Subject: Consumer Products

Smart Contracts — A Few Tips to Avoid Being Outsmarted

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Proponents of digital innovations such as blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices have hailed the introduction of such technology as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When used together, they may create self-executing “smart contracts” for a variety of transactions. Smart contracts do not need to rely on IoT devices, but when they do, these devices are critical to the system, most importantly because they collect and transfer the transaction-related data that triggers the execution of the contracts. But how is that data verified, and what happens if the IoT devices are wrong?

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Ninth Circuit Adheres to Precedent and Finds That Subverting Express Warranties Simply Does Not Compute

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On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest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

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Expert’s Failure to Identify Product Defect in Pressure Cooker or Inadequacy in Warnings Leads to Summary Judgment

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It is axiomatic that a plaintiff must offer evidentiary support for each element of her claim in order to survive summary judgment. And a ubiquitous feature of product liability actions is the use of expert witnesses by both sides. These principles are, of course, related – the plaintiff usually must offer expert testimony in order to make a prima facie case, and the defense then attacks that prima facie case through expert testimony. But sometimes a plaintiff loses sight of the connection and, despite retaining an expert, fails to elicit the opinions she needs to make her case. As a recent decision from the Western District of Wisconsin illustrates, it pays for a defendant to carefully evaluate whether a plaintiff has checked all of the necessary boxes.

In Moore v. National Presto Industries, Inc., 2022 WL 1555875 (W.D. Wis. May 17, 2022), Plaintiff alleged that she was injured when she opened her pressure cooker while it was still pressurized, ejecting its contents onto her arm, causing burns. Plaintiff sued the cooker’s manufacturer, asserting strict liability claims for design defect and failure to warn as well as a claim for negligence. Defendant moved for summary judgment on each of these claims.

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It’s an MDL World: Agreement is enough, or is it?

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The JPML held its second hearing of 2022 at the end of March. We addressed the results of the first hearing recently here, and further observed the JPML’s trend over the course of the last several years in forming fewer MDL proceedings each year. As we move further into 2022, it is clear this trend has continued.

In April, the JPML formed two new MDLs out of four total petitions, bringing the cumulative total of new MDLs in 2022 to four (out of seven petitions considered)—well below the typical quarterly pace for new MDLs, including that of 2021. Through its orders, the JPML provided insights into the circumstances that justify MDL formation, and those that do not. We briefly discuss these orders below:

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Plaintiff Shoots an Airball Against Nike in Design Defect Case

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In the wake of March Madness, it is only appropriate to call attention to an opinion laced with pithy basketball puns. In Nachimovsky v. Nike, Inc. et al., 2022 WL 943421 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2022), Plaintiff injured his knee during a recreational basketball game. Blaming this injury on his new sneakers, he called foul and brought claims for negligence and products liability—specifically design defect—against Nike, which designed and manufactured the sneakers, and Shoe Fitters, which sold the sneakers.

To support his claims, Plaintiff proffered two one-page letters from a podiatrist who concluded that the sneakers were defective and a “major contributing factor” to Plaintiff’s injury. Nike (and Shoe Fitters, by incorporation) responded with a full-court press, seeking to exclude the podiatrist’s opinions under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, arguing that they were not reliable and he was not qualified to offer them.

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Snapchat’s ‘Speed Filter’: Georgia Supreme Court Revives Negligent Design Claim

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On March 15, 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court revived a negligent design claim that had been brought against Snapchat, Inc. (n/k/a Snap, Inc.) involving Snap’s “Speed Filter.”  As one of the few decisions across the country addressing products liability law in the context of platform “products” (more accurately categorized as services) such as Snapchat, the opinion provides a glimpse of the sort of issues that other courts may soon be required to address.

The Factual & Procedural Background:

Plaintiffs Wentworth and Karen Maynard alleged that Defendant Christal McGee was using Snapchat’s “Speed Filter” and driving over 100 miles per hour when she rear-ended them, causing severe injuries.  The “Speed Filter” is a feature that allows the user to record their real-life speed on a photo or video and share it with other users.  Plaintiffs sued Snap as well, alleging that Snap had negligently designed the “Speed Filter” because the filter promoted unsafe driving and encouraged dangerous behavior.

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