For some long-awaited events, a little time and distance can add a measure of clarity. Not always – many still are processing the Game of Thrones finale, with no end in sight. But over the past few weeks pharmaceutical products liability lawyers have had the opportunity to acquire some Zen and enlightenment about the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated preemption decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme, Inc. v. Albrecht, 2019 WL 2166393 (U.S. May 20, 2019). An initial description of the decision is here.
In this age of exorbitant costs and increasingly high stakes in civil litigation, a robust summary judgment mechanism – one capable of terminating cases lacking in merit long before the extraordinary expense of final trial preparation and trial – is simply critical to a properly functioning civil litigation system.
Recently, Division 8 of the Second Appellate District, California Court of Appeal did its part by contributing to several ongoing debates in California law related to the admissibility of expert declarations offered to oppose motions for summary judgment. Fernandez v. Alexander, 2019 WL 336517 (Jan. 28, 2019)(certified for publication). The court weighed in, at least implicitly, on these important issues:
Those familiar with his legend know that Hall of famer Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees in their mid-century heyday and, for a short time at their inception, the New York Mets. But he also is remembered as one of baseball’s great characters.
One story about Stengel was told by the great broadcaster Curt Gowdy. He was having a beer with Stengel at a bar in Cleveland. Stengel received his beer and quickly downed it in one long gulp, leading Gowdy to ask why he drank it so fast. Stengel said he drank beer that way ever since “the accident.”
Much has been said about the eye-popping verdict and the post-trial rulings in the Roundup case tried in San Francisco earlier this year. Johnson v. Monsanto Co., 2018 WL 5246323 (S.F. Super. Ct. Oct. 22, 2018). The court sustained the jury’s award of ~$39 million in compensatory damages, including $37 million in non-economic damages, and its finding that Monsanto was liable for punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive award on due process grounds to a one-to-one ratio, slashing it from $250 million to approximately $39 million. Monsanto recently filed its notice of appeal, and as we await the briefing and argument, a few issues and takeaways merit further discussion, particularly several disturbing issues surrounding the award of punitive damages. We will save for another day (or post) other significant liability and damages issues.
In Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp., No. S232754 (August 27, 2018) the California Supreme Court broke with 40+ years of intermediate court of appeal precedents barring manufacturers from using evidence of their compliance with industry custom and practice to prove their design was not defective. Rather, the Court held, such evidence is no longer categorically inadmissible, but neither is it categorically admissible. Admissibility depends on the nature of the evidence and the purpose for which it is offered.
Recap: Part 1 (here) discussed the background of the consumer expectations test (CET) and part 2 (here) described the California Supreme Court’s seemingly definitive decision in Soule v. General Motors Corp., 8 Cal.4th 548 (1994) explaining the types of cases where CET can be applied.
Resolving a split among the intermediate appellate courts, the California Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that dramatically extends the period to file suit for birth defects in toxic tort cases. In Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc., No. S235357 (Cal. 7/5/18), the court held that these cases, already subject to tolling under the delayed discovery rule, are also tolled during the period of the plaintiff’s minority. The limitations clock does not even start to tick until at least the plaintiff’s eighteenth birthday.
Recap: The background and prior post for this multi-part series can be found here.
In 1994, the California Supreme Court took up Soule v. General Motors Corp., 8 Cal.4th 548 (1994), to provide much-needed guidance as to when it is and is not appropriate to allow a jury to decide the design defect issue based on the consumer expectations test (CET). “Much-needed” may be an understatement – trial courts routinely allowed plaintiffs freely to elect what design defect standard the jury would consider, often both CET and the risk-benefit test (RBT), gaining the proverbial two bites at the apple, and the courts of appeal had not prescribed any meaningful limiting theory or principle. Continue reading
In the 50-plus years since the inception of the doctrine of strict products liability in tort, a vexing issue for product manufacturers has been how to evaluate and defend against accusations of design defect. Manufacturing defects are relatively easy to evaluate – something either did or did not go wrong on the assembly line, the product either did or did not conform to specifications. But except for the rare and extreme cases where, in hindsight, the design is so clearly misguided that no reasonable engineer would consider it safe, courts, commentators and lawyers have hotly debated the proper benchmark to judge the alleged defectiveness of an entire product line.