Articles Posted in Product Liability

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TalcumPowder2-SmallOn August 21, 2017, Johnson & Johnson was hit with the largest talcum powder jury verdict to date – $417 million. The case was tried in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, and the verdict is comprised of $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages. Plaintiff Eva Echeverria sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging she developed ovarian cancer after using talc-based products, including Baby Powder, for hygiene. Her attorneys argued to the jury that Johnson & Johnson engaged in a practice of encouraging women to use its talc-based products even though they had known for years about studies linking ovarian cancer to use of talc products in the genital region.

In recent years, thousands of women across the country have filed suit against Johnson & Johnson based on scientific links between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The lawsuits claim that the company knew of dangers but concealed them from innocent consumers. Of those lawsuits, at least five have proceeded to trial in Missouri, with Johnson & Johnson losing all but one. In those cases, the juries awarded over $300 million collectively in the four trials in which the plaintiff was successful. Johnson & Johnson has vigorously disputed liability and claims it will appeal the California verdict discussed above.

When finding for the plaintiff, juries are sending a strong message to Johnson & Johnson and other product manufacturers by awarding punitive damages. This is a special class of damages designed to punish a defendant and deter others from engaging in similar practices in the future. While each state will have its own standards as to when punitive damages may apply, they are commonly awarded when a defendant maliciously, fraudulently, intentionally, or knowingly causes harm to an innocent consumer.

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ThinkstockPhotos-599896574-SmallA large auto recall is currently underway with General Motors (GM). More than 800,000 trucks are affected across the United States and Canada, including certain 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks. The issue with this recall concerns power steering. These models have been found to suddenly lose power steering with no warning whatsoever to the driver. This is highly dangerous because a sudden loss of power steering could cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the loss of power steering can occur when the vehicle is using certain levels of electrical power. This can be triggered when a vehicle is making a turn at low speed, among other actions. When such power steering problems occur, the driver could lose control of the steering wheel. While the power steering could ultimately return within as little as one second, the short period of time without it could result in a car accident if the driver does lose control of the vehicle. This is what has federal auto regulators worried and prompted the recall.

Per NHTSA guidelines, GM is required to notify all vehicle owners affected by this recall. To see if your vehicle is included, you can visit the NHTSA’s website. Some owners of these vehicles are no stranger to recalls, as these trucks were subject to a 2016 recall involving 3.64 million cars with airbag software problems.

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A California man, 35 years old, was awarded $9.8 million by a jury following a product liability trial concerning claims of a defective wheelchair designed and manufactured by Sunrise Medical LLC and later sold and repaired by National Seating and Mobility, Inc. The product at issue was the Quickie Q7 manual wheelchair. In 2014, the victim suffered a puncture wound from an inward-facing bolt on the chair. One month later, he suffered further injury to that area when a screw came loose and he was ejected from the wheelchair. He suffered a nerve injury that doctors advised may never resolve.

The victim sued for defective design, manufacture, failure to warn, and defective repairs. At issue during the 15-day trial was a design change made to the wheelchair back in 2013. The wheelchair manufacturer had received complaints that certain bolts on the wheelchair were backing out. Thus, the product was redesigned in a way that placed those bolts facing inwards. The victim was injured through one of those inward-facing bolts. The trial included proof and testimony from expert witnesses who claimed the bolts were not strong enough to support the average user, making the product unsafe and dangerous. The jury deliberated for two days, and the $9.8 verdict was broken down as follows:

  • $4.8 million in economic damages for a life care plan for the victim
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In May 2017, a jury in Missouri awarded a verdict of $110 million to a 62-year-old woman who developed ovarian cancer after using products containing talcum powder. The verdict was assessed against Johnson & Johnson, the company that manufactured the products in question, baby powder and Shower to Shower. The victim was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. She sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging they hid the possibility that talc could cause cancer. The trial lasted three weeks.

Johnson & Johnson has been hit with several other large jury verdicts in talcum powder lawsuits, including some in the tens of millions of dollars. Those include verdicts of $72 million, $70 million, and $55 million.

