Articles Posted in Defective Products

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Recently, a federal court in Indiana ruled against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, which had claimed that a vehicle fire at a customer’s home was due to the vehicle being defective.

car-fire-1240763-m.jpgIn January 2010, Kenneth Burkhart’s vehicle, a 2006 GMC Sierra, caught fire, damaging his home as well as his personal property. Three years later, his insurer, State Farm, filed a product liability lawsuit against General Motors, claiming that the fire was caused by defective manufacturing of the vehicle, defective design of the vehicle, negligent manufacturing of the vehicle, negligent design of the vehicle, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability.

General Motors removed the case to federal court and argued that it should be dismissed because each claim was outside of the applicable statute of limitations and must therefore be dismissed due to being time-barred. Since State Farm conceded that the warranty of merchantability claim was time-barred, that left the federal court to determine whether the other four claims were still good.
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When someone sues for injuries from a vehicle accident and there is alcohol involved, the shop that served the alcohol might also get sued. If the shop is liable, its insurance company might pay at least part of the outstanding claims. However, when it comes to energy drinks containing alcohol, insurance companies have resisted making payments — and the Seventh Circuit has supported them.

the-last-drop-1083566-m.jpgThe circumstances involving energy drinks are in some ways quite different from alcohol providers. Unlike alcohol providers, energy drink providers may have insurance carriers with a liquor liability exclusion. This becomes quite problematic for the energy drink providers because — not surprisingly — those who consume energy drinks with alcohol can become severely injured. In one recent case, Netherlands Ins. v. Phusion Projects, Inc., the company Phusion was a manufacturer and distributor of “Four Loko,” a beverage that contained alcohol, caffeine, guarana, taurine, and wormwood. After one consumer drank it, he was unable to fall asleep for 30 hours and accidentally shot himself in the head. In another case, a passenger in a car was injured after the driver drank Four Loko and drove recklessly, at speeds above 100 miles per hour. In a third case, a consumer drank the beverage, had a fit of paranoia, and ran onto a busy highway, where he was struck and killed. Finally, in a fourth case, one consumer complained of heart problems after drinking Four Loko and blamed the beverage for his condition.

In all cases, there were lawsuits. Netherlands, the insurer, claimed that it was not required to compensate these cases due to the fact that there was a liquor exclusion. The Seventh Circuit ultimately agreed, finding that none of the tortious acts committed by Phusion were separate from the act of providing alcohol. Therefore, Phusion could not ask Netherlands to issue payouts for the accidents because of the alcohol exclusion. Phusion would be required to pay for the injuries itself.
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In Manning v. Arch Wood Protection, Inc., a federal district court in Kentucky denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss and allowed a product liability lawsuit to move forward.

electric-caos-1277648-m.jpgFred Manning had worked as a line mechanic on a line crew for Kentucky Power Company from 1990 until 2013. During that time, Manning claimed to have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic that were contained in chromated copper arsenate, which is a substance that was used to preserve the wood in utility poles and cross-arms. This exposure allegedly took place while Manning handled, sawed, and drilled wood treated with chromated copper arsenate as part of his employment duties. Manning claimed that as a result, he had been poisoned and suffered resulting health problems.

Manning alleged that the defendant knew of the health hazards caused by exposure to chromated copper arsenate, but not only failed to warn of its danger, but also deceptively persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the proposed mandatory warning labels for wood treated by chromated copper arsenate. Moreover, despite knowing the hazards of exposure, the defendant allegedly claimed that treated wood could be handled in the same way as untreated wood. Manning claimed that the defendant knew, or should have known, that the wood’s hazards would result in Manning’s injury, as well as his wife’s deprivation of the benefits of their relationship.
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The United States Supreme Court recently passed on the opportunity to hear appeals on three decisions involving class-action lawsuits, two of which came from the Sixth and Seventh Circuit. The Supreme Court’s choice could make it easier for consumers to file class-action product liability lawsuits in the future.

wasing-machine-110179-m.jpgIn each of the three cases — Whirlpool v. Glazer, Sears, Roebuck and Company v. Butler, and BSH Appliances Corporation v. Cobb — the issue involved washing machine defects. However, though lower courts in each case certified classes for a lawsuit, the defendants protested that not everyone in the class had suffered an injury because not every class member’s washing machine had a defect. The defendants therefore appealed to the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals respectively, seeking to have the class certification overturned. The Circuit Courts upheld the lower courts’ decision, prompting the defendants to petition the Supreme Court.

