Articles Posted in Products Liability

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The State of California prevailed in a representative public nuisance action against ConAgra, NL, and Sherwin-Williams. The trial court ordered the defendants to pay $1.15 billion into a fund to be used to abate the public nuisance created by interior residential lead paint in the ten counties represented by the state. The court of appeal affirmed in part, noting that the absence of a regulation or statute declaring interior residential lead paint to be unlawful does not bar a court from declaring it to be a public nuisance. The court reversed in part, holding that substantial evidence did not support causation as to residences built after 1950, and remanded to the trial court with directions to recalculate the amount of the abatement fund to limit it to the amount necessary to cover the cost of remediating pre-1951 homes, and hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the appointment of a suitable receiver. View "People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Co." on Justia Law

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To seek redress for an opioid epidemic, characterized by the Court of Appeal as having placed a financial strain on state and local governments dealing with the epidemic’s health and safety consequences, two California counties sued (the California Action) various pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including the appellants in this matter, Actavis, Inc., Actavis LLC, Actavis Pharma, Inc., Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Watson Laboratories, Inc., and Watson Pharma, Inc. (collectively, “Watson”). The California Action alleged Watson engaged in a “common, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing campaign” designed to expand the market and increase sales of opioid products by promoting them for treating long-term chronic, nonacute, and noncancer pain - a purpose for which Watson allegedly knew its opioid products were not suited. The City of Chicago brought a lawsuit in Illinois (the Chicago Action) making essentially the same allegations. The issue presented by this appeal was whether there was insurance coverage for Watson based on the allegations made in the California Action and the Chicago Action. Specifically, the issue was whether the Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (Travelers Insurance) and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company (St. Paul) owe Watson a duty to defend those lawsuits pursuant to commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to Watson. Travelers denied Watson’s demand for a defense and brought this lawsuit to obtain a declaration that Travelers had no duty to defend or indemnify. The trial court, following a bench trial based on stipulated facts, found that Travelers had no duty to defend because the injuries alleged were not the result of an accident within the meaning of the insurance policies and the claims alleged fell within a policy exclusion for the insured’s products and for warranties and representations made about those products. The California Court of Appeal concluded Travelers had no duty to defend Watson under the policies and affirmed. View "The Traveler's Property Casualty Company of America v. Actavis, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lyons sued Colgate, alleging that she developed mesothelioma from the use of Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet cosmetic talcum powder. Colgate manufactured Cashmere Bouquet from 1871 to 1985 and continued marketing it until 1995 when the Environmental Protection Agency reported that the presence of asbestos in talc makes it a human carcinogen. The talc used in Cashmere Bouquet came from three different sources. Lyons presented evidence that talc from each of the sites contained some form of asbestos. The court of appeal reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Colgate. The trial court failed to comply with Code of Civil Procedure section 437c(g), requiring a written order specifying the reasons for its determination and “specifically refer[ring] to the evidence proffered in support of and, if applicable, in opposition to the motion that indicates no triable issue exists.” Its tentative ruling indicated only its view that “Plaintiff failed to submit evidence to create a triable issue whether she was exposed to asbestos-containing products or materials attributable to defendant.” The record contains substantial evidence creating a triable issue as to whether Cashmere Bouquet contained asbestos that may be found to have been a substantial cause of plaintiff’s mesothelioma. View "Lyons v. Colgate-Palmolive Co." on Justia Law

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Congress has expressed no intent to foreclose tort liability against cigarette manufacturers, even if liability may have some negative impact on the sale of cigarettes. But-for causation does not apply in a case of multiple causes, different combinations of which are sufficient to have caused the harm. In this case, after her husband died of lung cancer, plaintiff filed suit against several cigarette manufacturers, including Lorillard, as well as manufacturers of asbestos to which he had been exposed. All defendants settled except Lorillard. The court held that federal law did not preempt plaintiff's claim; Lorillard was not entitled to an instruction that cigarettes were lawful; the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct on but-for causation; there was sufficient evidence that the defective cigarette design was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's husband's cancer; the trial court did not prejudicially err in excluding evidence of asbestos exposure and causation; and the trial court did not err in refusing to award prejudgment interest for the time the dismissal agreement was in effect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in all respects. View "Major v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law

