Subject: Failure to Warn Standards

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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Ninth Circuit Asks California Supreme Court to Clarify the Causation Standard Applicable When the Learned Intermediary Doctrine Applies

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How demanding is the causation standard in a California failure to warn claim when a learned intermediary testifies that he would have read and incorporated more stringent warnings if they had been available? Is the plaintiff required to show that the stronger warning would have altered the physician’s decision to prescribe the product? Or may the plaintiff establish causation by showing that the physician would have communicated the stronger warnings to the patient and that a prudent person in the patient’s position would have declined the treatment as a result?

The Ninth Circuit isolated this undefined causation standard in Himes v. Somatics, LLC, and certified the question to the California Supreme Court. After confirming that the learned intermediary doctrine is alive and well in California and that a failure to warn claim cannot survive when the learned intermediary does not read the warnings at all, the Ninth Circuit stopped short of defining the causation standard that applies when a learned intermediary does read the warnings.

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Another Brick in the Wall: The District Court Finds Preemption in Fosamax Case After Remand From the Supreme Court

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We have written before about the Supreme Court’s impossibility preemption decision, Merck Sharpe & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht, 139 S. Ct. 1668 (2019) (Albrecht) (here, here, here, and here), highlighting some open questions and uncertainties that might come into play on remand. Albrecht held that impossibility preemption is a question of law for the court, not for the jury, “elaborated” on the “clear evidence” standard arising from Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009) (Wyeth), and remanded to the Third Circuit for determination of the preemption issue. That court in turn remanded to the District of New Jersey and further directed the district court “to determine the effect of the FDA’s Complete Response Letter and other communications with Merck on the issue of whether the agency actions are sufficient” to find preemption.

We predicted that the decision on remand would be “interesting” and opined that the case for preemption was “strong.” We now have that decision, In re Fosamax (Alendronate Sodium) Prod. Liab. Litig., 2022 WL 855853 (D. N.J. Mar. 23, 2022) (Fosamax), and we were right on both counts.

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Southern District of Texas Holds Learned Intermediary Doctrine Applies to Clinical Trials

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Does the learned intermediary doctrine apply in the context of a clinical trial?  According to the Southern District of Texas, it does.  The case in question is Butler et al. v. Juno Therapeutics, Inc., a tragic case involving the death of a 19-year-old woman with terminal leukemia who died within days of receiving an experimental cancer drug as a participant in a clinical trial.

In 2015, Juno Therapeutics (Juno) was developing a treatment for advanced blood cancers involving Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy.  CAR-T therapy is designed to modify a patient’s white blood cells to target cancer cells with the goal of improving the patient’s condition so a bone marrow or stem cell transplant can be tolerated.  In October 2015, Juno entered into a Clinical Study Agreement with MD Anderson (and other hospitals) as part of a Phase 2 clinical trial (the “Rocket Study”) of a drug identified as JCAR015, a CAR-T therapy.  Drs. William Wierda and Michael Rytting were the principal investigators of the Rocket Study at MD Anderson.

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A Component Part Supplier’s Duty to Warn Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Maritime Asbestos Decision

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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.

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Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Breast Implant Cases on Preemption Grounds

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The Ninth Circuit has confirmed in quadrophonic sound that plaintiffs cannot avoid preemption by relying on vague and speculative allegations to establish a parallel claim.  The court affirmed the dismissal of four lawsuits by plaintiffs claiming they were injured by breast implants on the grounds that their claims are barred by the 1976 Medical Device Amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (MDA).  Sewell v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56393; Vieira v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56394; Billetts v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56398; Nunn v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, et al., no. 19-56391.

In each case, California plaintiffs alleged their breast implants were defective and caused them to experience fatigue, muscle pain, and migraines.  The district courts dismissed the complaints for failure to state a claim on grounds of preemption, and plaintiffs appealed.

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