A new study regarding phthalates has garnered media attention this month, but readers should recognize the study’s limitations. Some media coverage of this study blurs the important distinction between “association” and “causation.”
What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates, sometimes called plasticizers, are a group of chemicals generally used to make plastics more durable, or to dissolve other materials. Phthalates may be found in products such as vinyl flooring, food wraps, intravenous tubing, lubricating oils, and some personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, and hairsprays. Continue reading →
There has been much discussion recently about how Rule 702 is in need of a tune-up to better guide district courts’ gatekeeping. More about that soon.
But a case now pending before the Supreme Court, Monsanto Company v. Hardeman, No. 21-241, demonstrates that it’s not always the fault of the district courts. (Disclaimer: This firm (and this author) filed an amicus brief supporting certiorari.) Sometimes it’s about a lack of stewardship at the circuit level. Absent direct and unequivocal guidance from the Supreme Court, appellate courts call the tune, and the district courts are required to follow it. And in the interstices, district judges read the tea leaves and try to follow the circuit court’s leads and signals. No one likes to get reversed. Even if the district judges think the circuit has gotten it wrong, they honor the hierarchy and follow the commands of stare decisis, human nature and common sense.
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.]
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