Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Johnson v. Monsanto Co.
Johnson, a school district’s grounds manager and a heavy user of Roundup herbicides made by Monsanto, sued Monsanto after contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The jury found that Monsanto failed to adequately warn of its products’ potential dangers and that its products had a design defect. It awarded Johnson around $39.3 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. The court denied Monsanto’s motion for a new trial on the condition that Johnson accept a reduced award of punitive damages.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Monsanto was liable on the failure-to-warn claims because substantial evidence was presented that Roundup’s risks were “known or knowable” to Monsanto. The trial court did not err in allowing Johnson to proceed on a consumer expectations theory of design defect. Johnson presented abundant—and certainly substantial— evidence that the ingredients in Roundup, caused his cancer. Johnson’s causes of action were not preempted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, 7 U.S.C. 136. Monsanto has not established that the trial court erred in admitting or excluding evidence. The court reversed in part. The evidence does not support the entire award for future noneconomic damages. Johnson was entitled to punitive damages, but they should be reduced commensurate with the reduction of future noneconomic damages. View "Johnson v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law
Mize v. Mentor Worldwide LLC
Plaintiffs filed suit against Mentor, alleging causes of action for negligence and negligence per se based on Mentor's negligent failure to warn and negligent manufacturing of breast implants, strict products liability for failure to warn, and strict products liability for manufacturing defects.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and entered an order overruling the demurrer to the third amended complaint. The court held that the tort claims in this case survive preemption because they are premised on conduct that both violates the Medical Device Amendments (MDA) to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act and would give rise to a recovery under state law even in the absence of the MDA. The court also held that plaintiffs pleaded the requisite causal connection between their injuries and Mentor's tortious acts to survive a demurrer. Finally, the trial court erroneously sustained Mentor's demurrer to the loss of consortium claim because it was derivative of the other claims. View "Mize v. Mentor Worldwide LLC" on Justia Law
Estes v. Eaton Corp.
Estes worked as an electrician in two Bay Area naval shipyards and was exposed to asbestos-containing products manufactured or supplied to the Navy by approximately 50 companies. Later, he developed asbestos-related mesothelioma. In Estes’ personal injury lawsuit, a jury returned a defense verdict for an electrical component manufacturer, Eaton. The trial court granted Estes a new trial.The court of appeal reversed that order; the explanation of reasons for granting a new trial was not sufficient under Code of Civil Procedure section 657. The court overturned the verdict because “plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that he worked with arc chutes manufactured and supplied by [Eaton’s predecessor]; the arc chutes contained asbestos; asbestos fibers from the arc chutes were released during plaintiff’s work with them; and the levels of fibers released posed a hazard to plaintiff, and may have been a substantial factor in causing injury to him” whereas “[t]he evidence submitted by Eaton was not sufficient to rebut this evidence submitted by plaintiff.” This reasoning is little more than a conclusion that the plaintiff introduced sufficient evidence to prove that the arc chutes released hazardous levels of asbestos during Estes’s encounter with them in the workplace. The explanation is too vague to enable meaningful review. The court also rejected Estes’s substantial evidence challenge to the verdict exonerating Eaton of liability. View "Estes v. Eaton Corp." on Justia Law
Verrazono v. Gehl Co.
Verrazono was seriously injured when a rough terrain forklift he was operating tipped over. He sued the manufacturer. The jury returned a defense verdict, finding the forklift was not defective and the manufacturer was not negligent. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Verrazono’s claim that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the “consumer expectations” test for design defect and erred in giving a “dynamite instruction” when the jury became deadlocked. Verrazono presented no evidence as to the safety expectations of a “hypothetical reasonable” telehandler user under the circumstances that occurred. Rather, Verrazono’s engineering expert’s testimony bore on a risk-benefit analysis. This was not a case where evidence about the objective features of the product, alone, was sufficient for an evaluation of whether the forklift was defectively designed in the manner Verrazono claimed. Verrazono’s failure to set forth all material evidence forfeited his substantial evidence claims. View "Verrazono v. Gehl Co." on Justia Law
Sharufa v. Festival Fun Parks, LLC
While going down Festival’s waterslide, Sharufa inadvertently slipped from a seated position on an inner tube onto his stomach. When he entered the pool below, his feet hit the bottom with enough force to fracture his hip and pelvis. Sharufa sued for negligence, product liability (including breach of express and implied warranties), and negligent misrepresentation. Sharufa’s opposition to a summary judgment motion included a mechanical engineer's opinion that going down the slide on one’s stomach could lead to injury because it would cause a person to enter the water with more velocity than sliding on one’s back. The court found that the engineer did not qualify as an expert on the relevant subject matter and granted Festival summary adjudication on all but the negligent misrepresentation claim. Sharufa dismissed that claim without prejudice to allow an appeal. The court of appeal affirmed as to Sharufa’s negligence cause of action, Festival owes a heightened duty of care as a common carrier; but there was no evidence of breach. The court reversed as to Sharufa’s products liability causes of action; the record is insufficient to show the park provided primarily a service rather than use of a product. The purpose of riding a waterslide is “entertainment and amusement,” but where a product is intended for entertainment, to allow a supplier to be characterized as an “amusement service” provider would risk weakening product liability protections for consumers. View "Sharufa v. Festival Fun Parks, LLC" on Justia Law
Waller v. FCA US LLC
Plaintiff appealed the trial court's judgment in favor of FCA in an action brought under the Song-Beverly Warranty Act, for claims of breach of express and implied warranties and fraudulent concealment based on plaintiff's purchase of a 2013 Dodge Durango manufactured by FCA.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err by precluding plaintiff's mechanical expert from testifying that a faulty fuel pump relay was one of the possible causes of a claimed lack of power in plaintiff's vehicle. In this case, the expert did not provide any rational explanation of how a faulty fuel pump relay could have caused the power loss that occurred in plaintiff's vehicle; did not provide any explanation for how a problem with the fuel pump relay could have caused an intermittent power loss both before and after the repair; and admitted several times in his deposition that the fuel pump relay was only a possible, not a probable, cause of the power loss. Therefore, the court held that the trial court did not exclude the expert's opinion as speculative. View "Waller v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Products Liability
Montoya v. Ford Motor Co.
