Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability

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Howard and Nancy Nease filed a products liability suit against Ford, alleging that Howard sustained serious injuries in an accident caused by a design defect in the speed control system of his 2001 Ford Ranger pickup truck. The jury awarded plaintiffs over $3 million in damages. The district court denied Ford's post-trial motions. The court concluded that the expert testimony of Samuel Sero regarding the speed control cable should not have been admitted. The court explained that Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. applies to Sero's testimony and the district court did not perform its gatekeeping duties with respect to Sero’s testimony. In this case, Sero’s testimony should have been excluded under Daubert because it was unsupported. Without any other expert testimony to establish that the 2001 Ford Ranger was defectively designed and that there were safer alternative designs available that a reasonably prudent manufacturer would have adopted, the court concluded that the Neases cannot prove their case under West Virginia law. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in Ford's favor. View "Nease v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her husband filed a products liability suit against Ethicon after she experienced complications from the implantation of a transvaginal mesh medical device. On appeal, Ethicon challenges the denial of its post-trial renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The court affirmed the judgment, concluding that the district court did not commit reversible error where plaintiffs offered sufficient evidence to sustain the jury's general verdict for plaintiffs on their design defect, failure to warn, and loss of consortium claims. In this case, the district court did not err by excluding evidence of the FDA's section 510(k) evaluation process; excluding the FDA Advisory Committee evidence; and excluding evidence of the Prolene suture's regulatory history. View "Huskey v. Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit in Virginia state court against Appellants and others, alleging that plaintiff's husband, Bernard W. Ripley, was exposed to asbestos contained in products Appellants manufactured for the Navy, and that Appellants are liable for failure to warn of asbestos hazards. Appellants removed the case pursuant to the federal officer removal statute to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court remanded to state court, citing longstanding precedent in the district that denies the government contractor defense in failure to warn cases. However, given the weight of opposing precedent and the rationales supporting the defense, the court held that the government contractor defense is available in failure to warn cases. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to consider whether Appellants have presented sufficient proof to warrant removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1442. View "Ripley v. Foster Wheeler LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from multi-district litigation involving transvaginal mesh medical devices used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and other pelvic issues. The jury awarded plaintiff $250,000 in compensatory damages, and the punitive damages award was split pursuant to a Georgia statute, with seventy-five percent going to the State of Georgia and twenty-five percent going to plaintiff. Both parties appealed. The court affirmed the district court's exclusion of evidence that Bard had complied with the FDA's 510(k) product safety process under F.R.E. 402 for lack of relevance; affirmed the district court's decision to admit evidence of a material data safety sheet pertaining to polypropylene, a material used in the construction of the Avaulta Plus implanted in plaintiff's body, as non-hearsay, finding that any use of the evidence by plaintiff that went beyond the limited purpose for which it was admitted as non-hearsay resulted in harmless error and was not prejudicial to Bard’s defense; and concluded that the district court did not err in giving the Georgia pattern jury instruction, in denying Bard’s request for a modified instruction, or in upholding the jury’s causation finding. The court also concluded that the punitive award was not constitutionally excessive. In regard to plaintiff's challenges, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Georgia's split-recovery statute garnishing seventy-five percent of any punitive damages award arising from a product liability judgment does not violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cisson v. C. R. Bard, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's daughter developed a condition known as dental fluorisis, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturers of bottled water, infant formula, and baby food that her daughter consumed. At issue was whether federal law, which provides uniform labeling standards for the products at issue, preempts plaintiff's state-law claims. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action, holding that federal law preempts plaintiff's bottled water claims and that her complaint as to the infant formula and baby food products fails to satisfy the pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). View "Nemphos v. Nestle Waters North America" on Justia Law

