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

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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Sardis was attempting to adjust a container containing a garage door hood on a forklift when the wood slat constituting the container’s handhold broke off, causing him to fall off a ladder rack and hit his head on the pavement nine feet below. He died two weeks later. His estate sued, alleging that ODC was negligent in designing the container’s handholds, and had a duty to warn foreseeable users of the container to not rely on the handholds for pulling it. The estate offered Sher Singh, Ph.D., a packaging design engineer, as its sole expert on design defects and Michael Wogalter, Ph.D., who described himself as an expert on “human factors,” as the sole expert on failure to warn. The court rejected “Daubert” challenges to both experts. The jury rendered a $4.84 million verdict.The Fourth Circuit reversed. The district court abdicated its critical gatekeeping role to the jury and admitted Singh’s and Wogalter’s “irrelevant and unreliable” testimony without engaging in the required Rule 702 analysis. Without that testimony, the estate offered insufficient admissible evidence as a matter of law to prevail on any of the claims. Even if an expert provides relevant testimony as to how an allegedly defective product breached a governing industry standard (which Singh did not), that says nothing about whether the expert reliably opined that said breach caused a plaintiff’s harm. Wogalter’s testimony was incompatible with the governing Virginia “reason to know” standard. View "Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp." on Justia Law

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After he was diagnosed with nasal cancer, plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging that they produced the lumber that his father used in his woodshop and are liable to him for damages because they failed to warn his father that wood dust causes cancer. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, concluding that during the exposure period, defendants did not have a duty to warn plaintiff's father that wood dust causes cancer because that fact was not known at the time as part of the "state of the art," i.e., the level of knowledge reached.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court properly determined from the record that the state of the art did not indicate that wood dust causes cancer until 1995, a few years after the exposure period at issue ended, and thus defendants had no duty to warn plaintiff's father of any risk of cancer during that period. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that the district court established an Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) litmus test to the exclusion of other relevant evidence. Rather, the district court appropriately identified and relied on the state of the art as represented by studies collected and evaluated by experts in the field. View "Lightfoot v. Georgia-Pacific Wood Products, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of various claims of certain plaintiffs in an action against Ford for an alleged defect in plaintiffs' purchase or lease of vehicles manufactured between 2002 and 2010. At issue were the district court's Daubert decision addressing plaintiffs' proof of their defect theory.The court held that the district court properly considered appropriate factors and did not abuse its discretion in excluding the opinions of plaintiffs' experts based on their lack of relevance and reliability; plaintiffs failed to show that the district court made a clearly erroneous factual finding or error of law by excluding their expert witnesses; and because plaintiffs could not prove their theory of defects, they failed to meet the essential element of causation. View "Belville v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in denying plaintiffs' motion to remand their case to state court and deciding Bayer's motion to dismiss in an action seeking damages for violations of North Carolina tort and products liability law. The court held that plaintiffs' action did not fall within the small class of cases in which state law claims may be deemed to arise under federal law for purposes of conferring federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgments and remanded with instructions that the action be remanded to North Carolina state court. View "Burrell v. Bayer Corp." on Justia Law

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Lipitor, a pharmaceutical drug, is prescribed to lower patients’ “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Plaintiffs, more than 3,000 women, claim that they developed diabetes as a result of taking Lipitor. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the lawsuits for pretrial proceedings. The parties agreed on four bellwether cases. Plaintiffs enlisted general experts, to testify that there was a causal association between Lipitor and diabetes; specific experts, to testify that Lipitor proximately caused the onset of diabetes in the bellwether plaintiffs; and an expert biostatistician, who concluded that taking Lipitor led to a statistically significant increased risk of diabetes. Plaintiffs also sought to introduce internal Pfizer emails, information from Lipitor's labeling, a statement in Lipitor's FDA New Drug Application, and information from the Lipitor website. Citing Federal Rule of Evidence 702, the court excluded the opinions of the statistician; the general causation expert, except relating to a specific dosage; and the specific causation opinions. The rulings left the plaintiffs without their bellwether cases, limited to a subset of patients who had taken an 80 mg dose. The court issued show-cause orders asking whether any plaintiff could submit evidence that would enable her claim to survive summary judgment given prior rulings. Some plaintiffs submitted evidence showing only that they were not diabetic before taking Lipitor, that they were diagnosed with diabetes after taking Lipitor, and that they lacked certain risk factors that might make them especially likely to develop the disease. After the court rejected the evidence, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that the cases ought to be returned to their transferor district courts for individual resolution on the issue of specific causation. The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. View "Plaintiffs Appealing Case Management Order 100 v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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After sustaining serious internal injuries in a personal watercraft (PWC) accident, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturers of the PWC (Yamaha). On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court erred in requiring expert testimony on her claims and in failing to conduct an appropriate Daubert analysis before excluding her expert's testimony. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded the expert's inadequate warning opinion and the district court properly concluded that the PWC's warnings were adequate as a matter of law. In this case, plaintiff based her claims of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranties on theories of warning and design defects. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Yamaha on all claims because the record was devoid of admissible evidence on either theory of defect. View "Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A." on Justia Law

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After sustaining serious internal injuries in a personal watercraft (PWC) accident, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturers of the PWC (Yamaha). On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court erred in requiring expert testimony on her claims and in failing to conduct an appropriate Daubert analysis before excluding her expert's testimony. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded the expert's inadequate warning opinion and the district court properly concluded that the PWC's warnings were adequate as a matter of law. In this case, plaintiff based her claims of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranties on theories of warning and design defects. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Yamaha on all claims because the record was devoid of admissible evidence on either theory of defect. View "Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A." on Justia Law

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In these consolidated products liability cases involving a transvaginal mesh prescription device called Obtryx, the jury returned verdicts for plaintiffs, awarding over $4 million to each. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in consolidating the four cases where common questions of fact and law formed a substantial part of each suit and the district court bent over backwards to ensure that distinct questions of fact and law could be appropriately developed at trial and distinguished by the jury. The court rejected BSC's evidentiary challenges; BSC was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law where it failed to establish that there was insufficient evidence to defeat the jury awards; and the district court's instruction to the jury regarding punitive damages was a correct statement of West Virginia law at the time of the trial. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgments. View "Campbell v. Boston Scientific Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the MDL court's partial summary judgment award and denial of plaintiff's motion to reconsider. Plaintiff filed suit against Boston Scientific, alleging that the transvaginal mesh product that the company manufactured injured her and that Boston Scientific failed to warn of risks associated with the mesh. Plaintiff joined an MDL and then lost her failure to warn claim at summary judgment. After the case was transferred to a district court for trial on the remaining claims, plaintiff moved to reconsider the summary judgment award based on evidence that she failed to cite during summary judgment briefing in the MDL court. The district court denied the motion and plaintiff subsequently lost at trial. The Fourth Circuit could not say that the MDL court erred in its summary judgment ruling based on the evidence plaintiff cited in opposition to summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit explained that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require parties to cite all evidence in support of their positions at summary judgment. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion to reconsider despite plaintiff’s citation to additional excerpts of plaintiff's treating phsysician's deposition establishing that he reviewed and was familiar with the Directions for Use (DFU). View "Carlson v. Boston Scientific" on Justia Law

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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