Gabriel Montoya bought a 2003 Ford Excursion in April 2003. A jury found that as of November 30, 2005, he knew it was a lemon. The statute of limitations for breaches of the implied warranty of merchantability was four years. Montoya didn’t sue Ford for another seven-and-one-half years, waiting until June 2013. Yet he was able to obtain a judgment against Ford of almost $59,000 for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. This was roughly an $8,000 return over what he had originally paid for the vehicle 10 years earlier. This was possible because there were two periods during which the statute of limitations was tolled while separate national class actions were pending against Ford, both of which were applied to Montoya’s case. The Court of Appeal determined a second class action filed in this case did not toll Montoya's claim. "The four-year statute of limitations therefore expired no later than 2010. He sued in 2013. His claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability was therefore untimely presented." View "Montoya v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Gibbons v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.
Plaintiff and her spouse filed suit alleging that the Shower to Shower cosmetic powder and Johnson's Baby Powder plaintiff used for two decades were contaminated with asbestos and a substantial factor in causing her mesothelioma.The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of JJCI, holding that JJCI's expert's declaration -- that JJCI's talcum powder and the talc from its source mines did not contain asbestos -- shifted the burden to plaintiff to produce evidence of threshold exposure to asbestos from JJCI's products. The court also held that plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of fact as to the presence of asbestos in the JJCI talc products plaintiff used. In this case, plaintiff failed to present expert testimony to counter JJCI's expert's opinion, and failed to offer verified admissions or interrogatory answers by JJCI. View "Gibbons v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc." on Justia Law
Berg v. Colgate-Palmolive Co.
After he developed mesothelioma, Berg sued Colgate-Palmolive, whose predecessor, Mennen, manufactured shaving talc he had used in 1959 to 1961 or 1962. During that period he used a total of four to six containers of the talc. Colgate’s expert opined that Mennen Shave Talc was “free of asbestos” and, even if some of the raw talc sourced to make the product was contaminated with asbestos, there was no legitimate scientific basis on which to conclude that any particular container of shave talc was contaminated. Berg’s expert opined that, “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, . . . repeated use of Mennen Shave Talc products such as those tested and reported here in a manner consistent with the intended use would cause respirable asbestos fibers to become airborne and inhalable,” creating “airborne asbestos concentrations . . . hundreds if not thousands of times greater than background or ambient levels.” The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment for Colgate. Berg failed to create a triable issue of material fact of whether the Mennen product Berg used contained asbestos. Berg’s expert identified no evidence and set forth no demonstrably scientifically accepted or logical rationale by which he could determine what percentage of the cans of Mennen talc sold in the relevant period contained talc from lots contaminated with asbestos. View "Berg v. Colgate-Palmolive Co." on Justia Law
Chen v. Los Angeles Truck Centers, LLC
The Supreme Court remanded this case after finding that the trial court was not required to reconsider the choice of law after the Indiana defendant settled out. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court may revisit a choice-of-law decision, and there may be cases in which the trial court is obligated to reconsider the decision, but this was not one of them.On remand, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's application of Indiana products liability law. The court held that California's interest in applying its law is hypothetical, since no actual harm occurred in California giving rise to an interest to deter conduct or compensate victims; plaintiffs' assertion that Indiana had no interest in having its products liability law applied was mistaken; and, because Indiana had a real interest in applying its law, and California's interest was only hypothetical, there was no true conflict. The court reasoned that, even if there was a true conflict, the court would be required to conclude, under the governmental interest test, that Indiana law applies because its interest would be more impaired if its policy were subordinated to the policy of California. View "Chen v. Los Angeles Truck Centers, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Products Liability