It’s no secret that the regulatory landscape of cosmetics and personal care products as we know it is changing. Over the last few years, Congress, along with industry and consumer groups, have made a combined effort to push for heightened regulation of these products. The latest effort, introduced in Congress on June 15, 2021, seeks to ban the addition of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (generally known as “PFAS”) in cosmetics and personal care products.
On May 7, a California District Court Judge granted Victory Woodworks, Inc.’s (“Victory”) motion to dismiss all COVID-19 liability claims in plaintiffs Robert and Corby Kuciemba’s amended complaint. Kuciemba et al. v. Victory Woodworks Inc., No. 3:20-cv-09355 (N.D. Cal. 2020). Relying on a novel theory of liability, the Kuciembas alleged that Mr. Kuciemba contracted mild COVID-19 in the course and scope of his employment at Victory, and subsequently passed it on to his wife, who suffered a severe case of COVID-19 with lasting injury. The Kuciembas sought damages from Victory for Mrs. Kuciemba’s injuries related to COVID-19.
Under the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability § 5, Comment b (1998), the supplier of a product generally must warn about only those risks associated with the product itself, not those associated with the “products and systems into which [it is] integrated.”
However, in Air and Liquid Sys. Corp. v. DeVries, 139 S. Ct. 986 (2019), the Supreme Court created a different rule in the context of maritime asbestos claims. In that case, the defendants produced “bare-metal” equipment, such as pumps, blowers, and turbines, for Navy ships that required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended. The manufacturers delivered the equipment to the Navy without asbestos, and the Navy later added asbestos to the equipment. Two Navy veterans were exposed to asbestos on the ships and developed cancer. The district court granted summary judgment for the manufacturers, finding no duty to warn. In reversing, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals adopted a “more plaintiff-friendly” foreseeability rule, rejecting the “more defendant-friendly” bare-metal defense.
The nature of advocacy makes it hard sometimes for lawyers to focus solely on the outcome and the bottom line result. How a court gets there may not matter much to the prevailing party in the dispute as they celebrate the win, but it may have an impact on later cases. A recent example is the opinion in Burton et al. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1422814 (7th Cir. Apr. 15, 2021). The court found the winner’s circle, but it dented the car a bit along the way.
[Disclosure/disclaimer: The author filed an amicus brief in support of defendants in the case.]
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) requires retained expert witnesses to provide an expert report which gives “a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B)(i). If a party fails to disclose information required under Rule 26(a)(2), “the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). As a plaintiff in the Western District of Washington recently learned, failure to adhere to Rule 26 can be fatal to a case.
The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.
Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.