By the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, society was well into the so-called “Digital Age,” relying heavily on electronic communications, apps, websites, and the like to go about daily activities. Everything from ordering food to taking the bus to work could be achieved and tracked through a simple app. During the pandemic, the reliance on electronic mediums went from preferable to necessary, as many businesses shut down and transitioned to a remote or online-only presence.
The escalation of the digital age has led some manufacturers to consider electronic warnings for their products, through the manufacturer’s website, by providing a QR code, or by recommending (or requiring) the consumer to download an app. Even the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has bought into digital warnings. ANSI’s Z535 standards provide guidance for product manufacturers related to the size, content, and location of warnings. Recently, ANSI created a subcommittee on warnings in electronic media and is in the process of developing a new standard, ANSI Z535.7, for safety information in electronic media. This new standard is expected to be published by December 2022. The FDA has also recently utilized electronic means to communicate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. In October 2021, the FDA published three Consumer Fact Sheets for the three currently authorized vaccines on its website and included a QR Code linked to the “most recent” COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheets.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (the “Act”), signed into law on November 15, 2021, has been followed closely by the transportation sector. One section of the Act has the potential to impact the landscape of automotive products liability litigation.
Section 24220 requires automobile manufacturers to equip new passenger vehicles with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pub. L. No. 117-58, § 24220, 135 Stat. 429, 831-833 (2021).
The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that Korean company LG Chem Ltd. (“LG Chem”)will have another opportunity to dispute New Jersey’s jurisdiction over it in a product liability lawsuit concerning a vaping device battery. The decision is based, in part, on the trial court’s failure to order jurisdictional discovery and convene an evidentiary hearing to resolve the disputed jurisdictional allegations before deciding LG Chem’s pre-answer motion to dismiss. This case underscores that in New Jersey, the standard governing motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, unlike other bases, requires the court to look outside the disputed pleadings alone.
The New Jersey plaintiff alleged he was injured when a lithium-ion battery manufactured by LG Chem exploded in his pocket. Plaintiff attempted to serve process on LG Chem through two of its U.S.-based subsidiaries, LG Chem America, Inc. (LGCAI) and LG Chem Michigan, Inc. (LGCMI). The agents of both refused to accept service.
Although product liability actions are governed by state tort law, they frequently find their way into federal court on diversity jurisdiction. In such actions, federal law provides the procedural rules and state law provides the rule of decision. Although the distinction between procedure and substance is often clear, it can sometimes be nuanced and unintuitive; for example, statutes of limitations are typically viewed as procedural, whereas statutes of repose are viewed as substantive. In Love v. United States, — F.4th — (7th Cir. 2021), 2021 WL 5119342, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals provides another such illustration of this nuanced distinction and further guidance on the subject in the context of the admissibility of expert opinions.
The Plaintiff in Love brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that a nurse employed by the Veterans Administration negligently failed to order additional tests after receiving the results of a urinalysis. Plaintiff alleged that the lack of testing allowed an infection to go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to a heart attack and extended hospitalization.
A frequent and vexing issue for corporate defendants, in products liability and other cases, is the demand for a deposition of the company’s CEO or depositions of other senior executives. Even when these executives were not involved in the relevant events and have no relevant personal knowledge, plaintiffs push for their depositions to gain leverage for settlement or for other illegitimate reasons.
Many federal courts provide protection from these demands by applying the “apex doctrine,” a rule that usually shields high level officers if they have no unique personal knowledge or involvement and the relevant information is available from other sources. These courts have recognized that corporations may be involved in many lawsuits and forcing busy executives to testify when they have no significant personal knowledge or involvement would impair their ability to manage the corporation’s business.
In many personal injury cases, including products cases, the most significant exposure is pain and suffering or similar damages that cannot readily be measured in dollars. Juries are usually constrained by specific testimony or documentary evidence in awarding lost income, medical expenses, or other losses that can be measured specifically, but awards for pain and suffering and similar damages are constrained only by jurors’ subjective views (and usually permissive standards of legal review such as whether the award “shocks the conscience”).
Not surprisingly, when large verdicts are appealed, the damages arguments often focus on the excessive amounts of pain and suffering or similar awards. But a recent order from Pennsylvania’s highest court carries a warning for defendants, as the Court agreed to consider whether a failure to demand an itemized list of each category of damages on the verdict sheet waives defendant’s right to challenge the award.