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.
On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest after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.
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.