Lawsuit advertisements—specifically ones that target prescription drugs and medical devices—can be dangerous. Nationwide, dramatized and exaggerated legal ads have flooded both televisions and the internet, often masquerading as “medical alerts.” Some estimates have total spending on legal advertisements at around $1 billion annually. As a result, state legislatures are beginning to take action to combat deceptive advertising and come up with solutions, including in Indiana, which recently passed House Bill 1125. House Bill 1125 places several limitations on the practice of lead generation – the use of commercial communications to initiate consumer interest or inquiry into legal services intended to redress an alleged injury from a medical device or legend drug – and provides a private right of action for manufacturers and sellers of medical devices and legend drugs against deceptive lead generators.
A California Court of Appeal has held that Amazon may be strictly liable for injuries to customers who bought products from third-party sellers offered on Amazon’s website. (See discussion of Bolger decision here).
In Kisha Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC, plaintiff sought damages from Amazon for burns allegedly caused by a defective hoverboard she purchased through Amazon’s website. Amazon won summary judgment from the trial court, which held that Amazon did not fall within the chain of distribution and could not be liable under the “marketing enterprise theory.”
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.
A New Jersey federal judge recently applied Tennessee and California law in dismissing a proposed class action concerning allegedly leaky water heater sensors/valves (valves) made by Honeywell International Inc. The decision provides a point-by-point explanation of how superficial allegations of product defect fail to satisfy federal pleading standards under the substantive product liability laws of both states.
In Butera v. Honeywell International, Inc., Civil Action No. 18-13417, the named plaintiffs were a resident of Tennessee and a resident of California whose water heaters began leaking six years after purchase. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action claiming that Honeywell’s hot water heater valves were defective. The plaintiffs alleged that the valves featured a plastic (thermowell) casing that “prematurely erodes” and deteriorates, allowing water leakage. They asserted claims under Tennessee’s Products Liability Act (TPLA) and causes of action under California common law, the California Commercial Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Law statute (UCL), sounding in breach of express and implied warranty, negligence, strict product liability and consumer fraud. Honeywell moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court applied the laws of each plaintiff’s home state to their respective claims.