Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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Donaldson sought treatment for stress urinary incontinence and anterior pelvic organ prolapse. In 2010, to remedy these conditions, Dr. Schultheis surgically implanted in Donaldson two transvaginal polypropylene mesh medical devices. Both were manufactured by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. In 2014, Donaldson sought treatment for injuries resulting from erosion of the mesh into her bladder, vagina, and adjacent tissues, causing scarring, bladder stones, and abdominal pain, among other problems. Information sheets packaged with the devices warned of the risks of erosion but Donaldson never saw the warnings and contends that Dr. Schultheis did not inform her of these risks. Dr. Schultheis testified that he was aware of the possible complications and that he believed that the benefits of the devices outweighed the risks. He also testified that, in implanting the devices, he followed all of the manufacturer’s instructions.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the manufacturers. Although there is no doubt that Donaldson suffered severe and painful complications after the devices were implanted, she failed to produce sufficient evidence to avoid summary judgment in her case for non-specific defects under Illinois product liability law. There was no evidence eliminating abnormal use or secondary causes, or that the device failed to perform as expected. View "Donaldson v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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Bensenberg, age 85, was driving her 2008 Chrysler SUV when she lost consciousness during a medical episode. Her car entered a ditch beside the highway at 45-65 mph, hit a raised earthen driveway, became airborne, and struck a concrete post. The side-curtain airbag deployed when the vehicle’s sensors detected a potential roll-over, but the front airbag did not deploy. Bensenberg's seat belt deployed properly. Bensenberg suffered an undisplaced fracture of the second cervical vertebra in her neck. She wore a cervical collar for three months but did not require surgery. She died of unrelated causes three years later, after filing suit against the car manufacturer, alleging strict liability based on a manufacturing defect and a design defect in the airbag system.The district court granted a motion in limine to exclude the opinion of Bensenberg’s expert that the vehicle’s airbag was defective because the expert did not identify any purported defect in the airbag system but simply assumed from the airbag’s failure to deploy that it must have had a defect. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The opinion of the plaintiff’s expert is admissible to show that the vehicle was traveling at a rate of speed sufficient to command deployment of the front airbag when it collided with the post; this is sufficient to make a prima facie case of a non-specific defect in the airbag system within the parameters that Illinois courts have established. View "Bensenberg v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Cortez sued Cook, alleging that she was injured by an Inferior Vena Cava Filter, implanted in her in 2006 for the prevention of pulmonary embolisms. Cortez’s action was part of consolidated multidistrict proceedings. Accordingly, Cortez filed a Short‐Form Complaint that incorporated counts from the Master Consolidated Complaint for Individual Claims, alleging product liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranty, and violations of Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act.Cook argued that the product liability claims were filed beyond the time period in the statute of repose of Cortez’s home state, Oregon. Cortez countered that the Oregon statute incorporates Indiana law because the product was manufactured there, which allows for equitable tolling of the limitations period, and that the complaint sufficiently alleged entitlement to tolling based on fraudulent concealment. She alleged that Cook knew the product was defective and, through affirmative misrepresentations and omissions, actively concealed significant risks, continuing to promote the Filter as safe and effective even though inadequate clinical trials had been performed.The district court dismissed the claims, finding the allegations insufficient to demonstrate fraudulent concealment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, applying Indiana law. Because these product liability claims are subject to a statute of repose, and fraudulent concealment cannot extend the time to file claims for such a statute, the claims are untimely. View "Cortez v. Cook Inc." on Justia Law

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Farnolo helped his clients file short‐form complaints in the multidistrict “Cook” litigation, involving product liability claims alleging injuries caused by Cook’s medical device—a filter designed to prevent pulmonary embolism. The case management order instructed all plaintiffs to complete a profile form with general personal and medical background information and details about their device and alleged injuries. In May 2019, the defendants notified attorney Farnolo that they did not have forms from his four clients. By late June, the forms still had not been filed. Farnolo never responded to the defendants' motion to dismiss.The district court dismissed the cases on July 19, 2019. Farnolo learned about the dismissal not by monitoring the docket, but from his client more than a year later. On August 18, 2020, he moved for reconsideration and reinstatement of the cases, claiming that he did not receive an electronic docket notification of the motion to dismiss; he attributed his delay in asking for reconsideration to his email inbox sending the dismissal order to his junk folder. The district court denied Farnolo’s motion as both untimely and meritless. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; all Rule 60(b) motions must be made within a “reasonable time” and Rule 60(c)(1) specifically requires requests for reconsideration predicated on excusable neglect to be brought within one year of entry of judgment. Inexcusable attorney negligence is not an exceptional circumstance justifying relief. View "Sides v. Cook Medical Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who grew up in Milwaukee homes that had lead-based wall paint, were diagnosed with lead poisoning as children in the 1990s or early 2000s. Years later, they sued manufacturers of white lead carbonate; they identified the paint pigment in their childhood homes as white lead carbonate, but could not identify the specific company responsible for manufacturing the white lead carbonate that they ingested. They relied on “Thomas,” in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted a “risk-contribution” theory of liability for plaintiffs suing manufacturers of white lead carbonate. That theory modifies the ordinary rule in tort law that a plaintiff must prove that a specific defendant’s conduct caused his injury and instead apportions liability among the “pool of defendants” who could have caused the injury. A jury found three manufacturers liable and awarded the plaintiffs $2 million each.The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court committed three significant errors about the scope of Wisconsin products liability law, impermissibly expanding the defendants’ potential liability and a separate error in the admission of expert testimony. The court improperly extended Thomas, allowing jurors to find the defendants liable in their capacity as paint manufacturers, rather than white lead carbonate manufacturers, erroneously allowed jurors to find Sherwin-Williams liable on negligence claims without proof of a product defect, and erroneously allowed jurors to find two defendants liable on strict liability claims in the absence of a duty to warn or any proof that the lack of a warning caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Sterling purchased the Loader new in 2008 from a dealership; it was equipped with a 62-inch bucket and components that increased the Loader’s rated operating capacity (ROC—maximum load) to 1,420 lbs. Kirk regularly used the Loader to scoop up material and move it up a concrete ramp with an approximate 30-degree incline. Kirk claims that on May 12, 2015, while going up the ramp, the Loader began to wobble and tip forward as he raised its lift arms. In an effort to stabilize himself, Kirk braced his foot on the console. His foot slipped out of the cab and he brought the lift-arm down on it. Kirk suffered a permanent leg disability, loss of his job, and medical expenses totaling $433,000.In a strict liability claim against the Loader’s manufacturer, Clark, Kirk’s only expert witness, Pacheco, opined that the Loader was “unreasonably dangerous for its intended and foreseeable use” and that its “design providing for the use of the [62-inch] bucket … made it highly likely" that the bucket would be loaded in excess of"the ROC. The district court granted Clark summary judgment, concluding that Pacheco’s opinions did not meet the Rule 702 and “Daubert” standards. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A court’s determination that an expert possesses the requisite qualifications does not, alone, provide a sufficient basis for admissibility. The court acted within its discretion in finding Pacheco's evidence in support of his opinion unreliable. Pacheco's causation opinion rested on speculation that the weight of the load exceeded the ROC but Pacheco did not know the weight of the load at the time of the accident. View "Kirk v. Clark Equipment Co." on Justia Law

