Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Guilbeau v. Pfizer Inc.
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
Gopalratnam v. ABC Insurance Co.
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
Krik v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
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
Cripe v. Henkel Corp.
While working on his employer’s roof, Cripe was exposed to fumes from PUR‐FECT LOK® 834A, a glue made by Henkel. and containing methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). Cripe claims that exposure to MDI caused him neurological and psychological problems, which could have been avoided by better warnings. The district court granted Henkel summary judgment, ruling that a toxic‐tort claim under Indiana law depends on expert proof of causation and that the Cripe had not produced such evidence. Cripe identified only one expert—Robinson, a specialist in the language of warnings, who disclaimed any opinion on causation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Cripe had not disclosed treating physicians as experts under FRCP 26(a)(2)(A). The fact that Robinson attached the physicians’ reports to her own did not indicate that they would function as experts. Rule 26(a)(2) requires more than disclosure of a potential expert’s name; documents attached to Robinson’s report did not contain any of the required information. Most of the physicians’ evaluations summarized Cripe’s symptoms and proposed treatment without discussing causation. None suggested a mechanism by which MDI would have caused the symptoms. By contrast, Henkel provided the district court with a comprehensive evaluation of MDI prepared by the World Health Organization. View "Cripe v. Henkel Corp." on Justia Law
Masephol v. Weyerhaeuser Co.
In 1952, the patent for a “Composite Fire Door,” issued to Owens‐Illinois. The patent claims never specifically mention asbestos, but describe a fire door with a “core of inorganic, rigid, fireproof, lightweight material of a substantially uniform apparent density and consistency throughout.” In 1956, Owens‐Illinois licensed the patent to Weyerhauser’s predecessor. Until 1978, its Marshfield, Wisconsin plant produced fire doors that used asbestos as a thermal insulator. The plaintiffs were all employees of that Marshfield plant and developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their claims as covered by the exclusive remedy provisions of Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation Act, Wis. Stat. 102.03(2). The court rejected an attempt to avoid that bar by recharacterizing their injuries as occurring off the job based on a “public nuisance” theory involving ambient asbestos. The court characterized the claims against Owen‐Illinois claims as frivolous. View "Masephol v. Weyerhaeuser Co." on Justia Law
Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V.
Baugh fell off a five‐foot, A‐frame aluminum ladder while working on a gutter. Baugh sustained significant bleeding in his brain, which caused seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia. In a suit against Cuprum, which designed and manufactured the ladder, alleging a design defect under strict liability and negligence theories, Baugh argued that the ladder was not designed to accommodate 200-pound individuals and that a feasible alternate design would have prevented the accident. Cuprum argued that the accident occurred because Baugh climbed too high on the ladder, standing on its fourth step and pail shelf, neither of which were intended to be stood on. A jury found in Cuprum’s favor. On remand, Baugh elicited testimony from neighbors and a paramedic, all of whom arrived post‐accident, and from experts relating to the cause of the accident and the severity of his resulting injuries. There was testimony concerning how many pounds per square inch could be exerted on the ladder and how Baugh was standing on the ladder. Cuprum elicited contrary testimony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of $11 million. Baugh’s experts’ methodologies were adequate; Cuprum’s challenges concerned the weight of their testimony rather than its admissibility. A reasonable jury could find in Baugh’s favor. Baugh supplied sufficient evidence that a feasible alternative existed, and that the accident was more likely attributable to the ladder’s original defective design than to its improper use. View "Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V." on Justia Law
Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc,
