A Pennsylvania federal court has again asked that the state’s Supreme Court clarify whether, and to what extent, medical device manufacturers are immune from strict liability claims by virtue of the “unavoidably unsafe products” exemption recognized in Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 402A cmt. k (“Comment k”)—only this time with a direct certification.
On Thursday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified that question to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, along with a question about which negligent design defect theory—or theories—a Pennsylvania plaintiff may assert against a medical device manufacturer. Pet. for Certification of Questions of State Law, ECF No. 50, Ebert v. C.R. Bard, Inc., et al., No. 20-2139 (3d Cir. June 24, 2021) (“Ebert Pet.”). Last spring, Judge Pappert of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed Ms. Ebert’s strict liability claim, finding her IVC filter “an ‘unavoidably unsafe product’” under Hahn v. Richter, 673 A.3d 888 (Pa. 1996), and she appealed that order granting summary judgment to the Third Circuit.
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.]
In the “Daubert trilogy,” Rule 702 spawned three children, all special in their own way. The firstborn, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), naturally receives most of the attention, being the pioneer. The middle child, General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), tends to be comparatively underappreciated in the shadow of its predecessor. Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), the youngest, generally receives the least attention.
Daubert’s broad pronouncements about gatekeeping principles dominate the Rule 702 landscape. No one calls a motion to exclude a “Joiner motion”; no one participates in a “Kumho hearing.” But in the broad wake of Daubert, Joiner played a particularly important and multifaceted role in shaping the ongoing development of Rule 702 jurisprudence. Its influence is worth revisiting.