Court Ruling in Pharma Case Calls into Question Consumer Expectations Test’s Use in Asbestos Suits

Featured Expert Contributor, Mass Torts—Asbestos

RobertWright

Robert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA

A recent appellate decision rejecting the consumer expectations test for strict liability in a pharmaceutical case calls into question the use of that same test in cases involving low-dose exposures to asbestos.  Trejo v. Johnson & Johnson, 13 Cal. App. 5th 110, 117 (2017), petition for review filed, (Aug. 8, 2017) (No. S243672).

Much like in pharmaceutical cases, the trials in low-dose asbestos cases invariably center on competing expert-opinion testimony regarding scientific matters beyond the everyday experience of ordinary consumers.  As a result, such cases should proceed not under a consumer expectations theory, but instead under the alternative risk-benefit theory, which is recognized in many states and has long been applied to hold that a product is defectively designed if “‘the benefits of the challenged design outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design.’”  Tabieros v. Clark Equipment Co., 944 P.2d 1279, 1310 (Haw. 1997), quoting Barker v. Lull Engineering Co., 20 Cal. 3d 413, 455-56 (1978); see, e.g., Lamkin v. Towner, 563 N.E.2d 449, 457 (1990) (applying Barker). Continue reading

Rejection of Subway “Footlong” Settlement Highlights Absurd Incentives of Class Actions

1ftIn early 2013, when Australian teenager Matt Corby took to social media to share a photo of his recently purchased Subway “foot long” sandwich next to a tape measure revealing that the sandwich measured only 11 inches in length, he never could have anticipated the “viral” chain of events that he had just set into motion.

Other Subway customers and media outlets soon descended on Subway franchises to undertake their own sandwich measurements, prompting the New York Post to announce that “Some Subway ‘Footlong’ Subs Don’t Measure Up.”   According to the Post, four out of seven footlong sandwiches randomly purchased at Subway restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens measured less than 12 inches in length (ranging from 11 to 11.5 inches). Continue reading

Ambiguity Eclipses Clarity in Two Post-“Spokeo” Standing-to-Sue Decisions

9thCirIn addition to an America-only total solar eclipse, August has brought us a remarkable flurry of significant federal appeals court decisions. Among those decisions were two that addressed a hotly contested procedural issue: plaintiff’s standing to sue for violation of a federal statute.

The rulings, both of which interpreted and applied the 2016 US Supreme Court Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision, further clarified that decision’s main holding while also exacerbating the confusion over what constitutes a “concrete and particularized” injury.

We’ve written quite a bit about Spokeo and its progeny here. There, the Court held that plaintiffs alleging a “bare procedural violation” of a federal statute do not meet the “case or controversy” standing requirement of Article III of the US Constitution. Such litigants must also claim an injury-in-fact, i.e. a harm that is concrete and particularized to them. Justice Alito’s opinion offered very little guidance on how courts should make that determination. Continue reading

Class Actions Clothed in Righteousness: Appeals Court Rejects Bargain-Hunters’ Suits for Lack of Injury

nordstrom rackBy Abbey Coufal, a 2017 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at Washington Legal Foundation who will be entering her third year at Texas Tech University School of Law in the fall.

Bargain shopping is not for the weary, but there is something thrilling about combing through items on tightly-packed circular racks, with the hope of hunting down the desired piece of clothing at a good price. Landing the perfect deal usually brings a feeling of satisfaction, and does not give rise to conflict with the retailer. But in America, even a bargain-finder who bought an unblemished sweater can turn around and sue the business on behalf of herself and countless other shoppers, claiming they were all fooled into making their purchases. Continue reading

Data-Breach Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Concoct New “Overpayment” Harm Theory, with Mixed Results

vtechPlaintiffs’ attorneys, like politicians, rarely let a good crisis go to waste. Digital crises, such as data-breach and hacking events, are no exception.

Defendants in data-breach-related lawsuits, however, have had a great deal of success beating back consumer-harm claims with motions to dismiss challenging plaintiffs’ lack of standing to sue. As in many of the food-labeling class actions that helped pave the way for data-breach suits, it is often hard for plaintiffs to identify any way that they were actually harmed—because typically they weren’t.

Some data-breach plaintiffs have begun to claim injury based on “overpayment.” Continue reading

Fourth Circuit Upholds Application of Government-Contractor Defense in Asbestos Suit

Featured Expert Contributor: Mass Torts—Asbestos

RobertWrightRobert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently applied the Boyle government-contractor defense to a failure-to-warn claim in an asbestos case.  Sawyer v. Foster Wheeler LLC, 860 F.3d 249 (4th Cir. 2017).  In doing so, the court wisely rejected a narrow interpretation of the defense favored by other federal circuit courts.

The defense derives its name from Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500, 501 (1988), which held that, in order to avoid indirectly penalizing the United States government for its discretionary decisions concerning the purchase of military equipment, contractors supplying that equipment would be immune from state product-liability claims where (1) the government approved reasonably precise specifications for the equipment; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the contractor warned the government of any dangers known to the contractor about which the government was unaware. Continue reading

An Economic Reality: Uniform Regulatory Definition Needed for Who Is an “Employee”

DOLLast month, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that its was withdrawing controversial policies that reflected how its Wage and Hour Division defined the terms “employer” and “employee” when enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). DOL merited the applause its action received from regulated entities, but it is merely one small step in the direction of what franchisors, franchisees, “gig” economy participants, independent contractors, and other businesses desperately need: clear, uniform, and reliable standards that put an end to the “gotcha” game regulators and lawyers have been playing in recent years.

This part will focus here on standards for the term “employee”; a future post will address the need for uniformity in what constitutes an “employer.” Continue reading