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

Articles Posted in Products Liability

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Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law

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Seattle’s Duncan Place condominium complex was built in 2009, with Danze faucets in all 63 units. The faucets’ water hoses can corrode and crack in normal use. Several faucets failed, causing property damage and replacement costs. Danze’s “limited lifetime warranty” promises to replace defective parts. Danze refused to repair or replace the faucets. The Owners Association filed suit on behalf of itself, unit owners, and a proposed nationwide class, asserting claims under Washington law. The judge rejected all claims, holding that Washington’s independent-duty doctrine barred claims of negligence and strict product liability; the unjust-enrichment claim was premised on fraud but did not satisfy the FRCP 9(b) heightened pleading requirements. A Washington claim for breach of an express warranty requires that the plaintiff was aware of the warranty. Duncan Place was unable to make that allegation in good faith with respect to any unit owners. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The Washington Product Liability Act subsumes the negligence and strict-liability claims; the “independent duty doctrine” generally bars recovery in tort for direct and consequential economic losses stemming from the product’s failure (damages associated with the “injury” to the product itself) but does not bar recovery for damage to other property. Duncan Place alleged in general terms that the defective faucets caused damage to other condominium property, so the WPLA claim is not entirely blocked by the independent duty doctrine. View "Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc." on Justia Law

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Bard manufactures a surgical patch, consisting of two pieces of mesh that surround a flexible plastic ring. During a hernia repair, the patch is folded to fit through a small incision, then the plastic ring springs back into its original shape and flattens the mesh against the abdominal wall. Bard recalled several versions of the patch in 2005-2006 following reports that the plastic ring was defective. Sometimes the ring broke, exposing a sharp edge that could perforate the patient’s intestines. Other times the ring caused the patch to bend and warp, exposing the patch’s adhesive to a patient’s viscera. Before the recall, Bowersock underwent hernia repair surgery, involving a Bard patch. Roughly one year later, she died of complications arising from an abdominal-wall abscess. Her estate sued. Unlike defective patches in other injured patients, Bowersock’s patch did not adhere to her bowel or perforate her organs. Plaintiff's expert tried to present a new theory of causation: the patch had “buckled,” forming a stiff edge that rubbed against and imperceptibly perforated her internal organs. The court excluded that testimony, finding the “buckling” theory not sufficiently reliable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defense. The novel theory of causation was not peer-reviewed, professionally presented, consistent with Bowersock’s medical records or autopsy, or substantiated by other cases. View "Robinson v. Davol, Inc." on Justia Law

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More than 20 current and former employees at ConAgra’s Rensselaer, Indiana microwave popcorn plant sued various manufacturers and suppliers of butter flavorings that contained the chemical diacetyl, which if inhaled can cause a respiratory disease called “popcorn lung.” All defendants were dismissed except Givaudan. a long‐time supplier to the plant, which faced claims under Indiana product liability law for strict liability, failure to warn, negligence, and design defect. The district court granted Givaudan summary judgment in full. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to most of the claims but remanded the claim that Givaudan failed to warn plaintiffs that its products contained a dangerous substance. Whether an exception to that duty to warn—the sophisticated intermediary doctrine— applies to the employer ConAgra and exonerates Givaudan is a fact question. View "Aregood v. Givaudan Flavors Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2010, a doctor prescribed Paxil, the brand‐name version of paroxetine, to treat Stewart’s depression and anxiety. His prescription was filled with generic paroxetine manufactured by another company (not a defendant). Days later, Stewart committed suicide at age 57. He had paroxetine in his system. GSK manufactured brand‐name Paxil and was responsible under federal law for the content of the drug’s label. Labels for paroxetine and similar antidepressant drugs then warned that they were associated with suicide in patients under the age of 24 but did not warn about any association between the drugs and an increased risk of suicide in older adults. It is virtually impossible to sue generic drug manufacturers for failure to warn because they are required to use the FDA-approved label used by the brand-name (original) manufacturer. Only the brand-name manufacturer can seek FDA approval to change the label. Stewart’s wife sued GSK, alleging that it negligently failed to include warnings that paroxetine was associated with suicide in patients older than 24. The jury awarded her $3 million. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that federal law prevented GSK from adding a warning about the alleged association between paroxetine and suicides in adults. The FDA repeatedly told GSK not to add a paroxetine‐specific suicide risk warning. View "Dolin v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC" on Justia Law

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Dalton’s doctor implanted Teva’s Intrauterine Device (IUD) in her uterus for long-term birth control. Dalton became dissatisfied with the IUD and asked her doctor to remove it. The doctor did so by grasping its strings with a forceps and pulling the IUD down. A piece broke off either before or during the removal and lodged in her uterus. Dalton’s doctor advised that removing the remaining portion of the IUD would require a hysterectomy. Dalton sued Teva, asserting “strict liability,” “strict products liability failure to warn,” and “manufacturer’s defect.” Dalton failed to timely disclose any expert witness and serve the expert witness report required by FRCP 26(a)(2). The district court granted Teva summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Claims under the Indiana Products Liability Act, which governs all consumer actions against a manufacturer for physical harm caused by a product, require proof that the injury was proximately caused by whatever defect or breach of duty underlies the claim. The Act requires expert testimony when an issue “is not within the understanding of a lay person.” Dalton did not establish how a lay juror faced with a broken IUD could identify the cause of the break—maybe the IUD was damaged after coming into the possession of the physician, maybe human error resulted in damage during implantation or removal. This case is far removed from situations in which a causation issue is so obvious that a plaintiff may forgo expert testimony. View "Dalton v. Teva North America" on Justia Law

