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

Florida Supreme Court, Casting Separation of Powers Aside, Invalidates Medical Malpractice Damages Limits

Andy-Bolin-Color-HiRes-420x280Guest Commentary

By Andrew S. Bolin, Beytin, McLaughlin, McLaughlin, O’Hara, Bocchino & Bolin, P.A.

In 2003, the Florida Legislature undertook the arduous task of examining the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits in the State of Florida. Governor Jeb Bush appointed a Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance that consisted of a distinguished group of non-partisan scholars and public servants, including the former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. Over one regular and four special sessions, Florida’s Legislature reviewed over 1,600 sworn affidavits from medical providers, heard hundreds of hours of testimony during public hearings, and analyzed empirical evidence provided by those studying the issues.

The results of this rigorous undertaking were shocking. Four-hundred Broward County physicians cited the soaring costs of medical malpractice insurance as a reason they left the state or retired early. The task force pointed to examples of obstetrical centers closing due to increased premiums and residency graduates being forced to practice outside of Florida because they were unable to obtain or afford malpractice insurance. In 2003, 80% percent of obstetricians in Miami stated that they had been forced to practice without the protection of malpractice insurance. Ten percent of OB/GYNs in Orlando chose to leave the practice. 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

Another Economic Reality: Single, Rational Test Needed for Who Is an “Employer”

DOLNLRBEarlier this month, in An Economic Reality: Uniform Regulatory Definition Needed for Who Is an “Employee”, we argued that a standardized, control-based test for legally categorizing workers would benefit both employers and employees. In this commentary, we explain why similar uniformity is urgently needed in how regulatory agencies and courts define “employer.”

The legal definition of “employer” is critical because employers are responsible for compliance with federal and state labor laws and can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. It is most relevant, and controversial, in situations where businesses outsource or subcontract certain work responsibilities, and in franchise arrangements. Too broad a definition of employer could force businesses that outsource, subcontract, or franchise to act as “joint employers” for employees of entirely separate businesses. 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

Because of “Winn-Dixie”?: Uncertainty over ADA’s Applicability to Websites Deepens

Featured Expert Contributor – Civil Justice/Class Actions

Cruz-Alvarez_FBy Frank Cruz-Alvarez, Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., with Rachel Canfield,  Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

Ever since the codification of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, brick and mortar businesses have been obligated to ensure their physical spaces are accessible to all individuals.  The advent of the internet—and with it, creation of an entirely new, intangible, space—has ushered in a whole new host of legal challenges.  The combination of uncharted legal waters and ongoing regulatory moratoriums has produced extensive litigation over recent years.  In this new frontier, businesses and consumers alike have begun to question whether the ADA also applies to a business’s intangible, technological spaces.

There is very little structure, and even less clarity, in this emerging area of the law.  Federal courts remain split over whether the ADA applies only to physical spaces and to date, no federal agency or organization has been tasked with overseeing or implementing website accessibility guidelines.  Instead, the Web Accessibility Initiative publishes a set of guidelines—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)—on web-content accessibility.  Continue reading

Third Circuit Rejects Plaintiffs’ Attempt to Lower “Daubert” Standard in “In re Zoloft Products Liability Litigation”

Featured Expert Column –Judicial Gatekeeping of Expert Evidence

Tager_09181Evan M. Tager, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Mayer Brown LLP, with Carl J. Summers, an Associate with Mayer Brown LLP.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently rejected an attempt to substantially lower the standard for admission of expert testimony resting on studies that have not produced replicated and statistically significant findings. Specifically, the plaintiffs in In re Zoloft Products Liability Litigation argued that the district court erroneously imposed a rigid, bright-line rule that an expert must present replicable, statistically significant findings. The Third Circuit held that the district court had not established such a bright-line rule, but rather had made a factual finding that teratologists—scientists who study abnormalities in human development—“generally required replication of significant results.” After dispensing with the plaintiffs’ flawed interpretation of the district court’s decision, the Third Circuit affirmed the exclusion of the expert testimony on the ground that the expert had selectively chosen data that supported his opinion and inconsistently applied his methodology, thus rendering his opinions unreliable. Continue reading