About David Abernethy

David Abernethy is a partner in Products Liability Practice Group, resident in the Philadelphia office. He represents global pharmaceutical and medical device companies in mass tort and individual products actions at the trial and appellate level. David is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Read David's full bio

Georgia Supreme Court Will Address the Problem of Abusive “Apex” Depositions

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.

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Itemize Damages or Waive Appeal? Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Failure to Request an Itemized Verdict Waives the Right to Challenge an Award on Appeal

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.

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Strike Two for Amazon in the California Court of Appeal

A California Court of Appeal has held that Amazon may be strictly liable for injuries to customers who bought products from third-party sellers offered on Amazon’s website.  (See discussion of Bolger decision here).

In Kisha Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC, plaintiff sought damages from Amazon for burns allegedly caused by a defective hoverboard she purchased through Amazon’s website.  Amazon won summary judgment from the trial court, which held that Amazon did not fall within the chain of distribution and could not be liable under the “marketing enterprise theory.”

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Another Roadside Attraction: The Supreme Court’s Latest Route Guidance on Personal Jurisdiction in Products Liability Cases

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, revisiting the issue of due process limitations on the exercise of personal jurisdiction, most recently addressed by the Court in 2017 in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1783 (2017) (“BMS”).  A unanimous Court (8-0, with Justice Barrett not participating) held in Ford Motor that courts in Montana and Minnesota could hear claims by residents of those states alleging injuries sustained in accidents that occurred there involving Ford vehicles.  Relying on Ford’s extensive contacts with those states, which consisted of efforts to create and serve local sales and service and repair markets for the same kinds of vehicles, the Court concluded these plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently “related to” Ford’s local contacts, even though the actual vehicles in the accidents were designed, manufactured and initially sold in other states.  (We commented here on the state court decisions in these cases before Ford sought certiorari.)

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Witness Coaching by Whisper Leads to Sanctions for Defense Witness and Attorney

As noted in two prior posts, one on May 15, 2020, and the other on May 29, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting explosion in the use of remote depositions present a number of novel issues for lawyers to consider, whether taking or defending depositions. Regardless of these “unprecedented times,” some things remain the same, including that it is improper for a witness to be coached about answers while the deposition is occurring.

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Pennsylvania Appellate Court Rejects Application of the Statute of Repose in Effect in the State Where an Injury Occurred Under Pennsylvania’s Borrowing Statute, But Leaves Open Possible Application Under Substantive Choice of Law Rules

The Pennsylvania Superior Court, the state’s mid-level appellate court, recently held in Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding Co., 2020 PA Super 266, that Pennsylvania’s “borrowing statute” applies only to foreign statutes of limitation and therefore does not require application of a statute of repose enacted in the state where the plaintiff used the product and was injured. But the Court also held that statutes of repose are substantive under Pennsylvania law, and therefore the statute of repose from the state of use and injury may bar the claim in a Pennsylvania court if Pennsylvania’s choice of law rules support application of that state’s law.

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