Many lawsuits are currently pending regarding talcum powder and how it can cause women to develop ovarian cancer. Talc is a mineral, and its powder form is prevalent in certain consumer products. Women in particular have used these products for years for hygiene. The lawsuits allege that Johnson & Johnson knew there was a risk that talcum powder caused ovarian cancer but knowingly concealed that information from consumers for years. As a result, the product liability lawsuits filed by victims against the company seek monetary damages for developing a life-altering injury like cancer.

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downtown-drive-5-1574071Simply put, guardrails are supposed to protect cars, drivers, and passengers. At the very least, they can prevent a bad situation, such as a car or truck wreck, from turning even worse. On highways and interstates, they can prevent cars from running off the road, falling down an embankment, or veering into oncoming traffic. When not functioning properly, bad things can happen. Drivers in many states have been having serious problems with guardrails recently, and at least seven people have died as a result of deadly guardrails in Tennessee, Virginia, and Missouri.

One such incident occurred near Knoxville, Tennessee, when a 17-year-old girl was killed in a car accident caused by a defective guardrail. The driver veered off the road, drove into the median, and hit the end of a guardrail. While the guardrail was supposed to help absorb the impact with the vehicle, the end actually pierced through the vehicle, hitting the driver in the head.

The type of guardrail in question is X-LITE, which is manufactured by Lindsay Transportation Solutions. There are currently 1,700 of them on Tennessee roads, interstates, and highways. TDOT conducted its own investigation into this type of guardrail and found that they did not always work when cars hit them traveling at speeds 62 mph or higher. Usually, 62 mph is the standard crash test speed for guardrail ends. TDOT also found issues with the installation instructions, which, according to TDOT, “could result in the terminal performing differently from the original tested conditions.” Right now, Tennessee is accepting bids to replace all of these guardrails. Once complete, the final cost could end up being $3.5 million or more.

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interior-car-details-4-1516620Takata Corporation has pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to pay over $1 billion in criminal and civil fines in connection with its role in allegedly concealing knowledge of the deadly nature of its airbags. As recently as 2015, Takata Corporation manufactured airbags which could be found in a number of American and foreign-made vehicles including those produced by Acura, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota. In May 2016, The United States Department of Transportation ordered a recall on all Takata airbags produced between the years 2000 and 2015. The recall is the largest in history and will require Takata to recall airbags in over 170 makes and models from more than 30 car manufacturers.

This recall comes in the wake of a string of deaths and countless injuries resulting from Takata’s faulty airbags. When deployed, these airbags send fragments of shrapnel and metal speeding towards drivers and passengers, in even the most minor of fender benders. To date, there have been many deaths as a result of Takata’s airbags in the United States alone.

Along with the $1 billion fine, three Takata executives, Hideo Nakajima, Tsuneo Chikaraishi, and Shinichi Tanaka, have each been charged with multiple counts of conspiracy and wire fraud. Allegedly, the three executives were aware that the airbags presented significant defects as early as the year 2000. Despite this knowledge, Takata Corporation allegedly forged documents and reports to hide the unfavorable results of product testing. Takata then used these reports and findings to contract with major auto manufacturers who bought these dangerous airbags. As a result, nearly 70 million defective airbags were in circulation prior to the 2016 recall.

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Gone are the days of smoke-filled restaurants and most smoke-filled public places. In part because of the well-known surgeon general warning labels on cigarette packages, TV commercials warning about emphysema and lung cancer, and large judgments against the tobacco industry, an increasing number of cigarette smokers have turned to electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) as an alternative to smoking tobacco. Many consumers likely expected the e-cigarette to be a harmless, or at least safer, option. Surprisingly however, some e-cigarettes have proven to be extremely dangerous and have caused severe and permanent injuries. This has caused an increase in product liability litigation across the country.

A recent Associated Press article reported that there has been a steep increase in e-cigarette explosions in the last few years. The article reports that the explosions have likely been caused by the batteries which were manufactured in China. One of the injured victims sustained severe third-degree burns to her leg. Another victim was a boy who suffered from partial loss of sight. The article also discusses a victim who sustained permanent burns after an e-cigarette explosion in 2015 won a verdict of $2 million from a California court.