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Horne rented a drain rodding machine made by Electric Eel from Home Depot. A Home Depot employee selected the machine, which had been tested before it was shipped. After a previous customer returned the machine, a Home Depot employee had determined that it was defective and replaced the foot pedal. Two friends were with Horne as he used the rodder. The powered reverse did not work, so Horne tried to remove the cable by hand. The cable wrapped around his forearm; he was thrown to the ground. Horne’s right hand was badly injured. The wound became gangrenous, most of his right index finger had to be amputated. Horne sued Home Depot and Electric Eel for negligence and breach of warranty and Electric Eel for strict product liability.The Seventh Circuit vacated, in part, summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court noted conflicting provisions of Home Depot’s rental agreement. Horne assumed the risks of operating a machine in good working condition but did not assume the risks of operating a machine with flaws in its basic functioning. Horne has evidence that three key features of the machine were defective; a jury could infer that those defects caused his injuries. He is entitled to take his case against Home Depot to trial. Horne did not establish that Home Depot's Exculpatory Clause violated public policy. Horne failed to establish the absence of abnormal use or reasonable secondary causes and did not tie Electric Eel to his injuries. View "Horne v. Electric Eel Manufacturing Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Kaiser had surgery to implant the Prolift Anterior Pelvic Floor Repair System, a transvaginal mesh medical device that supports the pelvic muscles. A few years later, Kaiser began experiencing severe pelvic pain, bladder spasms, and pain during intercourse. Her physician attributed these conditions to contractions in the mesh. Kaiser had surgery to remove the device, but her surgeon could not completely extract it and informed her that the complications she was experiencing were likely permanent. Kaiser sued Ethicon, Prolift’s manufacturer, under the Indiana Products Liability Act. A jury found Ethicon liable for defectively designing the Prolift device and failing to adequately warn about its complications and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages; the judge reduced a punitive award to $10 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ethicon’s claim of federal preemption. The requirements of the FDA’s premarket-notification process do not directly conflict with Indiana law. A reasonable jury could conclude that Prolift was unreasonably dangerous and could credit the physician’s assertion that additional warnings about complications would have led him to choose a different treatment plan. The court rejected challenges to the damages and to jury instructions. Seventh Circuit precedent interprets the Indiana Product Liability Act to require a plaintiff in a design-defect case to produce evidence of a reasonable alternative design for the product but the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed in 2010. The state supreme court’s decision controls on a matter of state law. View "Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Amling began working in the horticulture industry in 1965 and continued in that career for the rest of his working life. At one point, Robert worked for National Greenhouse, whose products allegedly contained asbestos. National’s assets and liabilities were transferred to Harrow. In 1990, Harrow executed an asset‐purchase agreement with Nexus, transferring all of National’s assets and some of its liabilities to Nexus. Amling was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015. The Amlings sued Harrow, Nexus, and others in state court and, while that case was stayed, sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that under the terms of the 1990 agreement, Harrow, not Nexus or any other entity, is liable for National Greenhouse’s torts alleged in the Amlings’ state complaint. The district court dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is virtually certain that the state suit will answer the question presented by the federal suit: whether under the terms of the asset‐purchase agreement Harrow or Nexus could be liable for their injuries. That fact makes this a live controversy but simultaneously justifies the district court’s sound exercise of its discretion in deciding not to issue a declaratory judgment. View "Amling v. Harrow Industries, LLC" on Justia Law

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Donald and Mary Timm sustained serious injuries in a horrific motorcycle accident. A few months later, they received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the accident were recalled. Believing defects with the motorcycle and its rear tire caused the accident—and that their injuries were especially severe because of a defect with their helmets—the Timms brought a products liability action under Indiana law against defendants involved in the sale and manufacture of the motorcycle, its rear tire, and the helmets. Concluding that the Timms failed to present admissible expert testimony to support their claims, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Timms did not present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. The court rejected the Timms’ claims alleging negligent recall and failure to comply with federal safety standards, concluding that the Indiana Products Liability Act permits neither claim. The court properly excluded expert testimony against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear as lacking the reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and “Daubert.” View "Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd." on Justia Law