The case in Michigan was a 1977 lawsuit by the family of a 12-year-old against a company that manufactured slingshots. The boy was injured when he was struck in the eye by a pellet fired from a slingshot that richocheted off a tree.

The court allowed the case to go before a jury ruling that the company entrusted the slingshot to a class of people, in this case younger children, that made the ultimate accident foreseeable.

In this case, Koskoff argued instead of a slingshot Remington used marketing and product placement to purposefully target a "younger demographic of users" interested in the most dangerous and lethal use of their weapon.

The Hartford Courant has the story.

March 6, 2017 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Judge Gorsuch and Products Liability Cases

At JD Supra Business Advisor, Eric Wolff reviews a potential Justice Gorsuch's effect on products cases.

February 9, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Self-Driving Cars: The Reasonable Computer

At Singularity Hub, Ryan Abbott, professor of law and medicine, discusses coming changes in technology and how they might affect tort law:

Abbott appears to be the first to suggest in a soon-to-be-published paper that tort law treat AI machines like people when it comes to liability issues. And, perhaps more radically, he suggests people be judged against the competency of a computer when AI proves to be consistently safer than a human being.

***

Safety is also the big reason why Abbott argues that in the not-too-distant future, human error in tort law will be measured against the unerring competency of machines.

“This means that defendants would no longer have their liability based on what a hypothetical, reasonable person would have done in their situation, but what a computer would have done,” Abbott writes. “While this will mean that the average person’s best efforts will no longer be sufficient to avoid liability, the rule would benefit the general welfare.”

The full article is here.

Updated:  Alberto Bernabe comments at Torts Blog.

February 1, 2017 in Products Liability, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sterrett on Comparing US and EU Products Liability

Lauren Sterrett has posted to SSRN Products Liability:  Advancements in European Union Product Liability Law and a Comparison between the EU and U.S. Regime.  The abstract provides:

In recent years, the product safety regime in the European Union (“EU”) has been amended to provide increased stability for producers and more protection for consumers. The framework seeks to balance the interest of consumers in having access to safe products with the interest of producers in avoiding costly litigation due to differing national standards. There are currently three prominent EU directives designed to protect the health and safety of consumers. These three directives are the Product Liability Directive (the “Directive”), the European General Product Safety Directive (the “GPSD”), and the Product Warranty Directive.1 This paper will focus on the impact of the Directive and the GPSD in the EU and will compare these two directives with product liability law in the United States (“U.S.”). This paper will also explore the newly proposed Product Safety and Market Surveillance Package (the “Package”), expected to replace the GPSD as soon as 2015, and the impact that the Package will have on product liability law in the EU.

The combination of the Directive and the GPSD provide a comprehensive scheme for product liability law in the EU. When compared with U.S. product liability law, these two directives achieve greater harmonization across member states than the current U.S. product liability regime. Although both the EU and the U.S. have similar product liability laws, the current EU regime often affords consumers greater access to redress and maintains strict requirements in regards to product labeling. The proposed Package will introduce even more harmonization into the EU, making it harder on economic operators who sell or produce defective products to escape liability. However, the EU product liability regime is not without problems and there are multiple areas in which the U.S. product liability framework offers better alternatives and provides less confusion for manufacturers and consumers.

January 29, 2017 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 23, 2017

SCOTUS Cert Grant: Products Liability and Jurisdiction

On Thursday, the Court granted cert in a products case against Bristol-Myers Squibb regarding its blood-thinning drug, Plavix.  The jurisdictional issue is whether, as the California Supreme Court ruled, Bristol-Myers Squibb must defend claims in California by nonresidents who allege the blood-thinning drug Plavix caused bleeding and strokes.  

According to the cert petition (PDF), Plavix is not made, designed or packaged in California. The California Supreme Court nonetheless ruled that both in-state and out-of-state residents could sue in the state because Bristol-Myers conducts research, sales and marketing there.

The ABA Journal has the story.

January 23, 2017 in Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 16, 2017

CT: Rejection of R(3): Products Liability

In late December, the Connecticut Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to 402(A), but also modified existing doctrine.  Jennifer Brooks Crozier and Adam Masin explain at JD Supra Business Advisor.  The gist:

In arguably the most important Connecticut tort-law decision in decades, the Connecticut Supreme Court in Bifolck v. Philip Morris, Inc., --- A.3d ---, 2016 WL 7509118 (Conn. Dec. 29, 2016), declined to adopt the approach of the Restatement (Third) to product liability design-defect claims and  “reaffirm[ed] its allegiance” to a “true strict liability” standard under § 402A of the Restatement (Second).  The Court also made a number of “modest refinements” to the Court’s existing interpretation of § 402A.  Most importantly, the Court held that every product liability design-defect claim must allege that the product was “unreasonably dangerous,” but declined to box plaintiffs into one definition of that term for purposes of stating a claim.  The Court also refused to limit punitive damages under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (“CPLA”) to the “litigation expenses less costs” limit under the common-law rule set forth in Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208, 477 A.2d 988 (1984).  Given the Court’s cautious approach to remaking the state’s tort law, Bifolck is in practice a reaffirmation of the status quo in Connecticut—at least for now.  The Court did leave open the possibility that it might adopt the Restatement (Third) at some point in the future should its standards under § 402A prove “unworkable.”

January 16, 2017 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

11th Cir: Economic Loss Rule Applied in Products Case

In the National Law Review, Walter Latimer has a column about a recent Eleventh Circuit products case upholding the economic loss rule:

The Economic Loss Rule is a doctrine of law that prohibits a product liability claim being brought against a manufacturer for a defective product that only destroys itself, without harm to other property or to a person. In those instances where the product fails but only damages itself and nothing else, the plaintiff’s only remedy is to sue for breach of contract against the manufacturer of the product. The plaintiff cannot seek recovery from the manufacturer under product liability causes of action. The Economic Loss Rule has historically served as the boundary between tort and contract law. Despite the fact it is part of the basic fabric that makes up tort law, it is still challenged by plaintiffs in product liability actions.

In Eiber v. Toshiba Americas Medical Systems, the plaintiff radiologist tried to sue an international electronics manufacturer for failing to maintain an MRI scanner that was out of date. The manufacturer advised the radiologist that the scanner had reached the end of its useful life, and the manufacturer would no longer provide service to it under contract. The aging scanner eventually stopped working, which the plaintiff claimed was due to negligent repairs rather than a failure of the scanner.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal on the basis of the economic loss rule.

January 11, 2017 in Current Affairs, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)