Now that the Supreme Court has denied the petitions for certiorari without offering an explanation, observers have speculated how this could impact future class-action lawsuits, product liability or otherwise. Many have looked to another Supreme Court decision, Comcast v. Behrend, which held for the first time that plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit needed to show a connection between their theory of liability and their theory of damages at the class certification stage, as opposed to later in the litigation process. At the time, many defense attorneys believed that it would heighten the standard for class certification and make it more difficult. If so, that should have meant that at least two of the class certifications — upheld by the Sixth and Seventh Circuit after the Comcast ruling came out — would be invalid. However, the Supreme Court’s choice to not review those decisions suggests that Comcast was not as earth shaking a decision as many believed. Comcast had involved an antitrust class-action lawsuit, not one involving consumer product defects. Therefore, while it would seem that the theory of liability and theory of damages connection would apply to every class-action case, it may be that in fact, it only applies to a narrow range.
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A recent product liability case involving Michigan may have significance for the other states in the Sixth Circuit, including Kentucky. In Miller v. Mylan, Inc., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a medical patch could be a “combination product” rather than a drug, making its manufacturer (and similar manufacturers) vulnerable to lawsuit.

pills-2-1160486-m.jpgThe case concerned a fentanyl patch, manufactured by Mylan, Inc., which is a generic version of Duragesic and intended to lessen pain. The patch had two parts: fentanyl, which was its active ingredient, and a “transdermal system,” the patch that delivered the drug. The patch was placed on the patient’s skin to provide doses of fentanyl to patients at regular intervals over a prolonged period. In the case of Beth Ann Kelly, however, the patch was blamed for giving her an excessive dose of fentanyl, causing her death.

Kelly’s estate brought a lawsuit against Mylan in state court for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, product liability, warranty, fraud, and the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Mylan had the case removed to federal district court and claimed that it was immune from lawsuit under a Michigan statute that gave immunity to the manufacturer of drugs. The court sided with Mylan in finding that the patch was a drug. Kelly’s estate then appealed to the Sixth Circuit, arguing that the patch was not a drug as referenced in the statute.
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The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has a notable case coming up regarding product liability and generic drugs. In Miller v. Eli Lilly & Co., the court will consider whether those harmed by generic drugs have the right to file lawsuits against their manufacturers.

pills-1213599-m.jpgRecently, the United States Supreme Court held in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett that manufacturers of generic drugs enjoyed tort protections due to the fact that generic drugs shared the same label as drugs originally approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because the FDA approved the original drug and drug label, individuals injured by side effects of the generic drug could not sue generic drug manufacturers under state product liability laws.

However, this ruling included a footnote that stated it did not apply to design defects in the generic drug that paralleled the federal misbranding statute. As such, plaintiffs in Miller used the footnote as the basis of their request that the Sixth Circuit determine whether makers of the generic version of Darvocet and Darvon painkillers can be found liable for causing severe heart damage. Darvocet was originally taken off of the market in 2010 after concerns that it was addictive and had side effects like irregular heartbeat and kidney problems.
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A woman died recently in Hobart, Indiana, after crashing her car through a metal gate and landing in Lake George.

lake-george-211920-m.jpgWitnesses who travelled behind the woman, 83 years old, noticed that she was speeding and driving erratically as she traveled down Route 130 and Route 51. She would weave in and out of traffic, and racing through red stoplights at up to 60 miles per hour.
At some point after the woman reached downtown Hobart, she “went airborne” at the top of a hill and her car smashed through a metal gate that separated the town from Lake George. Her car eventually landed in the lake, 50 feet from the edge, where the water was 10 feet high. Witnesses dove into the murky lake after her and spent 10 minutes working to pull the woman out, during which time they sustained injuries from broken glass. The Hobart Fire Department treated her at the scene and she was then transported to St. Mary Medical Center, where she later died. Lake County divers also spent more than one hour working to pull the car from the lake.

Despite her erratic driving, the woman managed to avoid causing injuries or fatalities. One witness speculated that her behavior might have been due to a medical condition, or possibly due to a broken accelerator. The age and condition of her vehicle prior to the crash is unknown.
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Almost 80% of all prescriptions in the U.S. are filled with generic medications. These medications can be offered at a lower price than brand-name drugs because the companies that manufacture the generic versions have not invested millions of dollars in the creation and testing of them. Once a patent expires on a drug, other companies can begin to manufacture and sell a generic version of it without getting FDA approval, provided the formula and labeling are not altered in any way.