Juan purchased Professional Strength Goof Off to remove paint from a concrete basement floor; its primary active ingredient is acetone, which is extremely flammable and evaporates quickly at room temperature. The can contained warnings in English and Spanish and instructed users who wanted to remove concrete stains to “[a]pply directly. Agitate with brush.” Juan claims that he read most of the warnings and opened a window and two doors to the outside. It is unclear whether he turned off pilot lights for two water heaters and a furnace in a separate portion of the basement. While Juan was using a broom to spread the product, a fire erupted and severely burned his face, head, neck, and hands. Juan sued. The district judge rejected his claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of a failure‐to‐warn claim. The warning label adequately identified the principal hazards and precautionary measures to be taken while using the product. The court reversed rejection of the design defect claims under both strict liability and negligence. Juan adequately established that the fire may have been caused by static sparks created when Juan agitated Goof Off with a brush as the label instructed. A genuine factual issue exists as to whether an ordinary consumer would expect a fire to erupt under these circumstances, whether this risk outweighs the product's benefits, and whether the manufacturer should have known that agitation could create static sparks sufficient for ignition. View "Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc," on Justia Law
Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC
Schaefer’s employer, Brand Energy, was erecting scaffolding at a Dynegy power plant. Brand had complete control over the scaffold construction. Brand acquired the scaffold components from Universal, but Dynegy paid for the scaffolding and owned it. Brand workers had difficulties with the Universal components because faulty components would not readily lock. A bar popped loose and struck Schaefer on the head. Schaefer suffered serious injuries. In addition to bringing a workers’ compensation claim against Brand, Schaefer sued Universal. Because the piece of scaffolding that hit him was lost, he added claims for negligent spoliation of evidence against Brand and Dynegy. Schaefer also alleged construction negligence and failure to warn against Dynegy. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that without the missing piece, Schaefer could not prove his product liability claims; that Dynegy was not liable for any defects or negligence; and that Schaefer could not prove the spoliation claims because, without proof that the missing piece was defective, it was not possible to prove that its loss caused any damage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, but reversed as to spoliation. Illinois law does not require a plaintiff to prove that he would have won his case but for the spoliation, it requires only that the plaintiff show a “reasonable probability” of success. Schaefer adduced evidence from which a jury could make this finding: the batch of scaffolding had a large number of defective pieces. View "Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC" on Justia Law
Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc.
The class representatives in three suits had purchased the Smoothing Kit, a hair product that supposedly would smooth hair and coat it with Keratin, a protein found naturally in hair. The Smoothing Kit was a disaster. Its active ingredient is extremely corrosive; if left on long enough, can dissolve the hair and burn the scalp. Asserting claims for breach of warranty, violations of state consumer fraud and deceptive practices laws, and unjust enrichment, plaintiffs in several states filed class action lawsuits. The cases were consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois, resulting in a settlement agreement. Martin objected to its approval which would provide a one‐time payment of $10 per person (the cost of the Smoothing Kit) plus payment to who suffered bodily injury. The Seventh Circuit upheld the approval, rejecting Martin’s argument that the personal injury settlement’s value was too low because it failed to recog‐ nize that there are a number of different applicable laws. The district court reasonably concluded that it had enough data for an informed decision and that the dollar amounts were within a reasonable range and reasonably considered and rejected injunctive relief. View "Reid v. Unilever United States, Inc." on Justia Law
Carson v. All Erection & Crane Rental Co
ALL leased a crane to White Construction. Carson worked for White, providing general maintenance and serving as the “eyes and ears” of crane operator Dowell. Carson and Dowell were told to move the crane to a wind turbine platform several miles away. As the crane approached a road with overhead power lines. Carson signaled for Dowell to stop at the base of some wood matting placed to help the crane cross the road. Dowell stopped, but the crane began moving again, onto the matting where Carson was standing. As the crane pushed one end down, the other end rose. Carson slid down the slope. The crane’s treads crushed his foot, which had to be amputated. Dowell testified that he took the crane out of its “travel detent,” meaning that the crane should not have moved. The crane was inspected by Scholl, hired by White, and by a crane mechanic employed by ALL. Both concluded that the crane had moved forward because a malfunction in the controls caused the throttles to re‐engage without action by Dowell. The problem was intermittent and difficult to replicate and to detect. In his negligence suit, Carson argued that ALL had a duty to reasonably inspect the crane upon delivering it to White. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding no evidence that ALL’s alleged breach was the proximate cause of Carson’s injury. View "Carson v. All Erection & Crane Rental Co" on Justia Law