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Company Doe filed suit to enjoin the Commission from publishing in its online, publicly accessible database a "report of harm" that attributed the death of an infant to a product manufactured and sold by Company Doe. Consumer Groups filed a post-judgment motion to intervene for the purpose of appealing the district court's sealing order as well as its decision to allow Company Doe to proceed under a pseudonym. The court held that Consumer Groups' notice of appeal deprived the district court of jurisdiction to entertain Consumer Groups' motion to intervene, and, therefore, the court vacated the district court's order denying intervention; Consumer Groups were able to seek appellate review of the district court's orders because they met the requirements for nonparty appellate standing and have independent Article III standing to challenge the orders; and, on the merits, the district court's sealing order violated the public's right of access under the First Amendment and the district court abused its discretion in allowing Company Doe to litigate pseudonymously. Accordingly, the court vacated in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions.View "Company Doe v. Public Citizen" on Justia Law

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Shirley Gross filed suit against PLIVA after her long-term use of the generic drug metoclopramide, produced by PLIVA, caused her permanent injuries. On appeal, plaintiff, as the personal representative of the estate of Gross, challenged the district court's denial of Gross's request to amend her complaint and her state common law tort claims against PLIVA for injuries sustained as a result of her use of a drug it manufactured. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, 21 U.S.C. 301 et seq. The court affirmed the district court's denial of leave to amend and held that none of plaintiff's claims regarding PLIVA's alleged failure to update its warnings were before the court on appeal; the court found that the complaint did not allege any violation of the federal misbranding laws or parallel state duties, and to the extent these claims were made on appeal, they were waived; and all of Gross's causes of action were preempted by the FDCA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Drager v. PLIVA USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a products liability action against TI after her son died from cardiac arrest when he was struck by a taser. A jury found in favor of plaintiff, awarding her $10 million in compensatory damages, which the district court remitted to about $6.15 million before deducting certain offset amounts received by plaintiff, resulting in a final award of about $5.5 million. TI appealed. The court held that the district court did not err in entering judgment in favor of plaintiff on the liability aspect of the negligence claim in accordance with the jury's verdict. However, the damages award was not supported by the evidence and the court remanded on that issue. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Fontenot v. Taser Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose when nineteen plaintiff families sought to file a single complaint, raising products liability and negligence claims against the Pharmaceutical Companies. On appeal, the Pharmaceutical Companies challenged the district court's decision to remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction to the Circuit Court of Wayne County, West Virginia. The court concluded that it did not have the authority to review the remand order because the Pharmaceutical Companies have failed to establish that an exception should apply here, and because the plain language of 28 U.S.C. 1447(c) barred the court's review of the case. View "E.D. v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Fourth Circuit concerned commercial arbitration of insurance disputes in foreign tribunals. Appellant-Cross-Appellee ESAB Group, Inc. contended that South Carolina law "reverse preempts" federal law (namely, a treaty and its implementing legislation) pursuant to the McCarran-Ferguson Act. ESAB Group faced numerous products liability suits arising from alleged personal injuries caused by exposure to welding consumables manufactured by ESAB Group or its predecessors. These suits presently were proceeding in numerous state and federal courts in the United States. ESAB Group requested that its insurers defend and indemnify it in these suits. Several, including Zurich Insurance, PLC (ZIP), refused coverage. As a result, ESAB Group brought suit against its insurers in South Carolina state court. The district court then found that ZIP had the requisite minimum contacts with the forum to permit the exercise of personal jurisdiction and that the exercise of jurisdiction over ZIP was otherwise reasonable. Because it had referred to arbitration all claims providing a basis for subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining claims. ESAB Group timely appealed the district court's exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction. ZIP filed a cross-appeal, challenging the district court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction and its authority to remand the nonarbitrable claims to state court. Upon review, the Fourth Circuit affirmed as to the district court’s exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction, and found no error in the district court's order compelling arbitration. Likewise, the Court rejected ZIP's arguments that the district court erred in exercising personal jurisdiction over it and in remanding nonarbitrable claims to state court. View "ESAB Group, Incorporated v. Zurich Insurance PLC" on Justia Law