Last year proved to be a busy one in products liability as a result of the most significant rulings that came out of the courts. Issues ranged from medical devices to food products to labeling to bankruptcy protection. Below are the top five products liability cases of the year:
A decision by a New York federal judge wiped out more than 1,200 lawsuits alleging harm from Bayer Healthcare’s popular intrauterine device, Mirena. Mirena is the T-shaped, hormone releasing insert used as contraceptives by women across the globe. The court concluded the absence of expert testimony made it impossible to prove the product could cause injuries after insertion. Hundreds of cases were filed against Bayer alleging the company failed to warn women that the device could perforate the uterus after – and unrelated to – insertion. The period covered by thousands of lawsuits on the matter included 2008 through 2014.
Dole Foods Co. Inc.
The Ninth Circuit reversed part of a lower court’s ruling that Dole’s use of an “all natural fruit” labeling is not likely to deceive customers. The three-judge panel sided with consumer Chad Brazil, who alleged Dole’s products labeled all natural are packed in mass-produced ingredients not found anywhere in nature. The court did, however, decertify the class and found damages were correctly limited by the lower court to the difference between the prices consumers paid and the value of the fruit purchased.
A California court last August granted nearly 600 non-Californians who have filed a lawsuit in the state alleging injuries from the use of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Plavix to proceed. The court found it has general jurisdiction over these plaintiffs’ claims because of the company’s extensive contacts with the state of California. This includes research and development facilities as well as its marketing and distribution of the drug. A petition in the U.S. Supreme Court is currently pending.
General Motors Liquidation
Last summer the Second Circuit unraveled the bankruptcy decisions that had previously protected General Motors (GM) from liability related to ignition switch defects. The recent decision found that the 2009 sale of the company’s assets providing a legal shield violated potential victims’ rights to due process. General Motors did not reveal the ignition switch issue during the 2015 bankruptcy; the company, however, began recalling vehicles in 2014. GM intends to appeal the decision.
A New Jersey Supreme Court found state law claims alleging generic drug manufacturers failed to adequately warn of neurological risks for Reglan were not preempted by federal law. The federal law in question is the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and its requirement that a drug’s labeling match its brand-name counterpart. The court found that for generic-drug manufacturers to find a safe harbor from state governed failure-to-warn claims they must be reasonably diligent to monitor for updates to the brand-name maker’s labeling.
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These five product liability cases included individual lawsuits as well as class-action lawsuits against defendants. Some decisions, such as the Mirena case, bar several individuals’ ability to seek damages. Others, such as the GM and Bristol-Myers Squibb rulings, have opened the gates for cases to proceed. Many of these cases are pending appeal decisions and, therefore, will likely continue to affect the legal landscape in 2017.
Products liability law protects the public when injured due to the defective design, manufacture, assembly, or construction of a product. This law ensures victims are adequately compensated when unjustly injured. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a defective product, contact the knowledgeable products liability attorneys at Grant & Longworth today for help.