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In a products liability case, plaintiffs Kawika and Sandra Demara appealed the grant of summary judgment granted in favor of defendants The Raymond Corporation (Raymond) and Raymond Handling Solutions, Inc. (RHSI). As pertinent to the appeal, Plaintiffs asserted claims for strict liability and negligence based on injuries Kawika suffered allegedly as a result of design defects in a forklift designed by Raymond and sold by RHSI. In granting summary judgment, the trial court ruled, in part: (1) Plaintiffs did not establish a triable issue of material fact as to causation; (2) the consumer expectation test did not apply as a matter of law; and (3) for purposes of applying the risk-benefit test, even if Plaintiffs had shown a triable issue of material fact as to causation, Defendants established the requisite elements for the application of the risk-benefit test, and Plaintiffs did not establish a triable issue of material fact as to whether the benefits of the design outweighed the risks of the design. The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court erred in these rulings: (1) because Plaintiffs' showing as to causation was more than negligible or theoretical, it was sufficient to defeat summary judgment; (2) Defendants did not meet their burden of establishing as a matter of law that the consumer expectation test does not apply to Plaintiffs' claims; and (3) in applying the risk-benefit test, Defendants failed to present sufficient evidence to shift the burden to Plaintiffs to show a triable issue of material fact. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment and remanded with instructions to deny Defendants' motion. View "Demara v. The Raymond Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Marline and Joseph Petitpas filed suit against Exxon, Ford, and others, alleging that exposure to asbestos caused by defendants resulted in Marline's mesothelioma. The Court of Appeal held that summary adjudication for Exxon appropriately was granted because the evidence did not show that Exxon was within the stream of commerce for any asbestos-containing products, and Exxon did not have a duty to Marline regarding secondary exposure because Marline was not a member of Joseph's household at the relevant time; nonsuit as to Rossmoor was appropriate because the causation evidence against Rossmoor presented at trial was insufficient to support a verdict for plaintiffs; jury instructions relating to Ford accurately reflected the law, and Ford was not liable under a design defect theory for products it did not manufacture or supply; because the court affirmed the defense verdict in favor of Ford, plaintiffs' challenge to the summary adjudication of punitive damages claims against Ford was moot; and since plaintiffs have not demonstrated that they were entitled to a verdict in their favor as to Exxon as a matter of law, there was no basis for reversing the defense verdict in favor of Exxon. View "Petitpas v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a products liability suit against McNeil and its corporate parent, Johnson & Johnson, after he suffered a severe reaction after taking Motrin. The Court of Appeal held that the jury's verdict finding McNeil liable for negligent failure to warn must be reversed because it was fatally inconsistent with the verdict finding McNeil not liable for strict liability failure to warn; the negligent failure to warn special verdict was also defective because of the failure to include the necessary question whether a reasonable manufacturer under the same or similar circumstances would have warned of the danger; the verdicts against McNeil for negligent and strict liability design defect, as well as against Johnson & Johnson for strict liability design defect, must be reversed, because the design defect claims were based on a theory—failure to sell dexibuprofen—that was impliedly preempted; the strict liability design defect verdicts must also be reversed because the jury found McNeil and Johnson & Johnson liable solely under the consumer expectation test, but that test did not apply when, as here, the question of design defect involved complex questions of feasibility, practicality, risk, and benefit beyond the common knowledge of jurors; and none of plaintiffs' design defect claims could be retried. View "Trejo v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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After a jury found that the mesothelioma contracted by James Lester Phillips was caused in part by exposure to asbestos contained in Bendix brakes, Honeywell challenged the $5.8 million awarded to Phillips's wife and surviving children. In the published portion of the opinion, the court rejected Honeywell's claims of evidentiary error, concluding that the trial court properly admitted a 1966 letter of a Bendix employee sarcastically addressing an article in Chemical Week magazine that stated asbestos had been accused, but not yet convicted, as a significant health hazard. The court reasoned that the letter was circumstantial evidence relevant to the issue of Bendix's awareness of asbestos's potential to cause cancer. The court noted that Illinois and Florida cases holding admission of this letter was prejudicial were distinguishable because they did not include a limiting instruction. The court also concluded that the trial court properly admitted the testimony of plaintiffs' expert about causation and the contributions to Phillips's risk of cancer from every identified exposure to asbestos that Phillips experienced. The court rejected Honeywell's remaining contentions in the unpublished portion of the opinion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Phillips v. Honeywell International Inc." on Justia Law

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Johnson sued automotive parts manufacturers for injuries alleged to have been caused by secondary exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, claiming that he suffered exposure from asbestos contamination brought into his home by his father, a mechanic, and from asbestos released from the mechanical components during times he visited his father at work. The defendant manufacturers argued that Johnson did not have and could not obtain evidence that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from their products. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Johnson had no personal knowledge that he or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. The potential product identification witnesses named by Johnson either could not be located or had no knowledge that Johnson or his father were exposed to asbestos from defendants’ products. View "Johnson v. ArvinMeritor, Inc." on Justia Law

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Acqua Vista Homeowners Association ("the HOA") sued MWI, Inc. ("MWI"), a supplier of pipe used in the construction of the Acqua Vista condominium development. The operative third amended complaint contained a claim for a violation of Civil Code section 8951 et seq. ("the Act") standards in which the HOA alleged that "[d]efective cast iron pipe manufactured in China [was] used throughout the building." At a pretrial hearing, the HOA explained that it was not pursuing a claim premised on the doctrine of strict liability, only that it was alleging a single cause of action against MWI for violations of the Act's standards. During a jury trial, near the close of evidence, MWI filed a motion for a directed verdict on the ground that the HOA failed to present any evidence that MWI had caused a violation of the Act's standards as a result of MWI's negligence or breach of contract, as required. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the HOA was not required to prove that any violations of the Act's standards were caused by MWI's negligence or breach of contract. On appeal, MWI claimed that the trial court misinterpreted the Act and, as a result, erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict and motion for JNOV. After review, the Court of appeal agreed, reversed and remanded for entry of MWI’s directed verdict. View "Acqua Vista Homeowners Assn. v. MWI, Inc." on Justia Law