Such was the case with sulindac, a generic anti-inflammatory drug similar to ibuprofen. Mutual Pharmaceutical Company in Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of another company based in India, was manufacturing sulindac in 2004 when a New Hampshire woman went to her doctor with shoulder pain. He prescribed a clinoril, a mild anti-inflammatory, and she was given sulindac as a generic equivalent. A few weeks after she started taking the drug, her skin began to come off. She ended up losing two-thirds of her skin, requiring a lengthy stay in a hospital burn unit. She also suffered esophagus and lung damage and ended up legally blind. She is now only 53 years old.

As with many other victims of dangerous drugs, the woman filed a lawsuit against the drug manufacturer in the hopes of receiving some compensation for her injuries and suffering. A jury awarded her $21 million, an amount which was also upheld by the Court of Appeals. Now the Supreme Court will hear the case. Groups on both sides of the dangerous and defective drugs argument will be awaiting the higher court’s decision.

This would seem to some to be an open-and-shut case. A woman was seriously and permanently injured by a drug manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, and she should be compensated for these injuries. However, the fact that the drug was generic plays a large part in the case. In past cases, generic drug manufacturers have been protected by the higher courts. Why would the higher courts side with the manufacturers? Because generic drug manufacturers are required to reproduce the drug and its corresponding warning labels exactly like the brand-name version. Therefore, according to the courts, they cannot be held accountable for any injuries that occur because they are not responsible for the makeup of the drug or its corresponding labels and warnings.
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1285558_injection_needle_macro_2.jpgIn 2012, hundreds of people became ill and 46 people died as a result of tainted medication. The problem was traced back to a compounding facility in Massachusetts that has since closed. Steroid injections given to people with back pain had been contaminated and caused a meningitis outbreak that affected patients in 20 states. Shortly after the source of the outbreak was discovered, the Massachusetts Department of Health started doing surprise health inspections at the other compounding facilities across the state. Their findings, released in February 2013, were surprising and a little scary.

Inspectors visited 37 of these specialty pharmacies and discovered deficiencies at all but four of them. That means there were issues at 33 of the companies. Of this number, 11 had violations so serious that at least parts of their operations were temporarily shut down. One company voluntarily surrendered its license, and the other 21 had more minor violations and were allowed to stay open. Officials were quick to point out that this is not a one-state issue; Massachusetts just happens to be the one state that did these inspections. Some states don’t even require their compounding facilities to comply with the guidelines checked by the inspectors in Massachusetts.

While none of the problems discovered were as bad as those found at the facility that caused the outbreak, it is still good that the issues were found and will be corrected. The state has dedicated funds to pay for more routine inspections of compounding pharmacies, and hopefully other states will follow in its footsteps.

Many victims of the meningitis outbreak have filed product liability lawsuits against the now-defunct compounding pharmacy, and the families of some of the victims who died have filed wrongful death claims. But because the company is no longer in business, it is unclear how much anyone would be awarded. Some of the victims may have also filed medical malpractice claims against the medical personnel that administered the tainted injections, but it remains to be seen if any of them will be held accountable.
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Trying to get a young infant to sleep can be difficult and frustrating. Sleep-deprived parents often go to great lengths to get their little ones to drift off, from driving miles in the car to singing songs and pacing the floor incessantly. So when a product comes out that claims to help get babies to sleep, it can be quite appealing. One such product is the Nap Nanny, which was introduced a few years ago. The Nap Nanny is kind of a recliner for infants, which allows their heads to be slightly elevated while sleeping. The product is designed to be used only on the floor and the infant is buckled in.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) is a group that monitors products and complaints to determine if products are unsafe for consumers. In July, 2010, the CPSC announced a voluntary product recall of the Nap Nanny after receiving numerous complaints about the product, including one regarding a child who died while sleeping in the product in crib. The four-month-old had managed to move herself to the edge of the recliner and suffocated between it and the crib bumper. The manufacturer recalled the product and released a new version of it with additional safety features and directions on safe usage of the product.

After the initial recall, the CPSC received reports of additional injuries and deaths to infants using the Nap Nanny. They notified the company about the issues, but the company’s founder refused to recall the product. She stated that none of the subsequent injuries or deaths would have occurred if the consumers were using the product properly. Four of the five reported infant deaths occurred while the Nap Nanny was being used in a crib, which the labels on the product specifically say not to do. Several stores voluntarily recalled the infant sleepers and the CPSC has filed a complaint in an attempt to have a mandatory recall put in place. The manufacturer has also filed documents to have the complaint dismissed. In the meantime, Baby Matters, the company that makes and sells the Nap Nanny, has shut down its operations, but continues to stand by its product.
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