Another recent article reported that a group of four injured victims have filed suit in New Jersey against the sellers of e-cigarettes that exploded “like a rocket.” One person who was injured by an e-cigarette explosion suffered third degree burns, has been unable to work for several months, and needs surgery to implement skin grafts. These instances and others have caused major liability problems for the companies producing and selling the e-cigarettes. While the lawsuit names the manufacturers as defendants, the plaintiffs realize the difficulty of a successful claim against the manufacturers as they are located in China.

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girl-with-smart-phone-1616794Apple likely expected to profit at the expense of their rival Samsung’s recent misfortunes with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, yet they recently found themselves to be the target of a lawsuit due to an allegedly overheated iPhone 6. Stacie Reasonover, a woman from Nashville, Tennessee, has sued Apple due to burns and scarring she suffered when she fell asleep with an iPhone 6-Plus on her chest and the phone overheated. According to the Complaint, the woman suffered permanent scars, including a scar on her right breast, as a result of this incident. The product liability complaint against Apple, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleges (1) strict liability for defective design and (2) negligent design and/or maintenance.

Given how inseparable people and their phones have become, it is not surprising that some people would fall asleep with a phone on top of them. Furthermore, it is not unusual for a person talking on a phone for a long period of time to feel the phone warming up, just as people with laptop computers in their laps for prolonged periods may feel the computer heat up. That a cell phone, especially while not in use, would overheat to the extent of causing burning and scarring, however, is much more serious and can cause highly visible and permanent injuries, including scarring.

When projecting the outcome of a product liability lawsuit like this, it would be helpful to know additional facts such as (1) how long the plaintiff had been using the phone before falling asleep, (2) how long she was asleep with the phone on her chest, (3) if she had experienced any problems with her phone overheating prior to this instance, and (4) how severe and/or permanent her injuries actually were.

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Unfortunately, tens of millions of vehicles of numerous makes and models have been recalled due to the defective manufacture of airbags by Takata Corporation. These defective airbags are highly dangerous and can be deadly when deployed. They may rupture upon impact, spraying pieces of metal and shrapnel into drivers and passengers. While it is easy to see how traumatic injuries have been sustained in heavy T-bone and rollover car or truck accidents, these airbags can be just as dangerous in low impact wrecks and fender benders.

The airbag recall has affected vehicles manufactured by Acura, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Infiniti, among others. In May 2016, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expanded and accelerated the recall of the Takata air bag inflators when investigators confirmed the root cause behind the rupture of these airbags that has been linked to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellants in the inflators.  To date, nearly 70 million Takata airbag inflators are or will be under recall by 2019, making this the largest auto safety recall in the history of the United States.

On October 20, 2016, the NHTSA confirmed another crash fatality linked to the rupture of the recalled Takata airbag inflator, this time involving a 2001 Honda Civic.  The victim, 50 years old, died after sustaining serious injuries in a September auto accident. According to the NHTSA, certain Honda and Acura brand vehicles have been included in a higher risk category of Takata airbags, which means they are categorized as having a “substantially higher risk” of exploding after being deployed.  These vehicles’ airbags include a specific manufacturing defect which greatly increases the chance for a dangerous rupture.  Many people across the United States have sustained traumatic and life altering injuries, including permanent disfigurement, as a result of these airbags.

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Cell phone users may want to think twice before leaving their cell phones on while boarding a flight. A recent article from USA Today reported that passengers had to evacuate a Southwest Airlines plane before takeoff in Louisville, Kentucky because of a smoking cell phone. One of the passenger’s cell phones overheated, and then started smoking, causing the evacuation. Thankfully, there were no reported injuries among the flight crew or the 75 passengers.

This latest incident with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone follows other issues Samsung has had, prompting recalls because of safety hazards. Though Samsung did not confirm whether the phone in question on the Southwest plane was a new one, consumers may be wary of all Galaxy Note 7 phones due to this incident and a recent recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Given the ubiquitous nature of cell phones and the exponential growth in recent years of cell phone users, the potential for products liability claims could pose a serious problem for Samsung if the issues with the Galaxy Note 7 are not quickly resolved.

Four important factors in product liability cases are (1) whether the product in question was used as intended, (2) whether the product’s potential danger was obvious, (3) whether there was an adequate warning about the potential danger (particularly, if the danger was not obvious), and of course (4) whether there were injuries resulting from the defective product.