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Joas underwent knee replacement at a Wisconsin hospital and received a Zimmer NexGen Flex implant. Within a few years, he began experiencing pain in his new knee. X-rays confirmed that the implant had loosened and required a surgical fix. Joas brought multiple claims against Zimmer. His case was transferred to a multidistrict litigation, where it was treated as a bellwether case. Applying Wisconsin law, the presiding judge granted Zimmer summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining to reinstate a single claim based on a theory of inadequate warning. The court predicted that the Wisconsin Supreme Court would follow the majority of states and adopt the “learned intermediary” doctrine, which holds that the manufacturer of a medical device has no duty to warn the patient as long as it provides adequate warnings to the physician. In addition, Joas has not identified any danger that Zimmer should have warned him about. Joas has no evidence to support causation. Joas did not select the NexGen Flex implant, so the information would not have caused him to change his behavior. His doctor selected the product, making his decision based on his own past experience, not on any marketing materials or information provided by Zimmer. View "Joas v. Zimmer, Inc." on Justia Law

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Testosterone replacement drugs have been FDA-approved prescription drugs for more than 60 years. In recent years, manufacturers have found a new market: older men. Numerous lawsuits were filed against manufacturers alleging that the drugs increase health risks. Cases alleging that the manufacturers failed to warn doctors and patients adequately about the risks, citing state product-liability laws, were consolidated for pretrial proceedings. The district court granted a motion to dismiss brought by Depo-T’s manufacturer, finding the failure-to-warn claims preempted by federal law. The court stated that DepoT’s manufacturers could not change their drug labels to add warnings because FDA regulations prohibit them from “making a unilateral labeling change.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In Wyeth v. Levine, the Supreme Court held that claims against a manufacturer of a brand-name prescription drug for failure to warn adequately of the drug’s dangers were not preempted by federal law.; in PLIVA v. Mensing, the Court held that such failure-to-warn claims against manufacturers of generic drugs are preempted. The Court cited the different regulatory requirements and processes for approving and labeling prescription drugs. Depo-T “does not fit neatly into the colloquial dichotomy between brand-name and generic drugs” so the Seventh Circuit focused on whether the FDA approved public sale of its drugs through the “new drug application” or through the “abbreviated new drug application” (ANDA) and stated that the FDA-approved label defines an ANDA holder’s duty of sameness and the lines of federal preemption. View "Guilbeau v. Pfizer Inc." on Justia Law

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Arun Gopalratnam purchased an HP laptop computer that contained a DynaPack battery pack with Samsung lithium-ion battery cells. Months later, the Menomonee Falls Fire Department responded to a major fire in a basement bedroom of the Gopalratnam’s home. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Arun deceased on the floor of the room. Am autopsy classified smoke inhalation as the cause of death, with no evidence of pre-fire injury or disease, and no drugs or alcohol in Arun’s system. Special Agent Martinez concluded that the fire originated in the basement bedroom where Arun’s body was located. Martinez excluded multiple potential sources of the blaze (electrical and gas meters, electrical distribution panels, gas-fueled furnaces, electrical plugs, light switch, and ceiling light fixture) but could not ascertain the fire’s ultimate cause. He did not eliminate a possible mattress fire. The remains of Arun’s HP laptop, cell phone, and the laptop battery cells, were in the debris. In the Gopalratnams’ suit, alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty, the plaintiffs claimed that a defective battery cell in Arun’s laptop caused the fire. The district court granted motions to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on causation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court applied the proper legal standard: The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. The experts failed to account for other possible explanations. View "Gopalratnam v. ABC Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Krik has lung cancer Krik smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes every day for 30 years. From 1954-1960 Krik also worked aboard navy vessels removing insulation produced by Owens‐Illinois, which he claimed exposed him to asbestos fibers. For two weeks, he worked as an independent contractor at Mobil’s Joliet refinery replacing heaters that Krik claimed were insulated with asbestos. In his suit against Owens and Mobil, a jury found that cigarettes were the sole cause of Krik’s cancer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court's exclusion of testimony from Krik's expert concerning theories that any exposure to asbestos fibers whatsoever, regardless of the amount of fibers or length of exposure constitutes an underlying cause of injury to the exposed individual. The court also rejected a claim that he was denied a fair trial when Mobil, with the knowledge of Owens, hired a private investigator to secretly conduct an interview of a sitting juror’s acquaintance, to verify and investigate information revealed by the juror. Neither issue was prejudicial and denied Krik a fair trial. View "Krik v. Exxon Mobil Corp." on Justia Law