Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc.
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
Kirk v. Clark Equipment Co.
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
Horne v. Electric Eel Manufacturing Co., Inc.
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
Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc.
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
Amling v. Harrow Industries, LLC
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
Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd.
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
Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC
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
Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc.
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
Robinson v. Davol, Inc.
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
Aregood v. Givaudan Flavors Corp.
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