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Blurry Vision in Two Courts Leads to Denial of Preemption in Intraocular Lens Implant Case

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A recent Second Circuit preemption decision illustrates the importance of a clear-eyed approach to medical device preemption issues.

In Glover v. Bausch & Lomb, Inc., 6 F.4th 229 (2d Cir. 2021), the district court dismissed as preempted a complaint concerning vision loss from defective intraocular lenses implanted during cataract surgery. Plaintiff developed “Z syndrome,” permanently impairing her vision, and sued the manufacturer under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (CPLA) for failing to warn.  She alleged the defendant had failed to report prior Z Syndrome cases to the FDA, as required by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).

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Sue Generous and the Laws of Legal Physics: Preventing Asbestos Mission Creep in California Courts

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It is virtually a law of legal physics in California that liability tends to expand until a critical mass of appellate courts rule that it has reached its limit, or the Supreme Court puts up a stop sign (a vanishingly rare occurrence).

This judicial tendency reaches its zenith in asbestos litigation.  Asbestos cases feature a combination of factors that pressure-test the boundaries of traditional tort law.  Asbestos fibers, in most cases, are relatively fungible, and the exposures are anecdotal and undifferentiated.  The injuries have extremely long latency periods, leaving exposure details fuzzy, ancient lore.  The biological mechanisms are largely mysterious.  In many cases, the plaintiff can prove an asbestos injury but cannot reliably prove causation under traditional tort standards.

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District of New Jersey Finds Amazon to be “Seller” of Hoverboard under NJ Product Liability Act

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The District of New Jersey has held that Amazon may be sued under New Jersey law for defective products sold by third-party sellers through its online marketplace.

The dispute in New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group v. Amazon.com Inc., Civil Action No. 16-cv-9014, involved an allegedly defective hoverboard purchased from a third-party seller by an insured of plaintiff New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group (“NJM”) via Amazon.com.  NJM filed suit as subrogee of the insured, asserting a strict lability claim under the New Jersey Product Liability Act (NJPLA), in addition to claims for breach of implied warranty and negligence.

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Illinois Court Finds Prejudgment Interest Statute Unconstitutional

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On May 27, 2022, the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled that Illinois’ recently enacted prejudgment interest statute is unconstitutional. Hyland v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation, et al., No. 2017-L-003541. We reported on the passage of that statute here. In Hyland, a wrongful death/medical malpractice case, the court ruled that the statute violated the right to trial by jury and the prohibition against special legislation. This order will surely face appellate scrutiny, but for now it raises some uncertainty over the valuation of personal injury and wrongful death cases pending within the state.

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Ninth Circuit Adheres to Precedent and Finds That Subverting Express Warranties Simply Does Not Compute

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On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest after the expiration of the product’s warranty unless the defect poses an unreasonable safety risk.  Taleshpour v. Apple, Inc., 2022 WL 1577802 (9th Cir. May 19, 2022).  The court affirmed dismissal of a proposed class action against Apple Inc., holding that California consumer protection laws were not violated as a matter of law because the alleged defect in MacBook Pro laptop computers arose after the expiration of the warranty and the complaint did not allege any safety issue.  The court followed existing Circuit precedent, even though there is some conflicting authority in the California courts of appeal.

Plaintiffs alleged that in certain MacBook Pro models, the backlight ribbon cables used to connect the display screen to the display control tear because the cables do not provide enough slack when the laptops open and close.  Apple agreed to replace the display of all 13-inch MacBook Pros that suffer from the alleged defect, but not the 15-inch model or any model released after 2016.  Plaintiffs alleged on behalf of the class that the excluded models suffered from the same backlight defect as the pre-2016 13-inch version.  Plaintiffs conceded the backlight ribbon issues arose after the expiration of Apple’s one-year warranty.

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Pathologist Stopped Short of Offering Could-Have, Should-Have Opinions

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In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving medical causation, which almost universally requires testimony from a competent expert.  Some plaintiffs offer testimony from forensic pathologists—also known as medical examiners, or physicians specializing in postmortem cause-of-death determinations—to prove causation.  These forensic pathologists (or the parties proffering their testimony) may push evidentiary boundaries with respect to opinions corollary to their cause of death determinations. While some courts have allowed juries to hear these questionable corollary opinions, relying on cross examination to level the playing field, others have excluded such testimony on the basis of insufficient qualifications or lack of reliable methodology.  Recently, the Southern District of Georgia excluded a forensic pathologist’s opinions on both grounds in a wrongful death action. Although not a product liability case, the court’s well-reasoned holding is sure to affect product cases going forward.

In Griffin v. Coffee County et al., 2022 WL 2045650 (S.D. Ga. June 7, 2022), a man in custody at a county jail in Georgia died from a methamphetamine overdose. His estate brought claims for deprivation of rights and medical malpractice against the jail, the hospital, and various individuals associated with those entities. In support of its claims, the estate proffered testimony from a forensic pathologist who offered opinions about medical treatment.

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