Software Liability: Why a Michigan Federal Court Decision is Relevant to Product Manufacturers Nationwide

Numerous products in our day-to-day lives incorporate or consist of software. The legal system, however, has been hesitant (at best) to bring software within traditional product liability regimes. Courts have grappled with whether to consider software a product and have largely found that it is not. However, a recent decision in the Western District of Michigan holds that software is a product—Holbrook v. Prodomax Automation Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-219, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178325 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2021). While Holbrook may be an outlier, it is significant. It bucks the trend, and potential defendants should be aware of it.

Background: Holbrook involved a wrongful death suit arising out of an accident on a robotic assembly line. The decedent’s estate (Plaintiff) brought a common-law negligence claim against multiple defendants, including the manufacturer who designed, built, and installed the assembly line. Plaintiff’s claim was based, among other things, on the software controlling the robots.

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California Supreme Court Set to Decide How Defense Counsel Approach Defending Company Witness Depositions

The California Supreme Court will soon decide an evidentiary issue that could significantly impact how company witnesses are defended at deposition.

The Court heard argument December 7 in Berroteran v. Ford Motor Co., No. S259522, a class action opt-out case alleging consumer fraud claims based on purported defects in a Ford truck engine. The appeal involves interpretation and operation of California Evidence Code section 1291 — an exception to the hearsay rule for former testimony — and specifically how it applies to the deposition testimony of company employees taken in prior cases.

Ford moved in limine to exclude as hearsay the deposition testimony of nine current and former Ford employees taken in similar cases. In response, Plaintiff relied on section 1291.

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510(k) Clearance Precludes Punitive Damages in Arizona

We know the plaintiffs’ bar’s feelings about the FDA’s 510(k) clearance process. They tell the jury and the court it is antiquated. They say it does not constitute a finding of safety or efficacy. They do all they can to paint the FDA’s regulatory clearance process as meaningless and not worthy of consideration by a judge or jury. Such arguments may have some vitality in some jurisdictions. But, as we learned twice again in the last month, not in Arizona.

Back in 2012, the Arizona legislature passed a law stating that a manufacturer may not be held liable for exemplary or punitive damages if “[t]he product alleged to have caused the harm was designed, manufactured, packaged, labeled, sold or represented . . . according to the terms of an approval, conditional approval, clearance, license or similar determination of a government agency.” A.R.S. § 12-689(A)(1). The statute broadly defined “manufacturer” to include those engaged in designing, manufacturing, or formulating a product. A.R.S. § 12-689(D)(3). And it further defined “government agency” to mean any federal or Arizona agency with authority “to issue rules, regulations, orders or standards concerning the design, manufacture, packaging, labeling or advertising of a product[.]” A.R.S. § 12-689(D)(2).

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This Month in Snap Removal: The District of Nevada Muddies Its Snap Removal Waters and Throws Proponents a Life Preserver

Faegre Drinker’s snap removal team continuously monitors snap removal updates across the country (for a basic explanation of snap removal and previous updates, see Faegre Drinker’s prior posts here; for a breakdown on how each federal jurisdiction treats snap removal, see Faegre Drinker’s interactive snap removal map here).

The United States District Court for the District of Nevada is no stranger to consideration of the practice of snap removal—indeed, the District of Nevada has issued a number of decisions in 2020 and 2021, all holding that snap removal was improper unless and until at least one defendant has been served. But a recent opinion out of the District rejects the reasoning in those earlier decisions and holds that snap removal is proper even if no defendant has been served.

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Two District Courts Focus on “Gamesmanship” in a Double Dose of Rejection for Snap Removal

Faegre Drinker’s snap removal team closely monitors snap removal updates across the United States (for a basic explanation of snap removal and previous updates, see Faegre Drinker’s prior posts here; for a breakdown on which jurisdictions allow snap removal, see Faegre Drinker’s interactive snap removal map here).

In two recent decisions out of the District of Maryland and the Western District of Washington, both courts emphasized “gamesmanship” as a reason for rejecting the practice of snap removal in each jurisdiction. Interestingly, though, one district focused on gamesmanship by plaintiffs while the other district focused on gamesmanship by defendants.

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Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Product Liability Claims in Truck Rollover Case Applying Texas Statute of Repose

The Fifth Circuit held that the 15-year Texas statute of repose barred a family’s claims regarding the rollover of a truck.  The court was required to interpret the statutory language “date of the sale of the product,” finding that the repose period started when the automaker transferred the truck to the dealership, and not when it was first sold by the dealer to a customer.  The court also held that the Texas tolling exception for minors does not apply to the product liability statute of repose.

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